About the Book
The RAMAYANA is not a mere 'story' nor is it a mere 'epic poem'. Sri Rama is both God and man.
As Mahayogi Sri Aurobindo has declared, "The RAMAYANA is at once history, legend and a poem unmatchably sublime, supremely artistic and magnificently dramatic."
Valmeeki, the adikavi, has inspired the poets of this sacred land to retell Rama's glorious life in their respective tongues. Kavicakravarti Kamban's Ramavataram, Rama's story in six books, is both a landmark in the history of Tamil literature and an exemplary literary masterpiece. There are few lovers of Tamil who have not been entranced by its beauty of expression, richness of imagery and ethical grandeur. Shri V V Slyer, the great revolutionary patriot, would claim for Kamban's Ramavataram an 'individuality' distinct from Valmeeki's. He confidently asserts that Kamban's Ramavataram will stand favourable comparison with the Mahabharata, too. He also avers that it excels Homer's celebrated Iliad, Virgil's Aeneid and Milton's Paradise Lost.
Dr H V Hande, by providing us with this superb English prose rendering of Kamban's Tamil classic, has done the nation a great service.
Kamban the Poet
Kamban was born in the ninth century in Therazhundur, a village in Thanjavur district. The greatest of the poets who wrote in Tamil and enriched its literature, Kamban hailed from a family which had Lord Narasimha (who emerged from a Kamba or pillar) as its family deity. Kamban was also called Kamba Nattazhwar, as he revived the greatness of Tamil through his work Kamba RAMAYANAm. Some believe that because he tied to himself the elephant known as Rama with the rope of his devotion, he resembled a pillar (Kamba). and therefore came to be known as Kamban. A few believe that he was so named because, as an infant, he was found lying near the pillar of a temple. Kamban's narration of the incarnation of Lord Tirumal (Mahavishnu) as Rama. is not a translation of Valmeeki's RAMAYANA, but an original retelling of the story of Rama.
Kamban was a great scholar in Tamil as well as Sanskrit. Extolled as Kavicakravarti (the emperor of poets), he rendered the RAMAYANA into nectarous verses in Tamil. He had the grace of Lord Narasimha and Kali Devi. Legend has it that Kali Devi used to hold a lamp to light the place, while he wrote the RAMAYANAm. Saraswati, the goddess
of learning, is believed to have sat before him, apprising him each day of the approach of dawn as he was too engrossed in writing to notice anything.
Great poets have observed that even a life of unbounded happiness in this world or in heaven would not give the pleasure equal to that obtained by reading Kamba RAMAYANAm.
Salutations and adorations to Adikavi Valmeeki, Kavicakravarti Kamban (9th century), Sant Sahitya Shiropatra Tulasidas (16th century) and the grand, endless procession of poet-saints of Mother India!
"Dharma (Aram) leads to well-being here and hereafter," declared an ancient sage.
This for the individual. When it comes to a nation, too, it is dharma that holds it together. No one can deny that for both, individual and national welfare, people at all levels should adhere to dharma or right conduct, a concept which springs from the very Vedas. However, our compassionate sages realised that dharma, as propounded in the Vedas, was too abstruse for laymen to comprehend and practise. So they created works in which the main characters exemplified dharma. Sage Valmeeki's epic poem, RAMAYANA, is one such great work. Presented in a delectable literary form, his Sanskrit epic of 24,000 verses is a practical guide to dharma. It also delineates the consequences of following dharma, and of transgressing it. Hence reading it and listening to discourses on it, are a means to learning the lessons of right conduct. More than any law - there is a well-known saying that we cannot legislate a people into morality- it is this epic that has shaped the ethos of a large majority of Indians. Therefore any effort to revive the study of the epic, is a positive measure towards strengthening the moral fibre of the nation. For this important reason Dr H V Hande's English prose rendering of Kamban's RAMAYANAm for those who do not know Tamil, deserves all praise.
Sage Valmeeki, in his quest for the ideal protagonist, goes to the omniscient sage, Narada. Narada gives him a short account of the story of Rama. The hero has to be human; or else of what use will the standards he sets for himself be to the common man? Rama himself says in the RAMAYANA, "I consider myself to be a human being." Valmeeki performs the miracle of casting the Infinite in the role of the finite, of squeezing
the Timeless into the time-frame. Rama, the hero of the epic, is an incarnation of God, but he remains human at all times. He weeps, he worries, is often bewildered. Thus, suffering sorrowing man finds it easy to identify with him.
It was compassion that brought Rama down to earth and therefore his story, RAMAYANA, too, had to sprout from the seed of compassion. How did this happen? Soon after hearing Narada's story of Rama in brief, Valmeeki finds a lovely spot to bathe in, the sparkling waters of the Tamasa River. With Rama's character in mind, he tells his disciple, "Look, revered Bharadwaja, the water is as limpid as a good man's mind." Even as the serene sage drinks in the scenic beauty, a mortally-wounded Krauncha bird, brought down by the arrow of a hunter, falls at his feet. Hovering around the dying, bleeding male bird, is his piteously shrieking mate who a moment ago was with her beloved. Compassion instantly wells up in the heart of the sage, and finds expression in the famous sloka "Maa Nishaada ... " "0 fowler, may you know no rest for endless years, since you killed one of this pair of Krauncha birds while it was under the spell of love." It was a perfect sloka born out of soka (sorrow). Yes. It was sorrow taking the form of a song, soka embodying itself in sloka. Using this sloka as a model, Valmeeki composed his RAMAYANA for all mankind to recite and transcend sorrow.
The RAMAYANA has been, is and will ever be, the living legacy of India because it unfolds the story of RAMA and SEETA who are purer than purity itself and whose scrupulous adherence to the majesty of the moral law, dharma, is an abiding example to be emulated by all who have higher aspirations. Rama has been venerated by millions, for thousands of years, age after age, as the highest of the high, the Ideal Man –Maryada Purushottama, the effulgent embodiment of dharma. And of Seeta, the paragon of virtue, grace, purity and beauty, Swami Vivekananda says, "You may exhaust the literature of the world that is past and I may assure you that you will have to exhaust the literature of the world of the future, before finding another Seeta. Seeta is unique; that character was depicted once and for all. There may have been several Ramas perhaps, but never more than one Seeta. Mark my words. Seeta has go.ne into the very vitals of our race."
Adikavya Valmeeki RAMAYANA is the first ever kavya in Sanskrit literature. Inspired
by Valmeeki's adikavya, poet-saints from all over India have authored different
versions of the epic in their respective tongues. We have Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati,
Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Manipuri, Malayalam, Odissi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, and
Sanskrit versions, too, to name a few (see page 753). All of these are more than mere
translations. The mystic revolutionary and patriot, Shri V V S Aiyar, a contemporary
of Mahayogi Sri Aurobindo, makes the following incisive observations in his
Introduction to, the Bhavan's