kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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Three hundred Ramayanas

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Valmiki and Kampan: Two Ahalyas

Obviously, these hundreds of tellings differ from one another. I have come to prefer the word tellings to the usual terms versions or variants because the latter terms can and typically do imply that there is an invariant, an original or Ur-text – usually Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana, the earliest and most prestigious of them all. But as we shall see, it is not always Valmiki’s narrative that is carried from one language to another.

It would be useful to make some distinctions before we begin. The tradition itself distinguishes between the Rama story (ramakatha) and texts composed by a specific person – Valmiki, Kampan or Krttivasa, for example. Though many of the latter are popularly called Ramayanas (like Kamparamayanam), few texts actually bear the title Ramayana; they are given titles like Iramavataram (The Incarnation of Rama), Ramcaritmanas (The Lake of the Acts of Rama), Ramakien (The Story of Rama) and so on. Their relations to the Rama story as told by Valmiki also vary. This traditional distinction between katha (story) and kavya (poem) parallels the French one between sujet and récit or the English one between story and discourse (Chatman 1978). It is also analogous to the distinction between a sentence and a speech act. The story may be the same in two tellings but the discourse may be vastly different. Even the structure and sequence of events may be the same but the style, details, tone and texture – and therefore the import – may be vastly different.

Here are two tellings of the ‘same’ episode which occur at the same point in the sequence of the narrative. The first is from the first book (Balakanda) of Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana; the second from the first canto (Palakantam) of Kampan’s Iramavataram in Tamil. Both narrate the story of Ahalya.

The Ahalya episode: Valmiki

Seeing Mithila, Janaka’s white

and dazzling city, all the sages

cried out in praise, ‘Wonderful!

How wonderful!’

 

Raghava, sighting on the outskirts

of Mithila an ashram, ancient,

unpeopled and lovely, asked the sage,

‘What is this holy place,

 

so like an ashram but without a hermit?

Master, I’d like to hear: whose was it?’

Hearing Raghava’s words, the great sage

Visvamitra, man of fire,

 

expert in words answered, ‘Listen,

Raghava, I’ll tell you whose ashram

this was and how it was cursed

by a great man in anger.

 

It was great Gautama’s, this ashram

that reminds you of heaven, worshipped

even by the gods. Long ago, with Ahalya

he practised tapas4 here

 

for countless years. Once, knowing that Gautama

was away, Indra (called Thousand Eyes),

Saci’s husband, took on the likeness

of the sage and said to Ahalya:

 

“Men pursuing their desire do not wait

for the proper season, O you who

have a perfect body. Making love

with you: that’s what I want.

That waist of yours is lovely.”

 

She knew it was Indra of the Thousand Eyes

in the guise of the sage. Yet she,

wrong-headed woman, made up her mind,

excited, curious about the king

of the gods.

 

And then, her inner being satisfied,

she said to the god, “I’m satisfied, king

of the gods. Go quickly from here.

O giver of honour, lover, protect

yourself and me.”

 

And Indra smiled and said to Ahalya,

“Woman of lovely hips, I am

very content. I’ll go the way I came.”

Thus after making love, he came out

of the hut made of leaves.

 

And, O Rama, as he hurried away,

nervous about Gautama and flustered,

he caught sight of Gautama coming in,

the great sage, unassailable

by gods and anti-gods,

 

empowered by his tapas, still wet

with the water of the river

he’d bathed in, blazing like fire,

with kusa grass and kindling

in his hands.

 

Seeing him, the king of the gods was

terror-struck, his face drained of colour.

The sage, facing Thousand Eyes now dressed

as the sage, the one rich in virtue

and the other with none,

 

spoke to him in anger: “You took my form,

you fool, and did this that should never

be done. Therefore you will lose your testicles.”

At once, they fell to the ground, they fell

even as the great sage spoke

 

his words in anger to Thousand Eyes.

Having cursed Indra, he then cursed

Ahalya: “You, you will dwell here

many thousands of years, eating the air,

without food, rolling in ash,

 

and burning invisible to all creatures.

When Rama, unassailable son

of Dasaratha, comes to this terrible

wilderness, you will become pure,

you woman of no virtue,

 

you will be cleansed of lust and confusion.

Filled then with joy, you’ll wear again

your form in my presence.” And saying

this to that woman of bad conduct,

blazing Gautama abandoned

 

the ashram and did his tapas

on a beautiful Himalayan peak,

haunt of celestial singers and

perfected beings.

 

Emasculated Indra then

spoke to the gods led by Agni

attended by the sages

and the celestial singers.

 

“I’ve only done this work on behalf

of the gods, putting great Gautama

in a rage, blocking his tapas.

He has emasculated me

 

and rejected her in anger.

Through this great outburst

of curses, I’ve robbed him

of his tapas. Therefore

 

great gods, sages and celestial singers,

help me, helper of the gods,

to regain my testicles.” And the gods,

led by Agni, listened to Indra

 

of the Hundred Sacrifices and went

with the Marut hosts

to the divine ancestors and said,

“Some time ago, Indra, infatuated,

 

ravished the sage’s wife

and was then emasculated

by the sage’s curse. Indra,

king of gods, destroyer of cities,

 

is now angry with the gods.

This ram has testicles

but great Indra has lost his.

So take the ram’s testicles

 

and quickly graft them onto Indra.

A castrated ram will give you

supreme satisfaction and will be

a source of pleasure.

 

People who offer it

will have endless fruit.

You will give them your plenty.”

Having heard Agni’s words,

 

the ancestors got together

and ripped off the ram’s testicles

and applied them then to Indra

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