Produced by James Simmons.
This file was produced from page images at the Internet Archive.
This book was transcribed from scans of several different copies of the original found at the Internet Archive. The typesetters of the original book represented the letter ā (with a macron above) as â (with circumflex above) when italicized, but this etext uses the macron throughout. Words in italics in this etext were italicized in the original book. I have corrected obvious misspellings (for example in one place the word “spices” was used when “spies” was clearly meant) but I’ve left variant spellings alone.
Translated into English Prose from the original Sanskrit of Valmiki
EDITED AND PUBLISHED BY
MANMATHA NATH DUTT, M. A.
Rector, Keshub Academy.
printed by Girish Chandra Chackravarti, Deva Press, 65/2, Beadon Street.
[All rights reserved.]
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THE RĀMĀYANA IN AN ENGLISH GARB.
The immortal Epic of Valmiki is undoubtedly one of the gems of literature,—indeed, some considering it as the Kohinur of the literary region, which has for centuries, and from a time reaching to the dim and far past been shedding unparalleled and undying halo upon the domain presided over by “the vision and the faculty divine.” The burthen of the bard’s song is the perpetual contest between good and evil,that is everywhere going on in this mysteriously-ordered world of ours,and which seemingly sometimes ending in the victory of the former,and at others in that of the latter,vitally and spiritually results in the utter overthrow and confusion of evil and in the triumph and final conquest of good. Rāma sprung from the bright loins of the effulgent luminary of day, and bringing his life and being from a long and illustrious ancestry of sovereigns, Rāma taking birth among the sons of men for chastising and repressing rampant Iniquity and Injustice, typifies the spirit of good that obtains in this world,—Rāvana, that grim and terrible Ten-headed one, a Rakshasa by virtue of birth, and worthy to be the chief and foremost of Rākshasas by virtue of his many misdeeds and impieties, who challenges and keeps in awe the whole host of the celestials—”to whom the Sun did not shine too hot, and about whom the Wind did not dare to breathe,” represents the spirit of unrighteousness and evil. Lakshmana, disregrading the pomp and splendours of princely life, to follow his beloved brother Rāma into the forest, and cheerfully undergoing there a world of trials and privations, and daily and nightly keeping watch and ward over his brother and his spouse in their cottage,—and Bharata, stoutly and persistently declining, despite the exhortations of the elders and the spiritual guides, to govern the kingdom during Rāma’s absence in the forest, and holding the royal umbrella over his brother’s sandals,are personations of the ne plus ultra of fraternal love, and consummate and perfect ideals of their kind. The righteous Bibhishana, who for Rāma’s cause forsook his royal brother, and set small store by the splendours of royalty, who suffered no earthly considerations to interfere with his entire and absolute devotion to his friend, embodies in his person the sterling virtues going under the precious name of friendship. The ever-devoted Hanumana glorying in the appellation of Rāma’s servant,—ever-prompt at the beck and call of his master to lay down his life—is the grandest and loftiest conception of the faithful servant that is to be found in all literature. Shall we say aught of Rāma and Sitā, or keep silence over themes too sacred for babblement and frofane mouthing? The kingdom is astir and alive with the jubilations of the populace at the prospect of Rāma’s coronation; pennons by thousands are streaming like meteors in the air at the tops of stately edifices; and drums and panavas and other musical instruments are sounding forth the auspicious anouncement. The royal household swims in a sea of bliss surging and heaving on all sides. Delight and Joy move about and laugh and talk under the names of Daçarātha and Kaucalya. Anon a thunder-clap bursts in the midst of the Merry-making, and converts delight into dole, the sounds of laughter and hilarity into loud wails and lamentations issuing from hearts knowing no consolation. All is lost! Rāma is to be banished into the woods for fourteen years. He cheerfully makes up his mind and repairs to the forest in consonance with his father’s promise. Sitā steps forth—a divinity clad in flesh—Sitā would follow the fortunes of her lord. She considers it as the height of undutifulness to remain behind, continuing to enjoy the pleasures of the palace, while her beloved Rāma is leading a life of toils and privations in the remote woods. The daughter as well as the daughter-in-law of kings, brought up in the lap of luxury and amidst the soft ministrations of those pleasures that pertain to a royal household, Sitā, the idol of every one’s love and regard, boldly and with alacrity faces all the toils and terrors of a forest-life, in preferance to remaining in Daçarātha’s residence, bereft of the company of her sweet lord.
All these and various other characters that figure on the fascinating and enchanting boards of Valmiki, have been developed fully and elaborately, and with and perfect consistency of portraiture through the length of his gigantic poem of Rāmāyana. Rāvana standing before us in stupendous proportions as the personation of terror and wrong-doing, before whom the human spirit trembles as Sitā in the Asoka wood; the lotus-eyed Rāma self-forgetful and heroic, and possessed of the highest perfections that can adorn humanity, and through the extremes of misery and misfortune ever abiding by righteousness and truth; Sitā the best and fairest of her sex, the embodiment of all loveliness and grace physical and mental, she who rose from the sacrificial fire of inspiration—a goddess in all her manifold perfections and unsurpassed exellences, whose name carries in the very mention a world of pathos; the faithful Lakshmana, aye cleaving to his brother on the perilous edge of raging battle, and in the dreary forest leading a life lorn and desolate,—these and others whom we forbear reluctantly to name, have been pourtrayed to the life; they are quick with the Promethean spark and occupy prominent positions in that ideal world brought into being by those mighty intellectual wizards—the poets; and are the perennial fountains of our joy and sorrow, never suffering the good and the beautiful to degenerate into cant and commonplace in our minds. Oh! the privilege of genius.
The influence exercised by the Rāmāyana upon the Hindus reaching down to the lowest strata of the society, is literally and in actual fact immense. Truly of the Rāmāyana it can be said in Baconian language that it has come home to the business and bosoms of all men. If there is one test which more than another distinguishes the true from the false in Art, it is the circumstance of a work influencing or not influencing life: a work that assimilates itself with the mental constitution of a nation, lending energy to impulse, contributing to clearness of thought, and ennobling and spiritualis- ing the higher emotions and aspirations, must by the very reason of its doing so, be true; while that which fails in doing so, is not the real and genuine thing and can well be spared. The Rāmāyana has become a household-word in Hindu Society, and expressions embodying the memories of incidents celebrated in the epic, pass current amongst all ranks of the people, being mouthed alike by high and low, by prince and peasantry the aristocracy and the nobility of the land, by merchants and mechanics, by cultivators ploughing the field, and by shepherds keeping the flock, by princesses and high-born dames in towering edifices, and the women of the peasantry plying their daily tasks, religionists and politicians and men of letters,—in short by the community universally. Such absolute and all-commanding and comprehensive sway and influence of literature is perhaps unknown in the West, with the single exception of the Bible. Rāma’s regime embodies the popular conception of administrative perfection—the ideal of a monarchy. Rāvana is remembered not only in consequence of the prominent part he plays in the Rāmāyana, but also on account of his famous advice to Rāma immediately before his death,—namely that the execution of evil projects should be deferred, but that good ones should be promptly executed,—a very sage counsel doubtless, answering partially to Macbeth’s observation on hearing of Macduff’s escape:
“—————From this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand———”
“The vow concerning the bow-breaking,” applied sarcastically to a case of contumacy, “The war between Rāma and Rāvana is matched by that war alone,” “Rāvana’s family.” “Rāvana hath been ruined by domestic disclosure,” “Lankā hath met with destruction in consequence of excess of pride,” “That won’t render the Rāmāyana incorrect,”—these are some of the adages universally current in Hindu society, mixing constantly into common talk. Does not this unequivocally and unmistakably prove that the influence of Valmiki has entered into the pith and marrow of the nation, and vitally sways its intellectual and emotional tendencies?
Sitā has become the grand exemplar to Hindu women as the embodiment of purity, chastity, and wifely fidelity. She has furnished Hindu ladies with the highest and noblest conception of their duties in their various and manifold relations in life. Her empire is both wide and deep over the hearts of her sex, performing for their eternal behoof spiritual services of incalculable worth. She should be looked upon as one of the greatest teachers of her kind—as a teacher in that highest and best sense in which Christ and Chaitanya, Nanat and Socrates are called teachers. Ah, who can say how many women have turned away in the budding prime of youth from the primrose path of dalliance, and have in preferance followed virtue, who alone is truly fair,—how many stirred and influenced by the example of her matchless self-sacrifice have firmly made up their minds to tread in her foot-steps? In like manner it may be said of almost all the principal characters of the Rāmāyana, that they have more or less deeply influenced the thoughts and sentiments of the people.
Further, the Rāmāyana has been all along a reservoir upon which subsequent writers have drawn ceaselessly. Indeed most of the succeeding poems owe to the Mahabharata and the Rāmāyana for their subjects. Not to mention writers of less note, even Kalidasa’s self has dunk deep of that fountain. Bhababhuti not less celebrated has composed a poem treating of the latter part of Rāma’s life and saturated with a pathos which perhaps no other pen has surpassed.
To the antiquary and the student of oriental literature and manners, a knowledge of the Rāmāyana is simply indispensable. Together with the Mahabharata with which it is joined in popular parlance, and with which it goes hand in hand in compass and variety of information, but to which its superiority is pronounced in point of epic excellence and consistency and uniformity of execution, the Rāmāyana constitutes the great repository of wisdom and learning, the manners and customs of the ancient Hindus. Indeed, the adage current in our socity with regard to the Mahabharata, “What is not in Bharat (Mahabharat), is not in Bharat (India)” applies to Ihe Rāmāyana as well. In it, cosmogony and theogony, the genealogies of kings and princes,—of human and extra-human beings, of Ashuras and Dānavas, of Yakshas and Gandharvas, and Shiddhas and Charanas; folklore and anecdotes and legends, and stories half- mythical and half-historical; descriptions of cities existing at a period long anterior to the age of Troy and Memphis, and the chronicles of kings that reigned before Priam and Busiris,—all these with others too numerous to enumerate, have been woven into the mighty web and woof of the magic drapery evolved by the so potent art of Valmiki.
Nor is the poem less interesting in a political point of view. It can hardly be questioned that all progress to be real and intrinsic must be developed out of the inherent tendencies of a nation—the feelings and sentiments and idiosyncracies into which it is born as well as those which have been stamped on its life and mind by the stress and exigencies of circumstances, social and political. For a nation, therefore, to govern another with such an object as that with which England has taken upon herself the Government of this country—namely, the progress and advancement of the children of the soil—a close and wide study of its laws, and institutions manners and customs, modes of thought and emotional proclivities becomes a thing of paramount interest. It is clear, hence, that to our rulers an acquaintance with such works as the Mahabharata and Rāmāyana is most important for wise and beneficient adminstration. Nor can it avail one to advance the seemingly unanswerable objection that treating of as they do a state of society divided from the real present by a huge and abyssmal gulf of time, such works can by no means serve as useful and faithful guides to the life and manners of Hindu society existing at this day. “In India,” as Professor Monier Williams justly remarks, “the lapse of centuries is powerless in effecting radical changes in the foundation and constitution of Hindu society.” The conservative character of the Hindu nation is proverbial. In India usages and observances, the rituals prescribed by the scriptures and the customs sanctioned by hoary age, are clung to with a tenacity that is proof against time and innovation; and those who think that England has materially swayed and influnced the social life of the people, labour, we make bold to say, under a lamentable delusion.
Having regard alike to the surpassing and matchless excellence of the poem itself both in its dramatic and lyric character, the extreme interest it possesses for antiquaries and students of oriental literature, and the importance with which its study is fraught politically to Englishmen, it is most desirable that the Rāmāyana should be presented before the public in an English garb. In consequence of its being composed originally in Sanskrit, it literally remains a sealed book to the majority of students. Few are the persons that can devote their time and energies to master Sanskrit—a language which of all languages existing on earth, is, in consequence of its highly complex and complicated grammar, as well as the indefiniteness which characterises it on account of its possessing countless synonyms, most difficult to master by a foreigner. Nay, we can perhaps safely go so far as to assert that very few amongst those Western scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of Sanskrit literature, have been able to enter into the spirit of that part of its vocabulary in which are couched those peculiarly Hindu ideas and sentiments that constitute the unique genius of the people. To translate, therefore, such a work as the Rāmāyana from the dead and indefinite Sanskrit into the living and real English, is, like unearthening a fossil and inspiring it with life; or rather like transferring a light from a bushel in which it has been hidden, to a mountain- top,—so that men may behold it and the surrounding objects by help of its grateful rays. Surely, to render a work from a dead tongue into a living language and specially such a language as English with all its resources, is literally taking it from its narrow and circumscribed sphere of influence, and placing it before the world at large—in fact, making it the common property and heritage of all mankind. The utility, therefore, we flatter ourselves, of this present literary undertaking, will recomend itself to all thinking-minds without any further elaboration on our part. Indeed, it would argue no common hardihood in him who despite common sense and reason, would endevour to maintain that the Epic of Valmiki published in an English garb (always provided that the execution do not fall far short of the requirements) would prove valueless as a contribution to the case of literature and culture.
In translating the Rāmāyana into English, we are concerned with a work composed by an illustrious ascetic passing his days in a hermitage in devout contemplation and the practice of rigid austerities and self-denial. It behoves us, therefore, to approach the task in a becoming spirit, with minds duly prepared and fitted. Let us, accordingly, begin by invoking Him whose presence can convert the foulest and the most unclean spot, pure and clean, “like the icicle that hangs on Dian’s temple,” or the hearts and aspirations of the Vestal Virgins, or pious saints ever engaged in meditating the Most High. May He in His infinite and eternal grace vouchsafe to purge our minds of all ignoble feelings and motives,—may He enable is to find delight in duty and doing His will! May our energies never flag while carrying the burden we have taken on our shoulders! May He enlighten our understanding to interpret aright and convey in clear and adequate language the great thoughts and sentiments of the sublime bard,—so that the English Rāmāyana being read by all the subjects of a Monarch on whose dominions the sun never sets, it may contribute to their constant profit and delight.