THE RĀMĀYANA OF VALMIKI
The ancient Indian Sanskrit epic, the Rāmāyana, was composed some time between the 1st and 5th centuries BCE. As is the case with most ancient literature firmly rooted in the oral tradition, precise dating is problematic. Traditionally attributed to the sage Valmīki, and composed in rhyming couplets, it is one of the two great Indian epics (the other being the Mahābhārata); consequently it is known and revered not just throughout the Indian subcontinent, but also in South-East Asian countries as well, including Cambodia, Thailand Malaysia and Indonesia – indeed wherever Hindu culture became established. It relates the tale of a Prince of Ayodhya, Rāma and recounts the various episodes of his exile and subsequent return. The narrative follows Rāma’s quest and rescue mission, bringing home his beloved Sita from the clutches of the demon king of Lanka, Ravana, aided by an army of monkeys. While the basic story involves palace politics and battles with demon tribes, it is also infused with ethics, philosophy, logic and notes on duty. In the Mahābhārata, characters are presented with all their human follies and failings; the Rāmāyana by contrast leans towards an ideal state of things. For instance, Rāma is the ideal son and king, Sita the ideal wife, Hanuman the ideal devotee, Lakshman and Bhārat the ideal brothers, and even Ravana, the demon villain, is not entirely despicable. This translation, by Ralph T. H. Griffith, first published in 1870, was the first complete English version and has retained its initial reputation as an outstanding achievement – as much for its literary as its scholastic qualities. There are six Books or Khandas (a seventh which is sometimes included is generally regarded as a much later addition) containing some 24,000 verses which, as with the original, are presented in rhyming couplets. This makes the Rāmāyana of a similar length to the Iliad and Odyssey combined and there are a handful of occasions when, to avoid repetition, Griffith inserts a prose précis. Curiously he declined to translate ‘The Glory of Uma’ followed by ‘The Birth of Kartikeya’ in Book 1 on the grounds that it might offend the sensibility of his contemporaries! As one commentator remarked, Griffith was sometimes reluctant to ‘show much leg.’ In this case, the ‘offending’ verses have been newly translated for this Ukemi recording by Anwesha Arya, and delightful they are too! The Rāmāyana and its stories have been part of the cultural life and language of the reader, Sagar Arya, since childhood; thus this recording was especially important to him and he infuses it with a special understanding and authority.