Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Although they are unlikely to have ever read it, most people probably know that the Ramayana is one of the two great Indian epics and is considered a sacred texts by Hindus. It tells the story of Rama and Sita, their exile and their triumphant return. What most people do not know is that there is no one texts called the Ramayana but many of them. The most well-known is the one composed by Valmiki in 24,000 verses. This is considered the Ramayana, the standard one, the one by which all the others are judged. But there is no good reason for doing this other than that Valmiki’s Ramayana is the most widely known version in northern India, that its contents are the most detailed and interesting and that its language is exceptional. Valmiki used an earlier Ramayana, perhaps several of them, as the basis of his own great work. Some of the other versions of the Ramayana are the so-called Southern, the Western, the Southern and the North-Western Recensions. Then of course there is the Jain Ramayana, which other than following the rough outline of Valmiki’s is an entirely independent work. The Thai Ramayana differs greatly from the Indonesian one, not just in what it says but in its story line, and both are very different from Valmiki’s. And when I say different, I mean really different. In one version Ravana is the hero, not Rama. In some versions Sita is Rama’s sister, not his wife. The Malay Ramayana, Hikayat Seri Rama, and the Lao version, Phra Lak Phra Lam, make Lakshmana the hero and Rama his sidekick.
None of this detracts from the Ramayana’s, or more correctly, the Ramayanas, importance, their influence has been enormous. They have left their mark on nearly every aspect of Indian life. Tulsi Das’ rendering would easily be the most widely read book ever written in Hindi, It could be plausibly argued that the Indonesian Ramayana has had more influence on that country’s art, sculpture, architecture and literature than Islam has had. And Thailand? Go to Wat Phra Keo, the most important Buddhist temple in the country, and it is not the life of the Buddha that is depicted on the walls of the passageway around the main shrine but scenes from the Thai Ramayana, the Ramakien. The former capital of Thailand was named Ayodhya, after Rama’s home town, not Kapilavatthu. All kings of the present ruling dynasty of Thailand take the throne name Rama, not Siddhattha, Suddhodana or even Buddhadasa. What the Bible is to Europe, the Ramayanas are to India and wide areas of south-east Asia.
Now this is a Buddhist blog so what am I doing going on about the Ramayana? Well, here is another fact that I suspect you didn’t know. The earliest version of the great epic is the Buddhist one, the one found in the Jatakas (No 461). It’s called the Dasaratha Jataka, Dasaratha being of course Rama’s father. Now although the Dasaratha Jataka is immediately identifiable as a version of the Ramayana it differs greatly from most other versions. For example, Rama and Sita are siblings, not husband and wife; Dasaratha does not banish them but sends them away to protect them from their jealous step-mother; they are exiled to the Himalayas, not to Dandaka in the Deccan; there is no reference to Lanka or Ravana; Rama and Sita return to Benares not to Ayodhya after their exile, and somewhat uncomfortably, they then marry.
Now reading Valmiki’s Ramayana (and I confess to not having read it all) one discovers little bits of Buddhism popping up here and there throughout it. For example, the story of King Sibi giving his eyes to the blind man (Jataka No 499) is there. I strongly suspect that the exile of Vessantra as told in the Vessantra Jataka (No 549) was the inspiration for Rama and Sita’s exile in Valmiki’s Ramayana, although I don’t know what scholars say about this. Having said all this, it is also true to say that the Dasaratha Jataka is not a literary masterpiece and Valmiki’s Ramayana definitely is. It is nowhere near as long (is any poem?), it lacks its narrative charm and excitement, and its didactic elements are much more limited. If you are interested in reading the Ramayana (and you have 6 month to spare) have a look at where you will find the Sanskrit text and a word by word translation of it with notes. I have not been able to find the Dasaratha Jataka on the internet.


Justin Choo said...


You should be a Dean Emeritus of some university.

Your depth and width of knowledge fascinate me.


Unknown said...

Hi Bhante,

"I have not been able to find the Dasaratha Jataka on the internet."

This might be what you are looking for:

Dasaratha Jataka No. 461 (The Buddhist story of Rama)(translation by Prof. E.B. Cowell from the Pali Text Society

This story the Master told in Jetavana about a landowner whose father was dead. This man on his father’s death was overwhelmed with sorrow: leaving all his duties undone, he gave himself up to his sorrow wholly. The Master at dawn of day looking out upon mankind, perceived that he was ripe for attaining the fruit of the First Path. Next day, after going his rounds for alms in SAvatthi, his meal done, he dismissed the Brethren, and taking with him a junior Brother, went to this man’s house, and gave him greeting, and addressed him as he sat there in words of honey sweetness. “You are in sorrow, lay Brother?” said he. “Yes, Sir, afflicted with sorrow for my father’s sake.” Said the Master, “Lay Brother, wise men of old who exactly knew the eight conditions of this world, felt at a father’s death no grief, not even a little.” Then at his request he told a story of the past.

Once upon a time, at Benares, a great king named Dasaratha renounced the ways of evil, and reigned in righteousness. Of his sixteen thousand wives, the eldest and queen consort bore him two sons and a daughter; the elder son was named Rama pandita, or Rama the wise, the second was named Prince Lakkhana or Lucky, and the daughter’s name was the Lady Sita (meaning “cool”).

In course of time, the queen consort died. At her death the king was for a long time crushed by sorrow, but urged by his courtiers he performed her obsequies, and set another in her place as queen consort. She was dear to the king and beloved. In time she also conceived, and all due attention having been given her, she brought forth a son, and they named him Prince Bharata.

The king loved his son much, and said to the queen, “Lady, I offer you a boon: choose.” She accepted the offer, but put it off for the time. When the lad was seven years old, she went to the king, and said to him, “My lord, you promised a boon for my son. Will you give it to me now?” “Choose, lady,” said he. “My lord,” quoth she, “give my son the kingdom.” The king snapt his fingers at her; “Out, vile jade!” said he angrily, “my other two sons shine like blazing fires; would you kill them, and ask the kingdom for a son of yours?” She fled in terror to her magnificent chamber, and on other days again and again asked the king for this. The king would not give her this gift. He thought within himself: “Women are ungrateful and treacherous. This woman might use a forged letter or a treacherous bribe to get my sons murdered.” So he sent for his sons, and told them all about it, saying: “My sons, if you live here some mischief may befall you. Go to some neighboring kingdom, or to the woodland, and when my body is burnt, then return and inherit the kingdom which belongs to your family.” Then he summoned soothsayers, and asked them the limits of his own life. They told him he would live yet twelve years longer. Then he said, “Now, my sons, after twelve years you must return, and uplift the umbrella of royalty.” They promised, and after taking leave of their father, went forth from the palace weeping. The Lady Sita said, “I too will go with my brothers:” she bade her father farewell, and went forth weeping.

These three depared amidst a great company of people. They sent the people back, and proceeded until at last they came to Himalaya. There in a spot well watered, and convenient for the getting of wild fruits, they built a hermitage, and there lived, feeding upon the wild fruits.

Lakkhana pandita and Sita said to Ramapandita, “You are in place of a father to us; remain then in the hut, and we will bring wild fruit, and feed you. “ He agreed: thenceforward Ramapandita stayed where he was, the others brought the wild fruit and fed him with it.

Thus they lived there, feeding upon the wild fruit; but King Dasaratha pined after his sons, and died in the ninth year. When his obsequies were performed, the queen gave orders that the umbrella should be raised over her son, Prince Bharata. But the courtiers said, “The lords of the umbrella are dwelling in the forest, “ and they would not allow it. Said Prince Bharata, “I will fetch back my brother Rama pandita from the forest, and raise the royal umbrella over him. “ Taking the five emblems of royalty(Sword, umbrella, diadem, slippers and fan), he proceeded with a complete host of the four arms (elephants, cavalry, chariots, infantry) to their dwelling place. Not far away he caused camp to be pitched, and then with a few courtiers he visited the hermitage, at the time Lakkhana pandita and Sita were away in the woods. At the door of the hermitage sat Ramapandita, undismayed and at ease, like a figure of fine gold firmly set. The prince approached him with a greeting, and standing on one side, told him of all that had happened in the kingdom, and falling at his feet along with the courtiers, burst into weeping. Ramapandita neither sorrowed nor wept; emotion in his mind was none. When Bharata had finished weeping, and sat down, towards evening the other two returned with wild fruits. Rama pandita thought –“These two are young: all comprehending wisdom like mine is not theirs. If they are told on a sudden that our father is dead, the pain will be greater than they can bear, and who knows but their hearts may break. I will persuade them to go down into the water, and find a means of disclosing the truth.” Then pointing out to them a place in front where there was water, he said, “You have been out too long: let this be your penance – go into that water, and stand there. “ Then he repeated a half stanza:

“Let Lakkhana and Sita both into that pond descend.”

One word sufficed, into the water they went, and stood there. Then he told them the news by repeating the other half stanza:

“Bharata says, king Dasaratha’s life is at an end.”

When they heard the news of their father’s death, they fainted. Again he repeated it, again they fainted, and when even a third time they fainted away, the courtiers raised them and brought them out of the water, and set them upon dry ground. When they had been comforted, they all sat weeping and wailing together. Then Prince Bharata thought: “My brother Prince Lakkhana, and my sister the Lady Sita, cannot restrain their grief to hear of our father’s death; but Rama pandita neither wails nor weeps. I wonder what can the reason be that he grieves not? I will ask.” Then he repeated the second stanza, asking the question:

“say by what power thou grievest not, Rama, when grief should be?

Though it is said thy sire is dead grief overwhelms not thee!”

Then Rama pandita explained the reason of his feeling no grief by saying,

“When man can never keep a thing, though loudly he may cry,

Why should a wise intelligence torment itself thereby?

The young in years, the older grown, the fool, and eke the wise,

For rich, for poor one end is sure: each man among them dies.

As sure as for the ripened fruit there comes the fear of fall,

So surely comes the fear of death to mortals one and all.

Who in the morning light are seen by evening oft are gone,

And seen at evening time, is gone by morning many a one.

It to a fool infatuate a blessing could accrue

When he torments himself with tears, the wise this same would do.

By this tormenting of himself he waxes thin and pale;

This cannot bring the dead to life, and nothing tears avail.

Even as a blazing house may be put out with water, so

The strong, the wise, the intelligent, who well the scriptures know,

Scatter their grief like cotton when the stormy winds do blow.

One mortal dies – to kindred ties born is another straight:

Each creature’s bliss dependent is on ties associate.

The strong man therefore, skilled in sacred text,

Keen contemplating this world and the next,

Knowing their nature, not by any grief,

However great, in mind and heart is vext.

So to my kindred I will give, them will I keep and feed,

All that remain I will maintain: such is the wise man’s deed.”

In these stanzas he explained the Impermanence of things.

When the company heard this discourse of Rama pandita, illustrating the doctrine of Impermanence, they lost all their grief. Then Prince Bharata saluted Rama pandita, begging him to receive the kingdom of Benares. “Brother,” said Rama, “take Lakkhana and Sita with you, and administer the kingdom yourselves.” “No, my lord, you take it.”

“Brother, my father commanded me to receive the kingdom at the end of twelve years. If I go now, I shall not carry out his bidding. After three more years I will come. “ “Who will carry on the government all that time?” “You do it.” “I will not.” “Then until I come, these slippers shall do it,” said Rama, and doffing his slippers of straw he gave them to his brother. So these three persons took the slippers, and bidding the wise man farewell, went to Benares with their great crowd of followers.

For three years the slippers ruled the kingdom. The courtiers placed these straw slippers upon the royal throne, when they judged a cause. If the cause were decided wrongly, the slippers beat upon each other [1], and at that sign it was examined again; when the decision was right, the slippers lay quiet.

When the three years were over, the wise man came out of the forest, and came to

Benares, and entered the park. The princes hearing of his arrival proceeded with a great company to the park, and making Sita the queen consort, gave to them both the ceremonial sprinkling. The sprinkling thus performed, the Great Being standing in a magnificent chariot, and surrounded by a vast company, entered the city, making a solemn circuit right-wise; then mounting to the great terrace of his splendid palace Sucandaka, he reigned there in righteousness for sixteen thousand years, and then went to swell the hosts of heaven.

This stanza of Perfect Wisdom explains the upshot:

Years sixty times a hundred, and ten thousand more, all told,

Reigned strong armed Rama, on his neck the luck triple fold.”[2]

The Master having ended this discourse, declared the Truths, and identified the Birth:

(now at the conclusion of the Truths, the land-owner was established in the fruit of the First Path:) “At that time the king Suddhodana was king Dasaratha, MahAmAyA was the mother, RAhulA’s mother was Sita, Ananda was Bharata, and I myself was Rama pandita.

Buddha said...

@Terrance :

Thanks for the Story .i have read Valmiki's version even the Kambha Ramayan....this is quite different..

Anonymous said...

Greetings everyone!

I am a follower of the Vedic Faith and a devotee of Lord Ram but I am not a Vedic Scholar. I would like to take this opportunity to dispel any confusion that one may have regarding Lord Ram and the Holy text, Ramayan.

The only authority for Ramayan is Valmiki's version. The rest of the versions from other parts of India and across south-east-asia have been severely distorted as you have read that Lord Rama and Goddess Sita were siblings, Ravan being a hero and that Lord Lakshman is the main person. These are few of the many horrendous interpretations you can find.

Thus, I would encourage those who are sincerely interested in learning about Lord Ram or even finding refuge in him,to utilize Valmiki's version of Ramayan as an authority. The Hindu priest in the temples in Singapore would be a good starting place.

In the passage of time many things including religious doctrines are lost or corrupted. None is exempt from it.

Jai Shri Ram