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Did Rama exist? - varnamvarnam
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Did Rama exist?

The presence of the Vanaras or monkeys, including Hanuman, has made the authenticity of the epic suspect. But this is the most plausible part of the story. The Vanaras were obviously tribes with the monkey totem: after all, the Ramayana belongs to a period when most of India was jungle with tribal forest-dwellers. India still contains several tribes with animal totems. An early issue of the Bellary District (now in Karnataka) Gazetteer gives us the interesting information that the place was inhabited by the Vanara people. The Jaina Ramayana mentions that the banner of the Vanaras was the vanaradhvaja (monkey flag), thereby reinforcing the totemic theory. Similarly, Jatayu would have been the king of the vulture-totem tribe and Jambavan of the bear-totem tribe.

Was Lanka the modern Sri Lanka? One school of thought places Lanka on the Godavari in Central India, citing the limited descriptions of the South in the latter half of the epic. Narada does not mention Panchavati or Rameshwaram, but refers to Kishkinda and Lanka. Living in the north, it is unlikely that Valmiki knew the south. But Valmiki would know the difference between a sea and a river. Lanka, says the author definitively, was across the sea.

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? [Did Rama exist?]


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