The Historical Rama

thai-ramayana
A Thai depiction of Rama-Ravana battle

Lazarus was a man who lived in the town of Bethany near Jerusalem. When he was ill, his sisters called for Jesus, but by the time Jesus reached, Lazarus was dead. In the presence of the mourners, Jesus had the stone of the tomb rolled away and called for Lazarus and he got up and walked in his grave clothes. Besides this story, the gospels contain other miracles attributed to Jesus like walking on water, converting water to wine and feeding a large crowd with a few loaves of bread and fish.

The historians of the 1st century wrote nothing about Jesus and so modern day scholars have to rely on the gospels, which contain stories like these to find out details of the historical Jesus. Instead of dismissing the story of Jesus as a myth, biblical scholars  look for places mentioned in the gospels, conduct archaeology and  try to reconstruct the life of the historical Jesus.

All epics have a seed story which then gets layered with exaggeration, poetic imagination and addition by later scribes. Mahābhārata started out with the name Jaya with just 8800 verses by Vyasa. It increased to 24,000 verses when it was recited by Vaisampayana and it reached the size of 100,000 verses when it was recited by Ugrasravas, the son of Lomaharsha. Theravada Buddhists have a version of Ramayana in the Jatakas which does not have the abduction of Sita.  While Biblical scholars  affiliated with prestigious universities in the west look at texts, they know that the texts contain theology and modifications, but still try to find out their historical basis. No such work was done by the ASI or the Central Government.

In Stanford University, there is a course called The Historical Jesus, which attempts to disconnect Jesus Christ from Yeshua, which was his actual name. (Christ just means the anointed one, like how Buddha means  the awakened one). There are many Biblical scholars who look at the scriptures from a historical perspective without getting into theology. Biblical archaeology has led to the discovery of structures like the  Pool of Siloam, Second Temple, Shechem temple, Jericho’s walls and artifacts like Ebla  cuneiform archives, Arad ostraca, and Caiaphas  family ossuaries. If the story of Jesus was dismissed as a myth, none of this would have happened.

When it comes to providing  support for such research, the Archaeological Survey of India does not have a good track record. Few years back, there was an effort initiated by Jagmohan to conduct archaeology along the path of Saraswati river. The excavations at Adi Badri in Haryana revealed a 300 AD Kushan site. Excavations in Dholavira in Kutch revealed one the world’s oldest stadiums and sign boards. These excavations would have revealed more about our past, and answered questions like: Were the Harappans the Vedic people, but the project was scrapped. While there have been some excavations in Hastinapur and Kurukshetra, archaeology related to Ramayana is non existent.

While the  Government is sure that Rama did not exist, historians disagree. A. L. Basham writes that Rama may have been a chief who lived in the 8th or 7th century BCE who did not have any divine attributes. He goes on to write that Rama and Dasaratha were insignificant chieftains, who were ignored by the Puranas, but whose exploits were remembered, elaborated and magnified by by bards. Rama’s father-in-law, Janaka of Videha, is mentioned a few times in literature and Basham says, is definitely a historical figure. Romila Thapar, our favourite eminent historian and disciple of Basham, says that the original version of Ramayana was an exaggerated version of local conflicts occuring between the expanding kingdoms of the Gangetic plain and the societies of the Vindhyan region.

The ASI has ignored the work of historians and have not tried to find the details of the local conflicts which resulted in Ramayana. They have not analyzed Ramayana from a historical perspective like the Biblical scholars and they have not conducted archaeology related to Rama, but still have concluded with confidence that Rama was not a historical figure.

See Also: Faith, fact and fiction, The Ramayana, the Sethusamudram and Indian Archeology

13 thoughts on “The Historical Rama

  1. Hi,
    Really good post tracing the past of Rama. But I feel its more a question of the faith of cores of people that are at stake here. To catagorically state that Rama did not exist is the worst thing the ASI could have done at this point.
    I understand that the scientific truth needs to come out and people can decide whether or not they want to believe it or not.But it should be backed by rigorous research as you say.
    And if there is even a small level of ambiguity (which I am sure will be there), it should be stated in that terms and not as a definite truth as is done by the ASI now hurting the sentiments of a lot of people
    (I had also commented on the issue at http://olympusmons.blogsome.com/2007/09/13/did-rama-really-exist/ )

  2. “they have not conducted archaeology related to Rama, but still have concluded with confidence that Rama was not a historical figure.”
    JK, that’s way I have called for dismantling ASI. Apparently, they already dug through Kali, Dwapara, and Treta yuya of earthly archeology. And I am sure they secretly dug through Satya yuga. They really have no more work to do. Isn’t it better to create a new semi-private institute just to preserve existing monuments whether ASI says they are mythological or not.

  3. ASI’s job is to excavate and maintain, not to directly research historical facts behind mythologies, I think. Even abroad, I suspect it is individual historians, societies and universities which are doing it, not governments. So probably it is not their job.
    The government is not saying anything, frankly, unless we have already made up our political minds about it. It is obvious that no sensible politician in the Congress would say it. Which is why they retracted the affidavit pretty soon.
    The affidavit probably is schoolboy naivete, the kind I haven’t seen in years. The court, or Indian politics as it stands, is not a debating society – and someone took this opportunity to proclaim a favorite belief of many. Most probably an aggressive skeptic or leftist, who revel in such assertions – with no long-term political sense. Ridiculous, yes. But deliberate? I don’t think anyone will be a successful politician with this level of idiocy.

  4. Matt,
    Yes, it is the job of the departments of religious studies to study scriptures to find the historical basis. Sadly we don’t have such efforts in India.

  5. So tell me, the RSS give you pracharak rank yet or are they waiting for a more specious monograph of sorts? Good job pandering to the naive though.

  6. RSS or Really Simple Syndication is an imaginary thing, like Karunanidhi’s brain. It cannot confer anything on anyone.
    I hope you are talking about RSS 2.0 because RSS 0.90 was not compatible with the final RDF Recommendation

  7. >>These excavations would have revealed more about our past, and answered questions like: Were the Harappans the Vedic people, but the project was scrapped.
    Not only that, i still remember the tone used to insult the excavations. Mr Yechury, who was responsible for evaluating the need for excavations, blasted that its a fruitless exercise. The tone implied so much contempt and disdain that i am waiting for the day i meet Mr Yechury.
    Iam just wondering how someone like Yechury, given his political background, could be asked to evaluate the need for such an archaeological project.

  8. “RSS or Really Simple Syndication is an imaginary thing, like Karunanidhi’s brain. It cannot confer anything on anyone.
    I hope you are talking about RSS 2.0 because RSS 0.90 was not compatible with the final RDF Recommendation”
    ROFL 🙂
    On related note, my comments are always held for the moderation. I thought it was for the first time only.

  9. Gaurav, Only typekey authenticated users are treated as privileged ones. The rest don’t have reservation on this blog.
    There was too much spam and in Movable Type I could not find out how to add a bunch of trusted people. Hence all this.

  10. Really nice finding about rama’s past. I really enjoyed reading about it. I hope you get more on it.
    I am just a small girl of 11, but I am very eager to know more about it.
    Yours sincerely,
    Shreya

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