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The Vedas are, unquestionably, the oldest literature in the world. Out of the literature of ancient India, the Brahmanas are next to the Vedas and in the form of their language, are so close to the Vedas that these are regarded as part and parcel of the vedic literature. The Upanishada, the Grihya Sutras, Smritis and the Epics are regarded as the next in historical order. It is needless to re-examine the estabnlished chronology of these literatures, but one may legitimately question language evidence preoccupations of the scholars who look upon the chastened language of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as a growth of later times, not much earlier than the sixth century before Christ.

There is indeed much of popular appeal in the Vedas. Chantings of the vedic hymns, even today, hold Indian folk in devotional raptures. Beauty and freshness of ideas in the Rig Vedas, the congregational set up of the ceremonials of the Yajurveda, the musical recitations of Sam Veda, and the useful lores of the Atharva Veda are features which had made the Vedas a popular literature through all the ages. Literatures that are regarded as the next successors to the Vedas are far from being popular in these ways. The spirit and poetry of the Vedic hymns are altogether absent in the prosaic literatures.

The great Epics, on the other hand, keep alive the very spirit of the Vedas by retelling the Vedic legends and in attempting to reproduce the age to which the vedic seers and the warrior were believed to have belonged. In fact, the Epics are the first popular sources of all those legends which tradition has ever associated with the Vedic Rishis like Bhrigu, Atri, Vasishta, Jamadagny, Bharadvaja and Vishvamitra or the Vedic heroes like Manu, Nahusha, Yayati, Pururavas, Yadu, Prithu and others. The Ramayan, indee, in the only book to give a picture of aims, ideals, penances and suffering of the groups of Rishis like the Balakhilyas who reveal a special section of the Vedic hymns.

Whatever we might say of the chiselled language, the ideas and the tone of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata belong to far remoter ages than to which their writings are usually ascribed. Antiquity of the Epics is further supported by the evidence of the philosophical discussions in the Mahabharata, where thought known as the Sankhya is not distinguished from the Vedanta and is in a more popular form than either of the philosophical schools known by these names.

These Epics presumed in the race an unalloyed faith in the Vedas. There is little of polemical or controversial nature in these Epics and there is absolutely no evidence of any efforts on the part of the to revive a decaying faith. In fact, these epics are not aware of any such nationwide decay in the faith of the people.

The Epics, thus, remain the more widely representative records of those early days in the history of civilization which arose our of the Aryan supremacy on the Indian sub-continent. Due to their close relation with the Vedas and due to the absence of any other popular guide to the sacred traditions of the Vedas, study of these Epics has been for centuries, a part of the religious curriculum in India. These are the first popular literature to speak of the soul and concept of the life after death. These Epics popularised vedic rituals, yogic cultivation, philosophic restraint and other virtues which the Vedas had eulogized in their epithets of gods and seers.

Though the stories of great sages and rajarishis, the Epics awakened in the rank of file of the Indian people, a national zeal for a life of virtue, much before any other country received such moral ideas from prophets or poets. Traditions of wisdom from these bygone ages were preserved by these Epics in such thought provoking symbols, myths and parables as were capable of drawing thousands of inquiring minds to find something new and strange in their meaning for every new age. In quite a new manner, the Epics conveyed to the masses, the spirit of the Vedic rituals through ideas of charity, fasts, holy baths, religious festivals, muttering of prayers and more discipline.

The great task of moulding peoples' life and raising the nationwide spiritual tone of society according to the vedic traditions was successfully carried on for centuries by the Epics. Interpretation of aims and ideals of human life in terms of Dharma, or the perennial law of life, as given in the Epics has made the Indian people so sensitive to anneals of philosophy and morality that religion even till today remains the foremost consideration for them. Appreciation of the higher values of life which has distinguished glorious ages in India from great historical periods in other countries is, indeed, a legacy from these great Epics. No scriptures have been able to maintain such a freshness of appeal for Dharma as these Epics have done.

If great work of art in India remained religiously and spiritually motivated, the credit goes to the Epics which were universally adored as the literature truly representative of the Vedas. The Epics were also first literature to make vedic lores and legends popular through poetry, the most loquacious of the forms of art. Shakuntala of Kalidasa, a legend connected with the life of a vedic seer, was adopted from the Maharashtra. All great paintings, architecture and sculpture of India were also inspired by the Epics. These Epics, in fact, through their popularity, have always maintained the link of the Indian people with the Vedas.

First of the Epics, the Ramayana represents the Vedic Dharma through the life-story of the perfect man who would inspire generations of men through ages to cherish truth and justice. The supreme example of sufferings for the sake of Dharma was narrated through the events in the life of the Rishis whose mature wisdom guided the hero at every stage of his life. The poet maintains a unity of theme by confining himself to the life-story of Rama throwing, however, much light on the state of society and the ideas cherished by the age. Tremendous activity is the note of the poem. Through the description of the construction work of the great bridge built by Rama, and the speedy work of construction through forests and over rivers by Bharata, the poet recorded the spirit of work in the age of Rama. Every character in the Ramayana is presented as a creative force and carries a freshness and originality in his or her experiences. Life in the Ramayana is set as a vast ocean of ideas, and every person on the side of Rama, be he a prince or a sage, is an ideal personality.

The Vedic age, or the age of Gods, as Valmiki calls it, had inspired this mode of poetry in the first of Indian poets. The Ramayana is rich with legacy of ideas from the vedic age just gone by. Ideas of Satya and Tapas, that is, virtue and discipline of the Deva-yuga were still fresh in the race of Manu delivered from the Deluge. Ikshvaku was an epitome of truth and justice and had earned the title of Manu for being faithfully to the tradition of his father, Vaivasvata Manu, who had saved mankind from a universal catastrophe.

The seers to whom the Vedas were revealed afresh in the age preceding the Ramayana-age were devoted to the cause of virtue and were determined to shape the character of the age according to their ideals. The hero of the Ramayana was inspired by the visions of these dynamic thinkers whose mighty deeds were imprinted over the mountains, rivers and forests of their motherland.

The theme in the Mahabharata was vaster. Vyasa was recording a great civilisation which, born out of a great civilisation which, born out of a great past, had assimilated ideals from the various succeeding ages and has potentialities of lasting for an endless future. It was with this aim that he embarked on a larger setting than any Epic writer had done before or after him. Endowed with a vision of the eternal laws of Truth and Justice, he recounted all great victories of the good over the wicked during crises which civilisation faced in all the different ages. His main theme, was between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, was a continuation of the same struggle in a new form.

Evil had crept in the Aryan race and means of crushing evil would be equally detrimental to good itself. The poet had to justify the cause of not only to the participants in the struggle, but to thousands of future generations who should not fail to see justice in the action of the five survivors out of the hosts of warriors. He had to bring the tales of preserverance, toleration and forgiveness to a climax not only in the enactment of life-drama in a single generation, but through a narration of endless triumphs and sufferings of humanity in the past. Justice and Law had to be described not only in abstract these but its effects in the form of glory, prosperity and peace that reigned under kings who sacrificed personal interest to dictates of Law. So was evil to be described in its devastating effects like extinctions of races, wars, famines, unrest and larger catastrophes. Strings of tales, illustrating virtues and condemning vice, thus, relate conflicts between gods and asuras, between Garuda and Snakes, between sages and kings, and between man and man.

Description of places which had been holy through association with sacrifices and penances of holy sages and kings are given to inspire devotion and unselfish action in the coming generation and, in fact, nothing connected with the past was found irrelevant or redundant for such a vast theme. Characters in the Mahabharata are presented in realistic colours. They are not at all creative thinkers. Most of them are indeed protagonists of virtue and law, but they submit to circumstances. Even the wise, like Bhishma and Drona, side with the unjustice Duryodhana. Choices of the warriors to fight on once side or the other is a matter of mere caprice or chance. Shalys came to fight for the Pandavas, but the royal reception accorded to him by Duryodhana shifted his personal support to the other side. Most of the warriors agreed to side with those who sought their aid before the other parties could approach. Alliances were much like election-campaigns of the modern.

Democratic age, so that even Lord Krishna's plea for personally siding with Arjuna was that Arjuna met his glance before Lord Krishna noticed Duryodhana, although the latter had come earlier. The warriors fought not for a sense of duty or for maintenance of the eternal Law of Justice, but for excelling others. Display of superior prowess was a matter of honour, and maintaining vanities was a matter of prestige. Virtue or vice was of the least consideration for those who were arrayed in the great battle. Karna, who otherwise was generous and virtuous beyond measure, plotted underhand schemes against the noble Pandavas as earnestly as Duryodhana himself. Passions ruled, and ideas were supressed. Even Yudhisthira and his brothers would have allowed the evil to grow under their very nose, had they been allowed mere existence inspite of it. Arjuna's recoiling from was an index of the age. The fight for justice was the last resort with these lawabiding Pandavas. Glory be to Lord Krishna, who alone amongst hosts of warriors was untouched by vanities of the age, and inspired the virtuous Pandavas to save law even at the cost of extinction of the warrior-race.

Lord Krishna's unimpaired vision of truth, justice and chaste impulose for right, flawless and unfailing actions were the marks of a personality, of which earlier ages of Manu, Vamana and Shri Rama might well have been proud. This incarnation of the Supreme Goodness was the saviour of ideals which the Mahabharatan civilisation was likely to sacrifice under the dominating rules of passion. Had Duryodhana been allowed to live in the name of kinship or in the name of the Aryan race, our civilisation today would have been destitute of those spiritual values of which India still remains proud. The difference in the civilisation of the age of the Ramayana and the age of the Mahabharata is apparent in the conceptions of evil of the two epics. Whether to a curse or some other reason, Revana desists from violence to a lady even in his prison, where Duryodhana, an Aryan, would do violence in public to a lady of his own family.

The two Epics together inculcate in man all spiritual, moral and aesthetic values that art in all its forms has ever been capable of inspiring. The Ramayana elevates the soul, while the Mahabharata widens the mind. The Ramayana looks like fulfillment of a hope or a dream. Everything is much above our standards and expectations. We can only wonder at and admire the lofty ideals and loftier achievements of the age. The Mahabharata looks much like a book of our own times, for it deals with problems, which are the same for any age. It is a record of legions of mightier arms, but only smaller groups of mightier minds. Humanity today has the same problems as it had in the time of the Mahabharata. The thought and philosophy of the Mahabharatan days have not lost their meanings to us. Whatever was present there in the form of schools of thought is still available today. Every-day language and idiom of the Aryan race in any part of the globe, even to this day might be found, on analysis, to be inherited from the Mahabharatan age. At least the Indian languages and dialects speak of life and death, good and evil, penance and salvation in the same idiom as is found in the Mahabharata. Continuity of civilisation is the reason for this akinness of the Mahabharatan thought and idiom to the thought and idiom of our own times. There have apparently been no big gaps. The evolution of society has been going on through natural growths and decays.

There has been no whole-sale extinction of a form of life and thought since the Mahabharata was composed. Wars, epidemics, earthquakes and famines have not been able to obliterate man's inheritance of the Mahabharatan civilisation.

The case is different with the age of the Ramayana. The civilisation of the Ramayana period has grown so remote that much in the Ramayana looks like a creation of imagination. The ideals, howsoever noble, look rather out of date and impracticable. The cult of Yajna of the Ramayana age is much older than the Mahabharatan cults of devotion or the philosophical realisation of Truth. The Ramayana is breathing the spirit of an age nearer to Nature. Man claimed kinship with river and mountains and looked to gods as his immediate guardians. While some races like the Vanaras were on way to civilisation in the footsteps of the Aryans, most of the other races represented by cannibals like Tadaka, Viradha and degenerate Khara and Dushana, hardly deserved the appellation of man. They lived in forests and their ways were not much different from beasts. There warfares were usually man-to-man wrestling, and their arms mostly rock-pieces, trees, and maces. Rama and Lakshmana were, indeed, advanced in the use of arms and powerful missiles. In the Mahabharata, all warriors were equally great masters in the use of strongest of missiles. The Mahabharatan War was a competition in the display of superior skill in arms.

The Mahabharatan Age had evolved a more practical form of faith in the Vedas. Sacrifices were no more performed for self purification as was done in the Ramayana. Even the nobles like Bhishma and Yudhisthira do not know of perfecting spiritual life through vedic rituals. The Horse-Sacrifice of these days is a symbol of power rather than faith. In the Ramayana, devotion to the vedic cult of Yajna is universal. The vedic ritual is fervently pursued by kings and sages alike. Rishis like Vishvamitra laid out great yajnas only for self-elevation. All success in life is regarded as the immediate fruit of Yajnas performed with proper care. The Yajna for progeny rewards Dasharatha promptly with the birth of four sons.

The Monkey-King Bali, too, observed daily vedic meditations, and it was in one of these evening meditations that he held Ravana tight under his armpit, when the latter challenged him to a duel. Even Meghanada, Ravana's son, performed a Yajna for securing a victory over Lakshmana. Ravana was believed to have got all his power by virtue of a sacrifice to God Shiva. Such a universal belief in the vedic Yajna is much earlier than the Mahabharatan cults of Bhakti or devotion or the philosophic realisation of the soul.

Stories and legends of the two Epics strike quite distinct notes. Series of deeply suggestive stories in the Ramayana are records of mighty deeds of the heroes of the past. All the legends are reminiscent of the dawn of life on this earth. Rama's ancestors are spoken of as heroes who moved mountains, wrought passages for rivers, dug up seas, and laid foundations of big cities. Sagara's sons fixed the ocean within the bounds of its shores. Bhagiratha brought Ganga to the Indian plains for the peace of thousands of departed souls. These inspiring legends speak of the Ramayana in these reminiscences is clearly many centuries older than Mahabharata whose legends and stories are only love-tales of those great heroes of the past which had grown indistinct at the time of the composition of the Mahabharata.

In stories like those of Pururavas, Nahusha, Yayati, Puru, Nala and Shakuntala's son Bharata, Vyasa was only recounting those great figures who had contributed towards civilisation in the past, and whom the people of the Mahabharatan age were probably forgetting in the moment of their glory. There is an undertone of a feeling in the Mahabharata that civilisation had already reached a climax and was on the point of collapse. Vairagya or detachment is strongly propagated in the Gita. This was an aftermath of the zenith of a glorious civilisation which later on, was followed by the growth of Buddhism and other pessimistic philosophies just in the same manner as the glorious age of Pericles was followed by philosophical ages in Athense, beginning with Socrates and Plato and ending in the Stoics, the Cynics and the Epicureans.

Valmiki's poetry and theme were buoyant with the hope and faith that men had inherited from the proceding generations. Rama is nowhere baffled by considerations which paralyse, Arjuna's mind and body in the battlefield. Pessimistic philosophy is altogether absent in the Ramayana. In fact, there was no room for any such philosophy in that age in which heroic deeds of Indra were recited every morning through the vedic hymns. Rama is impatient with any rationalising or pleasure hunting thought that distracts man from participating in the ancient plan of Dharma laid out by Manu and the Seers. This is evident from Rama's reproachful rejoinder to priest Jabali who advised him to return to Ayodhya and to make the best of Bharata's regards for him. Rama was proud to follow the example of his ancestors who had never sought to have compromise between dictates of Dharma and the emergencies of circumstances. Rama's teacher, Vishvamitra, too, had inspired Rama for prompt action, not through discourses on the soul, or on the life hereafter with promise of rewards in heaven, but through stories of valiant men and dynamic personalities of the past. It was in later ages that metaphysical precepts were needed to tone up society, when even the best amongst men were only half willing to accept life as a field for righteous action, and when purity of the moral outlook of the Ramayana-age was evidently giving place to a growing sensuality in the nation. Poetry of the Mahabharata, inspite of its supreme success in maintaining the moral tone, could not help reflecting such a change in the moral outlook to a perceptible degree.

It is nothing short of a miracle or a plan shaped by Divinity that these two great Epics should so exhaustively represent the depth and breadth of life in the age of the vedic heroes. While the Ramayana described the greatness of the human heart, the Mahabharata surveys all that humanity had achieved, enjoyed and suffered in that great epoch. Thought Valmiki and Vyasa had both been inspired by the glories of the vedic civilisation, Vyasa had drawn much from the Ramayana for the central theme of his poem. This was in the fitness of things, for sage Vyasa, whom tradition accredits with the arrangement of the Vedas in their present form, and who revived the vedic studies through hosts of his selfless disciples, must have realised that the Ramayana represented more truly the spirit of the vedic age than any other ritualistic or philosophical literature.

Popularity of the Ramayana even in those early days must have indeed inspired younger sages to emulate Valmiki, and one of the sages, Vyasa, did certainly complete the task which Valmiki had envisaged. It was in a spirit of homage to the earlier poet that Vyasa recalled Valmiki as one of those ancient seers who came from heaven to listen to Lord Krishn's great oration in the court of Duryodhana. A perfected piece of oratory composed in the claimatic moment of his great poem was offered by Vyasa as an humble gift to those earlier sages who had inspired the youngest among the seers of vedic lineage. To acknowledge his debt to Valmiki, Vyasa mentions Dasharatha's son, Rama several times. The Story of Rama is one of the stories that Dhritarashtra listens to in the most distressed moment of his life. Again, when in Duryodhana's conference with his comrades. Karna is insolent to Bhishma and Drona, Vidura advised Dhritarashtra not to allow youngsters to be so impolite to the grand old men who were wise and venerable like the ancient kings Rama and Gaya.Vidura said:

"These two men are venerable for their age, intelligence and experience; and they are, O King, impartial to your son and to the sons of Pandu. As followers of Law and Truth, these two, O Bharata King, undoubtedly are not second to Rama, the son of Dasharatha or to Gaya."

Verses 5 & 6 Adi Parva, Adhyaya 204 Gaya is the royal seer of two hymns in the fifth book of the Rig Veda. It is significant that the Mahabharata introduces Rama and Gaya in so close association in these lines, to speak at length of them both in the section of Yudhisthira's pilgrimage to holy places. At Gaya, the celebrated place of pilgrimage, Yudhisthira is inspired to listen to the story of the Kind Gaya. In his despairing moods, Yudhisthira is cheered by the sage Markandeya to look upon himself as the most celebrated personality of his times, for Yudhisthira was pious king, who like Yayati, Pururavas, Bhagiratha, Rama, Ikshvaku, Manu and Puru, was the resort of Dharma. These references to Rama, at the various stages in the Mahabharata, speak of the popularity of the Ramayana and its hero in the Mahabharatan days. Some of the versions of the Mahabharata describe Arjuna's winning of Drupadi as similar to winning of Sita by Rama.

"Leaving Princes, the King's daughter promptly garlanded Arjuna, and modestly stood beside him. She looked like Shachi who had chosen Indra, or like Swaha who had chosen Agni, or like Lakshmi who had chosen Vishnu, or like Dawn who had chosen Surya, or like Rati who had chosen the god of love, or like the daughter of the King of Mithila who had chosen Rama as her husband."

In Vana Parva of the Mahabharata, Hanumana, one of the chracters of the Ramayana, recounts the adventures of Rama. The story of Rama as given here, as well as given later on by the sage Markandeya, agrees with and presumes the existence of the Ramayana of Valmiki. These respected references to Rama in the Vana Parva or Yudhisthira's sojourn in the forest do not fail to give an impression that Vyasa had in his mind the story of a great hero who has spent most of his life in the forest. This impression is confirmed after Draupadi's abduction by Jayadratha, the King of Sindhu. Events of Yudhisthira is consoled to submit to fate as Rama had similarly done in the past. Yudhisthira's forfeiture of his share in the Kingdom, his living in disguise at King Virata's Court, were not unprecedented events. Rama had lost his Kingdom and Vishnu had to live in disguise as Dasharatha's son, when he had to vanquish Ravana. All these details show clearly that the Ramayana had been a popular story by the time of the Mahabharata. Vyasa was proud to see his hero as an epitome of virtue, as the hero of the earlier poet had been. There is clearly an effort on the part of Vyasa to raise the status of his own hero, Ydhishthira, and give an auspiciousness to the later Epic by its association with the earlier Epic. The story of King Sagara, whose sons were destroyed by the wrath of Sage Kapila, is narrated in the Mahabharata in the manner of the Ramayana. Bhagiratha's adventures to bring Ganga to the land of the Aryans, is similarly described. The story of Rishyashringa, the sage, who was coaxed to come to the state of Anga to wed King Lomapada's daughter, is also narrated in the manner of the Ramayana. Vyasa seems to narrate these stories under the impression that some of these events and names were well-known. Lomapada is mentioned by no other epithet but as Dasharatha's friend who became king of the Angas.

This reference to King Dasharatha not only makes it very clear that Dasharatha was a well known figure of the past, but it also proves that the author of the Mahabharata presumed popularity of the Rishyashringa story through the Ramayana. Some details are added, as was quite natural. Rishyashringa is described as having a goat's horn on his head. This was evidently an explanation of the sage's name which in the days of the Ramayana was too well-known to need such a farfetched explanation.

The Puranas, which followed the example of the Mahabharata in adoring the Vedic tradition, all paid their homage to the Ramayana. These sages held Ramayana to be the first poetry after the Vedas and Valmiki work as an ideal piece of poetry. Ashvaghosha pays homage to this wok of art by modelling his Buddha-Charitam, or the life of Buddha, after the Ramayana. His poetry is mainly inspired by the Ramayana, of which he speaks even in his Sutra-alankar. The greatest historical figures of Buddha could not be drawn in line with the hero of the Ramayana unless the Ramayana had been regarded as the holiest of books dealing with the life of the holiest amongst men. Buddha's father, Shudhodhana, without Buddha in the Buddha-Charitam, compares himself to Dasharatha without Rama. The poet Bhasa had plots for his plays from the Ramayana. Earlier, still, Kalidasa wrote a full poem Raghuvamsha in honour of Rama's family. He closes his well-known poem of Meghaduta by asking the cloud to deliver the Yaksha's message to his beloved wife as faithfully as Hanuman conveyed Rama's message to Maithili, Sita. This ending note for making a reference to the auspicious story of the Ramayana by one of the greatest poets of all times, speaks of the popularity of the Ramayana in ancient India. Tradition could not be confused about such a popular work, and the doubt that modern scholars sometimes hold against the Ramayana being the first of the Epics is only a misleading mental aberration.

Valmiki was the first poet to sing of Rama's name which has ever been held as auspicious as the sacred syllable 'OM'. Great saints, including Guru Nanak and Kabir, held the name of Rama as above all other names of the Highest Being. The sweetest of the Epics of the later times, namely Rama-Charita Manasa by Tulsidas was composed in honour of the hero of Valmiki's Ramayana. All these poets and saints confirm and endorse the opinion of the Mahabharata and Puranas that Rama was born in the earliest days of the Aryan civilisation.

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 Title : The Vedas The Ramayana And The Mahabharata Author : Dr. J.K.Trikha

The Vedas are, unquestionably, the oldest literature in the world. Out of the literature of ancient India, the Brahmanas are next to the Vedas and in the form of their language, are so close to the Vedas that these are regarded as part and parcel of the vedic literature. The Upanishada, the Grihya Sutras, Smritis and the Epics are regarded as the next in historical order. It is needless to re-examine the estabnlished chronology of these literatures, but one may legitimately question language evidence preoccupations of the scholars who look upon the chastened language of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as a growth of later times, not much earlier than the sixth century before Christ.

There is indeed much of popular appeal in the Vedas. Chantings of the vedic hymns, even today, hold Indian folk in devotional raptures. Beauty and freshness of ideas in the Rig Vedas, the congregational set up of the ceremonials of the Yajurveda, the musical recitations of Sam Veda, and the useful lores of the Atharva Veda are features which had made the Vedas a popular literature through all the ages. Literatures that are regarded as the next successors to the Vedas are far from being popular in these ways. The spirit and poetry of the Vedic hymns are altogether absent in the prosaic literatures.

The great Epics, on the other hand, keep alive the very spirit of the Vedas by retelling the Vedic legends and in attempting to reproduce the age to which the vedic seers and the warrior were believed to have belonged. In fact, the Epics are the first popular sources of all those legends which tradition has ever associated with the Vedic Rishis like Bhrigu, Atri, Vasishta, Jamadagny, Bharadvaja and Vishvamitra or the Vedic heroes like Manu, Nahusha, Yayati, Pururavas, Yadu, Prithu and others. The Ramayan, indee, in the only book to give a picture of aims, ideals, penances and suffering of the groups of Rishis like the Balakhilyas who reveal a special section of the Vedic hymns.

Whatever we might say of the chiselled language, the ideas and the tone of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata belong to far remoter ages than to which their writings are usually ascribed. Antiquity of the Epics is further supported by the evidence of the philosophical discussions in the Mahabharata, where thought known as the Sankhya is not distinguished from the Vedanta and is in a more popular form than either of the philosophical schools known by these names.

These Epics presumed in the race an unalloyed faith in the Vedas. There is little of polemical or controversial nature in these Epics and there is absolutely no evidence of any efforts on the part of the to revive a decaying faith. In fact, these epics are not aware of any such nationwide decay in the faith of the people.

The Epics, thus, remain the more widely representative records of those early days in the history of civilization which arose our of the Aryan supremacy on the Indian sub-continent. Due to their close relation with the Vedas and due to the absence of any other popular guide to the sacred traditions of the Vedas, study of these Epics has been for centuries, a part of the religious curriculum in India. These are the first popular literature to speak of the soul and concept of the life after death. These Epics popularised vedic rituals, yogic cultivation, philosophic restraint and other virtues which the Vedas had eulogized in their epithets of gods and seers.

Though the stories of great sages and rajarishis, the Epics awakened in the rank of file of the Indian people, a national zeal for a life of virtue, much before any other country received such moral ideas from prophets or poets. Traditions of wisdom from these bygone ages were preserved by these Epics in such thought provoking symbols, myths and parables as were capable of drawing thousands of inquiring minds to find something new and strange in their meaning for every new age. In quite a new manner, the Epics conveyed to the masses, the spirit of the Vedic rituals through ideas of charity, fasts, holy baths, religious festivals, muttering of prayers and more discipline.

The great task of moulding peoples' life and raising the nationwide spiritual tone of society according to the vedic traditions was successfully carried on for centuries by the Epics. Interpretation of aims and ideals of human life in terms of Dharma, or the perennial law of life, as given in the Epics has made the Indian people so sensitive to anneals of philosophy and morality that religion even till today remains the foremost consideration for them. Appreciation of the higher values of life which has distinguished glorious ages in India from great historical periods in other countries is, indeed, a legacy from these great Epics. No scriptures have been able to maintain such a freshness of appeal for Dharma as these Epics have done.

If great work of art in India remained religiously and spiritually motivated, the credit goes to the Epics which were universally adored as the literature truly representative of the Vedas. The Epics were also first literature to make vedic lores and legends popular through poetry, the most loquacious of the forms of art. Shakuntala of Kalidasa, a legend connected with the life of a vedic seer, was adopted from the Maharashtra. All great paintings, architecture and sculpture of India were also inspired by the Epics. These Epics, in fact, through their popularity, have always maintained the link of the Indian people with the Vedas.

First of the Epics, the Ramayana represents the Vedic Dharma through the life-story of the perfect man who would inspire generations of men through ages to cherish truth and justice. The supreme example of sufferings for the sake of Dharma was narrated through the events in the life of the Rishis whose mature wisdom guided the hero at every stage of his life. The poet maintains a unity of theme by confining himself to the life-story of Rama throwing, however, much light on the state of society and the ideas cherished by the age. Tremendous activity is the note of the poem. Through the description of the construction work of the great bridge built by Rama, and the speedy work of construction through forests and over rivers by Bharata, the poet recorded the spirit of work in the age of Rama. Every character in the Ramayana is presented as a creative force and carries a freshness and originality in his or her experiences. Life in the Ramayana is set as a vast ocean of ideas, and every person on the side of Rama, be he a prince or a sage, is an ideal personality.

The Vedic age, or the age of Gods, as Valmiki calls it, had inspired this mode of poetry in the first of Indian poets. The Ramayana is rich with legacy of ideas from the vedic age just gone by. Ideas of Satya and Tapas, that is, virtue and discipline of the Deva-yuga were still fresh in the race of Manu delivered from the Deluge. Ikshvaku was an epitome of truth and justice and had earned the title of Manu for being faithfully to the tradition of his father, Vaivasvata Manu, who had saved mankind from a universal catastrophe.

The seers to whom the Vedas were revealed afresh in the age preceding the Ramayana-age were devoted to the cause of virtue and were determined to shape the character of the age according to their ideals. The hero of the Ramayana was inspired by the visions of these dynamic thinkers whose mighty deeds were imprinted over the mountains, rivers and forests of their motherland.

The theme in the Mahabharata was vaster. Vyasa was recording a great civilisation which, born out of a great civilisation which, born out of a great past, had assimilated ideals from the various succeeding ages and has potentialities of lasting for an endless future. It was with this aim that he embarked on a larger setting than any Epic writer had done before or after him. Endowed with a vision of the eternal laws of Truth and Justice, he recounted all great victories of the good over the wicked during crises which civilisation faced in all the different ages. His main theme, was between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, was a continuation of the same struggle in a new form.

Evil had crept in the Aryan race and means of crushing evil would be equally detrimental to good itself. The poet had to justify the cause of not only to the participants in the struggle, but to thousands of future generations who should not fail to see justice in the action of the five survivors out of the hosts of warriors. He had to bring the tales of preserverance, toleration and forgiveness to a climax not only in the enactment of life-drama in a single generation, but through a narration of endless triumphs and sufferings of humanity in the past. Justice and Law had to be described not only in abstract these but its effects in the form of glory, prosperity and peace that reigned under kings who sacrificed personal interest to dictates of Law. So was evil to be described in its devastating effects like extinctions of races, wars, famines, unrest and larger catastrophes. Strings of tales, illustrating virtues and condemning vice, thus, relate conflicts between gods and asuras, between Garuda and Snakes, between sages and kings, and between man and man.

Description of places which had been holy through association with sacrifices and penances of holy sages and kings are given to inspire devotion and unselfish action in the coming generation and, in fact, nothing connected with the past was found irrelevant or redundant for such a vast theme. Characters in the Mahabharata are presented in realistic colours. They are not at all creative thinkers. Most of them are indeed protagonists of virtue and law, but they submit to circumstances. Even the wise, like Bhishma and Drona, side with the unjustice Duryodhana. Choices of the warriors to fight on once side or the other is a matter of mere caprice or chance. Shalys came to fight for the Pandavas, but the royal reception accorded to him by Duryodhana shifted his personal support to the other side. Most of the warriors agreed to side with those who sought their aid before the other parties could approach. Alliances were much like election-campaigns of the modern.

Democratic age, so that even Lord Krishna's plea for personally siding with Arjuna was that Arjuna met his glance before Lord Krishna noticed Duryodhana, although the latter had come earlier. The warriors fought not for a sense of duty or for maintenance of the eternal Law of Justice, but for excelling others. Display of superior prowess was a matter of honour, and maintaining vanities was a matter of prestige. Virtue or vice was of the least consideration for those who were arrayed in the great battle. Karna, who otherwise was generous and virtuous beyond measure, plotted underhand schemes against the noble Pandavas as earnestly as Duryodhana himself. Passions ruled, and ideas were supressed. Even Yudhisthira and his brothers would have allowed the evil to grow under their very nose, had they been allowed mere existence inspite of it. Arjuna's recoiling from was an index of the age. The fight for justice was the last resort with these lawabiding Pandavas. Glory be to Lord Krishna, who alone amongst hosts of warriors was untouched by vanities of the age, and inspired the virtuous Pandavas to save law even at the cost of extinction of the warrior-race.

Lord Krishna's unimpaired vision of truth, justice and chaste impulose for right, flawless and unfailing actions were the marks of a personality, of which earlier ages of Manu, Vamana and Shri Rama might well have been proud. This incarnation of the Supreme Goodness was the saviour of ideals which the Mahabharatan civilisation was likely to sacrifice under the dominating rules of passion. Had Duryodhana been allowed to live in the name of kinship or in the name of the Aryan race, our civilisation today would have been destitute of those spiritual values of which India still remains proud. The difference in the civilisation of the age of the Ramayana and the age of the Mahabharata is apparent in the conceptions of evil of the two epics. Whether to a curse or some other reason, Revana desists from violence to a lady even in his prison, where Duryodhana, an Aryan, would do violence in public to a lady of his own family.

The two Epics together inculcate in man all spiritual, moral and aesthetic values that art in all its forms has ever been capable of inspiring. The Ramayana elevates the soul, while the Mahabharata widens the mind. The Ramayana looks like fulfillment of a hope or a dream. Everything is much above our standards and expectations. We can only wonder at and admire the lofty ideals and loftier achievements of the age. The Mahabharata looks much like a book of our own times, for it deals with problems, which are the same for any age. It is a record of legions of mightier arms, but only smaller groups of mightier minds. Humanity today has the same problems as it had in the time of the Mahabharata. The thought and philosophy of the Mahabharatan days have not lost their meanings to us. Whatever was present there in the form of schools of thought is still available today. Every-day language and idiom of the Aryan race in any part of the globe, even to this day might be found, on analysis, to be inherited from the Mahabharatan age. At least the Indian languages and dialects speak of life and death, good and evil, penance and salvation in the same idiom as is found in the Mahabharata. Continuity of civilisation is the reason for this akinness of the Mahabharatan thought and idiom to the thought and idiom of our own times. There have apparently been no big gaps. The evolution of society has been going on through natural growths and decays.

There has been no whole-sale extinction of a form of life and thought since the Mahabharata was composed. Wars, epidemics, earthquakes and famines have not been able to obliterate man's inheritance of the Mahabharatan civilisation.

The case is different with the age of the Ramayana. The civilisation of the Ramayana period has grown so remote that much in the Ramayana looks like a creation of imagination. The ideals, howsoever noble, look rather out of date and impracticable. The cult of Yajna of the Ramayana age is much older than the Mahabharatan cults of devotion or the philosophical realisation of Truth. The Ramayana is breathing the spirit of an age nearer to Nature. Man claimed kinship with river and mountains and looked to gods as his immediate guardians. While some races like the Vanaras were on way to civilisation in the footsteps of the Aryans, most of the other races represented by cannibals like Tadaka, Viradha and degenerate Khara and Dushana, hardly deserved the appellation of man. They lived in forests and their ways were not much different from beasts. There warfares were usually man-to-man wrestling, and their arms mostly rock-pieces, trees, and maces. Rama and Lakshmana were, indeed, advanced in the use of arms and powerful missiles. In the Mahabharata, all warriors were equally great masters in the use of strongest of missiles. The Mahabharatan War was a competition in the display of superior skill in arms.

The Mahabharatan Age had evolved a more practical form of faith in the Vedas. Sacrifices were no more performed for self purification as was done in the Ramayana. Even the nobles like Bhishma and Yudhisthira do not know of perfecting spiritual life through vedic rituals. The Horse-Sacrifice of these days is a symbol of power rather than faith. In the Ramayana, devotion to the vedic cult of Yajna is universal. The vedic ritual is fervently pursued by kings and sages alike. Rishis like Vishvamitra laid out great yajnas only for self-elevation. All success in life is regarded as the immediate fruit of Yajnas performed with proper care. The Yajna for progeny rewards Dasharatha promptly with the birth of four sons.

The Monkey-King Bali, too, observed daily vedic meditations, and it was in one of these evening meditations that he held Ravana tight under his armpit, when the latter challenged him to a duel. Even Meghanada, Ravana's son, performed a Yajna for securing a victory over Lakshmana. Ravana was believed to have got all his power by virtue of a sacrifice to God Shiva. Such a universal belief in the vedic Yajna is much earlier than the Mahabharatan cults of Bhakti or devotion or the philosophic realisation of the soul.

Stories and legends of the two Epics strike quite distinct notes. Series of deeply suggestive stories in the Ramayana are records of mighty deeds of the heroes of the past. All the legends are reminiscent of the dawn of life on this earth. Rama's ancestors are spoken of as heroes who moved mountains, wrought passages for rivers, dug up seas, and laid foundations of big cities. Sagara's sons fixed the ocean within the bounds of its shores. Bhagiratha brought Ganga to the Indian plains for the peace of thousands of departed souls. These inspiring legends speak of the Ramayana in these reminiscences is clearly many centuries older than Mahabharata whose legends and stories are only love-tales of those great heroes of the past which had grown indistinct at the time of the composition of the Mahabharata.

In stories like those of Pururavas, Nahusha, Yayati, Puru, Nala and Shakuntala's son Bharata, Vyasa was only recounting those great figures who had contributed towards civilisation in the past, and whom the people of the Mahabharatan age were probably forgetting in the moment of their glory. There is an undertone of a feeling in the Mahabharata that civilisation had already reached a climax and was on the point of collapse. Vairagya or detachment is strongly propagated in the Gita. This was an aftermath of the zenith of a glorious civilisation which later on, was followed by the growth of Buddhism and other pessimistic philosophies just in the same manner as the glorious age of Pericles was followed by philosophical ages in Athense, beginning with Socrates and Plato and ending in the Stoics, the Cynics and the Epicureans.

Valmiki's poetry and theme were buoyant with the hope and faith that men had inherited from the proceding generations. Rama is nowhere baffled by considerations which paralyse, Arjuna's mind and body in the battlefield. Pessimistic philosophy is altogether absent in the Ramayana. In fact, there was no room for any such philosophy in that age in which heroic deeds of Indra were recited every morning through the vedic hymns. Rama is impatient with any rationalising or pleasure hunting thought that distracts man from participating in the ancient plan of Dharma laid out by Manu and the Seers. This is evident from Rama's reproachful rejoinder to priest Jabali who advised him to return to Ayodhya and to make the best of Bharata's regards for him. Rama was proud to follow the example of his ancestors who had never sought to have compromise between dictates of Dharma and the emergencies of circumstances. Rama's teacher, Vishvamitra, too, had inspired Rama for prompt action, not through discourses on the soul, or on the life hereafter with promise of rewards in heaven, but through stories of valiant men and dynamic personalities of the past. It was in later ages that metaphysical precepts were needed to tone up society, when even the best amongst men were only half willing to accept life as a field for righteous action, and when purity of the moral outlook of the Ramayana-age was evidently giving place to a growing sensuality in the nation. Poetry of the Mahabharata, inspite of its supreme success in maintaining the moral tone, could not help reflecting such a change in the moral outlook to a perceptible degree.

It is nothing short of a miracle or a plan shaped by Divinity that these two great Epics should so exhaustively represent the depth and breadth of life in the age of the vedic heroes. While the Ramayana described the greatness of the human heart, the Mahabharata surveys all that humanity had achieved, enjoyed and suffered in that great epoch. Thought Valmiki and Vyasa had both been inspired by the glories of the vedic civilisation, Vyasa had drawn much from the Ramayana for the central theme of his poem. This was in the fitness of things, for sage Vyasa, whom tradition accredits with the arrangement of the Vedas in their present form, and who revived the vedic studies through hosts of his selfless disciples, must have realised that the Ramayana represented more truly the spirit of the vedic age than any other ritualistic or philosophical literature.

Popularity of the Ramayana even in those early days must have indeed inspired younger sages to emulate Valmiki, and one of the sages, Vyasa, did certainly complete the task which Valmiki had envisaged. It was in a spirit of homage to the earlier poet that Vyasa recalled Valmiki as one of those ancient seers who came from heaven to listen to Lord Krishn's great oration in the court of Duryodhana. A perfected piece of oratory composed in the claimatic moment of his great poem was offered by Vyasa as an humble gift to those earlier sages who had inspired the youngest among the seers of vedic lineage. To acknowledge his debt to Valmiki, Vyasa mentions Dasharatha's son, Rama several times. The Story of Rama is one of the stories that Dhritarashtra listens to in the most distressed moment of his life. Again, when in Duryodhana's conference with his comrades. Karna is insolent to Bhishma and Drona, Vidura advised Dhritarashtra not to allow youngsters to be so impolite to the grand old men who were wise and venerable like the ancient kings Rama and Gaya.Vidura said:

"These two men are venerable for their age, intelligence and experience; and they are, O King, impartial to your son and to the sons of Pandu. As followers of Law and Truth, these two, O Bharata King, undoubtedly are not second to Rama, the son of Dasharatha or to Gaya."

Verses 5 & 6 Adi Parva, Adhyaya 204 Gaya is the royal seer of two hymns in the fifth book of the Rig Veda. It is significant that the Mahabharata introduces Rama and Gaya in so close association in these lines, to speak at length of them both in the section of Yudhisthira's pilgrimage to holy places. At Gaya, the celebrated place of pilgrimage, Yudhisthira is inspired to listen to the story of the Kind Gaya. In his despairing moods, Yudhisthira is cheered by the sage Markandeya to look upon himself as the most celebrated personality of his times, for Yudhisthira was pious king, who like Yayati, Pururavas, Bhagiratha, Rama, Ikshvaku, Manu and Puru, was the resort of Dharma. These references to Rama, at the various stages in the Mahabharata, speak of the popularity of the Ramayana and its hero in the Mahabharatan days. Some of the versions of the Mahabharata describe Arjuna's winning of Drupadi as similar to winning of Sita by Rama.

"Leaving Princes, the King's daughter promptly garlanded Arjuna, and modestly stood beside him. She looked like Shachi who had chosen Indra, or like Swaha who had chosen Agni, or like Lakshmi who had chosen Vishnu, or like Dawn who had chosen Surya, or like Rati who had chosen the god of love, or like the daughter of the King of Mithila who had chosen Rama as her husband."

In Vana Parva of the Mahabharata, Hanumana, one of the chracters of the Ramayana, recounts the adventures of Rama. The story of Rama as given here, as well as given later on by the sage Markandeya, agrees with and presumes the existence of the Ramayana of Valmiki. These respected references to Rama in the Vana Parva or Yudhisthira's sojourn in the forest do not fail to give an impression that Vyasa had in his mind the story of a great hero who has spent most of his life in the forest. This impression is confirmed after Draupadi's abduction by Jayadratha, the King of Sindhu. Events of Yudhisthira is consoled to submit to fate as Rama had similarly done in the past. Yudhisthira's forfeiture of his share in the Kingdom, his living in disguise at King Virata's Court, were not unprecedented events. Rama had lost his Kingdom and Vishnu had to live in disguise as Dasharatha's son, when he had to vanquish Ravana. All these details show clearly that the Ramayana had been a popular story by the time of the Mahabharata. Vyasa was proud to see his hero as an epitome of virtue, as the hero of the earlier poet had been. There is clearly an effort on the part of Vyasa to raise the status of his own hero, Ydhishthira, and give an auspiciousness to the later Epic by its association with the earlier Epic. The story of King Sagara, whose sons were destroyed by the wrath of Sage Kapila, is narrated in the Mahabharata in the manner of the Ramayana. Bhagiratha's adventures to bring Ganga to the land of the Aryans, is similarly described. The story of Rishyashringa, the sage, who was coaxed to come to the state of Anga to wed King Lomapada's daughter, is also narrated in the manner of the Ramayana. Vyasa seems to narrate these stories under the impression that some of these events and names were well-known. Lomapada is mentioned by no other epithet but as Dasharatha's friend who became king of the Angas.

This reference to King Dasharatha not only makes it very clear that Dasharatha was a well known figure of the past, but it also proves that the author of the Mahabharata presumed popularity of the Rishyashringa story through the Ramayana. Some details are added, as was quite natural. Rishyashringa is described as having a goat's horn on his head. This was evidently an explanation of the sage's name which in the days of the Ramayana was too well-known to need such a farfetched explanation.

The Puranas, which followed the example of the Mahabharata in adoring the Vedic tradition, all paid their homage to the Ramayana. These sages held Ramayana to be the first poetry after the Vedas and Valmiki work as an ideal piece of poetry. Ashvaghosha pays homage to this wok of art by modelling his Buddha-Charitam, or the life of Buddha, after the Ramayana. His poetry is mainly inspired by the Ramayana, of which he speaks even in his Sutra-alankar. The greatest historical figures of Buddha could not be drawn in line with the hero of the Ramayana unless the Ramayana had been regarded as the holiest of books dealing with the life of the holiest amongst men. Buddha's father, Shudhodhana, without Buddha in the Buddha-Charitam, compares himself to Dasharatha without Rama. The poet Bhasa had plots for his plays from the Ramayana. Earlier, still, Kalidasa wrote a full poem Raghuvamsha in honour of Rama's family. He closes his well-known poem of Meghaduta by asking the cloud to deliver the Yaksha's message to his beloved wife as faithfully as Hanuman conveyed Rama's message to Maithili, Sita. This ending note for making a reference to the auspicious story of the Ramayana by one of the greatest poets of all times, speaks of the popularity of the Ramayana in ancient India. Tradition could not be confused about such a popular work, and the doubt that modern scholars sometimes hold against the Ramayana being the first of the Epics is only a misleading mental aberration.

Valmiki was the first poet to sing of Rama's name which has ever been held as auspicious as the sacred syllable 'OM'. Great saints, including Guru Nanak and Kabir, held the name of Rama as above all other names of the Highest Being. The sweetest of the Epics of the later times, namely Rama-Charita Manasa by Tulsidas was composed in honour of the hero of Valmiki's Ramayana. All these poets and saints confirm and endorse the opinion of the Mahabharata and Puranas that Rama was born in the earliest days of the Aryan civilisation.

Tag Names : Puran,Ved
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