Ramayana is said to be the Soul of Bharat, the united Bharat extending from today’s Afghanistan to Vietnam. Over millennia, Srimad Ramayana stood for the ultimate pursuit of every Bharatiya to be like Sri Rama, embodiment of Dharma. Given that Sanatana Hindu Dharma emphasized on punar-janma (rebirth), every Bharatiya took each life time as a step towards self-realization, which is becoming the Atman that is Sri Rama (TatTvamAsi).
The origin of Ramayana maha-kavya itself is worth learning about. In a conversation with sage Narada, maharishi Valmiki asks if there exists (currently) a person with 16 virtues or characteristics (Balakanda 1-1-2 to 1-1-5); considered to represent a self-realized embodiment of Dharma. To that question Narada answers affirmatively and briefly narrates the story of Sri Kausalya-putra Rama, son of Dasaradha. Then Brahma proposes maharishi Valmiki narrates the story of Sri Rama in detail, which leads Valmiki to write the story of that Dasaradha Rama as Ramayana (Rama + Ayana = Journey of Rama).
At this point, it is important to note that Kausalya-putra Dasaradha Rama was not the first Rama of Bharatiya puranic lore. There were many Ramas before Dasaradha Rama. In fact, there was a Renuka-putra Jamadagni Rama (famously known as Parasu Rama), who was also an avatar of Sri Vishnu and a chiranjivi (immortal), who would live till end of time (this sweta-varaha kalpa). But none of their autobiography will ever be called Ramayana in Bharatiya puranic lore.
If Ramayana (Rama + Ayana) means Rama’s journey, why can’t the journey of any and every Rama be Ramayana? It can be in a literal sense. But that will lead to two problems. First, it will lead to plagiarism of Valmiki’s intellectual property. Secondly, it will be an Asuric-wart on Bharatiya civilization. If an author persists to do it, it reflects the author’s prejudices not Ramayana nor Bharatiya civilization.
Then what is the essence of Valmiki Ramayana? Bharatiya Rishis used two tools to explain a scripture’s essence or purpose. First tool is called “Anubandha Chatushthaya”, which explains
- Adhikara – the required qualification of a reader of that scripture
- Vishaya – The object or body of knowledge presented in the book
- Prayojana – The purpose or result the reader would get out of the book
- Sambandha – how the reader is expected to approach the body of knowledge in the book
The second tool is phala-shruti of a given scripture. For example, Valmiki explains the phala-shruti of Ramayana in shlokas 6-128-108 thru 6-128-125. Interested minds can read.
Many seekers, poets and authors took inspiration from Valmiki Ramayana and retold that story in their own words and prejudices. We can group all these non-Valmiki Ramayanas into two groups. First group authors merely retold Valmiki Ramayana as a celebration of Sri Rama without altering the Anubandha Chatushthaya. Few examples of these Ramayanas are Agastya Ramayana, RamaCharitaManas by Sant Tulasi Das, Kamba Ramayana in Tamil, Ramayana Kalpavriksha by Sri Viswanatha Satyanarayana in Telugu etc. It is important for readers to note that such Ramayanas exist even outside todays nation-state called Bharat.
The second group of Ramayana are distortions of Ramayana to fit into a non-Hindu religious or ideological perspective. Examples of these Ramayanas are Dasaradha Jataka in Buddhism, Paumachariyam in Jainism and a communist distortion of Ramayana called Ramayana Visha-vriksha by Muppalla Ranganayakamma in Telugu.
Perhaps an analogy would help understand these distortions of Ramayana. Imagine a sugar-cane juice center on the road side, a common scene on Bharatiya roads. Often it is a family enterprise; a woman acting as table-server and running cash counter while her husband runs the hand-operated sugar-cane mill to extract juice. We can observe all kinds of people in such a shop; all came to enjoy the juice but make different observations.
Few enjoy the juice as if it is amruta, oblivious to the surroundings; few ogle at the beautiful woman at the counter; few others jealously wonder how much profit this family must be making; few feel disgusted at the not-so pristine environment; few others get upset at the socio-economic exploitation of this poor family; a beggar hopes to attract the magnitude of the shop-owners for a free juice, and so on. But the family running the shop are detached from all these feelings, unless expressed aggressively, as they are busy with their swadharma.
Similarly, Valmiki’s Ramayana swadharma is its Anubandha Chatushthaya. Any translation or re-rendering of Ramayana that honored the original Anubandha Chatushthaya is considered as Swa-Ramayana (our Ramayana) by Bharatiya civilization and celebrated as thus.
Any Ramayana that distorted this Anubandha Chatushthaya of Valmiki is considered as para-Ramayana (not Ramayana) by Bharatiya civilization even if it tells the story of that very Kausalya putra Dasaradha Rama. Reading a para-Ramayana is like a seeker eating the sugar-cane trash without juice in the above analogy.
Thanks to triple colonization of Bharat by Islam, Christianity and Secularism, a new wave of Ramayanas are being unleashed on Bharatiya consciousness. These renderings are neither the stories of Kausalya-putra Sri Rama, nor they honor the Anubandha Chatushthaya of Valmiki Ramayana. They are stories of non Bharatiya individuals packaged as Ramayana with a single motivation to distort and confuse. If there ever was another hero like Sri Rama, who demonstrated the 16 virtues described by Valmiki, it is our dharmic duty to recognize those individuals as avataras of Vishnu in their own names without any shame. If they do not demonstrate those qualities, then applying Ramayana name is nothing but plagiarism of Valmiki’s work and insulting Sanatana Hindu Dharma.
There is little one can do to stop such deceptive, unethical authors from plagiarizing Ramayana, our Bharatiya dharmic and cultural heritage. It does not matter if the author is erudite or even Veda-acharya. Almost all of our Puranic asuras, such as Trishira and Ravana were great Veda panditas themsevels, but were killed as they misinterpreted, mis-lived Veda vangmaya.
However, we can warn the readers on avoiding such distortions and ku-panditas.
As individuals do a critical study of Dharma, thru Ramayana or other Sanatana Dharmic scriptures, there will be two outcomes. One is the seeker gets results of their pursuit (called Tapas if done individually and Yajna if done collectively) in physical, conscious and causal realms. This also includes the impact of the seeker’s pursuit on surroundings (environment, society and other seekers). Mind you, a wrong seeker can get right followers and vice-versa. In the past, a seeker either didn’t share his/her methods and observations until one got Siddhi (fulfillment) or concluded their pursuit for lack of Siddhi. Few shared their failed methods and failures as a warning to others.
In the current era, the environment and tools (such as internet and social media) permit a seeker to share their study and methods in real time as they plan, prepare and do their pursuit. We can’t be sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it is very important (for the followers) to know that the seeker is still on their own journey and haven’t concluded their pursuit or got Siddhi. Another important fact to note is that many followers are following a seeker while the seeker himself/herself is in the journey without knowing to what purpose the pursuit is, at what stage the pursuit is, for how long it will continue and to where it goes and so on.
This is like people running behind Forest Gump in that famous Hollywood movie. One fine day the seeker (Forest Gump – a humble person literally running away from his own fears) will stop running and goes home leaving his followers standing confused on a road to nowhere.
(This article first appeared at http://bharata-bhuti.blogspot.in/2017/03/swa-para-ramayanas.html and is being reproduced with the permission of the author)
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Guru Govind Singh also wrote Ramavtaara as his devotional rendering of the Ramayana.