Valmiki was the author of the original Sanskrit Ramayana. It is a book universally read with reverence throughout India and is at the root of Indian culture. Kamban wrote a beautiful long poem rendering this epic into a Tamil song. Tulsidas has similarly rendered the epic into Hindi for the Hindi-speaking people in a book which is in the home of every Hindi-speaking family in India and read and sung with rapture. Both Kamban and Tulsidas have made some variations in the story so as to suit the manners and the feelings of delicacy of the people of their times.
The translation in this book is of the Ayodhya Kandam, which deals with the story of Rama's leaving Ayodhya for the forest and Bharata's suffering as a result of what his mother did. The Ayodhya Kandam is the most dramatic chapter in the Rama legend. According to the best critics of Tamil literature, it is also the finest portion of Kamban's great classic.
C. Rajagopalachari (1878-1972), popularly known as "Rajaji", the first Indian Governor General of India, was an ardent patriot, a pioneering social reformer, incisive thinker, profound scholar and author. Rajaji had his education in Bangalore and Madras. He was gifted with the rare talent of re-telling stories from the epics and the puranas. He wrote a number of books of enduring value as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Gita and the Upanishads. He was an accomplished writer and speaker in English and Tamil. He was given the highest National Award, 'Bharat Ratan' in 1954 and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 1969.
This book is an English rendering of one of the cantos of the Kamban Ramayana. It was done by me at the instance of Sahitya Akademi, the Academy of Letters set up by the Government of India, as a part of their general programme of the publication of Indian classics. Kamban is among the greatest classic poets in Tamil. He lived in the ninth century after Christ. Tulsidas's famous Hindi Ramayana belongs to the sixteenth century.
The translation in this book is of the Ayodhya Kandam, which deals with the story of Rama's leaving Ayodhya for the forest and Bharata's suffering as a result of what his mother did. The Ayodhya Kandam is the most dramatic chapter in the Rama legend. According to the best critics of Tamil literature, it is also the finest part of Kamban's great classic.
This part of the Ramayana story is rich with emotion both in Valmiki and in Kamban. What can approach the exquisite pathos of the situation where the most innocent of men, Bharata, has become the motive for the most cruel and wicked deed ever recorded-the banishment of Rama,4 beloved of all, to the forests of Sandakan Bharata's meeting with his mother Kaikeyi,4 and the scene where the doubly-bereaved mother of Rama, Causally, receives Bharata at first with natural suspicion and a sense of distance and then seeing his utter innocence completely breaks down-these scenes are painted with unrivalled beauty by Kamban.
Bharata is Kamban's supreme ideal. Guha5 is his paragon of loyalty. Kamban closely follows Valmiki everywhere with great care and even in some places where he deviates with remarkable understanding and skill, the exception truly proves the rule. But he lets himself go freely with Guha, round whom his great poetic imagination plays with wonderful effect. There must have been a popular long-standing tradition about Guha which Valmiki recognized and wove into his epic, but he did not deal with that character as fully as he had himself perhaps intended. The intention is quite obvious. Kamban has done full justice to and, as it were, fulfilled Valmiki's intention.
A contemporary Tamil poet sang thus on the day of Kamban's death:
Ah, has Kamban passed away this day? Then from now even the verses I compose Can reach the ears of the great! The Lotus Goddess Lakshmi6 may now rejoice The Goddess of Earth will now be glad: But alas for the Muse of poetry Who now will be a widowed queen!
[Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity, and Earth, the Goddess of Agriculture, will rejoice because men will hereafter attend to trade and business, and peasants to their fields, and will not neglect them through listening to the entrancing poetry of Kamban.] Kamban, like Tulsidas, who came much later, worked the Sanskrit Ramayana into exquisite Tamil poetry wherein every line discloses that he listened to the voice of nature and to his own genius (to use Victor Hugo's phrase), although the subject was ready-made for him and the original was widely read by scholars.
The difference between Valmiki and either Kamban or Tulsidas is that, with the later poets, Rama is God at every turn, while in Valmiki, though Rama is undoubtedly recognized as an incarnation of Vishnu,' yet the treatment of character and incident is on the whole only as of a good and valiant prince, and the godhood is, as it were, laid aside. By the time Kamban and Tulsidas came to sing the Ramayana, Rama had been so completely deified for generations, with temple and rituals dedicated to His worship as an Avatar8 of Vishnu, that it would have been wholly artificial for Kamban or Tulsidas to do as Valmiki did, to tell the story of Rama as just a heroic romance. The men, women and children who were to hear Kamban knew Rama only as God incarnate.
Even today to try to undo the work of ages and to un-deify Rama or Krishna in India would be as futile as positively mischievous. In them are rooted India's living cultures, a culture of which the people of India may be proud. We cannot cut off a vital organ and hope to live. Deceived by the seeming strength of the super-structure let us not shake the foundations of rough-hewn granite on which the house we live in rests. It would be disastrous. India cannot be India without Rama and Krishna.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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