It was in Vrindaban that I first discovered the beauty and the richness of Goswami Tulsi Das’s Ramacharita Manas. In those days of the year 1969, when I was passing through a narrow, dingy lane of the bustling city of Vrindaban, I noticed on the way side a bulky book bound with cloth lying in a heap of old, dusty and tattered books. I was fascinated by the size and appearance of this book and asked its price. It was only Rs.18/-.I bought it immediately and took it to my room. This book was Ramacharita Manas of Tulsi Das, with the original text and its Hindi translation side by side. The commentator was Hanuman Prasad Poddar, and it was published by Geeta Press, Gorakhpur in Samvat 2014.
I read the book from cover to cover and I was struck by the literary beauty and rhythm of its language. At that time, I was thinking of doing some research work on Tantrism, but after reading the great epic, I decided to switch over to the comparative study of Goswami Tulsi Das’s Ramayana and the Assamese Ramayana of Madhava Kandali, another monumental composition from Brahmputra Vallery which was written six hundred years ago. Kandali’s Ramayana is considered to be the first Ramayana written in a modern Indo- Aryan language.
Kandali’s Ramayana is like a mirror reflecting the Assamese society in North East India. On the other hand, Ramacharit Manas Written in 1574, gives us an idea of the life and times of Northern India. Tulsi Das wiitnessed the days of the Moghul Raj of Akbar, Jehangir and Shahjahan. The descriptions of Hindu society, the influence of Moghul grandeur on Ayodhya, Mithila and other cities, the marvellous portraiture of the different characters and some striking innovations, makes this Ramayana a unique work of literature.
I am greatly indebted to the English translation of Ramayana Manas by F.S. Growse and W. Douglas, P. Hill, the Hindi-cum-English translation of R.C. Prasad, the Hindi translation and commentary by Hanuman Prasad Poddar and the Bengali translation of the same work by Satish Ch. Dasgupta, for their valuable help in my research work. Book and article written by Satyendra Nath Sarma and Ramdat Bharadwaj also helped me immensely. I will always remain grateful to my teacher, late Upendra Ch. Lekharu for his inspiration and encouragement in writing this work on the two Ramayana born in the plains of the Ganga and the valley of Brahmaputra respectively.
Another book about Ramayana literature, Ramkatha, written in Hindi by Rev. Camille Bulcke was also a source of great help for me. I had the opportunity of meeting Rev. Father Camille Bulcke at Ranchi, for the First time in 1972.
Father Camille Bulcke became my friend, philosopher and guide. His life and work inspired me tremendously. He was a jesuit priest. He devoted his entire life to Indian studies, specially to Ramayana. Ramkatha of Father Bulcke has became an indispensable work of reference for the scholars of Ramayana in India. He died in 1982, 17th August. I was present at Nicholson Cemetery of the Delhi, he was buried there.
I bow down to my mother Ambika Devi, for her encouragement.
I remain grateful to G.C. Mukherjee, ex-Head of English Department of Sree Ram College of Commerce, who helped me with his valuable advice.
I remain also grateful to Professor Srivastava, the Librarian of the Central Library of Delhi University for his help and encouragement.
I also express my gratitude to Ravindra Nath Chaudhury, the Director of Guwahati Museum, and also to Atulananda Goswami of Assam Research Society for their valuable help.
I cannot forget the encouragement given by my dear brother Satya Brata, and my loving sister Sabita during the time of writing this book.
I cannot also forget K.B. Satarawala’s general help and his laborious work of proof-reading.
The help I have received from my friend Parmananda Rajbanshi, Jang Bahadur Khanna, sarvari Mukherjee, and M.L. Varadpande, will always be remembered by me.
I also express my indebtedness to the well know photographers, Ashok Khanna, Gautam Sharma and Jivan Dawka for their contributions.
My regards also go to Mr.Natha Lal who took enough pains to type the manuscript in time.
This humble effort of mine is to introduce the two streams of inspiration which produced the Ramayana in two distinct flavours, one from the banks of Uttar Pradesh and the other from the green valley of Brahmaputra in Assam.
The Ramayana is a magnificent tree whose shade and roots have spread far and wide. Its shape has provided happiness and solace o innumerable souls. Wherever its root has reached, a fruit laden and joy-giving tree has cropped up. These tree also became sources of wisdom and joy. Their consoling effect has wiped the tears of many tearful eyes. Its roots have crossed the Indian ocean and reached the dazzling, sun-kissed inlands. It has blossomed and flourished in the island of Bali and Mauritius. It has transmitted its fragrance to Java, Fiji, Trinidad, Surinam, Malaysia, Thailand and Burma. It has become synchronous with joy, hope and consolation of the toiled Indian debentured labourers. It has shown the path of tolerance and non-violence in the war-torn world. No other book in India has had such a deep and far-reaching influence.
Ramayana has penetrated into the layers of the life of the Assamese people. It has entered the folk traditions, performing arts and literature.
The tale of Rama has been dear to the heart of the Assamese people from times unknown. The people sang the praise of Rama in their folk songs, and paid their tribute in mantras. There is even a separate work on mantras known as Ramkarati Mantra.
There are several popular saying and idioms, related to the different episodes of Ramayana scattered all over the Brahmaputra valley.
In King Bhaskarvarma’s Dubi Copper Plate Inscription, we find the following couplet :-
“As King Dasaratha of yore in heaven was with the King Rama, so also he was delighted with that son thought staying in another world.”
This is the earliest epigraph in which the name of Rama is mentioned and it was issued in the first quarter of the 7th century A.D.
Rama’s name exists in the inscription of Brahmapala dynasty. It seems King Indrapala, King Gopalavarma Deva, King Vaidyadeva were aware of Rama’s valour and might, and they bowed down to him with reverence.
Iconographic representations of Rama exist only in four Dasavatara panels of Tezpur, Urvasi (at Gauhati), Bamuni hill, and Mornoi, the earliest of which can be traced to 8th and 9th century.
A panle where several characters of Ramayana are depicted is found in Deoparvat. This panel is said to be of 8th and 9th century A.D. origin. Many more such panels have been discovered recently and the scholars have said that they may be the remains of 11th century A.D. B.K. Baruah even thinks that the cult of Rama was established in the province at a very early age. He refers to Dr. Martin who indicated that there was a temple at kaldaba Dhubri which was dedicated to Rama. Baruah also writes:- “Unlike other avataras, Rama is represented in scriptures as a royal personage of bewitching beauty.
Rama was accepted as an incarnation of Vishnu in Assam by the 8th or 9th century even though his worship as an independent deity, may not have commenced till much later.
It is interesting to know that many places in Assam are associated with legends of Ramayana. About thirty nine miles away from Guwahati there is a hillock of solid granite stone rising from the bank of the river Killing. At the turning of the river on its left bank there appears to have been a small temple on the slope of the hillock. The local name of the place is Sita Jakhala (a ladder of Sita). This name was probably given because there are long treads of steps, leading down to the river. The legent also says that Rama, along with Sita and Lakshmana, stayed in this place during their exile.
There are some holes in the rocky ground which are said to be the foundation of Sita’s loom. In Assam, weaving holds a very important place among Assamese women, whether rich or poor. Every household has loom. Even the women of royal families weaved their own cloth on their looms. This tradition also prevailed in tribal villages.
Sabi Alun the Karbi Ramayana says that when Surpanakha instigated Ravana to abduct Sita, she emphasised Sita’s skill as a weaver. The manuscript of the Khamtt Ramayana (Likchau Lamdum) was discovered in North Lakhimpur. In this work we find that Rama and his brother wore the clothes woven by the their mother during the time of their mother during the time of their coronation.
The great Assamese novelist, Rajani Kanta Bardoloi (1867-1940), writes in one of his articles that he visited a Sita-Kunda in Jaipur Mauja Diburgarh district.
The author gives a fascinating and detailed description of this place which can be approached only by foot and a few miles by boat, because it is situated on an island. From this article we come to know that in this place also there were some sings of Sita’s loom. It is also said that according to a legend, Rama had conversation with a forefather of Bhisma in this place.
In an unpublished history of Assam, which gives an account of the dynasty of kings from Swarga Narayana Singha to Gagadhar Singha, also gives an account of a Kunda (well) known as Sita Kunda, situated near Ashwakranta on the bank of Brahmaputra. Between Sita Kunda and Ashwakranta, there is a fountain known as Santandhara. Common people believe that if any barren women took bath there, she would be blessed with a child. In the Goalpara District of Assam, there is a place called Rangjuli. There is a belief that Rama played holi in this place.
I have given only a few examples above. There may be many such places in Assam, and neighbouring states of North East India where the name of the places are associated with the myth of Ramayana.
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