About the Author
Shri V Ramanathan was born in 1918. His initial education was at The Hindu High School, Triplicane, Madras (which is now known as Chennai), India. He attended the Presidency College and graduated in Physics.
Shri Ramanathan started his career as an officer of the Indian Railways, an organization he served for 34 years before retiring as General Manager.
Upon retirement he has been writing about Hindu religious culture. He contributes to newspapers in India on political and administrative issues as well.
He is the author of the highly successful Bhagvadgita for Executives, and Bhagavadgita for the Young.
A strange paradox is in progress in India nowadays and that is that the English language is becoming more and more dominant among the influential groups and at a much faster rate than it ever did during the days of the British rule. Perhaps this is an unexpected result of democracy, linguistic distribution of states, socialism etc. The upper and the middle classes who have been dislodged from their position as landlords, managers and the literate elite now find they have to live by their wits and chase jobs all over the country and sometimes in other countries too. They do not find in the Indian languages a suitable medium for their purposes. They see English as the key to modern science and industry and jobs. So there is a craze for admission to English medium schools, even from the families of those who are loudest in the campaign for education in the mother tongue.
A generation earlier the children from these groups learnt both English and the mother tongue, and English was a respected second language at school stage. The children became familiar with the rich culture portrayed through the Indian languages. But the situation has deteriorated considerably since then. Nowadays they converse with one another and their parents mostly in English.
Such a situation is fraught with potentially dangerous consequences. While English and Science and Technology are no doubt welcome, the cutting off of the roots of culture in the early formative years of the children will make India lose its cultural identity. What has been transmitted through all the turmoil of invasions and wars from generation to generation over the centuries will evaporate in the course of a few decades. There may be a- remnant of folk culture ticking for some more time but that will also shrivel away when there is no sustenance from the intellectual groups higher up. While on the one hand we are not likely to overtake the West in Science and Technology (we may at the most be a pale copy) there may result, on the other hand, a cultural and ethical vacuum. As Nature abhors a vacuum, an atmosphere of crime, drugs, and divorces, broken homes and nihilism - evils which confront the West and to which the West has found no answer yet-may fill it.
Since it is not feasible to stop the growth of English it becomes necessary under the circumstances to feed the culture and its derivative ethics to the new generations in the language they know best i.e., English. With this object in view the author had published a translation of the Gita in English verse with excerpts from the famous commentaries thereon. The response to this work, called Bhagavad Gita for Executives, confirmed his judgement of an acutely felt need for books of this nature. The Bhagavad Gita, however, can be read and appreciated in full after the age of twenty and over. But that may be too late for the foundations to be laid; one has to “catch them young”.
The spirit of culture is best absorbed, apart from living in it, through myths and legends that have come down the ages. It is particularly so in-the case of Hinduism, which profoundly influences all other subcultures in India, because it has no creed and no establishment but is a way of life propped up by a plethora of myths, legends, festivals and philosophies. Indeed the time-honoured practice was to initiate the young into this cultural atmosphere through stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as narrated by the grandparents. Even that tradition is coming to an end with the breakup of the joint family. The children now read Enid Blyton, Tin-Tin, Spiderman and such comics and perhaps a few Greek legends.
It must be admitted here that there are some noble efforts to reverse this trend. The comics like Amar Chitra Katha form such an effort. However, being entirely pictorial they are necessarily brief. It is felt that there is scope for a detailed work at least in the case of Ramayana with some discussion of the ethical values involved spelt out in a style that appeals to the young.
Some reference to the usefulness of Ramayana is appropriate at this stage. Scholars trace the Rama story to Vedic times and it had probably some relation to a historical incident. It survived since then in the form of folk legends and ballads till it was put into epic poetry form by Valmiki, who then became the first of the great poets. Later on, it was translated into other forms of verses in almost every Indian language and formed the basis of the local Rama cults, Rama being looked upon as an avatar. Tulsidas’s Hindi version became famous as a vehicle for the religion of devotion or Bhakti. In that capacity millions in the North read it. In the South, the local versions are popular, and in many orthodox homes Valmiki’s Ramayana is read daily during worship. There are discourses by pundits almost everyday on Rama’s life. The story has traveled to the South- East Asia as well. Myanmar, Thailand, Kampuchea and Indonesia have all their versions of the Ramayana. In Java and Bali it forms the bedrock of the local culture along with the Mahabharata. In Thailand the kings are called Rama and the old capital was named Ayodhya. The story has gone to China and beyond’ through one of the Buddhist Jataka tales.
Such immense popularity is on account of the ethical values it portrays which are conducive to stability and happiness in an Asian setting where families are patriarchic and joint. It shows, among other things, how brothers should behave towards each other and how they should not, how the wife should behave towards the husband and how not, how children should behave towards parents. The style of composition has an appeal to all stages of life. There is a large proportion of fairy tale elements with monkeys, bears and birds thrown in. It can be read as a tale of love and of the eternal conflict between good and evil and the ultimate triumph of good. There are rudiments of the doctrine of total surrender in devotion to a merciful God. The Adhyatma Ramayana version gives an interpretation of high monistic philosophy. Even the almost atheistic Jains have got their own version of Ramayana.
Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that abridged versions have been composed to initiate the young neophytes. Even the great Kalidasa felt its importance and set apart two cantos in his Raghuvamsa for Rama’s story. There was a latter day poem called Ramodanta. In modern times Rajaji’s Tamil and English versions are deservedly popular. These, however, are useful to boys and girls of the teenage group.
For the still younger group, from the age of four onwards, another version is, I feel, necessary, shorn of portions which they cannot comprehend and giving more extensive treatment to the fairy tale aspects. It is such a version that I have attempted. It is based on the experience of the stories I have related to my grandsons when they were between four and eight. The language is simple and by the age of eight they should be able to read the text themselves. Before that age, the story has to be read to them, emphasizing some aspects or pruning some others depending upon the age of the audience and their level of comprehension. But the basic ethical values need not be modified at all for any age group.
There are several adaptations in English of Valmiki’s Ramayana. I have generally turned for reference to Pundit Hari Prasad’s translation and to Rajaji’s version. However, on the basis of past precedents, I have dared to make some additions and modifications here and there, all on my own, in order to make the episodes more appealing to children’s imagination.
Sanskrit words have been used while referring to several fundamental concepts evolved in the Hindu culture and value system. It is my intention that children should become familiar with the original nomenclature of such concepts. A glossary at the end gives the meanings in English. I have tried to adhere to the spelling of Sanskrit proper names as adopted in Rajaji’s version to some extent but not always. In several cases the spelling in current use has also been followed. Examples are Raama, Rama; Seethaa, Seetha; and Raavana, Ravana.
With the objective of saving the roots of our culture for the new generation, I offer this book to the little children of India and their grandparents who may have to read it to them.
A word of advice to the grandparents may not be out of place. The older children in the intended age group may well ask whether monkeys and bears could have talked and whether Rama’s story is not just a fairy tale. If such questions were raised a century ago the answer would have been that conditions were different in threythaayuga and that the animals had lost their powers in kaliyuga. But modern day children exposed to T.V and the data of Science may not be easily satisfied. However it is possible to give them a rational explanation. In the neolithic age humans Eving in forests had a primitive tribal culture worshipping totem animals and birds. Such a practice still continues in some remote corners of the world. For example, the Ainus in the northernmost island of Japan treat the bear as a totem animal. The poet in Valmiki has used the names of totem animals to indicate the different c1ar.s of forest dwellers. The credibility of Rama-avatara can thus be maintained and it is necessary to do so.
Baala Kaanda (The Childhood Days)
Ayodhya Kaanda (The Events at Ayodhya)
Aranya Kaanda (The Days in the Forest)
The Kishkinda Kaanda (The Days at Kishkinda)
Sundara Kaanda (The Beautiful Period)
Yuddha Kaanda (The War)
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