Ramayana: AK Ramanujan, Tulsidas or Camille Bulke<

Last fortnight a controversy got wide coverage in media. It related to an essay of AK Ramanujan, ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’, that was part of undergraduate course in history of Delhi University. The university authority suddenly decided to drop it. It’s was not clear who behind this immature decision. Was it the rightist student union? Alternately, it might be a proactive decision of the university. I do agree that the teachers would have been consulted.

I read the essay on web. It is well written one with research and good intention to tell the readers about the various Ramayanas and some interesting stories therein. The essay is not meant for those who consider it just as a religious book and worship its characters. Some fundamentalists, who can’t appreciate the finesse of the commentary, may raise objections and even protest and even ask for withdrawing it.

It is unfortunate that while writing about Ramanujan’s essay, none of columnists be it Dileep Padgaonkar, Swapan Dasgupta, Pratik Kanjilal or Mukul Keswani has mentioned about the work of Father Camille Bulke. Interestingly, Ramanujan has referred to the work of Camille Bulke.

Perhaps the first time I read Camille Bulke, it was many years ago during my school days. I went through Father Camille Bulke’s on Ram Katha that was actually his PH.D research thesis. It was interesting to learn how the Rama Story, known to us till then as one written by Balmiki and then in Awadhi by Tulsidas, evolved since Vedic era of ancient India. Camille Bulke‘s book, ‘Râmakathâ, Utpatti aur Vikâsa’, got published first time from Allahabad, 1950. Bulke has provided the details of the Ramayana story in Vedic literature as well as in ancient Buddhist and Jain literature. Bulke has also mentioned extensively about the Rama’s story prevalent in the literature of other parts of India and South East Asia. Bulke’s book is even till today might be the best written research work on Rama story.

Interestingly Bulke was a Belgian but loved Indian culture, learnt Hindi, got master in Hindi and then PH.D from Prayag University. Till his death he was head of Hindi department of Ranchi University. For lovers of Ramayana, his book is to be a must read one. It is unfortunate that the book has not been translated and published in English. I wish Sahitya Akademi or some other institution does it.

Ramayana that most of North Indians read and know are of Valmiki who wrote in the Epic in Sanskrit and Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas that over the years the book became the most sacred religious book for every Hindu family, particularly in North India. However, I came across at least two more Ramayanas. With my education in West Bengal, I came to know of Kirtibas’s Ramayana in Bengali. We read and sang another very popular Ramayana in modern Hindi with Urdu words also. It was Radhesyam Ramayana and had many episodes totally different than those in Tulsidas’s Ramayana.

Tulsidas created an ideal character of Rama and Gandhiji talked of Ramrajya based on what Tulsidas had written. However, Tulsidas also has clearly mentioned about the numerous stories written about his hero, Ram- ‘Hari Anant harikatha ananta’.

I use the existence of this large number of the Ramayanas as the evidence of Rama being a historical figure rather than mythological one. I don’t think there is any other epic in any language that became so widespread.

According to Dileep Padgaonkar, many versions of Ramayana enriched the epic. I agree. A rational Indian must read every good literature that enriches our knowledge.

I wish DU reintroduce the essay.

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