28.9.1 : THREE SUNDARAKANDAMS : VALMIKI, KAMBAN & TULSI --- P.1
As long as mountains and rivers last on the face of the earth,
the story of Ramayana would survive.
Creator BrahmA to Valmiki in Valmiki Ramayana. I-2-36,37
(Note: For the purpose of this chapter, we shall usel the three abbreviations:
V.R. : Valmiki Ramayana (in Sanskrit);
K.R.: Kamba-Ramayanam (in Tamil);
T.R. : Tulsi’s Ram-carita-mAnas (in Hindi))
There is nothing in the whole world of literature, religious or secular, to beat the quantum
of influence and quality of impact left by VAlmIki and VyAsa on succeeding generations of people in five successive millenia. They have left their mark on the largest number of people for the longest period of time in the history of civilisation. VAlmIki’s RAmAyana particularly, where the story is more simplistic than that of the MahA-bhArata of VyAsa, is a scriptural fantasy.
[In the unfortunate circumstance of the reader not knowing the story of Ramayana , he might want to read the very short one-paragraph version of the story given in 28.8]
For that very reason, its story has been retold by later poets, with all the excitement and dramatics of poetry, the right vehicle for emotions beautifully remembered in extreme tranquility. In the great lineage of poets who dwelt on VAlmIki’s theme of the Ramayana, Kamban (12th century) in Tamil and Tulsi (16th century) in Hindi (actually, it is awadhi) are foremost. To compare and contrast the three giants VAlmIki, Kamban and Tulsi, may well be the work of a lifetime. We shall, in this chapter, restrict ourselves to a modest scrutiny of the handling of the sundara-kANDa by the three poets. Sundara-kANDa, which is the fifth KANDa in the chronological narration of the story, is that part of the Ramayana where the great devotee and disciple Hanuman, goes to Lanka in search of Sita, succeeds in his classic adventure of marathon proportions, and brings back valuable information about her and of the enemies who are keeping her captive, so that Rama with the monkey army can challenge them and win her back. The scene of the whole story is Lanka, (modern Shri Lanka) the abode of the then-living Rakshasas.
Before we proceed to the sundara-kANDa, we may say a few words distinguishing in general, via a macro-perception, these three great epics in the three languages, Sanskrit, Tamil and Hindi. VAlmIki raises man Rama to Lord-God by a vivid portrayal of his ideal behaviour and superlative valour while Kamban and Tulsi portray Rama as God Himself descended on Earth in the manner of the concept of avatAra. In VAlmIki the main ‘rasa’ (flavour) is pathos. One almost gets into tears while reading the ancient lines of VAlmIki. In Kamban’s work it is poetry that dominates devotion, while in Tulsi it is the other way. VAlmIki portrays everything as one sees it as it happens, true to the blessing of the Creator BrahmA.
न ते वागनृता काव्ये काचिदत्र भविष्यति ( V.R. I-2-35)
na te vAganRtA kAvye kAcidatra bhavishyati/ V.R. 1-2-35)
No narration of yours will be false’.
Kamban is full of micro-dramatic details and descriptions as in a commentator’s description of a cricket match or an Independence Day Parade. Particularly he excels in descriptions, imageries, similies, metaphors, analogies and microdetails such as statistics.
Tulsi waxes eloquent when it is a question of devotion to Rama and he throws his own comments as would, a commentator on the media. For instance he has ten lines of glorified description of the fortified city of Lanka, the elephants, horses and mules, groves and orchards and myriads of soldiers and warriors and champions. And then he says:
Ehi lAgi tulsIdAs in-hi kI kathA kacchu ek hai kahI / raghuvIR sar tIrath sarIr hi tyAg gati paihahi sahI//
‘Tulsidas has briefly told their story only because they will drop their bodies at the sanctuary of Shri Rama’s arrows and thereby attain the supreme state.’ Tulsi turns everything into devotion of the supreme Rama.
But both the later poets, Tulsi and Kamban, pay their homage to VAlmIki, each in his own inimitable way, by reminding us, very often, of the very words of VAlmIki, either directly or indirectly.
We shall see all this in the sundara-kANDa contrast, which is legitimately a good sample of these macro-distinctions among the three giant-poets. The story moves very fast in Tulsi’s sundar-kAND. Only 200 verses or so in Tulsi cover the entire sundara-kANDa of VAlmIki or Kamban. This is so inspite of the fact that Tulsi covers a larger ground. Almost one half (the latter half) of the sundar-kAND of Tulsi is taken by the episodes of Vibhishana’s surrender and the lying down of the Lord on a bed of kuSa-grass to win over the Lord of the Ocean – these episodes being part of the next kANDa, namely yuddha-kANDa, in both Valmiki and Kamban. And with all this, the 200 verses (around 4 percent. of his whole Ram Charita-manas) in Tulsi cover the entire Sundara Kanda whereas Valmiki devotes 3031 shlokas (more than 12 percent. of the whole Ramayana) divided into 68 sargas (chapters) to cover only the story of Hanuman’s journey, search, discovery, interaction and return. Neither Valmiki nor Kamban deal with Vibhishana’s surrender in their Sundara Kandas. Kamban devotes 1298 stanzas (about 12 percent. of his whole Ramayanam) for his Sundarakandam.
Very often do we see that the later poets elaborate what was just touched upon or hinted at by the original author. Hanuman meets LankinI the ogre-angel for the city of Lanka as soon as he lands in Lanka and attempts to enter the fortified city. VAlmIki just says that she was ‘fiendish-looking’ (= vikRtAnana-darSanA: 5-3-21). Kamban devotes seven verses to describe how fiendish she was. Tulsi does not elaborate the duel between Hanuman and Lankini but just mentions the bare outline. Nor does he elaborate the search for Sita. He makes Hanuman meet Vibhishana and learn where she is imprisoned. This is a major difference between Tulsi on the one side and Kamban and VAlmIki on the other side. The scene is not there in the latter two. So in their cases, the search has to be elaborate and also naturally carries a lot of suspense and excitement to the reader. It thereby gives enough opportunities to the poets for their poetry and imagery.