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From Ramayana to Odyssey

Recently I read an English translation of Ramayana with the self same enthusiasm as a Sri Lankan child would have read a Russian fairy tale. What struck me most was that Indian epics such as Ramayana, share spectacular affinities with the background and events of Greece recounted by Homer in his epics. The English translation was by R.C. Dutt.

Explicit throughout the stories of Ramayana is the general idea that both western and eastern cultures that evolved apart are of the same pedigree. In Ramayana, Valmiki speaks of an age which is much more off-lying from the point where recorded history begins. Valmiki's Ramayana is an epic which roughly contains 24,000 stanzas in the most recent edition.

Ramayana illustrates the glories of Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, the Kingdom of Kosala on the banks of river Gogra. The epic's continuing pre-eminence among everything for Indians both in the past and present goes unquestioned. It appears as though the whole spirit of Indians has created the epic although it was actually penned by one person.

In short, Ramayana has offered a surprising cultural solidarity for several dozens of nations in the Indian subcontinent.

When speaking about the origin of Ramayana, opinion varies on when it was written. Much evidence, however underpins the impression that Ramayana has been composed somewhere between 900 BC and 600 BC.

Valmiki, like Homer, describes a period of time which is entirely different from the period and background he lives. Some critics argue that epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata have been written on stories possessed by Indo-Aryans by the time they were setting in India.

Valmiki's time

During the era the epics (Mahabharatha and Ramayana) were written, women possessed a dignified position in the society.

When she attained marriageable age, she was allowed to make her option of the partner among those summoned from different parts of the country. She garlanded the selected man accompanied by pseudo duels and hunting sports.

The costliest and the most stately festival was 'Ashwameda Yaga' which was held for several months in celebration of a king's coronation.

In the heat of the festival, priests sacrificed horses to please god Indra, the god of the royalty. The old gods had been replaced by new gods such as Hanuman, Ganesha and Siva. Average people accompanied the ruler in decisive battles and there were plenty of slaves for the service of the affluent.

In Ramayana, we meet weapon makers, soldiers, goldsmiths, tavern keepers, tailors and actors.

The synopsis of Ramayana

Ramayana's influence on subsequent Indian thought and literature was really great.

In the same way, Homer's Illiad and Odyssey provided much for the posterior Greek dramas and Greek thought. Indian poets and playwrights drew immensely from Ramayana and Mahabharatha.

In the course of a conspiracy hatched by jealous queen 'Kaikei', Prince Rama of the kingdom of Ayodhya is expelled. The queen's initial plan is to bring her own son Bharatha to kingship. Prince Rama leaves the palace with his beloved wife Sita and Prince Lakshmana and lives in the jungle. Valmiki illustrates Rama's exploits and heroism in the jungle and how Rama battles with 'Rakshas' (the jungle dwellers).

Ultimately Ravana, the chief of the jungle dwellers tactfully removes Rama from his jungle home and abducts Sita to Sri Lanka. Rama, accompanied by Hanuman the general of apes and Lakshmana, pursue Ravana in his flight to Lanka. Hanuman builds a type of massive bridge across the sea with boulders and Ravana is killed in the fierce battle that ensures. After testing Sita's chastity by fire, Rama takes Sita back to Ayodhya and coronation of Rama in the kingdom takes place amidst festivities.

We see that legends of Ramayana have been woven around true events at the time when Indo-Europeans were crossing the valleys of river Ganges. Ramayana describes a period of time which was extremely similar to the period which Homer of Greece described. On the other hand, Homer composed his epic 'Odyssey' to illustrate the life and heroic battles by Odysseus, the hero, who ultimately wins his beloved Penelope, identically enough, Ramayana eulogises Rama's feats in his attempt to save Sita in captivity.

Odyssey

In Odyssey, Homer represents battles, heroic deeds and events which bear clear resemblance to those illustrated by Valmiki in Ramayana. A hero named Odysseus who comes for the battle of Troy from the country of Ithaca, is imprisoned by a marine mermaid in an island on his return journey. All Greeks believe that Odysseus must have died on his return from the battle.

But his beloved girl Penelope earnestly believes that he is alive and totally unaware of his imprisonment, waits for him for years.

Gods are in favour of this imprisonment because the hero Odysseus blinded the chief of the one-eyed giants in their island. Later, the Gods entreat Calypsio the marine mermaid to release Odysseus and he returns to his country after numerous hardships and adventures.

His beloved Penelope is being troubled by suitors (Princes) in Odysseus absence but she stays vehement in her rejection. Ultimately the hero (Odysseus) kills the Princes and recovers the kingdom. (Here Penelope has been constantly supported by Telemachus her son).

In Odyssey, the hero is supported by his son, Coronos and gods just as Rama is strengthened by Hanuman and Lakshmana in Ramayana. Like Penelope in Homer's work, Sita, perfect in chastity, expects Rama always beside her and regards him as her sole protector and lover. When Rama is expelled into the jungle, she passionately exclaims.

A married woman is always by her husband's side and regards him more important than house work... As any objects is accompanied by its shadow, so is the woman to her beloved husband... So please allow me to find him in the agreeable jungle and enjoy his warmth and love which are far more dignified than luxuries in this palace..."

This Mahabharata and Ramayana bear perfect affinities with Homer's Illiad and Odyssey probably composed at the same period of time.

Just as Indians adore these epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, Greaks highly respect the Homeric epics which continue to inspire them with strong cultural sense.

The basic reason behind this noticeable similarity is that the first Aryans, before they dispersed to Europe and Asia, had a common culture, and spoke a common language (Indo-European language).

They might have had a rich oral literature which provided material for the subsequent epics such as Illiad, Odyssey, Ramayana and Mahabharatha etc. Certain similarities among Latin, Sanskrit, Greak, German, English, and Persian languages associat them with a common, 'first language. How Ramayana and Mahabharatha came to be identical in some aspects with Homer's epics is shrouded in mystery of history.

 

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