Monday, December 03, 2007

Ramayana - 1/4

Note: I started to write a two-part post reviewing the rather excellent re-telling of Ramayana (in 6 books) by Ashok Banker. However, one thing led to another and I decided to make it a 2-3 part post on Ramayana that also covered the review of Ashok Bankar's books. In these posts I hope to write about some of the lesser known -> largely esoteric aspects of Ramayana.

The First Verse

maa nishhaada pratiSThaamtva magamaH shaashvatiiH samaaH
yat krauiNcha mithunaat eka mavadhiiH kaama mohitam

This is the first verse of Valmiki's Ramayana. A verse that triggered an epic (Rama-ayana means The Journey of Rama). Valmiki decided to start working a magnum opus poem. He hadn't decided on the topic yet. Since it was considered auspicious to do so, he decided to utter the first verse of his poem, after taking a bath on the banks of the river Sarayu. While there, he happened to see a pair of love birds. Exactly at the moment Valmiki was admiring the couple's intimacy, a hunter sent an arrow through the male bird, thereby killing it. This act of cruelty threw Valmiki into a fit of rage and he instantaneously uttered the above verse. This verse meant "ill-fated hunter, the reason for which, you killed the male bird of a couple, when they were in lust & passion, because of (the reason why he killed) it, you will get a perpetual reputation for ages to come". Valmiki, unknowingly, had uttered his first verse. His magnum opus now started with the inauspicious 'ill-fated' (amangalam) word. Neverthless, he decided to keep the verse as is and approached Narada for suggestions on a topic to write about. He asked Narada, son of Brahma, if there was a person who possessed all the 16 Kalyana Gunas ( basis of the Thamizh Asshirwadam "Pathinaarum Petru Peru Vazhvu" ). Narada replied in affirmative and told him of such a man. Valmiki than wrote the story of a mortal man called Rama and using the beauty of sankrit changed the first verse without changing them.

maa+niSaada pratiSTaam+tvam+agama shashavatii+samaa
yat krouincha+mithunaat eka mavadhiiH kaama+mohitam

Making the first verse the standard/customary summary common in ancient poems that began by invoking a godess' name; "Goddess Lakshmi's dwelling in which O'Vishnu you live, the reason for which, you killed the male (ravana) of the demon couple, who in lust & passion abducted one (Seetha), because of (the reason why he killed) it, you will get a perpetual reputation for ages to come"

Ithihasa Vs Puraana

There are ithihasas, which are different from that of Puranas. Ithihasa, which literally means 'this is how it happened', are written by contemporaries. That is; the author of the ithihasa is a contemporary of the characters narrated in the ithihasa and he is doing a ball-by-ball commentary on the events. The author recordeds it 'as he saw it happen'. Ramayana and Mahabharatha are Ithihasas in that regard. As both Krishna-dwaipayana (a.k.a Veda Vyasa The IVth) and Valmiki were contemporaries of Krishna and Rama. On the other hand, Puranas are written for posterity by people who had heard the story much later, after it was orally handed down from generation to generation.

Valmiki's Ramayana in the strict sense qualifies as an Ithihasa but has certain exceptions. Unlike Mahabharatha, it was not recorded live ball-by-ball. Valmiki was witness to some events pertaining to Rama but he also did not observe some events. Brahma appeared in Valmiki's conciousness and said (loosely translated as) "Write what you saw and write what you did not see; you will not write false". Valmiki, consulting many eye witnesses along the process, eventually finished his work. After finishing his Ramayana, as many poets in those days did, Valmiki recruited dramatists/singers to spread the work. Lava and Kusa were two stage dramatists, living in Valmiki's ashram, who were recruited to enact and recite Ramayana. In their travels spreading the poem, they happened to travel to the country of Kosala. Bharatha saw this play and invited the artists to perform in front of Rama. The aspect of Rama hearing his own story being narrated to him by his own two sons has several layers of beauty and some fantastic narrative sequences. Rama was extremely taken aback by the accuracy of the narration, especially when his assumption was that no one but him, his brother and his deposed wife were a witness to some of the events being narrated. So he calls upon the author of the drama and requests the author to finish the story. Rama, in great emotional distress, himself does not know how his own story would end. So Valmiki in effect scripts Rama's own future. So in a very ironic way, the Uttara Khanda was truly not in the initial cut of Valmiki's Ramayana. However, Ramayana could not have happened without the Uttara Khanda.

A Historical Perspective: The Ancestory of Rama.

I got engrossed in Vol I of the 6 volume texts on 'The History of India' by Majumdar & Pusalker. While writing the chapter 'The History from Earliest times' Dr. Pusalkar reconciles several version of the Epics and Puranas that exist and tries to put together a succession/ancestory list. While several variations exist in different versions of puranas and epics, the essense or kernel of the several versions is consistent and they all take great effort in preserving dynasty lists and genealogical lists. The list of kings, their successors, locations, star configurations and data pertaining to natural calamities are recorded in some detail. There are multiple levels of cross-verification and corroboration. Epics are recorded by different authors and are also narrated in the Puranas, which in turn are cross referenced in other puranas and vedic/literary works. The vedic, puranic and ithihasic tradition classifies epochs as Manvantras. Each Manvantra is headed by a King called Manu. Each era started by a Manu is ultimatley destroyed in deluge/flood/pralaya and a new Manu preserves mankind and enables it to continue. Seven Manus exist in history. Manu Vaivasvata (estimated by Dr. Pusalkar - who draws a little from Aryabhatta - at around 3102 - 3110 BC) is an important Manu and considered to be the Moses equivalant of the Hindu tradition. Prior to him were; Anandha -> Manu Syambhuva (a man who ruled all earth) -> Priyavrata (the first ever kshathriya) -> Uttanapada -> Dhruva -> Prachinagarbha -> Manu Chakshusha -> Vena (a bad tyrannical king) -> Prithu (the first consecrated king and source of word 'prithvi') -> (5 generations later) -> Manu Vaivasvata.

Manu Vaivasvata saved the world from a great flood (mainly documented in the Satapata Brahmana vedic text and corroborated by other Puranas). As per vedic literature, puranas and ithihasas; Matsya avatara happened during Manu Vaivasvata's time and the fish warned Manu of impending flood. This Manu is said to be the creator of the human race. Manu, apart from a gender-indeterminate daughter/son Ila, had nine sons; Ikshavaku, Nabhaga, Dhrishta, Saryati, Narishyanta, Pramsu, Nabhagodishta, Karusha and Prishadara. Ikshavaku set up camp in Ayodhya and his son founded the Solar dynasty. This dynasty originated by Ikshavaku led to the people mentioned in Ramayana. Manu's daughter Ila led to the formation of the Lunar dynasty (where the Yadavas hail from). The important lines in the Solar dynasty were Ayodhya, Videha, Vaisalas and Saryatas. The lineage of Rama is; Ikshavaku -> Vikukshi -> Parjanya/kakutstha -> (3 gens later) -> Yuvanvasa -> Sravastha ->(grandson) Kuvalvasa ->(8 gens later) Yuvanvasa II. If I skip the details regarding Yuvanvasa II's progeny and the near-erasure of kshathriya race by Parasurama, I would arrive at King Sagara -> Amsumant -> Bhagheeratha (who initiated Gangetic worship)-> Ambarisha -> Rituparna (of Nala Damayanti fame) -> Kalmashapada -> Asmaka -> Khatvanga (Dilpa II) -> and finally -> Raghu (of Raghu-vamsa fame) -> Aja -> Dasaratha (one who can ride a charriot in 10 directions). Dasaratha, contrary to popular opinion was not childless for a long time. He had several daughters (santha given in adoption to Lomapadha is notable among daughters) but he had no son. His search for a male successor led him to Putrakameshti Yagna. Rishiyasringa who performed the Yagna was Santha's husband and Dasaratha's own son-in-law. He earned Dasaratha's audience as a result of performing a successful Putrakameshti Yagna for his foster-father-in-law and Dasaratha's close friend Lomapadha.

So 65 generations (potentially 1100 - 1200 years) after Manu Vaivasvata came King Ramachandra. Ramachandra married Seetha, the daughter of a Videha King called Siradhvaja (who was the most popular king in the Janaka line of kings). Siradhvaja renamed Ramachandra as Ramabhadra at the marriage ceremony. Later Ramachandra was also called as simply Rama.

Solar Dynasty Post Rama:
Siradhvaja (Popularly known as King Janaka) was a descendant of the Videha dynasty established by Nimi (Ikshavaku's son). Siradhvaja was a philosopher, extremely religious and a pacifist. Parts of Brhadaranyaka Upanishad is culled from a huge argument by Yagnavalka in Siradhvaja's court. Seetha was also called Janaki and the generic term of the princess of Videha nation - Videhi applied to her. Rama had 2 children Lava and Kusa. Kusa suceeded Rama in Ayodhya and Lava ruled the northern province of Kosala with Sravsthi as capital. It should also be noted that Shatrugna established an empire with Mathura as the capital. The solar dynasty ends without much fanfare, quickly after Rama's time. Kusa marries a Naga princess and in his line of descendants is a person called Hiranyanabha Kausalya. Brihadbala is his descendant and is the last solar king after which Bharatha (of Maha Bharatha fame) takes over most of India. Brihadbala fights the Pandavas and is first conquered by Bhima and then by Karna. After being conquered and annexed by Karna, Brihadbala was reduced to fighting for the Kauravas in the Kurukshethra war. Brihadbala was killed by Abhimanyu during the Bharatha war.


1. U Ve. Velukudi Krishnan Upanyasam
2. The History & Culture Of Indian People - Majumdar & Pusalkar
3. Various Web related Sources


Praveen ( said...

Superb! That was enlightening. I was just about to begin reading Ancient Indian Historical Tradition by FE Pargiter. Have you read that?

Its so sad that I only started learning about our ancient history after coming out of the country.

Raghu Anant said...

fantastic write up. I really never knew so many things about ramayan. I have sent you a mail requesting you to write for our magazine, please respond.

p.s: i can't believe a fool criticised you for this.

Hawkeye said...


i develop very many trolls now and then. they sprout and die in time. ignore maadi.

Sowmya said...

The difference between Ithihasa and Purana was interesting.

I have a silly questions - If Rama was from the Surya Vamsham, why was he called Ramachandra?

And it is nice to know there was a tradition of re-naming the groom by the father-in-law, as opposed to re-naming the bride by the mother-in-law which was a tradition in my grandmother's generation.

Anu said...

Excellent post Hawkeye!

BTW, do you have Velukkudi's Upanyasam documented somewhere, or is it available on CD?

Rohan Venkat said...

Wow, that's very interesting, I love historical arcania and am just starting to get some desi portions of it, thanks to the wonders of this 'blogosphere'.

A question, as someone who grew up on Bedtime readings of Bala Ramayana, and later read RK Narayan's version and have just started Ashok's version, I'd like to know what you consider the definitive Valmiki version? (In a book form so that I can buy and read)

Plus, I'm going to have to get my hands on those History & Culture of Indian People books. Would you recommend 'em?

revathi said...

Thanks for the write up; it is really interesting.
I have a little doubt; The mahabharatha claims that Santha was Lomapada's daughter. From where did you get the information that she was Dasaratha's daughter but was adopted by his friend?

Jam said...

Hey there HawkEye,

First up let me tell you that HawkEye still remains one of my all time favorite TV characters. So, you got a whole lot of brownie points right there itself.

At the risk of drooling all over my sky blue Van Heusen shirt in office, let me confess that I have become a big fan of yours just 10 mins ago.

I find it hard to believe that I haven't come across your blog in the 4 odd years of blog hopping that I ve been doing on the web. Guess it's got something to do with new blogs coming up quicker than I can say "Palakkad Kashi Vishwanatha Iyer"

In any case, you've found yourself one more bloggie who'll keep following your thoughts (or at least the ones you document on the blog) for years to come.

Keep blogging.......Jam

Filarial said...

hey that was a brilliant post.. especially since it covers so much in so little! I have always wondered if biblical stories had its origins from our cultural influence.. bolstered by the fact that almost all of the old religious histories talk of a deluge and a Noah type of character is fascinating..

miss.J said...

can't wait for Part II!!!

and yea.. would also like to know the definitive valmiki version...

i'm embarassed by my lack of knowledge..

extremely interesting post!

Ram said...

fantastic enlightening post! I always pondered the link between Ramayana and the later in time Mahabharatha. Are these books orderable through Amazon? Could you give us the ISBN numbers? of course we'll still read the rest of the sequel of posts.

Arvind said...

Excellent. I'm actually thinking of ordering the 6 part series by Ashok Banker.Found this post on Amazon by the author himself.

Which edition did you read..Indian or American?

Anonymous said...

Very good writeup! Ashok Banker's style is different and makes an enjoyable read. I loved the characterization of Ravana especially.

This post of yours would have been perfect if not for the spelling mistakes - Vaivasvata Manu and Krishna Dwaipayana. Krishna for "dark complexioned" and Dwaipayana as in "born on a Dweepa". Couldnt help but notice them.
Waiting for the next parts!

Sarang said...

I have started to look at your blog recently. This one is pretty interesting, especially the lineage that you have written of the Solar dynasty. I think I shall try to get the refernces you have mentioned. A couple of observations:

1) "way, the Uttara Khand was": Any reason you have witten Khand Vs kAnDa? Just curious

2) I do not know of Valmiki's Ramayana mentioning anything about 'Putra kAmeSTi' yAgam. AFAIK it is aSwamedha. Can you cite which refernce you have used please. Thanks. My reference:
a) Valmiki's Ramayans: Gita Publishes (With Hindi trnaslation)


Anonymous said...

Good blog!

dude.. I can't believe that there is no RSS feed burner on your blog?? Or did I just miss it :-/?

if you don't have it YET, then krupaya can you add it...

Amit said...

very very nicely written! Great post. I will be following your blog now. Thanks to DesiPundit!

I am great fan of Banker's series as well.. and have already written a couple of posts on them..

Hari N Iyer said...

part 2 eppo ...

please seakaram !

i fwding this blog to all my family members ! Appa just got himself a email and checks emails after his vedam classes .. i am sure he will be delighted to read this series .

Hawkeye said...




I asked the same question. maybe kausalyaa was chandra vamsa. i dont know the answer.

new names were common during upanayanam, marriage and sanyasa. it just does not stick.


velukudi is available in CD only. Kinchitkaram trust is his trust that sells these CDs. I also know that its a Not for profit org, so you can donate (his live upanyasams are free) as well as buy.


ill answer your question on the next post :-) but if you know to read hindi, Gita press release of ramayana is an ultimate one.

I only read volume I of history and culture its interesting.


that lomapadha was dasaratha's friend and Santha was his foster daughter was sort of well known (even as a grandma tale). its even found a place in the increasingly unreliable wikipedia. :-)


yohoo! on being a hawkeye fan. I am still obsessed with that character.

thanks for your kind comments. you are most welcome


i knew about anu after i saw ten commandments and the 'bible'. so i was quite surprised.

miss j,

i know gita press's hindi translation of valmiki ramayana is very good. i'll research this and tell you more.


thanks. the books arent orderable through amazon. the author has stopped it. you have to buy it from india.

ill answer the question in the sequel post :-)


thanks for your feedback. I dont know how i made the error. I wrote it in a hurry. i apologize. the errors have been corrected.


1. i have changed it to khanda. thanks for pointing it out.

2. My reference also incloude gita publishers and the web site you pointed. Putrakamesti Yagna is a well known aspect of ramayana. So I akm confused by your question. this is the yagna that Rishiyasringa performs and this results in some sweet dish that he distributes to kausalya, sumitra and kaikeyi.

ashwamedha is the yagna that happens in uttara khanda. its a vedic passage.


i think it has RSS feed. are you sure it does not have.


thanks will read your review.

hari and all,

work got very busy. weekend is filled up with standard issue desi pot luck party and some desi cultural event. hopefully will post II by sunday night.

Anonymous said...

romba boring...

Anu said...

Hawkeye, my parents are a part of Kinchitkaram. They have the CDs, but no way they'll give it to me. :( Let me find out if I can buy it somewhere. Thankoo.

Sarang said...

Thanks for the reply. I still need to check out the books myself again. From what I remember from my childhood the stories have always had the yagnA as 'putra-kAmeSTi'. Although, the following verse from bAla kAnda says it to be aSwamEdha:

chintayaanasya tasya evam buddhiH aasiin mahaatmanaH |
sutaartham vaajimedhena kim artham na yajaami aham || 1-8-2

mama laalasya maanasya sutaartham naasti vai sukham |
tadartham hayamedhena yakshhyaami iti matir mama || 1-8-8

This is when dasarathA discusses about his intention to perform the ritual Horse scrifice yagnA. Also, later in the kAnda comes this about Kausalya having to perform her duties as a part of the aSwamedhA:

kausalyaa tam hayam tatra paricarya sama.ntataH |
kR^ipaaNaiH vishashaasaH enam tribhiH paramayaa mudaa || 1-14-33

patatriNaa tadaa saardham susthitena ca cetasaa |
avasat rajaniim ekaam kausalyaa dharma kaamyayaa || 1-14-34

I haven't translated them or copied the translation due to alck of time for me right now. If you do need further discussions on this please e-mail me at

Hawkeye said...


although the yagnja is popular. i have heard of achidram, ashwamedham katakam as high level vedic mantras that people recite on ekadasi dwadasi days.

hemant said...

my email is
i looking for a book on Lors Rama
the name is something like Rama the last Ramases or Ferro(spare me for spelling)
i do not remember the name of the author.
The interesting part in the book is Lord Rama is traced back to Egypt. If anybody know the name of the book and Name othe author please email me the name. Also i would like to add that book in my collection. PLease let me have the source of this book thanks

Mahesh said...

Bless you! That is all I can say.. :-)

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Shreyansh Tewari said...

Love your blog, would appreciate if you can write in Hindi as well