Dr Vinay Nalwa explains the historical,cultural, scientific and literary importance of Valmiki’s Ramayana and how it impacted the cultural discourse not only in Bharat but across the globe.
A civilization’s strength depends upon its capacity not only to withstand time but also the relevance and richness of its culture .Rich literature is the reflection of great culture. And this stands true in the context of Bharat where cultural entities like the Ramayana and Mahabharata exist.
The sensitivity with intellectualism presented here, in a manner speaks of evolved civilization and culture where an ascetic like adikavi(the first poet) Valmiki with the delicacy of a poet explores every depth of Sri Ram’s life.
It started when Valmiki was going to the river Ganges for his daily ablutions. On the way He came across the clear and pure Tamasa Stream and decides to bathe there .” When he was looking for a suitable place to step into the stream, he saw a happy crane couple mating. But suddenly, the male crane gets hit by an arrow and died on the spot. Its mate filled with sorrow screamed in agony and died of shock. Valmiki’s heart melted and he looked around to find out who had shot the bird. Valmiki became very angry when he saw a hunter nearby.
It was the rage and grief of Valmiki that came out in the form of the first shloka of Sanskrit literature. Valmiki later composed the entire Ramayana beginning from this shloka. Thus this shloka is revered as the first shloka in Hindu literature. Valmiki is revered as the first poet or Adi Kavi and Ramayana, the first kavya (poem).
Later Ramayana became a way of ideal life for the people. Maurice Winternitz who published his famous work ‘A History of Indian Literature’ in three volumes in 1920s and 1930s said, “It has become the property of the entire Indian folk and – as perhaps no other poem in the entire world literature – has influence the whole thinking and writing of the folk through all centuries………….since more than 2000 years the poem of RAMA has remained alive in India , and it continues.”
Dismissing the contention that Ramayana is only a literary piece, Ralph T.H. Griffith who had translated Valmiki’s Ramayana (The Ramayana of Válmíki”( 1895) asks, ” How could an Epic so dear in India to the memory of the people, so deeply rooted for many centuries in the minds of all, so propagated and diffused through all the dialects and languages of those regions, which had become the source of many dramas, which are still represented in India, which is itself represented with such magnificence year after year and to such crowds of people in the neighborhood of Ayodhya, a poem which at its very birth was welcomed with such fervour as the legend relates, that the recitation of it by the first wandering rhapsodists, has consecrated and made famous all the places visited by them, and where Rama made a longer or shorter stay, how I ask, could such an Epic have been purely allegorical?”.
“Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana, was a contemporary of Rama. While narrating the events of the epic, has clearly mentioned the position of the planets and the flaura and fauna at several places.”
M. Amirthalingam who researched on plant diversity in the Valmiki Ramayana writes about his attempt to list out the plants mentioned in the Ramayana and their geographical distribution, the importance of the plants, the sacredness of the plants in general and some of the common plant species. He says, “With the help of the slokas of the Ramayan, we can identify specific species and the regions to which they belong.”
While focusing on botanical aspect of the ancient period as mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana he writes, “They reveal the deep ties that the ancients had with nature. Ancient Indians felt a deep sense of identity with nature and were aware of the ecological balance found in nature. In this context,Valmiki’s Ramayana is the most important source of botanical information. It is very useful in clarifying the identity of various species of plants and also their importance. It contains an extensive list of plants and their specific geographical location. The epic covers a vast area from Ayodhya to Lanka and thus gives an accurate account of different landscapes, mountains, river basins, forests and so on. When the Ramayana was being written, there were thick forests in Naimisharanya, Chitrakoot, Dandakaranya and Panchavati.The Kishkindha kanda of the Ramayana discusses the geographical distribution, botanical wealth and forestry. Bala kanda also mentions the plants and forests of the region on the other side of the river Ganga, while the Aranya kanda describes the foliage of Sage Agasthya’s hermitage; Panchavati represented a modified ecology with fruit-yielding and medicinal plants and the biodiversity of the Pampa lake area.The plants which are mentioned have economic value, besides being sacred and with a utilitarian purpose.”
There were over twenty-five renditions of Ramayana in Sanskrit alone , and many more in the local languages . However Valmiki’s account was always the most popular and most widely accepted . It is also widely recognised as the earliest surviving version of the Rama story .”
The impact of Valmiki Ramayana is beyond borders as it has taught the values of life and behaviour to men and women over centuries, across India and South-East Asia. There is no finer example in the world of a multi-religious, international culture than the Ramayana.
It is the most important cultural tradition of Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal and India. It has also been widely prevalent in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. The Ramayana is the great bond of culture which unites India and the countries of South East Asia.
Valmiki Ramayana was rendered in Chinese in AD 251 by K’ang-seng-hui in the Jataka form.
In Sri Lanka, it was the sixth century Sinhala poet-king Kumaradasa who composed the Janakiharana, the earliest Sanskrit work of Ceylon.
In seventh century Cambodia, Khmer(kuh mei) citation attested to the popularity of the Ramayana. An inscription declared that a certain Somasharman presented ‘the Ramayana, the Purana and the complete Bharata’ to a temple.
Vietnam also has a temple dedicated to Valmiki and a copy of Ramayana is also kept there. There are temples in Indonesia with sculpted Ramayana scenes on their walls. Thailand has Emerald Temple which has pictured the whole Ramayana story on 176 panels in glittering colours, which is an amazing attraction.
Towards the close of the ninth century, an east Iranian version of the Ramayana appeared in Khotanese, an Iranian dialect .
The Ramayana was translated and adapted into several European languages like German,Latin etc. Besides there was this first complete translation in five-volumes into Italian by Gaspare Gorresio, between 1847 and 1858. Almost at the same time came a nine-volume rendering in French by H. Fauche between 1847 and 1858; and a five-volume presentation in English by Ralph T.H Griffith between 1870 and 1874.
As Vyasa had predicted in the Mahabharata that so long as the earth is in existence Gods and all the people including asuras, gandharvas, yakshas , rakshasas will sing the saga of Rama .”
(The writer is author of ‘Ramjanmabhoomi:Truth,Evidence Faith’ published by Prabhat Prakashan)