The Ayodhya Canto of The Ramayana as told by Kamban

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About the Book:

There are uncounted versions of The Ramayana, one of the two great national epics of India. Every language of India has its own Ramayana. The three most famous versions, however, are the Sanskrit, attributed to Valmiki, the sixteenth-century Hindi version by Tulsidas, and the ninth-century Tamil classic by Kamban.

It is the Ayodhya canto of the Kamban version-the most dramatic part of the Ramayana, which is given in this volume.

About the Author:

This translation into English is the work of Sri Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, former Governor General of India, a leading writer in Tamil and English, and a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi.

From the Jacket:

Sahitya Akademi is the National Academy of Letters set up by the Government of India in 1954. It is an autonomous body whose policies are laid down by a General Council which consists of representatives of the various Indian languages, States and Universities. Its present President is Professor U. R. Anantha Murthy.

The Akademi's programme is directed to fostering and co-ordinating literary activities in the Indian languages, and to making good literature written in one Indian language available in translation to readers in other languages of the country.

The Akademi publications are mainly in Indian languages. Its publication programme in the English language is generally limited to supplying basic information about Indian writers and their works.

Preface:

Valmiki was the author of the original Sanskrit RAMAYANA. It is a book universally read with reverence throughout India and is at the root of Indian culture. Kamban wrote a beautiful long poem rendering this epic into Tamil song. Tulsidas has similarly rendered the epic into Hindi for the Hindi-speaking people in a book which is in the home of very Hindi-speaking family in India and read and sung with rapture. Both Kamban and Tulsidas have made some variations in the story so as to suit the manners and the feelings of delicacy of the people of their times: but the main story is as Valmiki related it.

This book is an English rendering of one of the cantos of the Kamban Ramayana. It was done by me at the instance of Sahitya Akademi, the Academy of Letters set up by the Government of India, as a part of their general programme of the publication of Indian classics. Kamban is among the greatest classic poets in Tamil. He lived in the ninth century after Christ. Tulsidas's famous Hindi Ramayana belongs to the sixteenth century.

The translation in this book is of the Ayodhya Kandam, which deals with the story of Rama's leaving Ayodhya for the forest and Bharata's suffering as a result of what his mother did. The Ayodhya Kandam is the most dramatic chapter in the Rama legend. According to the best critics of Tamil literature, it is also the finest part of Kamban's great classic.

This part of the Ramayana story is rich with emotion both in Valmiki and in Kamban. What can approach the exquisite pathos of the situation where the most innocent of men, Bharata, has become the motive for the most cruel and wicked deed ever recorded-the banishment of Rama, beloved of all, to the forests of Dandaka Bharata's meeting with his mother Kaikeyi, and the scene where the doubly-bereaved mother of Rama, Kausalya, receives Bharata at first with natural suspicion and a sense of distance and then seeing his utter innocence completely breaks down-these scenes are painted with unrivalled beauty by Kamban.

Bharata is Kamban's supreme ideal. Guha is his paragon of loyalty. Kamban closely follows Valmiki everywhere with great care and even in some places where he deviates with remarkable understanding and skill, the excerption truly proves the rule. But he lets himself go freely with Guha, round whom his great poetic imagination plays with wonderful effect. There must have been a popular long-standing tradition about Guha which Valmiki recognized and wove into his epic, but he did not deal with that character as fully as he had himself perhaps intended. The intention is quite obvious. Kamban has done full justice to and, as it were, fulfilled Valmiki's intention.

A contemporary Tamil poet sang thus on the day of Kamban's death:

Ah, has Kamban passed away this day!
Then from now even the verses I compose
Can reach the ears of the great!
The Lotus Goddess Lakshmi may now rejoice
The Goddess of Earth will now be glad:
But alas for the Muse of poetry
Whom now will be a widowed queen!

[Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and Earth, the Goddess of Agriculture, will rejoice because men will hereafter attend to trade and business, and peasants to their fields, and will not neglect them through listening to the entrancing poetry of Kamban.]