About Thirty Five years ago I began to read the Ramayana or the Rama-Charita-Manasa Tulsidas; it was a task set in connection with the language study and examination required of a missionary. But I soon became interested in the poem with its moving story, vivid pictures and devout thought; fascinated too with the easy swinging rhythm and music of the language. I had become somewhat familiar with this type of language and poetic form by the use of bhajans (religious lyrics) in our regular worship. When I began to study the Ramayana I found great help in understanding and interpreting passages from the prose version of F. S. Growse, first published more than seventy-five years ago. But it was evident that Growse did no more than give, very prosily, the meaning of the passages, and did not at all represent the literary quality and music of Tulsidas. So when, about twelve years ago, the Rev. George Briggs, D.D., formerly a missionary in India, then a teacher in Drew University, U.S.A., suggested that I try to put Tulsidas's great work into English verse, I was gripped by the idea. Though at first I hardly thought it possible, a beginning was made and I soon became keenly interested in it.
I have tried to give varied metres somewhat comparable to those of Tulsidas, changing as he changes which breaks monotony in reading; also rhyme where he gives it, and language that is clear and simple in verse form. Some friends have seen portions and have encouraged me with commendation notably my wife to whom the whole has been read aloud (knowing her, I can say that her approval is not due merely to the fact that it is her husband's work; if it were not of value or fitness, she would have said so frankly); also two friends of my early days in India, now retired, whom I have always respected as my gurus, both of them literary-minded and versed in Hindi the Rev. J. Z. Hodge, D.D., and the Rev. P.O. Wynd. It has been long effort, as usually no more than small portions if time could be spared from a busy life; and since the rhythm and rhyme had to be carefully thought out, it meant that much more time had to be spend over a passage than otherwise often one couplet taking an hour of thinking. Ten years have thus been spent at the work, but I have enjoyed it. Now it is offered to the English-speaking people of India and of other countries in the hope that they will enjoy a literary masterpiece of India, thought presented imperfectly and at second-hand, and that through it they will come to understand something more of the background of the faith and thought of a large number of India's people.
The Rama-Charita-Manasa is much more than the life-story of a great figure in Indian history, Prince (later King) Ramachandra of Avadh or Ayodhya, a kingdom in North India. Tulsidas takes the foundation of his work from the Sanskrit Ramayana of Valmiki, which belongs to a period at least 2,000 years earlier and which tells of this great figure of many centuries earlier still. Already in Valmiki a great deal of mythology is woven round the figures of Rama and Sita, especially in what are commonly regarded as additions to Valmiki's actual work; but there it is not the figure of a divine incarnation as later understood, holding the earnest, loving religious faith of men as Lord and Deliverer. Tulsidas takes the outline of that story, changes many of the episodes, omits some and adds others, and uses this to express his own loving devotion (bhakti), and his message to men concerning this as fundamental in true religion. He adds much from his own background of theological thought and religious practice, adds also mythological material to strengthen his message and deepen its impression. It is in this that the chief significance of his work lies, so that it is much than history or biography.
Here one reads the longing and faith of the more earnest and spiritual-minded Hindu, as contrasted with the worldly-minded and godless on the one hand and the formalist or abstruse philosopher on the other. Tulsidas condemns the former in unmistakable terms for their materialism, selfishness and sensualism. He includes the latter in his picture of current Hinduism, and makes some concessions to religious and social ritual as of value, in some cases essential (e.g. veneration of Brahmans and observance of caste rules as religious duty); he also acknowledges the Pantheistic Impersonal teachings of the Hindu philosopher, with the practice of abstraction in contemplation. He especially emphasises the doctrine of Maya (Illusion) as a divine expression and activity, in all material and personal diversity which is delusive and unreal; all things are due to this, specially man's offences and mistakes with their disastrous consequences. Salvation with him is from the consequence of wrong action resulting in birth after birth, and may be salvation either to the condition of cessation of personal being in the Supreme Impersonal (Brahma), or which is more desirable in his message to a place forever in personal bliss in the Realm of Rama. But all else fades into insignificance before the things of the highest and ultimate value, true devotion in heart and life to the Supreme conceived in Personal Form here Lord Vishnu incarnate as Ramachandra (also named Raghubir, Raghubir, Raghupati, head of the family of his ancestor, Raghu of Avadh). With this goes a worthy outlook in moral ideals and religious relationships. All impurity, untruth and jealous enmity are condemned. Tolerance in religious difference and variety is urged, even while presenting Rama as Supreme. It is noteworthy that here is hardly any reference to Krishna, the Lord of the Bhagavad Gita, around whom with incarnation mythology are woven many sensual episodes (by some interpreted as figurative). There are many references to Siva, but it is always with respect and with condemnation of the partisan bitterness that has marked many phases and groups in Hinduism, but is contrary to its true spirit. Tulsidas also shows little respect for the lesser gods of Hindu mythology, especially Indra, greatly revered in Vedic times. He honours formally the Hindu Triad-Brahma the Creator (a rather vague figure); Vishnu the Preserver (conceived as incarnate to meet vital emergencies); and Siva the Destroyer (who tells the story of Rama with deep reverence). But all through there is the conception, which Tulsidas uses all his powers to express, that it is the supreme Spirit who is incarnate in Rama and who claim supreme devotion.
Thus we find expressed sincerely and fervently love for the Supreme and Divine One, the outreach of faith and devotion after some personal concrete form of God in whom faith may rest. The figure laid hold by faith inspiring imagination is the ancient hero, an ideal human and royal figure such as one comes across in the dim past of other peoples, e.g., Saint George and King Arthur in the early history of England, the king-priest Melchizedek and the idealized David of the Hebrews. But here this figure, Ramachandra, is enshrined by devout imagination in the faith, love and worship of the heart, as the one making the Supreme Spirit concrete and personal. Moved by love and longing, the heart reaches out to seek God Himself through the figure so enshrined. This movement and experience expresses what in Christian history the Apostle Paul proclaimed to people in Asia Minor who would have honoured him and his companion as gods come to earth in the likeness of men that among all nations, "God hath not left Himself "without witness"; also in Grecian Athens, that God has so made men and planned their life that "they should seek God, if haply they might "feet after Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of "us; for in Him we live and moves and have our being." True bhaktas (loving, trustful devotees) in all ages and lands have felt after God by the moving of His spirit within them; and surely they have found Him. Such ancient figure of history with divine glory long after the event, but rather by His own revealing in a figure that is not a mere illusive appearance of humanity, but a perfect human figure, as truly human as divine. The real gap or division between human and divine is not so much in essential being "in "Him we live and move and have our being
.four we are also His "offspring" but in the moral perversity that man has allowed to blight his life, that is not illusion but very fact and conscious guilt, and from which an Incarnate Saviour will save in order to bring about that oneness of life and fellowship possible only to those akin in being and spirit, The Gospel, or Good News, which the Lord jeans Christ commanded His followers to take to the whole word of men, tells of that answer and that salvation. That goes beyond my purpose in giving this translation. The aim here is to show the earnestness and sincerity of devotion as expressed by such as Tulsidas (with much else commonly accepted but not vitally relevant) which must surely be acceptable to God and have a response from Him.
Though the year of Tulsidas's birth is uncertain, the period of his life can be determined by two or three certain facts. It is known that he died in A.D. 1623 or 1624; the most commonly accepted year of his birth in either 1523 or 1527, though another estimate puts this at the beginning of the 16th century. He gives the year when he began writing his masterpiece; it was at Ayodhya in the equivalent of A.D. 1575. Thus he was contemporary with the great Muslim rulers Babar, Sher Shah Humayun, Akbar and Jehangir; also with Henry VIII and Elizabeth, outstanding in the 16th century in England, and the period of Spenser and Shakespeare. An Indian writer says there were later writers of the same (perhaps taking his name to add glory to their own work), who have been claimed as Goswami Tulsidas, author of Ramacharita-Manasa, and the details of whose lives have been to fill in gaps in Goswamiji's life (Goswami is a title given to our Tulsidas). Others well-established facts are: That he was a Brahman of Rajapur near Prayag in South-eastern Uttar Pradesh (former United Provinces), that his former name was Harbola, but that the name Tulsidas was given him by his Guru with whom he lived as a youth at Ayodhya. From his teacher he learned much of the story of Rama; much also of bhakti, the faith and movement Centring in Personal Incarnate Deity, spread over North India by Ramananda in the 14th century (Tulsidas's teacher was a descendant-Guru of Ramananda's followers). Tulsidas himself did much to deepen and intensify this faith in the hearts of people of all classes, over against the negative abstract philosophy of the Impersonal taught by Sankara and others.
A great change, a veritable conversion, came into the life of Tulsidas through a remark made by his wife whom he loved passionately. She had gone to her parents' home; when her husband, unable to endure her absence, went to her she rebuked him, taunting him with loving her body a thing of mere flesh and bone more than he loved Rama. The result was very different from what she had wished and expected. He left wife and home, wandered as an ascetic for a time, and later spent his years chiefly at sacred Banaras. He was about fifty years old when he began to write Rama-Charita-Manasa, and left probably more than one copy in his own handwriting (though it is questioned whether even a fragment of these originals remains today). He wrote a number of other works; his authorship of some attributed to him is denied by capable judges.
A few tributes by English and Indian writers will be of interest to readers here:
"Tulsidas was a very real and lovable man and in his works he "veritably still lives
.The Ramayana is the work by which the author "is immortalised. It is the Bible of the Hindi-speaking Hindus. The "Goswami's humble and devout spirit is united with an ability to use "Hindi in a way which no other writer has equalled. Tulsidas wrote "not to display his learning, or to tickle the ears of pedants; he wrote "for the people and has had his reward. No poet in England has ever "been to the masses what Tulsidas has been to the people of the land." (Edwin Greaves in A Sketch of Hindi Literature.)
"One most commendable feature of the Ramayana (of Tulsidas) is "its pure and lofty moral tone
.It is this feature of his poem which "has given it so much value in holding up a high moral ideal before its "readers
.Many passages show that Tulsidas was a true observer "and lover of nature
.The Ramayana is undoubtedly a great poem, "worthy to rank among the classical masterpieces of the world's literature
. (Tulsidas) knew he would meet with his critics, especially "among the Sanskrit pandits, who would affect to despise his work as a "concession to the uneducated multitude
. The wonderful acceptance, "however, which the poem of Tulsidas has received has been its "greatest vindication." (F. E. Keay in Hindi Literature.)
"The whole of Tulsidas's Ramayana is a passionate protest against "the virtual atheism of metaphysical Hindu philosophy
.Tulsidas "insists that they derogate from divine perfection who divest it of "personality and reduce it to an abstraction
. Professional Sanskrit "pandits still affect to despise his work as an unworthy concession to "the illiterate masses. With this small and solitary exception, the "book is in every man's hands from the court to the cottage, and is "read, or heard, and appreciated by every class of the Hindu community, whether high or low, rich or poor, young or old
. The purity of "its moral sentiments and the absolute avoidance of the slightest "approach to any pruriency of idea
. Render it a singularly unexceptionable text-book". (F. E. Growse, B.C.S., in the Introduction to his prose translation.)
"The best known and most famed book in Hindi literature. It is "known among all classes and no other religious book is so much "revered as this." (Dr. Shyam Sundar Das in the Introduction to the version put out by the Nagari Pracharini Sabha, Banaras.)
"The world now so honours the simplicity, purity and devout worship "of Goswamiji that every place where he lived, or even where he "stayed, is honoured as a place of pilgrimage, and a temple or gathering-place has been set up in his revered memory." (Pandit Vijayanand Tripathi, Banaras in the Introduction to the version put out by the Bharati Bhandar, Allahabad.)
"The fame of Tulsidas as a writer rests wholly upon the Rama-Charita-Manasa
.the crown of the world's literature
. The poetry "of this master-poet is unequalled in the Hindi language." (Shri Ganesh Bihari Misra in a long critical study of Tulsidas, with other Hindi writers, in Hindi Navaratna the Nine Gems of Hindi literature)
Finally, Mahatma Gandhi has written in The Story of My Experiments with Truth: "What, however, left a deep impression on me was "the reading of Ramayana before my father. During part of his illness "my father was in Porbandar. There every evening he used to listen "to Ramayana. The reader was a great devotee of Rama Ladha "Maharaj of Bileshvar
. I must have been 13 at that time, but "I quite remember being enraptured by his reading. That laid the "foundation of my deep devotion to Ramayana. Today I regard the "Ramayana of Tulsidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature."
Such appreciation will, I am sure, amply justify the attempt to give the Ramayana in this form to English readers. The Western reader will find in this work many odd ways of expression, often much extravagance in descriptive and imaginative writing. There is also much legendary and mythical material, symbolic and interesting. For instance, there is the figure of the monkey-hero and devotee Hanuman (whose simple picture appears on each page of this edition) who performs incredible and monkey-ish feats, but is greatly revered Virtually worshipped by many in India, not so much for these feats as for the fact that he embodies humble adoration and devotion to the Lord Rama. He and Kakabhusundi (the crow who gladly accepts this form as enabling him to express with supreme humility the lesion he has been taught by hard experience, that devotion to the divine without partisan bitterness is the essence of true religion) these two, with, on the human level, the princes Bharat and Lakshman and the low-born boatman, and with the demon prince Vibhishan, are outstanding examples of what the whole poem is trying to express in vivid imagery.
On the other hand, there is literary beauty with moral and spiritual worth which a reader even in English may appreciate and find deeply moving as I do. If readers find the first pages, a long introduction by Tulsidas, somewhat tiring at first, I suggest they turn to Book I, chaupai 44 onward (The Conversation of Bharadvaja and Yajnavalkya); but they should certainly come back to the early stanzas, and will be well repaid when they have the spirit and movement of the author with them. There is wit and imagination, a clever adapting of pictures to comparison and to moral teaching that is not mere cleverness, but great ability consecrated to a high task. Every now and then there is a couplet or sentence that is like a rapier thrust to the mind and conscience. Underneath the Eastern dress and atmosphere the reader will feel the spirit and nature that make all men akin.
As guidance for reading, note: The Invocations from Sanskrit are to be read with no syllable stress; but the other forms chaupais, dohas, sorathas and chhands will, I am sure, give their own stress and rhythm as they are read. The chhand is infrequent; it is generally given when the story reaches some ecstatic and intense point. The soratha is generally used to quietan or slow down the narrative after an uplifting strain. The chaupais and dohas, one generally following the other, are the common poetic forms for narrative or expression of thought. I have considered it better not to add accent marks to vowels to indicate proper pronunciation; the following hint will help in pronouncing the names and the few words given in Hindi forms: 'a' is either long as in father, or short as 'u' in but; 'a' is never pronounced as in fat, there is no such vowel sound in Hindi; 'I' is either short as in it, or long as 'ee' in feet (Sita is pronounced Seeta, but Siva has 'I' as in it); 'u' is short as in put, or log as in rule; 'e' is always as 'a' in fate (never as in get); 'ai' gives the sound of 'I' as in kite: 'o' as in note (never as in got); and 'au' as 'ow' in how. But these vowels sounds should to be exaggerated, as is the tendency of some English-speaking people. In most places rhythm and smooth reading will indicate whether a vowel is to be pronounced as long or short. All else will, I think, be straightforward.
In brief, the story foundation of the poem is as follows: After some interesting preparatory stories from mythology, chiefly showing the need of a divine deliverer on earth, or for the gods, following on the birth of demon Ravan and the establishment of his demon kingdom, the story is given of the birth of Rama and his three brothers as sons of King Dasrath Book I, chaupai 194. As a young man, in a bow-trial at the court of Janak, a neighbouring king, Rama wins Sita as his bride, his brother also wedding princesses of that royal family. They return happily to Avadh. King Dasrath plans to leave the throne to Rama and to and his days in religious retirement; but misled by her maid, Queen Kaikeyi (one of Dasrath's three wives) demands fulfillment of two boons promised her long before, only now expressed that the kingdom be given to Bharat, her son, and that Rama be banished to life in the forest for fourteen years. Sita accompanies Rama, as does also Lakshman his brother, this tragedy leading to the death of Dasrath. Bharat, devoted to Rama, takes the throne only as deputy for his brother. One day in the forest, while Rama is away and Lakshman is lured off by a false call, Sita is captured by the demon King Ravan; he takes her to his fortress in Lanka (Ceylon) and shuts her up there, trying to win her love. Rama is distraught (Tulsidas says it is but Maya). Eventually with the help of monkey allies, notably Hanuman, he finds out where she is. After a great battle between Rama with his monkey and bear allies on the one hand and Ravan with his demon army on the other, Ravan is killed and Sita is released. The two brothers and Sita return to Avadh at the end of the period, and the joyous prosperity of Rama's reign is established. There are interesting and vivid episodes and conversations added to all this, notably the conversation at the end between the crow Bhusundi and the eagle Garur, the former being in that form a supreme devotee of Rama and the other king of birds; in this the true meaning and value of devotion to the Supreme in the form of Rama is expounded.
The edition of Rama-Charita-Manasa followed for purposes of this rendering has been that of Chaturvedi Dwarikaprasad Sharma in close consultation with the editions of Dr. Mataprasad Gupta, the Gita Press and Dr. Shyam Sundar Das.
A word of thankful appreciation is due to Mr. Devadas Gandhi of The Hindustan Times (a son o the Mahatma), who has so readily and generously undertaken, at expensive risk, the publication of the work. My sincere thanks also to his deputy, Dr. S. N. Vyas who has supervised the preparation especially of the Hindi-English edition, and whose counsel has helped to correct or improve in the English rendering some expressions and interpretations. Not that the work is now without blemish; in the true spirit of Tulsidas I must acknowledge that there are imperfections, and must ask beforehand, as did he, the patient forbearance of those who note such things. This is not intended as a word-for-word literal translation; indeed, such would not be a true translation, for it would often misrepresent in English what the author tried to say in the Indian language of his day. It is intended to interpret, while following the text as closely as possible; thus at times phrases may seem to differ from the original, but on the whole. I believe, it follows closely Tulsidas's own words and does not misrepresent even when it departs somewhat from them. The combined Hindi-English edition will have, I believe, real value for students Indian and foreign, in all language areas of India. The English edition should be both interesting and enlightening to those in India already familiar with the Hindi, and to those abroad who will have no interest in or need of the Hindi, but wish to become acquainted with this literary and religious classic of India. I offer this as one fruit of almost forty years' life and service with the people of India, in town and village, as a tribute to many friends whom I love and great figures whom I revere; also in the hope that it will bring India and other peoples nearer to one another and help to a fuller spiritual life in deeper appreciation of earnest seeking, longing and finding as here portrayed.
It was in February 1951 that the Rev. A. G. Atkins first wrote to me about his verse translation of the Tulsi Ramayana. He did so at the instance of our common friend, the Rev. J. Z. Hodge, whom my father and I had met and got to like in Champaran in 1916. Mr. Athkins had spent a good part of his life in the noble enterprise and was feeling rather disappointed at not being able to interest any publisher in it. It was, he realized, in every way a great responsibility, but he hoped I would be prepared to undertake it.
I might have dissuaded any Indian wanting to render the epic into English verse. But here was one whose mother-tongue was English presenting me with a complete translation devotedly done of a book re-presenting the best that Indian has to offer. He was, besides, a missionary who had known and lived in India. I could not have wished for a better combination. All I had to decide was whether his approach to the great task he had accomplished had been in the right spirit and whether I could commit the HINDUSTAN TIMES organization to the moral responsibility of placing this version before the English-knowing world. I was more than satisfied with the diligence and consecration-to use the word he applies to sample stanzas to a number of friends and scholars seeking their advice. The consensus of opinion was in flavour of publication. Even so, it had to be the Ramayana of Tulsidas to persuade me prayerfully to undertake the task on behalf of the HINDUSTAN TIMES.
In the production of these volumes, I have had the unstinting co-operation of several of my colleagues. Should the sales leave any surplus it will be devoted to the cause of propagation of the Ramayana which probably is the strongest single force that binds the Indian masses together.
Recitation of verses from the Ramayana was part of the routine of our expanded family in South Africa. My father was fond of repeating them aloud to us. He particularly made us memorize soratha 1 and chaupai 2 of the Invocation dohas 20 to 26 of the Salutation to Rama, especially Doha 22, in Book I, and chhand 13, in praise of Bharat, in Book II. A verse he often quoted is Doha 112 in Book I. these are but a few of the innumerable gems that scintillate the Ramayana.
In his last years the reading of the Ramayana was an indispensable part of Gandhiji 's evening prayer service. The practice is now kept up at the Friday prayers at Rajghat in Delhi.
The language of Tulsidas is not easily followed without special study-Those more familiar with English than with the North Indian dialect used in the Ramayana will, therefore, find the Rev. Atkins' translation extremely helpful in understanding the original. I have myself profited by it. Indeed, the Atkins version of the Ramayana gives me the greatest satisfaction. The exigencies of rhyme and of Tulsidas's metre forms which, in the true spirit of scholarly service, the translator has adapted with remarkable success impart the flavour of the original epic to the poem in English. Some may regard it as unorthodox from the strict English literary point of view. But I for one like t for that very reason. It is Tulsidas who is presented and whom Mr. Atkins is interested in presenting. The reader will know how to make allowances, for here there is no scope for irreverence.
One of those who encouraged me in this venture was my friend the late Parasnath Sinha. He belonged to the land of Sita, the consort of Rama. He had been looking forward keenly to the completion of this work. To his memory I dedicate this act of faith.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend