GOSWAAMI TULSIDAAS AND RAAMACHARITAMANAS
(I-DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, APRIL 2012)
Tulsidas was the son of Atmaram Dubey and was born in Delhi in the year 1575 A.D. He was warmly patronized by the Emperor Shahjahan and spent his early life in Varanasi. He went to Ayodhya and wrote his Ramayana, a poetic master-piece composition in a language commonly spoken in the Northern parts of India, like Kamban in Tamil and Krittivasa Ojha in Bengali. He divided his work into 7 Cantos like Vaalmiki but the Balakanda is the longest. The Uttarakanda deals at length with the episode of the Kaakamuni (Crow-sage) Bhusunda and of devotion in its manifold aspect. It was thus the subject matter of Ramacharitamanas came down to him. One day Parvati wanted to clear her doubts about Ramayana. Siva narrated her Ramcharitamans, given by Bhusunda to Garuda. The sage Yajnavalkya got it from the crow. Bharadwaja got the same from Yajnavalkya. Tulasidas got the story from Bharadwaja, so goes the Puranic story. Lord Siva directed Tulasidas in his dreams to bring out the story in poetic composition for easy chanting in a language known to all, though Tulsidas had planned to compose it in Sanskrit like Vaalmiki which is understood by only by highly intellectuals who have mastered the divine language. As directed, Tulsidas composed Ramcharitmanas not even in classical Hindi but in a dialect spoken and understood by all, a Hindi dialect Awadhi. The learned Pundits in those days felt that it was improper to write the Ramayana in any other language other than the divine Sanskrit. But Tulsidas wanted the gospel to reach every home in the country in every language.
The life story of Tulsidas and the manner in which Ramacharitmanas was presented to the world contain lot of legends and myths. Tulsidas lost his parents very early in life and was raised by a servant maid. It is believed that Goddess Parvati herself in the guise of a Brahmin lady fed the child when he was a baby. Sri Narahari Aanandji took the young boy to Ayodhya and performed his thread ceremony. He studied Vedas till he was fifteen and married a beautiful girl. He loved his wife too much and was always hovering around her. His wife Ratnavali once got so vexed that she exclaimed; "Had you loved Rama as intensely as you do my bundle of flesh and bones, you would have overcome all mortal fears and achieved salvation". These words touched his heart so deep he renounced the world, became a recluse (sanyasi) and became a devotee of Rama. When Ananta of Badri came to him and informed the drowning of Ratnavali and her father in the floods while rescuing some people he did not break down but with composure remarked "Ananta! They were noble souls. It was indeed my wife's advice that took me to the grace of Rama". Tulsidas was a cursed child but a divine blessed sage. As you all know even Vaalmiki, the author of Aadikaavya, Ramayana was a way side robber and a murderer. But it was not impossible for such a person to reform and become a great stage with good timely advice and strong determination to become a great spiritual Guru and man of compassion. When Rama deserted pregnant Seetaa and exiled her to the cruelty and wilderness, Vaalmiki took compassion and gave her refuge; he reared her two kids and educated them taking full responsibility as a guardian father. You find such stories of criminals turning to good d Samaritans in other religions too. As you all know Moses and David were Capital criminals in their earlier life.
Ramacharitamanas is not a true translation of Ramayana of his mentor Vaalmiki which no translator would dare to change in those days which was a holy true narration. Religious writers did not enjoy the freedom of press in those days like modern-day writers where people like Periyar could condemn holy Ramayana and get away with it. He had enough problems in writing his book in the Avadh language of commoners deviating from the Divine Language Sanskrit. But yet he often deviated from the holy version of Vaalmiki at places. To site an example Tulsidas so deeply engulfed in his devotion to Seetaa who was none other than Lakshmi, did not like to bring down her image in the Hindu society being abducted by Raavana, a demon, physically. Tulsidas therefore relates that Seeta seized and carried off by Raavana was not the real Seetaa at all but a palpable image of hers left behind by the real Seetaa. During the fire ordeal, it is the Maayaa (illusory) Seetaa that appears and the real Seetaa springs again and returns from the flames. Adhyatmaramayana of Vyaasa should have inspired Tulsidas. It is no sin or shame to an innocent woman if a villain behaves like a brute. Yet, mistakenly, Hindu Religious authorities look on the violence of a brute as causing a blemish to the women's purity. Such wrong notion continues from Tretaayuga till date. It is in deference to this wrong feeling that Kamban who wrote Ramayana in Tamil departed from Vaalmiki here. In Kamba Ramayana, Ravana does not seize and carry Seetaa as Valmiki describes; without touching her he lifts her with the earth on which she stands. Kamban here made use of the curse with which Ravana was inflicted that if ever he touched any woman physically against her will his head will go to thousand pieces.
Tulsidas had a vision of Rama through the good offices of Hanuman appearing in the form of a parrot and reciting a Doha (couplet in Hindi) on the banks of the River Mandakini. He then returned to Varanasi (Kasi) and started his work on Ramcharitmanas. He compiled them in two years, seven months and twenty-six days. He kept his hand written manuscript in the sanctum of Lord Viswanath. Next day, the priests found the manuscript with the inscription super-scribed "Satyam Sivam Sundaram". The local priests ascribed that to be the trick played by Tulsidas and would not let him take back the manuscript written with so much devotion and his life's masterpiece. He somehow managed to whisk it away from the priests and kept it in the house of friend Todarmal and also made another hand written copy of the same. Ramcharitmans got immense popularity and acclaimed to be excellent by Madhusudan Sharma, a profound scholar in Sanskrit in those days. He expressed his appreciation in a Sanskrit couplet thus: "In the Aanandavana of Kaasi Tulsidas is a walking plant. His poems are like flowers on which Rama keeps hovering like black bees".
Still his opponents were not convinced about the value of this manuscript. They shelved the manuscript given to them for placing at the Lord's feet at the bottom of all Vedas and Puranas and locked the doors of the sanctum of Lord Viswanathji. The next morning they found Ramacharitmanas had moved to the top of all the scriptures. Insulted and humbled they apologized to Sant Tulsidas accepting his devotion to Rama and his greatness. One day inspired by Hanuman Goswami Tulsidas wrote Vinaya Patrika and offered at the feet Of the Lord. He is also believed to be the author of Hanuman Chaleesaa. He is the founder member of Sankatmochan Hanuman Temple in Vaaranaasi.
Throughout his life he looked for the guidance of Hanuman and Hanuman never failed him. It is therefore no wonder people chant Hanuman Chalisa during Rama Navami and also celebrate his birthday during the same period though in the South Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated In Dhanurmasa on the Amavasya day. They also do the non-top holy reading of Ramacharitmanas complete during nine days culminating on Ram Navami or at least read Sundarkaand.
Tulsidas was a contemporary of Shakespeare (1532-1623). The Ramacharitamanas, Tulasidas' version of the Ramayana in Avadhi, a dialect of Hindi, consists of over 1000 stanzas of about 12 to 18 lines each. His words are musical and hypnotic. Every village and town in the Hindi heartland has a troupe that enacts the story of Rama based on Tulsidas's work.
Both Valmiki and Tulsidas divided their poetic composition of Ramayana to seven Kaandas (books). These are: Baalkaanda; Ayodhyaakaanda; Aaranyakaanda; Kishkindaakaanda; Sundarakaanda; Yuddhakaanda and Uttarakaanda. While the title given to all the six books are clear to describe the episode it is not very clear why both called the fifth book as Sudarakaanda. Many believe Tulsidas is the reincarnation of Sage Valmiki.
Sundarkand is a fascinating episode. It deals entirely with the adventure, achievement and dedication of Hanuman. Did Valmiki make a mistake in not calling it as Hanumatkanda and called it as Sundara Kaanda? Why then Tulsidas also named it Sunderkaand. Even if Valmiki had called it Hanumat Kaanda Tulsidas would not have called it so, for he was an ardent devotee of Hanuman who always helped him in his endeavor. Hanuman was as ardent a devotee of Rama as Tulsidas was. It would have been quite humiliating for Hanuman to gloat on his achievements however great may be as he believed all the achievements were dedicated to his master only. That is why Hanuman pays his obeisance to Rama, Lakshmana and Seetaa after meeting Seetaa and achieved success in creating fear in the minds of Raavana for the first time in his life, which created constant fear in him from that time onwards. Both the poets realized that it would be quite embarrassing to Hanuman if this Kaanda was titled Hanumat Kaanda and so decided to call it Sundara Kaanda, Book of Fascinating Episode.
Sunderkand of Tulsidas is a beautiful, rhythmic verbal description of Sri Ram.The word sunder meaning handsome, virtuous and good appears in 24 chaupai (Hindi poertic meter). Sunderkand concludes with the following verse:
Sakala sumangal daayak raghunaayak gun gaan |
Saadar sunhim tay tarahim bhava sindhu binaa jalh jaan ||
Sunderkand sings the praise of Sri Ram. It helps to achieve all that is good and auspicious, both worldly and spiritual. Whoever hears it with devotion shall without any means be able to cross the ocean of life.
Tulsidas's fame spread far and wide; his Ramacharit-Manas today is the most treasured possessions of Hindus. It will not be an exaggeration if we say at places he has even excelled Vaalmeeki in his rendering of Ramayana for he was divine gifted and divine blessed.
"Treta mein bhaye Valmiki Muni, Te Kaliyug bhaye Tulsidas Muni"—who was sage Valmiki in Tretayuga was Sage Tulsidas in Kaliyuga.
When it is not possible to have a complete narration of the Ramaayana on all auspicious occasions people have a community prayer where Sunderkand is narrated. The reading of Sunderkand helps people find happiness and fulfillment. Beside the beauty and inspiration of the verses, Sunderkand directs one towards attaining spiritual knowledge and is important to all from the worldly and spiritual points of view.
Namostu Raamaaya salakshmanaaya devyai cha tasyai janakaartmajaayai |
Namostu rudrendra-yama-anilebhyoe namostu chandraarka-marud-ganebhyah ||
"My Obeisance to Sri Rama! Obeisance to Lakshmana! Obeisance to Devi, the daughter of Janaka! Obeisance to Rudra Indra Yama Vaayu deities as well as to Moon and Maruts" --Hanuman--from Valmeeki Ramayana, Sunderkaanda