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Ramayana, Epic of Rama, Prince of India

An Abbreviated Translation of the Indian Classic, the Ramayana by Romesh Chundar Dutt in 2,000 verses

Epilogue by the

Epilogue by the Translator - 164 daughter of Janak and the heroine of the Epic, is the ideal of a faithful woman and a devoted wife. A pious reverence for the past pervades the great Epic; a lofty admiration of what is true and ennobling in the human character sanctifies the work; and delineations of the domestic life and the domestic virtues of the ancient Hindus, rich in tenderness and pathos, endear the picture to the hearts of the people of India to the present day. It is probable that the first connected narrative of this Epic was composed within a few centuries after the glorious age of the Kosalas and the Videhas. But the work became so popular that it grew with age. It grew, – not like the Mahabharata by the incorporation of new episodes, tales and traditions, – but by fresh descriptions of the same scenes and incidents. Generations of poets [183] were never tired of adding to the description of scenes which were dear to the Hindu, and patient Hindu listeners were never tired of listening to such repetitions. The virtues of Rama and the faithfulness of Sita were described again and again in added lines and cantos. The grief of the old monarch at the banishment of the prince, and the sorrows of the mother at parting from her son, were depicted by succeeding versifiers in fresh verses. The loving devotion of Rama’s brothers, the sanctity of saints, and the peacefulness of the hermitages visited by Rama, were described with endless reiteration. The long account of the grief of Rama at the loss of his wife, and stories of unending battles waged for her recovery, occupied generations of busy interpolators. The Sloka verse in which much of the Ramayana is composed is the easiest of Sanscrit metres, and afforded a fatal facility to poets; and often we have the same scene, fully and amply described in one canto, repeated again in the two or three succeeding cantos. The unity of the composition is lost by these additions, and the effect of the narrative is considerably weakened by such endless repetition. It would appear that the original work ended with the sixth Book, which describes the return of the hero to his country and to his loving subjects. The seventh Book is called Uttara or Supplemental, and in it we are told something of the dimensions of the poem, apparently after the fatal process of additions and interpolations had gone on for centuries. We are informed that the poem consists of six Books and a Supplemental Book; and that it comprises 500 cantos and 24,000 couplets. And we are also told in this Supplemental Book that the descendants of Rama and his brothers founded some of the great towns and states which, we know from other sources, flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries before Christ. It is probable therefore that the Epic, commenced after 1000 B.C., had assumed something like its present shape a few centuries before the Christian Era. The foregoing account of the genesis and growth of the Ramayana will indicate in what respects it resembles the Maha-bharata and in what respects the two Indian Epics differ from each other. The Maha-bharata, grew out of the legends

Epilogue by the Translator - 165 and traditions of a [184] great historical war between the Kurus and the Panchalas; the Ramayana grew out of the recollections of the golden age of the Kosalas and the Videhas. The characters of the Maha-bharata are characters of flesh and blood, with the virtues and crimes of great actors in the historic world; the characters of the Ramayana are more often the ideals of manly devotion to truth, and of womanly faithfulness and love in domestic life. The poet of the Maha-bharata relies on the real or supposed incidents of a war handed down from generation to generation in songs and ballads, and weaves them into an immortal work of art; the poet of the Ramayana conjures up the memories of a golden age, constructs lofty ideals of piety and faith, and describes with infinite pathos domestic scenes and domestic affections which endear the work to modern Hindus. As a heroic poem the Maha-bharata stands on a higher level; as a poem delineating the softer emotions of our everyday life the Ramayana sends its roots deeper into the hearts and minds of the million in India. These remarks will be probably made clearer by a comparison of what may he considered parallel passages in the two great Epics. In heroic description, the bridal of Sita is poor and commonplace, compared with the bridal of Draupadi with all the bustle and tumult of a real contest among warlike suitors. The rivalry between Rama and Ravan, between Lakshman and Indrajit, is feeble in comparison with the life-long jealousy and hatred which animated Arjun and Karna, Bhima and Duryodhan. Sita’s protest and defiance, spoken to Ravan when he carried her away, lack the fire and the spirit of Draupadi’s appeal on the occasion when she was insulted in court. The Council of War held by Ravan is a poor affair in comparison with the Council of War held by Yudhisthir in the Matsya kingdom. And Bibhishan’s final appeal for peace and Ravan’s scornful reply will scarcely compare with the sublime eloquence with which Krishna implored the old monarch of the Kurus not to plunge into a disastrous war, and the deep determination with which Duryodhan replied:– “Town nor village, mart nor hamlet, help us righteous Gods in heaven, Spot that needle’s point can cover shall not unto them be given!” [185] In the whole of the Ramayana there is no character with the fiery determination and the deep-seated hatred for the foe which inspire Karna or Arjun, Bhima or Duryodhan. And in the unending battles waged by Rama and his allies there is no incident so stirring, so animated, so thrilling, as the fall of Abhimanyu, the vengeance of Arjun, the final contest between Arjun and Karna, or the final contest between Bhima and Duryodhan. The whole tenor of the Ramayana is subdued and calm, pacific and pious; the whole tenor of the Mahabharata is warlike and spirited. And yet, without rivalling the heroic grandeur of the Maha-bharata, the Ramayana is immeasurably superior in its delineation of those softer and perhaps deeper emotions which enter into our everyday life, and hold the world