This book by a Polish intellectual was developed after years of study on the Ramayana tradition in Hindi. The author published his book Opowiesc o prawym krolu in Polish which he considers the fullest exposition.
The main goal of his work is twofold – firstly it seeks to analyse the development of the Ramayana tradition in Indian literature from the perspective of its most important achievements against their historical background and socio-cultural context; secondly, it attempts to economise the relationship between the story, i.e. the Ramkatha as told by different authors and Ram, the protagonist of the Ramayana, who functions as a cultural hero and serves as a model of right behaviour for others and at the same time appears to be one of the most important factors in the continuing popularity of the tradition.
The book opens with an introduction that outlines the diversity of the Ramayana tradition in India, beginning with the first known Ramayana ascribed to sage Valmiki. It discusses later developments in Sanskrit and vernacular literature as exemplified by these best achievements originating from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain contexts. It also considers the implications of all these works for the unfolding of the tradition in Hindi. In its closing portion, it gives an overview of the growth of the cult of Ram in north India. Special attention is paid to Bhakti that has “shaped the countenance of the religious life in north India and has found expression in the magnum opus of Tulsidas, the 16th century Ramcharitmanas.”
The main core of this study is divided into two interrelated parts. Part I, titled, ‘The Story and Its Author’, consists of six chapters devoted to the examination of the most representative Ramkathas in the entire history of Hindi literature selected according to certain criteria. The investigation is specially challenging due to its teachings written by modern authors in which case the problem of their attitude to the myth of Ram and to myth in general becomes of greater importance. In regard to this, the author chooses Eleazar Meletinsky’s findings put forward in his book Poetika mifa. Part II, titled, ‘The Protagonist of the Story’, comprises three chapters and concentrates on the image of Ram as present in Hindi literature. This analysis is based on works that emerge from the survey carried out in Part One as the most interesting and typical of their times.
Firstly the author is concerned with the image of Ram in the Ramcharitmanas. Secondly, he deals with the character of the protagonist of Maithailisharan Gupta’s Saket which is considered to be the best example of Hindi literature at the time of the national movement with regard to different retellings of Ramkatha. Thirdly, the figure of Ram from Bhagvan Simh’s novel, Apne Apne Ram in Hindi of contemporary Ramkathas, where Ram is not only a literary figure but also a cultural hero who shows how to lead a righteous life. The author thinks that such an approach based on literary sources contributes much to the understanding of the significance of Ram in north Indian culture.
At the end of the book are given Appendices with a summary of the story and a glossary of names in Tulsidas’s Ramcharit-manas. This is a book meant for Ph.D. students engaged in writing theses on Ramcharitmanas.
(Manohar Publishers and Distributors, 4753/23, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110 002.)