6th-century Ramayana discovered in Kolkata library, stuns scholars

Scholars at the Asiatic Society Kolkata were elated when they stumbled upon a brand new manuscript of Ramayana hidden away in a little known Sanskrit Library in Kolkata. This manuscript, which is from the 6th century, will likely displace the 12th-century rendition by Tamil poet Kamba as the second-oldest version. The widely known 4 BC Ramayana by Valmiki is still the oldest known version.

This version of Ramayana shows both Ram and Sita more as humans and largely deals with their separation.

Scholars discovered the 6th-century Ramayana while they were working on the Vanhi Purana. They began searching for missing manuscript after realising that the Vanhi Purana at the Asiatic Society library was incomplete.

Upon further research, they realised two more manuscripts existed – one at the India Office Library in London and the other at the Samskrita Sahitya Parishad, a 100-year-old research institution.

The scholars scoured the archives and found the complete version of the Vanhi Purana manuscript. When they were analyzing it, they stumbled upon the Dasa Griba Rakshash Charitram Vadha, which did not have any bearing with the Vanhi Purana. Upon analysis, they found that it was a 6th-century version of Ramayana with many interpolations.

The Scholars while analysing the text in the new manuscript noticed some blaring twists in the story line, albiet the main character Rama, Sita and Ravana are the same. The manuscript portrays Rama and Sita  more as humans and focuses more on the separation of the two, reports the Times of India.

This version does not start with curse that forced Dasarth to send his son to exile, instead, it begins with a curse that fell on Goddess Lakshmi. It excludes the Balkanda the portion focused on  Rama’s childhood and Uttrakanda. The new manuscript ends with Rama’s return from exile and his ascension to the throne.

“Interestingly in this version, there are just five kandas (sections) instead of the accepted seven. There is no Balakanda – the part that deals with Rama’s childhood – or Uttarkanda. This Ramayana ends with the return of Rama and Sita from exile and his ascension to the Ayodhya throne,” said Anasuya Bhowmick, lead scholar of the Asiatic Society, who is working with the manuscript. This Ramayana does not begin with the curse that drove Dasarath to send his son to exile.

The scholars will take nearly a year to complete reading and interpreting this new version of the Ramayana and later the Asiatic Society plans to publish it as a book.

“Ram here is more human than God, with follies like anger and failure. Some interesting details – like the ages of Sita and Rama at the time of marriage and the date when Sita was abducted by Ravana -are in this version,” said scholar Manabendu Bandyopadhyay.

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