Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 05 Aug 2011 12:40 and updated at 23 May 2012 17:18
Ramayana (Rama's journeys) is one among the two epics of Ancient India along with Mahabharata. It is much smaller (1/4th) to Mahabharata. But it is to be counted more popular than Mahabharata, considering the number of languages into which the original version is translated and also considering the number of versions that are available today. Ramayana is popular not only in India but also in almost all of the South East Asian Countries. It is followed with great enthusiasm in Iran, Central Asia, Russia, China, Korea and Japan. In India itself, there are Buddhist and Jain versions of Ramayana. There are versions of Ramayana in all regional languages of India.
The source of all the versions of Ramayana is Valmiki Ramayana, attributed to sage Valmiki a contemporary of Rama. Valmiki originally belonged to a non-Vedic tribe, but he was initiated into the path of wisdom by sages. Based on some sources he belonged to a robber tribe that existed in Gangatic plain. Robber tribes were often hostile to people and were frequently subjugated by kings for the protection of their subjects. There is also a speculation that Valmiki belonged to the Tarkshya tribe. Some references in Rig Veda makes the Tarksyas same as or a branch of the Ikshwakus, a tribe in which Rama also belonged. As per Mahabharata, the Tarkshyas were identical to or related to the Suparnas, a tribe in which Garuda belonged. They were hostile to the Naga tribe. Thus Valmiki had some remote kinship with Garuda as well as with Rama. Another analysis yields that Tarksyas served as bards for Ikshwaku kings (described in Ramayana) like the Sutas who served as bards for the Bharata kings (described in Mahabharata). Thus Valmiki, the author of Ramayana (centered around the Ikhswaku kings) was a bard equivalent to the Sutas like Sanjaya and Ugrasrava Sauti who were instrumental in the development of Mahabharata (centered around the Bharata kings). Valmiki had a weak kinship with the Ikshwakus, while Vyasa (the author of the core of Mahabharata) had a strong kinship with the Bharatas.
Number of Chapters and Verses
The number of verses in Valmiki Ramayana, as they are available today, varies from 18,000 to 24,000 based on the versions. The number of chapters too vary from 520 to 660 based on the version. The percentage variation of number of verses and chapters in Ramayana (25%) is thus higher than that found in Mahabharata (5%) indicating that Ramayana is less maintained than Mahabharata.
Rama, Indra and Vishnu
Indra comes at 5th rank noun and Vishnu comes 1st in Vishnu Purana. Indra comes at 10th rank and Vishnu comes at 35th rank in Ramayana. In Rig Veda, Indra comes 1st and Vishnu comes at 35th Rank. This indicates the position of Indra over Vishnu in Ramayana, a situation very close to Vedic period. This also indicates the closeness of the core of Ramayana with the Vedic age, preceding the core of Mahabharata, probably by a few centuries, but succeeding the core of Rig Veda at least by a century.
Thus Ramayana is like a Veda, with position of Indra, replaced with Rama. If we analyze all the references of Rama, Indra and Vishnu in Ramayana, we find a surprising fact that Rama is compared to Indra more times than he is compared to Vishnu! In several references, Rama is likened to Indra and Ravana to Vritra, the enemy of Indra. Rama's younger brother Lakshmana is compared to Vishnu, the younger brother of Indra. In Uttarakanda, the 7th book, we have a rare comparison of Satrughna to Vishnu.
Ikshwaku-Bharata struggle for dominance
From Rig Veda, we get to know that Ikshwakus were the foremost supporters of the Indra worshiping Purus and Bharatas. Yet the Ikshwakus were often subordinate to the dominance of the Purus and Bharatas. Rig Veda is dominated by the descriptions of Indra and his patrons viz. the Purus and the Bharatas. Ikshwakus were given only a second position next to the Purus and Bharatas.
It is natural then for the Ikshwakus to compare their hero, viz. Rama, to Indra. It is also then natural for the Ikshwakus to later create this historical work viz. Ramayana, in praise of their hero Rama, similar to the Vedas, where Indra and the Indra worshiping Purus and the Bharatas were praised. In Ramayana we also see that Rama's first (younger) brother is named 'Bharata', born to Kaikeyi, a woman belonging to the Bharata tribe ruling in Kekaya. It is also noticeable how this Bharata is always described as subordinate to Rama and how the Bharata women Kaikeyi was blamed for being selfish and power hungry (which she really was). Thus the equation in Rig Veda is inverted in Ramayana. In Rig Veda, the Ikshwakus were subordinate to the Bharatas and in Ramayana, the Bharatas, represented by prince Bharata and his mother Kaikeyi is subordinated to Rama, the new hero of the Ikshwakus.
Vaishnava influence on Ramayana
It seems, during the days of resurgence of Vaishnavaism, which happened several centuries after the Kurukshetra war, Ramayana had undergone several revisions, in which connection of Rama with Vishnu is established. There are also references to later epithets of Vishnu and Krishna like Govinda, Krishna and Janardana indicating later additions from the Vaishnava texts.
Compared to Mahabharata, Ramayana contains larger amount of enigmatic narrations. One of them is the notion that the war between Rama and Ravana involved the participation of monkeys, bears and demons! Mahabharata is more straightforward in describing the Kurukshetra war as having fought between men. Next comes the description of flying crafts or Vimanas! Some of these do have an explanation based on ancient astronaut theory or based on ancient technological excellence. But is there any 'down to earth' explanations for these enigmas?
Monkeys and Bears
Looking for a rational explanation, what is observed is that, at least some of these enigmas in Ramayana arose as a result of erroneous translations of the original Sanskrit verses in the text. Often the word Vanaras is translated as 'monkeys', where a more accurate translation would be 'forest dwellers' (the dwellers of the forest of Dandaka ie Dandakaranya). Similarly the word Rikshas is translated as 'bears', where as a more correct translation would be 'inhabitants of the Riksha' region. Riksha is a mountainous terrain in central India, that lied to the east of Vindhya ranges and extending southward into the forests of Dandaka.
A king in the line of Aila-Puru-Bharata-Kuru lineage who ruled in Riksha territories is named 'Riksha' indicating the tribal and regional dimensions of this name. Similarly the tribal name 'Vanara' continued into later day India, in the transformed forms like 'Vanavasis' (a clan name in Karnataka), literally meaning same as 'Vanara' / 'forest dweller'.
It is also revealed that the Vanara kings like Bali and Sugriva were descendants of the Riksha kings which included king Jambavan. The Riksha king Jambavan was thus related to the parents of Bali and Sugriva. The southern kingdom of Kishkindha thus seems to be the southern extensions of the territories of the Rikshas. These southern Rikshas call themselves as 'Vanaras' as their territory predominantly falls within deep and dense forest lands.
The Vanara-Riksha territories in the north extended into or overlapped with the Kosala territories, especially with the southern Kosala (the native kingdom of Rama's mother). In the east and south it overlapped with the territories such as Janasthana, controlled by Ravana and his associates like Khara and Dushana.
Thus it is clear that Rama got the assistance from the native population and the rulers ruling in the territories that lied to the south of Kosala against the Rakshasas who ruled further south and also in the east, with their center of power situated at Lanka. This was the war between Rama and Ravana.
Composition of Rama's Army
Rama's army was comprised of two distinct human tribes, viz. the Rikshas and the Vanaras, hailing from the mountains and forests of central and south-central India namely the Riksha mountain territories and the forests of Dandaka. It is however possible that the army of Rama contained some military-trained war-animals. If the kingdoms in the plains of Ganga can use war-elephants and horses, there is nothing that prevents the Vanaras from training some monkeys to be useful in battles. They could then use them as part of their army. Similarly it is possible, though very difficult, to train bears and use them as part of the army. Elephants and horses, though well suited in plains, are quite unsuitable in a battle that take place inside dense forests and mountainous terrains. In such terrains, well-trained monkeys and bears would be more effective than war-elephants and horses.
Rama could have trained some wild elephants in the forest into war elephants. But since they had to march the army through a long distance (from Kishkindha to Lanka) this would be difficult as elephants slow down the march of the army.
From the narrations in Yuddha Kanda of Ramayana, we learn that the terrain in which Rama fought with Ravana, in most part, was indeed such a mountainous terrain covered in forests. City of Lanka was not situated in a plain but on top of an elevated plateau on the top of a mountain (Trikuta mountain i.e. Adams peak, Srilanka). Only the last battle between Rama and Ravana is mentioned as being taking place in a plain. It is only then did Rama use a chariot in the battle. Chariot is not mentioned in any of the previous battles, in Rama's side of the army. Rama is often mentioned as fighting from the back of some Vanara or from the rock-tops. This adeptness in fighting from the top of trees, rocks, hills and mountain tops using tree trunk, stones and rocks might have given Vanara army an advantage over the Rakshasa army, which is mentioned as having all the four divisions (elephant-army, chariots, cavalry and infantry). Ravana's army was thus very powerful but more effective to fight in a plain terrain, not in the hilly terrain that surrounded the Lanka city.
The words like 'Rakshasas', 'Asuras', 'Daityas', 'Danavas' etc are often translated as 'demons'. This is not correct as, each of these names represents ethnically different tribes of ancient India. Rakshasas and Asuras are not the same people. Often Rakshasas were opposed to Daityas and Danavas (collectively called the Asuras). Ravana in his military expeditions had oppressed, the Daityas and Danavas along with the Devas. The three tribes viz. the Daityas, Danavas and the Devas (Adityas) shared kinship and often formed one group. The Rakshasas under Ravana were their enemies. Rakshasas however had close kinship with the Yakshas, and remote kinship with the Gandharvas and Kinnaras. However the words 'Yakshas' is often translated as 'mythical beings' , Gandharvas as 'celestial musicians' or as 'celestials' and the Kinnaras as 'mythical beings with horse head' etc. These translations have no accuracy. The word 'Devas' (alternatively Suras, Amaras) is sometimes translated as 'Gods', sometimes as 'celestials' and sometimes as 'immortals'.
If Gandharvas were merely musicians, how can we explain the 'Gandharva weapon'? It only indicate that they were just another warrior tribe along with the Rakshasas, Yakshas and Kinnaras. Gandharvas mostly belonged to the tribal stock that lived in a territory that later came to be known as Gandhara. Yakshas were later known as Yakhs, Yakkas, Yashas etc and are now found in Srilanka, Tibet and Nepal. The cultural remnants of Gandharvas and Yakshas are found as 'Gandharvan-pattu' and as Yaksha-Gana' in Kerala and Karnataka. Kinnaras were found as Kinnaurs in Himachal Pradesh.
Another tribe viz. 'Pisachas' were terribly mistaken and often translated as 'devils' or as 'evil spirits'. The word Pisacha or 'Pishachara' arise from the word 'Pishithasanas', or 'the eaters of the raw flesh'. In other words Pishithasanas or the Pisachas were eaters of uncooked meat. They seems to have some kinship with the Rakshasas and is found to be living throughout Indian Sub Continent in ancient period. In later period, they changed their food habits. A group of Pisachas continued to exist in Kashmir region, giving rise to Paisachi language. Another etymology, especially applied to Pisachas in Kashmir, is that they were 'yellow skinned people' (Peetha, Pishta = yellow).
The distinction between Rakshasas and Pisachas was that Rakshasas ate cooked meat (as revealed clearly from the Sudara Kanda of Ramayana) while the Pisachas or more precisely the Pishitashanas ate raw meat. The distinction between Rakshasas and ordinary meat eating members of the Vedic traditions is that Rakshasas did not practice any purification rites associated with meat eating while people belonging to Vedic traditions did such rites in the prescribed manner before and after eating meat or while killing the prey such as praying for the soul of the dead animal etc.
The belief that Rakshasas ate human flesh is a mere exaggeration in most cases. Often every tribe in ancient times used propaganda as a weapon to frighten members of other tribes. The Rakshasas in Lanka were certainly an advanced society with its huge city and city-life which had no need to thrive on human flesh. Perhaps some pervert members among them practiced cannibalism and ate human flesh. Perhaps humans were slain and shown as being fried and eaten as part of the propaganda of inflicting fear upon the onlookers.
Non Warrior type Tribes
Another group of tribes often mentioned together are the Siddhas, Charanas (Caranas) and Vidyadharas. These were non warrior type tribes, living in the territories of the Gandharvas and Yakshas. They were engaged in the science of art, music and philosophical knowledge. Thus were more like artists and sages but less like warriors.
Sages were classified into different types such as Rajarshis (sages who also does the function of a king, or a king who lives like a sage), Brahmarshis (sages who knows about the concept of Brahma, or the Brahmana sages) and Devarshis (sages who belonged to the Deva tribes - viz. Adityas, Maruts, Vasus or Rudras or sages who were affiliated to the Devas, lives in or travel through the Deva territories). Generically a sage is called a Rishi and a great sage is called a Maharshi.
The tribal names like 'Nagas', 'Sarpas', 'Uragas', 'Pannagas' etc were often translated as 'snakes' and 'serpents'. These tribes obviously worshiped the snakes, remnants of which is still seen in India in the form national festivals like Naga-panchami, and temples dedicated to snakes through out India. These tribes often used snake-symbols on their forehead, head gear etc. The tribal name Naga survives in north-eastern India in Nagaland. A royal tribe named Koli-sarpas, mentioned in Mahabharata, shows that the tribal name 'Sarpa' too survived. Koli-sarpas were same as the Kolwas or Kulyas, later known as Kolathiris who ruled in northern Kerala. They were same as or related to the Mushikas (Mushika-Mahishaka tribe) and the Samuthiris (Samudris, a sea-faring royal clan of northern Kerala). The tribal name 'Uraga' survived in India and many parts of Asia, like in West Asia as 'Urugs' and as 'Urags'.
Hawks and Eagles
Often the tribes that killed and ate snakes as part of their diet were considered as mortal enemies by the tribes that worshiped or cared for the snakes by feeding them with milk and other food. These tribes were often called the Suparnas / the Garudas / the Tarkshyas. They often displayed hawks, eagles and other birds who eat snakes as their symbol by painting these symbols on their chest or using a bird's beak upon their head-gear, often irritating the snake-worshiping Nagas, Sarpas, Uragas and Pannagas. Often fight broke out between these tribes. Each group considered the other as their mortal enemy. Hence we cannot always translate the words like 'Suparna', 'Garuda' etc as 'bird', 'hawk', 'eagle' etc. It is speculated that Jatayu who tried to rescue Seetha when she was being abducted by Ravana, belonged to this Suparna / Garuda / Tarkshya tribe. Another suspect is Sampati who is described as a brother of Jatayu and described as conversing with Vanaras who while searching for Sita.
Rama is also mentioned as performing the final rites of Jatayu, considering him as one among his own tribe. The mystery is revealed if we take into account that the Tarkshyas or Garudas were a branch of Ikshwakus or had some kinship with Ikshwakus.
Evil Spirits and Ancestral Spirits
The words 'Bhutas' and 'Pitris' are often translated respectively as 'evil spirits' (or simply as 'spirits') and as 'ancestors'. This is often correct translation, but at some times could mean the tribes who worship (evil or good) spirits and ancestors. For example the tribal name 'Bhuta' survive in Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. They worship natural spirits. Worship of ancestral spirits is very common even now in India.
The biggest of all enigmas in Ramayana is the mention of the air-craft (Vimana) Pushpaka. It was in the possession of Yaksha king Kubera, the step brother of Ravana. Later it was taken over by Ravana. After Ravana was defeated, Ravana's brother and ally of Rama, viz. Vibhishana, gave this wonderful aircraft to Rama. Rama used it to travel back to Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh, India) from Lanka (Srilanka). After that he gave it back to Kubera, but (as per Uttarakanda, Book 7 of Ramayana) Kubera returned it to Rama.
There are several theories based on ancient astronaut theory to explain this enigma. Based on some partially destroyed manuscript named 'Vimana-Sastra', some argue that this aircraft was built with indigenous technology of ancient India. Analysis of Puspaka based on this line of thought will be discussed in some other article. Having said that, let us see if any rational explanation is possible to explain the enigma of Pushpaka Vimana, without invoking any alien theories.
The name 'Pushpaka' means 'flowery' or 'decorated with flowers'. This does not give any indication that this aircraft was using any sophisticated machinery like 'mercury engine' as described in texts like 'Vimana Shastra'. In many references, Pushpaka is described as a fast moving chariot, especially when Ravana used it to abduct Sita, it was initially described as a chariot. So one possibility is that Pushpaka was a fast moving chariot that could carry people and goods very quickly through plain terrains on land.
Another possibility is that it was a large ship propelled by winds, much like a sail-boat, that could carry people and goods like chariots across sea and through large rivers. Such a ship would be a necessity for a kingdom like Lanka situated in an island surrounded on all sided by sea. Thus it is possible for Ravana to come to Panchavati from Lanka in this ship. He would sail the ship through the sea, and then through Godavari and then he could easily reach Panchavati that lied on the banks of Godavari. Once anchored to the shore, he could take his chariot to reach Rama's hermitage, abduct Sita, and return to the ship, which can now sail back to Lanka. Rama's return to Ayodhya too is possible in the same way as the ship can easily navigate through sea up to Ganga; through Ganga it can reach Sarayu and thus arrive at Ayodhya which lies on the banks of Sarayu.
Travel through Air
Another enigma, close to the description of Puspaka aircraft, is the mention of Hanuman's travel from the Mahendra mountains (Mahedragiri in Kanyakumari) to Lanka and his subsequent return. How is it possible? One possibility is that he traveled through sea in a yacht or boat equipped with sails, which can sail using the help of wind. There are several references in Ramayana where Hanuma's travel to Lanka is mentioned as being assisted by Vayu (wind). This could be a references to the sail-boat. He also rested on intermittent islands during his journey to Lanka. Mainaka could be such an island (or a floating island), where Hanuman planned to rest but desisted since he need to accomplish his task as fast as possible.
I have done several studies on the geographical locations of various places mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata. Most of these are shown in maps of ancient India, created as part of these geographical analysis. Some of the locations need change based on new understanding and new data. There is no change in the location of Ayodhya (Faisabad, UP) or Lanka (Srilanka).
The location of Panchavati is usually assumed as in Nasik, Maharashtra. However this location was fixed mostly based on popular beliefs and since it lies on the banks of Godavari river. It has several flaws. One is that for Rama to reach there (Nasik) from Ayodhya (Faisabad, UP) he need to traverse through the kingdom of Vidarbha or Hehaya (ruled by Kartaviryarjuna). But no mention of these kingdoms are found in the narrative that describe Rama's travel from Ayodhya, Chitrakuta, Sarabhanga-Hermitage up to Panchavati. Secondly, it makes sense to stick to familiar territory when one is travelling away from the city. The areas south to Chitrakuta was partly familiar to Rama as it belonged to southern Kosala, believed to be the native kingdom of Kausalya, Rama's mother. This territories extended along what is now Chhatisgarh state of India. It was partly covered by Dandakaranya (Dandaka forest), a name which is still found in place-names like Dantewada (the southern most district of Chhatisgarh).
The ancestral-territories of the Ikshwakus were in the south. Rama was simply following the path traversed by his Ikshwaku ancestors who from the eastern shore of India (Andhra-Pradesh) migrated northwards up to Ganga, Sarayu and Ayodhya where they formed alliance with the Purus and Bharatas of Saraswati-Ganga region, a situation vividly described in Rig Veda. The southern Ikshwaku kings had as their priests sages belonging to the Agastya clan, while the northern Ikshwaku kings had Vasistha sage as their priests. Agastyas and Vasisthas were sibling branches of the same tribe that had their ancestry connecting them with the Bhrigus. Hence we have the myth that Agastya and Vasistha were brothers born of same mother (Urvasi) on two men (Mitra and Varuna).
Thus Rama came to south in search of Agastya. Agastya lived in Panchavati and it was indeed on the banks of Godavari but not in Nasik (Maharashtra) but in Bhadrachalam (Andhra Prades). Godavari itself, as it joins sea, is divided into two and one is called Vasistha Godavari and the other Agastya Godavari, indicating that the ancestors of Vasistha and Agastya originated from where Godavari joins the sea. This is also the place of origin of the Ikshwakus, a dynasty founded by one of the sons of the Dravida-Matsya (fisherman) king Manu who ruled this coastal territory.
The Yaksha territories of Kubera or Vaisravana as described in Mahabharata falls in southern Tibet bordering Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Nepal. But this location seems to be due to later migrations of Yakshas into these regions after the Rama-Ravana war. After Ravana was defeated, the Yakshas with the help of Vibhishana ruling at Lanka and Rama ruling at Ayodhya might have expanded to these regions through sea-navigation in Bey of Bangal and navigation through Ganga and Sarayu. The Sarayu river cut across the Himalayas. In the north of Himalayas it waters these northern Yaksha territories. The Vaisrvana city named Alaka as described in Mahabharata lies on the banks of this Sarayu, close to the convergence point of the boarders of India, Nepal and China.
If this is true, then where was the Yaksha kingdom situated during the reign of Ravana? The probable location of these southern Yakshas is the eastern Kerala or the western Tamilnadu, where lies the southern parts of the Western Ghats (Malaya Mountains). The mountain peaks in these regions are very high, close to 2.5 KM in height, the highest in India after Himalayan peaks, with temperature dropping to zero degrees like in Himalayas as well as in the central mountains (Trikuta) of Lanka. Assuming that the Yakshas and Rakshasas always seek such a climate (high mountains, cold climate) which is found in all these places (the Western Ghats, the Himalayas, the Trikuta mountains of Srilanka), we can safely assume that this (the southern parts of the Western Ghats) was indeed the location of the territory of Ravana's step brother Kubera. Besides this, the description of flora and fauna, of Kuvera's territories contains mention of coconut trees and Panasa trees, which are found abundant in Kerala, but not found in a mountainous Kailasa in the northern Himalayas.
These southern Yaksha territories seems to have existed from Kanyakumari to Palani, probably also extending along the mountainous Kerala-Tamilnadu boarder to Kerala-Karnataka boarder reaching as north as Mangalapuram, where Yaksha-Gaana is attested as popular dance form. They might have had their sea-port in Kanyakumari allowing them to control Indian Ocean from there, launching their ships and navy.
This location also go along the assumption that Puskpaka was indeed a ship. In this case the ship can travel from the coast of Kerala or Kanyakumari to Lanka. There is a reference in Ramayana, where it says the Puspaka got stuck due to a mountain peak during its travels. This could be some mountain peak (described as Siva's Kailasa) in the sea, that obstructed the passage of the ship.
The place where the medicinal plant Sanjivani grows - this too seems to be located in this Yaksha territory in the southern portion of Western Ghats. This region is famous for its medicinal plants even today. Hanuman could reach here from Lanka to collect the medicinal plants in a yacht or boat, that travel through the sea with the help of wind. He could have got the assistance of the Yakshas under Kubera to collect the medicinal plant and return to Lanka quickly to save the life of Lakshmana, who was woulded by poisoned arrows of Ravana's son Indrajit.
Nagas of Bhogavati
There is also mention of Naga city Bhogavati in Ramayana, ruled by Naga king Vasuki. The location of this Bhogavati too seems to be in Kerala, probably a reference to one of the ancient Naga kingdoms in Kerala, such as the Koli Sarpas referred in Mahabharata. They are also referred as the hill-men of Kolwa. Their territory is referred as Kulya and as Cole Mountains. This Nagas are identified to be the predecessors of Kolathiris who ruled at the hills of Ezhimala in north western Kerala. Since they were good at sea-navigation they were also known as Samudris (Samuthiris). The Bhogavati mentioned in Mahabharata is however situated in the northern Gangatic plains or in the northern Himalayas. These seems to be another Naga group in the north. It is possible that the Nagas too like the Yakshas, migrated between these southern and northern territories through trade networks in land and sea.
Indra and Varuna of Southern India
Ramayana mentions that Rama sought the help of Varuna to reach Lanka by creating a bridge to cross the sea separating Lanka and India. He also encountered Indra during his final battle with Ravana. Varuna provided Rama necessary advice and knowledge on how to cross the ocean. Indra provided Rama with a chariot during his crucial battle with Ravana. Who were these Varuna and Indra? Varuna is mentioned as the ruler of the west and Indra the ruler of the east in Sanskrit texts like epics and the Puranas. In Tamil texts Chera (Kerala) kings were mentioned as the ruler of the west and the Chola kings as the ruler of the east. It is possible that the Varuna mentioned in Ramayana is an ancient Chera king.
Chera kings in the west coast (Kerala) of southern India were a dominant power in Indian ocean with their powerful Navi. Thus they were 'lords of the oceans' an epithet applied to Varuna as well. Thus the 'Varuna' who advised Rama on how to reach Lanka, crossing the ocean could be an ancient Chera-Kerala king who was a contemporary of Rama.
Chola kings were connected to their northern cousins viz. the Sivi tribe (Sibi, western Pakistan) an Indus Valley tribe, who, as per references in Mahabharata, had assumed the title 'Indra'. During the reign of Rama, the Chola kings were getting established in the eastern shore (Tamilnadu) of southern India, having migrated from the Sivi territories (Sibi, Pakistan), along with their swift chariots. The 'Indra' who helped Rama by supplying him a chariot could thus be an ancient Chola king who then sided with Rama disregarding his former ties (induced by fear) with Ravana at Lanka, knowing finally that Rama is going to win the war.
Yama in the South
Yama is mentioned as the ruler of South in epics and Puranas. In Northern India, a Yama tribe ruled on the banks of Yamuna river at Kurukshetra, giving the river its name 'Yamuna'. These Yamas were thus south to the territories of the northern Yakshas who inhabited the Kailasa-Manasasarovar region, north of Himalaya. Since the territories of the southern Yakshas fell in the mountainous Kerala-Tamilnadu boarder, the southern Yamas could be further south ruling at Madagaskar or some territory along the east coast of Africa.
Territories of Malyavat, Mali and Sumali
In Uttarakanda, there is mention of the three ancestors of Rakshasas Ravana named Malyavat, Mali and Sumali, who lived in Lanka. It is described that Vishnu draw them out of Lanka, where the Yaksha king Kubera established his Yaksha kingdom. This Vishnu could be indicative of some ancient tribe who had similar Vaishnava marks in their forehead. Though the Vaishnava and Saiva traditions, as we know them now, gained prominence after Vedic, Epic and Puranic era, these tribal markings are as ancient as the dawn of human race. The 'V' shaped mark on the forehead of Vaishnavas and the triple line marking of the Saivas on the forehead and arms - these are very ancient tribal-markings that started since time when humanity started using body paints and body arts. It is not clear if Rakshasas used the Saiva tribal markings. However Ravana is mentioned as a devotee of Siva.
Thus we can assume that some tribes with the Vaishnava markings drew the Rakshasas (who may or may not have had the Saiva markings) out of Lanka by means of prolonged battles. These Rakshasas, it seems, have established their territories adjacent to the island of Lanka. Thus we have Malyavat mountains (Eastern Ghats) in south Indian peninsula, Mali islands (Maldivs) in Arabian sea and Somalia in east Africa. Malyavat mountains seems to be inhabited by the descendants of Rakshasa Malyavat (Malyavanta); Mali islands by the descendants of Rakshasa Mali; and Somalia by the descendant of the Rakshasa Sumali.
Ramayana also use the territorial name 'Rasatala' to describe the place where the Rakshasas fled after the battle with Vishnu (or Vaishnavas or tribes with Vaishnava tribal markings). This Rasatala could be identified with Eastern shores of Africa, including Somalia and the island of Madagaskar.
Southern Origin of Rama
Rama and his dynasty of the Raghus is conspicuously absent in the narrations of Rig Veda, where many Ikshwaku kings like Divodasa, Sudasa and Saudasa is mentioned. A detailed analysis of this issue can be found in the article on Rig Veda. The summary of this analysis is that Rama belonged to the southern branch of the Ikshwaku dynasty while Sudasa and Saudasa (popularly known as Kalmashapada in Mahabharata and occasionally in Ramayana) belonged to its northern branches. It is these northern Ikshwakus who famously helped the Puru-Bharata kings in the battles described in Rig Veda. Hence they are found mentioned in Rig Veda. The Raghus probably ruled in southern Kosala (Chattisgarh) and reached their supreme ascendancy with Dasaratha and Rama, who used Ayodhya as their capital, which remained the capital of the northern Ikshwakus before and after Dasaratha and Rama. The key architect of this rise of southern Ikshwaku branch (the Rakhus) seems to be Dasaratha, who after marrying a southern Kosala princess (Kausalya) married Sumitra of Kasi which is in the north and closer to Ayodhya. From Kasi, Dasaratha reached Ayodhya and established himself there. At the peak of his power, he married the Bharata princess Kaikeyi of Kekaya in the west (Bahlika), like any northern Ikshaku king will do, to show their power and might. Rama was born to the southern princess Kausalya; Bharata to Kaikeyi and the twins Lakshmana and Satrughna to Sumitra of Kasi.
The king Anaranya mentioned as an ancestor of Rama, and as defeated by Ravana during his military expeditions, too seems to be a southern Ikswhaku king. Hence Ravana could defeat him, as Ravana never went beyond the kingdom of Hehaya (on the banks of Narmada) ruled by the Yadava king Kartaviryarjuna, who prevented any further advances of Ravana's army to the north. Mention of Ravana's army reaching Kailasa in north of Himalayas etc (in Uttarakanda) all seems to be later interpolations.
The Principal Vanaras
Hanuman or Hanuma is mentioned as a Vanara like Bali and Sugriva. Bali and Sugriva had their ancestry tracing back to the Riksha kings of central Indian mountains which partly belonged to Southern Kosala territories. Hanuman's ancestry is traced to a Vanara king named Keshari. The attribution of Surya, Indra and Vayu / Marut / Siva as fathers of these Vanaras (Bali, Sugriva and Hanuman) is similar in nature to the attribution of Surya, Yama, Vayu, Indra and Aswins as the fathers of Karna and the five Pandavas. These are later interpolations by the authors of the Puranas. These Vanaras seems to be conversant with dual languages allowing Rama to converse with them fluently. Hanuman especially is an expert in the Vedic language spoken by Rama. Hence Rama chose him to be his interface while interacting with the Vanaras. Hanuman is mentioned as appearing as a Veda knowing ascetic when he met Rama first time. This seems to be the real attire of Hanuman. Apart from the Vedic language spoken by Rama and people in the north of Vanara territories, he knew his own native Vanara dialect and the dialect of the Rakshasas spoken in the south of Vanara territories. This is also the reason behind the confusion of Hanuman regarding which language he should use to speak to Sita, who was sitting in the midst of Rakshasas at the Asoka forest in Lanka.
Construction of Rama-Setu (Bridge)
Some historians include the construction of bridge by Rama's army from India across the ocean to Lanka as one among the many fictive narrations in Ramayana. However I do not consider this as enigmatic or fiction. Construction of bridge is a plausible reality, especially because the sea level around 3300 BCE or earler (assumed to be the period described in Ramayana) was lower than the current sea level. Rama and his Vanara army might have studied the nature of the shallow sea, and discovered the existence of the natural coral bridge that connects Srilanka with India. Rama's artificial bridge seems to have been built on top of this natural bridge. The natural bridge consisting of coral reefs and reef islands, which served as a substratum for Rama's artificial bridge, is still visible in satellite imagery.
This region contains stones whose relative density is lower than water. Hence these stones float in water. Such floating stones and even floating blocks of land are produced as a result of biological, chemical and volcanic activities associated with the coral reef complexes and other biological growths in the sea shores and lake-shores throughout the world.
Floating rocks such as Pumice rocks are formed due to volcanic activities, containing numerous pores with gas trapped inside. Such rocks are sometimes used to construct bridges across water-bodies. They are often used by magicians in ancient India to produce the impression of walking upon the surface of water. Sometimes inflammable gas is trapped in these rocks and these are used by some warrior-tribes as a firearm (fire-stones) in ancient battles like Kurukshetra war in Mahabharata and Rama-Ravana war in Ramayana. These stones produce fire or poisonous gas upon exploding.
There is another phenomenon called floating islands, which are naturally formed islands that float in the sea as a mass of aquatic plants, mud and rocks. These islands can also be created artificially. Many tribes in Peru still make such islands using bundled reeds and by connecting together many wooden rafts and reed boats. The floating mountain peak named Mainaka, described in Ramayana as lying between Lanka and Indian mainland seems to be such a floating island.
Some among the Vanaras, like Nala seems to be expert in construction of floating structures. Nala is described as son of architect Viswakarma, an allusion to his architectural skills. As we have already seen, Viswakarmas were a class of people skilled in architecture, like the Mayas of India and the Mayans of Meso-America. From the narration of bridge construction it is clear that they used, rocks, trees, reeds, logs, strings and roots to make the bridge.
There are also several reef islands and ordinary islands in between India and Srilanka. Even today there are 20 such islands. The number of islands could be more (close to 100) when sea levels where lower, as was the case during the period when Rama's bridge was constructed.
The bridge was thus a mix of various technologies involving floating islands, rocks of very low density, reed-boats, and some intermittent ordinary islands that lied between the mainland of India and Srilanka and it was constructed on top of a natural coral reef bridge connecting India and Srilanka, which can be seen even today. We should also consider the existence of some older bridges constructed by Ravana, who too needed to march his huge armies from Lanka two conquer his enemies in the Indian mainland. Ravana would purposefully keep these bridges without maintenance to prevent any army from marching from Indian mainland into Lanka. Remnants of such older bridges too might have helped the Vanara army to construct Rama-Setu (Rama's bridge) in a short span of time.
Special mention is required about the last book (Book 7) of Ramayana named Uttarakanda. From the analysis it is very clear this book was a much later addition, with a possible core that is as old as the rest of Ramayana. A detailed analysis of Uttarakanda can be done in another article.
Sita's separation from Rama
The core of Uttarakanda includes the separation of Rama and Sita, due to the harsh words spoken by the citizens of Ayodhya about Sita. This separation was painful for both Rama and Sita, and comparable to the touching incident that occurred in Valmiki's life.
Subsequent to his early life as a hunter and robber, Valmiki became an ascetic coming under the influence of sages belonging to Vedic traditions. While in his life as a hunter he killed many birds for his food, he became more compassionate to life, once he became an ascetic. On one fine day, he witnessed the killing of a Krauncha bird, while it was paired with its beloved mate. He also saw the subsequent anguish and pain of the birds, one dying and the other witnessing its mate as dying. The separation of Rama and Sita as described in Uttarakanda is comparable to this fate of the Krauncha birds, where the arrow of the hunter is comparable to the harsh words spoken by the citizens of Ayodhya targeting Sita. If this is indeed the case, then this core of Uttarakanda, is also one of the oldest cores of Ramayana, since this is what initiated Valmiki to author this historical work called Ramayana.
Where did Sita go?
Finally when Sita was asked to give some proof of her purity once again in the midst of the citizens she is mentioned as uniting with her mother. This mother seems to be none other than her own foster-mother at Mithila ie the wife of Janaka, the queen of Videha. She might have taken Sita back to her kingdom, especially when we get to read that Sita sat in a throne besides her mother and sunk into earth, an allusion to Sita and her mother sitting in a throne in the chariot that carried them back to Mithila, so that it appeared to Rama as sinking in the horizon. Did Sita, eventually sat in the throne of Mithila? This we are not sure.
Satrughna's battle with the Madhus
The narrations describing the battle of Satrughna with the Yadus / Madhus in a forest around Mathura and establishment of the city of Mathura too seems to be older than many other parts of Uttarakanda. We see in Mahabharata that this Mathura city was again recaptured by the Yadus which went under the rule of Yadava king Ugrasena and later his son Kamsa. However the description of Madhu's son Lavana as a Rakshasa seems to be a propaganda of the Ikshwakus against the Yadus. In Mahabharata, Krishna is often praised as the descendant of Madhu.
Final days of Rama
Uttarakanda mentions that Rama and his brothers Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna died by drowning in Sarayu river, that flew besides the capital city Ayodhya. Most of the people of Ayodhya along with all flora and fauna is mentioned as drowning in Sarayu. Apart from the spiritual aspects of the death of Rama (the ascend of Rama's soul to heaven), which is beyond this analysis, this is what physically happened. Can this be some catastrophe, similar to the drowning of Dwaraka island into sea, as mentioned in Mahabharata?
There is room for such a speculation as Sarayu river had changed its course several times in its past history, destroying cities and other settlements on its banks. The possibility of Sarayu overflowing through the city of Ayodhya cannot be ruled out. This theory is strengthened, when we learn that Rama's descendants viz. his sons Lava and Kusi ruled not from Ayodhya but from other cities like Sravasti and Kusavati. A similar shift of capital occurred in Hastinapura, when river Ganga overflowed through that city, during the reign of Kuru kings who ruled after Janamejaya.
However this flood situation in Ayodhya seems to be temporary since the city of Ayodhya and kings ruling from Ayodhya (some of them Ikshwakus and others belonging to different tribes) were mentioned subsequently in Mahabharata. Their connection with Lava or Kusa is not firmly established. Some of them seems to be belonging to a different branch of Ikshwakus.
History of Ravana
Uttarakanda also contains the history of the ancient Rakshasa kings like Malyavan, Mali, Sumali, Vidyutkesa and Vidyutjihva culminating in the history of Ravana. There are several interpolated material in these narrations. However there are some old core materials in these which were but recognized by composers of Ramayana (viz. the Valmikis) and added only later. That is why they appear in the last book (Uttara Kanda) rather then in the first or middle books. Especially noticeable is that these narrations were structured as words of sage Agastya. The Agastya sages were experts of ancient southern Indian history, and hence more knowledgeable than the Valmiki sages on the history of Ravana and the Rakshasas who had their stronghold at Lanka.
Among the materials that are clearly distinguishable as later additions (later even to Mahabharata era and Kurukshetra-War event) are the narration of Sambuka a Sudra ascetic who is mentioned as killed by Rama. The four divisions of Varna originated during the period of the Pandavas. Krishna tried to eliminate this aberration in the society by declaring that Varna should be based on work and qualities (not based on birth). However post Kurukshetra-war, Varna became very rigid and Sudras were oppressed by some sections of the Brahmanas. Hence this story of Sambhuka is nothing but a propaganda of some section of Brahmanas who got corrupted by power.
Advent of Vaishnavaism too is a later development. Hence all the connection of Rama with Vishnu, overriding his connections with Indra seems to be later additions.
Uttarakanda as a Purana
Many other narrations, such as describing the Puskpaka Vimana as a speaking individual has the characteristics of Puranic narrations, which often use anthropomorphism upon inanimate objects and describe them as if they speak and think like humans. Hence it can be argued that Uttarakanda developed as a Purana inspired by the rest of Ramayana (Book 1 to 6) and got embedded into it in the final evolution of Ramayana.
The epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana can be compared to giant planets, in their formative periods, where they attract more matter unto them and grow bigger. Mahabharata had attracted and added several Puranas into its fold. Examples are Garuda Purana, the Purana of Satyavan and Savitri, the Purana of Nala and Damayanti etc. Garuda Purana that we see today is not the original one but its namesake. The original Garuda Purana which describe the history of Garuda and the Nagas got merged with Mahabharata. Harivamsa Purana is the last Purana that got added to Mahabharata. Its merger with Mahabharata is not complete. It is a partial merger. Hence it got a distinct status as an appendix to Mahabharata.
Uttarakanda is similar to Harivamsa. It seems to have had an independent existence like Harivamsa, but finally got added to Ramayana. However unlike the Harivamsa, the Utttarakanda is not considered as an appendix to Ramayana but as its seventh book, indicating a higher level of merger.
Some historians suspect Balakanda (Book 1) too to be a later addition to Ramayana. However my analysis reveal that apart from a few verses that can be attributed to Vaishnava influences, and the passages describing sage Valmiki, most of the Balakanda is as old as the rest of Ramayana.
Composition of Ramayana
What is the real sequence of composition of Ramayana? Probably it all started when Valmiki met Sita, who after abandoned by Rama, was seen as lying on the ground stricken with grief near to his hermitage. Sita was much like that wounded bird that fell down to ground shot by the arrow of the hunter. Valmiki gave shelter to Sita. From Sita he might have known the life of Rama till he abandoned her. He might have improved his understanding of the history of Rama by collecting war-songs sung by eulogists present in the army of Rama which fought with Ravana. These war-songs seems to be the oldest core of Ramayana (similar to Mahabharata where books dealing with Kurukshetra war are the oldest). This served as a basis of Book 6 (Yuddha Kanda). Book 5 (Sundara Kanda) and book 4 (Kishkindha Kanda) seems to be the accounts collected by Valmiki from the Vanaras who accompanied Hanuman. The book 3 (Aranya Kanda) seems to be based on the accounts of Sita. Book 2 (Ayodhya Kanda) probably contains accounts of Sita as well as Valmiki's own former knowledge based on the narrations of the people living in Ayodhya. Book 1 (Bala Kanda) too contains information collected by Valmiki from the palace of Ayodhya as he had some friendship and connection with Dasaratha, the father of Rama.
Thus by collecting preexisting works and getting information from various sources, Valmiki composed Ramayana, from book 1 to 6. The purpose of this composition seems to be to educate the citizens of Ayodhya who targeted Sita by accusing her and suspecting her purity. The whole Ramayana of Valmiki was thus an answer to the citizens of Ayodhya who chose to censure Sita based on their false understandings. Through this narration, Valmiki explained to the citizens how Rama and Sita lived in the forest, how she was abducted, how she lived in Lanka and how Rama killed Ravana and why Rama chose to bring back Sita, rather than abandoning her (for living in another's domain). Valmiki hoped, that by telling all these to citizens through the two sons born to Sita and Rama, he would be able to convince the citizens (and Rama as well, who too seems to have come under the influence of the citizens). However they insisted on getting a proof of purity from Sita. This demand was unfortunately backed by Rama as well. This was more than what Sita could swallow. She then chose to ignore this demands and determined to live her own independent life. Thus Valmiki's plan failed. But his work did not went in vain as it greatly moved the people, who felt a sens of guilt and pain. They popularized this work of Valmiki as "Ramayana" and took it to their very hearts.
Uttarakanda was the work of Valmiki's descendants and it was finally added to Ramayana as its seventh book.
Ramayana and AIT
Ramayana was often used as a weapon in support of Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT); the Aryan Rama coming from the north and defeating the Dravidian Ravana in the south! But in close examination, Ramayana is found to be the very antithesis of AIT, completely dismantling its propaganda. Rama is revealed to be a black-skinned prince with a southern ancestry who defeated a white-skinned Ravana, whose paternal ancestry is traced to Visrava and Pulastya, who were all technically Brahmanas, the supposed propagators of Aryanism as per the AIT propaganda.