I picked up Ramcharitmanas By Goswami Tulsidas to read as part of my effort to read original Indian literature. We all know a million interpretations, commentaries, derivative work that has been published on the two epics of India – Ramayana, and Mahabharata. So, I started by reading the Raghuvamsam by Kalidasa. This was the next scripture I picked up primarily as I thought it is huge but should be easy to read.
Well, it took me some time to get used to the Awadhi language. I was very slow initially, reading just a page or so of the 1100 page saga. But as I kept reading, I got used to the language, and things moved to a point where I would read about 10 pages a day on average. Given my travel schedule, it took me about 6 months to finish it, without giving up anything else that I was doing.
Sharing my learnings of reading this epic, in original.
If I can read it, You can read it
The Gita Press version I have of Ramcharitmanas is 1100 pages long. It has Awadhi and occasional Sanskrit verses, and each of them has immediate Hindi Translation. When I started, it did look like a daunting task.
My back of the envelope calculations predicted 3+ years to complete the book. However, once I got hold of the language, it was easy and the flow set in. I would get up in the morning, read my few pages and then start my day.
For anyone who understands Hindi, Awadhi is not very difficult. Once you figure out the meaning of a few words, and the way familiar words are said in Awadhi, you would not need to refer to translation most of the times.
If I can read it while juggling all other things, you too can read it.
Read More – Rama and Ayodhya by Meenakshi Jain
Not Just the Story of Ram
While Ramcharitmanas is a story of Sri Ram, the book at different places highlights the different characters of the story. Before Ram is born in the story, there is a detailed description of Shiv-Parvati Vivaah or wedding. There are back stories to tell you like a prelude the various reasons for Vishnu to take birth in Ayodhya.
Ram-Janki Vivaah focusses on Ram and Lakshman. Bharat Milaap focusses totally on Bharat and builds up his character. Sundar Kand is all about Hanuman and a fair amount of ink is spent on showcasing the splendor of Ravana in Lanka.
Character sketch of different characters will make you relate them to someone or the other around you.
The story ends once Ram is back and Ram Rajya is established. I think the description of Ram Rajya in Ramcharitmanas is the most beautiful part of the book. It tells you the Utopian reality comes true when every element is in sync with the other. It sums it beautifully in verse when it says – when everyone works according to his Dharma and Varna, and when the world is free of Fear, disease & sorrows. I think it deserves an independent post in itself.
Read More – Portraits from Ayodhya by Scharada Dubey
Bursting the Myths
There are a lot of things we know about the story of Ramayana from popular retellings in different media. However, many of my myths were burst when I read the original. Like there is no mention of Lakshman Rekha in Aranya Kand, when Sita is abducted. Lakshman just tells the trees around to take care of her in his absence.
Laksham Rekha is vaguely mentioned by Mandodari in Lanka Kand when she taunts him that you could cross a line marked by Lakshman and you think you can deal with Ram. Rekha, if any was meant for Ravana to not cross and not Sita.
This version of Ramcharitmanas has no story of the expulsion of Sita from Ayodhya. Birth of Luv Kush is mentioned in a quarter of a verse, but nothing else. There is no mention of Ram leaving his body by entering Sarayu.
When the 3 queens of Dashrath go to meet Ram in the forest, he does not come to know from their looks that his father has passed away. The word widow never pops up. They are always called either queens or mothers.
Read More – My Hanuman Chalisa by Devdutt Pattanaik
Story by Dialogues
Indian scriptures are all written as dialogues or conversations. This story of Ram in Ramcharitmanas is told as a conversation between Shiva & Parvati and between the crow Kak Bhushundi and Garuda. Tulsidas himself makes an appearance in between. Then there are dialogues between the Gurus in different ashrams and the students.
Living in Panchvati, there are curious dialogues between Ram and Lakshman on philosophical subjects like ‘What is Maya?’. While Ram and Lakshman wait for the monsoons to get over in Kishkindha, there is a monologue by Ram that compares the seasons to statecraft.
Towards the end, there are long discourses by Kak Bhushundi that wrap up the story with the lessons it leaves for the reader.
Nuances of Indian Culture
The language carries the nuances of Indian culture. You will discover a lot that can never be translated. For example, when the Kevat takes Ram, Lakshman & Sita across Ganga and Sita tries to pay by giving her ring. He refuses by saying – main na lun teri utraai.
See the charges are for taking you to your destination and be given after you have reached your destination. Unlike the charges, we pay for boarding, irrespective of our motive of reaching a place being met or not.
Why Read only the original Ramcharitmanas?
There are a million if not more retellings of Ramayana. In fact, this is also a 17th CE retelling of ancient Valmiki Ramayana that I hope to read soon.
Ramayana is a multi-layered story. The story of Ram avatar is a veneer to communicate a deeper understanding of human nature. Each reader will read their own angle. This, in fact, is the beauty of Indian scriptures. You can read them in so many different ways. The only way you can not read them is to read frivolously.
So, rather than read as it was read by someone else, or as someone imagined the unsaid parts of the story. Read it for yourself and make your own conclusions.
Go, Read It!