By Benjamin Khan
Valmiki is known as the father of Sanskrit poetry, and who for the first time composed verses in that language and since then has remained the greatest artist of the world. As we read through the Ramayana, we are bewitched by his skilful creation of the plot, the unity of the poem, his flights of imagination and his balanced knowledge of the geography of the north and the south, agriculture, wildlife and medicine. He mentions that the clouds are born out of vapours, that the sea swells during the full moon, and that sanjivani is a herb which has wonderfully efficacious properties. But above all, his masterly grasp of human psychology and delineation of human character are unsur-passed.
K.S. Ramaswami Sastri observes that Valmiki ?was as cultured as he was inspired and as inspired as he was cultured. His intellect was as remarkable as his imagination and both were matched by his sympathy with all the living creatures and his devotion to God.?
In the Valmikian poetic firmament, the most brilliant and radiant stars are those of dharma, artha and kama which, like the Pole Star, are guiding all those who are treading the path of moral life, and act as a beacon to those who have gone astray and wish to return.
Hindu would never give up believing in the Vishnu element in Rama in spite of the fact that there is not enough internal evidence in Valmiki Ramayana to this effect.
Origin of the Ramayana
On the origin of the Ramayana, like its authorship, there are many interesting observations by scholars. Macfie observes that ?beginning as a comparatively brief narration of heroic deeds, it gathered to itself an amazing mass of myth and legend. The poem, then, as we have it today while Rama is still its central figure, is very different from what it must have been in its first beginnings. Like the Mahabharata, the Ramayana has grown with the passing of centuries, and those most competent to form a judgement are not agreed as to when it finally assumed the form and size it has today.?
J.C. Oman writing on this Indian epic says: ?The story of the Ramayana, notwithstanding its wild exaggerations, rests, in all probability, on a foundation of historical truth. It is certainly likely that at some remote period, probably not long after the settlement of the Aryans in the plains of the Ganges, a body of invaders headed by a bold leader, and aided by a barbarous hill tribe, may have attempted to force its way into the peninsula of India, as far as Ceylon. The heroic exploits of the chief would naturally become the theme of songs and ballads. The hero himself would be deified, the mountaineers and foresters of the Vindhya and neighbouring hills who assisted him would be converted into monkeys and the powerful but savage aborigines of the South into many-headed ogres and bloodlapping demons, called rakshasas. Their songs would at first be the property of Kshatriyas or the fighting caste, whose deeds they celebrated, but the ambitious Brahmans who aimed at religious and intellectual supremacy, would soon see the policy of collecting the rude ballads which they could not suppress, and moulding them into their own purposes.?
According to Dr Weber, Dasaratha Jataka is the nucleus of the story of Ramayana but in this Jataka, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are sister and brothers and in the Sakhyas a marriage between sister and brother was allowed. Weber says, ?In addition to this Buddhist legend, it is beyond question that Valmiki must have had access to other materials for his work.? Referring about this borrowed material he says, ?Let me say at once that the rape of Helen and the siege of Troy have served as a model for the corresponding incidents in the poem of Valmiki.?
There are some scholars who believe that Dasaratha Jataka may to some extent be the basis of Ramayana, but that Homer'swritings that provide material to our poet can in no way be imagined because the character portrayals of the two are very different. Dr Jacobi finds the sources of the story of Valmiki Ramayana in the Vedic stories of the devas. Jacobi avers that the whole material has been derived by the poet from the Vedic stories of Rama and Sita. This is supported by two great Indian scholars, Romesh Dutta and Belvalkar.
Rai Saheb Dinesh Chandra Sen is of the opinion that there were two legends?one Rama legend operating in the north and the Ravana legend in the south. The poet has combined the two into one, mediated by a third, the monkey legend of less importance. He, like so many others, thinks that the story of Dasaratha Jataka is the source of the Rama legend. Mr Talboys Wheeler is of the opinion that the story of Ramayana was invented to give expression to the hostile feeling and contention between Brahma and the Buddhists of Ceylon, alleged to be represented by the rakshasas. An interesting though somewhat strange view advan-ced by M. Venkata Ratanam claims that the Rama legend is foreign to India and it was the exploits of Ramses-II of Egypt brought into India by the travellers.
Similarly, regarding the date of the Ramayana in its present form, scholars differ. There is a tendency among the Indian Indologists to place everything in the distant past, whereas the European scholars have given it a more recent date. The traditional view is that it was composed in the treta yuga, nearly a million years ago. But many Indologists bring it down to recent times. Weber holds that it was later than the Mahabharata and assigns it to the third or fourth century b.c. Sir Monier Williams ascribes the poem in its present form to the third century b.c. Winternitz is also of the same opinion. Macdonell says that the kernel of the poem could have existed before the fifth century b.c. A.B. Keith ascribes it to the sixth century b.c. Jacobi is of the opinion that it may have been composed in the sixth or eighth century b.c.
One thing I am convinced of as I read through the pages of Valmiki Ramayana is that in Rama, goodness became incarnated against which evil and wickedness plotted for self-destruction. I would never believe that it is goodness that ever plots against evil, but it is evil that plots against goodness for self-destruction. And the Gita and Valmiki Ramayana stress this truth in no light terms.
Who were the rakshasas?
Mr Griffith says, ?The Aryan poet has described the aborigines of Lanka as rakshasas, as monsters, demons and cannibals with that contempt which has marked the civilised conquerors in all ages. The rakshasas according to the Hindu popular notion are malignant beings, demons of many shapes, terrible and cruel who disturb the sacrifices and religious rites of the Brahmanas. It appears indubitable that the poet applied the hated name rakshasas to an abhorred and hostile people. The name is more an expression of hatred and horror than connoting any real trait.?
He adds that the rakshasas ?sang solemn morning hymns of prayer and praise and their priests were skilled in the rites and rituals and knew the Vedas and their six angas.? (As to how they came in touch with Aryan civilisation and culture is quite puzzling). Signor Gorresio, writing on the same subject says, ?Towards the southern extremity and in the island of Lanka, there existed undoubtedly a black and ferocious race, averse to the Aryan and hostile to their mode of worship; their ramification extended through the island or archipelago and some traces of them remain in Java today.?
Ravana, a descendant of sage Pulastya, was the chieftain of the rakshasas. The Vishnu Purana describes these rakshasas as descendants of Kashyapa and Khasa. In Ramayana we find that when Brahma created the waters, he formed certain beings to guard them and who were called rakshasas (from the root raks, to guard). The epic describes them as ?barbarian, bloodthirsty stealers of offerings and night walkers.?
The Vishnu element in Ramayana
The orthodox Hindu would never give up believing in the Vishnu element in Rama in spite of the fact that there is not enough internal evidence in Valmiki Ramayana to this effect. The few shlokas referring to it may clearly be shown as very late interpolations. Vaidya says, ?The Ramopakhyana in the Maha-bharata was an incentive to the recasting of the Ramayana of Valmiki itself in accordance with the new theory of Rama being an avatara of Vishnu.?
I would not like to enter into discussion on this point because it falls outside the scope of this thesis, but one thing I am convinced of as I read through the pages of Valmiki Ramayana is that in Rama, goodness became incarnated against which evil and wickedness plotted for self-destruction. I would never believe that it is goodness that ever plots against evil, but it is evil that plots against goodness for self-destruction. And the Gita and Valmiki Ramayana stress this truth in no light terms. It is Kaikeyi who plots against Rama, but Rama refuses to do any wrong to her in spite of the fact that the action of the father and mother was devoid of all human touch and morality. It was Surpanakha and Ravana who under the sway of passions plotted against Rama for self-destruction when he was in exile, helpless and miserable.
When Sita, the wife of Rama was abducted, ?espying with his divine vision that Sita was overcome, that deity, the graceful great father exclaimed ?our work is accomplished? and seeing Sita overpowered by Ravana, the supreme saints of Dandaka concluded the destruction of Ravana to be as good as accomplished without much ado, and became at once delighted and aggrieved.?
(Extracts from the The Concept of Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana by Benjamin Khan.)