Saturday, 16 May 2015

Ramarajya in Valmiki, Tulsidas and Krittibas: A Comparative Study

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya 

The concept of Ramarajya (literally, the kingdom of rama), the all-found-land, or the land of heart's desire, is first projected at the end of Book 6 (Lankakanda, Book of War) of the Valmiki Ramayana [critical edition (Varoda: Oriental Institute) canto 116 verses 84-90, vulgate (Delhi: Parimal Publications edition) 128.99-106]. The passage runs as follows:
While Rama was ruling the kingdom, there were no widows to lament, nor there was any danger from wild animals, nor any fear born of diseases. 99
The world was bereft of thieves and robberies. No one felt worthless nor did old people perform obsequies concerning youngsters. 100
Every creature felt pleased. Every one was intent on virtue. Turning their eyes towards Rāma alone, creatures did not kill one another. 101
While Rama was ruling the kingdom, people survived for thousands of years, with thousands of their progeny, all free of illness and grief. 102
While Rama ruled the kingdom, the talks of the people centered round Rama, Rama and Rama. The world became Rama's world. 103
The trees there were bearing flowers and fruits regularly, without any injury by pests and insects. The clouds were raining in time and the wind was delightful to the touch. 104
All [Brahmins (the priest-class), Kshatriyas (the warrior-class), Vaisyas (the class of merchants and agriculturists), and Sudras (the servant-class)] were performing their own duties, satisfied with their own work and bereft of any greed. While Rama was ruling, the people were intent on virtue and lived without telling lies. 105
All the people were endowed with excellent characteristics. All were engaged in virtue. Rama was engaged in the kingship thus for one thousand years. 106
One of these verses (103) is considered by scholars to be a later addition. Hence it has been omitted in the critical edition, which has seven instead of eight verses in this passage (canto 116 verses 84-90). Otherwise this description of Ramarajya is encountered in all versions (with some minor verbal variations) current both in North and South India, from Kashmir to Kerala. This concept basically reflects the general will of the common people: to live in peace and harmony, enjoy long life without disease and sorrow, etc. Only one verse speaks of the desire for status quo ante of all varnas (castes), but does not glorify the Brahmins. Nor is there any declaration that the varna system and the division of labour it implies has been ordained by God or the Vedas, although such an idea may very well be implicit in the idea itself.

Strangely enough, in his paraphrase of this passage of the Valmiki Ramayana, Goswami Tulsidas (c. 1532 - 1623) differs from Valmiki by introducing the Vedas when he speaks of the varna duties. His description of Ramarajya is more elaborate and more orthodox in terms of the social system of the ideal kingdom. He says:
Under the rule of Rama there was none who suffered from affliction of any kind – whether of the body, or proceeding from divine or supernatural agencies or that caused by another living being. All men loved one another: each followed one’s prescribed duty, conformably to the precepts of the Vedas. Dharma with its four pillars (viz., truth, purity–both external and internal, compassion and charity) reigned everywhere throughout the world; no one even dreamt of sin. Men and women alike were devoted to Sri Rama’s worship and all were qualified for final beatitude. There was no premature death nor suffering of any kind; everyone was comely and sound of body. No one was destitute, afflicted or miserable; no one was stupid or devoid of auspicious marks. All were unaffectedly good, pious and virtuous; all were clever and accomplished–both men and women. Everyone recognized the merits of others and was learned and wise; nay, everyone acknowledged the services and benefits received from others and there was no guileful prudence. (Ramcaritamanasa Uttarakanda 20.1-4)
Listen, O king of the birds, (continues Kakabhusundi,) during Sri Rama’s reign there was not a creature in this world, animate or inanimate, that was liable to any of the sufferings attributable to time, past conduct, personal temperament and character. (Ramcaritamanasa Uttarakanda 21. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (often reprinted), pp.995-96)
Tulsidas did not follow the Valmiki Ramayana in every detail. Instead of that he added much of his own to show what he expected from an ideal, happy life. One plus point in Tulsidas is the reference to both men and women. The latter is never separately mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana passage. Tulsidas gives concession to popular beliefs and superstitions, as evidenced in the mention of bodily marks. Out of such beiefs a pseudo-science called Samudrika was created in India. It delineated on which bodily mark signifies good or bad fortune. This version of Indian physiognomy is credited to a mythical sage called Samudra.

Why does Tuilsidas bring in the Vedas which is not mentioned or even hinted at in the Valmiki Ramayana passage concerning Ramarajya? The introduction of Veda was by no means a universal practice resorted to by all medieval poets who paraphrased the Ramayana in the Indian vernaculars. Krittibas Ojha (sixteenth, or more probably, seventeenth century), who wrote a smaller version of Ramayana in Bangla, composed only eight lines (four couplets) at the last section of the Lankakanda ( as it is there in the Valmiki Ramayana and unlike Tulsidas who introduced Ramarajya at the beginning of the Uttarakanda) to describe the happy state of affairs. Krittibas says that the monkeys who stayed in Ayodhya used to wear dhoti (like fashionable Bengali Babus dressed in style). He does not speak of either the varnas following their vocations or of the Veda which assigns each varna its own duties. On the other hand, he confined himself to the absence of envy and sorrow in Rama’s kingdom (Kolikata: Deb Sahitya Kutir (often reprinted), p.496). The very brief description of Ramarajya in the Krittibasi Ramayana, however, may be a later addition, for the passage seems to have been interpolated in a section describing the fate of the vimana or the celestial chariot with wings called Pushpaka).

In all probability Tulsidas was trying to improve upon Valmiki by injecting more piety in the description of the ideal kingdom than was shown by ‘the first poet’ (adikavi), as Asvaghosha (100 CE) called Valmiki in the Buddhacharita (1.43). Valmiki could be content with the members of each varna performing its assigned duties, without bothering to state who has assigned them, whether god himself or the Veda. In the Gita Krishna declares, ‘According to the classification of action and qualities (guna-karma-vibhaga) the four castes are created by me’ (4.13). The Rigveda, however, speaks of a Purusha having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, whose mouth is the Brahmana, of both his arms was the Rajanya (Kshatriya) made, whose thighs became the Vaisya and from his feet the Sudra was produced (10.90.1, 12). Tulsidas, a learned man, brought in the Veda in order to emphasize the sanctity of the varna system as it is supported by the Veda itself. The position of the Veda, which only the first three varnas were eligible to study, was above all man-made laws and hence more imposing than any other authority. Tulsidas, apart from his devotion to Rama, proved himself to be a Veda-abiding person who would like to impart his veneration for the Veda to his listeners/readers as well. Krittibas Ojha was no less devoted to Rama, but he did not consider it necessary to refer to the holiness of the varna system, let alone the dignity of the Veda, at least in the context of Ramarajya.

Alternatively, the difference between Tulsidas and Krittibas may lie in the difference between the two regions they lived. The village Phulia (district Nadia, now in the state of West Bengal, india), where Krittibas was born and brought up, was far away from any dominance of Vedic practice; cultivation of Veda and performance of Vedic rites were largely unknown in Bengal. On the other hand, Tulsidas lived in the heartland of Vedism. Bengal was long known to be a land ‘rejected by the Pandavas (Pandava-varjita),’ meaning thereby that the so-called Aryan influence was less in Bengal than in other parts of India. Unencumbered by both the paths of Karma (performance of Vedic rituals) and Jnana (Knowledge), Krittibas could think of Bhakti (devotion) alone and leave both the four-varna system and the Veda out of his consideration.

Acknowledgements: Sourav Basak, Amitava Bhattacharyya, and Sunish Kumar Deb. The usual disclaimers apply.

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.


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