Friday, July 10, 2015

Mula-Ramayana: A Vaisnava Sanskrit Reader

Śrī-Śrī-Sītā-Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Hanumān, the presiding deities of the Palimaru Maṭha, Udupi, installed by Śrī Madhvācārya (1238-1317).

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          Once upon a time, while the sage Vālmīki was performing austerities on the bank of the river Tamasā, Nārada Muni appeared before him and narrated a summary of the Rāmāyaṇa, called the “Mūla-rāmāyaṇa” or the Original Rāmāyaṇa. This is the very first chapter in the Bāla-kāṇḍa of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and it consists of the main episodes of Śrī Rāma’s pastimes summarized in one hundred verses. The text  itself suggests that the meeting of the sages took place some time after Śrī Rāma had defeated Rāvaṇa and before He became the king of Ayodhyā. After hearing the Mūla-rāmāyaṇa, the sage Vālmīki composed thousands of Sanskrit verses to elaborately narrate all the incidents in this great epic. Accepted as avatars of Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva respectively, Śrī Rāma and Hanumān are some of the most beloved among the divinities in Hinduism and are worshipped in thousands of temples all over the world.  For many centuries, Vālmīki has been known as the ādi-kavi, the first poet, and his Rāmāyaṇa is considered by many as the most ancient poem, so famous in the Indian subcontinent that its story line is known in nearly every house. After the Mahābhārata, Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa is the second greatest Sanskrit epic and it has influenced the philosophy, religion and culture of India for centuries. It remarkably influenced the later Sanskrit poetry, drama and literature, and inspired many poets to write their own versions of the epic, among which some of the most notable are Kālidāsa’s Sanskrit mahākāvya “Raghu-vaṁśa,” written in the 5th century C.E., and Tulasīdāsa’s “Rāma-carita-mānasa,” written in Avadhī in the 16th century, which became so popular in North India.
          Although in its present form the whole Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa text contains approximately twenty four thousand verses, many scholars hold the view that a good number of these were interpolated. Some even consider the whole Uttara-kāṇḍa a later addition not written by Vālmīki. There are indeed substantial differences between the several recensions of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, and even the Mūla-rāmāyaṇa appears with a different number of verses in different editions. Despite these discrepancies, the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa maintains its status as a sacred scripture and is venerated by millions.
          As the “Mūla-rāmāyaṇa” has been used as a text book in innumerable colleges and schools all over India, I prepared this bilingual translation intending to fulfil the needs of a broad range of students. The grammatical analysis here is not meant to be exhaustive but to present the basic morphological classification of the vocabulary and some elements of the syntax. The word-for-word meaning was done with the help of three traditional Sanskrit commentaries: Govinda-rāja’s Rāmāyaṇa-bhūṣaṇa, Nāgojī Bhaṭṭa’s Rāmāyaṇa-tilaka and Śiva-sahāya’s Rāmāyaṇa-śiromaṇi. The prose order (anvaya) of the Sanskrit texts was done according to the way the verses were interpreted and translated, but readers should bear in mind that there are other possible variations. For didactic purposes, the English and Hindi translations are mostly literal. Yet, to avoid compromising the natural flow of the language, some grammatical permutations are also found. For instance, some sentences which in the original text are in the passive voice, so common in Sanskrit, were translated in the active voice in English. The names of the seven kāṇḍas (sections) are not in the original but were added here for easy reference.