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On The Ramayana Trail: Hey Ram

On The Ramayana Trail: Hey Ram

May 28, 2010

In the first post of the series we wonder why my Ram is not the same as your Ram!

I’ve never been an overtly religious person. My idea of prayer has been speaking to who I believe is my personal God for a couple of minutes before I go to sleep. The idea of pujas, rites and rituals have never inspired me and by chance, neither my husband. So the fact that we had never visited a temple since moving to the Philippines wasn’t entirely coincidental. Yet as every Indian knows there are those special festival days that come along a few times a year. And from somewhere within the Indian-ness in your heart beats a little too loudly, and you feel like a ringing a large metallic bell, prostrating on cool floors and spending a little quiet time with God. Not to mention the memories of yummy Prasad. So even though we had always heard that the only Indian temple in Manila was actually a Gurudwara, we still asked around the older members of our Desi group about the existence of a local temple. And lo and behold there was one, just a short distance from the Gurudwara. It was a temple dedicated to Lord Ram. And it got me wondering about how Ram and his story had influenced so many cultures across Asia.

There are so many different versions of the Ramayana that exist we sometimes forget that even India, the country of the story’s birth, has seen many accounts of the epic. While the original epic by Valmiki was reportedly written in the 4th century BC, the oldest existing Ramayana is dated at 1576. While the story caught the imagination of the then vast sub-continent, it seems like different authors from different regions decided to give it their own twist.

In the north, this took the form of Ramcharitmanas, penned by Tulsidas and in the South, the Kamba Ramayan. Whilst the basic theme and back-story remained the same, the characters underwent subtle changes. Changes that explain why Lord Ram was hailed as the perfect man in some parts of the country, and just another God in other parts.

The Ramcharitmanas characterized Ram as the monogamous husband, just and good king and the ideal to which every man should aspire. Sita on the other hand became the supreme model of a virtuous, self-sacrificing and obedient wife. It is thought by many critics to have a patriarchal streak, which is not very evident in the original epic. No wonder why it was the Kamba Ramayan that made its mark in the South of the country, where matriarchal societies have also been the norm for centuries.

And then there is the group that refuses to consider the Ramayan as a religious epic at all, looking at it instead as a colourful retelling of a story that was based in history. It’s nothing but the story of the Aryan invasion over the indigenous Dravidians, some believe. While others say that peel off the layers and you get a story about a Ceylon (Sri Lanka) invasion.

However, whichever group you belong to, the charisma of the story is undeniable. After all people are still talking or reading about it - be it in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali or even Khmer and Japanese. But that’s all for another post!

Stay tuned for more of “On The Ramayana Trail’ in the Faith section here. And in the meantime tell me - is your Ram different from mine? 


  • 25.07.13 12:49 PM
    Dear Shweta, Sorry to be judgmental but the God-lite approach invariably reflects an overall reluctance to take life itself seriously. Unfortunately, this is a common Indian characteristic. Consider, for instance, your "reportedly written in the 4th Century" tag on the Valmiki Ramayana. Did you know how that dating was arrived at? It sprang from a European effort to fit Indian history into the Biblical time-frame invented by St Augustine, who thought the 7 Days of Creation translated into 7000 years until Doomsday. An Irish Bishop worked out exactly when Creation took place, and everything else had to fit in. I've written quite a bit about this European-Indian time thing and you can check it out on my blog, undiplomatictimes.
  • arif
    16.11.11 08:39 PM
    ayo! berkunjung ke indonesia dan saksikan secara langsung betapa indahnya sendratari RAMAYANA dan indonesia.. :)
  • Alli
    16.10.10 07:35 AM
    I love this article! It really shows what an impact this story had on the whole world. I am very pleased with this whole thing. I was lucky enough to get to read this book for a high school class. Thanks for the article!
  • Gaurav Mittal
    Gaurav Mittal
    14.06.10 06:08 PM
    Dear Shweta ji,

    I would still differ from a date of 4600 BC, though some self-proclaimed scholars say that too, while some put it at 7000 BC !!!

    However, the most authentic details are mentioned in Valmiki Ramayan (ask any Ramayan pundit) and Valmiki Ramayan states it in at least 4 places that Shri Ram ruled Ayodhya for 11,000 years (I can even quote the verses for u)

    So, if Shri Ram was born even during 4000 BC or 7000 BC, he must still be present !!

    But since shri Ram came before Lord Krishna, and Mahabharat happened around 3000 BC, it is impossible for Shri Ram to take birth before 15000 BC, thus negating all the scholars of today.

    As I said earlier, Valmiki Ramayan clearly states Ramayan happening in the Treta Yug and our puranas give the ages of each yuga (I can quote that as well)

    Dwapar Yug itself being 8,64,000 years long, makes the time interval in lakhs. We must also remember that Valmiki Ramayan can only be the benchmark in such cases, because Valmiki was a contemporary of Shri Ram and hence, there is no way that Valmiki Ramayan was written in 4th BC or 4000 BC.

    I know some people might say that the date doesn't matter and I too agree that the name of Shri Ram and his teachings are of far greater significance, yet, it is also necessary to disallow the spread of misconceptions.

    My kind request to you is to edit the 4th century BC you've written and mention it as 'Treta Yug'.

    Thank You.
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    14.06.10 05:28 PM
    Dear Gaurav, You are absolutely right. The dating is approximately 4600BC. This was a typographical error and I apologize. Thank you for pointing it out.
  • Gaurav Mittal
    Gaurav Mittal
    14.06.10 09:05 AM
    Shweta ji,

    The idea of Valmiki Ramayan being written around 4th century BC is absolutely incorrect. Please read the version of Gita press, Gorakhpur.

    Ramayan was written by Maharshi Valmiki in Treta Yug. Acc. to the calculations given in our puranas, the period will come to be lakhs of years away. So, Ramayan should have been written somewhere 16-17 "lakh" years back.

    The period of Mahabharata itself is given as 5000 years back, i.e. around 3100 BC.

    Kindly make the correction in your article. Thanks.
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    31.05.10 12:50 PM
    @ Aditya - Glad that you liked the piece. Do stay tuned for the rest of the articles in the series.
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    31.05.10 12:47 PM
    @ Lakshmi - I'm wondering if you found a seperate version. As far as I know, it corresponds closely to the epic we follow in India. Do let me know what your research reveals and thanks for dropping by.
    @ Rahul -The article is intended to be an introduction to the series that we are starting here in the faith section. THere is going to be a weekly post on the different versions in different countries. So I'm sure if you stay tuned your concern will be alleviated. As far as the invasion theiry is concerned, I'm not very clear on the point you are making about the connection between the Sanatana Dharma and therefore non-invasion. But the fact that there is a theory that says the epic is a re-telling of a clash with Sri-lanka is indisputable.
  • Aditya Badami
    Aditya Badami
    29.05.10 08:27 PM
    Glad you wrote this!!!! ppl should know abt the diff versions and how culture is not solid and written in codes and laws but infact fluid and ever changing
  • Rahul
    29.05.10 06:35 PM
    The title of the article inspirted immense interest in the minds of the readers. But the article lacked the depth to carry it further. It is widely known that there are many versions of Ramayana. And the author fails to describe in detail how the different are the different versions.

    Srilanka invasion theory - in relation to Ramayana is weird. There was no cultural or otherwise envasion. Ram was worshipped by Vibhishana, right? And if Ravana was a Brahman, one of the varnas of the sanatan dharma, the invasion theory is busted right at the time it was framed.
  • Lakshmi Rajan
    Lakshmi Rajan
    29.05.10 06:17 PM
    Am wondering if there is any Ramayan from the sri lankan point of view ! let me google it right away..
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    28.05.10 05:05 PM
    @ Maitree - It's fascinating to know that there are cultures that look at this widely hated villain is seen as a hero in some versions. It shows that all characters are actually shades of grey and not strictly black or white.
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    28.05.10 05:02 PM
    @ Mithun- There are many versions of texts available on the relationship between the characters of Raavan and Sita. The most widely accepted theory is that he carried her off in order to avenge his mutilated sister Soorpanakha, and thereafter fell in love with her. Yet another theory insists that they were related. It is known that Sita was a foundling, adopted by King Janaka, when he found her in a field. There are many versions of the Ramayan that say that Sita was actually Ravana's daughter who was left there in the fields and this was why he abducted her. The interpretation depends on which version of the epic you've been brought up on and the country you belong to.
  • Maitree
    28.05.10 02:40 PM
    In Bengali there is "Meghnadbadh Kabya" penned by Micheal Madhusudan in 19th Century where Ravana is tried to look at ramayana other way round...but that remained in urban circle still the valmiki Ramayan n its stories are in folklore
  • mithun
    28.05.10 01:57 PM
    In the Ranjith’s malyalam movie Ravanprabhu, Mohanlal was talking about a new interpretations of Ramayana in which Ravana was a noble man and he considered sita a jewel for lanka and took her home for worshiping her . Does it comes in any of the Ramayana..? and he also talk about love between Ravana and Sita

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