Ramayana retold in Persian
RAMA’s life story is so interesting and inspiring that not only Hindus but also people belonging to other religions are influenced by it. It was rightly said by Brahma in the Valmiki Ramayana: As long as the mountains and the rivers exist on earth, the story of Rama will also be preached in the world.
Writers and poets have not translated this effective tale, written by Adi-Kavi (the first poet) Valmiki in Sanskrit, in their respective languages but have rewritten or recreated it according to the cultural influences of the times. The books written by Indian or foreign scholars on this epic are also numerous. Its theme is so beneficial for humanity that Akbar the Great ordered it to be translated into Persian along with other Sanskrit classics. Mullah Abdul Qadir Badayuni reluctantly translated it under royal pressure into Persian. Then some other prose writers and poets began to translate or compose it into Persian as it was the language of the elite and court during those days. Out of the so many Ramayanas in Persian, there are two important ones which remained neglected in spite of their admirable moral messages and excellent artistry. The first is the Ramayan-e-Masih, composed by Sheikh Sadullah Masih Panipati, the contemporary of Emperor Shahjahan and Jahangir. It was published in 1899 by Munshi Naval Kishor Press, Lucknow. The other is entitled Balmiki Ramayan, written by S. Mohar Singh who was employed in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army. It was published in 1890 by Ganesh Prakash Press, Lahore.
Ramayan-e-Masih did not become popular as it was written during Jahangir’s reign when Muslim readers began to stop taking interest in Hindu scriptures. Masih became a target of hate of the fanatic Muslims for composing the Ramayana.
He had to justify his stance in the beginning of his work. He spoke against the fanatics under the heading Dar Mazammat-e-Hussad (condemning the jealous). He stated that they had not taken into account the two naats in praise of the Prophet Mohammad written at the start of the epic, and Paighambarnama, his other epic poem relating the life and exploits of the Prophet.
Though story of Masih’s Ramayana is mainly based on the Valmiki Ramayana yet he does not mention the name of that holy bard even once. Perhaps he could not read Sanskrit and wrote his book after reading Badayuni’s version. He did not divide his Ramayana into cantos or kandas as Valmiki did but wrote it in Persian masnavi style, which resembles the heroic couplet of English. He gives separate headings to all events or episodes. His diction is purely Persian and he seldom uses Sanskrit words. He uses the word zahid for Rishi Valmiki when the latter appears in his Ramayana as the provider of shelter to the exiled Sita. He embellishes his verses with similes and metaphors taken from Islamic lore.
The main defect in his narration is the presence of anachronisms. He makes his characters do things which did not occur in the Ramayana. For example, when Sita is abducted by Ravana, Lakshmana searches for her everywhere. During that search he goes to a pond and asks the fish therein if they have swallowed her. They reply in one voice that they have not gulped her as they had done Yunas in the yore. When Ravana has Hanuman’s tail set on fire, Sita prays to the fire god (Agni Devta) to turn that fire into a rose garden as was done by God when Ibrahim Khalil Allah was thrown into flames. When Sita is highly dejected after hearing the false news of Rama’s death, Trijata consoles her by saying that none can kill Rama as he is as immortal as Issa (Christ). Kumbhkarna says to Ravana that he can easily demolish Sikander’s (Alexander’s) wall. When Sugreev is caught by Kumbhkarna, Angad goes to Hanuman and requests him to get their Rustam (Sugreev) freed from the clutches of the enemies.
The other fault in Masih’s Ramayana is that he deals with it as a love poem and not as a scripture. Sita is painted like a beautiful maiden. It was her beauty that attracted Rama to marry her. Ravana also carried her away when his sister Sarupnakha described her matchless beauty before that demon. He took Sita to Lanka to marry her and not to avenge the insult heaped on his sister, whose nose was chopped by Lakshmana in presence of Rama. The Hindu poets do not describe Sita’s beauty from top to toe. It seems that Masih could not read the Sanskrit epic of Valmiki and composed his magnum opus after reading Badayuni or hearing its bare outlines from his Hindu friends. Still this book is a piece of superb poetry.
Mohar Singh belonged to Ram Nagar village in Gujranwala district (now in Pakistan). He died before he could complete the Ramayana which he was writing. His close friend Hiranand ‘lal’ completed the small remaining portion by describing Rama’s fight with his sons Luv and Kush and his reconciliation with Sita and their arrival and reception at Ayodhya. This portion is composed in the metre and style which had been adopted by Mohar Singh. This book is illustrated with pen drawings by an anonymous artist. This Ramayana also could not get much response as after the occupation of Punjab by the British, Persian was no longer in vogue.
Mohar Singh also does not divide his Ramayana into the traditional cantos but described all incidents under various headings as masanvi writers do. He strictly follows Valmiki and often mentions the name of that sage gratefully. This shows that he had studied Valmiki Ramayana closely. Neither does his work have anachronisms like those of Masih nor has he turned it into a romantic tale. His style is simple and unsophisticated. Both these poets belonged to undivided Punjab and none of them mentions Tulsi Das. The latter’s Ram Charit Manas might not have been so popular then as it is now.
Both the Ramayanas in Persian are not translations of the Valmiki Ramayana but the poets’ own creations. Unlike Masih, Mohar Singh uses Sanskrit words liberally: as-sees (head), raja (king), mata (mother), nag (serpent), yug (age), surpat (king of gods), chandal (a low-born cruel person), and roop (beauty).
These two poets have not only enriched the epic tradition related to Rama but have also paved the way for communal amity. One has painted Rama as a human being with divine qualities and other has depicted him as a divine being with human characteristics. We should be proud of such cultural legacy handed down to us.