The Book and the Author
Born on October 4, 1916, at Bangalore and educated in that city, the author had the privilege of studying under the distinguished Professor B. M. Srikantiah, Professor and Head of the English Department, Central College, Bangalore, and top litterateur in modern Kannada. She developed early in life an avid taste for English literature and particularly love for Shakespeare’s plays.
In 1937, she married Dr. V. S. Subramaniam, the renowned E.N.T. Surgeon of Madras.
Preoccupation with family affairs did not come in the way of her literary pursuit. She wrote a series of “Imaginary Conversations” on the modern of Lando’s for the Triveni under the pen-name “Ketaki.”
Smt. Kamala Subramaniam’s condensations of the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavatam, both Bhavan’s publications, have won wide acclaim and with her Ramayana she successfully concludes her magnificent triad on the Epics and Puranas of India this latest offering marks a distinct landmark in her great voyage of self-discovery on which she set off long years ago.
The Epics and Puranas epitomize our culture. They are suffused with spiritual fervour, their heroes and heroines are exemplars of nobility, sublimity, valour, heroism, steadfastness and chivalry. And anyone reading them will find himself a little better, a little nobler. They have moulded our outlook, our way of life from times immemorial.
It is this priceless treasure of the spirit Smt. Kamala Subramaniam has tried to recapture for the benefit of the younger generation who, alas are deprived of this spiritual inspiration and nourishment.
A master story-teller, Smt. Kamala Subramaniam has retold the story of the “Perfect” man – the ideal man of the conception of the ageless Valmiki – lucidly, simply, elegantly.
If her Mahabharata established her as a born narrator and in her Srimad Bhagavatam she has soared to ecstatic devotional heights, in her Ramayana she has excelled herself in retelling the story of Sri Ramachandra – a story so soul-stirring, so ennobling, so elevating. Each one of the characters stands out for the quality predominant in him/her, but the focal point is the intensely humane hero, the shining symbol of dharma, Rama.
After presenting to the English-reading public two great book of the Hindu tradition earlier, namely, The Mahabharatam and The Srimad Bhagavatam, Srimati Kamala Subramaniam is now offering to the readers a third great book of the Hindu tradition, namely, The Ramayanam of Valmiki. Like the two previous books, this one also is an abridged edition of the large epic, retaining, however, all the essential parts of the book and its inspirational flow of epic narrative.
Eulogizing the two great epics of India, Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works, Vol. IV, P. 96).
“In fact, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the two incyclopaedias of the ancient Aryan life and wisdom, portraying an ideal civilization, which humanity has yet to aspire after.”
The Ramayana has been the perennial source of spiritual, cultural, and artistic inspiration for these thousands of years, not only to the people of India but also to the peoples of South-East Asian countries. It has enriched the national literatures of these countries, and has also provided themes for every form of their art – dance, drama, music, painting and sculpture. Its heroic characters have helped to mould the Hindu character; and its three great personalities, namely, Rama, Sita, and Hanuman, have inspired millions of her people, high or low in the socio-economic scale, with the deepest, tenderest, and holiest love, reverence, and devotion.
All Hindu spiritual teachers, ancient and modern, have responded ecstatically to this great book and its heroes. Says Swami Vivekananda in the course of his lecture on The Sages of India (Complete Works, Vol. III, pp. 255-56).
“Rama, the ancient idol of the heroic ages, the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, the ideal father, and above all, the ideal king, this Rama had been presented before us by the great sage Valmiki. No language can be purer, none chaster, none more beautiful, and at the same time simpler, than the language in which the great poet has depicted the life of Rama.”
“And what to speak of Sita? You may exhaust the literature of the world that is past, and I may assure you that you will have to exhaust the literature of the world of the future, before finding another Sita. Sita is unique; that character was depicted once and for all. There may have been several Ramas perhaps, but never more than one Sita! She is the very type of the true Indian woman, for all the Indian ideals of a perfected woman have grown out of that one life of Sita. And here she stands, these thousands of years, commanding the worship of every man, woman, and child, throughout the length and breadth of Aryavarta (India). There she will always be, this glorious Sita, purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering.”
Rt. Hon. The late V.S. Srinivasa Sastry, India’s distinguished scholar and statsman, in his famous Lectures on the Ramayana delivered in Madras in 1944 and published by the Madras Samskrit Academy, invited the Indian youth to benefit from this great and immortal epic of their country (p. 2):
“Perhaps, The Ramayana is not quite as familiar to the younger generations that are coming up, as it was to us of an older day. Is it not true, alas, that great numbers of our youth at school and college of our civilization and culture?... Is it an exaggeration to say that a student of the Ramayana, not out of touch with its sanctity and its unequalled importance to the study of our civilization, can talk to an audience largely composed of the younger generation with some hope of profiting them? I believe there is, and in the coming years there is going to be, a greater need than ever of our going back with reverent hearts to this most beautiful and moving of all stories in literature.”
I cannot conclude this Foreword better than by quoting the two popular verses which salute, in highly elevating poetic imageries, the greatness of the intensely human sage-poet Valmiki and the heroic and self-effacing devotee Hanuman:
“I salute Valmiki, the cuckoo, who, perching on the tree of poesy, melodiously sings the sweet syllables – Rama, Rama!”
“I salute the master of kavis, i.e. poets (Valmiki) and the master of kapis, i.e. monkeys (Hanuman), who are endowed with pure Reason and who move freely and joyously in the sacred grove of the myriad virtues and graces of Rama and Sita.”
The author and publishers have done a great service to humanity by bringing out this immortal epic in a pleasantly readable edition.
It has been universally accepted that the three epics, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and Ramayana, comprise our cultural heritage. It has been my dream to render all three of them into English in a manner which will appeal to the young people and my dream seems to have come true. I have finally managed to complete the narration of the Ramayana in the same vein as I have the other two.
What is fascinating about these three treasure-houses is the fact that each is completely different from the other. One cannot but think of the river Ganga in this context. Ganga, hurtling through space, rushing down in a torrent towards the earth from the heavens, makes one think of the great epic Mahabharata which is full of action, full of passions, full of force, full of emotion. There is nothing placid about the flow of the narration.
Now think of Ganga as she enters the sea, when she becomes one with her lord. There is a feeling that the long tortuous journey is ended: that the strife is over: that at last, at long last, all passion spent, she has found Peace. This, to me, seems to compare with Srimad Bhagavatam.
Let us watch Ganga between these two extremities. Flowing calmly, placidly, in an unruffled manner, like the Mandakranta metre, chastening everyone who comes in contact with her: this Ganga makes me want to compare her to the Ramayana. There is, in the Ramayama, everything that is beautiful and the very atmosphere is purifying.
“Drama” is the first word which comes to the mind while reading the great epic, Mahabharata. “Bhakti,” on the other hand, is the thread running through the entire narration of the Bhagavata. “Pain” is the predominant emotion in the Ramayana. Pain is the monochord which can be heard throughout: and yet, this very pain is ennobling, purifying and satisfying. Ramayana is a threnody filled to the brim, with noble thoughts, noble sentiments, noble characters, not one of whom is spared the experience of pain.
The Bhagavata has a mystic veil which shrouds it throughout. The Ramayana, however, has less number of “characters”, but each is so clearly and sharply portrayed that we can almost see them. It is full of word-pictures which reveal the sufferings of the different characters.
The morning of the proposed coronation of Rama when the young prince is summoned to the apartment s of Kaikeyi where he sees his father, the very picture of woe, while Kaikeyi is ‘different’, to quote Rama. This was one of the most painful days in the life of Rama and how calm and composed he is when he is told about the banishment! The death of Dasaratha, and the moment when Bharata comes to know of it : all these three scenes are so clearly described, one cannot forget them easily.
Can one forget the other scene when Rama comes back to the ashrama at Panchavati and finds it empty? And we see Sita in Lanka, in the Ashokavana, like a figure carved out of suffering.
Consider the later scenes when Ravana’s pride is humbled day after day and the ultimate heartbreak when he hears of the death of Indrajit. Ravana rises to tragic heights during the end when he faces the consequence of his ‘tragic fault’ and we see the truth of the Greek proverb: “Character is Destiny.”
Ramayana has been called the Adi Kavya. If one were to try and look at it as one would at a Sanskrit drama and search for the predominant ‘Rasa’, it is evident that the Ramayana is, in essence, full of ‘Viraha’, ‘Vipralambha Shringara’ in a very wide sense. It is not just the separation of a husband and wife but several partings of different kinds. The predominant motif of the epic is: “Separation”.
The killing of the krauncha bird and the corse of Valmiki strike the keynote of the entire epic. Consider the number of partings. In the very beginning Rishyashringa is parted from his father who was doting on him. Later, rama is taken away from his father by Vishvamitra though the duration of the separation is short. Then comes the time when Bharata and Shatrughna are parted from their father as they go to Kekaya. Nothing is the same when they come back to Ayodhya. Bharata’s father is dead and his mother so changed that he refuses to consider her his mother any longer. And Rama was far away. There is the exile of Rama to the Dandaka forest, the great separation from his father and mother which kills the king and breaks the heart of his mother.
We come to the poignant scenes in the Aranya Kanda when Rama suffers the pangs of separation from Sita. The Kishkindha Kanda is filled to the brim with sublime poetry when Rama pines for Sita one the banks of the Pampa and later, at Prasravana when the rainy season visits the hill.
We see Sugriva parted from his wife. Then follows the death of Vali and the lament of Tara. Again, later, we are confronted with the painful scene when Mandodari grieves for Ravana.
Rama’s coronation takes place and, with Sita, he spends a short happy time: and again, separation. Sita s sent away and Rama spends the rest of his life in loneliness.
The Ramayana is a sad story. At the same time, like a Greek tragedy, it is the very summit of poetic art.
“Unarm, Eros, the long day’s task is done,” says Mark Antony. Even so, I am in a mood to say: a task which I undertook thirty years ago has now been completed and I feel a strange contentment stealing over me. I have but one regret. I only wish Pujya Munshiji had been with us. He would have been happy. But for his words of encouragement I would never have been able to do what I have done.
I am extremely grateful to Swami Ranganathananda for having been gracious enough to write the Foreword to the book. I feel very happy that he has blessed this book, and highly honoured.
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