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Saturday, September 11, 2021

On the Ramayana

There are two great dynasties: the Surya Vamsha (solar dynasty) and the Chandra Vamsha (moon dynasty). The Ramayana is the story of Rama, the descendant of Ikshvaku, the first king of the Surya Vamsha. Ikshvaku and his descendants ruled over the Kingdom of Kosala, which was located in North India and had its capital in two cities, Ayodhya and Shravasti. Rama had two sons, Lava and Kusha. After Rama, Lava ruled over South Kosala, whose capital was located at Shravasti, and Kusha ruled over North Kosala, whose capital was located at Kushavati. Lava founded the city of Lavapuri, today’s Lahore. 

It is impossible to date the Ramayana. By using the information on star positions and eclipses that are mentioned in the Ramayana, researchers have come up with widely varying dates for Rama’s birth, ranging between 7323 BC and 1331 BC. In his 1991 article, AK Ramanujan asserted that there were 300 versions of the Ramayana. But it is not right to call these stories different versions, since they are a different retelling of the same story. Over several centuries, most local languages in India have developed their own retelling of the Ramayana. The religious and philosophical movements (primarily Buddhism and Jainism) have developed their own retelling. There are modified versions of Ramayana available in the neighboring countries: China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Iran. 

The Sanskrit version of the Valmiki Ramayana is regarded as the authoritative text by the modern scholars. Between 1951 and 1975, the Oriental Institute of Baroda developed a Critical Edition of the Valmiki Ramayana after consulting about 2000 ancient manuscripts. The text contains 24,000 shlokas (verses) which are distributed across seven Kandas (parts): Bala Kanda (Book on Youth), Ayodhya Kanda (Book on Ayodhya), Aranya Kanda (Book of the Forest), Kishkindha Kanda (Book of Kishkindha), Sundara Kanda (Book of Beauty), Yuddha Kanda (Book on the War), and Uttara Kanda (Book on the Sequel). 

The Mahabharata, which is the story of the Chandra Vamsha, includes a lengthy presentation of the story of the Ramayana in its Ramopakhyana section. In this version, when Yudhishthira was in exile in the forest, he asked if anyone had suffered the kind of fate that he had, and then he is told the moralizing story of Rama and Sita. Since there is reference to the Ramayana in the Mahabharata, it can be surmised that that the Ramayana is an earlier composition. The incidents described in the Ramayana happened in the Treta Yuga (age), while the incidents of the Mahabharata happened in the Dvapara Yuga. In the Puranas, Rama is the seventh avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu, while Krishna is the eighth. 

The action in Ramayana happens along India’s North-South axis, while the action in the Mahabharata happens on the East-West axis.

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