Adhyatma Ramayana, The Spiritual Version of the Story of Sri Rama

"The Ramayana" is not a  single book like "the Bible" but rather a chronicle of history and a  tradition of storytelling. Ramayana serves as an excellent window through which  the great panorama of the Indian civilization is opened. The story of Rama  depicted in the Ramayana unlocks a gateway leading the  readers in an any part of the globe to  encounter with the world-view of a great civilization that both resembles, and  markedly differs from their own and a process which enables them to realize  that they should  have a world view in  the first place.

The Ramayana tradition has  enjoyed a unique popularity throughout the subcontinent of South Asia  (comprising the modern states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri  Lanka) and beyond - for versions of the tale have flourished in Thailand,  Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Although the core story of the  travails of Prince Rama and Princess Sita and their companions remains much the  same everywhere, storytellers and poets in dozens of languages have chosen not  simply to translate some "original" version, but instead have retold  the saga in their own words, often modifying and embellishing it according to  regional traditions or their own insights and interpretations.  Thus we have today different versions of Ramayana  in various languages indicating the deep penetration and influence of the  personalities of Rama and Sita in the hearts and minds of the Indian people.

India is very vast and has varied  cultural and literary traditions. It has always maintained and nurtured plants  and flowers of different kinds, colors and shapes. Therefore an assortment of  varieties and traditions of Rama Katha has been flourishing here not only in  Sanskrit but in all the other Indian languages since centuries. Sri Rama, even  now, is the pet subject of poets, novelists, story writers, cartoonists, philosophers,  thinkers, dramatists, film-makers and management consultants besides contemporary  politicos of different hues.

Valmiki Ramayana, Adhyatma  Ramayana, Vasishta Ramayana, Ananda Ramayana, Agasthya Ramayana in Sanskrit, Ranganatha  Ramayana in Telugu, Kamba Ramayana in Tamil, Tulasi Ramayana or Ramacharitamanasa  in Hindi,  Kirtivasa Ramayana in Bengali,  and Ezuthachan’s Adhyatma Ramayana in Malayalam are some  of the well known versions.

For all these works on the saga  of Rama, Ramayana authored by Valmiki who is called Aadi Kavi has been the  basis which is called Aadi Kavya.

Adhyatma Ramayana - Date and Authorship
Tradition ascribes the authorship  of Adhyatma Ramayana to Vedavyasa since it is said to be an integral part of  Brahmanda Purana. However, some scholars attribute it to the period 14th -15th  century AD and the author as unknown.
Adhyatma Ramayana is  the portrayal of a conversation between Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati (as  reported by Lord Brahma to Sage Narada).   It is this work that provided Tulasidasa with the inspiration to compose  his immortal work, the Ramacharitamanasa.

Brief Sketch
Adhyatma Ramayana has about 4000  verses and is popular amongst the devotees of Rama and also among the  Vedantins. Written in mellifluous Sanskrit, the work sums up the main events of  the Valmiki Ramayana. Discussions pertaining to Advaita Vedanta philosophy, the  path of Bhakti (devotion) in general and Ramabhakti in particular and several  hymns in praise of Rama are the hallmarks of this work.

Adhyatma Ramayana is essentially  a Puranic work demonstrating the inquisitiveness of Parvati and unambiguous expositions  by Mahadeva. But in the orthodox circles of Rama devotees, the Adhyatama  Ramayana is considered to be a Mantra-sastra, a sacred book, each stanza of  which is revered as a Mantra (mystic syllable) and devoutly repeated in a  ceremonial way.

A question naturally arises why  Adhyatma Ramayana when Valmiki Ramayana is already there. The answer could be  that the purpose behind the work was not to narrate Rama Katha but to propound ideological  principles of Bhakti in co-ordination with Advaita Vedanta. The very title  ‘Adhyatma Ramayana’ indicates this as otherwise it would have been christened  as Vyasa Ramayana as in the case of Valmiki Ramayana. This is to be viewed  against the picturisation of Sri Rama by Valmiki as a perfect human being, a maryada  purushottama, with embodiment of Dharma.

In Adhyatma Ramayana we see Rama  as Brahman - omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, the cause without a cause  and the One without a second. The factors that caused Him to incarnate Himself  in a human form were, as stated in the Gita, to protect Dharma and destroy the  evil.

Comparison with Valmiki  Ramayana
In a study of Adhyatma Ramayana it  is essential to know where it differs from the Valmiki Ramayana.

Valmiki’s object seems to  describe Rama as an ideal human character though he accepts him as an avatar of Maha Vishnu; but the divinity of Rama is always kept latent. This objective  of Valmiki is made clear at the very beginning of the epic in verses 1 to 18 of  Chapter 1 of Bala Kanda. Here Valmiki asks Narada the following questions: 

1. “Who in the world today is a  great personage, endowed with all virtues, who is courageous, who knows the  secret of Dharma, who is grateful, who is ever truthful and who is established  in sacred observances”?

2. “Who has great family  traditions, who has got sympathy for all creatures, who is most learned, who is  skilful, and whose outlook is ever kindly”?

3. “Who is courageous, who has subdued  anger, who is endowed with splendor, who is free from jealousy, who, when angry  in the field of battle, is a terror even to the Devas”?

In reply to this question, Sage Narada  narrated in brief the entire Rama Katha which formed the basis for Valmiki to  expand and make it a vast, beautiful and unique epic poem of great literary  value which came to be called Valmiki Ramayana. (Narada’s brief exposition of  Rama Katha to Valmiki is called ‘Sankshepa Ramayana’ which is used in many  households for the purpose of daily recitation).

The object of an epic which  begins with such a description of its hero is obviously to give us a picture of  human perfection. But this does not mean that Valmiki did not recognize  divinity in his hero. When a person is described as a Deity, it happens that  ordinary human beings start worshipping him and are not inclined to treat him  as a role-model to imitate and follow. This probably must have been the reason  for Valmiki to propound the divinity of Rama in subdued tones and paint him  prominently as a great human being with all the human frailties and weaknesses  so that the people at large may learn from his life.

While Valmiki’s great epic is the  saga of Rama in respect of its direct approach, Adhyatma Ramayana is a direct  elaboration of its spiritual implications. In the former Rama is a great hero,  in the latter he is a deity- Maha Vishnu, covered in thin apparel - held before  all to worship. This is made clear in the very first chapter of the book  entitled ‘Sri Rama Hridaya”.

The text of Adhyatma Ramayana  projects Rama as the Supreme Self; but while doing so it takes care to see that  Rama is also a Personal Deity, the Supreme Isvara,  who is to be prayed and sought after by all  those who seek knowledge of non-duality. It teaches Bhakti of the most  intensive type and stresses that through devotion to Rama alone the saving  Jnana would arise in the Jiva. The teaching of the Adhyatma Ramayana is an  extension of the declaration of the Svetasvatara Upanishad, “it is only in one  who has supreme devotion to God and to his spiritual teacher that this truth -  knowledge of the non-dual Self - when taught will shine”.

Thus to establish Rama’s divine  status, as an object of worship and devotion and to teach that Bhakti and Jnana  are not only reconcilable but always go together is the prime object this great  text. In order to achieve this objective, the Adhyatma Ramayana, while sticking  to the main trends and incidents of the Rama Katha described in Valmiki’s epic,  makes various deviations in the course of its extensive narration. A few such instances  are cited below.

Another feature which  distinguishes the Adhyatma Ramayana from the Valmiki Ramayana is the large  number of hymns sung by the various personages in the narrative and the many  philosophical discourses that are spread in various parts of the text. Besides  teaching intense devotion, these give us a very simple but profound exposition  on non-dualism. Valmiki’s Ramayana contains no such hymns and discourses.

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