Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Tulsidas-A World Poet

Dr Prabhakar Machwe


Secretary, Sahitya Akademi

It is 400 years since Tulsidas created his immortal Ram-charit manas, and it is time we erected permanent memorials at places with which the immortal poet was connected. During my foreign sojourns I noticed every country having created such memorials–England for Shakespeare, America for Walt Whitman, Germany for Goethe, Russia for Pushkin, Italy for Dante. These memorials are not only places of pilgrimage for tourists but symbols of inspiration forthe people of the country generation after generation. In this task Tulsidas’s home state must take the initiative.

Like Homer and Kalidas, Tulsidas is also a subject of controversy, regarding his birthplace, year, name, etc. But it is futile and  barren to carry on the controversy whether he was a Saryuparia Brahmin or a Sanadhya, whether he was born at Rajapur or Soraon, whether his real name was Harbola or Rambola. It should be enough that he created this immortal epic, which places him in the category of world poets. In computing the greatness of Tulsidas I count his literary and poetical qualities most, though the subject matter of great poetry is inextricably woven with the work.

Like Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, Tulsidas kept the people’s uppermost in his poetry, and so he chose the story of Lord Rama because it was to the interest of all without an exception. His principal purpose was not to show off literary flourishes. This is the hallmark of world poets, who always and invariably wish to serve the people’s interest through their poetry and not the interest of any section of it or of themselves. Nor do they consider a play on words as poetry. This is why the Greek word for poet means “long-sighted”–one who sees beyond the immediate interests of himself or others.

Another invariable sign of world poets is that they do not create for the immediate pleasure thereof but serve and propagate high ideals and thoughts. In Rameharitmanas Tulsidas writes that the heart is like an ocean while the mind is like a sea shell, and poetry is for the heart and not for the mind. The Persian poet Hafiz says truth is like a gem which breaks the confinement of the shell of time and space and shines for ever. If this is true of any poetry, it is true of Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas.

Tulsidas’s theme is the hoary and revered story of Lord Rama which has been the theme of a galaxy of Indian poets starting from Valmiki, regarded as the first poet of the world. Before him, and apart from Valmiki’s Ramayana, a large number of distinguished epics on the same theme had been written in Sanskrit, including Ramopakhyan, Raghuvamsh, Uttar Ramcharit, Udattaraghava, Janakiharan, Ramcharit, etc. This is apart from the religious works in Sanskrit. Buddhist and Jain literature also sported works on the same theme like Dasharath Jatak, Anamak Jatak, Paumchriya, Vasudevbindi, Ramlakhanchariya, Trishashthishalaka, the Kannada Pampa Ramayana (1100 A. D.) etc.

Apart from these, there are works on the same theme in different modern Indian languages, and there should be a comparative study of these works with Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas. In Tamil there is the Kamban Ramayana of 1100 to 1200 A. D., in Telugu there is Ranganatha Ramayan of 1200 to 1300 A. D., in Malayalam there is Ramacharitam and in Assamese the Madhavkandali Ramayana, both created between 1400 to 1500 A. D., in Gujarati the Ramviah of 1400 to 1500 A. D., in Kannada the Torve Ramayana of 1500 to 1600 A. D., in Marathi the Bhavarth Ramayana of Eknath, written between 1500 and 1600 A. D., and in Oriya the Balaramdas Ramayana written between 1500 and 1600 A. D.

A great poet or world poet takes up the poetical and cultural ethos which he inherits and enlarges and deepens it. Tulsidas did this so successfully that Grierson rightly called him the greatest leader and creator of popular sentiment in India after the Buddha. Before Tulsidas, Rama’s story had not been told in Hindi poetry in any great detail. Ramanand wrote some devotional poems and Surdas’s Sursagar has 150 stanzas concerning Rama’s story. Prithviraj Raso has about 100 stanzas concerning Rama’s story, and Ishwardas’s Ramjanma and Angad Paij are merely miscellaneous creations. But Tulsidas’s contemporary poets, mainly Agradas and Nathadas, wrote profusely on Lord Rama’s story. But they all pale before the brightness of Ramacharitmanas.

One great reason why Tulsidas must be considered a world poet is that he brought a subject which in Sanskrit was meant only for the elite, to the common people in their own language. He brought not only the story but the spiritual message of it to the common people and helped establish rapport among the various devotional streams and practices. Within this laudable brief, he packed endless variety, literary flourishes and beautiful poetical imagery in his work, using forms and metres which best helped him to reach the common people. He even used the metres and poetical forms used only in folk songs to convey his message. The same wide variety and catholicity we find in his language. He could write with equal facility in Avadhi, Braj and Sanskrit, and his language had a touch of Persian also–like Garibnewaj which means the protector of the poor–which brought it even closer to the people.

In modern Hindi several famous poets have narrated Rama’s story, and there are many plays and works in prose too. A number of them are exquisite works of great literary merit. It is difficult to imagine that these exquisite works would have seen the light of day if Tulsidas had not written his Ramcharitmanas. Among them are Nirala’s Ram ki Shakti Puja, Maithili Sharan Gupta’s Panchvati, Pradakshina and Saket (1929), Navin’s Urmila (1960), and countless others. In prose, Premchand wrote Ramacharcha, one of the many distinguished works on the subject. Chheti wrote in Maithili and Brajlal Shastri and Meharban Sodhi wrote in Punjabi. There were also innumerable plays on the Rama theme.

There are any number of epics and plays in other Indian languages on the theme written after Tulsidas. Michael Madhusudan Dutt wrote his Bengali epic Meghnad Vadh, which was translated in Hindi by Malthili Sharan Gupta as Madhup, Mama Warerkar wrote the Marathi play Bhumikanya Sita and G. D. Madgulkar wrote, also in Marathi, Geet Ramayan which sold one lakh copies and had gramophone records made out of it which are specially liked Acharya Vinoba Bhave. In Telugu Muddukrishna wrote his play Ashokvan and Vishwanatha Satyanarayana his famous epic Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu. In Kannada K. V. Puttappa wrote Sri Ramayana Darshanam, in Malayalam Kumaran Ashan wrote Chintavishtiyay Sita and in Tamil C. Rajagopalachari wrote Chdkravarti Tirumahan. Rajagopalachari also translated the Ramayana from English and also the Ayodhyakand from Kamban’s  Ramayana. The Rama theme has been written on in Urdu and Persian also. In 1864 Munshi Jagannath Khustar wrote Ramayan Khustar. Later Munshi Shanker Dayal Farhat wrote his Ramayan Manju, Banke Bihari Lal Bahar his Ramayan Bahar and Suraj Narain Mehar his Ramayan Mehar. In Persian literature the Rama theme is even older. On Akbar’s orders, Al Badayuni translated Valmlki’s Ramayana into Persian verse in 1584-89. In Jehangir’s time Girdhardas, who was a contemporary of Tulsidas, translated much of Valmiki’s epic into Persian verse. Later Mulla Masihi wrote his Ramayan Masihi in 1898. In Shahjahan’s time was written Ramayan Faizi and even in Aurangzeb’s time Chandrabhan Bedil translated Valmiki into Persian verse.

A lot of work on Rama’s legend has been worked in foreign countries also. But here I shall confine myself to the work some foreigners have done on the Ramcharitmanas. Among the most creditable is Soviet Academician Alexander Barranikov’s translation in Russian verse of the whole of Ramcharitmanas, with its erudite introduction of which two translations in Hindi are available–made by Dr Kesri Narain Shukla and Vir Rajendra Rishi. Rahul Sankrityayan, who was such a colossus on the Hindi literary scene, told us how Academician Barranikov got him to recite the couplets and stanzas of the Ramcharitmanas in the true native manner and tried to translate them in Russian in a metre of comparable texture.

Another major foreign work on the Ramcharitmanas is that of the French scholar, Dr (Mrs.) Shalont Vodvil. Her work being in French, it was translated by Jagwant Kishore Balbir in 1959. The name of the book is “The Basis of Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, A Critical Literary Study.” It was a dissertation for a doctorate but much more valuable than a mere dissertation. The third work on the subject is named Utpatti Aur Vikas, an 800-page volume written by Dr Camille Bulcke of Ranchi, whom I cannot bring myself to call a foreigner although he is a Belgian by birth. He is a veritable touchstone for traditional Indian values. I have also read about a Danish scholar of the Ramcharitmanas, and there must be many others. In English Hill, Grandsay, Atkins and Allwyn have given us valuable translations.

Tulsidas has also hinted at purging poetry of undesirable trends, though his humility was such that he called himself only a means of expression “with no poetic ability” and in fact with “no learning of wisdom.” Only the really great have, or can afford to have, such humility. Forsaking the time-honoured values of fame, prosperity, and the aim to propagate new thoughts, for which lesser poets wrote, Tulsidas said he wrote only to satisfy his soul. And this soul was indistinguishable for him from devotion to Rama to an extent that he called himself a bad poet and devoid of all qualities but saved by this devotion. According to him the best ofpoetry has no character without devotion, just as the most exquisite ofbeauties is repellant if she flaunts her physical attractions to all and sundry. Therefore some so-called modern scholars who picture Tulsidas as a volunteer social worker in their novels, or who in their Marxist critiques present him as a poetical story-teller do no justice to him and tear him out of context. A similar injustice and lack of perspective is shown by those who picture Tulsidas as a supporter of the caste system or an anti-feminist.

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