From the Jacket
Makhan Lal Sen's The Ramayana of Valmiki is a modernized version in English prose of the great Sanskrit epic Ramayana. The appeal and freshness of epic poems transcend all limitations imposed by time, space, age, caste, creed, society, and language. All, irrespective of their age, succumb to the charms and fascinating personalities of its heroes, who have inspired countless men of different generations and spurred them on to perform almost superhuman task. Modern civilization owes most of its dazzling achievements to such inspiration.
Valmiki's Ramayana is something more than an epic. No one has built shrines in honour of Homer's heroes, to worship them as God. In contrast, from the time of its composition to this day, Valmiki's hero never lacked devotees. The reason for this strange phenomenon lies in this: in the Greek epics the cause is ambition, and the effect is the valour of its heroes; in Ramayana the cause is the moral welfare of society and the effect is the ideal conduct of its heroes under the most trying circumstances that destiny can weave. Rama is a personification of all that is expected of an ideal son, ideal brother, ideal husband, ideal prince, ideal ally, ideal commander, and an ideal king.
Translation of epics and rendering them in prose, is, at the best of times, an hazardous and arduous job. Here, the translator has done his best to capture to a remarkable degree the grandeur of the epic, the loftiness of its thought, the simplicity and elegance of its diction, and the freshness of its enduring beauty. This book, being one of those rare ones which elevates one's soul, should find a place under every roof.
About the Book
Translation of epics and rendering them in prose, is, at the best of time, an hazardous and arduous job. Here, the translator has done his best to capture to remarkable degree the grandeur of the epic, the loftiness of its thought, the simplicity and elegance of its diction, and the freshness of its enduring beauty. This book, being one of those rare ones which elevates one's soul, should find a place under every roof.
There is a relation between the hours of life and the centuries of time, says the philosopher and we cannot get rid of the past even if we will. Thus even those who want to study the present-day mentality of modern India with her vast and complex social, political and religious institutions, cannot do away with the history of her past, for a full and clear comprehension of the same.
Happily, we are not here without a chart or compass. If we only take the trouble of looking to our great Epics-the life-history of the ancient Hindus-we shall at once fall upon the trend of our national genious, with all its limitations and greatness, which should not be overlooked in determining the course of national conduct. These great Epics embalm, in their immortal pages, the lives and accounts of those great national heroes, each of whom revealed a new potentiality of national life and added a fresh chapter to Indian glory.
This is in fact the true history of India. And rightly observes Prof. Max Muller, "The true history of the world must always be the history of the few. We measure the Himalayas by the height of Mount Everest. We must take the true measure of India from the poets of the Vedas, the sages of the Upanishads, the founders of the Vedanta and Sankhya philosophies and the authors of the oldest law books, and not from the millions who are born and die in their villages, and who have never for one moment been roused out of their drowsy dream of life."
The ancient Hindus knew full well the elevating influences of a great man. They, therefore, not only honoured their national heroes but extolled them into divinity. There is something really noble in this excess of moral zeal. We are, in truth, idolaters of greatness, bred and born. And what wonder is there if one feels a deep religious reverence for the character of a man who was an ideal king, an ideal son, an ideal man, an ideal brother, an ideal friend, a devoted husband a valiant soldier, and, above all, a lover of humanity and truth!
If religion be a striving after moral perfection, Dr. Martineau is undoubtedly right in maintaining that from the idea of ideal perfection present in our minds we gradually rise to the notion of an Absolute Perfect Being, towards whom "a sentiment of habitual and permanent admiration" is born. In short, man always asks for a personal God, and sometimes even in flesh and blood, the place of which is often times supplied by an Avatara of our Shastras. And Sree Ramchandra is one of these great Avataras. This much is for the orthodox view. But if it is held that "the tense of revelation is infinitely past," then we must call him a Super-man, for he can't be less than that, and the more we know of him is better for us. We cannot escape from the hallowing influence of such a man. And it must be admitted that in the Ramayana itself, more stress has been laid upon the Humanity than on the Divinity of Rama. "Ecco Homo," as Prof. Seeley might say. Gods are gods, and we feel little interest for them, if they do not share in our sorrows and joys.
We think, we should here enter into a timely protest against all learned and ingenious attempts to explain away the whole of Ramayana as a grand allegorical poem, depicting progress of Aryan cultivation and civilization into the Deccan. There is indeed something fascinating about these inter-pretations, as in the seductive Dawn myth of Prof. Max Muller, in explaining away many mysterious Vedic phenomena. Yet to treat the whole of Pamayana as an agricultural poem is nothing but blasphemy pure and simple. To rely upon the derivative roots of Rama and Sita and to brush aside everything else is neither judicious nor sound.
The historical basis and the great antiquity of the Ramayana have more than amply been proved. It is too late now to attempt to establish the fact over again. The historic remains of Ramchandra's time are the strongest proofs of its historical truth. No amount of theory can get over this. A simple tour from Ayodhya to Rameswaram will settle all doubts. Yet if any formal authority of history is needed, we can do no better than refer to Col. Todd's immortal Annals of Rajasthan dealing with men sprung from Ramachandra's loins. It is ridiculous to content any more about its historical basis, "the outline is entirely lost in colour."
Still we maintain that to study our ancient institutions we must look more to our Epics and Puranas than merely relying on foreign accounts, as, Hiuen Tsang's Travels, or McCrindle's "India as described by Classical Authors". They are helpful no doubt but do not go to the roots. Here is enough food for patient research. In the Ramayana itself we find a high order of civilization existing side by side with some strange practices and customs, some of which are quite Vedic, while the rest is of doubtful origin. There are also other things that will ever perplex a questioning reader, e.g.:
Who are the Rakshasas? Some say, they are Non-Aryans (a vague terms by itself) or the dark primitive people of India whom the white Hindus conquered. They were savage people but the civilization and prosperity that we find in Lanka, the capital of the Rakshasas' chief, could not only vie with that of Ayodhya, but in some points were even superior to that of the Aryan capital. How can we then reconcile these two contradictory things? Have all the hedious practices been attributed to them out of sheer prejudice or malice, because they represented a different type of civilization? But Ravan worshipped the Aryan God Siva and followed the same faith!
Secondly, who are the Vanaras? Some say, they are anthropoid apes; while other, more scientific, are of opinion hat they are Darwin's missing link, while the third maintains, that they we re the aborigines of the Deccan. That they were not monkeys is quite evident. They had their kingdoms, and other civil institutions, yet some ape-like tricks and other arboreal habits have been freely attributed to them! But the devotion, loyalty, intelligence, love of truth, high sense of morality and skill they exhibit are rare not only in apes or missing link, but even in our present civilized age. Thus every theory which we so readily pounce upon appears to be negatived by some incontrovertible facts!
Thirdly, the occult power, we find, shared by some ascetics and Brahmanas is astounding, but the metamorphic power of their curses is simply astonishing Even some material objects surpass our power of comprehension. Some of the arms and weapons described in the sky like a modern aeroplane, appear to be quite perplexing. What are they? Are these the mere fabrications of a hyper-sensitive eastern mind (yet where flourished Vedantas and the Upanishads) or there is some sub-stratum of truth underneath them (where more is meant than meets the ear) is more than what we can say.
As for the great antiquity of the poem; we can only repeat what Prof. Jacobi has said, "The inner kernel of the Ramayana was composed much earlier than the Mahabharata, though the former has subsequently been modified by some later poets."
Nay more, it had, from time immemorial, invited many literary intruders to come with their countryside tales and weave them into the main texture of the poem,-a fact which has rendered the original an arduous reading to most of the modern readers. And the Ramayana, too, like most of the classics is now more admired than read. Yet we hope that, like the Illiad in ancient Greece, the Ramayana should be found under the pillow of every patriotic Hindu who still feels pride for the glorious achievements of his illustrious ancestors.
This has rendered the painful necessity of applying our irreverent scissors in pruning down literary prolixity and mere verbosity in many places, where it has encroached upon the main narrative, or clouded the real issue, or rendered the whole piece a tedious reading. This is an audacity, we admit, but considering modern taste and multifarious demands that are incessantly made upon the time of a modern reader, we have ventured to expunge all verbosity and unnecessary details for which most of the modern readers have little taste, or find little time or energy to feel their way through a regular forest of literary brambles. Economy is looked for in every department of life,-even in reading, since he has now so many things to read. And herein lies our justification for the present publication of the Epic.
This, of course, in no way means any disrespect to the great poet. Time has adorned the stately mansion with wall-flowers and other blossoms (the lovely evidence of its hoary age) and the tributes of unknown poets that have swelled the mighty current of Valmiki's poetry. Now, to dilate upon the merits of the Ramayana would be, in the words of Shakespeare, as useless as "to gild the refined gold or to paint the lily". Yet to a modern reader many things might appear quite absurd and dull. He may even be shocked by excessive hyperboles and supernatural elements of the Epic. But certain allowances must be made for its hoary age and the state of belief that characterized the society of that time. Literature of every age is tinged by its atmosphere. The Ramayana, too, was coloured by its environments. We are afraid that a modern reader will not feel much enthusiastic about the literary charms of the Ramayana, specially through the medium of a translation. We have, therefore, tried to be brief and simple instead of conforming to the exacting demands of a learned critic. But we have not left a single incident with its mental and physical accompaniments that finds its place in the original. Such cuts that hurt popular sentiments are improper, if not impertinent. We are, however, guilty of one such offence, though sometimes we have taken the liberty of condensing unnecessary details and many country-side tales, and redundant anecdotes into a close compact.
In short, the present translation is modernized version of the original. But we have omitted nothing which may be missed, though we have tried our best to adapt it to modern taste. And for this, we have tried to e faithful more to the spirit than to the form of the original. Some latitudes in translating such a work are inevitable. Thus, where we thought that word per word translation would render the whole thing unreadable, we have taken the liberty of a free translation there. To have a host of adjectives attached to every noun, in a monstrously long sentence, is anything but agreeable to modern taste, and we make no secret of doing away with a lot of them, which could be done without altering the sense in any manner. In some cases, alterations were necessary in the structure of sentences and in the sequence of words. There has also been a laxity in the use of articles. We have thus attempted in our humble way to present the book in a simple, readable form, specially to enable those who are ignorant of Sanskrit to see how the thing has been treated in the original.
Lastly, with our literary limitations, we cannot but feel diffident in presenting such a book in our poor form to the public-a book that has loomed large for centuries over the destinies of millions of people, and will continue to do so for ages to come. And for our ambitious venture we bow down to the spirit of immortal Valmiki, the jewel prints of whose hallowed feet we have dared to follow.
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