Arkaprabha Majumdar, Kolkata: It would be a cliche these days to say that there isn’t just one Ramayana. There are also not just three hundred Ramayanas. Just as almost every region in India has a version of the epic, similarly, to the Hindu mind, every Kalpa has a different and distinct Ramayana. But that is a tangent we are not going into now.
The difference between the various versions of Ramayanas is very subtle; both regionally as well as spiritually. A lot of regional Ramayanas exist and are well received in different states of India, wherein they are regularly used in religious occasions like Ram Navami, Dussehra etc.
For instance the Kamba Ramayana of Tamil Nadu, the Ramcharitmanas of Awadh, the Ranganatha Ramayanamu of Andhra Pradesh, the Krittibashi Ramayana and the 12th century Ramacharitam of Bengal etc, are some of the popular, regionally acclaimed Ramayanas of India, the Ramcharitmanas being relatively more popular by way of visibility and demography among them.
But this trend of textual variation is not only limited to different regions. Even Valmiki the author of the Itihasa Ramayanam had supposedly authored two other texts – the Adbhuta Ramayana and the Ananda Ramayana – the former at the request of Rishi Bharadvaja, who wanted to hear one of the rare exploits of Ram and Sita.
In chapter (Sarga) 1 of the Adbhuta Ramayana itself, it is narrated that Rishi Bharadwaja once approached Valmiki and asked him to narrate the story of Lord Rama, as the original Ramayana included thousands of verses, which were unavailable. Whether this was one of Bharadwaja’s saintly ploys, in order to listen to the Ramayana from Valmiki himself; is not known, since Ramayana is verily available to us. However we also do not know whether it was a different version of the Ramayana that he spoke about, or narrated.
The only take away we have from this is that due to the unavailablity of the thousands of shlokas of the Ramayana, Rishi Bharadwaja requests Valmiki to narrate to him, one of the rare stories of Lord Ram and Sita. The All-knowing Valmiki proceeded to describe a Sita centric version, reminding him that Ram and Sita are ultimately one and the same. And that Sita was verily Prakriti herself, with Ram being the manifestation of the supreme Brahman.
The Ananda Ramayana is in the form of a dialogue between Siva and Parvati. It contains a great number of stories related to the Ramayana as well as tools for sadhana, or spiritual practice. For instance, the moola mantra or central mystic formula for the worship of Hanuman, and the process of repeating it in order to get rid of maladies is contained in this text. The Rajyakanda contains miscellaneous topics. One of them is Rama Sahasranama. Others include a few discourses on Dharma etc. The 5th Sarga of the Janmakanda includes the famous Ramraksha Stotram.
The 8th book, Manoharakanda is seemingly tantrik in nature. Ram expounds spiritual truths to Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra at their request. A number of Kavachas, for instance, Ram Kavacha, Sita Kavacha, Hanuman Kavacha and others are prescribed here. Kavachas are mystic sets of formulae or mantras used to achieve a particular material end, usually protection from some specific malady or pain or injury.
So it can be concluded that the Ananda Ramayana was meant as an aid for sadhana. And also an ancillary text for the background of many of the events of the Itihasa Ramayana. It can be more or less concluded also that the Ananda Ramayana is of a similar structure as that of Tantra shastras.
In the Adbhuta Ramayana, Sita takes on a pivotal role as the vanquisher of Sahasranana Ravana. When Sita was young, a Brahmin had told her that Ravana had an elder brother who lived in Pushkara (the dvipa, or the place in Rajasthan, I don’t know), who was exponentially more accomplished than his younger brother Dasanana.
After the victory of Rama over Dasanana, as a part of his leela, he showed a little pride in the matter, upon which Sita reminded him that his feats are nothing if he does not defeat the elder brother living in Pushkara.
Rama mobilises his army, which now included Rakshasas from Lanka under the new king Vibhishana. When the demon Sahasranana sees this he is surprised but loses no time in preparing his army and jumping into the fray. A terrible battle ensued where Sahasranana breaks Rama’s Brahmastra like a blade of grass and renders Rama unconscious using one arrow. That one event launches the whole of the narrative, and the universe of the narrative into utter chaos. For is not Rama all powerful and the sole refuge of the dharmika?
When Janaki is informed about this terrible event, much to the surprise of the devas, she starts laughing like a maniac. All of a sudden she expanded in size and took on the exceedingly terrifying form of the goddess Bhadrakali. The skies turned dark with clouds showing frightening lightning. Then hundreds of mothers came out of Her body and started slaying the Rakshasas one by one. Bhadrakali herself slew Sahasranana Ravana with one stroke of her scimitar, then started dancing, laughing and revelling in laughter. The devas, siddhas, charanas, vidyadharas and yakshas in the sky were terrified on beholding this. The whole universe started to sink into the nether world. Pretty much reminiscent of popular stories about the dark goddess Kalika or Dakshinakalika as we know her.
Brahma tried to pacify Sita by eulogising her and praying to her. But the enraged Sita in the form of the terrible Bhadrakali pointed at her husband who was unconscious, and said that since he was lying unconscious, She had no wish to care for the universe anymore.
The scene very much represents that state of cosmic existence spoken of in the Tantra shastra where there is no Purusha active, and only Prakriti reigns unchecked and unchained, her raw power enough to destroy the multiverse if one can call it all that.
Brahma restores Ram’s consciousness, and he, in turn, becomes terrified on seeing his beloved in such a form. He then chants the Kali Sahasranama and only then does Sita calm down and returns to her worldly form. After that, Ram and Sita go back to Ayodhya happily.
This story has a very Tantrika character. Throughout the Itihasa Ramayana, the Purusha was extolled. In this story, Prakriti takes the lead. In the tantras it is said that Veda and Puranas are free and open to all. But tantras are like a mother’s yoni. Revealing them would be tantamount to death. This story, I think, was deliberately not included in the Ramayana, as the tantrika nature of the story would have been ridiculed by many. Maharshi Valmiki foresaw that Dharma would be diminished in the Kali Yuga. The Ramayana was made in such a way so that from ordinary human incidents, people could learn the mechanism of the spiritual process in a psyche. The fall of Brahman into Maya, vairagya and the ultimate unity of the Jivatma (Sita) with the Paramatma (Ram) after burning away the last shred of Vasana and Ahamkara.
The Adbhuta Ramayana however, is a different thing. It deals with esoteric cosmic knowledge meant for the erudite and the initiated. Hence could be a possible reason why it is not included in the mainstream Ramayana. A side note, here. Most people talking about “different Ramayanas” on social media in order to be fashionably Hinduphobic shouldn’t forget that there is only one Mahakavya called the
Ramayana. Whatever the others are by way of narrative plotting, they are derivatives. The Valmiki Ramayana is the Ramayana we speak of or refer to when we say “Ramayana”.
In the present day, the Sita-Sati comparison of modern-day intellectuals is based on an overtly western perspective of philosophical ethics. Sati to their eyes has devolved from the valiant, self-sacrificing, faithful lady, to someone who merely stays beneath the patriarchal wing of her husband and caters to his every need. Sati is mostly referenced with respect to a patriarchal mindset. But that is not what Sati is. Sati is willing commitment. Just as Rama for the sake of his wife travelled barefoot down south from Naimisha to save her from the humiliation of living as a captive of the rapist Ravana, Sati, Siva’s first wife too could not stand it when her husband was insulted in a hall full of devas and eminent people. The self-sacrifice symbolises divine wrath. It is not societal pressure that led her to commit such a thing. It was her perception of her husband to be one with her own self. Therefore any blemish on Shiva would mean that same blemish on herself.
Sita is Sati in that way. In that sense, she never stopped thinking about her husband, her own self for even a single moment. Sita and Sati share the same characteristics when it comes to divine wrath. When Sita sees Ram vanquished, she assumed the form of Kali and slew Sahasranana. Similarly, in some stories, it is said that after Sati immolated herself, she appeared in the smoke as Dhumavati – Dhumavati meaning she who emerged from smoke. Dhumavati was supposedly responsible for the epic failure of Daksha Yajna and the beheading of Daksha by Virabhadra according to an edition of the story of Daksha’s Yajna.
It is the reciprocal aspect of Purusha and Prakriti. Just as they stand up for each other as equally as Sati and Sita, so is it also vice versa – Ram killing Dasanana and Siva sending Virabhadra to destroy the Yajna. The same can be seen when Krishna, in order to rescue Radha from humiliation, takes the form of Kali in front of Ayan Ghosh.
Krishna is verily Kali, the mistress of the Shaktas. In the Tantrarajatantram, he is equated with Lalita in his six Gopala aspects, each with his own PanchabANa mantras. These six forms of Gopala are identified with the six senses, including the Mind. They are Siddha, Kamaraja, Manmatha, Kandarpa, Makaraketana and Manobhava Gopalas. These six Gopalas as well as the Senses are said to be the five arrows of Lalita and the Bow (manorupekshukodanda panchatanmatra shayakah, as the Lalita Sahasranama states)
The Kalivilasatantram says that Krishna was born as the son of the Devi who turns back when excited by passion. In the Todalatantram, in the 10th chapter, Krishna is equated with Kali. In the Kalirahasyatantram, it is said that Siva took the form of Radha and Kali took the form of Krishna and came down to earth as avataras. This all happened when Siva requested Kali that he wished to assume the role of Prakriti and asked Kali to be the Purusha.
Sita thus is not the demure damsel eternally in distress as modern day commentators interested in devaluing a multifaceted female character from a Hindu epic seem to always want to project her as. As seen, just as Rama is not the standard torturing husband as SJWs these days make him out to be, Sita also is not the weakling these same people want to project as.