Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ramayana - Our Hidden History - Part 1

Why this series?

It has been a deep desire for long to bring out multiple aspects of the Indian culture in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Many of us might have just read the abridged versions by authors like Rajaji, etc. and may not know the depth of science, social dynamics, historical aspects, geography, etc. depicted in these epics. This is a humble attempt at bringing such hidden aspects to the front..

Why Ramayana?

Ramayana is referred to as the 'Adi Kavya', the very first poem. The fascination to this epic has been there both in the Southern and Northern parts of the Indian subcontinent. Famous Sangam age poets like Kamban had translated the Ramayana from Sanskrit to Tamil to help reach more people. And no, there did not seem to be a conflict between Sanskrit and Tamil. The poets seem most of the time equally well-versed in both the languages.

So, my attempt starts here, but I may also refer to the other historical references while deciphering the Ramayana. Of course, I will provide the source in each case for the view am presenting here.

Reference to Varna system

राजवंशान्शतगुणान्स्थापयिष्यति राघव: ।
चातुर्वर्ण्यं च लोकेऽस्मिन् स्वे स्वे धर्मे नियोक्ष्यति ।।1.1.96।। 

Meaning: Rama will establish hundredfold royal dynasties and employ the four varnas to do their respective duties, in this world.

Corollary: This is the very first Sarga where briefly Sage Narada tells Sage Valmiki the essence of Rama's life history. Looking at this shloka, it is clear that the Varna system pre-dates Rama and that it was in some state of decay already. Hence he is called upon to employ people of the four Varnas to their respective duties - not by birth rights but by duties - in this world.

Source: https://www.valmiki.iitk.ac.in/sloka?field_kanda_tid=1&language=dv&field_sarga_value=1

Evolved Grammar of Sanskrit and Grammar in Ramayana

तदास्य रामस्य चकारकीर्तिमान् ।
यशस्करं काव्यमुदारधीर्मुनि: ।।1.2.42।।

Meaning: The renowned and sagacious sage composed a kavya with hundreds of charming verses, each containing equal number of syllables and excellent meaningful words set in metre, conferring glory on celebrated Rama.

Corollary: The grammar of the language should have been sufficiently advanced enough for one to write it in a certain metre. 

Source: https://www.valmiki.iitk.ac.in/sloka?field_kanda_tid=1&language=dv&field_sarga_value=2

चतुर्विंशत्सहस्राणि श्लोकानामुक्तवानृषि:।
तथा सर्गशतान्पञ्च षट्काण्डानि तथोत्तरम् ।।1.4.2।। 

Meaning: Sage Valmiki composed the Ramayanam in twentyfour thousand verses in six kandas and also Uttarakanda (consisting of five hundred cantos).

Corollary: People who are extremely proficient in English still struggle to get their words in a specific metre now. Yet here is Ramayana with 24000 shlokas in the same metre! It's a phenomenal achievement by any linguistic standards. That there are 24000 shlokas is mentioned in the Ramayana itself. This is like CRC checks in modern computer systems communication!

Source: https://www.valmiki.iitk.ac.in/sloka?field_kanda_tid=1&language=dv&field_sarga_value=4

Did the Vedas exist before Ramayana was written?

स तु मेधाविनौ दृष्ट्वा वेदेषु परिनिष्ठितौ।
वेदोपबृंहणार्थाय तावग्राहयत प्रभु:।।1.4.6।।

Meaning: Valmiki, the master, having found both Kusa and Lava endowed with intellect and accomplished in the Vedas initiated them into the Ramayana composed by him for the purpose of nourishing the Vedas.

Corollary: Some may get a question looking at this passage if it is true Vyasa was the one who compiled the Vedas! A very logical question - Krishna Dwaipayana was his name and he became Veda Vyasa because he 'classified' the Vedas into four as Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana. But it does not mean that Veda did not exist before Vyasa. It very much did. 

Vyasa himself talks about Valmiki and Ramayana in the Mahabharata. So, it is also clear that the Valmiki predates Vyasa and that Vedas predate even Rama's life story. Otherwise, there is no need for Valmiki to have mentioned it in this Shloka. It was also clear that even young children were taught Vedas because Lava and Kusa had already been proficient in Vedas before they took up the task of taking Ramayana to everywhere. 

Source: https://www.valmiki.iitk.ac.in/sloka?field_kanda_tid=1&language=dv&field_sarga_value=4

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