Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ramayana History In Uttara Kanda

Lord Hanuman is well known for his extreme devotion to Lord Rama. Lord Hanuman is always depicted in the Indian folklaire as an icon of true devotion and a symbol of the power of true devotion and chastity.
Lord Hanuman's devotion to Lord Rama is symbolic of the devotion of the enlightened individual soul towards the supreme soul.
Many stories from the Indian literature tell the tales of Lord Hanuman protecting devotees of Lord Rama and helping those who seek his either spiritually or otherwise. Swami Tulasidas has written these lines in respect of Lord Hanuman's great character, in praise of his powers and also devotion.

Ramayana History In Uttara Kanda:

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Uttarakanda (also known as the Uttara Ramayana) is the final chapter (uttara in Sanskrit meaning later and kanda meaning chapter) in the Ramayana (story of Ram). Originally, when Valmiki first composed Ramayana (based on sage Narada’s narration to him or perhaps the prevailing legend about Ram at that time), Ramayana (according to Valmiki in the Balakanda, the opening chapter) was supposed only to be up to the Yuddhakanda (chapter dealing with Ram’s battle with Ravan to free Sita and then returning to Ayodhya along with Sita after completing fourteen years’ exile).

In other words, the Uttarakanda (using additional, fictional and newer tales which were not a part of Narada’s narration to Valmiki) was appended to Valmiki Ramayana (VR) after Yuddhakanda by later / subsequent authors and contributors. In addition, for the purpose of justifying the Uttara Ramayana (or Uttarakanda) as integral part of Ram’s story (Ramayana), the later authors took liberties in adding new, often subtle, twists and turns in the original Valmiki Ramayana (from Balakanda to Yuddhakanda), which at times gave Ram a new and conflicting role and status, unlike indicated in the original Valmiki’s version (Ramayana) according to sage Narada (VR-1-1).

Valmiki, according to sage Narada’s narration or perhaps the prevailing legend at that time, depicts Ram as a highly principled, virtuous, conscientious, redeemer, truth-teller, self-determined (no-nonsense type) person, brilliant, not jealous, highly valorous, resplendent, steadfast, controller of vice and vile including his own senses, very adept, moralist, learned and propitious (VR-1-1-2, 3, 4, 8, 9).  Ram also is the knower of rectitude, bidden by the truth, has concern in the welfare of subjects (people), is proficient in prudence, clean in his conduct, is self-controlled and diligent, guards probity, is gentle, level-headed and clear-headed, and treats everyone equally (VR-1-1-12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20).  In addition to showing Ram as a very noble and level-headed person who treats everyone fairly, equally and without prejudice, Balakanda (VR-1-1) also mentions Ram as not a greedy and self-centered person who has little interest in his own father’s kingdom and who even goes gladly to forest for fourteen years to fulfill his father’s wish.

However, a few shlokas or verses at the end of Balakanda (VR-1-1) in the present Ramayanas (including the Valmiki Ramayana currently), which probably were added by later authors / contributors, talk about Ram protecting the caste system, etc., thus deviating from most of Narada’s narration in Balakanda (VR-1-1). Moreover, due also to the Uttarakanda (which was added to the Ramayana by later authors), Ram is transformed into an impetuous, reckless and jealous husband (who threw his wife out on the basis of gossip), wasteful and seeking awards in afterlife (by performing “unnecessary” horse rituals: VR-1-1-94b, 95a), upholder of caste system (VR-1-1-96, 100) and acting casteist (killing a sudra boy “Sambuka” for reading the Veda).

Valmiki is also shown uncharacteristically, by later contributors perhaps, in a number of places (e.g. third and fourth chapters of Balakanda: VR-1-3 and VR-1-4) to suddenly narrate the events in the third person while admiring and glorifying his composition (Ramayana) and himself (as the composer of Ramayana). This type of self praise and adulation on the part of Valmiki in the Ramayana seems out of place, because Valmiki in the beginning (after getting inspiration from Brahma, in the Balakanda) had decided to compose the Ramayana (according to Narada’s narration) to tell the heroic story of Ram for the good of all and to promote righteousness in society. In other words, the purpose of Valmiki to compose the Ramayana initially was to admire and glorify Ram for the good of all and not talk about himself (as seems to be the implication in VR-1-3 and VR-1-4). This naturally raises questions that some portions of even the current “Valmiki” Ramayana (including perhaps VR-1-3 and VR-1-4) might not be by Valmiki but others.

The same thing, Valmiki’s adulation (perhaps by later contributors), seems to take place in the Yuddhakanda (VR-6-128-107, 108, 113, 114, 123) where Valmiki is admired and acknowledged for his effort in writing the Ramayana. There are also claims, probably by later contributors (interested perhaps in the Uttarakanda), in the Balakanda etc. (e.g. VR-1-1-90, 94b, 95a; VR-1-3-39), which imply that Valmiki narrated the futuristic events. Unfortunately, it makes Valmiki as the predecessor of Ram, which is in direct conflict with Narada’s narration and also tarnishes Ram’s legendary status (especially according to sage Narada).

This type of superficial linking of Ram’s story to Uttarakanda by later authors / contributors by showing Valmiki either living before Ram or contemporarily (which is inconsistent with Narada’s narration about Ram to Valmiki in the Balakanda) is further evident in the Ayodhyakanda (VR-2-56-15) where Ram, Sita and Lakshman are shown to visit Valmiki’s ashram / hermitage (in the Chitrakuta mountains) and pay homage to him. This episode seems to open the door later (in the Uttarakanda) for pregnant Sita to move to Valmiki’s ashram, after being abandoned and exiled by Ram from Ayodhya because of questions / gossip by a dhobi (or washerman) about her character during her imprisonment by Ravan in the final year of Ram’s exile. Anyway, after the pregnant Sita ends up in Valmiki’s ashram (according to the Uttarakanda), she gives birth to sons Lava and Kush who, along with their mother Sita, are supported and cared for by Valmiki who also teaches and trains Lava and Kush and eventually guides them in their fight against Ram (their father).

Interestingly, Lava and Kush find no mention in Narada’s narration to Valmiki in the Balakanda (VR-1-1). Valmiki first talks about Lava and Kush in the fourth section of Balakanda (VR-1-4), making them mainly as (ballad) singers for his Ramayana. It seems Valmiki probably wanted to popularize the Ramayana among public in the form of ballad. Therefore, he used two fictional names (Lava and Kush) as singers for Ramayana in the Balakanda (VR-1-4) where they are depicted having no relation to Ram. However, in the Uttarakanda (by later authors), Lava and Kush acquire the status as Ram’s sons, born to Sita during the time of her exile in Valmiki’s ashram. Thus there is also the possibility that Lava and Kusha might have been introduced in the Balakanda (VR-1-4) as ballad singers by later authors to facilitate the link to Uttarakanda and not because Valmiki wanted to present his composition in the ballad form (sung by Lava and Kush).

Needless to say, there are serious doubts about Uttarakanda stories involving Sita’s exile by Ram on the basis of gossip by a “dhobi” and killing of a sudra boy (“Sambuka”) for reading the Veda. Moreover, as indicated earlier, there is no mention of these incidents in Narada’s narration in the Balakanda. Considering also that Valmiki (who started his life as a sudra before learning Sanskrit and the Veda to become a Brahmin) would hardly see any reason to compose Ramayana and glorify Ram if he knew or thought that Ram was sexist and casteist and could kill a sudra for reading the Veda (as indicated in the Uttarakanda in some Ramayanas). It is obvious that such stories (especially about Ram killing a sudra for reading the Veda) probably did not exist during Valmiki’s time and they appear to have been created and planted by subsequent authors.

Furthermore, according to the Ramayana (Aranyakanda), Ram gladly accepted and ate fruit offered by a humble, old, sickly and servile woman Shabari who had sampled the fruit before giving it to Ram. That indicates that Ram was devoid of false pride and had no feelings of racism and sexism. Thus it seems highly unlikely that Ram (a king) would get swayed by a commoner dhobi’s gossip about his wife Sita (a queen) and expel her from the palace during her pregnant condition. In addition, based on the Balakanda (VR-1-49) which shows Ram redeeming Ahalya (the wife of sage Gautama) in spite of her committing the sexual offence with another man Indra (due to deception by Indra),  there is little chance, especially after Sita had already gone through Agni-priksha to prove her innocence to Ram in the Yuddhakanda (after the defeat of Ravan), that Ram would abandon and exile Sita on the basis of unsubstantiated gossip about her character by a commoner (dhobi).

In any case, considering that Ram was given to forgiveness and redemption of sinners (as he did in the case of Ahalya), the Agni-priksha of Sita (mentioned in the Balakanda: VR-1-1-81, 82, 83, 84; and the Yuddhakanda, after the defeat of Ravan) was probably only about Sita taking an oath (or making a statement) about her innocence in the witness of Agni (the Vedic deity associated with holy / ritualistic fire, Ref.1).  Even though some people (including the readers of Ramayana which uses poetic symbolism) mistakenly think that Agni-priksha involves jumping in the fire to prove one’s innocence (innocent if person comes out alive and unscathed), in reality and according to Vedic hymns the Agni-priksha involves taking the oath of innocence (or seeking the forgiveness for any infraction) in the witness of Agni (the deity associated with sacred fire).

It is clear from the above discussion that stories in the Uttarakanda about Sita’s exile by Ram on the basis of questions / gossip about her character and the killing of a sudra boy for reading the Veda are not true and were probably planted in the Ramayana by later authors. Perhaps, taking a cue from the fake and duplicitous authors of Manusmriti (who misused sage Manu’s name to promote sexism and casteism through spurious proclamations in the form of Manusmriti, Ref. 2), the later authors / contributors not only created sexist and casteist twists and turns (e.g. VR-1-1-96, 100) to the original Ramayana but also added full Uttarakanda (as a part of Ramayana) with stories such as Sita’s exile on the basis of gossip and killing of a sudra boy for reading the Veda.

Needless to say, the ancient texts and stories should be read carefully and with an open mind. The emphasis should be on reason and not in taking things literally or accepting them blindly. Note, there is always the possibility that some of the “ancient” stories and texts (using the famous ancient names) might not be real or ancient. The story of Madhavi (Ref. 3), which uses the names of famous ancient kings and sages and claims to be from the pre-Mahabharata era, appears to be such example, describing mostly the imaginary events which seem to have been put together rather recently as the story of ancient / mythical Madhavi.

Perhaps even the Uddhava-Gita, which claims to be based on the actual conversations between Lord Krishna and Uddhava, might also just be a recent compilation created by combining the elements of Bhagvad Gita and Bhagavad Purana. Note, there is no record of any famous ancient acharya (Samkara or Ramanuja et al.) writing bhashyas (commentaries) on the Uddhava-Gita.  Considering it was a normal practice in the past (during the times of Samkara et al.) for acharyas to write commentaries (bhashyas) on the famous religious / scriptural texts (such as Bhagavad Gita and Upanisads etc.), the absence of any commentary (bhashya) on the Uddhava-Gita by a famous acharya long ago is a sign that either Uddhava-Gita did not exist earlier (long ago) or it was deemed as not important (scripturally and philosophically), most likely the former (it probably did not exist until recently).

Finally, if there is a mention of the name Vyasa as the writer or compiler of some ancient Hindu text, it does not always imply  that the real sage Vyasa (who composed the Mahabharata and compiled the Bhagavad Gita long ago) is the author of that particular text. Many a time the name Vyasa is attached as the author of a text only in the generic sense or as an honorific, after the real Vyasa who actually authored the Mahabharata and compiled the Bhagvad Gita.  

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