The social conditions of ancient India have to be patiently reconstructed by gathering together the data available from archaeology and literature. It is impossible for one individual, even in a life-time, to examine critically all the information at his disposal. To the archaeologist India presents a fund of sociological data covering, at least, five thousand years. And the student of her literature finds more elaborate and informative evidence in literary works, the earliest of which cannot under any circumstances be dated later than 1000 B.C. A careful study of the facts so available is absolutely necessary if we are to have a complete and reliable picture of ancient Indian Society. It is for this purpose that the sociological data of the Rāmāyaṇa are subjected to a detailed scrutiny in this publication.
Although the Rāmāyaṇa contains very valuable information for the study of the social conditions of India, it had been for many years overshadowed by the Great Epic, the Mahābhārata. There are fewer works dealing with the sociological data of the Rāmāyaṇa, even though the scholars who worked on the Mahābhārata occasionally referred to it.
In this publication, an attempt has been made to discuss as many aspects of the ancient Indian Society as practicable. While the First Chapter has been devoted to establish the history, the date and the historicity of the text which is our source-book, the other eight chapters discuss the evidence which has been culled from the Rāmāyaṇa with meticulous care after a study of all three Recensions, available both in printed editions and manuscripts. No less than fifty-five different aspects are dealt with in these ten chapters ranging from geographical data to religious and philosophical teachings. : “It is gratifying”, states one of its critics, “to note that his attitude in respect of the problems discussed by him is quite reasonable and non-dogmatic.”
“The Society of the Rāmāyaṇa” contains the results of the researches conducted by Dr. Ananda Guruge during the years 1951 and 1952 in Ceylon and India under the guidance of Professor O.H. de A. Wijesekera, Professor of Sanskrit, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. It was presented to the University of Ceylon in 1953 under the title “Social Conditions of Ancient India as reflected in the Rāmāyaṇa" and was accepted for the Ph.D. degree.
Since its publication in Sri Lanka in 1960, it has been widely used by scholars throughout the world, as demonstrated by numerous references in monographs and articles. Referring to the wealth of data in the Rāmāyaṇa concerning the material, sociological, psychological and general conditions prevalent in India during the.period of its composition, Robert P. Goldman, the General Editor of the Princeton Ramayana Translation, describes in 1984 Dr. Guruge's work as “the elaborate and useful treatment."
In 1965. it was translated into Tamil as “Irāmāyana Samudāyam”.
Dr. Guruge is currently Sri Lanka's Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO in Paris, France.
Dr. Ananda Weihena Palliya Guruge, born in Galle on 28th December 1928, was educated at Ampitiya College and Dharmaraja College, Kandy. In 1947 he entered the University of Ceylon, where he read for an Honours Degree in Sanskrit with Indian history as the subsidiary subject. Having passed the Final Examination with First Class Honours, he won the Ceylon Government Scholarship in Oriental Languages tenable in the United Kingdom. But Dr. Guruge preferred to do his research studies in his own University and worked for two years on a thesis on the social conditions of ancient India as reflected in the Rāmāyana. During his period of post-graduate studies he was also a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Sinhalese.
In 1952, Dr. Guruge joined the Ceylon Civil Service and has served in a number of capacities; he was the General Secretary of the Lanka Bauddha Mandalaya (The Buddhist Council of Ceylon) and was entrusted with the organization of the Buddha Jayanti celebrations in Ceylon. At present he is the Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Education.
In addition to his duties in the Ministry of Education, he is the Administrative Assistant to the ViceChancellor and also the Head of the Department of Sanskrit of the Vidyodaya University of Ceylon.
RĀMĀYAŅA STUDIES SINCE THE 1950s
Introduction THE stanza of the Bālakānda, which I quote as I begin this work and which Robert P. Goldman has aptly adopted as the motto for his translation of the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki for the Princeton Library of Asian Translations, asserts that the story of the Rāmāyana will spread or flourish in the world as long as mountains and rivers shall endure upon the earth.
Judging from the enormous literature which has grown out of the Rāmāyaṇa story in India and in the neighbouring countries which constitute the region that is often called the "Greater India", there could be no doubt that the assertion of the poet was no exaggeration. As the publisher's blurb of Goldman's work states, "This great Sanskrit epic of ancient India has profoundly affected the literature, art and cultures of countless millions of people in South and South-east Asia—an influence that is perhaps unparalleled in the history of the world literature."
Since the discovery of the Rāmāyaṇa by the West well over a century and a half ago, through partial and complete translations, abridgements and adaptations in Latin, Italian, French, English and German, the Rāmāyaṇa has not ceased to attract the attention of Indologists, in particular, and students of literature and religion, in general. New translations and adaptations continue to be produced, thus evincing the lasting popularity of the epic throughout the world."
“Ideally social tradition is one. The man of today is theoretically heir to all the ages, and inherits the accumulated experience of all his forerunners”.
Gordon Childe: What Happened in History.
It is this important fact which induces us to study the social traditions and conditions of ancient India whose civilization has been a strong influence in moulding both spiritually and materially the way of life and the social organization of practically all the nations of the East. Though the study of the social conditions of ancient India has a special significance to these nations, its universal usefulness cannot in any way be underrated. After all, the achievements of the ancient Indian are ultimately the achievements of mankind and the social history of India — as is the case with any other country — reflects the struggle of man to establish what in course of time evolved into the complicated organization which is our society.
The social conditions of ancient India have to be patiently reconstructed by gathering together the data available from archaeology and literature. It is impossible for one individual, even in a lifetime, to examine critically all the information at his disposal. To the archaeologist India presents a fund of sociological data covering, at least, over five thousand years. And the student of her literature finds more elabor
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