By Swami Harshananda
Rāmacarita-mānasa literally means ‘the Manasa lake of Rāma’s story’.
Rāma and Kṛṣṇa are the two important deities of the religion, philosophy, culture and ethos. Vālmīki’s Rāmāyana and Vyāsa’s Bhāgavata are the two foundation epics or treatises which have given birth to innumerable literary works with religio-philosophical import both in Sanskrit and in the various vernaculars of the country and even in the foreign languages of South- East Asia.
One such work which has occupied almost the same place in the hearts of millions of people of North India is the Rāmacarita-mānasa of Tulasīdāsa. Perhaps, in the hindi speaking belts of North India, it is equally or even more revered than the work of Vālmīki.
Motto of Tulasīdāsa
Historically speaking, Tulasīdāsa lived in troubled times. Only the path of bhakti or devotion that was simple to understand and easy to follow could restore core of religion in the hearts of all according to him. Hence, the whole purpose of his work was to lead the common people away from the various misleading paths that were masquerading as true religion and re-establish bhakti as the supreme spiritual sādhana or discipline.
References from Other Scriptures
Though based mainly on the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki, Tulasīdāsa has also drawn heavily from another well-known work, the Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa, considered sometimes as a part of the Brahmānda Purāṇa. The other two works from which he seems to have borrowed some incidents are:
- The ītanuman-nātaka also called as Mahānātaka
- The Prasanna Rāghava, a drama in seven acts of Jayadeva
Popularity of Rāmacarita-mānasa
Since he was highly devoted to Rāma, his hand just recorded what his heart dictated. He created an exquisitely beautiful religio-literary work of eternal value very effortlessly. The work is extremely popular due to three major factors:
- The universal human appeal of his conception of bhakti
- Propounding the ethical values and spiritual truths through the popular story of Rāma
- The unparalleled poetic genius
Dialect of Rāmacarita-mānasa
The whole work is in the Avadhī dialect of Hindī. It uses mainly two kinds of meters. They are:
- Dohā - It is a couplet of four quarters in which the first and the third have 13 mātrās or syllabic instants and the second and the fourth, 11 each.
- Caupāī - It is similar to dohā but with 16 mātrās in each quarter.
Sections of Rāmacarita-mānasa
The dohās are distributed as follows in the seven kāṇḍas or books. The names of each section is identical with those of Vālmīki’s except the sixth which is known as Lañkākānda instead of Yuddhakānda:
- Bālakānda - It has 361 dohās.
- Ayodhyākānda - It has 326 dohās.
- Aranyakānda - It has 46 dohās.
- Kiskindhākānda - It has 30 dohās.
- Sundarakānda - It has 60 dohās.
- Lañkākānda - It has 121 dohās.
- Uttarakānda - It has 130 dohās.
Each doha is followed by several caupāīs. The total number of caupāīs exceeds five thousand in number.
Difference in Rāmacarita-mānasa & Rāmāyaṇa
Though Tulasīdāsa has closely followed the Rāmāyana of Vālmīki, he has also wrought many changes. In fact, the first part of the Bālakānda has several such changes and innovations. A few of these may be mentioned here:
- Incidents in Rāma’s childhood resembling those of Kṛṣṇa given in the Bhāgavata
- Rāma and Sitā seeing each other in the garden of Mithilā and being mutually attracted
- Breaking of the bow of Śiva in svayaiṅvara before a large assembly of kings
- Arrival of Paraśurāma immediately after the breaking of the bow and his subjugation by Rāma
- Long introductory passages including prayers, dialogues between the sages Yājñavalkya and Bharadvāja
- A long discourse on the story of Śiva
- Dialogue between Śiva and Pārvatī
- Stories of Viṣṇu’s earlier incarnations
- Glorification of Bharata as a great devotee of Rāma
- Disappearance of Sitā into the fire before the arrival of the illusory deer māyāmṛga
- A shadow Sitā or Māyāsītā emerging out of it who was abducted by Rāvaṇa, the king of demons
- Meeting of Hanumān and Vibhīṣaṇa after the former’s arrival at Laṅkā and the latter’s help in locating Sītā
- Advises given by Maṇḍodarī, Kumbhakarṇa and Mālyavān to Rāvana since they had recognized Rāma as Viṣṇu himself
- Conversation between Rāvaṇa and Aṅgada
- Conversation between Trijaṭā and Sītā
The Uttarakānda of Rāmacaritamānasa has two parts. The first part gives a description of Rāma’s coronation and of his rule Rāmarājya. The second part describes the evils of Kaliyuga and the need for dāsyabhakti. The second part is in the form of a dialogue between the great crow Kākabhuśuṇḍi and Garuḍa the eagle-devotee and servant of Lord Viṣṇu. Scholars of Rāmacaritamānasa sometimes discover three layers or three stages of development in the work which is not very important from the standpoint of the devotee who is interested only in drawing inspiration from his life.
Proficiency of Tulasīdāsa
Tulasīdāsa was an eminent teacher and propagator of the bhakti sect or devotion to God. He utilized Rāma’s story as a very effective means of spreading it. His bhakti sect as reflected in this immortal work has certain special features. They are:
- Insistence on moral conduct which is the prerequisite for practicing bhakti
- Easy availability of the way of devotion to God to all, irrespective of their caste or status in the society
- Emphasizing the need for serving the society as per one’s capacity and not looking upon the life of the wandering monks with any admiration or favor
Though Tulasīdāsa sometimes gives allegorical meanings also in his story of Rāma, there is no doubt as to where his heart really lies. Brahman, the Absolute, comes down in the human form of Rāma, out of infinite compassion to save mankind. By any standards, Rāmacarita-mānasa is the magnum opus of Tulasīdāsa. It can hold it's head high in the class of literary epics of the world, immaterial of them being ancient or modern.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore