Sanskrit – Introduction to Valmiki Ramayana (Part 1)

The Ramayana: Samskrtam and Samskriti

Lalith Gannavaram


श्रीकण्ठतनयं वन्दे वेदण्डास्यं दयामयं। यद्वीक्षा विघ्नतमसामुद्यद्दिनमणिप्रभा॥

सद्गुरूत्तंसचरणौ वाग्देवीं शारदामपि। जगद्गुरून् च शृङ्गाद्रिस्थितान् वन्देऽर्थसिद्धये॥

रामचन्द्रं त्रिलोकेन्द्रं मारुतिं च महामतिम्। तथा सीतां सदापूतां दिव्यांस्तान् प्रणमाम्यहम्॥

I bow to Ganesha, the compassionate elephant-faced son of Shiva, who destroys obstacles. I salute the feet of my Guru, Sharada Devi, and the Jagadgurus who reside in Sringeri. I offer my namaskaras to Ramachandra, the lord of the three worlds, Hanuman the wise, and Seeta, the ever-pure.

Introduction to Srimad Ramayana

Our Sanatana Dharma, passed down through millennia, holds a universal appeal. From Acharyas and Maharshis, to poets and musicians, many scholars have expounded upon the nature of this Dharma in various methods. The means of presentation are classified into three primary groups: Prabhusammita, Suhrtsammita, and Kaantaasammita.

The Vedas are referred to as Prabhusammita – the order of the king. Their commands are delivered with uncompromising authority – सत्यं वद​। धर्मं चर​। स्वाध्यायात् मा प्रमद​:। – “Speak the truth. Behave righteously. Do not neglect Svadhyaya”. These teachings of the Vedas are the highest authority. However, the unaided, untrained human intellect does not suffice to understand these Apaurusheya Adesha vAkyas. Therefore, out of compassion, the Maharshis of yore provided us with the Suhrtsammitam (friend-like texts). Among these are the Vedanga, which equip mankind with the knowledge necessary to understand the teachings of the Vedas:

शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दसामिति । ज्योतिषामयनं चैव षडंगो वेद उच्यते ॥ śikṣā kalpo vyākaraṇaṃ niruktaṃ chandasāmiti । jyotiṣāmayanaṃ caiva ṣaḍaṃgo veda ucyate ॥

The six Vedangas are śikṣā(phonetics), kalpa(ritual instructions), vyākaraṇa(grammar), nirukta(derivation of words), chandas(prosody) and jyotiṣa(calculation/keeping of time). In addition, the Puranas and Itihasas present those teachings as a friend would, by discussing merits and flaws and quoting examples, rather than simply ordering as a king would. To better explain these concepts as well as depict their practice, Kantasammitam was composed. These explain the very same Dharma in an even more pleasing manner, as a loved one would coax and cajole their beloved. These consist of Kavyas by the likes of Kalidasa, Sangeeta by the likes of Thyagaraja, Natya by the likes of Bharata Maharshi, and other art forms designed to easily infuse the Vaidika Dharma into society.

This series will explore the Ramayana, a curious amalgamation of the aforementioned three mediums of teaching. For instance, it contains elements of Prabhusammita: “रामयणं वेदसमम्”, goes the adage: Ramayana is the equivalent of the Vedas. This is explained in slightly more detail in this sloka:

वेदवेद्ये परे पुंसि जाते दशरथात्मजे। वेदः प्राचेतसादासीत् साक्षाद् रामायणात्मना।। vedavedye pare puṃsi jāte daśarathātmaje। vedaḥ prācetasādāsīt sākṣād rāmāyaṇātmanā।।

When the Paramapurusha, who is known through the Vedas, was born as Rama, the Vedas themselves took upon the form of Ramayana and were written by Valmiki Maharshi. As Ramayana is an Itihasa, it also takes upon aspects of Suhrtsammita:

धर्मार्थकाममोक्षाणाम् उपदेशसमन्वितम्। पूर्ववृत्तं कथायुक्तमितिहासं प्रचक्षते॥ dharmārthakāmamokṣāṇām upadeśasamanvitam। pūrvavṛttaṃ kathāyuktam itihāsaṃ pracakṣate॥

That which expounds on the four Purusharthas (Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha) while also detailing historical events is known as an Itihasa. The Ramayana encases these qualities in numerous events – in the cases of the Kacchit Sarga in Ayodhya Kanda, Vishwamitra’s teachings to Rama, the Aditya Hrdaya, etc. Ramayana is also the earliest example of Kaantaasammita in Indian literature. Ramayana is the आदिकाव्य​ – the first epic – and Valmiki is the आदिकवि – the first and greatest of poets. Bhoja Raja, the great patron of Sanskrit literature himself says “प्राचेतस​: प्रवचसां प्रथम​: कवीनाम्” – Valmiki, the son of Prachetas, is the foremost of all kavis.

Kalidasa, in his works, refuses to deem anyone other than Valmiki as a Kavi. Valmiki’s poetic genius is depicted in numerous episodes, including descriptions of mountains, forests, and the moonrise in Sundara Kanda – he not only describes objects but also illustrates Dharma while doing so. Ramayana is divided into six parts: Bala Kanda, Ayodhya Kanda, Aranya Kanda, Kishkindha Kanda, Sundara Kanda, and Yuddha Kanda.The entirety of the epic is composed in Sanskrit, and we shall use selections throughout the work to discuss the artistic grace and grammatical beauty of the language as we progress through the work. Sanskrit is a wondrous language in itself. It has been praised as “more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either”. It simultaneously lends itself to great logical precision as well as superb poetic beauty.

Linguistics aside, it is the very bedrock of Indian culture – our Shastras, Puranas, and all such important texts have all been penned in Sanskrit. It is therefore nigh impossible to comprehend our culture or tradition without understanding Sanskrit. We therefore, in addition to the moral values that Ramayana presents, will also be discussing aspects of the Sanskrit language, and the beauty of poetry and grammar therein. It is such a wondrous text that we are about to study, and let us offer our humble namaskaras to Valmiki Maharshi and Sri Ramachandra before we commence.

Bala Kanda, Sarga 1

तपस्स्वाध्यायनिरतं तपस्वी वाग्विदां वरम्। नारदं परिपप्रच्छ वाल्मीकिर्मुनिपुङ्गवम्॥ १-१-१ tapassvādhyāyanirataṃ tapasvī vāgvidāṃ varam। nāradaṃ paripapraccha vālmīkirmunipuṅgavam॥ 1-1-1

Meaning: The Tapasvi Valmiki questioned Narada Maharshi, who is ever engaged in Tapas and Svadhyaya, who is the greatest of orators, and the foremost of sages. वाल्मीकि: – Valmiki Maharshi, तपस्वी – the performer of Tapas, परिपप्रच्छ – asked, नारदम्- Narada Maharshi, तपस्स्वाध्यायनिरतम्- who is ever immersed in Tapas and Svadhyaya (Tapas and Study), वाग्विदां – of the knowers of speech, वरम् – the foremost, मुनिपुङ्गवम् – the greatest of Munis (sages).

All of the words in the Sanskrit language fall into one of two categories – तिङ्-अन्त (verbs) or सुबन्त​ (nouns).There is also a sub-category of nouns called अव्यय​ – indeclinables. Most nouns are put into one of 8 cases when they are used in a sentence (nominative, accusative, instrumentative, dative, ablative, genitive, locative, and vocatory). Prathama Vibhakti, the nominative case, is used when the noun is the subject of the sentence. In this sloka, since it is Valmiki Maharshi that is the subject performing the action of asking, all words describing him are in Prathama Vibhakti – तपस्वी and वाल्मीकि:.

When a noun is the object in a sentence, it is put into Dviteeya Vibhakti, the accusative case. In this sloka, since Narada Maharshi is being asked, he is the object, and all words referring to him are put into Dviteeya Vibhakti: नारदम्, तपस्स्वाध्यायनिरतम्, वरम्, and मुनिपुङ्गवम्. When a noun is possessing something, it is put into Shashti Vibhakti, the genitive case. In the phrase वाग्विदां वरम्, वाग्विदां (of the knowers of speech) is in Shashti Vibhakti and बहुवचनं, the plural number. Sanskrit puts its nouns and verbs into three numbers: singular, dual, and plural.

Thus there are 24 forms for every noun. We shall discuss such topics in greater detail as we progress. परिपप्रच्छ is the verb of the sentence, derived from the root प्रच्छ्(to ask)​. Sanskrit has 10 verb tenses, 6 indicating time, 4 indicating mood. This particular form of the verb is in the singular number and the past tense. Specifics: “आशीर्नमस्क्रिया वस्तुनिर्देशो वापि तन्मुखम्।” When beginning a Kavya, it is customary to start with either a benediction, salutation, or establishment of the topic at hand. The Kavya of Ramayana starts with the word “tapas” – austerity, a very auspicious way to start a work. It describes the event of Valmiki Maharshi asking Narada Maharshi; the question itself comes in the later slokas. Most of this sloka is dedicated towards explaining the greatness of Narada Maharshi – the guru about to teach the knowledge of Ramayana to the shishya Valmiki. His name itself means the giver (द) of knowledge (नारं)- नारं ददाति इति नारद​:.

By saying that Narada Maharshi is ever immersed in Tapas and Svadhyaya, is an eloquent speaker, and is the greatest of sages, the poet here is hinting that he is a) a Brahmajnani of the highest order and b) potent to answer the questions that Valmiki Maharshi, described as a Tapasvi himself, is about to ask. When the teacher and student are both Jnaanis, it is no surprise that the dialogue that ensues between them is the Ramayana – the story and glory of the Lord himself. Thus far, we have seen a couple of things: the importance of Ramayana, the value of the Sanskrit language, and the greatness of both Maharshis. In the next issue, we shall see what exactly it was that Valmiki Maharshi was so eager to ask Narada Maharshi.


Talks/Classes by Sri Srinivas Mallapragada


Valmiki Ramayana


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