Monthly Archives: June 2015

Can the Historicity of Ramayana be established?

Sri Rama, the hero of Ramayana was an ideal son, ideal husband and ideal friend. He was known for his valour, sense of fair play and justice. His rule was so perfect that the term Ramarajya is synonymous for ideal governance. If we are to agree with the statement of Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle that History is the biography of great men, then bereft of Rama and Ramayana, ancient Indian history would be incomplete. But as of now history books in India refer to Ramayana as an epic and do not ascribe historicity to it. While a foreign scholar like Pargiter says that there is historical truth in the story of Rama’s exile and invasion of Ceylon,1 an Indian scholar like D.C.Sircar says that Valmiki’s story is an imaginary treatment of a legend supposed to represent an earlier age.2 In these circumstances is it possible to establish the historicity of Rama and Ramayana?

First we shall make a list of probable issues which causes skeptics to question the historicity of Ramayana including that raised by D.C.Sircar in his work Problems in Ramayana. They are

  1. Fanciful date assigned to Rama and Ramayana
  2. Antecedents of Valmiki
  3. Was Rama an incarnation of Vishnu?
  4. Is not Rama abandoning pregnant Seeta a blemish on his character?
  5. If Vanaras were monkeys how could have Rama communicated with them?
  6. The absurdity of Ravana flying the Aerial Car (Pushpaka Vimana)
  7. Did Ravana had ten heads and Hanuman flied with a mountain peak?
  8. Was it possible for Rama to undertake such a hazardous expedition?

The colonial and Marxist historians by propagating the Aryan Invasion Theory have messed up ancient Indian chronology so much so that it was difficult to place the chronology of historical figures like Rama and Krishna. But thanks to the painstaking efforts of objective historians, today we know the ulterior motives of the above school of historians in dishing out such theories and also aware of the fact that the so called Harappan civilization is nothing but the urban representation of the Vedic civilization and it correspond to the period when the Upanishad were composed. Just like the progress in the field of astronomy was possible after the geocentric theory of universe was discarded, similarly chronology for persons and events associated with ancient Indian history can be fixed if the Aryan Invasion Theory is discarded.3 Hence for establishing the historicity of Rama and Ramayana we have to

  1. Abandon the Aryan Invasion Theory.
  2. Critically examine the text of Ramayana and
  3. Interpret fanciful incidents in Ramayana based on reasoning.

Mahabharatha War, Sheet Anchor for fixing ancient Indian Chronology

Date of Rama

According to traditional accounts Rama is assigned to the 2nd of the four yugas, viz, Sathya or Krita yuga (which lasted for 17,28,000 years), Treta yuga (which lasted for 12,96,000 years), Dvapara yuga (which lasted for 8,64,000 years) and Kali yuga (which will last for 4,32,000 years). As Kali yuga of the present cycle started in 3102 B.C., this places Rama time in the Treta yuga nearly 8, 69,000 years, many millennia before the development of human civilization on the earth. Also Rama is said to have ruled for 16,000 years. Hence D.C.Sircar questions the absurd antiquity to which Rama is assigned by the Indian tradition. Yes Sircar is right in arriving at this conclusion; but he himself says that the Yuga division was fabricated by the astronomers about the age of the Imperial Guptas.4 Moreover as Pargiter has mentioned the theory of the four ages did not apply to the whole world and it was declared repeatedly that these ages prevailed in India.5 Hence we need not take the date assigned to Rama by Indian traditions seriously. But how to arrive at the date of Rama?

The date of Rama can be fixed if we accept one of the few proposed dates of the occurrence of Mahabharatha war (either 3067 B.C. or 2449 B.C.) In the list of Ikshavaku kings given in the Vayu Purana, Rama’s number is 65. He lived 29 generations before Bhrihadbala who participated in the Mahabharatha war. If we take 2449 B.C. as the date of Mahabharatha war and allot 40 years for each king then the date of Rama can be fixed at 3609 B.C.6 This date correspond very nearly to the late Veda-Brahmana period. (Navaratna Rajaram (From Saraswati River to the Indus Script- Changing Perceptions, p.73)

Date of Ramayana

Scholars like R.G.Bhandarkar and D.R.Bhandarkar presume that the Ramayana was composed not earlier than 4th century B.C.7 while V.Gopala Iyengar in his work- A Concise History of Classical Sanskrit Literature (p.14) writes that the original portion of the Ramayana was composed clearly before 500 B.C., whereas additions (which now scholars have identified as Bala Kanda and Uttara Kanda) must have been made some time about 200 B.C. This does not mean that Valmiki composed Ramayana in 5th or 4th century B.C. Valmiki was a contemporary of Rama and the latter had visited the former’s ashram during his life in exile in the forest.8 Hence Ramayana was composed during the time when Rama lived and the original Valmiki’s Ramayana consisted of book II- VI. The Ramayana composed by Valmiki was passed on from one generation to another orally just like other ancient Indian works like the Vedas and Upanishads. The Mahabharatha reproduces the story of Rama while the Ramayana makes no mention at all of the former. This makes sure that the Ramayana must have been famous before Mahabharatha took a definite shape. As the poem grew very popular interpolations were made purely for professional needs. Hence the dating for the composition of Ramayana by modern scholars should be understood in the sense that over the centuries some portions of the story had gone into oblivion and the scholars of that period (5th or 4th century B.C.) were able to retrieve those portions and codified the Ramayana.

Critical examination of Ramayana

Antecedents of Valmiki

Prof. Jacobi after a careful study of the Ramayana has concluded that the original Ramayana consisted of only five Kandas, namely Ayodhya, Aranya, Kishkinda, Sundara and Yuddha. The argument of Jacobi is based on the following grounds.

  • The logical conclusion of the plot is found in the coronation of Rama found in the Yuddha kanda. The story is complete with Ramapattabhisheka and even now the usual recital of Ramayana stops with it.
  • Indian poets usually conclude their works with a happy incident. Rama’s coronation described at the end of the Yuddha kanda provides a happy and natural ending to the work. The seventh book, Uttara kanda ends with the disappearance of all the main characters which is generally regarded as unhappy and inauspicious.
  • There are statements in the Bala Kanda which contradicts those in the others- for example Rama tells Shurpanaka in the Aranya Kanda that Lakshmana is not married while in Bala Kanda describes Lakshmana as married.
  • In the Bala Kanda and Uttara Kanda Rama is spoken as an incarnation of Vishnu, while in the other five Kandas he has been treated only as human being.
  • In the 1st and 7th books (Bala Kanda and Uttara Kanda), there are many stories which have no direct bearing on the main plot of Ramayana while in the books two-six a single connected story is narrative in the kavya style. The stories of Rishyasringa, Vishwamitra, Gangavatarana, etc. narrated in Bala Kanda have no connection with the story of Rama and the Uttara Kanda which contains biographical notes on the characters of the original story can only be treated as a supplement added at a later stage.9

With regards to the antecedents of Valmiki we have very scanty information and have to depend mainly on hearsay for the life history of this sage.10 It is in the interpolated work, book I (Bala Kanda) that we have the story of Valmiki. Even this account is taken from another work Adhyatma Ramayana which is an extract from the Brahmanda Purana. In this Valmiki describes his past history of how by birth he was a Brahmin and unable to control his passion had many children from a Sudra woman and to feed them resorted to robbery. Once confronting a muni (sage) the latter asked Valmiki whether his wife and children consent to Valmiki’s participation in the numerous sins and when Valmiki got a reply, ‘no’ from them, he turned a new leaf, meditated upon the name of Rama and later composed Ramayana.11 As Valmiki himself appears as a character, he could not have composed them.12 Then who was Valmiki? What is background? For this we can postulate that he was a poet whose earlier occupation must have been that of a hunter. This should not be a surprise as during that age an individual worth was not based on his occupation. To give an example we have the story of Dharma Vyadha in Mahabharatha whose profession was that of a butcher and who taught the essence of Vedanta to a Brahmin. In ancient India people followed the ashrama dharma and during the gruhasthashrama stage Valmiki followed the profession of a hunter and during the vanaprasta and sanyasa stage, left for the forest, build an ashrama (Rama during his exile had visited his ashrama) and later composed Ramayana as he knew about Rama and his exploits.

Was Rama an incarnation of Vishnu?

In Ramayana Rama is depicted as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu for which R.C.Dutt argues that Vishnu had not risen to prominence at the time at which Ramayana took place and it was Indira who was the chief god in the epic age.13 But it should be remembered that Valmiki’s Ramayana depicts Rama as a human being and not as an avatarapurusha. It is only in the Bala Kanda and Uttara Kanda, both of which have been identified as interpolation to the original Ramayana that Rama is spoken as an incarnation of Vishnu. Hence in the original Valmiki’s Ramayana consisting of book II- VI, Rama is treated as a hero and not as an incarnation.

Is not Rama abandoning pregnant Seeta a blemish on his character?

The story of Rama abandoning pregnant Seeta is not found in the Ramayana written by Valmiki. This story is mentioned in the Uttara Kanda added to the original Ramayana centuries later.

Interpreting fanciful incidents based on Reasoning

If Vanaras were monkeys how could have Rama communicated with them?

The name Vanaras does not have to mean monkeys just like Nagas does not mean snakes. According to Pargiter many powerful races such as Danavas, Daityas, Rakshasas, Nagas were reduced to subjugation and later the names of these races become scornful until at length they ceased to possess any ethnological force and turned into purely evil appellations. For instance the word asura become synonymous with the meaning demon and pishacha the original name of a tribe was turned to mean an impish goblin.14 The Vanaras along with the Rakshasas, Kinnaras and Yakshas are said to be the progenitors of rishi Pulastya, one among the eight mythical rishis from whom the Brahmin families claim descent.15 The word Vanar originally meant ‘the dweller of the Vana (forest)’ (Nobin Chandra Das- A Note on the Antiquity of the Ramayana, 1899). Therefore the rakshasas were human beings and so also were the Nagas and the Vanaras. It may be noted that the hero of Mahabharatha Arjuna had married a Naga princess, Ulupi and his brother Bhima had married a rakshasa woman Hidambi. As regards to the language, the Ramayana itself (Sundara Kanda) speaks of two varieties of Sanskrit which were in vogue at that time; one manushi Samskrita, the popular dialect and the Samskrita dvijatiriva, the language spoken by the cultured Brahmins, the shishtas. Hanuman the hero of the Vanaras was a cultured linguist and could speak in both varieties.16

The absurdity of Aerial Car, Pushpaka Vimana

D.C.Sircar questions the epic narrators’ idea of Ravana carrying away Seeta in an aerial car (Pushpaka Vimana) and the return of Rama from Lanka to Ayodhya by the same car. If flying cars were in use in ancient India, foreigners like Alexander’s historians and the Chinese and Arab travellers like Hiuen Tsang and Al biruni would have certainly mentioned them especially as they were unknown in their own countries.17 Sircar’s reasoning is quite appropriate. But why did Valmiki spoke about Pushpaka Vimana? We must remember that Valmiki was a poet and to indulge in imagination is every poet’s right. Valmiki may have used the word Pushpaka Vimana as a metaphor to describe the swift moving chariot used by Ravana to flee to Lanka after abducting Seeta. It was through this royal chariot that Rama returned back to Ayodhya from Lanka.

Communicated through Ramasetu

Then the question arises as how Seeta was abducted or rakshasas like Ravana and Surpanaka traversed between Lanka and Janasthana (south India). For this we have to hypothesize that through the bridge (Ramasetu) which existed between India and Lanka that the asuras including Shurpanaka came to India. In the Aranya kanda it is said that Ravana possessed a narrow strip of land along the coast of south India, while the rest of south India then known as Kishkinda was in the possession of Vali.18 By this we can presume that a bridge already existed for the rakshasas to communicate between India and Lanka. Ravana abducted Seeta and reached Lanka through this bridge. Hanuman came to Lanka through this bridge and after meeting Seeta returning back, destroyed some parts of the city. This event may have disturbed Ravana who thought that Rama may come to Lanka and had the bridge destroyed. (This is similar to what defeated armies do like destroying bridges, livestock and food when retreating so that the enemy’s progress is hindered). Rama with the help of Nala and the Vanaras rebuilt the bridge and as he was the victor in the war, the bridge was named after him as Ramsethu.

Ravana with ten heads and Hanuman flying with a mountain peak

No sane person is willing to believe that a person can possess ten heads (Ravana) or a person however strong he may be in physical strength can fly carrying a mountain (Hanuman). As mentioned earlier, Valmiki was a poet and used similes to describe certain awesome events. Even inscriptions which historians rely upon to construct the history of kings and dynasties, contains similes. For instance Harihara II, the Vijayanagara ruler is called in one of his records as ‘a lion to the scent elephant of the Andhra king.’ We cannot take the literary meaning of this record and believe that Harihara had turned into a lion. Historians glorify Tipu Sultan as ‘Tiger of Mysore’, but we know that Tipu was a human.

Was it possible for Rama to undertake such a hazardous expedition?

In the battle of ten kings, Sudasa who was anterior to Rama by eighteen generation defeated the Anu’s and conquered their territory. This led the Anu’s to migrate to Afghanistan and beyond as far as West Asia. If the Anu’s could have migrated towards Afghanistan several centuries prior to Rama, the latter travelling towards south India and finally to Lanka would not have be that difficult. Moreover the area which Rama traversed was dotted with the ashramas of sages who obliged him with food and lodging. Also he was guided by the Vanaras whose king Sugriva was indebted to Rama for helping him get the throne from his brother Vali. Even during the time of the Mauryas and Guptas, communication as we now conceive had not developed. But that did not prevent Chandragupta Maurya to come to Sravanabelagola in Karnataka or Samudra Gupta to launch an expedition against several kingdoms of south India.

Today there is an urgent need for Indian historians to critically examine the text Ramayana and identify the interpolations containing fanciful and loathsome accounts (for example, Rama killing Shambuka, a Sudra for performing penance,19 abandoning pregnant Seeta 20 and Valmiki depicted as a brigand 21). It is by citing these interpolated accounts, the Macaulay, Marxist and Mullah combination are causing fissure in the Hindu society and creating bad blood amongst its communities. The orthodox amongst the Hindus may object to some of the hypothesis we may arrive. Years of foreign domination has made the Hindus develop an inferiority complex and hence clinging to myths may offer solace to their hurt pride. But as historian R.G.Collingwood has said a historian must examine the past with a careful eye, even if it means exploding cherished myths.21

References

  1. C.Sircar, Problems of the Ramayana, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad,1979, p.19
  2. Ibid, p.4
  3. Srinivas- Need to Set Right Historical Fallacies, QJMS, VOL. 105, No. 1, pp:1-12.
  4. C.Sircar, Op.cit, pp:2,4,5
  5. E.Pargiter, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, Oxford University Press, London, 1922, p.175 (Pargiter has hypothesized an acceptable Yuga theory according to which the Sathya or Krita yuga ended with the destruction of the Haihayas by Rama Jamadagni (Parashurama). The Treta yuga began approximately with Sagara and ended with Rama Dasharata’s destruction of the Rakshasas (Ravana). The Dvapara yuga began with the coronation of Rama at Ayodhya and ended with the Mahabharatha war, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition. p.177)
  6. 40 years X 29 generations = 1160 + 2449, the date of Mahabharatha War = 3609, being the date of Rama. According to D.R.Mankad the Puranas computed the number of kings of a dynasty on the basis of units of 40 years or caturyugas Puranic Chronology, pp:38,39
  7. C.Sircar, Op.cit, p.3
  8. Vettam Mani, Puranic Encyclopaedia, Motilal Banarsidass, 1975, p.641
  9. K.Ramachandra Iyer, A Short History of Sanskrit Literature, R.S.Vadhyar & Sons, Palghat, 2002, pp:49,50
  10. Vettam Mani, cit, p.822
  11. Krishnamachariar, History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, TTD Press, Madras, 1937, pp:3-5
  12. Gopala Iyengar, A Concise History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Thanjavur, 1965, p.10
  13. Krishnamachariar, Op.cit, p.13
  14. E.Pargiter, Op.cit, p.290
  15. Ibid, p.185
  16. V.Kamesvara Aiyar- Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Western Critics, QJMS, Vol XVI, April 1926, No.4, p.248
  17. C.Sircar, Op.cit, pp: 20,21
  18. Krishnamachariar, Op.cit, p.9
  19. Vettam Mani, cit, p.639
  20. Ibid,
  21. Ibid, p.822
  22. Margaret MacMillan, Dangerous Games- The Uses and abuses of History, The Modern Library, New York, p.43

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Reinterpreting the Values of Historical Studies

There is a dire need to rewrite Indian history to efface the subjectivity contained in the text books written by Marxist historians dominating in the Indian academia circles. But before taking this task of rewriting Indian history in an objective manner it would be better if Indian historians reevaluate the results which they expect from students studying Indian history.

Facts and figures vis-à-vis values and virtues

It is said chronology and geography are the two eyes of history and events in history occur and historic persons live in a certain period and in a specific location. Facts in history outside space-time framework is relegated as mythology and accorded a lesser status. At present writing history scientifically means constructing events out of archival materials or from evidences collected through archaeological excavations. One can document the rule of a chief minister of any Indian state by using archival material. This writing would be hundred percent scientific with zero error in facts and figures given. However is there anything to learn from this write-up; any moral values or virtues to be cultivated?  Contrast this with personalities like Nachiketha, Sri Rama, Ekalavya, Sri Sankaracharya, Sri Basaveshwara and Kabir who stood for ideals like truthfulness, filial devotion and egalitarianism. But for the reconstruction of the lives of these men we do not have source materials which can be termed as ‘scientific’.

But even historical concepts derived from following the scientific method, unlike science subjects does not give any tangible output (in the form of technology) but only facts and figures. Hence the first and foremost thing which Indian historians have to do is to take a stand as to what should be the end result of studying history, is it to get correct information on facts and figures or to get inspiration and development of virtues and culture. If it is to provide information on facts and figures we can continue the present method of writing history by using archival material. But if it is to cultivate values then we have to make a paradigm shift in both writing history and selecting the events, personalities and institutions to be included in our history books. Once if it is decided that the end product of historical studies is for the development of moral values and culture, we could include events/persons who would inspire us in the curriculum of historic studies even though if they do not fit in the space-time framework; the main criteria in scientific writing of history. The acts, facts and figures of the past could be then left to economists, statisticians and political scientists to deal with.

Antiquity vis-à-vis relevance

Indian historians have an obsession with antiquity, whether it is the date of the composition of the Vedas or the date of Mahabharatha war. Just because an event occurred or a person lived or a work was composed in times of antiquity, does its relevance in the present times makes any difference? On this aspect Indian historians have to take a stand. For instance the Manu Smirthi was composed many centuries before the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda was composed. But in terms of relevance the information contained in Swami Vivekananda’s work empowers the whole of mankind while Manu Smirthi is full of absurdities. Ayurveda, Yoga, the concept of zero, the Upanishads and the philosophy of Advaita are some of the important contributions of Hindus which are of immense relevance even today and this aspect should be stressed while writing and teaching history more than doing research to prove the antiquity of persons, events and works. It is the quality and relevance of a work or the ideal of a person which matters more than its age.

Post mortem of historical facts

India has given Ayurveda and Yoga to the world, but why the majority of Indians are malnourished and disease prone? Why today there is a mad rush to go abroad for higher studies by Indian students while it was the reverse, a few centuries ago, with India being the ideal destination for higher education for students all over the world?

Having produced philosophical and spiritual treatises like the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Advaita philosophy, Hindus have failed to give spiritual solace to the world while fanatical cults masquerading as peaceful religion have been able to attract worldwide adherents. Even in its own land Hindus have been divided into plethora of castes, sub-castes, sects, sub-sects and creeds and are after each other’s throat. While superstitions are rising to new heights, spirituality has been declining among Hindus.

In spite of centuries of political slavery, Hindus are little prepared to face the imminent threat to their religion and culture from alien forces. All these, our historians have to introspect and write objectively as to why has the Hindu has failed, is it caste, the present political set-up modeled on western political system or the sheer lack of values amongst Hindus.

Experimenting with new teaching models

Teachers with oratory skills

If the purpose of teaching history is to develop patriotism, morals and get inspired by events and personalities then the way history is taught in schools at present needs to be reevaluated. Not all history teachers are able to teach with much enthusiasm and passion so as to arouse patriotism or inspire the minds of their students with high ideals. This in turn makes the students develop a lackluster attitude towards history. Hence why not give a try and bifurcate the writing and teaching of history into two separate domains. While students of history could involve in writing history, doing research, collecting data from archives and information through archeological excavations, those (from whichever field) who have good oratory and presentation skills, command over languages (English or other Indian languages), having the ability to express their thoughts clearly and able to electrify the classroom atmosphere could after a brief training in historical subjects be allowed to teach history in schools. This concept will be somewhat similar to the role played by writers of science fiction and popular science books in popularizing science amongst youngsters and thereby encouraging them to take up its study at the university level.

Mother tongue as the medium of instruction

Another experiment which could be tried is to incorporate historical topics in State languages being taught in schools. At present History is taught along with civics/economics/geography as a subject called social studies. It is taught in English in English medium schools. But normally emotions can be aroused when spoken in one’s mother tongue and for inculcating patriotism, moral values and virtues, it is necessary to arouse the sentiments of the students and this can happen only when History especially biographies of great men are taught in one’s mother tongue. Hence instead of teaching History as a separate subject, its content should be incorporated in languages taught, especially the State language and imparted to students. This will also help our students gain grip over their mother tongue which unfortunately the children studying in English medium schools are trailing behind. History as a separate subject can be taught at the college level in a professional manner.

Critical examination of our Classical works

Indian literature like the Vedas, Brahmanas, Ramayana, Mahabharatha and the Puranas contain mine of information about ancient personalities and events. This information could be corroborated with Buddhist, Jaina and Sangam literary sources and from archeological findings to reconstruct the history of ancient India earlier to the Buddhist period. But not much progress has been done in this attempt as facts in these sources were interposed with highly exaggerated and fanciful accounts during the regular revisions of these texts and when it was put into writing.

But a critical examination of our ancient texts based on reasoning would reveal the period during which these interpolations took place, the verses so interpolated, the persons behind it and their motives for doing so; be it to promote their ideology, to establish the supremacy of their caste, creed or faith or the texts just fell into the hands of a writer who meddled with it with his wild imagination. Once these interpolations are identified, the real facts available in our ancient literature will be an excellent source for us to reconstruct the history of our ancient period.

The date of Mahabharatha war can become the sheet anchor to reconstruct the history of ancient India. If we unanimously agree at one of the numerous date ascribed by scholars as the date in which the Mahabharatha war took place, we can make an attempt to outline the history of our ancient political history beginning at least from 5000 B.C.