We all have somewhere heard of 'Ramcharitmanas', the epic story of Ramayana written by Tulsidas. Ramcharitmanas was adapted from ‘Ramayana’, the book with same story written in Sanskrit by Maharshi Valmiki. Valmiki (once a robber) is the sage in whose hermitage (Ashram) Ram’s wife Sita lived with her two children Lava and Kusha, after her husband (Lord Ram) abandoned her. Before I begin throwing light on the lesser known facts of Ramcharitmanas, let us understand how the story—whether fictional or real—was conceived and written, flanked with some more trivia.
To begin with an astounding fact, there are about 100 crore (1000 million) versions of Ramayana, written by various people across the ages. The version written by Tulisdas (in Awadhi language) was accepted and promoted for two reasons, divine intervention by the Gods and a story woven around God-cum-protagonist and the Vishnu’s incarnation, Lord Ram.
Tulsidas (1532-1623), who is said to be the reincarnation of Valmiki (contemporary of Ram), wrote other literary works including well known Hanuman Chalisa (poem on Lord Hanuman) and Hanuman Ashtak (8-versed Prayer glorifying Lord Hanuman). So how was the stage for Ramcharitmanas set? How did Tulsidas get all necessary and timely inputs for his masterpiece? The revelations begin...
After attending his natural call in forest, Tulsidas used to throw the remaining water (from his urn) on the bark of a nearby tree, as a daily routine. On the top of that tree, lived a Brahmrakshas (the dissatisfied ghost of a supremely learned man who never shared his knowledge or mocked others using his profound learning). Cursed by fate to wander till eternity, the Brahmrakshas was thirsty since ages and it was the water that Tulsidas threw each morning that satiated his thirst. He was pleased by Tulsidas’ act and one day produced himself in front of him and granted him a wish. Bewildered yet thrilled, Tulsidas expressed his profound desire to re-write the epic story with the inability due to inexperience.
Hearing this, the Brahmrakshas told him that there’s a nearby village where Ramayana Paath is held every day. A one-legged old beggar arrives there first each morning in the morning and leaves last in the evening. He asked Tulisdas to touch his feet and express him his desire as profoundly. Though cynical, Tulisdas did as instructed by Brahmrakshas. After he told the beggar of his desire, the beggar assured to help him and revealed his true self, he was Lord Hanuman, the staunchest devotee and contemporary of Lord Ram. That is how Ramcharitmanasa began, with inputs from Hanuman, and ended with Signatures from Lord Ram once it was completed.
Another awe-inspiring character we can’t overlook is Ravan, the primary antagonist. While many of us consider him an evil demon king, Ravan was one of the finest scholars of his era, with complete knowledge of 4 Vedas and 6 Upanishads. He was considered Dashanan (10 headed) due to quantum of his knowledge, wisdom and intellect which made him worth 10 minds.
After Ravan pleased Brahma to get immortal, he spent hundreds of years conquering earth (prithvi lok), heaven (dev lok) and netherworld (paatal lok) and became the most powerful and illustrious ruler of the world. However, there are some brow-raising incidences surrounding Ravan’s life.
Ravan used to levy heavy taxes on everyone in his jurisdiction. In the land which is present day’s Nepal, a group of sages (around 100) were unable to pay taxes as they never accrued any wealth. However due to frustration caused by law of land, all of them filled an urn with drops of their blood and gave it to Ravan as an embarrassing mnemonic. In guilt with their reaction, Ravan apologised to them and poured all that blood in the forest land of today’s Bihar. Years later, the spiritual power of 100 sages’ blood created a girl child who was born under earth. This child was Sita who later became the cause of Ravan’s death.
Here’s another unbelievable trivia of Ravan. According to another dated version of Ramayana, the demon king Ravan was reluctant to attack Ayodhya due to renowned power of Raghuvanshi kings like King Dilip and King Raghu. So he decided to secretly visit Ayodhya to gauge the power of their empire. While Ravan was entering the town, disguised as a common man, a common Raghuvanshi woman casually asked him of his whereabouts. While Ravan was trying to avoid her, she caught him by arm and pressed him for an answer. At this point, Ravana, the master of sorcery, weaponry and the man who lifted Kailasha Parvat with his bare arms, was unable to free him from the woman’s grip. Embarrassed with himself, he somehow managed to convince the woman to let him go.
On entering the palace, he headed to the room of powerful Raghuvanshi King Dalip. While Dalip was away, Ravan took his appearance and interacted with his wife. Later, when his identity was blown, he hid in the palace and the king was informed of his act. The king asked for Lanka’s map. On getting the map, he spread his palm on it and then shot an arrow. When asked by his minister what he did, he said that he just destroyed the Lanka’s portion beneath his hand. While it was being destroyed, a Lion was trying to hunt a cow. So he shot an arrow to kill the lion. Ravan, who was hearing all this in hiding, rushed to his Lanka (Srilanka) to find each word that came from King Dalip’s mouth was true. Due to these two instances, Ravan could never gather the courage to attack Ayodhya.
The last uncommon truth of Epic story is of the time after Ravan’s death. Lord Ram and his brothers, having killed many more demons after Ravan, finally concluded that earth is free of all demons. While they were rejoicing the fact, a sage (rishi) informed them about Sahastra Ravan, a demon thousand times powerful than Ravan (or with thousand heads as another interpretation). So Ram and his warriors went to kill Sahastra Ravan. In the fight, everyone including Ram, his brothers, Hanuman and many more were defeated by the demon and were lying unconscious. Seeing her husband unconscious, Sita was enraged and took form of chandee or Kali—an angered Hindu goddess—and beheaded Sahastra Ravan with the power of her anger (now you know why we use the expression ‘chandee chad gayee’ to denote extreme anger!). Even after killing Sahastra Ravan, Sita was so angered that she was not coming back to her human form. So Lord Ram, now conscious, asked Lord Shiva to intervene and calm her down. Shiva disguised himself as a Demon and presented himself to Sita, then Kali. Angered that she was, she made him fall near his feet, kept her feet on his chest and raised her dagger to behead him. At this instant, lord Shiva revealed his true identity, seeing which, Sita realised her mistake and pushed out her tongue (like we do on committing a silly mistake), as depicted in this commonly seen picture.
Lithograph of the moment when Kali bit her tongue on realising her mistake
These incidences are but a tip of iceberg for what I am eyeing to write. There are various unheard legend from the epic story. For example, why no one from Ayodhya was not invited for Sita’s Swayamvar, how Sita was accused of infidelity, how Lord Ram was defeated by his children, how the last mountain that had wings tried to help Lord Hanuman and what happened in Lanka after Ravan’s death are some more interesting areas to broach at length, with some more topics from Mahabharata.
Disclaimer: All names, incidences and places mentioned in the above narrative are based on or manifestations from various ancient Hindu scriptures written over the millenniums. None of the details are tailored or fancied by the author.