Lord Rama: Fact or Fiction
By Sri Nandanandana das (Stephen Knapp)
As of late, in the year 2007, the idea of whether Lord Rama exists or not has been called into question, by no less than some of the politicians in India. So it is a wonder how such persons can be accepted as leaders of the people of India who should be concerned with preserving and protecting the culture of the country. Obviously, they are neither concerned nor aware of the depths of information that can be found in support of the traditions for which India is especially known. Or, they are really attempting to dismantle or destroy the authority of the timeless nature of the civilization of the country.
In regard to Lord Rama, the point about ancient history is that the farther you go back in time, the fewer references you can use that actually refer to the incident in history. There may be many commentaries, but few quotations to the actual events.
However, when it comes to the Ramayana and the history of Lord Rama, there have been numerous authors who have accepted the Ramayana as a history of ancient events. For example, the first Governor General of India, Sri Rajaji, wrote on the Ramayana and called it a history, as also did the English Indologist Sir William Jones. Various other western authors have made a study of the culture and history of the Ramayana, such as Philip Lutgendorf in his book Rama’s Story in Shiva’s City, California University; Joe Burkhalter Flueckiger and Laurie Sears in The Boundaries of Traditional Ramayana and Mahabharata Performances in South and Southeast Asia, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; W. L. Smith on Ramayan Traditions in Eastern India, University of Stockholm, and others.
There are also numerous places that are indicated as the locations where various events happened in reference to the pastimes of Lord Rama and Sita. Thus, they are accepted as historical sites. I have personally visited many of these places, such as Ramesvaram, Nasik, Hampi, and others where there are particular locations and sites that are related to the events that took place in the life and adventures of Lord Rama. Many people accept these sites as the locations for the events described in the Ramayana. So how can this be unless there are not some reality behind it?
However, why is there not more archaeological evidence that points towards Rama’s existence? Because such an effort has not been made in India and systematic excavations have never been carried out, says historian Nandita Krishnan. She says that to doubt the existence of Rama is to doubt all literature. There is little archaeological or epigraphic evidence for either Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed, who are known only from the Bible and Koran respectively. Does it mean they did not exist? If Rama performs miracles such as liberating Ahalya, the Biblical story of Jesus walking on water or the Koranic tale of Mohammed flying to heaven on a horse are equally miraculous. Such stories reinforce divinity.
She also describes in summary what areas the events of Lord Rama’s life took place. She explains: “The Ramayana is geographically very correct. Every site on Rama’s route is still identifiable and has continuing traditions or temples to commemorate Rama’s visit. Around 1000 BC or earlier, no writer had the means to travel around the country inventing a story, fitting it into local folklore and building temples for greater credibility.
“In 1975 the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) unearthed fourteen pillar bases of kasauti stone with Hindu motifs near the mosque at Ayodhya; reports of the excavations are available with the ASI. Rama was born in Ayodhya and married in Mithila, now in Nepal. Not far from Mithila is Sitamarhi, where Sita was found in a furrow, still revered as the Janaki kund constructed by her father Janaka. Rama and Sita left Mithila for Ayodhya via Lumbini. In 249 BC, Ashoka erected a pillar in Lumbini with an inscription referring to the visits by both Rama and Buddha to Lumbini. Ashoka was much nearer in time to Rama and would be well aware of his facts.
“Rama, Lakshmana and Sita left Ayodhya and went to Sringaverapura – modern Sringverpur in Uttar Pradesh – where they crossed the River Ganga. They lived on Chitrakoot hill where Bharata and Shatrughna met them and the brothers performed the last rites for their father. Thereafter, the three wandered through Dandakaranya in Central India, described as a land of Rakshasas, obviously tribes inimical to the brothers’ habitation of their land. Tribals are still found in these forests. The trio reached Nasik, on the River Godavari, which throbs with sites and events of Rama’s sojourn, such as Tapovan where they lived, Ramkund where Rama and Sita used to bathe, Lakshmankund, Lakshmana’s bathing area, and several caves in the area associated with their lives in the forest.
“Rama then moved to Panchavati near Bhadrachalam (AP), where Ravana abducted Sita. The dying Jatayu told them of the abduction, so they left in search of Sita. Kishkinda, near Hampi, where Rama first met Sugriva and Hanuman, is a major Ramayana site, where every rock and river is associated with Rama. Anjanadri, near Hospet, was the birthplace of Hanuman (Anjaneya); Sugriva lived in Rishyamukha on the banks of the Pampa (Tungabhadra); Sabari probably also lived in a hermitage there. Rama and the Vanara army left Kishkinda to reach Rameshwaram, where the Vanaras built a bridge to Lanka from Dhanushkodi on Rameshwaram Island to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. While parts of the bridge – known as Adam’s Bridge – are still visible, NASA’s satellite has photographed an underwater man-made bridge of shoals in the Palk Straits, connecting Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar. On his return from Sri Lanka, Rama worshiped Shiva at Rameshwaram, where Sita prepared a Linga out of sand. It is still one of the most sacred sites of Hinduism.
“Sri Lanka also has relics of the Ramayana. There are several caves, such as Ravana Ella Falls, where Ravana is believed to have hidden Sita to prevent Rama from finding her. The Sitai Amman Temple at Numara Eliya is situated near the ashokavana where Ravana once kept her prisoner.
“All the places visited by Rama still retain memories of his visit, as if it happened yesterday. Time, in India, is relative. Some places have commemorative temples; others commemorate the visit in local folklore. But all agree that Rama was going from or to Ayodhya. Why doubt connections when literature, archaeology and local tradition meet? Why doubt the connection between Adam’s Bridge and Rama, when nobody else in Indian history has claimed its construction? Why doubt that Rama traveled through Dandakaranya or Kishkinda, where local non-Vedic tribes still narrate tales of Rama? Why doubt that he was born in and ruled over Ayodhya?
“Rama’s memory lives on because of his extraordinary life and his reign, which was obviously a period of great peace and prosperity, making Ramarajya a reference point. People only remember the very good or the very bad. Leftist historians have chosen to rubbish archaeology, literature and local tradition.”
Nandita Krishnan also adds that “Nobody believed that Homer’s Iliad was a true story till Troy was discovered after extensive archaeology. Unfortunately, the sites of the Ramayana and Mahabharata have now been built over many times and it may never be possible to excavate extensively either at Ayodhya or Mathura.”
To further verify this aspect of the history of Lord Rama, Pushkar Bhatnagar concludes that geographical evidence for the epics is abundant. There still exist many places like Rameshwaram, Kishkindha, Kurukshetra, Hastinapura, etc. where the visits of Rama and Krishna are a basic part of local folklore.
Lack of archaeological evidence is no excuse for denying the existence of history, sums up Bhatnagar. “If the buildings of that time over 7000 years ago do not exist today, can we just infer that civilizations and personalities of that time also did not exist?”
In literature, we have the Ramayana and other texts such as the Puranas which also relate and verify the history and existence of Lord Rama. People from many other regions of the world have also accepted the Ramayana as worthy of attention, devotion, and historical evidence. For example, we can see the affects of the Ramayana tradition in many countries who have adapted their own form of the Ramayana and worship of Lord Rama, especially in the countries of Southeast Asia. These include Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia (Capuchia), Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Other areas can also be found where the influence of the history of Lord Rama is in affect, such as the continent of Africa was once known as Kushadvipa for having been ruled by Kush, one of Lord Rama’s sons.
The other fact is that many millions of people feel the reciprocation from Lord Rama whenever they engage in devotion to Him, or read the Ramayana, or hear the Ramayana in a katha, or watch a television show or movie about Him, or go to one of the temples dedicated to Him. This cannot be denied or neglected. Just because we have insensitive politicians who cannot perceive this reciprocation does not mean that we all are so spiritually undeveloped. This dedication and reciprocation has spread throughout the world.
There have also been astronomers who have identified the approximate time of the Ramayana by the descriptions of the stars and constellations as given in the Ramayana, or even in the Bhagavata Purana and other texts. Pushkar Bhatnagar, author of the book Dating the Era of Lord Rama, claims that there is a significant amount of information available to prove that Rama was a historical personality. He says, “Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana, was a contemporary of Rama. While narrating the events of the epic, he has mentioned the position of the planets at several places.” He explains that by using recent planetary software, it has been possible to verify that these planetary positions actually took place precisely as specified in the Ramayana. These were not just stray events, but the entire sequence of the planetary positions as described by Valmiki at various stages of Rama’s life can be verified today as having taken place.
Bhatnagar goes on to explain: “This information is significant, since these configurations do not repeat for lakhs of years and cannot be manipulated or imagined so accurately, without the help of sophisticated software. The inference that one can draw is that someone was present there to witness the actual happening of these configurations, which got recorded in the story of Rama.”
Bhatnagar provides the following quote from the Ramayana: “Rama was born on the Navami tithi of Shukla Paksha of Chaitra masa (9th day of the increasing phase of the moon in the lunar month of Chaitra). At that time, the nakshatra was Punarvasu, and Sun, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus were in Aries, Capricorn, Libra, Cancer and Pisces respectively. Lagna was Cancer and Jupiter & Moon were shining together. — Ramayana 1.18.8,9
The conditions can be summarized as follows, according to Bhatnagar:
1. Sun in Aries
2. Saturn in Libra
3. Jupiter in Cancer
4. Venus in Pisces
5. Mars in Capricorn
6. Lunar month of Chaitra
7. 9th day after New Moon (Navami Tithi, Shukla Paksh)
8. Moon near Punarvasu Nakshatra (Pollux star in Gemini constellation)
9. Cancer as Lagna (Cancer constellation rising in the east)
10. Jupiter above the horizon
According to the Planetarium software, it provides the following date: Sri Rama Navami – 10th January 5114 BCE – Birth Day of Rama, Observation at 12.30 p.m.
Bhatnagar continues: “By using a powerful planetarium software, I found that the planetary positions mentioned in Ramayana for the date of birth of Lord Ram had occurred in the sky at around 12.30 p.m. of 10th January 5114 BC. It was the ninth day of the Shukla Paksh of Chaitra month too. Moving forward, after 25 years of the birth of Lord Ram, the position of planets in the sky tallies with their description in Ramayana. Again, on the amavasya (new moon) of the 10th month of the 13th year of exile the solar eclipse had indeed occurred and the particular arrangement of planets in the sky was visible. ( Date comes to 7th October, 5077 BC). Even the occurrence of subsequent two eclipses also tally with the respective description in Valmiki Ramayana. (Date of Hanuman’s meeting Sita at Lanka was 12th September, 5076 BC). In this manner the entire sequence of the planetary positions gets verified and all the dates can be precisely determined.”
Although this provides verification of the existence for Lord Rama according to calculations as given in the Ramayana, some people feel the timing for the day and year of His birth may be different than what the planetarium software indicates. For example, Vedic astrologer Nartaka Gopala devi dasi points out that “Regarding the calculation of Lord Rama’s birth as 10th of January 5114 BCE – Birth Day of Rama, Observation at 12.30 PM, there are 2 reasons why this cannot be correct. His rising sign, or lagna, is Cancer. That places Aries in the tenth house, and He has the Sun in Aries. The placement of the Sun in any birth chart will tell the time of day of the birth. Sun in the tenth house means birth at noontime (approx. 11 AM to 2 PM). There are no exceptions to this. (Lord Krishna appeared at midnight, the Sun is in Leo, 4th house for Taurus rising. Birth at 6 PM means 7th house Sun. Birth at sunrise means 1st house Sun.) Also, in Lord Rama’s chart the Sun is in Aries, and the dates for Sun in Aries are fixed, which means the same each year on April 14th to May 13th. So how did the January 10 date come up? These two Jyotish corrections are common sense that any Vedic astrologer would immediately see.” So there may be a difference in what the planetarium software suggests. This also corroborates why we who follow the Vedic calendar celebrate Lord Rama’s appearance in April-May each year. So the traditional date appears accurate.
Furthermore, some people feel that the appearance of Lord Rama took place many thousands or even millions of years earlier, in the Treta-yuga. For example, the Bhagavata Purana clearly states that Lord Rama became king during Treta yuga (Bhag. 9.10.51). We have been in Kali-yuga for 5000 years. Before this was Dvapara-yuga which lasts 864,000 years. Before that was Treta-yuga, which lasts over 1,200,000 years. Thus, according to this, the existence of Lord Rama had to have been many thousands of years ago. And if Lord Rama appeared in one of the previous Treta-yugas, it would certainly indicate that Lord Rama appeared several million years ago. And this is exactly what is corroborated in the Vayu Purana.
In the Vayu Purana (70.47-48) [published by Motilal Banarsidass] there is a description of the length of Ravana’s life. It explains that when Ravana’s merit of penance began to decline, he met Lord Rama, the son of Dasarath, in a battle wherein Ravana and his followers were killed in the 24th Tretayuga. The Roman transliteration of the verse is:
tretayuge chaturvinshe ravanastapasah kshayat
ramam dasharathim prapya saganah kshayamiyavan
There are 1000 Treta-yugas in one day of Brahma, and it is calculated that we are presently in the 28th cycle of the four yugas (called divya-yugas, which is a cycle of the four yugas, Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga, Dvapara-yuga, and then Kali-yuga) of Vaivasvata Manu, who is the seventh Manu in the series of 14 Manu rulers who exist in one kalpa or day of Brahma. Each Manu is considered to live for 71 such divya-yuga cycles. So, without getting too complicated about things, from the 24th Treta-yuga to the present age of this Kali-yuga, there is obviously a difference of millions of years when Lord Rama manifested here on earth. Of course, few people may believe this unless they are already familiar with the vast lengths of time that the Vedic literature deals with.
Nonetheless, maybe there is further reason why we should accept that Lord Rama appeared millions of years ago. In the Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara-Kanda (or Book 5), Chapter 4, verse 27, [Gita Press, Gorakhpur, India] it explains that when Hanuman first approached Ravana’s palace, he saw the doorways surrounded by horses and chariots, palanquins and aerial cars, beautiful horses and elephants, nay, with four-tusked elephants decked with jewels resembling masses of white clouds.
Elsewhere in the Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara-Kanda (or Book 5), Chapter 27, verses12, an ogress named Trijata has a dream of Lord Rama, which she describes to the other demoniac ogresses upon awakening. In that dream she sees Rama, scion of Raghu, united again with Sita. Sri Rama was mounted on a huge elephant, closely resembling a hill, with four tusks.
The question is how could there be a mention of the elephants with four tusks unless Valmiki and the people of his era were familiar with such creatures? A quick search on the Encarta Encyclopedia will let us know that these four-tusked elephants were known as Mastodontoidea, which are said to have evolved around 38 million years ago and became extinct about 15 million years ago when the shaggy and two tusked Mastodons increased in population. Now there’s something to think about, eh? So this would mean that the specific planetary configuration that is described in the Ramayana, and is verified by Pushkar Bhatnagar, may have indeed happened, but at a time millions of years prior to merely 10,000 years ago.
In this way, as we go through the evidence, we can see how Lord Rama was an actual historic personality, as described in the Ramayana and in other Puranic texts. Nonetheless, there will always be those for whom no matter what you present for verification, it will not be enough. Some just won’t believe it. Some will, some won’t, so what, let’s move on. But many in the world already accept the authority of the Ramayana and other Vedic texts for the verification of the existence of Lord Rama.
Jaya Sri Rama!