Adhyatma Ramayana, The Spiritual Version of the Story of Sri Rama
"The Ramayana" is not a single book like "the Bible" but rather a chronicle of history and a tradition of storytelling. Ramayana serves as an excellent window through which the great panorama of the Indian civilization is opened. The story of Rama depicted in the Ramayana unlocks a gateway leading the readers in an any part of the globe to encounter with the world-view of a great civilization that both resembles, and markedly differs from their own and a process which enables them to realize that they should have a world view in the first place.
The Ramayana tradition has enjoyed a unique popularity throughout the subcontinent of South Asia (comprising the modern states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka) and beyond - for versions of the tale have flourished in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Although the core story of the travails of Prince Rama and Princess Sita and their companions remains much the same everywhere, storytellers and poets in dozens of languages have chosen not simply to translate some "original" version, but instead have retold the saga in their own words, often modifying and embellishing it according to regional traditions or their own insights and interpretations. Thus we have today different versions of Ramayana in various languages indicating the deep penetration and influence of the personalities of Rama and Sita in the hearts and minds of the Indian people.
India is very vast and has varied cultural and literary traditions. It has always maintained and nurtured plants and flowers of different kinds, colors and shapes. Therefore an assortment of varieties and traditions of Rama Katha has been flourishing here not only in Sanskrit but in all the other Indian languages since centuries. Sri Rama, even now, is the pet subject of poets, novelists, story writers, cartoonists, philosophers, thinkers, dramatists, film-makers and management consultants besides contemporary politicos of different hues.
Valmiki Ramayana, Adhyatma Ramayana, Vasishta Ramayana, Ananda Ramayana, Agasthya Ramayana in Sanskrit, Ranganatha Ramayana in Telugu, Kamba Ramayana in Tamil, Tulasi Ramayana or Ramacharitamanasa in Hindi, Kirtivasa Ramayana in Bengali, and Ezuthachan’s Adhyatma Ramayana in Malayalam are some of the well known versions.
For all these works on the saga of Rama, Ramayana authored by Valmiki who is called Aadi Kavi has been the basis which is called Aadi Kavya.
Adhyatma Ramayana - Date and Authorship
Tradition ascribes the authorship of Adhyatma Ramayana to Vedavyasa since it is said to be an integral part of Brahmanda Purana. However, some scholars attribute it to the period 14th -15th century AD and the author as unknown.
Adhyatma Ramayana is the portrayal of a conversation between Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati (as reported by Lord Brahma to Sage Narada). It is this work that provided Tulasidasa with the inspiration to compose his immortal work, the Ramacharitamanasa.
Adhyatma Ramayana has about 4000 verses and is popular amongst the devotees of Rama and also among the Vedantins. Written in mellifluous Sanskrit, the work sums up the main events of the Valmiki Ramayana. Discussions pertaining to Advaita Vedanta philosophy, the path of Bhakti (devotion) in general and Ramabhakti in particular and several hymns in praise of Rama are the hallmarks of this work.
Adhyatma Ramayana is essentially a Puranic work demonstrating the inquisitiveness of Parvati and unambiguous expositions by Mahadeva. But in the orthodox circles of Rama devotees, the Adhyatama Ramayana is considered to be a Mantra-sastra, a sacred book, each stanza of which is revered as a Mantra (mystic syllable) and devoutly repeated in a ceremonial way.
A question naturally arises why Adhyatma Ramayana when Valmiki Ramayana is already there. The answer could be that the purpose behind the work was not to narrate Rama Katha but to propound ideological principles of Bhakti in co-ordination with Advaita Vedanta. The very title ‘Adhyatma Ramayana’ indicates this as otherwise it would have been christened as Vyasa Ramayana as in the case of Valmiki Ramayana. This is to be viewed against the picturisation of Sri Rama by Valmiki as a perfect human being, a maryada purushottama, with embodiment of Dharma.
In Adhyatma Ramayana we see Rama as Brahman - omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, the cause without a cause and the One without a second. The factors that caused Him to incarnate Himself in a human form were, as stated in the Gita, to protect Dharma and destroy the evil.
Comparison with Valmiki Ramayana
In a study of Adhyatma Ramayana it is essential to know where it differs from the Valmiki Ramayana.
Valmiki’s object seems to describe Rama as an ideal human character though he accepts him as an avatar of Maha Vishnu; but the divinity of Rama is always kept latent. This objective of Valmiki is made clear at the very beginning of the epic in verses 1 to 18 of Chapter 1 of Bala Kanda. Here Valmiki asks Narada the following questions:
1. “Who in the world today is a great personage, endowed with all virtues, who is courageous, who knows the secret of Dharma, who is grateful, who is ever truthful and who is established in sacred observances”?
2. “Who has great family traditions, who has got sympathy for all creatures, who is most learned, who is skilful, and whose outlook is ever kindly”?
3. “Who is courageous, who has subdued anger, who is endowed with splendor, who is free from jealousy, who, when angry in the field of battle, is a terror even to the Devas”?
In reply to this question, Sage Narada narrated in brief the entire Rama Katha which formed the basis for Valmiki to expand and make it a vast, beautiful and unique epic poem of great literary value which came to be called Valmiki Ramayana. (Narada’s brief exposition of Rama Katha to Valmiki is called ‘Sankshepa Ramayana’ which is used in many households for the purpose of daily recitation).
The object of an epic which begins with such a description of its hero is obviously to give us a picture of human perfection. But this does not mean that Valmiki did not recognize divinity in his hero. When a person is described as a Deity, it happens that ordinary human beings start worshipping him and are not inclined to treat him as a role-model to imitate and follow. This probably must have been the reason for Valmiki to propound the divinity of Rama in subdued tones and paint him prominently as a great human being with all the human frailties and weaknesses so that the people at large may learn from his life.
While Valmiki’s great epic is the saga of Rama in respect of its direct approach, Adhyatma Ramayana is a direct elaboration of its spiritual implications. In the former Rama is a great hero, in the latter he is a deity- Maha Vishnu, covered in thin apparel - held before all to worship. This is made clear in the very first chapter of the book entitled ‘Sri Rama Hridaya”.
The text of Adhyatma Ramayana projects Rama as the Supreme Self; but while doing so it takes care to see that Rama is also a Personal Deity, the Supreme Isvara, who is to be prayed and sought after by all those who seek knowledge of non-duality. It teaches Bhakti of the most intensive type and stresses that through devotion to Rama alone the saving Jnana would arise in the Jiva. The teaching of the Adhyatma Ramayana is an extension of the declaration of the Svetasvatara Upanishad, “it is only in one who has supreme devotion to God and to his spiritual teacher that this truth - knowledge of the non-dual Self - when taught will shine”.
Thus to establish Rama’s divine status, as an object of worship and devotion and to teach that Bhakti and Jnana are not only reconcilable but always go together is the prime object this great text. In order to achieve this objective, the Adhyatma Ramayana, while sticking to the main trends and incidents of the Rama Katha described in Valmiki’s epic, makes various deviations in the course of its extensive narration. A few such instances are cited below.
Another feature which distinguishes the Adhyatma Ramayana from the Valmiki Ramayana is the large number of hymns sung by the various personages in the narrative and the many philosophical discourses that are spread in various parts of the text. Besides teaching intense devotion, these give us a very simple but profound exposition on non-dualism. Valmiki’s Ramayana contains no such hymns and discourses.
Deviations Chapter 2
The major alteration in the fact of the story found in the Adhyatma Ramayana is the introduction of a "Shadow Sita" throughout the period of her abduction. The real Sita disappears into fire just before the golden deer episode. Tulasidasa also follows the Adhyatma Ramayana in this respect.
Compare Tulasi’s Sri Ramacharitamanasa, Aranya Kanda, Doha 23 and the Chopai: "When Lakshmana had gone to the woods to gather roots, fruits and bulbs, Sri Rama, the very incarnation of compassion and joy, spoke with a smile to Janak’s daughter (Sita):- Listen my darling, who have been staunch in the holy vow of fidelity to me and are so virtuous in conduct: I am going to act a lovely human part. Abide in fire until I have completed the destruction of the demons."
"No sooner had Sri Rama told Her everything in detail than she impressed the image of the Lord’s feet on Her heart and entered into the fire, leaving with Him only a shadow of Hers, though precisely of the same appearance and the same amiable and gentle disposition. Lakshmana, too, did not know the secret of what the Lord had done behind the curtain."
In the Adhyatma Ramayana, Sita emerges from the fire at the end of the war when the shadow Sita enters into it. (The whole drama is preplanned and enacted at the bidding of Sri Rama Himself).
Other alterations in the Adhyatma Ramayana include: Ravana treats Sita with the respect due to a mother and Sri Rama establishes a Sivalinga at the site of the bridge to Lanka.
The major contribution of the Adhyatma Ramayana lies in the casting of Rama in the role of the spiritual teacher and in the several exquisite hymns sung in praise of Rama. There are four occasions when Rama assumes the role of the teacher and gives philosophical disquisition.
Rama reveals himself as four-handed Mahavishnu at his very birth, a feature that is not seen in Valmiki
Sage Valmiki depicts Sri.Rama as an ideal man while admitting his divinity, whereas Sage Vyasa present him as the Supreme Being incarnate with the full remembrance of his divinity and the recognition of it by all wise men.
In response to Lakshmana’s questions on different occasions he teaches knowledge, devotion and detachment, methods of worship and the way of emancipation. In reply to Kaushalya’s query, Rama teaches the three Yogas of Karma (action), Jnana (knowledge) and Bhakti (devotion).
The well known Ramagita is part of Adhyatma Ramayana. It contains teachings on Advaita Vedanta. The real contribution of this work is in its repeatedly propounding the doctrine that Rama is Brahman the Absolute and that Sita is His Maya-shakti or Prakriti, thereby raising the personality of Rama to the highest level and providing a firm base to the worship of Rama.
Ahalya the wife of Sage Gautama is in invisible form in the Valmiki Ramayana, whereas in the Adhyatma she has been depicted in the rock form.
In the Ayodhya Kanda of Adhyatma Ramayana the section opens with a visit of Sage Narada to Sri. Rama to remind him of the purpose of his incarnation, which Sri. Rama acknowledges. All these incidents are not in Valmiki.
In the Adhyatma, banishment of Sri Rama is accomplished by the Devas through Goddess Saraswathi, by possessing the two women i.e. maid servant Manthara and Kaikeyi. In Valmiki this incident is explained as a simple court intrigue.
Sage Valmiki’s evil past has been explained in detail in Adhyatma, but not in the other.
In Adhyatma, Lakshmana requests Rama to instruct him on the means of attaining Salvation. Rama also gives him an elaborate discourse on Jnana and Bhakti, conveying the quintessence of Vedanta. This is not there in Valmiki Text.
According to Adhyatma, Ravana is aware of the fact that Sri. Rama in human form is Lord Vishnu incarnated to kill him. Ravana is also aware of the fact that destruction at Sri. Rama’s hand is easier way of gaining salvation than through spiritual practices (devotion through confrontation - an example for vidvesha bhakti).
In Adhyatma - unknown to Lakshmana, Rama informs Sita that Ravana will be coming to abduct her, and that therefore he is handing her over to the Fire deity Agni for safe custody, till he takes her back again. In her place Maya Sita is left in Asrama, and it is this illusory Sita that Ravana abducts. This is unknown in the Valmiki.
In Valmiki, it is Kabandha who advises Sri. Rama to make friends with Sugreeva and gives details about the place of his residence, whereas in Adhyatma it is ascetic Sabari who first tells Rama about Sugreeva and informs him that Sita is confined in Ravana’s palace.
After the death of Vali it is Hanuman who consoles Tara in Adhyatma Ramayana, whereas in Valmiki Sri. Rama gives her an elaborate advice of philosophy of Vedanta and the practice of devotion, besides consoling her.
In Adhyatma while Rama is staying at Mount Pravarshana after the coronation of Sugreeva, he gives an elaborate discourse to Lakshmana on the ritualistic worship of Lord Maha Vishnu (i.e Himself), thus revealing his identity with the Supreme Being openly.
Swayamprabha comes to meet Rama and praises Him, identifying him as Supreme Being. According to the advice of Rama she goes to Badari to attain Mukthi.. This episode is absent in Valmiki.
Sampati gives an elaborate discourse to the monkeys who meet him He quotes Sage Chandramas, while telling about the divinity of Sri. Rama. This incident is available in Adhyatma only.
A conspicuous addition in the Adhyatma is Rama’s installation of the Sivalinga in Rameswara, before the construction of Sethu for the success of the enterprise. Rama also declares about the merit of Pilgrimage to Rameswara and Sethu Bandha here. These elaborations are not available in Valmiki.
Sri Rama is well aware of his divinity during the Nagapasa missile episode and Garuda’s arrival to release them. In Valmiki, Rama is not aware of his Divinity till the end when Brahma imparts that knowledge to him.
Kalanemi obstructs Hanuman while he is on his way to bring Mritasanjivani, a herb that can revive one who is almost dead. This incident is absent in Valmiki.
Narada praises Rama after the death of Kumbakarna in Adhyatma. This is absent in Valmiki.
Killing of Maya Sita by Indrajit and illusion created thereon by black magic is available in Valmiki but not in Adhyatma
Before going to battle Ravana, for gaining invincibility in fighting, begins fire rite, as per the advice of his guru Sukra. This rite is blocked and stopped by the monkeys. These incidents are absent in Valmiki Ramayana.
Rama cuts down the heads of Ravana repeatedly, but could not kill him. Vibhishana informs Rama that Ravana has got amrita deposited in his umbilicus and that until it is removed he cannot be killed. This is available in Adhyatma Ramayana. But in Valmiki Ramayana as per the advice of Sage Agasthya Rama chants Adhithya Hrudaya and worships Lord Soorya to kill Ravana.
According to Adhyatma on the death of Ravana, his spirit, having luminosity of lighting enters into Rama and attains salvation. This explanation finds no place in Valmiki.
After the death of Ravana, Sita’s fire ordeal is only to replace the Maya Sita by Rama. The whole event is given the appearance of a real ordeal in Valmiki.
In Adhyatma Ramayana every one praises and chants the hymn on Rama starting from Vamadeva, Valmiki, Bharadwaja, Narada, Viradha, Sarabanga, Sutikshna, Agasthya, Viswamitra, Vasishta, Jatayu, Kabhanda, Sabari, Swayamprabha, Parasurama, Vibhishana, Hanuman etc. This is absent in Valmiki.
Though the traditional origin of these two Ramayanas are different and though there are differences in the treatment of the subject - Rama Katha - one should not jump to the conclusion that there are contradictions between the two. We have to bear in mind that both of them deal with the same history of Rama and what Adhyatma Ramayana has done is only to make explicit what Valmiki has taught us implicitly and indirectly in his epic. As a much smaller text (containing about 4000 slokas) than that Vamiki’s (containing 24000 slokas) and complete in itself, Adhyatma Ramayana offers the devotees of Rama a smaller and devotional exposition of Rama’s greatness which they can use in their daily practices of worship.
Jai Shri Ram