2. History and Historicity
Few questions in the history of world literature have evoked so many and so widely differing answers as those that bear upon the date of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa and the historicity of the characters and events that are represented in it. [ Note 15 The two issues are to some extent connected in that both the poem (in the form in which we have it) and the unanimous tradition of India represent the sage Vālmīki, the legendary author of the work, as a contemporary of its hero and, indeed, a participant in the epic events. One of the first public recitations of the poem is said to have been given by Vālmīki’s disciples, Rāma’s sons Lava and Kuśa, in Rāma’s presence. Cf. 1.4 and 7.85. ] Even if we leave aside the traditional ascription of the life of Rāma to the legendary era of the Tretā Yuga, c. 867, 102 b.c., [ Note 16 See Ramaswami Sastri 1944, pp. 23-24. ] opinion as to the date of the poem and its central events range from the fourth century a.d. to the sixth millennium b.c. [ Note 17 See Weber 1870, pp. 44-63, and Ramaswami Sastri 1944, p. 39. Gorresio (1843, p. xcix) cites the opinions of Jones, Bendy, and Tod, who place Rāma in 2029, 950, and 1100 b.c., respectively. Gorresio, himself a keen student of the epic, dated the poem to the thirteenth century b.c. (1843, p. c). These early opinions are based on often faulty premises. Nonetheless, as we shall see, some of the positions taken with regard to the absolute and relative chronology of the Rāmāyaṇa are still defended today. ] Surely the dating of no other work of world literature can boast such a range of scholarly disagreement. The problems of dating the poem are numerous and complex. As with most of the literary and philosophical documents of ancient India, there exists virtually no independent and objective testimony in the form of historical, archeological, epigraphical, or similar survivals on the basis of which to establish the dates even roughly. Literary works are mentioned and quoted in other literary or technical works, but in general, until quite recent times the dates of these other works are equally indeterminate. The problem is greatly compounded in the case of this immensely popular epic narrative transmitted both orally and through the medium of huge numbers of manuscripts — a narrative whose origins are obscure and whose author is known to us chiefly as a character in the poem itself.
The question of the authorship of the poem is complicated. For one thing, it has long been known that the poem in its present form cannot be the work of a single author, or even the product of a single period of time. The text, in all its recensions, is marked by a large number of passages, ranging in size from a quarter verse to hundreds of lines, that can be demonstrated on the basis of cultural, religious, linguistic, or text-historical evidence to be interpolations or additions that have become part of the text over the centuries. Moreover, it has been generally accepted by scholars, since at least the time of Jacobi, that much of the first book and most, if not all, of the last book of the epic, the Bāla and Uttara Kāṇḍas, are later additions to the work’s original core, represented by Books Two through Six. [ Note 18 Jacobi 1893, pp. 50-59. Jacobi developed a suggestion first made by Holtzmann (1841, pp. 36ff.), whom he quotes. van Daalen (1980, pp. 1-2, 223) sustains Jacobi’s views on the Bāla, that is, that some portions of it belong to the oldest stratum of the text. On the basis of his own text-critical studies, he posits a single poet for the older portions of Bāla. There are a number of reasons for regarding Uttara as a later work even than Bāla (see Guruge 1960, p. 32). A number of scholars, particularly in India, have, however, seen some portions of Uttara as belonging to an early stratum of the text on literary critical grounds. See Kibe 1947, pp. 321ff. and Guruge 1960, p. 32. ]
In the absence of reliable external evidence bearing on the date of any stratum of the Rāmāyaṇa, scholars have been thrown back on such evidence as the text itself affords and have tried to date the work relative to other equally problematic texts, chiefly the Mahābhārata. The general types of internal evidence used may be conveniently categorized as linguistic, stylistic, cultural, political, and geographical.
Linguistic investigations of the Rāmāyaṇa have been quite numerous, and several have been used in an effort to determine the date of the poem and the relative priority of its principal recensions. [ Note 19 Some of the more useful studies in this area are: Gorresio 1843; Michelson 1904; Roussel 1910; Brockington 1969b and 1970; Vrat 1964; the numerous valuable articles of N. M. Sen (see bibliography); and van Daalen 1980. ] But the linguistic evidence can cut two ways, for the so-called irregularities of the epic language have been seen, on the one hand, as pre-Pāṇinian archaisms and, on the other, as late innovations. [ Note 20 Most recently van Daalen (1980) has argued that the ‘irregularities’ are characteristic of late portions of the text and were largely alien to the original poet. ] All such arguments, when they are applied to the question of the date of the poem, ultimately depend on their authors’ conception of the relation of the epic language to that described by Pāṇini. [ Note 21 van Daalen’s disclaimer, ‘“Irregularities” have not been defined in this study in terms of forms contravening particular rules of Pāṇini’ (van Daalen 1980, p. 37) is confusing, especially in the light of his statement on the same page, that ‘the above does not mean that Pāṇini is not the frame of reference with previous collectors of irregularities and, consequently, implicitly in this study in many cases, since the collection of §4 is the summation of the previous collections as far as the items chosen for study are concerned.’ In any case, the analysis of ‘irregularities’ is problematic without some standard for what is regular. See Goldman 1982. ] However, as a number of authors have argued, [ Note 22 See Roussel 1910, p. 6, and Macdonell 1900, pp. 311-12. ] the language of the Sanskrit epics is a popular dialect of the rhapsodists, and its divergences from Pāṇini’s rules cannot convincingly be used as evidence that the epics are either earlier or later than the great grammarian.
In brief, then, analyses of the language of the epic, although they may be of great intrinsic interest and shed some light on the relative age of different parts of the text and of its various recensions, have not proven themselves useful as tools for determining the date of the poem or of the events that it purports to represent.
Stylistic studies of the Rāmāyaṇa, in our opinion, have shed no more light on the absolute date of the poem than have linguistic investigations. Here again the approach appears to be most productive when it is applied to the study of the relative age of the different sections of the work and its relationship to the Mahābhārata. This latter problem is extremely complicated. For, in the course of their parallel development, the two epics have influenced each other and borrowed from each other to the extent that it has become difficult in many cases to disentangle the web of their mutual involvement. Both poems employ the style of the popular oral-formulaic epic and share a considerable body of gnomic phrases and commonplaces as well as the same meters. [ Note 23 For discussions of the common features, interrelationships, mutual influence, and metrical and common stylistic features of the two epics, see Hopkins 1901, Kane 1966, and Sukthankar 1941. ]
On the other hand, the Rāmāyaṇa does have a number of stylistic features that generally distinguish it from the Mahābhārata. The work is traditionally designated as kāvya, poetry, in contradistinction to the Mahābhārata, which is generally classified as itihāsa, traditional history. [ Note 24 The tradition is not unanimous in making this distinction. The MBh, for example, refers to itself as kāvya. See, for example, the famous passage at the beginning of the Ādiparvan where, in an encounter parallel to that of Vālmīki and Brahmā at Rām 1.2. Vyāsa and the god discuss the creation of the former’s poem (MBh, crit. ed., Ādiparvan App. 1). Some writers on alaṃkāraśāstra regard Rām as an example of itihāsa and group it with the MBh for purposes of criticism. For a discussion of Abhinavagupta’s handling of the epics, see Masson 1969, pp. 78-84 and 103-12. ] This is justified to a great extent by the frequent striving on the part of the poet for the creation of what in the Indian tradition is regarded as specifically poetic effect through the massive accumulation of figures, forceful use of language, dense descriptions, and the evocation of aesthetic pleasure through a play on intense emotional states.
One stylistic point at which the two epics diverge is the way in which the poets deal with the junctures at which the direct address of one narrator gives way to that of another. The point is important, for the virtually unvarying convention of the epic and puranic poets is that their works are represented as a series of direct narrations on the part of various speakers on various levels of the narrative. The Mahābhārata consistently introduces its speeches with the prose formulae that are common also to the purāṇas of the type arjuna uvāca and ṛṣaya ūcuḥ, that is, ‘Arjuna said,’ ‘the seers said,’ and so on. These formulae are not part of the metrical body of the text but occur between verses and unmistakably signal a change of speaker. By way of contrast, the Rāmāyaṇa typically integrates this sort of information directly into the text of the poem in the form of a variety of rather tedious metrical formulae. This difference has led several scholars to conclude that the Rāmāyaṇa is a later work than the Mahābhārata. [ Note 25 See Macdonell 1919; Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, pp. 324, 506. ] For, they argue, Vālmīki’s usage in this respect represents a later development than the usage of the Mahābhārata, which they see as an archaic survival of the style of ancient balladry. But this argument is far from convincing. For one thing, the prose formulae of the Mahābhārata are universally employed in the purāṇas, all of which are later and most of which are much later than even the latest forms of either epic. [ Note 26 In response to this objection, Winternitz was driven to the somewhat circular argument that ‘The Purāṇas have always retained these prose formulas in order to preserve the appearance of antiquity’ (1927, vol. 1, p. 506 note 1). ] Moreover, it is by no means clear that the integration of the formulae into the verses of the Rāmāyaṇa is a sign of anything other than a genre distinction between the poem and the Mahābhārata–purāṇa literature mentioned above. [ Note 27 In any case, as we shall see, this ‘advance’ on the part of the Rāmāyaṇa poets often has the effect of slowing the epic text by dogging it with tedious formulae that merely mark the end of one speech and the beginning of another, whereas the ‘archaism’ of the Mahābhārata permits the poets to free themselves and their text of what is often a stylistic disaster. It seems to its an equally tenable argument that the poets of the MBh have made a stylistic advance over the Rām. ]
The general stylistic inferiority of the first and last books to the others supports Jacobi’s theory of the textual prehistory of the poem. In general, however, the stylistic evidence adduced by scholars seems unlikely to shed much light on the question of the date of the Rāmāyaṇa.
In its great extent and its profusion of detail, the poem provides us with a wealth of data concerning the material, sociological, psychological, and general cultural conditions prevalent in ancient India during the period of its composition. These conditions have long been a major area of interest to students of India, and a number of books and articles have been devoted, in whole or part, to the cataloging and analysis of such data. [ Note 28 See, for example, the elaborate and useful treatment of Guruge 1960, and the works of Khan 1965, Vyas 1967, and Sharma 1971, which cull the text for information on the subjects of realia, social, economic, and political life, the arts, religion, and so on. ]
Such studies have organized for us a great deal of the cultural data to be gleaned from the epic. But because of the virtual impossibility of referring most of this data to a clear historical context and to the generally quite conservative nature of Indian society, we cannot tell with any certainty the dates of the culture represented in the Rāmāyaṇa. Moreover, the obscurity of the poem’s textual history, with additions and interpolations having been made over a period of some centuries, makes it virtually impossible to correlate a given bit of cultural data with the period of the composition of the core of the work. Thus, for example, the elaborate description of the city of Ayodhyā at 1.6 does not necessarily mean that the bulk of the poem cannot predate the age of significant urbanization in the Gangetic plains.
Similarly, attempts to date the poem on the basis of specific cultural phenomena associated with Hindu society have not yielded very convincing results. For example, several authors have noted that although the immolation of widows upon their husbands’ funeral pyres is commonplace in the Mahābhārata, this custom is almost wholly unknown to the Rāmāyaṇa. [ Note 29 In fact, the practice is mentioned only once in the Rām, in a passage in the late Uttarakāṇḍa (7.17.13), where Vedavatī, who is represented as a prior incarnation of Sītā, tells Rāvaṇa that her mother had burned herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. On this point see Lassen 1858, p. 592; Hopkins 1889, pp. 116-17, 314-15; 1901, p. 149, Guruge 1960, pp. 203-204; Sharma 1971, pp. 95-98; and Meyer 1952, pp. 412-14. ] The case of niyojana, or levirate, in which a woman whose husband is dead, or otherwise incapable of fathering children, may conceive by another man in the name of her husband, is similar. Not only is this practice commonplace in the Mahābhārata, it is fundamental to the development of the epic story. In contrast, although the Rāmāyaṇa may know of the custom, it gives no clear examples of it and certainly none in the case of the royal family of Ayodhyā. [ Note 30 See Guruge 1960, p. 201; Sharma 1971, p. 437; and Meyer 1952, pp. 165-73. At one point the MBh ascribes the practice of niyojana to the Ikṣvāku dynasty: at MBh 1.168.11-23, the sage Vasiṣṭha, the hereditary purohita, or family priest, of the Ikṣvākus, is said to have fathered an heir for King Kalmāṣapāda upon his queen at the king’s own request (see Goldman 1978, pp. 356-57). Although this practice is apparently eschewed in the royal family of the Rām, there is some evidence that it may lie at the bottom of the Bālakāṇḍa’s rather awkward introduction of the sage Ṛśyaśṛṅga into the account of Daśaratha’s efforts to procure an heir. If this is so, then the lack of instances of the levirate in the Rām cannot be used as an argument of the epic’s priority to the MBh. ]
A further example of the use of cultural data in an effort to date the epic involves the much-discussed question of whether Rāma’s marriage to Sītā is a case of child marriage. In this case, the recensional evidence is so various that it is difficult to ascertain the precise age of Sītā at the time of her marriage. [ Note 31 See, for example, Guruge 1960, pp. 197-99. ] But here, again, whatever may have been the case in regard to this or any of the other practices of traditional Hinduism, their presence or absence in the Rāmāyaṇa is at best only secondary evidence of the priority or posteriority of the poem with respect to the Mahābhārata. This is so for two reasons. First, the Mahābhārata is encyclopedic and became a sort of compendium of traditional law and custom. As a result, it accumulated episodes illustrating virtually every social custom known to the epic bards and redactors. These episodes, moreover, were accumulated over a long period of time. Under these circumstances, the exclusion of a practice or convention from the Mahābhārata constitutes fairly good evidence that it was not known to the compilers and expanders of the text. This is not the case with the Rāmāyaṇa, which was never intended to be so inclusive. Therefore, the omission of a traditional practice from the Rāmāyaṇa does not, to our way of thinking, conclusively demonstrate that its authors were ignorant of the practice. It may be that they simply had no occasion to mention it. Moreover, in the absence of any independent historical or sociological evidence concerning the epic period, it is impossible for us to rule out the possibility that cultural differences between the two poems may reflect regional rather than chronological distance.
It would appear then, that internal linguistic or cultural evidence can, at best, shed some light on the relative dates of the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, but it cannot provide us with anything like an absolute time frame for the dating of either epic.
By way of contrast, the geographical and political data gleaned from the Rāmāyaṇa can, as Jacobi argued, shed considerable light on the question of the latest date for the composition of the archetype. [ Note 32 Jacobi 1893, pp. 100-107. Jacobi’s arguments put to rest the issue of a post-Buddhistic date for the Rām raised by scholars such as Wheeler (1867-81, vol. 2, p. lxxiv and Weber (1870, pp. 1-13). For this reason, we shall not discuss the theses that they put forward. Moreover, the critical edition has shown the epic’s one explicit reference to Buddhism to be an interpolation. See Ayodhyākāṇḍa, crit. app., *2241, 14-15. ] Let us summarize Jacobi’s arguments. Jacobi argued that, although the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa appears to originate in and centrally concerns the royal house of the Kosala-Magadha region of east central India, the area in which both the great Buddhist movement and the rise of the imperial Magadhan power occurred toward the middle of the sixth century b.c., it appears to know nothing of these important developments. The world known to the authors of the epic is that of small quasi-tribal kingdoms whose kshatriya overlords may or may not have owed some special fealty or deference to the Ikṣvāku monarch reigning in Ayodhyā. The poets are fairly familiar with the geography of northern India and with the countries and towns of the pre-Magadhan period. [ Note 33 See Guruge 1960, pp. 51-80. It is interesting in this connection that, although the poem shows, in a textually well-supported passage from what is generally regarded as its oldest stratum (2.62.9-15), at least a general familiarity with north central and northwestern India, including sites central to the story of the MBh such as Hastinapura, Pañcāladeśa, and Kurujāṅgala, its authors nowhere show any familiarity with the characters or events of the longer epic. The absence of references to the MBh in the Rām has been noted many times before and has been urged as evidence of the priority of the latter (Jacobi 1893, p. 70). On the other hand, the significance of the Rām’s knowledge of Kurukṣetra has been perhaps insufficiently appreciated. It would appear to lend additional support to the supposition that the Rām was substantially completed at a time before the epic of the Kauravas had gained very wide currency in north India, for, had that not been the case, we would expect at least some passing reference to the events of the Bhārata war that took place in the regions named. ]
An extremely important observation in this connection was made by Jacobi when he noted that the Bālakāṇḍa, which is closely concerned with the history and geography of the region through which Rāma is led by Viśvāmitra, appears to know that region at a time prior to the rise of Buddhism and the growth of Magadhan hegemony. [ Note 34 Jacobi 1893, pp. 101-102. ] For, although Rāma is led right past the site of the great Magadhan capital of Pāṭaliputra (1.34), and the sage is eager to discourse on the founding and origins of other urban settlements in the area, the city is not mentioned. [ Note 35 Cf. the treatments of the foundations of Kauṣāmbī, Mahodaya, Dharmāraṇya, Girivraja, and Vasumatī at 1.31.3-8, where the region of the latter is called Māgadhī. ] Later in the first book (1.46-47), we find that for the poet the settlements of Viśālā and Mithilā, which we know to have been merged into the urban center of Vaiśālī by the time of the Buddha, were separate and under separate rulership. [ Note 36 Cf. Law 1951, pp. 23-27. One must treat such an argument from ignorance with great care. Nonetheless, the fact that the Bālakāṇḍa poet is at such pains to provide the legendary and historical traditions connected with the sites encountered during Rāma’s journey from Ayodhyā to Mithilā lends credence to the proposition that, if an important urban site at Pāṭaliputra had been known, it would have been mentioned. ]
Finally, we see that in the Bālakāṇḍa, as in the central five books of the epic, the kingdom of Kosala is represented as being at the height of its power and prosperity, governed from a major urban settlement called Ayodhyā. It is only at the very end of the Uttarakāṇḍa, in what must be regarded as a late epilogue to the poem, that we find reference to Śrāvastī as a successor capital to the ruined city of Ayodhyā. [ Note 37 7.98.5. Here Śrāvastī (crit. ed., Śrāvatī) is established as the capital of North Kosala, to be ruled by Rāma’s son Lava. South Kosala is to be governed from Kuśāvatī by Rāma’s other son, Kuśa. This division of the ancient janapada of Kosala into two parts, a northern and a southern, is well attested in inscriptional and literary sources, as shown by Sarma (1927). It is, however, a division that is only to be found in quite late material. Sarma’s contention that this distinction is known to the Bālakāṇḍa (1927, p. 70) is based on the vulgate passage at 1.13.26, according to which Daśaratha includes Bhānumant, the king of Kosala, among those he invites to his horse sacrifice. The passage is, however, a spurious one and known only to a very few Devanāgarī manuscripts. See crit. ed., 1.*373. ] It is worth noting in this connection that, as Jacobi also pointed out, the capital city of the unified realm of Kosala is invariably known as Ayodhyā in the epic and never by the name Sāketa, the name by which it comes to be known in much of Buddhist and later literature. [ Note 38 Jacobi 1893, pp. 104-105. ]
Thus, the Rāmāyaṇa — including the Bālakāṇḍa, which is generally agreed to be among the latest additions to the text — appears to know or have a fresh recollection of the ancient janapada of Kosala at the time of its greatest glory. But, the last great ruler of Kosala, Prasenajit, was a contemporary of the Buddha and ruled from Śrāvastī. After his time the kingdom was absorbed into the growing empire of the new, non-kshatriya imperial dynasty of Magadha whose great capital, Pāṭaliputra, was founded approximately 460 b.c. [ Note 39 See Law 1951, pp. 4-6; Mookerji 1951, pp. 22-31, 36-38. ] Even if we grant no value at all to the traditional puranic dynastic lists [ Note 40 Cf. Pargiter 1922, pp. 90-95, who argues that the lists are often questionable and that the Rām version of the genealogy of the solar kings is much less reliable than the versions of the MBh and the purāṇas. ] or to the Buddhist view that the Buddha himself was a descendant of the ancient and glorious Ikṣvāku rulers of Ayodhyā and that the events recounted in the Rāmāyaṇa predate his birth by many generations, [ Note 41 Cf. Johnston 1936, pp. xlvii-xliix, and Thomas 1927, pp. 5-15. ] it is difficult to see how the portions of the Bālakāṇḍa mentioned above can have been composed later than around the beginning of the fifth century b.c. If, however, we take into consideration the tradition that the poem was set and composed in a long-distant past [ Note 42 Cf. Gorresio 1843, pp. cx-cxi, basing his judgment on the traditional Tretā Yuga date and the Rājataraṅgiṇī legend that King Dāmodara, traditionally dated to remote antiquity, heard the Rām recited, puts the composition of the poem in the thirteenth or fourteenth century b.c., a date that he himself regards as conjectural. Weber (1870, pp. 61-62) has shown the unlikelihood of Gorresio’s argument, although, as noted above, his own views of the date of the core of the epic are equally unconvincing. ] and the generally accepted notion of the relative lateness of Bāla, it seems reasonable to accept for the composition of the oldest parts of the surviving epic a date no later than the middle of the sixth century b.c. [ Note 43 These dates, like so many in pre-Alexandrian Indian history, are ultimately based on the generally accepted date of the death of the Buddha in 486 b.c. If one accepts the Sinhalese tradition of the death of the Buddha in 544 b.c., then all the dates of the late Kosalan and early Magadhan period, and with them the latest date for the composition of the Rām, must be shifted back by some sixty years. For a discussion of the problem of the date of the Buddha’s death, see Raychaudhuri 1923, p. 184. ]
In the matter of determining the earliest date for the composition of the poem, we can speak with far less certainty. The most we can say at the present with any confidence is that the language, style, content, and world view of the poem appear to be consistent with what we know of the late vedic and early Hindu periods, with small patriarchal kingdoms, heavy forestation, great emphasis on the knowledge of the vedas, and great śrauta rituals as the principal public expressions of religious life. In the poem itself, particularly in its later portions, we see the influence of the newly developing cult of Viṣṇu, but the text, even in these sections, is largely free from the devotional passion that came later to characterize traditional Hinduism.
Taking all of this into consideration, we feel that it is extremely unlikely that the archetype of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa can be much earlier than the beginning of the seventh century b.c., although it is impossible to demonstrate this with any sort of rigor. [ Note 44 It has been generally accepted that tales of Rāma and the ancient royal house of Ayodhyā must have been current for some time before the composition of the epic itself. This is more than probable. But in the absence of any corroborative evidence, our conception of these tales must be purely speculative. ]
The historicity of the Rāmāyaṇa
We have thus narrowed down the probable date of the composition of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, sometime between 750 and 500 b.c. What now can be said of the historicity of the characters and events that the epic purports to represent? The author or authors of the central portions of the poem — including the older parts of the Bālakāṇḍa — appear to have been familiar with the Kosala-Magadha region at the time of the sixteen janapadas and well before the period from which we can recover our first verifiable historical data. Since their geographical and geopolitical data are in keeping with such knowledge of the place and time as we have, there can be no doubt that, at least in the first two books of the epic, the poets are dealing with real places and kingdoms. If we make some allowance for epic hyperbole in the elaborate description of the city of Ayodhyā and in the accounts of the wealth of the various kings that people the text, we have no difficulty in reading the setting of the first part of the poem as a credible, if idealized, rendering of a fortified township in the heavily forested plains of the Ganges-Sarayū watershed.
Our first difficulty relating to the historicity of the Rāmāyaṇa concerns the principal characters of the story. Of these the only thing that may be said with certainty is that the author did not invent their names. The names Rāma, Daśaratha, Sītā, Janaka, Vasiṣṭha, and Viśvāmitra are attested in various strata of the vedic literature, at least some of which are older than the Rāmāyaṇa. [ Note 45 ] On the other hand, nowhere in the surviving vedic literature is anything like the Rāma story related in connection with any figures bearing these names, nor are any of these figures related to each other in ways paralleling their interrelationships in the epic. [ Note 46 ] The finding of like-named or even parallel figures in the vedas merely pushes the problem one stage back to still more ancient texts whose historicity is at best as dubious as that of the epics. The most that one could hope to accomplish by examining the vedic literature is to find literary sources for characters or events in the Rāmāyaṇa, sources that finally shed no light on the problem of historicity.
The genealogical and dynastic lists of the Ikṣvākus found in the purāṇas and the epics themselves provide another external source that has been used in attempts to verify the historicity of the characters in the Rāmāyaṇa. [ Note 47 ] The problem with this sort of testimony is that we have no way of determining the reliability of such lists. In many cases it seems clear that names are inserted or invented simply to give the lineage of a given ruler or house a claim to great antiquity, and we are not convinced that the collation of these lists has any great value. Moreover, all the available lists, other than those in the Rāmāyaṇa, are drawn from texts that in their present forms are later than the epic.[ Note 48 ] Even if, as Pargiter argues, some of the puranic lists are actually the sources of the Bāla genealogies, we can push this sort of material no further than to say that the purāṇas preserve a tradition of a lengthy Ikṣvāku genealogy according to which Rāma, the son of Daśaratha and descendant of Raghu, ruled in Ayodhyā during the Tretā Yuga. [ Note 49 ]
Another level of the problem of the historicity of the epic is reached when one passes from the Ayodhyākāṇḍa to the remainder of the poem. For in the elaborate and detailed narrative of Book Two we have what is, if not a historical, at least a credible account of a harem intrigue and its political consequences; but in the Araṇyakāṇḍa we move abruptly into the enchanted realm of the forests, poorly charted and peopled by mighty sages who wield magic powers, dreadful supernatural monsters, and flying monkeys who can change their shapes and sizes at will and who speak elegant Sanskrit.
This abrupt change [ Note 50 ] from the at least pseudo-historical to the totally fantasied has long been an object of interest to scholars, some of whom have seen the epic as pieced together from two different stories, the first a historical reminiscence of a family feud and the second a legend of a demon-slaying hero. A lucid statement of this seeming dissonance is that of Macdonell:
The story of the Rāmāyaṇa, as narrated in the five genuine books, consists of two distinct parts. The first describes the events at the court of King Daśaratha at Ayodhyā and their consequences. Here we have a purely human and natural account of the intrigues of a queen to set her son upon the throne. There is nothing fantastic in the narrative, nor has it any mythological background. If the epic ended with the return of Rāma’s brother, Bharata, to the capital, after the old king’s death, it might pass for a historical saga. For Ikṣvāku, Daśaratha and Rāma are the names of celebrated and mighty kings mentioned even in the Ṛg-veda, though not here connected with one another in any way.
The character of the second part is entirely different. Based on a foundation of myths, it is full of the marvellous and the fantastic. [ Note 51 ]
Macdonell’s statement is characteristically lucid and is responsive to what appears to be a real discontinuity in the poem. And yet we should, perhaps, attempt to see the poem as a coherent whole before accepting it as some species of hybrid. This is an extremely important point, for it bears directly upon our understanding of the epic, of what its authors intended it to be, and of the role it has played for more than two thousand years in the lives and thoughts of the Indian people.
Before undertaking a detailed discussion of the nature and purpose of the Rāmāyaṇa, however, it will be appropriate to examine critically the second of Macdonell’s ‘two distinct parts’ with an eye toward determining whether or to what extent the events described there may be said to be historical.
One of the most common approaches to the study of the Rāmāyaṇa, from the early days of modern Indological scholarship to the present, has involved the attempt to discover in Rāma’s strange alliance with the monkeys of Kiṣkindhā and his bitter war with the savage rākṣasas of Laṅkā the representation of some historical reality. In fact, the numerous attempts to determine the exact geographical location of the demon king’s island fortress and the ethnic or religious groups represented as apes or goblins may be said to form a minor genre of Indological writing. The rākṣasas have been identified as various of the Dravidian and tribal peoples of South India and Ceylon, the Sinhalese Buddhists, and even, in an extreme case, with the aboriginal population of Australia! [ Note 52 ]
Even Gorresio, who saw the central conflict of the epic as a struggle between two hostile races, recognized, with his usual insight, that this was also a narrative representation of the conflict of the two abstract principles of good and evil. [ Note 53] If the demons have been viewed as hostile and barbarous aboriginals, the vānaras, or monkeys, are seen as tribesmen who, if they exist on a primitive level of culture, are well-disposed toward the Aryan warriors from the north.
The arguments against these interpretations have been tellingly made by a number of authors. [ Note 54] The problem is that such interpretations that seek to allegorize or rationalize what is essentially a work of fantasy, fail to show why a text that gives rational and at least relatively realistic description of tribal groups such as Guha’s Niṣādas should represent other tribes as possessed of animal forms and supernatural powers. It seems to us as fruitless to attempt to read the epic as an ethnological roman à clef, as it is to try to demonstrate that the supernatural events described in the poem are, in fact, possible. [ Note 55]
Despite the careful and copious scholarship on the geography of Rāma’s adventures in the forests and on the location of Laṅkā, [ Note 56] we would still basically share Jacobi’s opinion that, once the poet has his hero cross the Ganges and move south into peninsular India, he has him enter a dimly known realm that he could safely represent to an originally provincial audience as inhabited by ogres, magicians, and talking beasts.[Note 57] We do not mean to argue that the poet does not set the latter portion of the epic in south India. He does. But it is a south India known to him only as a distant and wild land ideally suited to his purposes in pitting his fearless hero against the terrifying dark forces of what is, after all, an inner world.
Even the elaborate descriptions of the battles at Laṅkā do not, despite their minute concern with the various types of weapons, create an impression that the poet is trying to render real events. As Macdonell remarks, ‘The warfare in the epic nucleus of the Mahābhārata is that of heroic human combatants on both sides; in the Rāmāyaṇa it consists of conflicts with monsters and demons such as are described by writers of fairy-tales without knowledge of real fighting.’ [ Note 58]
Since the geography of the south becomes increasingly vague the farther the poet takes us from Ayodhyā, and since the poem gives evidence of only the most tenuous notions of coastal India, it seems improbable that the authors of the original portions of the epic had any very detailed knowledge of Sri Laṅkā (Ceylon). There is some evidence in the poem that the island was known, but is distinguished from Laṅkā. The most that can be said with any certainty is that the poet knew of an island kingdom, whether real or mythical, said to lie some distance off the coast of the Indian mainland. It seems unlikely that, as some scholars have contended, Laṅkā was conceived of as lying within the boundaries of peninsular India. [ Note 59] In any case, we are convinced that attempts at the ethnological identification of the rākṣasas and the vānaras and the geographical location of their strongholds are not only futile but wrongheaded. For in seeking a historical basis for what is, in many respects, a kind of elaborate fairy tale, we are led away from a true understanding of the work.
Like all powerful works of the imagination, the Rāmāyaṇa is rooted in both the inner and outer realities of its creators. There was a kingdom of Kosala (although it could hardly have been the earthly paradise depicted by the poets), and there may even have been a Rāma who ruled it long ago. Yet, even for the historicity of the events of the Ayodhyākāṇḍa, there is not a shred of evidence other than the idealized, exaggerated, and clearly largely imaginary account of the poem itself. As to the kingdoms of the demons and the monkeys, it is our conviction that they never existed anywhere except in the mind of the poets and more importantly, in the hearts of the countless millions, among whom we must include ourselves, who have been charmed and deeply moved by this strange work.
Vālmīki and his sources: the origins of the Rāma story
We see then that the age of the Rāmāyaṇa is uncertain and its historicity dubious. Let us now examine the question of the authorship of the epic and the sources upon which its author or authors may have drawn for their subject matter.
The Indian tradition, as expressed in the first and last books of the Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, and a large number of later poetic, puranic, and other texts, [ Note 60] is unanimous in its agreement that the poem is the work of a single poet, the brahman sage Vālmīki, a contemporary of Rāma and a peripheral actor in the epic drama. On the basis of this unanimity and the general plausibility of single authorship for the middle five books, modern scholarship has, by and large, accepted Vālmīki as a historical personage. [ Note 61]
An interesting concomitant to this acceptance is the almost uniform rejection by these same authors of the validity of the tradition concerning Vyāsa, the legendary author of the Mahābhārata. There are two main reasons for this difference. The first is the patent impossibility that the Mahābhārata could be the product of a single hand. The second is the fact that Vyāsa, ‘the arranger,’ is more of a descriptive title than a proper noun, and in fact, the tradition has also ascribed to him the composition of the purāṇas and even the arrangement of the vedas into their various textual divisions.
It seems to us that these grounds for the different evaluations of the historicity of the two sages are not very firm. If we are to ascribe any historical validity to the traditions with regard to either author, we must restrict the scope of the author’s work to the central epic nucleus: in the Rāmāyaṇa, the tales of Rāma’s exile, his loss and recovery of Sītā (Books Two through Six), and his restoration to his hereditary throne; and in the Mahābhārata, the tales of the Pāṇḍavas’ exile, battle with Duryodhana, and recovery of their hereditary kingdom. As is well known, however, the Mahābhārata has developed into an all-inclusive and virtually encyclopaedic repository of ancient Indian myths, legends, laws, and so on. All its inclusions, interpolations, and additions have naturally been fathered upon Vyāsa, just as the late portions of the Bāla and Uttara have been upon Vālmīki. There is in this no inherent reason to argue against the single authorship of the presumed Bhārata nucleus of the Mahābhārata.
The tradition of Vālmīki’s contemporaneity with Rāma and, indeed, of his participation in the action of the epic tale is paralleled in the case of Vyāsa. [ Note 62] Indeed if, as has been argued, this is a basis for judging the tradition to be a genuine historical reminiscence, then it is more so in the case of the longer epic. For as the biological grandfather of the epic heroes and a constant adviser to them and those close to them, he plays a much more central and significant role in the Mahābhārata than does Vālmīki in the Rāmāyaṇa where he plays an important role only in the late portions of the latest books. [ [Note 63] As for the name Vyāsa or Vedavyāsa, it is indeed an epithet of the legendary sage Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana, and he comes by it in a fashion quite analogous to that in which Vālmīki comes by the title Ādikavi or first poet. For Vyāsa has, doubtless, acquired the reputation as the editor of the huge mass of vedic, epic, and puranic literature on the basis of the tradition that makes him the author and first reciter of the great epic of the Bhāratas, in almost exactly the same way as Vālmīki, on the basis of the tradition that makes him the author and first reciter of the Rāmāyaṇa, has been elevated to the position of the first poet of all time. In both cases it is clear that the traditions of inspired authorship are considerably later than the oldest surviving portions of the epics.
There is, finally, no reason to regard Vālmīki as having any greater claim to historicity than Vyāsa. The traditions in both cases are late and are unsupported by anything other than still later texts that accept the stories as genuine and repeat, modify, or elaborate upon them as they find appropriate. In the end, the most that can safely be said is that there appears to be no real evidence to contradict the proposition that the central portion of the Rāmāyaṇa had a single author. On the basis of the unanimous tradition, there is no reason for us to doubt that this author’s name was Vālmīki; but to attempt, as has been done, to provide him with other than a legendary biography and to assign particular verses or passages to his hand is, we would argue, to waste one’s efforts. [ Note 64]
We now turn to a brief discussion of the much disputed question of the author’s sources. Although a number of theories have been advanced as to the sources of the Rāma legend, we believe that most of the major issues have now been settled. In the last century and a half of Rāmāyaṇa studies, a number of literary texts have been put forward as the proximate or distant sources of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. Some of these, such as the Homeric epics, suggested by Weber and others, are no longer taken seriously, and it would be pointless to refute them here. [ Note 65] It is a general and quite reasonable assumption on the part of many scholars that the poet Vālmīki drew his inspiration from some body of ballads or legends about heroism and self-sacrifice, and that no such materials are recoverable. Indeed, this is much the traditional view of the creation of the poem as it is dramatized in the opening two chapters of the first book. There, at 1.1, we are told that the sage Vālmīki heard the story from the divine seer Nārada who tells it to him in a highly compressed form. It is this simple account that the sage is represented at 1.2 as elaborating through the help of divine inspiration into the great epic. Nārada’s account is, of course, nothing but a terse, elliptical, and late abstract of the central portion of the existing epic. Nonetheless, it is interesting that the later strata of the text show the sage as first learning of Rāma and of his wonderful career as a story, despite the fact that he is considered to be a subject of the prince and in the Uttarakāṇḍa, a participant in the epic action.
Leaving the question of these floating ballads aside, only two of the surviving texts that have been suggested as sources for the Rāmāyaṇa are worthy of mention here. These are the Pali Dasaratha Jātaka and the Mahābhārata’s Rāmopākhyāna.
The suggestion that the story of the Rāmāyaṇa could be traced to Buddhist sources was put forward by Weber who saw it as growing, under the influence of the Greek epics, to its present form out of the Buddhist legend of Prince Rāma; the point of which was a glorification of the virtue of indifference to events in the real world. [ Note 66] Weber then saw the Dasaratha Jātaka as the original of the Rāmāyaṇa, which was, he felt, a poetic expression of, among other things, brahmanical hostility to the Buddhists. This theory was cogently refuted shortly after it was promulgated, [ Note 67] but owing to the excessively late date assigned to the epic by a number of reputable scholars and the inaccurate estimate by others of the antiquity of the prose portions of the jātakas, the theory has continued to be put forward in some quarters. [ Note 68]There can be no doubt, however, that on the basis of the best historical and literary evidence available to us, the Dasaratha Jātaka is substantially later than the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa and that it is both inspired by and derived from it. [ Note 69]
The question of the relationship between the two great epics of ancient India, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, especially with regard to the latter’s elaborate version of the Rāma legend, the Rāmopākhyāna, [ Note 70] is more complex and difficult and has generated a considerable body of scholarly writing. [ Note 71]
Especially since the appearance of the critical editions of the two epics, the evidence confirms the view of Jacobi that the Rāmāyaṇa in its present form is on the whole somewhat older than the Mahābhārata in the form in which it has survived to us. There are numerous textual and contextual grounds for this assertion, not least of which is the fact that the longer epic knows, alludes to, and summarizes the shorter, which it regards as an ancient text, whereas the Rāmāyaṇa is ignorant of the events, issues, and characters that make up the central content of the Mahābhārata. As for the Rāmopākhyāna, Weber found himself unable to decide on the basis of his researches whether it was the source of Vālmīki’s epic, was derived from it, was derived from an unknown early version of the epic, or was an independent derivate from a common source. [ Note 72] Jacobi argues on the basis of a detailed and cogent analysis that the Rāma episode of the great epic is a ‘Nachdichtung’ drawn, in fact, from Vālmīki’s poem. This opinion has been given powerful support by the meticulous textual comparisons of Sukthankar and the learned observations of Raghavan. [ Note 73] We feel, on the basis of the available evidence, that this view is correct and should now be generally accepted. [ Note 74] There is neither space nor reason here to attempt to adduce all the arguments and citations that bear on the various sides of this issue, and only two of the most recent need be discussed in any detail. [ Note 75]
These views, closely related, have been put forward within the past decade by two distinguished authorities in the field of Sanskrit epic studies, the late professors Vaidya and van Buitenen. Because of the eminence of these scholars and the fact that their revival of the theory that the Rāmāyaṇa is not the source of the Rāmopākhyāna has been subjected to little published criticism, we will consider it in some detail. For the issue is an important one and should be put to rest.
Vaidya’s and van Buitenen’s efforts to disprove the priority of the Rāmāyaṇa were made in their respective introductions to the critical edition of the Yuddhakāṇḍa and the translation of the Araṇyakaparvan of the Mahābhārata. The two positions differ only slightly, because van Buitenen has borrowed several of his chief arguments from Vaidya. However, where Vaidya unequivocally regards the Mahābhārata episode as the direct source of the Rāmāyaṇa, predating it by ‘centuries,’ [ Note 76] van Buitenen prefers, in the end, to equivocate, stating only that ‘rather than viewing either one as the source of the other it is more profitable and also more interesting to see the story of Rāma (i.e. the Rāmopākhyāna), as preserved in The Mahābhārata, as the happy documentation of a stage in the development of The Rāmāyaṇa very close to the point in time when the main story of this text was given the form in which we now know it.’ [ Note 77] He concludes, somewhat nebulously, that ‘the only conclusion that seems reasonable concerning the relationship between the story of Rāma and Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa is that the former is a summary of a fully expanded Rāmacarita that after its contents were fixed in the story of Rāma, underwent further development, acquired a new beginning and a new end, attracted subsidiary elements, and became known as the original poem (ādikāvya) of Vālmīki.’ [ Note 78]
Let us now examine the evidence for these conclusions. Vaidya’s first argument is that since the Rāmopākhyāna is narrated to Yudhiṣṭhira at an appropriate juncture in the tale, it cannot therefore be an interpolation in the text. He goes on to say that, ‘being thus a genuine part of the Mahābhārata, it is much older than the poem of Vālmīki, and being a part of an Itihāsa, it is much more trustworthy than a Kāvya.’ [ Note 79] As to the first point, it may be said that practically all of the ākhyānas of the Mahābhārata are introduced at suitable points in the narrative. This is because particular events and situations in the central narrative suggest these stories and are used by the epic bards as the thematic pegs on which to hang the loose structure of the massive poem. If Vaidya’s point were allowed, then we would be obliged to accept all such episodes as part of the original saga and could then safely abandon the theory of interpolations.
As for the distinction of genre that separates the two poems, the itihāsa is in no discernible way either more or less valid historically than the kāvya. To assert that it is leads one to absurdities such as that proposed by Vaidya, who suggests that we must contrast the Mahābhārata’s ‘historical statement’ of the wind god’s testimony as to Sītā’s purity with the poetic innovation of having the god of fire give the same testimony in the Rāmāyaṇa. [ Note 80] Vaidya follows this preamble with a list of eight differences between the two versions that he claims to be innovations on the part of Vālmīki. Many writers on this subject have collected lists of differences between the two texts, and one must expect discrepancies between poetic accounts of the same story when the one is some 50,000 lines in length and the other is less than 1,500. The great majority of these are consistent with Jacobi’s theory that the Rāmopākhyāna is a free retelling, with great condensation, of an orally transmitted text. Nonetheless, let us look at the following points marked with Vaidya’s numbers.
1. The Rāmopākhyāna makes no mention of Viśvāmitra. This is interesting, but it seems to be in keeping with the compression of the text, which has eliminated many characters from the Bālakāṇḍa that do not figure significantly in the main narrative of the poem. Vaidya’s argument that in the original version, which for him is the Rāmopākhyāna, the hero’s marriage is arranged not by the Kauśika sage, as in Vālmīki, but by Tvaṣṭṛ has been shown by Raghavan to be based on a faulty interpretation of the passage in question. [ Note 81]
2. The Rāmopākhyāna lacks the Rāmāyaṇa’s account of the curse of Ahalyā and of her liberation from it by Rāma. This is true, but since we are dealing here with what is undoubtedly part of the latest stratum of the Bālakāṇḍa, this can hardly be called ‘an innovation of Vālmīki.’ [ Note 82] Nothing about the relation of the two texts can be adduced from this fact.
3. The Rāmopākhyāna has a character, the venerable rākṣasa minister Avindhya, who aids and comforts the desolate Sītā and chides Rāvaṇa for his ill treatment of her. It is Avindhya who has the prophetic dream that is in Vālmīki ascribed to Trijaṭā, and he is rewarded by Rāma for his kindness to Sītā. This character, according to Vaidya, is unknown to the Rāmāyaṇa. van Buitenen was very impressed by this point and regards it as critical to his own argument:
There is a telling variation between Rāma and Rām. in the dream episode. In Rām, it is Trijaṭā’s dream, but in Rāma it is not just the dream of some young and friendly demoness but the rather more official vision of a venerable Rākṣasa named Avindhya, who later comes in for a reward from Rāma. Vālmīki knows nothing of him. Now it is very difficult to understand why an abridger of The Rāmāyaṇa who, according to Jacobi, consistently simplifies his original, suddenly should invent a wholly new character. It is more likely that Vālmīki did not want any more friendly Rākṣasas than Vibhīṣaṇa. [ Note 83]
The problem is that Vālmīki does know Avindhya and mentions him and his disregarded counsel to Rāvaṇa at two separate points in his poem. [ Note 84] Clearly what has happened is that the Rāmopākhyāna has condensed Vālmīki’s version by largely merging the roles of Avindhya and Trijaṭā.
4. In the Rāmopākhyāna, Kumbhakarṇa is killed by Lakṣmaṇa, whereas in the Rāmāyaṇa he is killed by Rāma himself. This point is worthy of consideration, for it is representative of a class of such differences that characterize the two texts. What are we to make of situations in which one text ascribes a specific deed to one character and the other to a second, or where the two works use different names for what appears to be the same person or place? Do they require us to posit separate sources for the two versions? Surely not. For if we do, then how are we to explain the difference in the hypothetical sources? Can there really have been two ur-Rāmāyaṇas, one of which made Lakṣmaṇa the killer of Kumbhakarṇa and the other Rāma? Even if one were willing to accept such an unlikely state of affairs, how could we explain this difference in these hypothetical constructions other than by saving that one or the other had made a change? If we accept the possibility of such a change in these hypothetical texts, or in their own predecessors, we are forced back toward an ever more distant and imaginary source. We cannot in all cases expect to know the reason for such a change.
The remainder of Vaidya’s points are either erroneous [ Note 85] or easily explainable as examples of the Rāmopākhyāna’s somewhat awkward and often pedestrian condensation of the tale as told by Vālmīki.
Most of van Buitenen’s points are either repeated from Vaidya or are subject to the same objections as Vaidya’s. He adduces, however, two additional arguments against Jacobi that deserve attention. First, he remarks that Jacobi’s observation that the Rāmopākhyāna knows the late Uttarakāṇḍa and must therefore postdate the composition of the older portions of the poem by a considerable period is not necessarily valid. For, he argues, the Uttara-derived material ‘may well have been inserted’ later in the Mahābhārata version. [ Note 86] But although there is clear evidence for the lateness of the Uttara in the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, there is none for the later addition of its references to Rāvaṇa’s antecedents to the Rāmopākhyāna.
van Buitenen’s second point deals with Jacobi’s observation that the Rāmopākhyāna’s allusion to the famous incident of Sītā and the crow [ Note 87] is so terse that it is unintelligible unless we presuppose on the part of its author and audience knowledge of Vālmīki’s text. van Buitenen denies this, but his arguments are difficult to follow. He says that ‘it is in the nature of abridgments to abbreviate most concisely those episodes that are best known,’ [ Note 88] illustrating this enigmatic statement with a series of examples from the Mahābhārata. His examples, however, are elliptical versions of tales whose full narratives follow immediately, a common practice in the longer epic. Since the Mahābhārata has no longer version of the Rāma story than the Rāmopākhyāna, which is in any case hardly an episode of the type given in the examples, his point is not telling. van Buitenen concludes this argument with another bewildering statement: ‘the Mount Citrakūṭa episode, in my view, appears as a risqué story (not necessarily only told of Sītā), and the mere reference to could bring instant recognition.’ [ Note 89] Are we to understand the reference to reeds and crows to allude to some general habit of ancient Indian ladies? If so, how would an allusion to this serve to reassure Rāma that Hanumān had actually seen Sītā? In any case, this argument leaves us with no known source for the reference other than the improbable proto-Rāmacarita hypothesized by its author. The whole point is, in fact, based on a passage of dubious-textual authority. The actual crow episode is known only to the northern recension of the Rāmāyaṇa, although Hanumān’s allusion to it in Book Six appears in the best reconstruction of the text. More telling on the side of Jacobi’s view is a previously unnoticed allusion in the Rāmopākhyāna that would appear to presuppose a passage in the constituted text of the critical edition of the Rāmāyaṇa. At Mahābhārata 3.275.60 it is said that when Hanumān has been sent to bring the good news of Rāma’s victory to Bharata, he carried out his mission after ‘observing all gestures’ (lakṣayitveṅgitam sarvam). This phrase is obscure unless one has in mind Rāmāyaṇa 6.113.12-15, where Rāma charges the monkey to observe closely all of Bharata’s bodily and facial gestures when he hears the news, with the purpose of determining whether the prince is truly willing to relinquish his regency to Rāma. At verse 14 he says, ‘take note of all of Bharata’s gestures and behavior’ (jñeyāḥ sarve ca vṛttāntā Bharatasyeṅgitāni ca). The opacity of the former passage leads us to believe that it is an elliptical allusion to the latter. This would appear to be a better example of what Jacobi argues is evidence of the priority of Rāmāyaṇa with respect to the Rāmopākhyāna.
With the elimination of the Rāmopākhyāna as probable source or even a collateral descendent from a common source for the story, we can with some assurance assert that the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa or at least the text that can be reconstructed from the manuscripts of its three recensions, is the earliest surviving version of the Rāma legend.
The fate of the Rāma story in India and beyond
The Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, as the oldest surviving version of the Rāma story, assimilated and superseded its presumed bardic sources. Moreover, an early stage of the text can, we believe, be recovered from the existing manuscripts and, to a large extent, has been reconstructed in the text of the critical edition. At an indeterminate but relatively early date, the work acquired tremendous prestige not only as an edifying and even redemptive tale but as both the first work of true poetry and a record of God’s deeds among men. It thus seems reasonable to view the poem as the ultimate source of all versions of the tale in existence.
The pervasive appeal of the story and its principal characters is astounding. The enormous and diverse body of Sanskrit literature, from the time of the Mahābhārata onward, is filled with retellings, allusions, poems, plays, hymns, and philosophical and religious texts inspired by the Rāmāyaṇa. The literatures of even such powerfully anti-Hindu groups as the Buddhists and the Jains, from the time of the gāthās of the jātakas and the Paumacariya, respectively, have adapted this moving story to their own needs. The story has been enthusiastically adopted by the literatures of virtually every language of modern India. [ Note 90] In some cases, such as that of Kamban’s Tamil masterpiece and Tulsi Das’s Rāmcaritmānas, works derived from the Rāmāyaṇa are still regarded as among the greatest pieces in the literary traditions of important languages. The power and popularity of the Rāma story has been such that it has been able successfully to cross not only the boundaries of caste, religion, and language but even those that divide major cultural areas. In this way the story has come to serve as one of the major wellsprings of poetry, folklore, and puppet theater in many of the languages and cultures of Southeast Asia. The power of the tale to inspire artistic creation has manifested itself as well in many of the finest examples of painting and sculpture in both South and Southeast Asia. [ Note 91]
Before turning to a discussion of the translation of the epic, its style, conventions, aims, and annotation, we must make some effort to explain it. In order to do so, we must probe into the nature and significance of the work as an expression of the needs, ideals, and beliefs of the culture that produced it and continues to cherish it.
The meaning of the Rāmāyaṇa
Like any monumental work of literature, the Rāmāyaṇa has always functioned on a variety of levels. Through the millennia of its popularity, it has attracted the interest of many kinds of people from different social, economic, educational, regional, and religious backgrounds. It has, for example, served as a bedtime story for countless generations of Indian children, while at the same time learned śāstrins, steeped in the abstruse philosophical, grammatical, and metaphysical subtleties of classical Indian thought, have found it a subject worthy of their intellectual energies.
Originally the story, or at least its kernel, must have drawn its audience as a stirring martial saga of a legendary warrior hero of Kosala. On this level, the level of a legendary tale, the compound story has two main portions fused into an epic of intrigue, quest, and triumph such as we find in literature the world over. The first section of this story, the account of the events in Ayodhyā culminating in the exile of Prince Rāma, has, despite its relative realism and apparent historicity, much in common with the folk or fairy tale. Its central event, the dispossession of a favorite child through the machinations of a wicked and pitiless stepmother, is commonplace in fairy tales. [ Note 92] Although the epic, as we now have it, has treated this motif in its own peculiar fashion, modifying it in the service of other ends, the essential plot of the Ayodhyākāṇḍa is unmistakably allied to that of hundreds of stories in the collections of the folk and fairy tales of India, Europe, and the Middle East.
The subsequent portion of the poem seems even closer to such a source. For the hero, now exiled, wanders through a succession of enchanted woods peopled by strange creatures, filled with enormous and magical powers for good or evil. In these woods he is befriended by a powerful and beneficent sage who gives him magical weapons.[Note 93] With these weapons Rāma manages to kill huge numbers of dreadful demons, creatures common to the fairy-tale literature; but, at last, the lord of all the demons, using his magic power, steals away the beautiful princess Sītā whom he imprisons in a remote citadel across the sea. Then, just when Rāma seems to have lost everything, he is befriended by a group of talking monkeys who agree to help him. One of the monkeys flies across the sea and returns with news of the princess. Then, with the aid of the monkey army, the hero crosses the sea, fights a dreadful battle and, at last, recovers both the princess and his throne. Once more, similar stories could be picked out of virtually any collection of fairy tales. [ Note 94] Indeed, when told in outline, the story seems at times more like Puss in Boots than a great heroic saga or courtly epic.
The basic plot of the epic, then, is clearly derived from or heavily influenced by the folk literature of ancient India, which is closely allied to the folk literatures of Europe and West Asia. It is, perhaps, this that has led some scholars to see western influences at work on the authors of the Rāmāyaṇa. We may view the Rāmāyaṇa, then, as either an epic built upon a heroic legend of the Kosalan aristocracy and largely shaped by the hands of storytellers steeped in the tradition of Märchen and fairy tales, or as an ancient folktale adapted by the bards to suit the tastes and interests of the Kosalan nobility.
We cannot, of course, finally decide between these two hypotheses. But, in any case, the destiny of the Rāma story is such as to demonstrate clearly that it was from a very early date regarded as far more important than just another fairy tale or even legend of the heroic age, such as are recorded by the hundred in the Mahābhārata, the purāṇas, the kathā literature, and even the vedas. By the time of the addition of the Bāla and Uttara Kāṇḍas, the text had taken on a fully defined function as an exemplary tale, and its hero had assumed a role as a model for human behavior.
By the time of the completion of the Bālakāṇḍa — and probably somewhat earlier — the original characterization of the unfortunate Prince Rāma had come to be obscured by a massive and hyperbolic catalog of manly virtues. At the very beginning of the poem as it now stands, the sage Vālmīki is represented as plying the divine seer Nārada with questions as to the existence in his own day of a man possessed of a long list of human virtues. In Nārada’s reply Rāma is identified as just such a man. [ Note 95]
Thus it appears that the author or authors who put the text into the form and order in which it has survived wished to make it clear that their hero was not by any means an ordinary man, nor even an ordinary hero. He is the perfect man, an ideal toward which ordinary mortals should strive. Moreover, it is reasonable to suppose that this exaltation of Rāma to the status of a perfect man is an independent development of and, in fact, a precursor to the elevation of this ideal figure to the rank of earthly manifestation of God. For the first development seems to have become popular with early writers who are either only peripherally interested in the divinity of the hero or who, like the Buddhists and Jains, would reject it out of hand. In this way the character of Rāma, as delineated by Vālmīki, became an exemplary hero for the authors of the Rāmopākhyāna, the Dasaratha Jātaka and other Rāmāyaṇa-derived jātakas, and the Jain Rāmāyaṇas. The deification of Rāma appears to belong to the very latest stratum of the conflated epic. The great bulk of the text in the central five books is almost wholly unaware of his identification with Viṣṇu, and even parts of the Bāla seem uncertain on this point. [ Note 96]
The intrusion of the theological element, albeit at a late and somewhat heterogeneous stratum of the text, gave rise to the tradition that the epic has a soteriological virtue. This development, however, is not very pronounced and is perceptible in the critically edited text in only a few obviously late passages. The first of these, and the only one accepted by the critical editors, is to be found at the end of Nārada’s Saṃkṣipta Rāmāyaṇa, which forms the bulk of the epic’s opening chapter. There we are told that the story is holy, the equal of the vedas, and that it purges one from sin. [ Note 97] The reading of it is said to free one from all sin. Further, it is said that the reading of the Rāmāyaṇa insures a place in heaven, not only for the reader, but for his sons, grandsons, and dependents. Finally we learn that reading it was open to all four of the social orders of Indo-Aryan society, and benefited them all, according to their respective social roles: it brought mastery in the use of the sacred utterances to brahmans, kingship to kshatriyas, success in business to vaishyas, and greatness to even the shudras.
The more elaborate phalaśruti at the end of the Yuddhakāṇḍa, often cited as proof that the original poem ended with the sixth book, is rejected by the critical edition. [ Note 98]
By the same token, the text is for the most part free from a strongly devotional attitude toward its hero. Even the Bālakāṇḍa, which explicitly describes Rāma’s birth as a manifestation of God on earth in response to the prayers of the lesser gods, shows almost nothing of the devotional fervor that will characterize the bhakti movement. Only at the very end of the Uttara and in a curious passage near the end of Yuddha [ Note 99] do we see real devotionalism creeping into the epic. Even in the Bālakāṇḍa, with its unequivocally Vaishnava account of the circumstances surrounding the birth of the hero, we find few other references to Rāma’s divinity, even in contexts such as the breaking of Śiva’s bow that would appear to lend themselves especially well to a sectarian treatment. Only at the very end of the book do we find even a subdued reference to the identification of the hero with Viṣṇu. [ Note 100]
The Rāmāyaṇa, then, although it has come to be regarded as an essentially devotional text, has become one only as a result of accretions. The devotional element never permeated the Sanskrit epic and has left the bulk of it untouched. As a result, the tone and feeling of Vālmīki’s work is markedly different from that of later versions of the Rāma story, such as those of the Vaishnava purāṇas and the poets of the bhakti movement who use the tale to give literary expression to the consuming force of their devotional passion.
It may well be that the Vaishnava element in the Rāmāyaṇa was first introduced in emulation of the authors of the Harivaṃśa, perhaps between the second and fourth centuries a.d. [ Note 101] This latter work, an appendix to the Mahābhārata and the oldest surviving complete account of the career of Kṛṣṇa, stands, we feel, in a complicated relationship to the Rāmāyaṇa. There can be no doubt that the latter is the older work, for as we have argued it is in the main older than the surviving form of the Mahābhārata. The Harivaṃśa, on the other hand, at least in the form in which we now have it, presupposes the longer epic .[ Note 102]
What the authors of the Harivaṃśa did was to take the somewhat obscure and enigmatic god-man of the Bhārata saga and of the popular legend of the Mathurā countryside and provide for him a coherent and sequential biography set an often highly poetic medium. In creating such a work, a poetic rendering of the legend of a kshatriya hero, the authors must certainly have used the Rāmāyaṇa as their inspiration and model.[Note 103]
If, however, the narrative poem of the life of Kṛṣṇa is inspired by the Rāmāyaṇa, there is evidence to indicate that the development of the cult of Kṛṣṇa considerably predates that of Rāma. [ Note 104] If this is so, then it seems quite possible that the Vaishnava authors or expanders of the Bāla and Uttara Kāṇḍas might, in turn, have been influenced in their conception of the Ikṣvāku hero as a demon-slaying warrior, an incarnation of Viṣṇu, by their exposure to the Harivaṃśa. [ Note 105]
With the rise of the cult of Rāma and development of the Vaishnava schools of theology, particularly that of Rāmānuja and his successors, the numerous commentators on the Rāmāyaṇa aimed to provide a Vaishnava hermeneutic for the poem as an account of God’s manifestation among his earthly devotees. We feel that this sort of interpretation is largely forced upon the poem. The Rāmāyaṇa was not originally intended to be a theological narrative, nor, we would argue, is its extraordinary popularity to be explained as a function of its religious significance. On the contrary, we would suggest, it was the great popularity of the work at an early date that attracted the interest of the sectarian bards of the puranic tradition and, later, of the Vaishnava theologians and the great Rāmabhaktas among the poets of India’s modern languages. Although the traditional regard for Rāma as a compassionate manifestation of God on earth must certainly be a major factor in our understanding of the increasing vitality of the poem and its extraordinary destiny in medieval and modern India, this cannot be the principal reason for its early spread and popularity.
With this in mind, we may now turn to the much-discussed question of the interpretation of the Rāmāyaṇa. Few works of Indian literature, with the possible exception of the Gītā, have generated so great a mass of exegetic writing. A great deal of this writing consists of muddled pieties of a religious and moral nature, and it is often more useful to us as source material on the role of the Rāmāyaṇa in the process of acculturation in Hindu society, than as critical secondary scholarship.
The traditional interpretation of the Rāmāyaṇa is that it represents a poet’s vision of actual events involving an earthly manifestation of the supreme divinity, events that took place in historical time, but in an age enormously remote from our own. [ Note 106] The interpretations of modern scholars usually differ in only a few respects from the traditional view. That is to say that a large number of students of the Rāmāyaṇa take the poem to be a poetic rendition, in however distorted a form, of historical events. [ Note 107] But, as we have argued, there appears to be no genuine historical basis for the Rāma legend, and these theories are now largely discredited. Jacobi was one of the first to demonstrate the flaws in the historical interpretation, and he proposed to interpret the epic on a wholly different level: that of mythology. [ Note 108]
Jacobi is concerned in his analysis of the epic only with the material of Books Three through Six. Like other scholars, he finds a discontinuity between the Ayodhyākāṇḍa and what follows it, and he seems willing to take the events of the second book as historical. In his view, the portion of the epic narrative that deals with the abduction and recovery of Sītā is an agricultural myth and, in fact, a reworking of the ancient Indra-Vṛtra material of the vedas. This interpretation, which proceeds chiefly from Jacobi’s identification of Sītā as the personification of the plowed furrow and therefore of agricultural fruitfulness in general, belongs to a type of mythical analysis that is no longer generally accepted. In any case it must be regarded as a premature essay into speculation that mars Jacobi’s otherwise incisive and generally convincing treatment of the poem. [ Note 109]
The point that Jacobi raised in opposition to the proponents of allegorical interpretations is, however, an important one: it is improbable that the essential significance of so enormously popular a work as the Rāmāyaṇa should not on some level be well understood in its native environment. In the end, then, we must return to the point from which we began: the unparalleled success of the Rāmāyaṇa in India and the enormous influence it has exerted over virtually every aspect of India’s culture. For surely, this is the most remarkable fact about the Rāma story, and no attempt to explain the significance of the epic can be judged truly successful unless, in some measure, it addresses this question.
Although the Rāmāyaṇa as we know it is a mixture of many elements — bardic, legendary, folkloric, mythic, poetic, didactic, devotional, and so on — none of these elements, either separately or in combination, seems sufficient to explain the pervasive influence of the story. Indian literature, from very ancient times, provides us with an unusually rich corpus embodying all these elements. Yet none of these stories and their legendary heroes has even remotely approached the Rāmāyaṇa in influence and vitality, century after century, over all the cultural, national, social, religious, and linguistic boundaries of India, Southeast Asia, and even East Asia. In an effort to explain the unique success of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa and its numerous descendents, the many versions of the Rāma story, we must direct our attention more closely to the nature of the epic story itself and to the poet’s delineation of its principal characters.
Rāma: the hero as renouncer
The most striking aspect of Vālmīki’s characterization of his hero is not his martial valor but his refusal to assert his rights to succeed to the throne of the Kosalas and, when finally enthroned, to protect his beloved wife from the malicious gossip of his people. Rāma’s unemotional acquiescence to his wrongful disinheritance marks the central moment of the epic, and it is this willing renunciation of his inheritance and apparently perfect control of his emotions that is the reason for the enormous esteem in which he is held. That Daśaratha’s exile of his son is unjust serves only to heighten the traditional admiration for the hero’s feat of self-effacement. Testimony to this is abundant in both the popular and scholarly literature on the Rāmāyaṇa. A typical example of this attitude is expressed by Dhirendra Narain, who remarks,
The heroism of Rāma precisely lies, on the one hand, in the enormous injustice of the demand made on him, and on the other, in his unprotesting, almost willing submission to it. … The highest adoration has … always gone to Rāma. He is what cannot be easily achieved, he suffers gladly. Lest this be said that Rāma is the ideal of self-control, in full possession of his emotions, let it be pointed out that Rāma is never angered, he never has the feeling of being unjustly treated. He is incapable of being angry. It is not the control of anger but the complete absence of it that makes him a great hero in Hindu estimation. [ Note 110]
Rāma’s exaggerated self-denial and general lack of emotion in the face of personal tragedy — however appropriate they may be to the selfless sages that populate traditional Indian literature — are peculiar attributes for the warrior hero of a martial epic. This is especially striking when we contrast the hero of the Rāmāyaṇa with those of the Homeric epics: It is precisely the selfishness and self-assertiveness of the Achaian leaders that give rise to the tragic events of the “Iliad”. [ Note 111] But the contrast between Rāma and the heroes of non-Indian warrior epics, if striking, is not as illuminating as the differences of the Kosalan prince from the principal protagonists of the other great Indian epic poem, the Mahābhārata. For although a number of the important figures connected with the central ruling family of the Mahābhārata, most notably Bhīṣma, exhibit an unusually exaggerated form of self-denial, the central narrative of the epic depends upon the Pāṇḍavas’ insistence on asserting their rights, even where this involves armed confrontation with their brahman preceptor and the patriarchs of their clan. [ Note 112]
The difference in the two epics’ central attitudes toward self-assertion is most clearly seen in a comparison of their respective heroes’ response to the same situation of potential conflict. In several well-known passages from the beginning of the Bhagavad Gītā, Arjuna, confronted with the prospect of having to fight his friends, kinsmen, and teachers, succumbs to a fit of depression and loses his resolve to fight for what he knows is right. [ Note 113] In explaining to Kṛṣṇa his unwillingness to do his warrior’s duty, the great Pāṇḍava hero states that he has no longer any desire for victory, kingship, pleasure, or even life itself, since those for whose sake he desires these things — his kinsmen and teachers — must be fought and slain if he and his brothers are to obtain them. To emphasize his refusal to attack his elders, Arjuna argues that he would not do so even for the sake of the kingship of the three worlds, much less for mere lordship of the earth. The poignancy of Arjuna’s horror of killing his family for the sake of material and political gain is brought home powerfully to the Gītā’s intended audience by the hero’s use of a metaphor deriving its force from the traditional Indian concern with the purity of food. He tells Kṛṣṇa that should he kill his elders, he would ‘eat food smeared with blood.’
In the Rāmāyaṇa at 2.90-91, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, exiled to the forest, are confronted with a situation that looks, at least to the latter, very much like that confronting Arjuna on the field of Kurukṣetra. For Bharata, approaching with a huge army in order to bring Rāma back to the capital in a manner befitting a king, seems to Lakṣmaṇa’s protective and somewhat cynical eye to be bent on the destruction of his older brother and apparent rival. Lakṣmaṇa urges Rāma to prepare for battle and promises to kill Bharata for him. Rāma, however, has no stomach for such a fight and, in any case, does not believe that Bharata means him any harm. He rebukes Lakṣmaṇa for saying such things for the sake of a mere kingdom, adding that both Bharata and he himself stand ready to cede the kingdom to him. [ Note 114 ]
These apparently similar confrontations are of interest precisely because they focus our attention on the fundamentally irreconcilable attitudes toward the nature and limits of self-assertion that characterize the two great Sanskrit epics. Although both Rāma and Arjuna speak eloquently for the traditionally sanctioned posture of deference and self-denial in the face of one’s male elders or their representatives, [ Note 115 ] only Rāma is fully prepared to carry this attitude into practice. For in the end, despite his protestations, Arjuna allows himself to be persuaded not only to fight his kinsmen but to slaughter them treacherously, murdering such revered elders as Bhīṣma, the patriarch of his family and his surrogate father, and Droṇa, his brahman teacher. Rāma, in contrast, really means it when he claims that he would far rather yield his right to the throne of the Kosalas than be involved in any sort of conflict with his kinsmen. This is a central point, critical to our appreciation of the Rāmāyaṇa and its destiny in India.
The point is stressed repeatedly throughout the epic. First the hero receives the news of his dispossession and banishment with astonishing equanimity. [ Note 116 ] Moreover, he affirms in the confrontation with Bharata at Citrakūṭa his absolute unwillingness to accept the throne in violation of his father’s orders, despite the fact that Daśaratha is now dead and Bharata and the sages beg him to return. [ Note 117 ] Even in the end, when he has fully carried out the instructions of his father and is returning victorious to Ayodhyā, Rāma makes it unmistakably clear that, should Bharata display by so much as a facial gesture any unhappiness at the thought of relinquishing the throne to him, he would still be willing to abandon his claim to sovereignty. [ Note 118 ] Rāma’s unwavering deference to Daśaratha and his reluctant successor Bharata is matched only by the latter’s deference to Rāma himself. Thus the confrontation at Citrakūṭa is the very opposite of what is represented as having taken place at Kurukṣetra. Here it is a contest of self-denial, a virtual battle of mutual deference, with the two princes each urging the other to accept the throne.
Clearly the epic poets of the Rāmāyaṇa are at pains to minimize and diffuse, if not totally eliminate, conflict within the heroic family. It is true that a certain fundamental conflict is necessary both to make the epic story work and to provide a background against which the hero’s virtues of self-denial can be shown to best advantage. But the conflict is represented as the product of a lowly, scheming maidservant who plays upon the jealousies and maternal feelings of the susceptible Queen Kaikeyī. None of the men of the House of Raghu is ever set in conflict against another, or for that matter, against himself. Rāma and his brothers rarely show any of the inner ambivalence that lends such psychological reality to the finest portions of the Mahābhārata. In the world of the Rāmāyaṇa, struggle must always be directed outward. The enemy is not one’s self, one’s elders, or one’s family. In fact, the objects of aggression are not even human but are, instead, fantasied demonic incarnations of all the darker forces that are so completely exorcised from the characters of Rāma and Bharata. Insatiable lust and unbridled grasping for power are not unknown to the poets of the Rāmāyaṇa; they are simply alien to the principal heroes of the epic who are invariably governed, even to their great disadvantage, by the promptings of a higher morality whose principal strictures derive from deference to one’s elders and adherence to the loosely codified principles of one’s collective elders, or dharma.
This sort of deference to both specific and generalized paternal authority is by no means unique to the heroes of the Rāmāyaṇa. The Mahābhārata can offer a number of examples, some of which, as in the stories of Bhīṣma, Rāma Jāmadagnya, and Pūru, are even more dramatic than that of the prince of Kosala. Yet in the longer epic these stories are relatively minor and self-contained incidents set in the greater context of an internecine struggle so bitter that, in the end, it sweeps away the old morality to leave the heroes’ world a smoldering ruin. The genius of the authors of the Rāmāyaṇa lies, in part, in their ability to create a national epic of political and military deeds that retains all the moral simplicity of its underlying fairy tale, in which the hero acts only on higher motives, and the villain, a ten-headed monster, is unredeemed by even a shred of decency or humanity.
In order to lend to the story a certain amount of tension and move the complex plot, raising the poem from the level of a fable to that of a compelling and often moving drama, the poets have made extensive use of the technique of creating a series of closely associated but clearly differentiated composite character sets. [ Note 119 ] The most elaborate and complex of these sets of characters is that made up of the heroic brothers, the four sons of Daśaratha. This group is further subdivided into two subsets, the closely linked and carefully differentiated pairs, Rāma-Lakṣmaṇa and Bharata-Śatrughna. A very clear and important series of differentiations is made among the three principal wives of Daśaratha. They differ in age, function, and the degree of fascination that they exert on the aged monarch. Moreover, the moral and emotional qualities of Kausalyā and Kaikeyī are sharply contrasted; the character of the latter provides the impetus to the development of the entire narrative. Even the villain of the piece, the dreadful and uncontrolled Rāvaṇa, is supplied with a contrasting counterpart in the person of his pious and righteous (if disloyal) brother, the renegade demon Vibhīṣaṇa.
These sets of contrastive figures provide the poets with a vehicle for portraying the ambivalence inherent in all real human beings while keeping the central characters largely free from inner struggle. Yet even in the case of the almost totally self-controlled Rāma, they have permitted occasional but important lapses in which his inner feelings find expression in his speech or even overwhelm him completely. Thus, for example, we find that at 2.47.8-10 the prince, on his way into exile with his brother and wife, gives vent to the bitterness he feels toward his father for having subjected him to such hardship and humiliation. He says,
Without me the old man has no one to look after him. All he thinks about is sex, and so he has fallen completely under Kaikeyī’s power. What will he do now? When I reflect on this disaster and the king’s utter change of heart, it seems to me that sex is a more potent force than either statecraft or righteousness. For, Lakṣmaṇa, what man, even a fool, would give up an obedient son like me for the sake of a woman?
Passages such as this keep Rāma from becoming just one more of the static and one-dimensional paragons of filial devotion with which the epic and puranic literature is filled. Vālmīki’s sensitivity and psychological insight in allowing his hero a measured degree of human frailty has enabled him to create a figure who, more than any other, stands as the very symbol of filial obedience. The simpler and wholly unambivalent characters of this type, figures such as Bhīṣma, Rāma Jāmadagnya, and Pūru, are respected by the tradition and are important in the Mahābhārata and later literature. They are not, however, the stuff of which great epic heroes are made; lacking any suggestion of inner doubt and uncertainty, they are not figures with whom an audience can empathize. Moreover, the authors of the legends of these other heroes have deprived their characters of one of the fundamental elements of human life. In seeking to portray the hero as totally a creature of his father’s needs, all these figures are made to renounce sex. [ Note 120 ] Bhīṣma abandons the pleasures of sex forever so that his father can indulge his own fascination for a beautiful young woman. [ Note 121 ] Pūru is said to have exchanged his youthful sexual vigor for his father’s senile impotence. [ Note 122 ] Rāma Jāmadagnya, in complying with the order of his father, summarily beheads his own mother who is guilty of having had a transient sexual thought. [ Note 123 ] Alone among his clan, he adopts a career of lifelong celibacy. Only Rāma, of all the legendary paragons of filial piety, is spared the fate of impotence or celibacy. He alone is permitted a mature love, albeit one that is fraught with difficulties and ultimately tragedy. In fact, Rāma has come to be regarded in India as the great exemplar of devoted, monogamous married love, despite his cruel treatment of Sītā. The most striking and important result of this tension between the two aspects of Rāma’s personality is the fact that, although the hero is represented as being deeply in love with Sītā and is driven almost to the point of insanity by his grief at her abduction, [ Note 124 ] he repeatedly asserts that she occupies an inferior place in his heart to that of his male relatives and his subjects. [ Note 125 ] Moreover, in his concern for his own reputation, he twice repudiates Sītā, banishing her and his unborn children to what seems to him certain death in the wilderness. It would appear that the poets wanted to rescue their hero from the censure that Indian tradition heaps upon those who place too high a value on sexuality and who indulge in expressions of it in violation of their duty to their elders. [ Note 126 ]
In addition to Rāma’s clearly stated and fundamental ambivalence toward Sītā, his early life — the adventures that culminate in his marriage — includes a series of events that bear directly upon the resolution of the tension between his portrayal as, on the one hand, an aggressive and romantic hero and, on the other, a self-controlled, deferential, and anerotic son.
Like his Bhārgava namesake, the brahman Rāma Jāmadagnya, Rāma is forced at the very beginning of his recorded adventures to kill a woman. Here, however, the story is both more elaborate and more complex. Jāmadagnya kills his mother on the order of his father, after his older brothers have refused to do so. In our story, recounted at 1.23-27, the victim is not the hero’s mother but a once-beautiful yakṣī who, because of an attack of some kind on a venerable sage, has been transformed into a hideous and insatiable man-eating demoness. The man who orders her death is not the hero’s father, but is regarded as speaking with the authority of and as a surrogate for King Daśaratha. [ Note 127 ] The refusal of Jamadagni’s older sons is paralleled by Rāma’s reluctance, despite Viśvāmitra’s instructions, to kill a woman. [ Note 128 ] Just as Rāma’s action in killing the demoness Tāṭakā is closely parallel to that of Jāmadagnya’s in beheading Reṇukā, the consequences of the two deeds are also similar. Both heroes receive boons at the hands of the elders who have ordered the death of the women. Rāma Jāmadagnya receives, among other things, the virtue of being unrivaled in battle. [ Note 129 ] Rāma Dāśarathi is given possession and mastery of an elaborate set of supernatural weapons that likewise make him invincible in battle. [ Note 130 ]
It is one of the major tenets of traditional Indian literature, religion, and society that renunciation of the objects of sensual desire is compensated either through material gain or the acquisition of supernatural or spiritual powers. Clearly Bhārgava Rāma, a lifelong celibate and blind follower of his father’s most dreadful commands, is being compensated for renunciation. The kshatriya Rāma, in killing the rākṣasa woman, is engaging in similar, although more heavily disguised, renunciation — an act for which he is compensated by Viśvāmitra’s gift of the magical weapons. Where the two legends differ in this respect is that, although the brahman hero must remain celibate, the prince must marry and father sons if the purposes of the epic poets are to be fulfilled.
In order for these things to happen in the Rāmāyaṇa, it is necessary that Rāma first pass through two additional trials that serve, in large measure, to undo the psychological effect of his killing of Tāṭakā. These trials both involve the mastery and neutralization of powerful bows in the keeping of patriarchal figures. In the first of these, Rāma, alone among all the kings of the earth, is able to lift, wield, and destroy the great bow of Śiva that had been left in the possession of the patriarch Janaka. It is in reward for this feat that Janaka gives the prince his daughter Sītā in marriage. [ Note 131 ] In confirmation of his having thus overthrown the dominance of the patriarch and thereby won the right to take his daughter, Rāma is confronted almost immediately with a second, almost identical, test. On his way back to Ayodhyā with his new bride, Rāma is accosted by none other than his namesake, the terrible son of Jamadagni who, enraged by the destruction of Śiva’s mighty bow, challenges the prince to try his strength against that of the even mightier weapon of Viṣṇu. If he can wield this bow, he must fight the scourge of the kshatriyas. The hero is more than equal to the challenge and easily defeats Jāmadagnya. [ Note 132 ] This episode, which virtually brings to a close the Bālakāṇḍa, is evidently a late addition even to this book, for its portrayal of the Bhārgava Rāma clearly presupposes knowledge of the Mahābhārata. It nonetheless demonstrates that the later poets of the Rāmāyaṇa were at some level aware of the psychological significance of the Rāma legend as well as the tale of ‘Paraśurāma’ and sought, through these three striking episodes — the killing of Tāṭakā, the breaking of the bow, and the humiliation of Rāma Jāmadagnya — to deal with the complex psychological realities underlying the epic and the characterization of its hero.
Through the careful manipulation of these themes, characters, and episodes, the authors of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa achieved a delicate balance in their characterization of Rāma. On the one hand, he is the most important, if not the most extreme, example of traditional India’s ideal man, the son who subordinates the goals of his own life to those of his father. On the other hand, he has a sufficient degree of ambivalence and a sufficiently rounded character to enable him to serve as a model for countless generations of Indians, while remaining the compelling hero of a fundamentally tragic epic tale. [ Note 133 ] I have, nonetheless, discussed this aspect of Rāmāyaṇa interpretation at some length because it is clear that in this area we find the richest source of data that bear on the all important question of the longevity, vitality, and fecundity of the epic and its derivates in India and much of contiguous Asia.
|1||Macdonell 1919, p. 574.|
|2||Schlegel 1829. Schlegel’s work was not the first piece of western Rāmāyaṇa scholarship. Carey and Marshman had published a rather confused edition of the text as early as 1808, and Frederich Schlegel had offered some tentative translations from Vālmīki in the closing decade of the eighteenth century. European orientalists and travelers must have known of the poem even earlier.|
|3||One could compile a quite extensive negative bibliography of Rāmāyaṇa studies. A serious analysis of these often amusing works would constitute an important contribution to our understanding of the peculiar effect the poem has had on its audiences. Some striking examples of such works are: Mehta 1941, Buck 1976, and Iyer 1941.|
|4||For a discussion of the manuscripts of the Rāmāyaṇa, see Bhatt 1960, pp. xiii-xxix.|
|5||Ibid., p. xix.|
|6||On the description, genesis, and interrelation of the recensions, see Bhatt 1960; Ruben 1936; Jacobi 1893, pp. 1-23; Bulcke 1949 and 1951; and van Daalen 1980, pp. 13-14.|
|7||There appears to be in addition a western subrecension (W), heavily contaminated by both S and NW and represented in the Bālakāṇḍa by four Devanāgarī manuscripts (Bhatt 1960, pp. xiii-xiv; xxxii). Wirtz’s dissertation on the ‘Westliche Rezension des Rāmāyaṇa’ (Wirtz 1894) is, as Bhatt has noted (Bhatt 1960, p. xxi), concerned with what is, in fact, northwestern. Although Bhatt, in his introduction to the Bālakāṇḍa, originally accepted a separate western subrecension, he later, in his introduction to the Araṇyakāṇḍa (Bhatt 1963, pp. xxiii-xxv), felt that there was not enough manuscript evidence to support an independent western version. Other editors of the critical edition, however, have disagreed with him. Vaidya (1971, p. xv) apparently accepts a separate western recension, despite Bhatt’s arguments. Mankad (1965, pp. xxvi-xxviii) felt that evidence tended to support a separate recension for the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa. Jhala (1966, pp. xxvii-xxx), like Mankad, felt that an independent western version ‘would be justified.’ Shah (1975, p. 23) briefly summarizes the different positions of these editors and feels that various manuscript evidence of the Uttarakāṇḍa supports the existence of an independent western recension.|
|8||Macdonell 1900, pp. 304-305; Jacobi (1893, p. 4) calculates on the basis of a thirty-sarga sample of the fourth book that his versions C and B (our S and the Bengal version of NE) have, respectively, only 57 percent and 66 percent of their text in common.|
|9||Cf. Bhatt 1960, p. xx and van Daalen 1980, pp. 5-8. Hopkins (1926, p. 19) is overly pessimistic in his feeling that no textual reconstruction of the text is possible. For further and more detailed discussion of the textual issue, see the section below on text history and the critical edition.|
|10||In fact, many of the subsequent versions of the Rāma story — Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain — condense the narrative considerably. In connection with the development of the Rāma cult, there developed a tradition of extreme compression of what is considered the essence of the tale into the space of a hundred verses, ten verses, one verse, and finally, into the recitation of the single saving name, Rāma. For a further discussion of this phenomenon, see our treatment of the first sarga of the epic, the so-called Saṃkṣipta, or abridged Rāmāyaṇa, below; and Masson 1980, p. 100 note 10.|
|11||Cf. Macdonell 1900, pp. 312-13.|
|12||It is interesting that, although Rāma provides a casuistic and, finally, unconvincing series of justifications for this seemingly cowardly act (4.18.18-39), the tradition has never been wholly comfortable with what it continues to regard as a stain on the hero’s character. See Masson 1976 and 1980, pp. 95-966.|
|13||The Sanskrit word sundara means ‘beautiful.’ The title was therefore taken by Jacobi (1893, p. 124) and, after him, by Winternitz (1927, vol. 1, p. 490) to mean, ‘The Beautiful Book.’ This, however, makes little sense, for it does not appear that Sundara is so different in style, tone, or content from the two preceding books to justify its being singled out for its beauty by any criterion. Moreover, the titles of the other books refer to either subject matter or location, and it seems unlikely that the type of kāṇḍa name would change for this one book. Some writers have argued that the word Sundara is a place name, a reference to the Sunda islands or straits of Southeast Asia (see, for example, Mehta 1941, pp. 187-89). But this explanation, too, lacks any strong evidence to support it. I am inclined to agree with Jhala 1966, p. xxii that so far the question lacks a solution.|
|14||This passage, like several of its type in Sundara, appears to have been interpolated at some point in the textual prehistory of the epic, for the incidents described in it seem to be unknown to the characters in subsequent passages, a fact that has been noted by several scholars. See Jacobi 1893, pp. 33-34.|
|15||The two issues are to some extent connected in that both the poem (in the form in which we have it) and the unanimous tradition of India represent the sage Vālmīki, the legendary author of the work, as a contemporary of its hero and, indeed, a participant in the epic events. One of the first public recitations of the poem is said to have been given by Vālmīki’s disciples, Rāma’s sons Lava and Kuśa, in Rāma’s presence. Cf. 1.4 and 7.85.|
|16||See Ramaswami Sastri 1944, pp. 23-24.|
|17||See Weber 1870, pp. 44-63, and Ramaswami Sastri 1944, p. 39. Gorresio (1843, p. xcix) cites the opinions of Jones, Bendy, and Tod, who place Rāma in 2029, 950, and 1100 b.c., respectively. Gorresio, himself a keen student of the epic, dated the poem to the thirteenth century b.c. (1843, p. c). These early opinions are based on often faulty premises. Nonetheless, as we shall see, some of the positions taken with regard to the absolute and relative chronology of the Rāmāyaṇa are still defended today.|
|18||Jacobi 1893, pp. 50-59. Jacobi developed a suggestion first made by Holtzmann (1841, pp. 36ff.), whom he quotes. van Daalen (1980, pp. 1-2, 223) sustains Jacobi’s views on the Bāla, that is, that some portions of it belong to the oldest stratum of the text. On the basis of his own text-critical studies, he posits a single poet for the older portions of Bāla. There are a number of reasons for regarding Uttara as a later work even than Bāla (see Guruge 1960, p. 32). A number of scholars, particularly in India, have, however, seen some portions of Uttara as belonging to an early stratum of the text on literary critical grounds. See Kibe 1947, pp. 321ff. and Guruge 1960, p. 32.|
|19||Some of the more useful studies in this area are: Gorresio 1843; Michelson 1904; Roussel 1910; Brockington 1969b and 1970; Vrat 1964; the numerous valuable articles of N. M. Sen (see bibliography); and van Daalen 1980.|
|20||Most recently van Daalen (1980) has argued that the ‘irregularities’ are characteristic of late portions of the text and were largely alien to the original poet.|
|21||van Daalen’s disclaimer, ‘“Irregularities” have not been defined in this study in terms of forms contravening particular rules of Pāṇini’ (van Daalen 1980, p. 37) is confusing, especially in the light of his statement on the same page, that ‘the above does not mean that Pāṇini is not the frame of reference with previous collectors of irregularities and, consequently, implicitly in this study in many cases, since the collection of §4 is the summation of the previous collections as far as the items chosen for study are concerned.’ In any case, the analysis of ‘irregularities’ is problematic without some standard for what is regular. See Goldman 1982.|
|22||See Roussel 1910, p. 6, and Macdonell 1900, pp. 311-12.|
|23||For discussions of the common features, interrelationships, mutual influence, and metrical and common stylistic features of the two epics, see Hopkins 1901, Kane 1966, and Sukthankar 1941.|
|24||The tradition is not unanimous in making this distinction. The MBh, for example, refers to itself as kāvya. See, for example, the famous passage at the beginning of the Ādiparvan where, in an encounter parallel to that of Vālmīki and Brahmā at Rām 1.2. Vyāsa and the god discuss the creation of the former’s poem (MBh, crit. ed., Ādiparvan App. 1). Some writers on alaṃkāraśāstra regard Rām as an example of itihāsa and group it with the MBh for purposes of criticism. For a discussion of Abhinavagupta’s handling of the epics, see Masson 1969, pp. 78-84 and 103-12.|
|25||See Macdonell 1919; Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, pp. 324, 506.|
|26||In response to this objection, Winternitz was driven to the somewhat circular argument that ‘The Purāṇas have always retained these prose formulas in order to preserve the appearance of antiquity’ (1927, vol. 1, p. 506 note 1).|
|27||In any case, as we shall see, this ‘advance’ on the part of the Rāmāyaṇa poets often has the effect of slowing the epic text by dogging it with tedious formulae that merely mark the end of one speech and the beginning of another, whereas the ‘archaism’ of the Mahābhārata permits the poets to free themselves and their text of what is often a stylistic disaster. It seems to its an equally tenable argument that the poets of the MBh have made a stylistic advance over the Rām.|
|28||See, for example, the elaborate and useful treatment of Guruge 1960, and the works of Khan 1965, Vyas 1967, and Sharma 1971, which cull the text for information on the subjects of realia, social, economic, and political life, the arts, religion, and so on.|
|29||In fact, the practice is mentioned only once in the Rām, in a passage in the late Uttarakāṇḍa (7.17.13), where Vedavatī, who is represented as a prior incarnation of Sītā, tells Rāvaṇa that her mother had burned herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. On this point see Lassen 1858, p. 592; Hopkins 1889, pp. 116-17, 314-15; 1901, p. 149, Guruge 1960, pp. 203-204; Sharma 1971, pp. 95-98; and Meyer 1952, pp. 412-14.|
|30||See Guruge 1960, p. 201; Sharma 1971, p. 437; and Meyer 1952, pp. 165-73. At one point the MBh ascribes the practice of niyojana to the Ikṣvāku dynasty: at MBh 1.168.11-23, the sage Vasiṣṭha, the hereditary purohita, or family priest, of the Ikṣvākus, is said to have fathered an heir for King Kalmāṣapāda upon his queen at the king’s own request (see Goldman 1978, pp. 356-57). Although this practice is apparently eschewed in the royal family of the Rām, there is some evidence that it may lie at the bottom of the Bālakāṇḍa’s rather awkward introduction of the sage Ṛśyaśṛṅga into the account of Daśaratha’s efforts to procure an heir. If this is so, then the lack of instances of the levirate in the Rām cannot be used as an argument of the epic’s priority to the MBh.|
|31||See, for example, Guruge 1960, pp. 197-99.|
|32||Jacobi 1893, pp. 100-107. Jacobi’s arguments put to rest the issue of a post-Buddhistic date for the Rām raised by scholars such as Wheeler (1867-81, vol. 2, p. lxxiv and Weber (1870, pp. 1-13). For this reason, we shall not discuss the theses that they put forward. Moreover, the critical edition has shown the epic’s one explicit reference to Buddhism to be an interpolation. See Ayodhyākāṇḍa, crit. app., *2241, 14-15.|
|33||See Guruge 1960, pp. 51-80. It is interesting in this connection that, although the poem shows, in a textually well-supported passage from what is generally regarded as its oldest stratum (2.62.9-15), at least a general familiarity with north central and northwestern India, including sites central to the story of the MBh such as Hastinapura, Pañcāladeśa, and Kurujāṅgala, its authors nowhere show any familiarity with the characters or events of the longer epic. The absence of references to the MBh in the Rām has been noted many times before and has been urged as evidence of the priority of the latter (Jacobi 1893, p. 70). On the other hand, the significance of the Rām’s knowledge of Kurukṣetra has been perhaps insufficiently appreciated. It would appear to lend additional support to the supposition that the Rām was substantially completed at a time before the epic of the Kauravas had gained very wide currency in north India, for, had that not been the case, we would expect at least some passing reference to the events of the Bhārata war that took place in the regions named.|
|34||Jacobi 1893, pp. 101-102.|
|35||Cf. the treatments of the foundations of Kauṣāmbī, Mahodaya, Dharmāraṇya, Girivraja, and Vasumatī at 1.31.3-8, where the region of the latter is called Māgadhī.|
|36||Cf. Law 1951, pp. 23-27. One must treat such an argument from ignorance with great care. Nonetheless, the fact that the Bālakāṇḍa poet is at such pains to provide the legendary and historical traditions connected with the sites encountered during Rāma’s journey from Ayodhyā to Mithilā lends credence to the proposition that, if an important urban site at Pāṭaliputra had been known, it would have been mentioned.|
|37||7.98.5. Here Śrāvastī (crit. ed., Śrāvatī) is established as the capital of North Kosala, to be ruled by Rāma’s son Lava. South Kosala is to be governed from Kuśāvatī by Rāma’s other son, Kuśa. This division of the ancient janapada of Kosala into two parts, a northern and a southern, is well attested in inscriptional and literary sources, as shown by Sarma (1927). It is, however, a division that is only to be found in quite late material. Sarma’s contention that this distinction is known to the Bālakāṇḍa (1927, p. 70) is based on the vulgate passage at 1.13.26, according to which Daśaratha includes Bhānumant, the king of Kosala, among those he invites to his horse sacrifice. The passage is, however, a spurious one and known only to a very few Devanāgarī manuscripts. See crit. ed., 1.*373.|
|38||Jacobi 1893, pp. 104-105.|
|39||See Law 1951, pp. 4-6; Mookerji 1951, pp. 22-31, 36-38.|
|40||Cf. Pargiter 1922, pp. 90-95, who argues that the lists are often questionable and that the Rām version of the genealogy of the solar kings is much less reliable than the versions of the MBh and the purāṇas.|
|41||Cf. Johnston 1936, pp. xlvii-xliix, and Thomas 1927, pp. 5-15.|
|42||Cf. Gorresio 1843, pp. cx-cxi, basing his judgment on the traditional Tretā Yuga date and the Rājataraṅgiṇī legend that King Dāmodara, traditionally dated to remote antiquity, heard the Rām recited, puts the composition of the poem in the thirteenth or fourteenth century b.c., a date that he himself regards as conjectural. Weber (1870, pp. 61-62) has shown the unlikelihood of Gorresio’s argument, although, as noted above, his own views of the date of the core of the epic are equally unconvincing.|
|43||These dates, like so many in pre-Alexandrian Indian history, are ultimately based on the generally accepted date of the death of the Buddha in 486 b.c. If one accepts the Sinhalese tradition of the death of the Buddha in 544 b.c., then all the dates of the late Kosalan and early Magadhan period, and with them the latest date for the composition of the Rām, must be shifted back by some sixty years. For a discussion of the problem of the date of the Buddha’s death, see Raychaudhuri 1923, p. 184.|
|44||It has been generally accepted that tales of Rāma and the ancient royal house of Ayodhyā must have been current for some time before the composition of the epic itself. This is more than probable. But in the absence of any corroborative evidence, our conception of these tales must be purely speculative.|
|45||See Guruge 1960, pp. 7-9, and Jacobi 1893, pp. 127-32. Of these perhaps the most elaborately described in the vedic literature is the philosopher-king Janaka of Videha who plays an interesting and important role in the brāhmaṇas and upanishads.|
|46||Thus Jacobi’s arguments about the mythological connection between the epic heroine Sītā and the like-named vedic goddess, personification of the plowed furrow, are highly questionable. The former is doubtless named and perhaps inspired by the latter, but the superimposition of the epic story on the vedic myth of Indra and the rains is unwarranted by the evidence.|
|47||For discussions of these lists and the light that they are thought to shed on the Rām, see Lesny 1913; Pargiter 1910, 1913; and Smith 1973.|
|48||As noted above, Pargiter found the Rām lists to be inferior to the one generally common to the purāṇas. lf the Rām lists are not — as may well be the case — themselves late and abridged versions of a received genealogy, then the purāṇa list may simply be inflated with additional names as a result both of the conflation of the dynastic lists of various families that derived from or claimed to derive from the ancient solar race and of an effort to dignify the family further by extending its lineage. I am inclined toward this last position and am skeptical of Pargiter’s faith in the vaṃśa lists and his cavalier dismissal of the Rām genealogy as the product of brahmans who ‘notoriously lacked the historical sense’; see Pargiter 1922, pp. 93, 119-25.|
|49||See, however, Guruge 1960, p. 35 for reference to a tradition of Rāma’s having lived in the Dvāpara Yuga.|
|50||Abrupt if one disregards the Bāla. The subject matter of the first book with its demons and demonesses, its supernatural weapons, superhuman feats, and marvelous legends, is in many ways more like that of Books Three through Six than that of the more sedate and realistic Ayodhyā.|
|51||Macdonell 1900, pp. 312-13.|
|52||Gorresio 1843; Lassen 1867, p. 535; Weber 1870, pp. 8-9; Wheeler 1867-81 (vol. 2); Mehta 1941.|
|53||Gorresio 1847, p. iv. Citing Gioberti, he notes that an epic is nothing other than a system for representing poetically what philosophical systems express theoretically (p. v). The suggestion here is that the epic represents not the external historical data of an area, but rather the collective inner ‘history’ of a culture. A somewhat similar notion is expressed by B. J. Chatterjee 1956, p. 117, who quotes R. C. Dutt as follows: ‘To trace the influence of the Indian epics on the life and civilization of the nation, and on the development of the modern languages, literatures, and religious reforms, is to comprehend the real history of the people during the three thousand years.’ The point is well taken, although here, once again, the use of the word ‘history’ is questionable.|
|54||See Jacobi 1893, pp. 89-90; Macdonell 1900, p. 313.|
|55||It has been argued, for example (Bhatt 1960, pp. 446-47), that Indian tribal people may have had monkeys’ faces and tails, and it has even been proposed that the lord of the rākṣasas, the ten-headed Rāvaṇa, suffered from a birth defect that, incidentally, accounted for his hostility (Iyer 1941, pp. 55-56). Even so scientifically oriented a scholar as Mankad, critical editor of the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, argues that Rāma’s legendary feat of hurling the carcass of an enormous theriomorphic demon (a man, according to Mankad) a distance of considerably more than a mile with a single blow of his foot is well within the realm of possibility (Mankad 1965, p. 457).|
|56||See, for example, Pargiter 1894; Guruge 1960, pp. 51-80: Kibe 1914, 1928, 1941a, and 1947; Shah 1976; Sankalia 1973; Ramdas 1925 a and b. 1928, and 1930.|
|57||Jacobi 1893, p. 103. Cf. Macdonell 1900, p. 313, who remarks, ‘The poet knows nothing about the Deccan beyond the fact that Brāhman hermitages are to be found there. Otherwise it is a region haunted by the monsters and fabulous beings with which an Indian imagination would people an unknown land.’|
|58||Macdonell 1919, p. 574.|
|59||For more detailed discussion of the Ceylon issue, see Jacobi 1893, pp. 89-93; Keith 1915, p. 324; and Guruge 1960, pp. 67-69.|
|60||For a brief survey of these texts see Bulcke 1958, 1959.|
|61||Cf. Jacobi 1893, pp. 66-67; Weber 1870, p. 210; Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, p. 475; and Bulcke 1958, p. 121. Also cf. von Schroeder 1887, pp. 454ff., and Glasenapp 1929, p. 89, both cited in Bloch 1964, pp. 81-82 note 1. But see also Renou and Filliozat 1947, vol. 1, p. 404, who, like the above authors, see no reason to doubt the attribution of the poem to a single author named Vālmīki, but are not convinced of the poet’s contemporaneity with the protagonist of the epic story. For a lengthy discussion of this question, see Bloch 1964.|
|62||Even the stories of the two sages’ creation of their respective masterpieces through the inspiration of the god Brahmā, as given at MBh Ādiparvan, App. 1 and Rām 1.2, are closely parallel, and it is clear that one of them has been heavily influenced by, if not actually derived from, the other. Most likely the MBh episode, rejected as an interpolation by Sukthankar, was modeled on the famous story of Vālmīki and the origin of poetry.|
|63||The famous reference to Vālmīki’s ashram in Book Two has been shown to be an interpolation by the critical edition. For a discussion of the passage, see Bulcke 1958 and 1959.|
|64||See van Daalen 1980; Bulcke 1958 and 1959; and Bhatt 1960, p. 425.|
|65||Weber 1870, pp. 22-36; see, for refutation. Jacobi 1893, pp. 94-99, and Macdonell 1900, pp. 309-10.|
|66||Weber 1870, pp. 1-32.|
|67||See Lassen 1874, pp. 102-103, and Jacobi 1893, pp. 84-89. Cf. also Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, p. 510, and Macdonell 1900, pp. 308-309. For a comprehensive survey of the question of the Dasaratha Jātaka and the Rām, including summaries of the arguments of the principal writers on the problem, see Bulcke 1950, pp. 84-105.|
|68||On the date of the Rām, see Keith 1915, pp. 318-28. Keith, incidentally, does not accept the theory that the Rām is post-Buddhist. On the other hand, he denies the validity of Jacobi’s historical argument and does not accept a date for the text earlier than the third century b.c. On the date of the jātakas, see Rhys Davids 1903, p. 103, and Sen 1920, pp. 4-9. The theory was very strongly argued, for example, by Sen in his collection of lectures on the Bengali Rāmāyaṇas (Sen 1920, pp. 4-23). Here he adduces evidence from other jātakas that contain characters or themes in common with the Rāmāyaṇa in support of this hypothesis.|
|69||See, for example, the short but cogent remarks of the great epigraphist Sircar (1976, pp. 50-53). See also Kane 1966, pp. 45-46. There seems to be little likelihood of, and less evidence for, Keith’s suggestion (1915, p. 323) that the Dasaratha Jātaka and the epic are independently derived from a common source. Bulcke (1952, pp. 102-103) concludes his discussion of the jātaka problem by saying that although a narrative poem on the subject of the Rāma story was current at the time of the compilation of the Pali Tipiṭaka, the composition of the Rāmāyaṇa was not yet complete. This amounts to the same argument as Keith’s. The argument that the Jātaka is older than the epic because it would surely have included the story of the abduction of Sītā had its author known of it, still finds adherents among learned authorities on ancient Indian cultural history. The difficulty is that it is a purely negative argument that presumes a knowledge that we do not have of the motives and methods of the authors and compilers of the jātaka collection. We cannot say with any certainty that the author of the Dasaratha Jātaka would have included any portion of the Rāmāyaṇa that did not serve his needs, even if he knew it intimately. The jātakas are short stories, each of which is designed to illustrate some specific Buddhist virtue through an episode drawn from the career of some creature — animal, human, or supernatural. In the Dasaratha Jātaka, the virtue is steadfastness in the face of emotional trauma, and it is on the basis of his reputation as a paragon of steadfastness that Rāma is chosen to be its exemplar. The legend of the abduction of Sītā is irrelevant to this purpose. If anything, Rāma’s reaction to the loss of his wife is the very antithesis of that expected of the steadfast and self-controlled hero. The authors of the jātakas chose various legends from the Rāmāyaṇa and other stories as it suited their purposes. The fact that the author of the Dasaratha Jātaka restricted himself to one highly modified episode from the Rāma legend is to my mind no proof that he did not know the tale in its entirety.|
|71||See Weber 1870, pp. 64-75; Hopkins 1901, pp. 58-84; Kane 1966, pp. 11-58; Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, pp. 500-507; Jacobi 1893, pp. 69-84; Sukthankar 1911, pp. 472-87, and 1939, pp. 406-15; Holtzmann 1846; Holtzmann 1892; Vaidya 1971, pp. xxxi-xxxvi: van Buitenen 1975, pp. 207-14; Shah 1975, pp. 29-53; and Raghavan 1973, pp. 2-31.|
|72||Weber 1870, pp. 68-71.|
|73||Sukthankar 1941, pp. 472-87 and 1939, pp. 406-15. Raghavan 1973, pp. 11-25. Sukthankar’s work has been updated with reference to the critical edition of the Rām by Jhala 1968, pp. 295-98. Jhala makes some interesting observations on the question of the recension of Rām known to the authors of the Nalopākhyāna. For a critique of this view and a discussion of the parallel passages of the two epics from the point of view of their grammatical irregularities, see van Daalen 1980, pp. 42-56. Also see Shah 1975, pp. 29-53.|
|74||For some dissenting views, see Hopkins 1901, pp. 62-64. Lüdwig 1894, pp. 30ff., and, more recently, Vaidya 1971, pp. xxxi-xxxvi, and van Buitenen 1975, pp. 207-14.|
|75||For a brief summary of some of the less recent opposing views and the rationales behind them, see Bulcke 1950, pp. 53-54. Bulcke himself is of the same opinion as Jacobi and Sukthankar.|
|76||Vaidya 1971, p. xxxii. xxxvi.|
|77||van Buitenen 1975, p. 214.|
|78||Ibid., p. 213.|
|79||Vaidya 1971, p. xxxii.|
|80||Ibid., pp. xxxiv-xxxv.|
|81||Raghavan 1973, pp. 12-13 note 3.|
|82||Vaidya 1971, p. xxxii.|
|83||van Buitenen 1975, p. 212. It is odd that in attempting to strengthen his sense of the contrast between Avindhya and Trijaṭā he should describe the latter as ‘young.’ Virtually the only thing we are told about the demoness in the Rāmāyaṇa is that she is vṛddhā, ‘old’ (5.25.4).|
|84||5.35.12-13 and 6.25.20 (v.l. Aviddha). Vaidya’s error was first pointed out by Raghavan (1973, p. 18). It is particularly unfortunate for van Buitenen’s argument that it is so heavily dependent on this error of Vaidya.|
|85||See his point 6 about the magic water (p. xxxii) and Raghavan’s discussion (Raghavan 1973, p. 22).|
|86||van Buitenen 1975, p. 209.|
|87||MBh 3.266.67, erroneously cited in van Buitenen (1975, p. 210) as 3.266.15.|
|88||van Buitenen 1975, p. 210.|
|90||For an extensive and comprehensive survey of virtually all of the major literary versions of the Rāma story in both Indian and non-Indian languages, see Bulcke 1950, pp. 1-285. Bulcke (pp. 281-285) also gives a short survey of early western writers on the Rāmāyaṇa. An early survey of the Indian Rāma literature is to be found in Baumgartner 1894, pp. 235-330. See also N. M. Sen 1956b, pp. 95-100. An interesting discussion of epic and puranic versions and variants is provided by Raghavan 1973. For a treatment of some of the less well-known and fragmentary Rāma plays, see Raghavan 1961. On Jain Rāmāyaṇas, see Narasimhachar 1939, pp. 575-94; Kapadia 1952, pp. 115-18; and Kulkarni 1959, pp. 189-204, 284-304. Sen 1920 has an interesting account of the nature and extent of the Bengali Rāmāyaṇas. For the expansion and development of the Rāma story beyond India, see the important and scholarly work of Sweeney on Malaysia (1972), as well as Hooykaas on Java (1958) and Sahai on Laos (1976). Raghu Vira and Yamamoto 1938 have presented the text and translations of two Rāmāyaṇa-derived jātakas found in China. For a general survey and discussion of the non-Indian versions of the Rāma story, see Raghavan 1975.|
|91||For treatments of important examples of artistic representations of the Rāma story see the select bibliography in Mittal 1969, p. 67. A sizable filmography of Indian cinematic representations of the Rām could be compiled and would be both interesting and useful.|
|92||Cf. Thompson 1957, vol. 5, p. 300, for references to folktales involving a wicked stepmother. If we can see in the unflattering portrait of Kaikeyī the wicked stepmother of the fairy tale, we may perhaps also perceive in Mantharā, her deformed and malicious maidservant, a variant of the fairy-tale figure of the wicked witch or evil fairy.|
|93||3.11.29-34. It is not unlikely that this encounter with the sage Agastya is the source for the much more elaborate episode of Viśvāmitra’s gift of divine weapons to Rāma at 1.26-27.|
|94||See, for example, Thompson 1955-1958, vol. 1, p. 450 for references to the motif of an animal helping in the quest for a vanished wife. For a thoroughgoing analysis of the poem as a ‘Märchen-epic,’ see Gehrts 1977.|
|95||1.1.1-18. This catalog of Rāma’s virtues is probably not the oldest of its type in the epic. At the beginning of the second book (2.1.15-27) there is a similar list that, if our understanding of the history of the text is correct, is very likely the source of the Bāla passage.|
|96||The Yuddhakāṇḍa chapter (6.105) in which Brahmā reveals to Rāma his divine nature and praises him as the supreme lord Nārāyaṇa has good manuscript support. It is, however, virtually the only unambiguously Vaiṣṇava passage in Books Two through Six, and like the devotional portions of Books One and Seven, it is almost certainly a relatively late addition. Several authors have remarked that the closing verses of the late first chapter in all but a few Devanāgarī manuscripts have Nārada tell Vālmīki that, at the end of Rāma’s eleven-thousand-year reign, he will go to Brahmā’s world and not Viṣṇu’s (1.1.76), whereas earlier in the same passage the hero is compared to Viṣṇu for his valor (1.1.17). These references would seem to support the theory that the identification of Rāma with Viṣṇu is not known to some strata even of the Bālakāṇḍa. Ruben 1936, p. 63. argued that the issue of the hero’s identification with Viṣṇu has little bearing on the question of the relative age of the Bālakāṇḍa, since we cannot explain the fact that Books Two through Six, which have numerous late interpolations, have still no Vaiṣṇava passages. Therefore, Ruben argues, the central books and the bulk of the Bālakāṇḍa may deliberately withhold allusions to Rāma’s divinity. I find Ruben’s argument to be implausible, not least because it would seem to imply some unspoken but uniformly observed agreement among generations of Rāmāyaṇa scribes and reciters. As to why so few of the later interpolations in Books Two through Six are of a Vaiṣṇava cast, there is little that can be said with any certainty; but there is little evidence to oppose the theory that an explicit Vaiṣṇava reference is a sign of a relatively late stratum of text formation in the Rāmāyaṇa. The question of the textual history of the Bālakāṇḍa will be taken up in greater detail below. For a provocative and dissenting discussion of the divinity of Rāma in Vālmīki, see Pollock’s forthcoming Introduction to Volume 3 of this translation and forthcoming article in JAOS.|
|98||GPP 6.128.105-122, crit. app. *3703. Similar passages at the end of Uttara are, likewise, relegated to the apparatus.|
|99||6.105. This is the only passage accepted by the critical edition that resembles a classic Vaiṣṇava devotional hymn in both form and content. The hero, hearing this hymn of praise from the mouths of the gods, is puzzled and remarks, ‘As far as I know I am a man, Daśaratha’s son.’ Brahmā then intervenes, explaining to Rāma that he is, in fact, Nārāyaṇa. He identifies Rāma with various of the avatāras of Viṣṇu, including Kṛṣṇa, and this fact alone suggests the late date of the passage. The testimony for this passage is unusually uniform, and the variants are remarkably few and insignificant. In this case, as in many others in the epics, textual homogeneity indicates not antiquity but a late and sectarian passage accepted with little change by all scribes. One is reminded of the situation of the Bhagavad Gītā in the recensions of the Mahābhārata. Passages such as this must make us very wary of claims, such as those put forward by van Daalen 1980, pp. 5-13, that universal testimony is a sign that passages belong to the archetype or even to the corpus of the original poet. See Goldman 1982.|
|100||At 1.75.17-19. This episode, with its preamble (1.74.14-20), is one of the few truly sectarian passages in the epic. The Bhārgava Rāma, who in the purāṇas and very late strata of the MBh is elevated to the status of an avatāra, shows no evidence of divinity in this passage, even though the episode is a relatively late addition to the Bālakāṇḍa and presupposes knowledge of the MBh tradition of the warrior-sage. The Bāla episode (1.48.12-21) in which Rāma releases Ahalyā from her long curse — an episode that in the hands of Tulsi Das (Rāmcaritmānas 1.210-211) and other poets of the bhakti movement becomes the archetypal demonstration of the lord’s saving grace — is in Vālmīki handled with no reference to the divinity of the hero.|
|101||There can be little doubt that the HariVaṃ is later than the bulk of the Rām. For a discussion of this point, see Ingalls 1967, pp. 393-94. If, as seems likely, the HariVaṃ was the first great Sanskrit epic poem to concern itself centrally with the life of a divine incarnation, it is at least plausible to see the Vaiṣṇava element in the Rām as derived from the poetic life of Kṛṣṇa. The date of the HariVaṃ is uncertain, but it would appear unlikely that, in the absence of any new evidence, the core of the work, the Viṣṇuparvan, much predates the beginning of the Christian era. If all of these suppositions are correct, we can take the first century a.d. as the rough date of the introduction of the Vaiṣṇava portions of the Bāla and Uttara Kāṇḍas.|
|102||The HariVaṃ knows Rāma as an incarnation of Viṣṇu (HariVaṃ 65.42-43). The significance of this, however, is unclear. The HariVaṃ reference to Vālmīki as a poet of Vyāsa’s eminence (see Ingalls 1967, p. 393) has been relegated to an appendix by the compilers of the critical edition. See HariVaṃ App. No. 8.30.|
|103||See Ingalls 1967, for a discussion of the poetry of the HariVaṃ. There is even some evidence that specific incidents in the HariVaṃ account of Kṛṣṇa’s career may have been drawn from the Rāmāyaṇa. Thus the story of how Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma come to Mathurā to see the great bow of Kaṃsa, which Kṛṣṇa then breaks (HariVaṃ 71.27-46), must certainly be an adaptation of the story of Rāma’s breaking of Janaka’s bow that forms the climax of the Bālakāṇḍa.|
|104||See Bhandarkar 1913, pp. 1-4, 30-48. On the basis of literary, inscriptional, and other evidence it is clear that the cult of Vāsudeva must date from at least the third century b.c., and that the identification of this figure with the cowherd-god Kṛṣṇa cannot be much later than the beginning of the Christian era. On the other hand, despite the evidence of the Bāla, Uttara, and other stray references in the Rām and the inclusion of Rāma Dāśarathi in epic and puranic lists of avatāras, an organized cult of Rāma does not appear to have existed much before the eleventh century a.d.|
|105||Additional evidence of this may be found in the Uttarakāṇḍa’s knowledge of Mathurā as an important site, and its appropriation on behalf of Rāma’s brother, Śatrughna, of the glory of having founded that important city.|
|106||See 1.2.32-34 where, through the grace of Brahmā, Vālmīki is granted knowledge of all the actions and thoughts of the epic characters — the public and private, the known and the unknown.|
|107||Thus, for example, Wheeler felt he could discern four distinct historical stages of religion and civilization in the epic, whereas Lassen and Weber saw the poem as a sort of chronicle of Aryan expansion into peninsular India. These interpretations and others offered by nineteenth-century scholarship are no longer generally accepted, but the idea that the Rām developed around a historical core is still current.|
|108||Cf. Jacobi’s amusing deflation of Wheeler’s interpretation of the epic as a historical allegory: ‘Imagine! Vālmīki, the greatest poet of the pre-classical age composed an allegory that no one understood until a European nineteen centuries later came upon the obscure secret!’ (1893, p. 90). The point is a good one and ought to be brought to bear on all interpretations that seek to ‘discover’ a concealed meaning in the epic. It is, ironically, equally damaging to Jacobi’s own cherished interpretation.|
|109||Jacobi 1893, pp. 126-39. It is probable that the figure of Sītā is somehow derived from the vedic divinity of the plowed field, but we are in agreement with Winternitz 1927, pp. 515-16 that Weber 1891, p. 818 was right in his feeling that a wide gulf separates the vedic from the epic legends. Moreover, there is evidence to indicate that the Rāma story does not proceed originally from the vedic legends of the asura–deva conflict. See Goldman and Masson 1969, pp. 95-100.|
|110||Narain 1957, pp. 111-15. Despite Narain’s statement, Rāma is subject in certain circumstances to almost total loss of self-control, a loss accompanied by unrestrained anger and sorrow; see Goldman 1984 pp. 166-67. This will be discussed further below.|
|111||This difference has long been a subject of discussion among scholars. Gorresio summed it up in a sort of aphorism: ‘accordo dell’ uomo col creato in Grecia, lotta dell’ uomo col creato nell’ India’ [Harmony of man with nature in Greece, struggle of man with nature in India] (Gorresio 1847, p. vii).|
|112||Bhīṣma, like Rāma, is deprived of his rightful succession to the throne through his father’s infatuation for a beautiful and ambitious woman. His sacrifice is, however, in many ways more complete than that of Rāma: he relinquishes his claim to the throne voluntarily. His father does not have to ask or order him to do so. Moreover, his loss of royal power is permanent, unlike Rāma’s, which has a fixed term. Finally, Bhīṣma also renounces both the pleasures of sex and the hope of progeny in an act of self-denial so dreadful that the gods, seers, and heavenly nymphs cry out ‘bhīṣmo ’yam,’ ‘He’s awesome!’ thus giving the hero his best known epithet; see MBh 1.94.86-90. For a discussion of some of the psychological implications of Bhīṣma’s filial devotion and that of similar MBh figures such as Pūru and Rāma Jāmadagnya, see Goldman 1978, pp. 338-47.|
|113||BhagGī 1.25-47, 2.4-8.|
|114||2.91.6-8. In this sarga, many southern manuscripts and the vulgate have a passage of some twenty lines in which Rāma, in a virtual paraphrase of the comparable Gītā passage, expresses his horror at the thought of fighting his kinsmen (Ayodhyākāṇḍa, crit. app. 2112*.1-12; GPP 2.97.2-8). Like Arjuna, Rāma argues that there is no point in killing his kinsmen for the kingdom, since it is only for their sake that he desires wealth, power, and pleasure. Like Arjuna, he too claims that, although he could easily gain the earth, he would not wish even the lordship of the gods (śakratvam), if it should come to him through foul means. He too likens things acquired through the killing of his friends and kinsmen to the consumption of tainted food (bhakṣyān viṣakṛtān iva). Although several factors make it difficult to determine the relative priority of the two passages, it seems probable that one is a paraphrase of the other. It is especially interesting that the tradition sees the two confrontations as similar, even though their resolutions are radically different.|
|115||In the Rām, Bharata, although he is Rāma’s junior and must therefore defer to his elder brother, is viewed by the latter as the representative of Daśaratha, since he is now the appointed heir.|
|118||6.113.12-16. Rāma’s unwavering devaluation of the throne relative to what he perceives as his duty to his father and such abstractions of paternal authority as dharma and truth is closely paralleled by his recurrent undervaluation and repeated rejection of Sītā in favor of his male kinsmen and such abstractions as duty and reputation. For a detailed discussion of this see Goldman 1980.|
|119||For a detailed study of this phenomenon in the Rām with special reference to the epic’s composite hero, see Goldman 1980.|
|120||See Goldman 1978; Devereux 1951; and Carstairs 1961, pp. 159-60.|
|121||MBh 1.94.86-88. It is interesting to note that in a Jain account of this episode, found in the Pāṇḍava Purāṇa of Vāḍicandrasūri (1.105-106), Bhīṣma is said to have lent substance to his famous vow by actually castrating himself. I am grateful to Professor P. S. Jaini for pointing out this reference to me.|
|123||MBh 3.116.13-14. See Goldman 1978, pp. 342-44.|
|124||See 1.76 where the blossoming of this love is charmingly described; and 3.59-61, 4.1. etc. for his grief.|
|125||For a detailed discussion of this, see Goldman 1980, pp. 160-63.|
|126||For a dramatic illustration of this attitude in Indian society, see Gandhi 1960, pp. 43-46.|
|128||1.25.11-12. In the vulgate and several southern manuscripts, Rāma’s reluctance is so great that the sage has to order him once more, rather sharply, to get on with it. See App. I, No. 5.15-20.|
|129||MBh 3.116.18. This is one of the several ways in which the MBh accounts for Rāma Jāmadagnya’s reputation for being a great master of the science of arms. For a discussion of this and other legends bearing upon the Bhārgava Rāma’s acquisition of his military skills, see Goldman 1977, pp. 99-112 and 1982a.|
|130||1.26-27. Bhīṣma and Pūru, the other major epic exemplars of filial subservience, are also given boons by their fathers in compensation for their renunciation of sexuality. Śantanu grants Bhīṣma the power to choose his time of death (MBh 1.94.94), whereas Yayāti makes Pūru, his youngest son, his heir and successor (MBh 1.79.30).|
|133||A detailed psychological analysis of the Rāmāyaṇa, although desirable, is beyond the scope of this introduction. For psychological discussions of particular characters and episodes in the epic, see Goldman 1978 and 1980; and Masson 1975 and 1980, pp. 80-109.|
|134||Holtzmann 1841, pp. 36-38.|
|135||See Lesny 1913, p. 497; Macdonell 1900, pp. 304-307; Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, pp. 495-96; Bulcke 1952/1953, pp. 327-31; and Jacobi 1893, pp. 50ff.|
|136||Lesny 1913, p. 497.|
|137||Tiwari 1952-53, pp. 9-17.|
|138||Jacobi 1893, pp. 55-59.|
|139||Jacobi 1893, p. 59.|
|140||Actually sargas 1, 2, and 4: see Bulcke 1952/1953, p. 329. The exclusion of sarga 3, the second conspectus of the epic poet, is evidently based upon the fact that it knows the events of Bāla: the journey with Viśvāmitra, the marriage, the breaking of the bow, and the confrontation with Bhārgava Rāma (1.3.4-5). This exclusion is problematic, however, in the light of Bulcke’s acceptance of these events as belonging to the oldest portion of Bāla.|
|141||Tiwari’s arguments as to the late date of the Bālakāṇḍa (Tiwari 1952/1953, p. 15) are, in fact, relevant only to the later portions of the text. His remarks about the Śakas, Yavanas, and other barbarians produced by Viśvāmitra’s cow — remarks similar to those of earlier writers on the date of the Rām — apply only to the passage in which the reference occurs, a fact first pointed out by Jacobi (Jacobi 1893, pp. 94-95).|
|142||Ghosh 1967, pp. xlix-lii.|
|143||Holtzmann 1841, p. 39.|
|144||Jacobi 1893, p. 52 note 1; Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, p. 496; Bulcke 1952/1953, p. 328.|
|145||See crit. app. for 2.110. The passage appears in the vulgate and is accepted by the critical edition. It is, in fact, very widely distributed and is omitted only in a few B and D manuscripts. Jacobi was aware of the passage and mentioned it specifically in a note (Jacobi 1893, p. 53 note). Yet so firm was he in his belief in the lateness of the first book that he regards the episode as interpolated.|
|147||This is precisely the material that Bulcke regards as constituting the oldest stratum of the Bālakāṇḍa. Regardless of the direction of the borrowing, it is clear that all of this material is early, and it is probable that these portions of the Bālakāṇḍa are contemporaneous with or not very much later than the ‘genuine’ books. The detailed and highly colored account of the confrontation between the sage and the king over the issue of sending Rāma to fight Mārīca and Subāhu is found at 1.17.22-1.21.6. Although Mārīca’s account in Araṇya is concise and omits many details, it covers the whole period described at Bāla 17-29. Similarly, the tale Sītā tells Anasūyā at the end of Ayodhyā summarizes the events detailed in Bāla 65-76.|
|148||Some of the passages and episodes within these sargas have been introduced at later periods. The most significant of these, such as the story of the encounter of the two Rāmas, will be discussed individually below.|
|149||‘Diese Episode scheint eingeschoben zu sein, alt das erste Buch noch keinen festen Bestandteil der Rāmāyaṇa bildete.’ Jacobi 1893, p. 53 note 1.|
|150||See Goldman 1980, pp. 167-70.|
|151||Cf. Carstairs 1961, pp. 69-70. The culturally enjoined suppression of a younger brother’s reference to his sexual life, even mention of his wife’s name, is amusingly illustrated in the context of the Rāma story by the great Sanskrit playwright Bhavabhūti in his famous Uttararāmacarita. After verse 18 in act 1, Sītā who, with Rāma, is being shown a group wedding portrait of the brothers and their brides asks Lakṣmaṇa to identify Ūrmilā. This embarrasses the prince so much that he quickly skips to another picture to cover his confusion and avoid having to mention his wife’s name or openly acknowledge her existence in the presence of his elder brother and sister-in-law. See Belvalkar 1915, p. 20. For a discussion of this incident and this phenomenon in the traditional literature, see Goldman 1978, pp. 327-29 and note 21.|
|152||Jacobi 1893, p. 53; Winternitz 1927, vol. 1, p. 487 note 2; Bulcke 1952/1953, p. 328.|
|153||For a detailed discussion of this incident and its implications both for the development of the epic story and for our understanding of the relationship between Books Two through Six and the Uttarakāṇḍa, see Goldman and Masson 1969, pp. 95-100.|
|154||See Bulcke 1952/1953, p. 330.|
|155||Ibid., p. 328.|
|156||It is interesting that the Bālakāṇḍa, although it has often been regarded as a late addition to the poem, does not, according to the best reconstruction of the manuscript evidence, end with a phalaśruti.|
|157||1.76.18; the reference to Śrī and the identification of Viṣṇu, rather than Indra, as the ruler of the gods is a sure sign of sectarian influence.|
|158||Bulcke 1952/1953, p. 328.|
|159||These events — the journey with Viśvāmitra, the breaking of the bow, the marriage, and the encounter with the other Rāma — are mostly those that constitute the older strata of the first book. In addition, the chapter contains a couple of lines mentioning some of the events of the Uttarakāṇḍa (1.3.28).|
|160||As discussed above, it is clear that the Rāmopākhyāna is later than and derived from the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. That its authors knew the Uttarakāṇḍa is demonstrated by their familiarity with the legend and antecedents of Rāvaṇa and by the fact that they quote the latter book. See Jacobi 1893, pp. 74-75, and Raghavan 1973, pp. 11-12.|
|161||This episode, in which Rāma and his sons first meet and the king is overwhelmed by emotion at hearing the moving ballad of his tragic career, has fascinated the transmitters of the Rāmāyaṇa. They return to it at the end of the Uttarakāṇḍa where an elaborate and highly dramatic version culminating in Rāma’s recognition of his sons and the return and final disappearance of Sītā is made to occupy five sargas (7.84-89). Most of the dramatic events in this version, including the encounter of Rāma and Vālmīki and the return of Sītā, are unknown to the Bālakāṇḍa passage.|
|162||1.2.8-13. For a brief discussion of the underlying psychological significance of this episode and its relation to similar legends in the Sanskrit epics, see Goldman 1978, p. 392.|
|163||The episode has been regarded by many literary critics as foreshadowing the tragic events of the central epic narrative, while the Vaishnava scholiasts have interpreted the verse, ingeniously if not wholly convincingly, as encoding allusions to many of the episodes in the epic and their underlying theological significance. For a discussion of the interpretations of the episode at the hands of Indian writers on poetics, see Masson 1969. For some examples of the treatment of the verse on the part of the Rāmāyaṇa commentators, see the notes to 1.2.14 below.|
|164||The position that the upodghāta appears to hold regarding the priority of the karuṇarasa is strikingly articulated (in a non-technical context) by the great dramatist Bhavabhūti who in the Uttararāmacarita (3.48) has one of his characters remark à propos the pathos of the Rāma story, eko rasaḥ karuṇa eva nimittabhedād, bhinnaḥ pṛthak pṛthag iva āśrayate vivartān, āvartabudbudataraṅgamayān vikārān, ambho yathā salilam eva hi tat samastam. ‘There is really only one aesthetic mood, that of pity. It is only through its different modifications and manifestations that it appears to have different forms. It’s just like water that, although it may take on the forms of whirlpools, bubbles or waves, is still, in the end, just water.’|
|165||See 1.4.8 where, in a reading regarded as uncertain by the editor, the poem is said to possess the traditional rasas, of which seven are named in the S manuscripts and nine in the N manuscripts. For a discussion of the commentators’ views on the Rāmāyaṇa’s rasas and the text-historical implications of the difference between the N and S recensions, see Bālakāṇḍa, critical notes, at 1.4.8.|
|166||It is evident that the names of Rāma’s sons are derived from the term for bard, not vice versa, as tradition holds. See Bālakāṇḍa, critical notes, at 1.4.3, for further details.|
|167||Bhatt 1960, p. 437.|
|168||See Holtzmann 1841, pp. 36-37, and Bulcke 1952/1953, pp. 330-31.|
|169||Bulcke 1952/1953, p. 331. Bhatt, who has argued for the propriety of performing the Aśvamedha as a device for producing an heir, appears willing to accept the traditional view that the purpose of the former sacrifice was merely to remove the sins that were obstructing the birth of a royal heir (Bhatt 1960, p. 446).|
|170||Aside from the detailed description of Daśaratha’s sacrifice, the poem mentions those of Sagara (1.38-40), Ambarīṣa (1.60), Saudāsa (7.57.18), and, of course, Rāma (7.82-83). By way of preamble to the performance of Rāma’s sacrifice, the Uttarakāṇḍa briefly mentions two legendary performances of the rite for the purpose of freeing someone from an impure undesired state. At 7.77.8-10 the gods perform the rite on behalf of Indra in order to free him from the taint of brahmahatyā. At 7.81.12-20 the sage Marutta and a company of brahmans perform the sacrifice on behalf of King Ila who has been transformed into a woman by Śiva. The rite does not operate directly, as in the case of Indra, but rather serves to ingratiate the officiants with Śiva who, as a favor to them, agrees to restore the king’s masculinity. At 7.23.7-8 the Aśvamedha is mentioned as one of the seven sacrifices completed by Rāvaṇa’s son, Meghanāda.|
|171||For a discussion of this fascinating character, the probable prototype of the European unicorn, whose legend has permeated the literatures of Hinduism, Buddhism, and of areas far beyond the borders of India, see Lüders 1897 and 1901, and the forthcoming study of the legend by Masson and Goldman.|
|172||The northern recensions of the epic, and much of later Indian literature, regard Śāntā as actually a daughter of Daśaratha given in adoption to his friend and ally Lomapāda (Romapāda). On the basis of careful textual analysis, Asoke Chatterjee has shown this tradition to be a later invention of the northern redactors, owing its existence to their confusion of the Aṅga monarch, Daśaratha or Lomapāda, mentioned in several puranic genealogies, with the Kosalan Daśaratha. See A. Chatterjee 1954 and 1957.|
|173||1.8.22. In a passage substituted in a number of manuscripts of various recensions it is specified that the sage will accomplish this after haying offered oblation in the sacrificial fires. See crit. app. *298.|
|174||1.9. The story, like all but a few of the puranic narratives inserted into the Bālakāṇḍa, is brief to the point of opacity, and largely lacks the charm and power that characterize many other versions. This is especially noticeable in the Bālakāṇḍa versions of the stories of the churning of the ocean (1.44) and the birth of Kumāra (1.36), which are terse, perfunctory, and obscure, comparing unfavorably with the Mahābhārata versions.|
|175||Although I have as yet come across no assertion on the part of any scholar that the sacrificial role of Ṛśyaśṛṅga is, in fact, a disguised form of niyojana, I think that the evidence of the text leads us to serious consideration of such an underlying element. Other scholars may have advanced this thesis, for we find that one V. Panoly takes issue with them in the strongest and most colorful language. See Panoly 1961, pp. 17-19.|
|176||The story is popular in the epic and puranic literature, and Sagara is one of the cherished dynasts of the Rāghava House. Its somewhat separate origin is suggested by its ending in a widely distributed phalaśruti (1.43.20).|
|177||Cf. Sukthankar 1937, pp. 1-76, and Goldman 1977.|
|178||It is probably related to other epic accounts of the confrontations between heroes and rākṣasa women such as those between Bhīma and Hiḍimbā in the Mahābhārata (1.139-144) and between Rāma and Śūrpaṇakhā in our text (3.16-17). Those episodes are, however, typologically different from the slaying of Tāṭakā.|
|179||In fact, the conferral of the magic weapons upon Rāma by the Kauśika sage, although it is a version of a motif common to the epics, is probably a transposition and expansion of a similar conferral of divine weapons upon the prince by the seer Agāstya at 3.11.29-34. It is these latter weapons, most particularly the great Vaishnava bow, that Rāma appears to use in his battles with the rākṣasas in much of the remainder of the poem.|
|180||See Goldman 1977.|
|181||It should be noted here that if we do not presuppose the Mahābhārata or a still later puranic account of Jāmadagnya and his extermination of the kshatriyas, the figure introduced in the Bālakāṇḍa would be utterly mysterious, for the Rāmāyaṇa nowhere recounts his proper legend, trusting to its audience’s knowledge of the story from the greater epic and puranic tradition. The encounter of the two Rāmas, which appears to be a Rāmāyaṇa application of a figure drawn from the Mahābhārata, in turn appears in a late stratum of the latter text where, in a Vaishnava passage known to the vulgate and a few northern manuscripts, a version of it appears. See MBh 3, crit. app. I, No. 14.20-84 (Citrashala ed. 3.99.40-71). Sukthankar 1937, pp. 20-21, has clearly shown the Mahābhārata passage to be the work of a late and ‘ignorant’ northern interpolator. In this way the Mahābhārata has borrowed a Rāmāyaṇa episode in which one of its own heroes is humiliated by the hero of the older epic.|
|182||See 1.1ff. on Nārada; 12.40 on the new metrical form; 1.3 on Brahma; 1.2.40, 7.84.5 on the whole Rāmāyaṇa poem. In the northern variant of 1.3.1 Vālmīki is said to discover the other events in Rāma’s life — to supplement the account of Nārada — ‘from the world,’ though we need not, with Agrawala, view the poet as an early folklorist ‘who collected the several versions of the legend from what was current as folklore’ (Agrawala 1962, p. 578). See 1.4.5 on the performers and 1.4.12, 7.84.9,16 on memorization. The singers are to recite twenty chapters per day (7.84.9) or about some 1,200 sixteen-syllable lines; the performance is said to take many days. (Excluding Book Seven, there are 500 chapters, according to 7.85.20, and thus, the performance would extend over approximately a month.) For the various types of duo oral recitation, cf. Chadwick 1932, p. 574; Lord 1960, p. 125 and note. It is not clear from the Rāmāyaṇa itself how we are to picture the recitation.|
|183||See P. A. Grintser 1974 (English summary, pp. 416ff.) on the genesis of the oral poem. That the transmission of the Rāmāyaṇa cannot be reconciled with the image of a wholly memorized original is not a serious contradiction. Although exact reproduction is an ideal that performers of oral poetry envision, in reality a certain amount of personal modification occurs in any given performance.|
|184||See Shah 1975, pp. 50-51 and references. The Buddhist poet Aśvaghoṣa (fl. a.d. 50) might have known a written Rāmāyaṇa, for the close agreement in verbal and narrative detail between his Buddhacarita and the Rāmāyaṇa argues for the kind of ‘consultability’ that only a written text allows. Cf. also Gawrónski 1914-1915, pp. 280-81.|
|185||This was already apparent to the editors of the incomplete editio princeps, Carey and Marshman, in 1806, see Gorresio 1843, p. xx. Sometimes it appears as if we must speak rather of three recensions, distinguishing a NW (Kashmir and west) from a NE (Nepal and east), cf. especially Shastri 1940, pp. 58 and 75. But there is so much contamination among N manuscripts that it is difficult to decide for certain. Ruben, additionally, wished to divide the southern recension into two, one represented by the commentators Vaṃśīdhara Śivasahāya (Rāmāyaṇaśiromaṇi), Maheśvaratīrtha (Tattvadīpikā), and Govindarāja (Bhūṣaṇa), and the other by Kataka Mādhava Yogīndra (Kataka) and Nageśa Bhaṭṭa (Tilaka). The editors of the critical edition are not unanimous in their understanding of these problems, and, in fact, the whole notion of ‘recensions’ with regard to the Indian epics is somewhat indeterminate (see Johnston 1933, pp. 182-83).|
|186||Ruben 1936, pp. ix, xi, and Bhatt 1960, p. xxxiv, do not adequately appreciate this signal difference. Bhatt’s editorial practice, in fact, contradicts his theoretical statements; contrast his remarks in volume 1 with Vaidya’s statement (Vaidya 1971, p. xxx).|
|187||The most recent major work on the subject, van Daalen 1980, takes issue with the theory but not, in our opinion, in an adequate fashion. For a detailed discussion, see Goldman 1982.|
|188||See Jacobi 1893, p. 9; repeated with approval by Bhatt 1960, p. xv, Burrow 1959, p. 78, Renou 1963, p. 283. and, most importantly, Bulcke 1955, p. 92, and 1960, p. 38. The editors of the critical edition, when they do not simply parrot this theory (as Mankad 1965, p. xxiv; Jhala 1966, p. xxiii; Vaidya 1971, p. xxx), have only trivial examples to offer in support of it (Bhatt 1960, p. xiii, Suppl. Intro.).|
|189||It is not clear how much reliance is to be placed on the so-called linguistic archaisms preserved in the southern recensions. as indicating an earlier date. A very large percentage of the archaisms that have been examined (Böhtlingk 1887, 1889; Michelson 1904; Roussel 1910; Satya Vrat 1964, pp. 173ff.; N. M. Sen, all items in bibliography; van Daalen 1980, especially pp. 72-117) are contained only in the first or seventh book, of which substantial portions are later additions, and, more remarkably, in passages that the critical edition excludes from the constituted text as more recent interpolations. The northern recension, moreover, frequently preserves archaisms that appear in the southern recension, and quite often ‘archaizes’ where the southern recension does not. See also van Daalen 1980, pp. 27-32.|
|190||In essence, the critical edition of the Rāmāyaṇa has collected the fullest record anywhere of the stages of growth and development of a great oral epic tradition.|
|191||In the south the religious significance imputed to the text lent it an almost scriptural status, insulating it to a greater extent from alteration. The commentators, attracted to the text for this same reason, would have been particularly instrumental in preserving the poem in its archaic state. Just the opposite is true of the Mahābhārata. There the southern recension revises rather freely, whereas the northern recension (the NW version in particular) preserves more authentically the tradition of the archetype.|
|192||See Pollock 1981. For examples, see the notes on 1.8.9, 2.17.7, 21.11, 47.26, 94.49 (lexical glosses); 2.24.7, 51.42 (syntactical glosses).|
|193||Like any commentary, the northern recension must be used with discretion as a gloss. The glossers were not invariably right, though as participants in a continuous and ancient tradition of recitation they can claim weightier authority than our medieval commentators. The general editor of the critical edition seems to have been aware of this feature, but the examples he provides are trivial (e.g. dhanuḥ replacing śarāsanam, Bhatt 1960, p. xxxiii).|
|194||Hopkins 1926, pp. 206, 219. As early as 1870, Weber argued that ‘there are as many Rāmāyaṇas as there are manuscripts’ (p. 21; cited in Ruben 1936, p. x; cf. Burrow 1959, p. 78). Recent work on oral poetry might appear to support Hopkins’ impression. For example, Lord concludes that ‘it is impossible to retrace the work of generations of singers to that moment where some singer first sang a particular song. … There was an original, of course, but we must be content with the works that we have and not endeavor to “correct” or “perfect” them in accordance with a purely arbitrary guess at what the original might have been’ (Lord 1960, p. 100). It seems to us, however, that the type and quality of manuscript congruence in important sections of the Rāmāyaṇa suggest that the sort of transmission here may be of a different order from what we see, for example, in Slavic or French literary history. Very possibly the mnemonic tradition of vedic transmission exerted some influence upon the performers of secular heroic poetry. The text may preserve an historical reminiscence when it states that the first performers of the Rāmāyaṇa were deeply grounded in the vedas (1.4.5). In any case, broad arguments from the nature of oral poetry in general should not be applied uncritically to the Indian evidence, where a reconstruction may not be ‘purely arbitrary.’|
|195||Jacobi 1893, p. 11 (this position is somewhat contradicted by what we find on pp. x, 5). Lévi also speaks of a written archetype. ‘Our Rāmāyaṇa, composed at a still undetermined period, derives in its multiple recensions from an edition published sometime around [the commencement of] the Christian era’ (Lévi 1918, p. 150). Ruben’s Studien are predicated on the existence of an archetype: Agrawal, too, assumes one, without explanation (1963, p. 577).|
|196||See Bhatt 1960, p. xxx.|
|197||The agreements among the recensions in the Sundara passage noticed by Jacobi (1893, pp. 17ff.), for example, can be as conveniently explained by postulating an oral transmission, which saves us from the real contradictions involved in the archetype theory. We may then interpret the data in Jacobi’s passage by the special dynamic of an oral tradition, which in one place gives rein to variation, in another inhibits it, which permits deviation in wording to some extent but demands conservation of the significant structures of significant passages.|
|198||One need only glance at Ruben’s Textproben to confirm this (1936, pp. 84-222).|
|199||Such is also more or less the opinion of Bulcke 1955, p. 66. and 1960, pp. 37-38. The versions continued to grow, perhaps orally, and to interact throughout the period of written transmission, both within and, to a lesser extent, across recensional boundaries. A number of passages that on the grounds of higher criticism must be considered quite late additions to the text are sometimes, especially when they have a powerful sectarian thrust, unusually well represented in all the recensions, with a minimum of variation. A good example is Brahmā’s hymn in praise of Rāma as Viṣṇu at 6.105.|
|200||Bhatt 1960, p. xiv and particularly Vaidya 1971, p. xxx understood this. Contrast however Mankad (1965, p. xxiv) and Jhala (1966, p. xxvi).|
|201||This principle was clearly enunciated by Sukthankar with respect to the Mahābhārata. ‘The peculiar conditions of the transmission of the epic force upon us an eclectic but cautious utilization of all manuscript classes. … Each variant has to be judged on its own merits.’ But where the tradition is irreducibly divided, a choice on the basis of otherwise generally best versions must be followed (Sukthankar 1944, pp. 243, 249). It is even more compelling in the case of the Rāmāyaṇa than the Mahābhārata, for which a written archetype must have existed.|
|202||Granted the circularity involved in applying standards of authenticity to correct a text from which those sane standards are derived, nevertheless, as Kenney puts it, ‘critical argument is by its very nature circular,’ and it is not ‘necessarily vicious, providing, as Lachmann said, that the circle is trodden with care and discretion’ (Kenney 1974, pp. 126, 135). Ruben adduces other grounds for the relative antiquity and sincerity of the southern recension, such as the agreement in parallel passages of the Mahābhārata with the southern recension against the northern recension (Ruben 1936, pp. 47, 54. etc.; but n.b. his caution, p. 55).|
|203||Sylvain Lévi, in a fascinating article on the geographical data of the Rāmāyaṇa, determined that a text of the Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa (39-43) was used by a Buddhist work, the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra, which was translated into Chinese in a.d. 593; and since, he says, the translator only worked with materials of great authority, the Sūtra must be far older than that (Lévi 1918, p. 15; Lin Li-Kouang, however, has shown that the Sūtra is a composite work and that chapter VII, the one in question, is the latest, see 1949, pp. 111-12). He concluded that, although the southern recension alone does preserve some readings and details that are in harmony with the Sūtra, the northwestern recension is in fact closest to it (p. 135), and he considers this fact ‘the most ancient datum with regard to the recensions and a datum decisively in favor of the western recension’ (p. 14). It is only reasonable, however, that the Sūtra should employ the version current in the area in which it itself was composed. This would apply also to the arguments adduced in favor of the northwestern recension by Słuszkiewicz 1938, pp. 266-73. Furthermore, the evidence can only serve to confirm the fact that the split in the transmission of the Rāmāyaṇa occurred at a relatively early date; it cannot prove which branch of the tradition was more conservative.|
|204||Because the northern recension transposed or vulgarized in one place it does not mean that it did so in another, nor is the southern recension’s conservation is absolute. Furthermore, the problems inherent in transcribing an oral poem would affect the southern recension no less than the northern.|
|205||See the note on 2.63.4; unfortunately the editor of the Ayodhyākāṇḍa mistook this variant for a corruption. One serious error of the critical edition is its failure fully to exploit the northern recension and to realize that a reading that is not utterly impossible (Bhatt 1960, p. xxxiv) does not, therefore, become probable.|
|206||Edgerton 1944, p. xxxiv. Rāmāyaṇa commentators continue to transmit passages even when they themselves consider them interpolated.|
|207||Johnston 1933, p. 183.|
|208||West 1973, p. 9.|
|209||Some influential authors, however, such as Abhinavagupta, refer to the poem as itihāsa, or traditional history, whereas others, such as Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, regard it as śāstra.|
|210||The few actual attempts to capture the flavor of the epic in English verse are particularly unpalatable to the modern reader. Thus, Griffith’s noble effort (Griffith 1870-1874) in rendering the entire poem in rhymed octosyllabic couplets does not, as he himself warned, ‘bear reading through’ (p. viii).|
|211||I am referring here to attempts at actual translation, but similar problems have beset the authors of the numerous retellings and ‘transcreations’ (to use P. Lal’s infelicitous term) of the poem and its derivative works that have appeared in recent years. These authors, such as Buck (1976), Menen (1954), and Narayan (1972) have had the advantage of being able to select and modify the episodes that appeal to them and to render them in their own words. Their efforts have, therefore, produced works which, if occasionally entertaining, bear no resemblance whatever to the style or the feeling of their originals. We believe, however, that the task of representing Vālmīki in a readable guise to the English reader is not an impossible one and have striven to avoid what Griffith feared, that his version might actually enhance the tediousness of some of the original. (See Griffith 1870-1874, p. vii.)|
|212||Arnold 1905, pp. 41ff.|
|213||Auerbach 1953, p. 6.|
|214||Cf. Griffith 1870-1874, p. viii. In parts of the Bālakāṇḍa, for example, nearly one-quarter of the verses contain formulaic elements. For an analysis of the first book from the standpoint of the study of oral poetry and formulaic analysis, see Nabaneeta Sen 1966, pp. 397ff.|
|215||“Iliad” 5.259-268; Fitzgerald 1974, pp. 118-19.|
|217||Or, according to Cg, inimical (to foes); neither rendering of ariṣṭa helps us form a visual impression of the arrow.|
|218||Macdonell 1919, p. 574.|
|219||For a discussion of Hanumān as an imaginary companion, see Masson 1981.|
|220||For a discussion of some of the uses of fantasy and hyperbole in the Rāmāyaṇa, see Masson 1980, pp. 80-109.|
|221||Auerbach 1953, p. 6.|
|223||For a sympathetic and learned discussion of the Sanskrit poets’ preference in general for idealization and impersonality as opposed to realism and kinesthesia see Ingalls 1965, pp. 1-29.|
|224||Ibid., pp. 49-53.|
|225||Griffith 1870-1874, p. viii.|
|226||In 1974-1975 I had the privilege and pleasure of reading the Bālakāṇḍa with Pandit Śrīnivāsa Śāstri of the Deccan College in Poona. He had read the entire epic through several times and knew it intimately. Day after day he would clearly and brilliantly elucidate for me words, phrases, and passages that had seemed utterly opaque. Yet, not infrequently, even he would find a passage lucid at first glance, remarking without hesitation, ahaṃ vacmi, ‘I’ll explain it,’ only to stare at it, examine four or five Sanskrit commentaries, and conclude by saying, īśvaro veda, ‘God knows!’|
|227||Thus, for all the importance that the Vaishnava poet attaches to the exact apportionment of the divine pāyasa, or porridge, among the three wives of Daśaratha, it is all but impossible to make out exactly what fraction of the stuff goes to each woman. This imprecision, in turn, leads to a traditional debate of some theological significance. For a discussion of this point, see the notes to the translation below at 1.17.|
|228||The effect is somewhat monotonous, especially since the reciter rarely varies the cadence or intonation except where the meter changes. The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki is recited today mostly for religious purposes, its place in popular entertainment having been taken by its vernacular derivatives.|
|229||Through the use of compounds it is possible, as Ingalls has noted, to generate hundreds of synonyms for some words. See Ingalls 1965, pp. 6-8.|
|230||Cf. Gorresio 1847 and Griffith 1870-1874, pp. 527-565.|
|231||See Peterson 1879 and Bhandare 1920.|
|232||See Raghavan 1950 for the date of Uḍāli. See also Bhatt 1964. Bhatt’s Appendix III in Shah 1975 at pp. 655-64 provides a list of commentaries, including Aufrecht’s list (Catalogus Catalogorum, pp. 523-24) as well as references to and extracts from a number of unpublished commentaries. The question of the chronology of the commentators and of the ways in which they were influenced by their predecessors is a complicated and interesting one, with important implications for our understanding of the history of Vaishnavism, and it will be taken up in the forthcoming volume of Rāmāyaṇa studies.|
|233||Unavailable for the Bālakāṇḍa.|
|234||See, for example, the notes to 1.2.14 and 1.42.17.|