As Lilla Roberts celebrated her 104th birthday yesterday with family, friends and parishioners at her church, she credited her long life to God.
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The magic of the Ramayana
There are many versions of the Ramayana, the book that tells the story of Sri Rama, but Tulsidas’ version, written in a dialect of Hindi, is loved and revered by Hindi-speaking Hindus, according to pundit Dr Rampersad Parasram.
It came to T&T when the East Indians came here between 1845 and 1917, and hundreds of Ramayana Yagnas (prayer sessions) are held here annually.
“This work, the Ram Carit Manas, the Ramayana of Sant Tulsidas, is widely read by Hindus and has attracted many scholars, some of whom gather from time to time at international conferences to discuss this glorious epic,” he said.
Summing it up, Parasram explained: “The main story is simple enough. It tells of the avatar of Sri Rama, his life in the forest, the slaying of the golden deer of illusion, his meeting with the Vanara King Sugriva, the death of the tyrant Bali, construction of the bridge; the Sri Ram Setu, to Lanka, the fall of the evil Ravana and his brother, Kumbhkarana and the coronation of Sri Rama as king of Ayodhya and of all the world.”
However, the Ramayana is much more than a simple story. There are three main dialogues between Yajnavalakya and Bhardwaj Muni, two learned and respected teachers of Hinduism, Shiv, who is said to have been the first to recite the Ramayana, and his divine consort, Parvati and the dialogue between Kakbhushundi and Garuda, he said.
“The Ramayana of Tulsidas is ambrosia to devotees of Sri Ram, who Tulsidas tells us is the manifestation of the Supreme God.”
lessons for life
“In the dialogue of Yajnavalkya we find a clear statement of some of the subject areas. These include God, righteousness, knowledge of the unmanifest God or para vidya, and dispassion.
“We get further information on the contents of the epic in the introductory part of the dialogue between Bhagwan Shiv and Parvati which not only raises questions of the incarnation or avatar of Sri Ram and his lilas or divine sport, but also of the miracles and secret doctrines.”
Parasram said later in the well-known Prabarshan Katha in Kishkindha Kand, Tulsi outlines other subject areas that include devotion or bhakti, politics and governance, among other things. Even a casual reading of this part of the Ramayana provides invaluable insights on all these topics, he said.
“Discussions on devotion are found in many tracts of the Ramayana, but reference is very often made to the dialogue between Sri Ram and Mata Shabari, his simple tribal woman devotee, upon whom he showered love and blessings.
“In this tract, Sri Ram details methods of worship that include progressive steps to salvation, starting with right association, listening to the Lord’s glory, service to one’s spiritual guide, to the practice of virtue and realisation of the omnipresence of God.
“Reference is also made to the Sri Ram—Lakshman dialogue, sometimes called the Sri Ram Gita, in which the value of devotion is emphasised. Here devotion is described as independent and not requiring props; a sure and quick pathway to salvation and the source of unlimited joy.”
There are direct references to systems of philosophy and discussions and references throughout the text that challenge the average reader to in-depth study. Perhaps the best discussion on virtue is found in the parable of the chariot in Lanka Kand. “Valour, fortitude, good conduct, strength, discretion, compassion, forgiveness are only some of the many virtues described.”
Marriage and friendship are also discussed in the cited references and in many other parts of the epic, as indeed are various aspects of relationships. There is particular emphasis on family life.
“We may thrill to the adventures of Sri Hanuman, Sri Rama’s faithful servant as outlined in Sundar Kand and elsewhere or model our lives on his selfless dedication to Sri Ram.
“We may look to the heroic Lakshmana, the unconditional love of Bharata or the simple unsophisticated, almost childlike surrender of Kewat the boatman, to his Lord and master, but we cannot escape the truth that the Ramayana, the Ram Carit Manas is Tulsidas’ way of offering mankind a way to God realisation: the pathway of love and devotion.
Ramayana also a great read
Tulsidas began writing the Ramayana in 1574 in Ayodhya and completed the epic in Varanasi. He spent two years and just over three months putting it together.
“Tulsidas himself has written of the content and of sources of information on which he relied to write his epic. He sourced his material from his teachers and drew from his own experience, but also cites the Vedas, Puranas, Agamas and the source books of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy,” Parasram said.
Tulsidas takes the reader on a uplifting journey through life, using the nine rasas or moods of Indian poetry and drama: love and attraction, laughter, compassion, fury, valour, heroism, horror, wonder and peace. The reader becomes part of the epic and easily identifies with the many characters.
The chhandas, hymns sung in specific meters, that are found throughout the Ramayana are particularly beautiful. Each is special, from the prayer of the earth to the Supreme when in fear and distress resulting from the reign of terror of Ravana to the hymns of praise following the birth of Sri Ram and the coronation of Sri Rama in Ayodhya.
Being able to read and appreciate these in the original language of Tulsidas makes them truly precious gems that enhance the beauty of the Ram Carit Manas, said Parasram.
As well as its religious aspects, the Ramayana is also a wonderful piece of epic literature, Parasram stressed.
“As a behaviourist, I find Tulsidas’ handling of the human condition very exciting and meaningful. For example, his description of Sri Rama’s grief when separated from Sita, or Sita’s condition in captivity, are compelling, as indeed his handling of grief and grief resolution in his description of events following the death of King Dasratha, the earthly father of Sri Ram.”
The Ramayana also opens a window to the culture of the people from whom most of the Hindus in T&T are descended. The wedding of Sri Ram and Sitaji, which occupies a large section of Bal Kand, for example, remains the model Hindus use for weddings in this country up to this day, Parasram said.
“The Ramayana is a literary masterpiece and a story of love and devotion. Serious scholars may wish to explore, as many have done before. It is a high point of epic writing and poetry, with something for everyone.”