Yavat sthasyanti girayah
Tavat Ramayana lokeshu
As long as there are mountains and rivers,|
so long shall
It is claimed in Hindu mythology that the Creator of the Universe, Brahma, made this prediction even before Sage Valmiki's Sanskrit version of the Ramayana was documented.
But be that as it may, today the Ramayana, translated in several languages, is read more than any other Hindu scriptures and has kept the light of Hinduism alight wherever East Indians are domiciled.
Here in Trinidad, research has uncovered that it was Goswami Tulsidass's Ramayana that was the source of courage, strength and determination throughout the years of indenture labour for the Hindus.
And as far back as 1886 ... J.H.Collens noted in his Handbook of Trinidad that he saw East Indians in the fields chanting stanzas of the Ramayana, and in the evenings in groups.
What Collens experienced is borne out by East Indians in Trinidad who survived the indentureship years (1845-1917) to tell their kith and kin. And yet, as with Collens and the Massas of that era, and even today the Hindu way of life continues to be grossly misunderstood.
Though encouraged and praised for their invaluable productive contribution to the economic stability of the estates and nation as a whole; estate owners and the rulers of the day, forever felt threatened by the stick-togetherness of the East Indians.
Apart from other writers, historian C.R. Ottley is his History of San Fernando, points out:
The increase in the East Indian population of the town
and their apparent strange practices,
to use the words of many writers of the time,
could not but have its repercussions on the social life of the young Borough.
They had come to Trinidad, had laboured on the estates, and had on their release from indenture flocked into the Borough. They were uneducated, and oblivious of the pattern of western living, which caused great concern among the original inhabitants.
It is now obvious that from the earliest of times to be civilised and educated and intelligent one had to adopt the western life style, and some did, but the majority did it without totally discarding their own heritage.
As Dr. Brinsley Samaroo has pointed:
Hinduism and Hindus will always have a special relationship with and reverence for India even as Christians have for Jerusalem and the world of Islam has for Mecca.
Treated almost as untouchables at time, the early East Indians were left with little choice than to ban themselves with hope and strength in their traditions, religion and cultures that they had brought with them.
For the Hindus then was the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.. moreso the Ramayana with its simplicity ... that was read and understood but most, and those who could not read, easily memorised the verses.
To put the Hindu in true perspective, the late Romesh Chunder Dutt (1848-1909) wrote:
Sorrow and suffering,
trial and endurance,
are a part of
the Hindu ideal of a perfect
life of righteousness.
Rama (in the Ramayana) suffers for 14 years in exile, and is chastened by privations and misfortunes, before he ascends the throne of his father.
In a humble way, this course of training was passed through by every pious Hindu of ancient times.
The pious Hindu, Romesh Dutt pointed out, saw in Ramas life the ideal of a true Hindu life, the success and the triumph which follow upon endurance and faith and devotion of duty.
It is the truth and endurance of Rama under sufferings, and privations which impart the deepest lessons to the Hindu character and is the highest ideal of a Hindu righteous life.
The ancient ideal, he emphasised then. may seem to us far-fetched in these days, but we can never fully comprehend the great moral Epic Of the Hindus unless we endeavour to study fully and clearly its relations of old Hindu ideas and old Hindu life.
Lin Yutang writing in The Wisdom of India says:
I strongly suspect that the average reader does not suspect India is rich in culture, as creative, and as imaginative and with wit and humour as any China has to offer, and that India was Chinas teacher in religion and imaginative literature, and the worlds teacher in trigonometry, quadratic equations, grammar, phonetics, Arabian Nights, animal fables, chess, as well as in philosophy, and that she inspired Boccaccio, Goethe, Herder, Schopenhauer, Emerson, and probably also old Aesop.
In introducing Dutts translation of the Ramayana, Lin Yutang admits:
My love and true respect for India were born when I first read the Indian epics, the Ramayana and theMahabharata in the present translation in my college days. In these two masterpieces, we are brought closer to the atmosphere, ideals and customs of ancient Hindu life than by a hundred volumes of commentary on the Upanishads, and through them Hindu ideals, as well as Hindu men and women, became real to us.
Naturally, one is apt to ask what, then, is the Ramayana that has influenced an entire race no matter where they dwell or under what circumstances?
In the 19th Century as thousands of Hindus sailed from the shores of what they termed Mother India to other lands ... including East Africa, Mauritius, Java, Fiji and the West Indies .. they did so with little more than their skills and culture.
And the Hindus would claim that they came not with gems and gold and silver ..... except for some of the women with jewelry .. but with a determination and the Ramayana embossed in our hearts.
From the hearts of the indentured East Indians, the Ramayana has blossomed forth even as the lotus and today there is positive evidence of its growing popularity throughout the land, where the Ramayana stanzas are chanted at satsangs (community groups), Yagnas and even during funeral processions.
Referred by some as the Bible of the Hindus, the Ramayana as the name implies, simple means wanderings of Rama and was first written in Sanskrit by Sage Valmiki and since then produced in almost every language.
Goswami Tulsidass Ramayana ... which the poet call Ramacharitamanasa or Lake of the Deeds of Rama ... was written in A.D. 1573-4, not in Sanskrit but the more common language, Hindi at a period in Indias history when Sanskrit it self was on the decline and India faced disturbances.
Tulsidass forceful poetry, Ramacharitamanasa, became almost overnight the ark of the Hindus and today, the seven cantos of the work are said to be the seven steps to the lake and the deeds of Rama, the incarnation of Vishnu, as unfathomable as the waters of the lake.
Of Tulsidass work, G.A.Grierson wrote in the late 19th Century:
Valmiki praised Bharats sense of duty, Latchmans brotherly affection, and Sitas wifely devotion, but Tulsi taught them as an example.>
European first got a glimpse into the Ramayana when a portion of it was published in French in 1839 by Garcia de Tassy but by 1897 Growse published the first complete translation in English just four years after the first critical study was published by the great linguist, Grierson.
To date there have been translations in several languages, including Russian, contributing to the better understanding of the Hindu way of Life.
As Lin Yutang put it:
Without rivaling the heroic grandeur of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana is immeasurably superior in its delineation of those softer and perhaps deeper emotions which enter into our everyday life and hold the world together.
And these descriptions, essentially of Hindu life, are yet so true to nature that they apply to all races and nations.
And thus it goes without saying that to the Hindus .. wherever they are domiciled ..the Ramayana, in which Rama taught by examples mans ideal home and community life and duties to one anotheris like Surdhana (the cow, recovered during the churning of the sea of milk) that grants all desiresfor those who follow the examples and thread the path laid by the hero of the Epic, Rama.
Perhaps it is this view of life, as taught by example by the great leader, that has guided Hinduism to survive through the ages, not only as a religion but more as a way of life embracing all in accordance to dharma ...... cosmic laws.
And on Divali Day, the two syllable name Ra and Ma, will, through myriads of flickering deyas, illuminate the darkness caused by inertia and ignorance ..... thereby bring hope and unity to all mankind.
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Harry S. Sharma