Studies on Valmiki's Ramayana (A Rare Book)


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For the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, this publication has a special significance. Its author, Shri G.S. Altekar (born 17. 4. 1895), had been associated with the Institute, in one way or another, almost since its inception in 1917. Even as a postgraduate student at the Deccan College, Poona, Altekar took to serious research work in Sanskrit under the guidance of Professor S.K. Belvalkar who was one of the founding fathers of the Bhandarkar Institute. He wrote a thesis entitled A Comparative Study of the Manusmrti and the Yajnavalkyasmrti, which won for him in 1918 the much coveted V. N. Mandlik Gold Medal and Prize of the Bombay University. Soon thereafter, however, Altekar had to abandon his research in order to continue his father’s legal practice at Karad. While the professional side of the paternal heritage was dutifully maintained by the elder brother, Shri G. S. alias Dadasaheb Altekar, its Scholastic side was energetically promoted by the younger brother, Professor A.S. Altekar, who, incidentally, has left an abiding mark on the Indian historical scholarship.

As was but to be expected in those days, the young lawyer, Dadasaheb Altekar, was soon drawn into the vortex of politics as a torch-bearer of the Indian National Congress. Then followed the various inevitable terms of imprisonment, which were in the end worthily crowned with the membership of the first Lok Sabha of the Republic of India. But the ingrained urge for academic pursuits never left Shri Dadasaheb. Even as a busy lawyer and politician, he scrupulously reserved a few hours every night for a serious study of Sanskrit Classics and the works of the Maratha saints. He made it his mission in life, as it were, to transmit to people at large, through his numerous talks and tracts, the knowledge of the true spirit of India. In particular, he was overwhelmingly fascinated by the poetry, the characterization, and the message of Valmiki’s Ramayana. His memory was truly phenomenal; he could quote, with surprising ease, passages after passages from the Adikavya. And he also had something original and thought-provoking to say about it. I often thought that Shri Dadasaheb’s views which he had lucidly set forth in his many contributions in Marathi, needed to be made known to a wider public. So I made bold to request him to write a book on Valmiki’s Ramayana in English. He was then approaching his ninetieth year, but he had an unswerving faith in his life’s mission. So he acceded to my request and devoted himself wholeheartedly to the completion of that task as if it were a sacred challenge. However, it is a matter of deep regret to the Bhandarkar Institute that Shri Dadasaheb expired on May 15, 1987-just four months before the publication of this book.

The work of seeing this book through press called for tremendous patience and circumspection, but my colleague, Professor P. D. Navathe, has proved creditably equal to it.



When I first read the Ramayana of Valmiki the high moral tone of the epic, the captivating elegance of the poetry, the most endearing relations among the various members of the family, the sudden vicissitudes of fortitude, exceptional valour and the thrilling encounters with which they overcame them, held me spell-bound.

I continued to devote the time I could get after discharging my various responsibilities for reading the literature concerning the Ramayana. I wrote a few booklets in Marathi on a few top-ranking personalities. Finally I decided to write my studies on the Ramayana of Valmiki in English at the suggestion of Dr. R.N. Dandekar of the Bhandarkar O.R. Institute Pune.

In Chapter I, I have taken for consideration a few stories, all narrating inconsistent versions about the life of the poet and then shown what seem to be the truth. He is recognized as Adikavi or the first among ancient Sanskrit poets. Though his is an elegent and simple style he is equally a great artist. To highten the effect of a very tragic event he first portrays the joyful background. We have also cited some other instances of his supreme art.

We gave given in this chapter the various reasons adduced by Dr. Jacobi for holding that the age of Valmiki not only preceded the time of Lord Buddha but dated far back upto the eight century B. C., when common Sanskrit was understood and even spoken by the ordinary people. Valmiki composed his epic to elevate the standard of morals and culture of the whole public.

Dr. Jacobi says that Valmiki lived during the supremacy of the Iksvaku princes. We have shown that he was the contemporary of Rama, because those portions in the Uttarakanda concerning the life of Rama and Sita, as pointed out by us to be of Valmiki, seem to be really so for the following reasons: The very high moral fervor, the great idealism, supreme poetic merit and the pathetic instinct in the poem, and the readiness of both the hero and heroine to sacrifice anything-even their very lives-in pursuit of their high ideals of life, are similar in all respects to those of the like nature in the Books II to VI. These portions seem to be composed by Valmiki after the disappearance of Sita with the Mother Earth, and after Rama and taken his twin sons to Ayodhya. No smaller fry was capable of composing these protions as pointed out by us in this chapter.

We have cited the Vedic passages in our Chapter II and after their discussion have also stated the likely periods of the various stages of the Vedic and other literature. These are very nearly the same as shown by Lokamanya B. G. Tilak in his Orion. In accordance with these, the genuine Ramayana of Valmiki cannot be later in age than the beginning of the first millennium B. C.

The names of some persons in the Ramayana were discovered by some Sanskrit scholars in Panini’s Astadhyayi to show that the age of this epic was much older than his grammar. We have found out some more important names of persons and places therein. We have discussed the relevant Sanskrit sutras and shown the important results, mentioning where these persons and places in the epic will be found. All this is discussed in our Chapter III.

The view of Dr. Weber seems to be that the simple and nonviolent story of the Rama Pandita in the Dasaratha Jataka was the nucleus for the big epic story of Rama suitably expanded into heroic fights of a pious person. Dr Jacobi and others have refuted this view and shown that the Dasaratha Jataka itself was suitably changed and adpted from the Ramayana. In Chapter IV we have given a brief summary of the Jayaddisa Jataka and the Vessantara Jataka where the former makes a clear reference to the Ramayana, and the latter adopts the plan of a part of that epic. We have also cited there more than twenty verses similar to those in our epic. We have shown from eight other Jatakas, that their writer adopts the stories of some Vedic, epic or some ancient personalities, but they are shown as observing the Buddhist idealism and practices and that Lord Buddha was these high personalities in his former births. In the last story of this chapter innumerable killings by Rama are expressly mentioned, but the writer says that Rama had to assume the avatara of Lord Buddha to wipe out the sins of these killings by practising penance for them.

Chapter V shows that the Jaina authors wrote their Ramayanas in their own way of propagating their religion. There are nine sets of Baladevas, Vasudevas, and Prati-Vasudevas for each of their nine yugas or ages. For the eighth, this trio consists of Rama, Laksmana and Ravana. For the ninth set the trio is of Baladeva, Vasudeva i.e. Krsna and Jarasamdha. The vasudeva of each set kills its Prati-Vasudeva. Hence Ravana and other Raksasas are killed by Laksmana and not by Rama and Jarasamdha by Krsna at Kuruksetra and not by Bhima. Their Rama is pious, nonviolent and takes the Jaina Diksa and finally gets the moksa. Laksmana is rash, does all the killings, refuses to take the Diksa and goes to hell for some time inspite of his several good deeds. He is going to be released from the hell on taking the Diksa and get good fruits for his good deeds. Krsna’s principal declaration in the Gita that the fire of true knowledge destroys all acts will not come to his help in the hell of the Jaina religion. Only their Diksa would relieve him. The Jaina law of karman is so strict and impartial that any good person, inspite of his several meritorious deeds to his credit, shall have to suffer the punishment for his single sinful act. According to the Jaina story Krsna cheated Neminatha his descendant to leave home and become a Jain recluse for the fear that the latter might usurp his throne. The trios and their followers worship Jinendra, observe Jaina faith but get the fruit according to the purity of their conduct and intensity of their faith.

The august ceremony of the Jaina Diksa of a big personality along with the innumerable wives and his friends is a very impressive way for the spread of the Jaina religion. Thus thousands of wives of Rama, Laksmana and Hanuman accept the Aryikavrata when their husbands take the Diksa or after they have died and gone to heaven. Rama and Sita are said to have fostered the cause of the Jaina religion.

The discussion between Valmiki and Narada at the very beginning of the Ramayana and thereupon Valmiki’s resolve to compose his epic indicate his intention to portray the life of his superb human hero and heroine in a poem. But after a few preliminary cantos we are amazed by a reverse plan formulated by gods and others to pose Rama as an avatara of Visnu for this killing of Ravana. The ten cantos of the Balakanda as pointed out by us in Chapter VI are evidently interpolated.

According to several scholars the entire Balakanda was added to the Ramayana long after the poet composed his epic. The Photostat copy of its original MS. in London dated 1495 A.D. was kept by the Bombay Government in the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona. It shows that the Ramayana commences with what is called in it as the Ayodhyakanda. But the first 53 cantos include all the contents of the present Balakanda and are described in each of their colophons as belonging to the Ayodhyakanda. The rest of the cantos are evidently the present Ayodhyakanda. The total number of the original Ayodhyakanda of the photo-stat copy is 176! From this and other evidence we see that Valmiki began to compose his epic and style its first Kanda as the Ayodhyakanda. Owing to its bulkiness it was split into two Kandas, viz, the Balakanda and the Ayodhyakanda.

Dr. Holtzmann speaks of the poetic merit in the Second Book i.e. Ayodhyakanda. He says that he never finds any references to the First Book i.e. Balakanda, and to this observation Dr. Jacobi adds that it is correct even with respect to the remaining genuine cantos as well. However, Dr. Jacobi fails to notice the most glaring and crucial incident which gives an altogether new turn to the whole course of the Ramayana thereafter. It is when Ravana asks Marica in the Aranyakanda to assume the form of a charming golden deer so as to entice Sita and cause her to persuade Rama to catch it. Marica tells how he formerly troubled Visvamitra in his sacrifice, and the latter went to king Dasaratha and brought Rama for protecting it. Rama then routed him and by a single arrow threw him in the sea. Marica warned Ravana not to abduct Sita. Should he try to do so neither he nor his kingdom, nor the Raksasas would survive. Ravana got angry and threatened to kill him. Marica then agreed to do as ordered. The very idea of a lovely golden deer, the description of its enchanting grace, sudden disappearance and abrupt reappearance etc. are indications of poetry of very high merit. So also are the descriptions of the pathetic wailings of Rama and the nobility in his performance of the funeral rites of Jatayus as of his father, consequent to this Marica incident.

When Marica himself refers here to his plight by Rama in the sacrifice of Visvamitra in the Balakanda, there should be no doubt about the truth of that incident. The departure of Rama and Laksmana along with that sage to the sacrifice of Janaka in Mithila and the role of Visvamitra in bringing about the marriages of the four royal brothers evidently appear to have followed in its natural course. We have shown in this chapter that more than a half portion of the Balakanda appears to be an interpolation.

In Chapter VII we have dealt at length with the remarkable aspects of the characters of the hero and heroine. The hero is a supreme human being, possessing almost all the virtues and exceptional might and valour. The heroine is a combination of all femine virtues and qualities embodied in her. We have illustrated this by several quotations from the Ramayana. Their supremacy of character is surpassed by the purity of their life. Rama cared for the welfare of the people, regardless of any sacrifice to attain it.

He thought that his duty as a king was superior to that as an individual to any family-member. Though he fully believed in the chastity of Sita he abandoned her when his subjects blamed him for bringing her in his residence though she was forcibly abducted by Ravana and kept in his captivity. So he had to abandon her, but Sita, with her Himalayan moral height told him in her message to behave as lovingly to his subjects as towards his brothers. Afterwards she led the life of a recluse. In her special oath she preferred to disappear with the Mother Earth rather than to revert to the life of a householder which would have been a retrograde step.

We have shown in this chapter that the fire-ordeal by Sita appears to be a myth added to the original by an interpolator.

Chapter VIII is devoted by us to the delineation by the poet of the special features of the characters of six other members of Rama’s family, five of Ravana’s house and three from the Vanara clan. No two persons are similar. Valmiki’s genius has the rare capacity for perceiving the various shades and idiosyncrasies of human nature and presenting them in their true colours. The reader would derive great joy and find merit and mirth in his versatile presentations.

The Chapter IX shows that Valmiki, widely known as the Adikavi the first of ancient Sanskrit poets, justifies that epithet. His Ramayana is the standard of the epics in India. It has a very high place of honour in topmost rank of the epics in the world. an epic is known to be a highly poetic work of supreme hero or heroes, historic or fictitious, of might and morals and of educative value to the society. The series of heroic deeds must be extraordinary and also of a thrilling nature of which we have ample evidence in the fights and wars in the Third and Sixth Books of this epic. The language should be elegant as also simple to appreciate. Valmiki composed his epic for the common people with an eye to elevate their morals, culture and therefore in Sanskrit understood and spoken by the public of his time. His language is simple, easy, elegant and dignified as well. It goes straight to every one’s heart, captures and ennobles it.

He is also a poet of Nature and portrays her beauties, some of which are perceived by the eye of a blessed one. We have given some specimens and have also cited some instances of his charming poetry. To these we have added his appropriate similes, masterly metaphors and astounding flights of imagination and many other beauties.

Chapter X. The only unbecoming instance in the whole spotless career of Rama, the slaying of Valin in ambush, clearly establishes that the Ramayana is a historic fact. Some scholars including Dr. Jacobi believe that the second part of the epic, which is full of fantastic and super natural legends such as that of Valin in which the opponent is killed in a deceitful manner, had to be so represented as that legend was at that time known to all. If it were a legend and the poet wanted to adopt it, he could have said that Rama killed Valin in a straightforward fight. If it were a legend and known to all, how could the people tolerate the substitution of Rama in the place of the original killer? The killer in the legend must have been someone other than Rama. But the killing of Valin by Rama being a fact the poet rightly said that Valin’s harsh criticism, when he was hit by Rama, was just. As Valin was a sinner and a criminal he deserved punishment; but the sinner and criminal also required notice. Possibly Rama avoided great bloodshed by notice. He made some amends by crowning Angada as a yuvaraja and brought about a union and amity between the two factions.

Quite recently in 1982 the Archaeological Department of India concluded the excavations at the important places in the Ramayana, viz., Ayodhya, Nandigrama, Srngaverapura and the place of Bharadvaja’s asrama under the supervision of Prof. Lal. The learned scholar says that the relics found in all these places are quite similar and related to each other; they belong to the 7th century B.C. He further adds that they indicate that the Ramayana, inspite of the poetic flourish, is a historic fact.

These incidents and the other evidence pointed out by us in this chapter lead to the conclusion that the Ramayana seems to be a great historic event.

Chapter XI deals with social and XII with the political conditions in the age of the Ramayana. In general the people in those days seem to be more liberal in their attitude towards the lower strata of the society than those in later times. They were well advanced in culture and civilization. But men were extremely strict and unkind in their attitude towards women who were abducted even by brute force by atrocious villains.

As regards the political conditions it may be stated that there were several kingdoms, many small and some relatively big. Dasaratha, a powerful and influential king, had some vassals. But there seem to be no empires in those days. Even Ravana was ruling in Lanka only. His colony in Janasthana was a mere outpost for carrying on predatory excursions elsewhere.

Dasaratha had a consultative parisad consisting of vassals, leaders of guilds and prominent citizens both urban and rural. It was called on important occasions and their advice, though not binding, was unusually respected. He had eight regular ministers and some counsellors as well. Ravana also had some ministers, but he was a whimsical autocrat and would consult them when he liked but with restrictions as he willed. Sugriva had some counsellors whose advice was usually welcomed by him.

To our knowledge there is no other instance of a highly poetic work of one nation being regarded as their own by several other nations. One country (Champa in modern Viet Nama) raised a temple to Valmiki and kept there a copy of his epic, and made permanent arrangements to read and elucidate it daily to the audience. Another nation (Indonesia) sculptured that story on the walls of temples in a series of great events in it. A third country (Siam) pictured the whole Ramayana-story on 176 panels in glittering colours in the vast verandas of the Emerald Temple, which is an amazing attraction to the tourists. The story of the epic is presented in puppet-shows and dance-dramas in Indonesia, Malaya, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and elsewhere and is attended by spectators with enthusiasm which is unabated for several centuries. Some countries like Indonesia and Siam have given the name of Rama’s capital Ayodhya to their capitals with some phonetic changes. The kings of Siam have assumed the name of Rama and style themselves as Rama I, II, and so on. The school-texts include the stories from the Ramayana. The Ramayana International Conference was mooted by Indonesia and its first sitting was held in Jogjakarta in 1971 and the second in New Delhi in 1972. It has developed into a regular International Ramayana Seminar in which scholars from various countries and also from Europe read their studied papers concerning the Ramayana. And why this all?- because the Ramayana is really a very lovely world-class epic of beautiful poetry, constant struggle between the good and evil, of thrilling fights and the final victory of the good over evil. But that is not without a terrible strain and great sacrifice by the hero. The Ramayana is the moral personified and high culture witnessed in the actual practice of the worthies, It has cut across the race, religion, clime and time. This would be seen at a glance over Chapter XIII.

Well might Valmiki say from the heaven by witnessing this: veni, vidi, visi. ‘I came, I saw, I conquered (the hearts of the people).’

I have to express my high indebtedness to all the scholars referred to in this book irrespective of the consideration whether I agree or disagree with them. They were in honest search for the truth and wrote to the best of their judgement. I heartily thank them all.

Dr. H. Jacobi, the famous author of Das Ramayana, is a reputed pioneer among great Sanskrit scholars. I am highly indebted to him. I have referred to his views on several occasions, though I had to differ from him on some issues where I have stated my reasons for them. I have referred to the findings of facts, and discussed the views of several foreign and Indian scholars and authors and mentioned them in the places concerned. I am greatly obliged to them all and express my sincere thanks to them. Among Indian scholars I am extremely indebted to Lokamanya B.G. Tilak. In his Orion and the Arctic Home in the Vedas he has cited and discussed the Vedic, Brahmana and other passages, from which the time for the observations made therein could reasonably be ascertained. From these authentic observations in that literature itself he has given the probable dates for the different stages of the Vedic and other literature which appear to be largely reasonable and enable us to determine the time of the Ramayana as well.

I am greatly indebted to Dr. V. Raghavan, the author of Ramayana in Greater India. He travelled through the S. E. Asian countries, saw the historic places of sculptures, paintings and various institutions in connection with the spread of this epic. He has recorded his impressions with first hand information. Without the help of his book, and that of the studied papers of various learned scholars read in the International Ramayana Saminars of 1971 and 1981, I would not have been able to write the chapter to my satisfaction. I express my thanks to Dr. Raghavan and these scholars very sincerely.

I have no adequate words to express my heart-felt gratitude to Prof. R. N. Dandekar, the Honorary Secretary of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune. It is he who encouraged me to write this book and assured that the Institute would publish it. He gave me invaluable instructions during the period of writing and obliged me by writing the Foreword to this book. I am very deeply indebted to him for his kind assistance to me. Without the kind and very valuable help and guidance of Dr. G. V. Devasthali, I would not have been able to write the Chapter III, He explained to me the way in which Panini, the great grammarian composed his sutras, prepared his various ganas and thus enabled me to find out the personalities and places not hitherto found out by others. He revised my Chapter III, and made some important suggestions which were carried out by me. I have no words to express adequately my gratitude to him.

Dr. P. D. Navathe obliged me by going through this book and correcting the slips that had remained there. He has taken all care to hand over the manuscript without any lapses to the press. Shri V. L. Manjul always helped me by supplying any reference-book that I needed. He and Dr. G.B. Palsule helped me in finding out some quotations needed by me. Dr. V. G. Rahurkar went through some chapters of the book. I thank all these scholars very sincerely.

Lastly my thanks are due to Shri V. M. Kolekar, a very able retired teacher, who went through the first two chapters and corrected some slips and minor omissions. Shri N. V. Joshi, retired Superintendant of Tilak High School, Karad and recipient of Prize and Distinction from the Government of India carefully went through the last ten chapters. I sincerely thank both these friends of mine.




  Foreword iii-vi
  Preface v-xiii
Chapter I Maharsi Valmiki 1-35
Chapter II Ramayana and other Sanskrit Literature 36-71
Chapter III The Ramayana and the Astadhyayi of Panini 72-96
Chapter IV The Ramayana and the Buddhistic Jatakas 97-156
Chapter V The Ramayana and the Jain Texts 157-189
Chapter VI The Old Ayodhyakanda 190-213
Chapter VII The Hero and the Heroine of the Ramayana 214-250
Chapter VIII Other Characters in the Ramayana 251-288
Chapter IX Valmiki, the Epic Poet 289-326
Chapter X The Ramayana, a Historic Event 327-341
Chapter XI The Social Conditions in the Time of Ramayana 342-361
Chapter XII Political Conditions in the Time of the Ramayana 362-372
Chapter XIII The Ramayana Outside India 373-394
  Bibliography 395-396


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