Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rama - History behind the Legend



Aum Namah Raghukul-shiromani Kaushalya-nandan Dashrath-putra Shri Raam
{I bow to Lord Rama, The Son-of Dashrath, Born-of-Kaushalya, Scion-of-the-Raghu clan}




Since the auspicious home-coming of Shri Raam (Deepawali) is nigh, I thought of writing a post on my favorite Lord. As recognized by the Supreme Court of India, the existence of Shri Raam can not be decided only by historical or scientific evidence, it is a matter of faith to millions of people.

Yet, it is my effort in this post to analyze the historical and literary evidence pertaining to Lord Raam just as we did in the post on Lord Krishna {Krishna - The Historical Enigma}.


The primary source of life and journey of Shri Raam is the epic Ramayana composed by Maharishi Valmiki. The learned sage wanted to write an epic that would serve as an inspiration for generations to come, and highlight the ideals of human behavior in various roles assigned by the society. 

Devarishi Narad, the spiritual mendicant of the Heavens, suggested to him to write about the life and times of Shri Raam, the doyen of the Suryavanshi clan and the most beneficient ruler the land had ever seen. 

This acknowledgement is mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayan itself and is our first suggestion that the story was based on an actual historical figure. Ramayan itself declares that it belongs to the genre of Itihasa (History) and the only other two sacred books in that genre are the Mahabharat and the Harivamsha.




Other Literary Evidence for Rama

Besides Valmiki Ramayan (4th century BCE), many other scriptures also attest to Shri Raam's existence. Vishnu Puraan declares Rama as Lord Vishnu's seventh incarnation, and the Bhagavat Puraan, recounts the story of Lord Rama in the 9th Skanda and counts him amongst the 24 major incarnations of the Vishnu Tattva. 



The Epic Battle between Forces of Good and Evil
 {Image courtesy - Grant Morrison's 18 Days}


Mahabharat also mentions the story of Rama in the Aranyak Parva, Dron Parva and the Raam-opakhyan where its is narrated to the eldest Pandav, Yuddhishthir. Shri Raam Avatar also finds place in the Harivansh and the Agni PuraanNot only these scriptures from Hindu literature, but Buddhist and Jain texts also record the story of Rama and mention it in their own respective styles:

In Buddhism, Ramayan is present in the form of Dasarath Jatak, Dasrath Kathanak and Anamak Jatak, the first of which was composed in the 2nd century BCE. This version talks of Rama and Sita as siblings (which is a common symbolic imagery in early Buddhist literature to denote purity of a dynasty).

In Jain literature, Ramayan exists as the Padma Charita, Charitra Puran, Padmachariyam etc. where, Rama, Lakshman and Ravan represent the Baladev, Vasudev and Prati-vasudev concepts of Jain mythology respectively. Keepin with the Jain tradition of non-violence, it is Lakshman who kills Ravan and due to the use of violence, both go to hell while Lord Rama (known as Padma) goes back to heaven.

All these unrelated sources chronicling the life of Rama can not be false or fake.. There has to be SOME reason that ALL these diverse traditions decided to write about Shri Raam and share His life story! However, even with all this literary evidence, we do not have much archaeologically to help us  in our endeavor like we did for Krishna in the post {Krishna - The Historical Enigma}, and the reason for that will be clear soon enough!

To illustrate my point, I share the following excerpts declaring the time of arrival of the 7th Avatar of lord Vishnu on our Planet:


Treta yuge chaturvinshe ravane tapseh shakshyat |
Ram dashrtathi prapiye sagane shakyamiyeewan ||  
[Vayu Puraan 70.88]
 
Chaturvinshe yuge chapi vishwamitra pure sare |
Loke ram iti khyate tejsah bhaskaropam ||  
[Harivansh 22.104]

Chaturvinshe yuge vats tretayaam raghuvanshaje |
Ramo naam bhavishyami chaturvhayu sanatane || 
[Brahmand Puraan 2.2.36.30]

On the basis of the given references it can be inferred that Shri Raam lived in the 24th Treta Yug.  The Mahabharat further elaborates the exact timeline to the juncture of the Treta and the Dvapar Yugs:

Sandho tu samanupraptre tretayaam dwaparisya cha |
Ramo daasrathirbhutva bhavishami jagatpati ||   
[Mahabharat 348.19]


Now this is ground-breaking information people and I will tell you why! 

We are currently in the Kaliyuga of the 28th YUGA CYCLE of the 51 st Day of Brahma. Hence Lord Rama was born not just Two Yugs ago but TWO YUGS plus THREE CHATUR-YUGS before present!!

THIS is why digging for archaeological data to corroborate the existence of Shri Raam would be futile. There is no way we could find any man-made artifacts after millenia as the scriptures put Shri Raam's period to be 18 million years ago! Even if we consider this duration to be in Deva Years, it comes to more than 40,000 years. {For relation between Deva and Human Years, check the page Kalchakra of this blog}

For the same reason, 7323 BCE or 5114 BCE as the birth years of Shri Raam can not be correct. Even though the dates were arrived at through a thorough analysis of Lord Rama's birth charts and have a very sound basis but based on what scriptures say, we have to make a correction in them. 

These analyses done by Prof. Vartak and Pushkar Bhatnagar show that at a certain point in time, the planetary configuration mentioned at the time of Lord Rama's birth DID indeed exist and thus, the numerous astrological references in the Ramayan are not imaginary but refer to ACTUAL points in time.



Alignment of Stars at the time of Lord Rama's birth



A solution to the apparent mismatch of dates can be found if we realize that because of a phenomenon known as the 'Precession of Equinoxes', stars as visualized from Earth, regain the same positions every 26,000 years! Hence, this particular permutation of stars could belong to 5114 BCE + 26,000 or 26,000 years before that or the similar period before that or the one before and so on and so forth.. 

What is amazing is that even today the places related to Lord Rama, the stories, the Geographical co-ordinates of the cities mentioned etc. are still remembered in the Hindu tradition! Therefore, what we can still do is track and analyze this GEOGRAPHICAL evidence in the literary masterpiece of Ramayan and find out if they help us in our cause.




Ramayan - The Adi-kavya 

Numerous versions of Ramayan exist throughout the length and the breadth of the country and even outside its boundaries but the oldest of these is the Valmiki Ramayan and for our analysis, we will stick to the original as it is the most ancient and accurate one.

Let me begin with a very interesting anachronism mentioned in this version of the Ramayan. Sundar Kanda [4.27.12] states that Hanuman, on entering Lanka, sees FOUR-TUSKED elephants guarding the palaces of Ravan. These elephants are tall and imposing and have been trained to protect Lanka from invaders. A similar account is given by Trijata, the ogress guarding Sita ji in Chapter 27  of the same Kanda when she dreams of Lord Rama coming to Sita's rescue riding an elephant high as a hill and bearing four-tusks.

So what is so special about these accounts?? Well, fossil remains show that there were many steps in the evolution of the 'Modern Elephant' and there DID exist four-tusked ancestors of elephants in various shapes and sizes such as Trilophodon, Tetralophodon, Gomphotherium etc that survived from roughly 20 million years ago to 4 million years before present

How in the world could Rishi Valmiki have known about the four-tusked ancestors of the modern elephant unless he had seen them himself or was told about them by Narad???


Four-tusked elephants mentioned in Ramayan lived millions of years ago!



This apparent anachronism, though not rock-solid evidence,  is yet another point that puts us in a time frame closer to what the scriptures say. Another such account comes from the Yuddha Kaand of Ramayan [Verse 4.114] that mentions the moat around Lankapuri to be teeming with crocodiles, Makars, whales and Timingilas.

This last mentioned animal's name literary means - Whale-gulper which means this particular aquatic being was big enough to gulp down even large whales. Is such an animal even possible?? You would be surprised to know that the answer is yes! A giant shark known as the Megalodon did exist on the planet 16 to 2.6 million years ago quite close to our envisioned time period.



Timingila/Megalodon mentioned in the Ramayan


Let us now see what geographical evidence we can glean out of the masterpiece of Valmiki Ramayan that forms the foundation of cultural traditions right from India to the Far East and check whether the Ramayan contains accurate information or describes a make-believe land.



Geographical Evidence from Valmiki Ramayan

Ramayan (Travels of Rama) itself indicates a Geographical journey. The story begins in Ayodhya (The-Unconquerable-City), the center of power for the ruling Suryavanshi/Solar Dynasty kings.

Shri Raam's mother Kaushalya was from the kingdom called Koshala, which corresponds to the state of Chattisgarh of today. Sumitra was from Magadh (Bihar) while Kaikeyi was from above Gandhar, the kingdom called Kaikeya which is today's Waziristan. 

The journey of Lord Rama to recover Sita ji covers the length and breadth of the country and Valmiki Ramayan is extremely correct Geographically.



Major Kingdoms of the sub-continent in Ramayan Times



The authenticity of Geography right from Gandhar to Sri Lanka can not be the result of imagination! 

Before being judgmental, we should remember that this was in a time when the modern means of transport/communication/internet etc. were not available. It has to be based on actual witnessing of these places by either the author or the one narrating the story to him, who in this case was Devarishi Narad.



Sites within India

Let us begin with Shri Raam's birthplace Ayodhya which although in dispute because of the political battle centered around it, can still yield a lot of information. 

To begin with, we have to answer the million dollar question - did an ancient temple exist at the disputed site in Ayodhya? Indeed, before the demolition of Babri Masjid, there had been excavations around the temple precinct which gave indications of not one but many older temple foundations existing there.

The Imperial Gazetteer of Faizabad (1881) confirms the construction of three Moghul mosques at Ayodhya on the site of three celebrated shrines: Janmasthan, Swargadwar and Treta-ka-Thakur. Archaeological Survey of India tells us that Mir Khan (on Babar's orders) built the mosque at Janmasthan using many of its columns. The other two mosques were built later by Aurangzeb who was one step ahead of Babar in his zealotry. 

From 1975 to 1980, the Archaeological Survey of India had under the guidance of Prof. B.B. Lal, unearthed (literally) as many as 20 black stone pillars, 16 of which formed the base of the 'Janmasthan Masjid' as it was called colloquially even then. The pillars were much bigger in size than those of the mosque and clearly belonged to a much more grand structure.



Check out the man on the left as reference for the size of the pillars


On further stratigraphic and other evidence, Prof. Lal also found a door-jamb carved with Hindu icons and decorative motifs of yakshas, yakshis, kirtimukhas, purnaghattas, double lotus flowers etc.

Excavation was resumed on July 2, 1992 by S.P. Gupta, Y.D. Sharma, K.M. Srivastava and other senior archaeologists barely six months before the demolition. Prof. Lal's southern trenches had missed a huge pit with 40 and odd sculptures just by 10 to 12 feet discovered by the team even though he DID get the pillar bases which others did not get later.



Excavations at Ram Janmabhoomi Sthal



The team found artifacts ranging from the 1st through the 12th century CE! These findings included religious sculpture, terracotta images from the Kushan period (100-300 CE) and a statue of Lord Vishnu. They concluded that these and other fragments such as the amakalas, or the cogged-wheel crown of the spire belonged to a temple of the North Indian Nagara style of Temple architecture (900-1200 CE).

The most important finding is what is known as the Hari-Vishnu Inscription written in 12th century CE Devanagari script. Line 15 of this inscription clearly tells us that -

A beautiful temple of Vishnu-Hari, was built with heaps of stones and beautified with a golden spire unparalleled by any other temple built by earlier kings... This wonderful temple was built in the temple-city of Ayodhya situated in Saketamandala

Line 19 describes god Vishnu as destroying king Bali and the ten headed Dashanan, i.e., Ravan.



 Hari-Vishnu Inscription from Babri Masjid excavation


Archaeology records at least two destructions: the FIRST in the 12th-13th century; the SECOND in the 16th. This agrees well with history and tradition that temple destructions followed the Ghori invasions (after 1192 AD) and again in 1528 by Babar who replaced temples at major Hindu pilgrimage sites with mosques.

Moving on, Sita ji was discovered by Janak in Mithila which now lies in Nepal. It forms a region shared by both India and Nepal and gives birth to the language known as Maithili. The place where the Goddess was found by Raja Janak in a furrow is known as Sitamarhi, and is still revered along with the nearby pond called the Janaki kund

After their wedding, Shri Raam and Sita ji left for Ayodhya via Lumbini where we have an Ashoka Pillar from 249 BCE, with an inscription referring to the visits by both Rama and Buddha to Lumbini. 

When they were exiled, Lord Rama, Lakshman and Sita went to Shringverpur in Uttar Pradesh where they crossed the River Ganga. They lived on the Chitrakut hill where Bharat met and pleaded for their return. Thereafter, the three wandered through Dandakaranya in Central India, described as a land of Rakshasas and tribals. 



The Journey of Lord Rama



After spending some time there, they reached Nashik, near river Godavari, and the region throbs with sites related to the three Ayodhya-vasis. There is the place where they built their cottage known as Tapovan; Ramkund where Rama and Sita used to bathe, Lakshmankund, for the younger brother's bathing area, and several other caves associated with their lives in the forest.

Shri Raam, Lakshman and Sita ji inTapovan


The three then moved to Panchavati, near Nashik in Maharashtra, from where Ravan, with the help of his uncle Mareech, was successful in abducting Sita ji. On the way to Lanka from Panchavati, Ravan was attacked by Jatayu but died a martyr's death. The place where this happened is in Andhra Pradesh and has a beautiful temple dedicated to Shiva and Jatayu's sacrifice is recorded in the name of the place - Lepakshi which in Telugu means 'Rise, bird' referring to his soul leaving the body when he breathed his last in the lap of Shri Raam.



Me at Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh


Sita ji dropped her valuables all along the way that were gathered by the Vanars below and Shri Raam and Lakshman found those when they reached Kishkindha, near modern Hampi, where they first met Hanuman and then Sugriv, the exiled King of the Vanars. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Sugriv is described to have lived at Mount Rishyamukha on the banks of river Pampa (Tungabhadra). Anjanadri, near Hospet, is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman (Anjaneya).


Kishkindha, modern Hampi


The Vanar army led by Shri Raam, Sugreev, and Jambvant then reached Rameshwaram, where they built a bridge to Lanka from Dhanushkodi on the Rameshwaram Island to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. While parts of the RAMA-SETU are still visible, NASA had in the early part of this millenium photographed an underwater man-made bridge of shoals in the Palk Straits, connecting India to Lanka.



Shri Rama Setu connecting Shri Lanka to the Indian mainland 



The existence of Rama Setu had already been confirmed by several foreign travelers including the Venetian traveller Marco Polo (1254-1324), and British cartographers who prepared maps of the area in 1747, 1788 and 1804. The then Manual of the Administration of Madras Presidency mentions both the names Adam’s Bridge and Rama Setu. It also says that the Setu was used for pedestrian traffic between India and Sri Lanka right until 1480 when a major cyclone destroyed it!!



The Bridge of Rama



Accurate dating of this bridge can help us in finding an answer but since different studies have come up with different dates, I prefer not to mention them here. Let us now shift our focus to Lanka and try to find out whether there is any geographical location matching with the descriptions in Valmiki Ramayan.




Sites in Sri Lanka

Once Ravan had captured Sita ji, he brought her to the place today known as Weragantota in Lanka close to Mahiyangana town; and surprise surprise the meaning of this name in the Sinhalese language is a 'landing place for aircrafts'!!

According to the depiction of Pushpak Viman (which Ravan had snatched from his half-brother Kuber), it resembled a huge peacock. In Sinhala it is called the Dhandu Monara (flying peacock) and it is believed that Ravan had an aircraft repair center at Gurulupotha where Sita ji was first brought and quite fittingly, the name means "parts of birds".  Right next to it is the Sita Kottuwa jungle in which once stood the city of Lankapura.


Ramayan sites in Sri Lanka


Ashok Vatika is the garden where Ravan is supposed to have held Sita ji captive and this is in the area of Sita Eliya, close to the popular hill station Nuwara Eliya. The Sita Pokuna is a barren area atop the Hakgala Rock Jungle where Sita ji was kept captive and the Sita Amman Kovil (Temple) is located here and I was fortunate enough to have paid it a visit last year :o)


 The Sita Amman Temple near Nuwara Eliya


About 50 Km from here is the Divrumpola Temple which is thought to be the place where Sita ji performed her ‘Agni Pariksha’. the name means 'a place for making a vow' and is seen inscribed in the moonstone guarding the Temple.

The summit of the mountain next to the Frotoft Tea Estate in Pussallawa is the place where Hanuman is believed to have first set his foot on Lanka! This mountain known as Pawala Malai stands between Ravan’s capital city and the Ashok Vatika. 

The Sita tear pond is found en route by the chariot route, and is believed to have been formed by the tears of Sita devi. The forest is also colored with the famed Sita Flowers which are endemic to this area. The peculiarity of these flowers is the configuration of the petal’s, stamen and pistils, which resemble a human figure carrying a bow, and is said to represent Lord Rama.


Sita flowers



Ella, a small mountain near Bandarawela, boasts of three locations linked to the Ramayan where, local legend dictates, Ravana hid Sita. First there is the Ravana Ella Cave situated in the massive Ella Rock. Then there is Ravana Ella Falls and a nearby pool bored out of the rock by the gushing waters. The tunnels in the Ravan cave believed to have served as a quick means of transport through the hills and also as secret passages.


Ravana Falls in Lanka

The Kelani River is mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayan and Vibhishan’s palace was said to be on the banks of this river. Vibhishan is still considered one of the four guardian deities of Sri Lanka, and temples for Vibishan are found throughout Sri Lanka unlike that of Ravan.

There are many more spots connected to the Legend of Shri Raam and a complete list can be found at the following link - {Ramayana_sites_in_sri_lanka}.


Ravan, the Lord of Lanka, a mighty warrior, a learned pandit, the master of Three Worlds, the posessor of Amrit, was ultimately defeated by the hands of Shri Raam because in his hubris, he desired what belonged to the Supreme Lord Vishnu Himself. 

He sacrificed the lives of his brother, his sons and his entire army just to pander to his ego. Despite all his knowledge and erudition, he was not able to get a grip on his desires and lust which  ultimately led to his downfall.


Lord Rama ready to unleash the final arrow on Ravan
 {Image courtesy - Ramayana 3392 A.D.}


Outside India, the millenia old story of Rama is still sung by people all over Asia. While traveling to different countries in this part of the world, I have come across versions that are even older than the regional ones in India!!



  • In China, collection of Jatak stories relating to various events of Ramayana, belonging to 251 AD were compiled by Kang Seng Hua based on the Buddhist texts mentioned earlier.
  • Kumardasa, who ruled Srilanka in 617 BCE wrote the text called ‘Janakiharan’ which is the oldest Sanskrit literature available in Sri lanka.  
  • Oldest written version of Ramayana, in Nepal is from 1075 BCE
  • Yama Zatdaw in Myanmar is considered the National epic and is a Burmese version of the story of Rama which has again given theme to dance and art forms including tapestries and puppets.(In fact my Burmese friends even stressed that it is the true history of their land).

The retelling of Ramayana in Myanmar's National Epic


  • Hikayat Seri Rama in Malaysia makes Dashrath the great-grandson of Adam, the first man! (which is not too far from the truth as both Dashrath and Manu, the First Man were from the Suryavanshi/Solar dynasty!),  
  • In the Phra Lak Phra Lam of Laos, Buddha is regarded as an incarnation of Rama (again not completely false as both are incarnations of Lord Vishnu!).
  • Reamker, is the most famous story of Khmer Literature of Cambodia and is the source of classical dance, theater, poetry and of course the famous sculptures of Angkor Wat. Various rock inscriptions belonging to about 700 CE are also found in the Khmer region of Cambodia.  
 
 Ramayana depictions from Angkor Wat, Cambodia


  • Maradia Lawana in the Phillipines is based on the Ramayana, 
  • Ramakavaca in Bali is a major source of moral and spiritual guidance for the island and forms the basic story line of Balinese traditional dance, 
  • Kakawin Ramayana in Java, Indonesia (9th century CE) is a mixture of Sanskrit and Kawi languages and is the basis of traditional Indonesian ballet and performances that are famous the world over.

Indonesian Ramayan Ballet


  • Ramakien in Thailand is again considered the National epic and adds an element of incest to the story by making Sita the daughter of Ravan and Mandodari who is thrown away in the Sea as she is prophesied to bring destruction to Ravan's Kingdom!! 
However, the abandoned baby Sita is found by Janak and grows up as his daughter only to be later abducted by Ravan and ultimately lead to the end of Ravan and his supremacy. 

Thai Khon Dance based on the Ramayana


Notably, the capital of the Thai kings was also referred to as Ayutthaya the Thai version of Ayodhya! Even the current king in Thailand has the title of Rama IX.. never imagined travel to these parts of the world would open my eyes to the richness of our own heritage. 

This Diwali, let us once again remember the story of the great personality that has influenced generations of humans and has survived over millions of years. I conclude this Deepawali post with the closing lines of the poetic rendition of Ramayan by  Romesh C. Dutta:

"Mark my love," Rama told Sita, on the Pushpak car,
As the home-bound couple, left behind the field of war,
"Watch Lanka's proud city below on the triple crest,
  Like peaks of Kailash mansions where Immortals rest.
 
Mark the gory fields, where Vanars in their might,
Fought the charging Rakshasas, in the gory fight,
Where Indrajit and Kumbha-karna, Ravan and chieftains,
Fell down in battle with their blood soaking the plains.


See my love, around the island how the oceans roar,
Hiding pearls among corals, strewing shells upon the shore,
And the causeway mighty, monument of our fame,
'Rama's Bridge' to distant ages shall our deeds proclaim!

See the rocky Kishkindha and her mountain-girdled town,
Where I slayed Vali, and placed Sugriv on the throne,
Watch the hill of Rishyamukh, where the Vanars first I met, 
Gave them word - Sugriv will be king ere the Sun had set.

Watch the sacred Pampa by whose wild and echoing shore,
  I poured lamentations, when I saw my wife no more,
And the woods of Janasthan where Jatayu fought and bled,
  From where the deceitful Ravan, with my trusting Sita fled.

Dost thou mark, doe-eyed Sita, the cottage on river bank,
Where in righteous penance, we laid down every plank,
And the mighty Godavari, with Saint Agastya's home of love,
Where holy men through holy duties sanctify the grove.

Dost thou, o'er the Dandak forest, view the Chitrakut hill.
Where the deathless bard Valmiki, lives in the crystal rill,
Thither came the righteous Bharat and my army came,
Longing to take us back to Suryavanshi's town of fame,

Dost thou, devoted Sita, see the Yamuna in her might,
Where in Bharadwaj's ashram passed we, a happy night,
And the broad and ruddy Ganga sweeping in regal pride,
Where forest-dweller Guha crossed us to the southern side.

Joy! joy! gentle Sita! Fair Ayodhya looms above,
Ancient seat of Raghuvansh, Our Hope and our Love,
Bow, bow, to bright Ayodhya! Dark did our exile roam,
 But tonight our weary toil ends, in Suryavansh's ancient home!"


Jai Shri Raam and Happy Diwali :o)
Let there be Light 

Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:
.

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