The Other “versions”of the Ramayan

The other ‘versions’ of the Ramayana

In this article,I am trying to look at the use of the words “translation” [ as in AKR ‘s translation of Sangam literature] , “version”, “adaptation”, and the telling “tellings”.

Was struck by Paula Richman’s ideas on Ramayan,AK R [ amanujam] and EVR [ amaswamy Periyar]-The Ram connection in the names is hard to miss.

I ‘ve always wondered why people justify ,accept and even celebrate the distortion of the Ramayan and say that “After all there are so many versions already!”.

Let us look at the epic as a book, a magnum opus of a gifted writer and temporarily suspend religious beliefs.

Please read the articles at the link.

Please find , in the last newstoday link, what Paula Richman says about Periyar’s “Ramayan” and her use of the words “Dravidian”, “South Indian” –and the way the whole thing is cloaked in seemingly scholarly, seemingly objective language.

I have a fundamental question.What do we call the “other” Ramayans?

[ When I say “other”here, I mean all those other than Valmikhi’s original.
Until someone proves with hard evidence that Valmikhi’s epic isn’t original ,as I believe the onus of proving so is on them who claim airily that his isn’t the first work , we would have to take Valmikhi’s as the original and all the others as “others”.

So what do we call the “others”?

Translations with some variations?
Versions ?

The dictionary says this about the word “translation”.
The rendering of something into another language or into one's own from another language.

It seems evident that none of them can be called translations as even the earliest books that followed the original one [ Valmikhi’s]differed in some details .

To explain a little about what I understood by the word translation , I would give a small example.

The article at this link talks about A K Ramanujan, a literary figure respected by many.

I am one of the many people who were thoroughly impressed by his translation of the famous Sangam era Tamil verse. [“Sembulapeyal…”]
“Red Earth and pouring rain” [ is how he translates that line] I thought, still think it is a very honest and refreshing translation of that line.

I am no Tamil scholar but just an enthusiast. But AK R managed to touch the reader in this case, as he was an author who understood the spirit of the poem and conveyed the imagery effectively.

As children, many of us have enjoyed looking at steady , fat rain drops that fall on Earth that is red and the resultant magic that rain and Earth create together.

"Together" is the key word and that is the analogy the poet uses when he talks about ‘hearts that united”.

What a wonderful analogy to show two hearts that were one with each other![ though as this Sangam age-lover point out that they are in no way related , nor did they knew each other before . Simply put, ,they were from different backgrounds and yet they become one in no time at all. How long does it take for pouring rain to convert and get converted when it falls on Earth? Seconds.]

He has captured the essence of the poem very well while translating and despite my limited knowledge I am able to appreciate his work.

Please note the languages I am discussing in this case, are two languages I know best .

I ‘ve also admired “red earth and pouring rain’ from childhood. So the appreciation becomes more meaningful.

If I were to compare Valmikhi and Kambar and analyse whether the latter did justice to the work of the former, I can say, from a reader’s perspective ,that concept/spirit-wise the latter has done justice and not strayed away from the original .

I have read the translation of the Sundara Kanda from the Sanskrit original. [ LIFCO publishers ].

One can feel felt what Sita must have felt when she was in Asoka van.
Alone,afraid, depressed, down- in- the- dumps , ready to die and then,… a ray of hope!

He has not forgotten me! He too is pining for me!

I can hear the sound the trees make when Hanuman uproots them, as he fights with the Rakshas forces.

I can see Ravan’s suicidal arrogance.

LIFCO publishers , I am sure have done a honest translation and that touches the readers who can’t read the original.

Kambar’s Sundara Kandam too touches the heart of the reader and paints a picture of utter desperation at first and reverses it to hope and cheer in the latter pages.

Talking about stories, I think, spinning some yarn of one’s own , in some ways is actually easier than translating somebody’s else’s work.

One has to put oneself in the original writer’s shoes and try to understand the spirit /concept that holds the work up before translation.

One can’t simply find equivalent words and fill them in and expect to do justice to the original.

This is about translations, but the versions of the Ramayana , even the earlier ones may not fully fall in to that category.

Even the most rabid Indian Historians reluctantly agree Valmikhi is the author of the original and all the other Ramayans by many other authors including the devotion-filled Kambar and Tulsidas are just that. They are versions that reflect the central concept of the original.

I ‘ve not read the original [ according to A K Ramanujam, Valmikhi’s Ramayan isn’t the original. He quotes a folk tale to support this idea’] in its original form , but have had the privilege of feeling a few drops from the Ocean of Kambar’s verses .

I am familiar with Rajaji’s retelling of the Ramayana , an abridged ,much – simplified one based on the one and only original Valmikhi’s version.

Amar chitra Katha, Grandma’s stories and attending discourses with Grandmothers who again discussed fiercly the ideas put forward by the Katha specialists [ Why did he kill Vaali? Why did he treat her the way he did after the war?] , TV Ramayan and so many day- to- day references to the great epic, in my view, say the same thing essentially.

That the Ramayana is about supreme love, supreme sacrificeand exemplary courage.

The spirit of the original is preserved intact in these other versions and it is only in some details they differ.

In that case, can we call some of them adaptations? In a way, as that means as per my online dictionary again,”a composition rewritten into a new form’.

Rewritten in a new ‘form’ and not content or message.

Can we call them abridged versions ? Yes, if they are simplified and shortened but still don’t sacrifice the central message, we can.
My online dictionary has this to say about “abridged” or “condensed”.

1.To reduce in scope :
2.To shorten by omission of words without sacrifice of sense : condense

But what do we make of the 200 or so versions other than Valmikhi’s , the earliest known till date?
If they reflect the same spirit if not in the same letters , bravo! They have understood well and they communicate what they have understood very well.

Such story re- tellers , I can admit ,have some honesty in letter and spirit.

But if they are those “versions” that simply steal a great story, turn it around so that it would suit the story tellers and their deserving audience who want some“high brow “ ideas , I’d say it’s intellectual fraud at its worst .

An online dictionary has this to say about versions.

1. A translation from another language; especially : a translation of the Bible or a part of it
2.An account or description from a particular point of view especially as contrasted with another account .
3. An adaptation of a literary work c: an arrangement of a musical composition
4..A form or variant of a type or original .

The second is what some people are doing , and with an intention to distort or demean, since independence.

They are also calling it [tellingly]” tellings” and even that isn’t true. It is re-telling with distortions or de-telling at best.

We can see clearly that the particular meaning for “version” [ or “telling “as it is tellingly referred to] is not in the literary sense but in the sense where someone says truthfully or untruthfully “So and so did such and such”.

It can also be termed as pure gossip.

Incidentally, it rhymes with “scholarship”.

This kind of ‘freedom’ has possibilities and the writers of such epics , I am sure will not mind if less- busy people like themselves wrote racier versions of anyone’s life stories.

None of us would ever feel bored then. We can write/ rewrite each other’s life stories as well as , or for academic interest ,pick any epic in any language off the shelf, graze over it and make our own recipe-versions.

In the special case of Ramayana, there are many dishonest versions of it and it is not different from the spoof shows some TV channels make of popular movies.

But the latter are more honest and they make it clear that they are meant to humor us .

Though the Ramayan talks about life’s highest ideals , the characters have human flaws , one can say, if we were to look at the epic through our prism.
They, all of them , including the Hero get criticized by other characters.

The fact that we are still talking about it shows, Valmikhi was a great story teller.[ even if we think Valmikhi was just a story teller and not a chronicler].

The fact that the original does not leave out parts where antagonists lash out at the protagonist [ Vaali’s tirade against Ram and Ravan’s making fun of mere “human beings”, proves, imho, beyond any doubt that the author was no whitewashing movie script writer but a narrator of what really happened.

[That he wasn’t working for a 24 hour news channel is evident too.]

However , the belief that Ramayana is Ithi haasa may not be shared by all nor do we expect them to share it, if they aren’t interested in doing so.

The fact that there are many later versions with slight variations in details does not alter the fact that they are still “based-on” versions and not original ones. I would say they are “inspired”.

The folk versions, I believe ,are just people’s way of expressing their inner most anguish, complexes , pain and sadness.

That they were done using Ramayana ‘s characters shows the immense power of the epic.

And some versions [ like EVR Periyar’s] , [we should feel proud of the “freedom of thought “may be!] are only meant to titillate and not to elevate the reader.

Any work of art or self expression should try and elevate the reader or atleast try not to pull him down as a person.

If it does, it is no different from washroom graffiti.

Many celebrated modern ,post-independence “versions” are just that and they seem to take an adolescent pleasure in distorting the original content.

Periyar’s version and all those other versions that don’t reflect the spirit Valmikhi’s work in quantity or quality are not versions at all and if they are accepted as such, shows people can’t differentiate between writing, rewriting and bad writing .

Can one write differing/distorted versions of Greek epics or Shakespeare’s plays and still get respected as a scholar?



Definitely not.

In the absense of any Indic knowledge[ the sources may be many-debating Grandmothers, Hari-Katha specialists, literature enthusiasts who read for the pleasure of reading, Amar Chitra Katha, Children's books by RK Math..its an endless list.] the tellings can only do more harm than good to the concerned students imho.


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