Ram, Ramayana and Kashmir

Brij Nath Betab
Ramayana in Kashmiri may have been first written in 18th century (1754-62) and published, both in Devnagri as well as Persio Arabic scripts, in 20th century only, but Kashmiris were not only aware of Rama’s Valor but he was accepted as Vishnu’s incarnation many centuries earlier. Rajatarangani (1/16) informs us that the tradition of Ramayana recitation existed in Kashmir even prior to 2nd century.
There is a beautiful anecdote from the period of Damodara 11nd, who ruled before Kanishka (2nd century BC). It is written that once some Brahmins approached the King and asked him for food. The king said that he had not taken a ritualistic morning bath hence the Brahmins shall have to wait. Brahmins, who were in a hurry, ‘brought Vitasta to the king’s place with their mystic powers and asked him to (take a) bath’. The king however thought that the Vitasta brought before him was Brahmin’s Jugglery. He asked them to leave. The Brahmins cursed him ‘Be you a snake’. The king implored for mercy and the Brahmins said, ‘When you will hear the whole Ramayana in a single day, then your curse will cease’.
This anecdote tells us that Ramayana was known to people in Kashmir as early as in second century. This was particularly so as Ram was accepted as Vishnu’s incarnation and Vishnu was already being worshiped along with Brahma and Shiva. Nineth century Sanskrit Bhakti poet of Kashmir, Bhatta Narayana mentions Vishnu in his pooja when he mentions him as the flower of the creeper of energy of Lord Shiva. ‘I bow to that creeper of energy of Lord Shiva, where Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Ishvara and Sadashiva along with the five states of consciousness and the seven states of the perceivers, everything, whatever exists in this universe, all of these are just blossoms of that creeper’. Kshemendra’s Ramayan Manjari is another addition to Ramayan Kavya in Kashmir.
In early eight century during the period of Lalitaditya Muktapida, the king after making excavations at a place identified as Suravardhamana, on the instance of two local dancing girls finds a temple where two images of Keshav are found and the letters engraved on the bases showed that they were installed by Ram and Lakshman. Then again most significant and interesting is that Helraja has mentioned Luv and Kush as the kings of Kashmir. In Kashmir the belief is that Lord Ram has ruled Kashmir. Well, beyond the golden words of History books, who would know? .Talking about archaeological places one cannot ignore the Draupadi Kund, near Drass in Ladakh. The ‘magical lake’ is a reminder of Kashmir of Mahabharata period.
One beautiful Murti of Lord Ram, Mata Sita and Lakshman has some time ago been excavated in Kashmir and is presently at the SPS Museum Srinagar. Only a few years ago an attractive Murti of Lord Hanuman was accidentally found during digging from Budgam area. Virendra Bangroo, regional Director IGNCA says this is one of the rare Murtis that has been found without any damage and this could be from 11th /12th century.
Today, in north Kashmir, some distance away from the main centre Kupwara there is a place called Farkin, where the local mountain range is still known as Raja Ram Ki Ladi. Nearby in that area is a pond named after Sita and is called Sita Sari.
In Baramulla District there is a place called Dangiwacha. This in revenue records is still known as Dandak Van. 14 century Kashmiri saint poet Nund Rishi has mentioned a Rishi from this place in one of his couplets. In Rafiabad area, there is a place near Khushipora called Ram senz Khan, (Ram’s mine).In Budgam District Kanechet Pur and Suthaar are also associated with Lord Rama as Kanechet pur refers to Shurpanakha. (According to Kashmiri Ramayana her ear and nose, both were cut by Lakshman). Suthaar is said to be a deteriorated form of Sita Haran. Some elderly local people have heard from their ancestor that these places are associated with Lord Rama. Sahitya Akademy award winner local scholar Nisar Azm, who has visited these places, told me that terracotta pieces have been discovered in these areas. It is with this background that we today find almost a dozen of Ramayanas in Kashmiri.
Prakash Ram Kurigami wrote Ramavatarcharit between 1754 and 1762 and this was printed first in 1910 in Persio-Arabic script by Vaishnath Press, Srinagar, and then published in roman by George Grierson in 1928 and for the third time in December1938 by Kashmir’s prominent publishing house Ali Mohmed Tajar Kutub general Merchant, with title Ramaavtar Charit including Luvkush Charit and poet’s name as Pt. Divakar Prkash Sahib Bhatt. The date of Tasneef (writing) has been given ‘between 1754-62’ .Said to be the first Ramayana of the Kashmiri language this has also been edited in Kashmiri Devnagri script by Damoodar Koul Jalali and revised by Shyam Lal Bihra. The last interior cover page of Devnagri copy says that this is printed at Mufeed Aam Press Lahore, and published in the year 1937.
Presently also there are many more Ramayanas in Kashmiri like the Shankar Ramayan by Shankar Razdan transliterated by H. K. Siddha from Sharada to Hindi just five years ago. This Ramayana also is in many ways different like Ramavatarcharit. Like Prakash Ramayan here also Rama is shown as having a sister, who did not treat Sita well. There is also one Anand Ramayan by Anand Ram Trisal from Pulwama. Shankar Ramayan, Anand Ramavtarcharit, Vishnu Pratap Ramayan, Sharma Ramayan by Nilkanth Sharma, Tara Chand Ramayan and Amar Ramayan by Amarnath Amar. Anand Ram hailed from Hugama in Kashmir. Sarvanand Kaul Premi and Brij Hali have also written Ramayana in Kashmiri.
In Prakash Ramayan and few others, the tale starts with Parvati asking Shiva about the wellbeing of the people of Kali yuga. Almost all the names have been phonetically localised. Like Shurpanakha becomes ‘Shipnakha’ Vishvamitra becomes ‘Bishamitr’. Lakshman becomes Lachman’ Raja Janak becomes ‘Zanakh Razh’. Harmukh Ganga Yatra is depicted while rendering the wailing cries of Dashrath.Prakash Bhatt ( Kurigami)has carried his celestial song at two levels, theological and epical. He has equated Kaikeyi with human nature, Koushalya with Karma, Lanka with avarice, Rakshasas with desire, and Dashrath with Dharma and Guru’s word with an arrow.
Prakash Ramayan does not mention the Washer women’s episode. This instead says Rama’s sister was responsible for Sita’s troubles, even after return from fourteen years of exile. The author has also not mentioned about Luv and Kush singing the epic. Instead he has narrated that Ram, Lakshman, Hanuman and all their army was killed by Luv and Kush. When Sita saw this she started crying and when Luv and Kush came to know whom they had killed, they also started repenting. Thereupon Valmiki Rishi reaches there and prays to the God. His prayer is granted .Amrit rains from the skies and all the dead came to life again.
In Kashmir, Lord Rama’s life is imbedded in the psyche of Kashmiri folk. Kashmiri language has many such proverbs that directly link to Ram and Ramayana. A rainbow in Kahmiri is known by the name of Ram Ram Bhadrin Dhone ( Dhoni of Ram Ram Bhadr). Beating someone to pulp is called Gadapath karun.Suffering by some woman is termed as Sitayai hend safar.There is a spring in Shankar Pur area of Qazigund called Ram Kund. My elders who visited for performing pooja there till eighties would say that if you call Sita at the spring and tell her that Ram Joo has come, the water would ripple. Prakashram Ramayan says that Sita was consumed by the earth at village Shankar Pur.
During marriage ceremonies of Hindus of Kashmir, women in their ceremonial singing equate the bride and groom with Ram and Sita and the parents of the would be couple with Janak, Dashrath and their spouses.
Ramayana has certainly been prevalent in Kashmir since ages but in the recent past like 18th and 19th centuries, this has penetrated deep into the social psyche of a portion of Kashmiri society and its contribution in propagating Vaishnava traditions is enormous. Writers still take inspiration from this epic. Dramatist Makhan Lal Saraf wrote a play few years ago based on Ramayana. The drama centered on the widows of king Dashrath.
In Dogri language also Ramayana is very popular. Ramayan by Shambhu Nath Sharma, . Play Ajodhya by Dinoo Bhai Pant, Bishan Singh Dardi’s Banvas and Vedan Dharti Di by Prakash Premi are some of the popular writings. Ramayana is one of the major cultural links between the two regions.Raghunath Temple complex in the heart of Jammu city with Ram as presiding deity is not only a place to worship the Lord but also indicative of the glory of Dogra rulers . The manuscripts library maintained here is a treasure trove of our past.
In Kashmir, particularly in Srinagar, Ram Lila Nataks were regularly being played during Navratra. Sanatan Dharm Pratap Sabha Srinagar would organize Ram Lila plays at Tagore Hall where drama directed by late Kidar Sharma ji were staged. (He played the role of Munshi Allah Rakha in Wadi ki awaz programme of AIR Srinagar) This continued till the year 1990. Then changed everything and perhaps forever.
(The author is a senior fellow, Ministry of Culture, GOI)