Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rama as the Ramayana describes Him- Alakallalalaadaga Part 2

Knowing the context of the Ramayana is essential to understanding Tyagaraja and thence, Indian culture and its place in world culture. In the Ramayana, Rama was described as the ideal man. The Ramayana begins with Valmiki, the poet, asking the celestial sage Narada who was the best of men. Narada replies that it was Rama and then details Rama's life to him. Rama was most just, virtuous, heroic, wise, strong and exceedingly handsome. Rama and his brothers were together, an incarnation of Vishnu, with Rama claiming half the divinity. 

Rama as depicted in the Ramayana: We concern ourselves with poetry a lot at this site. The Ramayana, called the "Adi Kavya" or the Original Poem, was the first work of poetry in Sanskrit and the oldest epic poetry extant today. The parallels with the first classical epic of the west, the Iliad, are obvious. The Ramayana which does seem to be the older, is much more complete as a work in plot and detail. It also contains far more science, history, ethics, philosophy and theology, as the poet does not merely chronicle, but also develops his subject. Such observations of course fall within such realm as we find when we torture comparison between the two works, as there are great differences too. In the Iliad, Helen eloped. Sita was abducted and remained the paragon of virtue as she spurned Ravana continuously. The Illiad chiefly celebrates valor. The Ramayana on the other hand is much more profound. It does not celebrate any one exploit or attributes. Instead, it celebrates the ideal of Man. In fact, it begins with the poet Valmiki musing about who was the ideal man, who was worthy of his poetic labors. And the omniscient sage Narada appears before him and describes Rama's many virtues. This was the ideal man.

Here are the verses from the Ramayana where Narada first introduces Rama to Valmiki. These verses describe Rama's attributes and virtues in full.

Valmiki asks:

ko nvasminsāmprataṁ loke guṇavānkaśca vīryavān |
dharmajñaśca kṛtajñaśca satyavākyo dṛḍhavrataḥ ||1.1.2||

cāritreṇa ca ko yuktaḥ sarvabhūteṣu ko hitaḥ |
vidvānkaḥ kaḥ samarthaśca kaścaikapriyadarśanaḥ ||1.1.3||

ātmavānko jitakrodho matimānko'nasūyakaḥ |
kasya bibhyati devāśca jātaroṣasya saṁyuge ||1.1.4||

"Who in this world now, is goodly, valorous, righteous, thankful and truthful and has fixity of purpose?
Who is of sound character and the benefactor of all beings? Who is wise and capable and whose kindness makes him a pleasant sight to all?
Who is assured, calm and radiant and has no envy? Whose wrath do even the gods fear in war?"

And Narada replies:

bahavo durlabhāścaiva ye tvayā kīrtitā guṇāḥ |
mune vakṣyāmyahaṁ buddhvā tairyuktaḥ śrūyatāṁ naraḥ ||1.1.7||

"Many are the virtues you speak of, O sage! Listen, as I describe to you a man of such qualities.
ikṣvākuvaṁśaprabhavo rāmo nāma janaiḥ śrutaḥ |
niyatātmā mahāvīryo dyutimāndhṛtimānvaśī ||
He arose in the line of Ikshvaaku and he is called Rama. He is disciplined and has great courage. He is radiant and resolute and also has temperance.

buddhimānnītimānvāṅgmī śrīmāñśatrunibarhaṇaḥ |
vipulāṁso mahābāhuḥ kambugrīvo mahāhanuḥ ||
Intelligent, just, articulate and auspicious, he is the queller of foes. He has broad shoulders, big arms, a conch like stout neck marked by three lines and high cheek bones.

mahorasko maheṣvāso gūḍhajatrurarindamaḥ |
ājānubāhuḥ suśirāḥ sulalāṭaḥ suvikramaḥ ||
Barrel-chested, a great archer and muscular, he destroys foes. He has long arms dipping to his knees, a well proportioned head and a  wide forehead and is quick of step.

samaḥ samavibhaktāṅgaḥ snigdhavarṇaḥ pratāpavān |
pīnavakṣā viśālākṣo lakṣmīvāñśubhalakṣaṇaḥ ||
Of good proportions and similar limbs, lustrous and valorous, stout chested, wide eyed and handsome,- such are his auspicious features. 

dharmajñaḥ satyasandhaśca prajānāṁ ca hite rataḥ |
yaśasvī jñānasampannaḥ śucirvaśyaḥ samādhimān ||
Discerning of righteousness, truthful, seized of his subjects' welfare, famous and learned, he is immaculate and focused.

rakṣitā jīvalokasya dharmasya parirakṣitā |
vedavedāṅgatattvajño dhanurvede ca niṣṭhitaḥ ||
He protects all beings and the world and is the guardian of righteousness. He is versed in the principles of the Veda and the Vedic auxiliaries and in science of archery.

sarvaśāstrārthatattvajño smṛtimānpratibhānavān |
sarvalokapriyaḥ sādhuradīnātmā vicakṣaṇaḥ ||
He knows the purport and essence of all scriptures. He knows tradition and laws and acts in accordance with them. He is loved in all the worlds, gentle, high minded and discriminating.

sarvadābhigataḥ sadbhiḥ samudra iva sindhubhiḥ |
āryaḥ sarvasamaścaiva sadaikapriyadarśanaḥ ||
Ever approachable to the pious as the ocean is to rivers, the honorable one treats all equally and is ever a fond sight to all.

sa ca sarvaguṇopetaḥ kausalyānandavardhanaḥ |
samudra iva gāmbhīrye dhairyeṇa himavāniva ||
Kaushalya's joy is so endowed will all virtues. He is as deep as the ocean and as firm and steady as the Himalayas.

viṣṇunā sadṛśo vīrye somavatpriyadarśanaḥ |
kālāgnisadṛśaḥ krodhe kṣamayā pṛthivīsamaḥ ||
Like Vishnu in bravery, and charming like the moon, he is like the apocalyptic fire in anger and in patience, equal to the earth.

dhanadena samastyāge satye dharma ivāparaḥ |
tamevaṅguṇasampannaṁ rāmaṁ satyaparākramam ||
In giving, he is like Kubera, the lord of wealth and unsurpassed in being true like Dharma, the lord of righteousness and death. Such are the virtues of Rama, the truly valorous." 

Here is something in great contrast to other incarnations of Vishnu and other gods as described elsewhere. Narada describes a man of superlative qualities, but a man nonetheless. Nowhere does he say that Rama was a god and so wrought miracles or that Rama claimed any divinity for Himself. Rama is described as the ideal man throughout the book who wrought miracles by virtue and by perspiration. We are told elsewhere that Rama and His brothers were indeed incarnations and shared divinity among them. But, we are also clearly told that Rama even if divine, never exercised nor claimed any divine powers and lived and perspired as an ordinary mortal. That is, Rama was a model for men to aspire to, far more than being a deity to worship. Rama represents the ascent of ordinary man to divinity through virtue and merit. Such is what we gather from the Ramayana.

It is possible to view the attributes mentioned here, as being those of the Supreme Self. This is how several commentators view it, finding an inner meaning to these verses. However, I have, in conformity with the theme of the "ideal Man" in the original text, alluded to them as humanly virtues.
For an interesting comparison, here is R.T.H. Griffith's rendition of the same verses from the late 19th century, when the world was a very different place and western sensibilities to the east, were nascent and sometimes ill-founded. Much study of the east and of Hinduism, Buddhism and such subjects took place, though often, not with the noblest intent. Yet, even over a hundred years later, for better or worse, Griffith, Max Mueller and other translators of their times have stood on in the west. Griffith who also wrote the first Rg and Sama Veda translations for the West, chose to write a verse translation of the Ramayana. While this was an admirable objective and his scholarship in the classical languages of the West and the East, and English, was vast, personally, I find novelty but not the poet's mark in these verses. I find the job adequate but not very highly competent.

Then Nárad, clear before whose eye
The present, past, and future lie,
Made ready answer: 'Hermit, where
Are graces found so high and rare?
Yet listen, and my tongue shall tell
In whom alone these virtues dwell.
From old Ikshváku's  line he came,
Known to the world by Ráma's name:
With soul subdued, a chief of might,
In Scripture versed, in glory bright,
His steps in virtue's paths are bent,
Obedient, pure, and eloquent.
In each emprise he wins success,
And dying foes his power confess.
Tall and broad-shouldered, strong of limb,
Fortune has set her mark on him.
Graced with a conch-shell's triple line,
His threat displays the auspicious sign.
High destiny is clear impressed
On massive jaw and ample chest,
His mighty shafts he truly aims,
And foemen in the battle tames.
Deep in the muscle, scarcely shown,
Embedded lies his collar-bone.
His lordly steps are firm and free,
His strong arms reach below his knee;
All fairest graces join to deck
His head, his brow, his stately neck,
And limbs in fair proportion set:
The manliest form e'er fashioned yet.
Graced with each high imperial mark,
His skin is soft and lustrous dark.
Large are his eyes that sweetly shine
With majesty almost divine.
His plighted word he ne'er forgets;
On erring sense a watch he sets.
By nature wise, his teacher's skill
Has trained him to subdue his will.
Good, resolute and pure, and strong,
He guards mankind from scathe and wrong,
And lends his aid, and ne'er in vain,
The cause of justice to maintain.
Well has he studied o'er and o'er
The Vedas and their kindred lore.

Well skilled is he the bow to draw,
Well trained in arts and versed in law;
High-souled and meet for happy fate,
Most tender and compassionate;
The noblest of all lordly givers,
Whom good men follow, as the rivers
Follow the King of Floods, the sea:
So liberal, so just is he.
The joy of Queen Kaus'alyá's heart,
In every virtue he has part:
Firm as Himálaya's snowy steep,
Unfathomed like the mighty deep:
The peer of Vishnu's power and might,
And lovely as the Lord of Night;
Patient as Earth, but, roused to ire,
Fierce as the world-destroying fire;
In bounty like the Lord of Gold,
And Justice self in a human mould.

Extra Comments:  
I write all translations from the Sanskrit or Telugu originals afresh for this site. Neither R.T.H. Griffith, nor anyone else are sources for the translations presented anywhere in this site, unless explicitly mentioned as such. The Griffith translation here is a free translation and is not literal or word-for-word. Also, I favor a "from the source" approach in order to be close to the original. I seldom touch commentaries, even ancient ones, to present the subjects here, unless it is necessary. On occasion, the reader might find I deviate from common readings slightly. This will generally be because, I have, in my opinion, tried to remain as close to the original as possible.

In order to develop the themes and rationale of Tyagaraja further by touching upon the virtues of Rama, I have continued the commentary of the last song, than belabor a new one. This note on Rama pertains to all the songs on this site and helps to understand how Tyagaraja saw Rama in his mental image.

Extra Extra Comments
Your servant's grandfather left behind in manuscript, his very fine translation of the Ramayana. This remains as yet unpublished, mainly because I haven't gotten around to redacting it. He was my first Sanskrit teacher and though I was only a few years old at his passing, he remains an inspiration to me. The least one can do, is befit one's legacy and not belie it. 

On anonymity: I had comment that I had not named my grandfather above and any wish to preserve my privacy may not be offset by including just his name in tribute. This is true to a degree. However, as some readers who have corresponded with me know, I have retained anonymity here only because I am not yet sure of the final form the matter here- as book, newsprint, audiovisual or new media or just this website. I am also not sure if and when I will complete this venture as it is planned to run to over 3000 pages and cover not just Tyagaraja but music, Indian culture and Comparative Literature to the extent possible and meaningful, as suited for the modern reader,- a key consideration being that much literature written on these topics including Tyagaraja is either antiquated by now, or presumes a well informed and invested reader of a certain background or both, whereas my approach here makes no such assumptions of the reader. It is accessible to the modern reader of both kinds- those new to these subjects and to those well versed in it. Our purpose here, is not to just provide a compendium of all Tyagaraja songs or a selection. As the final form and extent are still unknown, I am also not actively promoting this website at various print and online forums. However, it has little to do with privacy and more to do with completeness. I do identify myself as needed, in correspondence I receive on this site. When the final form and extent of the content here is known, I will of course publicize as necessary, this website and any accompanying books or the like and affix my name to the whole as being the party responsible for all its shortcomings. I will at such time, identify my ancestor as well as those readers and fellow scholars and students of these subjects, who provided suggestions and insightful comments and the one or two who provided reference or other resources to aid in this work. Until such a time comes to pass, I don't think it is necessary to "name names".

An aside: This now comes to mind. Nirad C. Chaudhri, in his Continent of Circe, made the unfounded and hilarious suggestion, albeit in all seriousness, that Rama was a Persian prince and the siege of Ramayana happened on an island in ancient Persia.


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