Monday, July 24, 2017

Featured Author: Valmiki

I've already written about two very different authors — the medieval Tamil poet Kamban and the 19th-century Bengali author Romesh Chunder Dutt — who based their versions of the Ramayana on the Sanskrit version by the ancient poet Valmiki, so today I will say a few words about Valmiki.

Not only did Valmiki write the Sanskrit Ramayana, he is said to have invented the shloka, the epic verse form. You can read the sad story of why he wrote the first shloka here at Wikipedia: The First Shloka. You can also read about the legend of his early life as a bandit here: Ratnakar, The Robber Chief.

In addition to being the poet who wrote the Ramayana, Valmiki is also a character in the poem itself. When Rama finally orders Lakshmana to take Sita into the wilderness and abandon her, Valmiki rescues her, and she goes to live in Valmiki's hermitage. That is where she gives birth to her twin sons Lava and Kusha, who go on to become Ramayana-singers themselves, and Valmiki was their teacher. This painting shows Sita in Valmiki's hermitage:

For many years, Robert and Sally Goldman and their colleagues have been preparing a critical scholarly translation of the Ramayana. They were my teachers at Berkeley, and it was exciting to see how dedicated they were to that project. You can read more about that project here: UC Berkeley's Valmiki Ramayana Translation Project. Here's a video that they made on the completion of their work:

For online versions, there is a 19th-century English verse translation by Ralph T. H. Griffith which you can read at the Sacred Texts website. There is a literal English prose translation by Manmatha Nath Dutt available at various websites.

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