Regional Compositions of Sri Ramayana, Part Eight

BY: SUN STAFF - 6.2 2018

Lakshamana Cuts Surpanaka's Nose Gupta period

Serial presentation of the preeminent versions of Sri Ramayana.


In 1576 A.D., Valmiki's Ramayana inspired the poet Tulsidas to write his famous Sri Ramacharit Manas, an epic Awadhi version of the glories of Rama's pastimes. Ramcharitmanas literally means "Lake of the deeds of Rama". Tulsidas's version, which was grounded in the Bhakti tradition, is also popularly known as Tulsi-krita Ramayana.

Tulsidas began writing the Ramcharitmanas in Ayodhya in Vikram Samvat 1631 (1574 A.D.). The exact date is stated within the poem as being the ninth day of the month of Chaitra, which is the birthday of Rama, Rama Navami. Ramcharitmanas was composed at Ayodhya, Varanasi and Chitrakoot. India was under the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605) during this period. This also makes Tulsidas a contemporary of William Shakespeare.

Valmiki wrote the Ramayana in 7 kandas: Balakandam, Ayodhyakandam, Aranyakandam, Kishkindakandam, Sundarakandam, Yuddhakandam and Uttarakandam. Among the seven kandhas of Tulasikrta Ramayana, the first two parts, Bāl Kāṇḍ (Childhood Episode) and Ayodhyā Kāṇḍ (Ayodhya Episode), make up more than half of the work. One of the primary differences between Valmiki and Tulsidas's version is that Tulsidas changed the title chapter of the sixth kanda from Yuddha to Lanka kanda.

While much of Valmiki's Ramayana is in Anushtubh meter, the Ramchaitmanas is mostly in Chaupai meter, and sometimes Doha meter. Tulsidas ended the work of Ramcharitmanas rather abruptly, without going into detail about the Uttarakandam happenings explained by Valmiki.

The story in Ramcharitmanas ends with Sita asking Mother Bhumi to receive her, and Rama abandons His human form and leaves for the celestial world. In comparison, Valmiki's Ramayana goes into great detail about Sita being sent to the forest by Rama, the birth of lava and Kusha, etc.

"Tulsidas was a great scholar of Sanskrit. However, he wanted the story of Rama to be accessible to the general masses and not just the Sanskrit-speaking elite. In order to make the story of Rama as accessible to the layman as to the scholar, he chose to write in Awadhi, a local dialect of Hindi which was in vogue as the language of general parlance in large parts of north India during the composition of the work.

Tradition has it that Tulsidas had to face a lot of criticism from the Sanskrit scholars of Varanasi for being a bhasha (vernacular) poet. However, he remained steadfast in his resolve for simplifying the knowledge contained in the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Puranas to the common people. Subsequently, his work was accepted by all.

Ramcharitmanas, made available the story of Rama to the common man to sing, meditate and perform on. The writing of Ramcharitmanas also heralded many a cultural tradition, most significantly that of the tradition of Ramlila, the dramatic enactment of the text. Ramcharitmanas is considered by many as a work belonging to the Saguna school of the Bhakti movement.

Invocations at beginning of each episode:

Every chapter of the Ramcharitmanas begins with an invocation or mangalācharaņ. It is customary to offer this opening prayer, to ensure that the sankalpa is finished unhindered. The first three or four verses of each Kānd are typically in the form of mangalācharaņ.

Bāl Kāṇḍ begins with a hymn honouring the goddess Saraswati and the god Ganesha.

Ayodhyā Kāṇḍ begins with the famous verse dedicated to Lord Shiva: May He in whose lap shines forth the Daughter of the mountain king, who carries the celestial stream on His head, on whose brow rests the crescent moon, whose throat holds poison and whose breast is support of a huge serpent, and who is adorned by the ashes on His body, may that chief of gods, the Lord of all, the Destroyer of the universe, the omnipresent Śhiva, the moon-like Śańkara, ever protect me."

Araṇya Kāṇḍ's first verse again extols Shiva: I reverence Bhagavan Śańkara, the progeny of Brahmā, the very root of the tree of piety, the beloved, devotee of King Śri Rama, the full moon that brings joy to the ocean of wisdom, the sun that opens the lotus of dispassion, the wind that disperses the clouds of ignorance, who dispels the thick darkness of sin and eradicates the threefold agony and who wipes off all calumny and obloquy.

Kiśkindhā Kāṇḍ commences with the following verse: Lovely as a jasmine and a blue lotus, of surpassing strength, repositories of wisdom, endowed with natural grace, excellent bowmen, hymned by the Vedas, and lovers of the cow and Brāhmaņas, who appeared in the form of mortal men through their own Māyā (deluding potency) as the two noble scions of Raghu, the armours of true dharma, friendly to all and journeying in quest for Sita, may they both grant us Devotion.

Sundar Kāṇḍ begins with a hymn in the praise of Rama: I adore the Lord of the universe bearing the name of Rama, the chief of the Raghu's line and the crest-jewel of kings, the mine of compassion, the dispeller of all sins, appearing in human form through His Māyā (deluding potency), the greatest of all gods, knowable through Vedānta (the Upanishads), constantly worshipped by Brahmā (the Creator), Śhambhu (Śivā), and Śeşa (the serpent-god), the one who bestows of supreme peace in the form of final beatitude, placid, eternal, beyond the ordinary means of cognition, sinless and all-pervading.

Laṅkā Kāṇḍ begins with this hymn: I adore Śri Rama, the supreme Deity, the object of worship even by Śivā (the destroyer of Kāma, the God of Love), the Dispeller of the fear of rebirth, the lion to quell the mad elephant in the form of Death, the Master of Yogīs, attainable through immediate knowledge, the storehouse of good qualities, unconquerable, attributeless, immutable, beyond the realm of Māyā, the Lord of celestials, intent on killing the evil-doers, the only protector of the Brāhmaņas, beautiful as a cloud laden with moisture, who has lotus like eyes and appeared in the form of an earthly king.

Uttar Kāṇḍ begins with the following hymn: I unceasingly extol Śri Ramā, the praiseworthy lord of Jānakī (Sītā, Janakā's daughter and the wife of Rama), the chief of Raghu's line, possessed of a form greenish blue, the color of the neck of a peacock and adorned with an insignia of Brahmā pada, the lotus-foot, which testifies to His being the greatest of all gods-rich in splendour, clad in yellow robes, lotus-eyed, ever-propitious, holding a bow and arrow in His hands, riding an aerial car named Puşpakā, accompanied by a host of monkeys and waited upon by His own brother Lakşmaņa.