Ramayana is the oldest epic in world literature. It is a treasure house of knowledge and an inexhaustible mine for later poets and has a special place in Indian culture as well as Sanskrit literature. It is translated into all Indian languages and to several European languages along with English. It is also rendered with variations in many South and South-east countries since several centuries and they have adopted the epic in their music, dance, ballet, art and architecture.
It is believed that Valmiki Ramayana was put to writing around 500 AD. It was told and retold since several centuries orally in and around India. Maharshi Valmiki is confident of its circulation among people until mountains stay erect on the earth.
Ramayana is known as a treatise of Dharma. The four Purusharthas –values of life.viz., Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha are dealt here with utmost care. Kalidas the famous Sanskrit poet summarizes the values of life upheld by the kings of Ikshvaku dynasty as narrated by Valmiki. The Ramayana epic is strewn with exposition of values of life from great sages. The concept of Dharma is depicted well through the conduct of various characters and more so by Rama. He deals with difficult situations with the ardent devotion to Dharma. It gives a clear message that Dharma will be victorious in the end. But those who want to stand by Dharma may have to pay the price in order to achieve benefit for the entire society. The path of Dharma is open for fearless and noble people.
It is an arduous and yet rewarding experience for academicians and scholars working under ‘Ramayana Project’ to give comprehensive view of the entire epic along with its five commentaries. The idea of our attempt is to present translation of the text of Valmiki Ramayanam with word order and meaning of each verse followed by translation of verse in English. It is our intention to introduce through electronic and print media Valmiki Ramayana and its commentaries in English to the modern youth interested in ancient scriptures, who have missed the traditional learning and Sanskrit language.
Although Valmiki Ramayana is in vogue all over the country three well-known versions namely the Northwest, East and Southern versions are more popular. The Southern recension has been selected for the present translation. The best of the commentaries of Valmiki Ramayana being written in Sanskrit is not to the understanding of many readers. Moreover the influence of English on the present generation handicaps one to understand the Sanskrit commentaries.
Considering the importance of highlighting the philosophical thoughts, values and social ideals internalized in the commentaries of Ramayana, it is also attempted to translate selected commentaries into English (though there are some more important commentaries). Several authors have written commentaries on Valmiki Ramayana which are difficult to understand for all. The authors represent different Schools of Philosophy. These commentaries enriched Indian philosophy. The commentaries selected for translation for the present are Amrithakataka, Dhramakutam, Tattvadipika Tilaka and Siromani. The English translation of commentaries has been given for important subjects on which commentary is given.
Indian literary tradition holds Valmiki as the first poet (Adikavi) and Ramayana as the first epic, Adikavya. Valmiki is the first path maker for the sweet expressions of poetry. He provided inspiration for all classical poets and his influence is seen in Sanskrit literature in Poems Plays and Kavyas. Even though Valmiki Ramayana has been composed in classical Sanskrit and not intelligible to the unlettered yet due to the efforts made by oral expounders it was made understandable to the masses in rural India. Lava and Kusa are the first expounders of Ramayana and great Valmiki himself trained them. This practice of popular exposition of Ramayana continued through centuries making illiteracy no bar for reading Ramayana. Keeping in view the melody of Ramayana an attempt is made for audio rendering of the verses to make the reader experience the melody of the poems. There is a practice of reading Ramayana or part of Ramayana daily, particularly Sundara Kanda so that not only professional exponents of the epic but also large number of people know Valmiki Ramayana by heart. Many people know to repeat off-hand Sundara Kanda, thus the text is retained in its original form in India.
If a poem has contributed substantially to keeping in Indian culture alive it is Ramayana. Rama the warrior prince is a hero a likeable pleasing god-man later came to be looked upon as god more particularly with the Vedic gods receding into the back ground. Rama became a by word. The social ideals, family relationships introduced by Valmiki made it popular over other stories of the past such as Savitri-Satyavan, Nala –Damyanti, Tapti-Samvarana and Vasavadatta-Udayana. The description of human relationship in royal households of Ayodhya, Kishkinda and Lanka is unique. Ramayana is a book of Dharma and Rama is an embodiment of Dharma and a paradigm of an ideal man. Ramayana clearly illustrates that Artha and Kama can be enjoyed with in the legitimate bounds of Dharma.
The story of Rama and Sita, the Dharma by which they lived and the adharma they shunned express a value system basic to much education in India. Hope this presentation produces firmer devotion to Rama and commitment to dharma which each of us is called on to practice.