Manoj Das began his lecture by stating that his interest in Ramayana was primarily a writer’s interest.
The first enigma with regard to Ramayana is its very language, Sanskrit. It has been sustained for such a long time, its mystery, its maturity. The plasticity of the language has allowed it to condense several ranges of thoughts into few words. So much can be condensed into so few words. In this respect, there is no other language all over the world which shows this kind of maturity. Ver many ideas can be expressed in very few words. It is a highly intellectual language. This kind of maturity could not have been achieved without the mediation of a great civilization. When was the script formed. Lokmanya Tilak, a great Vedic scholar was of the opinion that it must have formulated the written language at least 6000 years ago. Madame Blavatsky that Sanskrit could have had its beginning 6000, 60,000 or even 600,000 of years. Considering that after every few years there have been deluge (Pralaya) when everything was submerged under water and destroyed and in spite of these onslaughts of nature, Sanskrit has survived shows that it is difficult to exactly compute its origins. The origins of this language is under controversy, however, from the civilizations described, the kings and the kingdoms mentioned, the aristocracy, legends and myths given, and scholarly writings underscored we can deduce that it is a very ancient language. Exact year of origin cannot be proven. Bhasa, the great Sanskrit playwright was discovered in Kerala in the 1940’s. Out of all his plays only 10 survived. When temples which were depositories of manuscripts were demolished, the manuscripts also were lost.
In the literary traditions of the world two traditions stand out – the Indian and the Greek. But, if we compare the two great epics of Greece, The Iliad and The Odyssey to the two great epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, we can see that while the former is not a living tradition, the latter is even now one. The reason for this is that while the Iliad and the Odyssey did not become a part of the life around, Ramayana and Mahabharata were intimately connected to life around. All festivals hold performances culled out of these epics. In households people read these two epics on a regular basis, with the belief that it will bring luck to them. Apart from this the heroines of these two epics, Sita, Draupadi and Savithri have remained role models of womanhood, in the minds and psyches of people. The role played by these women in the narratives of epics may not be considered laudable by city people, but, they are ensconced in the minds and hearts of village people for whom they are not merely archetypes, but living role models. They remain as examples of silent, sorrowing and strong women for all times to come.
The epics of India did not remain static. They grew as time passed. Mahabharata which to begin with had only 30,000 verses developed into 100,000 verses. Bhagavad Gita which was not a part of the original Mahabharata was included in it from eighth century onwards. Even now, it is a mystery to the scholars, how on the eve of a terrible war, when the two armies were poised to attack and kill each other, Krishna and Arjuna was able to have this highly philosophical and mystical dialogue. It would take a special kind of understanding to realize that it is not verbal communication which was used but silent, internal communication. This communication was at a subtle , contemplative level, later it was written down as verses and became a part of the epic. Vyasa’s disciples also added several stories such as Nala-Damayanti, Satyavan-Savithri and Dushyanta- Shakuntala to the corpus of Mahabharata. The subsequent Indian literature in Sanskrit and regional languages always made reference to these stories and they have become the immortal legends of India. Frame of Bhava in all subsequent classical dances can be traced back to Ramayana and Mahabharata. Difference in the languages of India also post –epic period.
The interest of people in the two epics remain the same in spite of the changes in customs, habits, traditions, values and beliefs. The romance of Ramayana is even now very pervasive. What exactly keeps our interest in Ramayana alive, the path is not clear. All one can say it has a tremendous psychological, historical and cultural importance and it is still very alive and forms an integral part of the nation. It appeals to different people of different intelligent levels. It is received at various different levels. The story of a young entrepreneur who asked his son in the evening, “Son, what did you learn today in school”. The child replied, “I was told by my teacher the story of Ramayana. But, you will not understand it.” The father insisted on the child telling him the story. So, the child gave a modern version of the story. There was this prince Rama; he went for a picnic to the forest along with his wife, Sita and brother, Lakshmana. A bad man abducted his wife and took her away to an island. Rama went and had a fight with him, killed him and brought Sita back. The gist of the story is there. But, the child who liked the old fashioned way of telling it felt that his father needed an edited or more modern version. This kind of editing done by modern generations, yet retaining the original story, is one of the reasons for it having its eternal value.
In both Ramayana and Mahabharata, Narada is the catalyst. Narada is a Rishi, but he is different from other Rishis, in that he forms a bridge between the gods and human beings, the liaison between the living sphere and the Gods. Valmiki is considered to be the Adi Kavi, the first poet of India. The conversion of him from a wayside robber, a bandit to a devotee and worshipper is interesting. Narada was the one who achieved it and Narada was the one who persuaded him to write the story of Rama. Surrender to the power of grace, Narada advised him and asked him to repeat the word “mara”(dead wood) which eventually becomes repetition of the word “Rama”.
Regarding Mahabharatam also there is a story of the intervention of Narada. After writing the Mahabharatam, full of wars and violence, Vyasa was very tired and did not know what to do. Narada appeared before him and advised him to write Bhagavatham, the sweet story of Lord Krishna to get ultimate peace.
The theme of epics is the direct confrontation of man and God on one side and the demon on the other. In Ramayana, Ravana is the demon. In Mahabharata, Duryodhana is the demoniac force, sadist incarnate.
The idea that Sita represents humility, submission and subordination is alien to Indian thinking. The eminent scholar, K. R, Srinivasa Iyengar mentions that without Sita, there is no Ramayana. Sita is the vital force that made things happen. At every stage, one can see Sita’s intervention. Sita’s will power is tremendous.
There are many instances which prove this intervention.
When Rama was leaving Ayodhya for the forest, every one advised Sita not to accompany him. But, Sita decided to accompany him.
In the forest she was the one who persuaded Rama to go after the golden deer.
With Ravana she transgressed the line of safety so that he could abduct her and Rama could come and fight with him, kill him and retrieve her.
When Hanuman offered to take her back to Rama on his shoulders she was the one who told him it would be difficult for him to fight against the whole army of Ravana, and she would prefer Rama to come and fight with Ravana and free her.
Sita’s Agnipariksha was not prompted by any external agency. She decided to prove her virtue in spite of the fact that she stayed in Ravana’s castle for six months.
After returning to Ayodhya and being enthroned as queen she became pregnant and wanted the peaceful life of an Ashram in the forest while she delivered her children. That is why requested Rama to leave her in the forest.
When she was restored to Rama’s court and was once again asked to prove her chastity to the people of Ayodhya, she refused, because the first time accepted the trial by fire was out of her own volition and she was not prepared to go through it once again for the sake of other people. That is why she asked her mother to take her back to her womb.
There is also a scene where the Rishis come and complain about the Rakshasas and how they obstruct their penance. Rama says that with the help of his mighty bow and arrow he will destroy them. Sita intervenes and tells him the story of a young hermit whose power of penance was so great that the demi-gods wanted to somehow deviate him from his concentration. They presented him with a sword, covered in silk. The first time he touched it unconsciously. The second time he opened it and used it to slash the bushes near by. The third time it was used against animals and then finally human beings. So, the peaceful, god loving hermit was so easily transformed into a bloodthirsty villain and that would be Rama’s fate also if he unleashes the bow and the arrow at the slightest provocation.
Sita, Savithry and Draupadi were all such powerful heroines and to reduce them to figures of submission and subjugation would be off the mark.
Talking of the inspiration behind the creation of epics, he said that even a dull poet when inspired could write a great poem, whereas even a great poet if he is uninspired would not be able to write anything above average. So, the inspiration is behind the creation of an epic. In Valmiki’s case it was the hunter felling down the chakravaka birds playfully mating. He was offended, angered and saddened. So the first verse emerged out of him as a curse on the offending hunter. Sokad slokam, from sadness or deeply felt sorrow the metre of the poem emerges. There are two types of literary works which offer inspiration, insight.
The mystical ones The pragmatic, didactic ones
Upanishads Jataka tales (powerful stories to help
Epics Brihad Katha (story given later)
(history of places)
A king of Kashmir ordered one of his scholars to travel all over India and collect manuscripts which would be of future importance. He did that and came back. But, by that the old king had died and the young king had ascended the throne.
The young king asked the scholar to read out his manuscripts. But, when he started to read, the king’s attention veered off to other matters of rulership. The angry scholar began to set fire to the manuscripts. The king tried to prevent him from doing that. But, by that time four fifths of the manuscripts were burnt. One fifth had been salvaged. They were translated into Sanskrit and came to be known as Kathasaritsagara.
The difference between Rama and Krishna as incarnations of Vishnu, is Krishna was all the time aware that he was a God, while Rama was not clear about that. He thought of himself most of the time as a human being and therefore were subject to the pitfalls and follies of human beings. Otherwise how could he have chased a deer thinking that it was a golden deer. There is no such animal as a golden deer; he could easily have known it was a case of magic and trickery. But, he did not. It shows he was human and vulnerable.
On Uttarakandam of Ramayana, Manoj Das believes that it was not written by Valmiki. Valmiki’s Ramayana stops with Rama Pattabhishekam and the subsequent celebration which is now known as Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. But the person who wrote the Uttarakanda was a very intelligent, clever satirical
person. Why did he write it? In order to prove that he was not capable of retaining Sita(the daughter of Mother Earth). The realization came to Rama only after Sita entered the bowels of Earth. Then it was too late.
There are many regional versions, some of them subversions. They all have value and they are important. But, they do not affect the wisdom and the eternal quality of the original.
One is about Ramayana. On the night of the Pattabhishekam, the monkeys are celebrating. One monkey accidentally jumped on top of a vegetable. A seed spurted from it. So the drunken money said, “you call it jumping, I can jump better than you.” He jumped. Seeing this the other monkeys also began to jump to prove their prowess. Soon, it was a session of the monkeys jumping. Hanuman was sitting aside and watching this fun. Two of Rama’s ministers came and asked him, “why don’t you show how you jumped over the sea to reach lanka and search for Sita?’ Maruti replied, “ I do not have the right to spend an iota of my energy except in service of my Lord, Rama.”
The story of Mahabharata is how Krishna on hearing a boy had slapped another boy took a procession and went to the house of the offending child’s grandfather. On reaching the house, Krishna merely said “look at me” and walked back. The old man was a fervent devotee of Krishna. He was blind. So, Krishna through this incident gave him a chance to recover his eyesight and have a darshan of his favourite deity.
In a district in Gorakhpur, on the market day women walk naked without any self consciousness. Men too don’t leer at them or use vulgar language. When asked why they do it, a story emerged. There was a river in that location in which Sita bathed naked. Women passing by used to laugh in a mocking way till Sita one day cornered them and asked them I am Mother Earth and I want nothing but Mother nature around me when I have a bath. Is it so laughable? Centuries later, the memory of Sita’s words and their truth is being preserved by these women walking naked. The men of the people felt that this tradition would last without any written documentation. It connected them to the days of Sita.
Epics are evolved and grow on account of their orality. Through chanting, performances, recitals the memory of epics is kept. The concept of evil also is not rigid in the epics. Even a genius falters, even a good man under pressure compromises. So, it is not a static concept.