The Rāmāyana and the Cultural Mind of India

यावत्स्थास्यन्ति गिरयः सरितश्च महीतले |
तावद्रामायणकथा लोकेषु प्रचरिष्यति ||

“As long as the mountains and rivers flourish on the surface of the earth, so long the legend of Rāmāyana will flourish in this world.”
[Vālmiki Rāmāyana, 1.2.36]

In his writings on Indian literature, Sri Aurobindo explains that the two great Indian epics, the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata, are works of a high poetic soul and inspired intelligence, unlike a directly intuitive mind which created the Veda and the Upanishads.

In fact, the Indian word ‘itihāsa’ was used to distinguish the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata from the later literary epics, because this word itihāsa refers to an ancient historical or legendary tradition “turned to creative use as a significant mythus or tale expressive of some spiritual or religious or ethical or ideal meaning and thus formative of the mind of the people” (CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 345).  The Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata are itihāsa-s of this kind on a large scale and with a massive purpose.

As per the scholars of Ramayana, there are about three hundred retellings of the Rama’s story, twenty-five renditions in Sanskrit alone. But Valmiki’s Ramayana is widely recognised as the earliest surviving version of Rama’s story.

Furthermore, it is generally agreed that the great religious significance of Rama first evolved on the basis of his representation in Valmiki’s epic poem, in which his divinity was an integral feature.

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More on the Ramayana in this issue:

Rām-kathā, a Living Tradition of India

Sītā’s Banishment by Rāma in Kālidāsa’s Raghuvamśam

~ Cover image: Ramayana depicted in a Warli painting, credit: Pinterest

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