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Comparing Ramayana and Mahabharata

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Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla is an Indian Author, Poet and Entrepreneur. His age is 16 Years. He is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He writes on history, mythology, culture, global politics and Hinduism.

Ramayana and Mahabharata are perhaps India’s most prominent ancient texts apart from Bhagwat Geeta. Rama, the hero of Ramayana, and Krishna, the hero of Mahabharata are the most revered incarnations of Vishnu and the most illustrious characters of Hindu mythology.

The storytelling of these scriptures is by the ancient tradition of singing hymns with a musical instrument. It is said that if you want to know the dos for a successful life, read Ramayana. And if you want to know the don’ts for a successful life, read Mahabharata. These two dynamic texts provide two different views of life and its order of it. This article is about the differences and similarities between these two texts, and the legends associated with them. In the process of comparing the texts, we will try to understand why these texts still hold significant influence on the values and ideals of Indian society, even after thousands of years.

Story of Brothers

Mahabharata, as we know, is the story of two warring groups of cousins – Kauravas and Pandavas. Both groups belong to the same lineage of the Kuru clan and are fighting for the throne of Hastinapur.

Ramayana is the story of Rama, a prince of the Raghuvansh, whose family ruled over the Kosala kingdom. Rama had three other brothers, but no one claimed his stake in the throne. Even Rama was unwilling to take up the kingdom and instead wanted his younger brother Bharat to be the king. When Rama is exiled to the forest by his father Dasharatha, Bharat refuses to take up the throne and instead rules Ayodhya as a representative of Rama while he’s in exile for fourteen years.

There is a sharp contrast between both of these narratives. On one hand, Kauravas and Pandavas are contending for the throne of Hastinapur. While on another hand sons of Dasharatha are ready to sacrifice the throne for one another. Bharat, in absence of his elder brother, doesn’t take up his throne and instead rules as a deputy, keeping the Khadau (wooden slippers) of Rama as a symbol of the authority of the monarch.

Sun and Moon

Ramayana is the story of Rama, which belongs to the illustrious Suryavansham, or the solar dynasty. These are scions of the Surya Dev or the Sun god. Powerful kings such as Ikshavaku, Bharat, Harishchandra, Dilip, Sagara, Bhagirath, Aja, Raghu and Dasharatha were born in this dynasty.

Mahabharata is the story of Kauravas and Pandavas, which belonged to the Kuru clan, which was in turn a part of the Chandravansham, or the lunar dynasty. These are the descendants of the Chandra Dev or the Moon God. Ila, Yayati, Puru, Yadu, Dushyant, Kuru, Shantanu, Vichitraveera, Chitrangad, Pandu, Dhritarashtra and Vidur were born in the lunar dynasty.

Geography

The story of Ramayana is based on the north Indian kingdom of Kosala and its capital city Ayodhya, which was situated on the banks of river Sarayu. The storyline of Ramayana goes from north to south. It descends to Kashi, Chitrakoot, Dandakaranya, and Kishkindha before reaching the Indian Ocean. This is where Rama worshipped lord Shiva before proceeding ahead to Lanka to fight Ravana.

On the other hand, the story of Mahabharata travels horizontally east-west. Krishna is the king of the coastal kingdom of Dwarka on the West coast of India. The Kuru clan rules over Hastinapur in present-day Haryana. Krishna’s childhood was spent in Mathura and Vrindavan. Pandavas spent their last days of exile in Tripura in the far east corner of India. This unravels the whole trajectory of horizontal travel in the story of Pandavas.

Subordinate Vedic Gods

The stories of both Ramayana and Mahabharata feature Vedic deities such as Indra (King of Gods), Surya (Sun God), Vayu (Wind God) and Agni (Fire God). In Ramayana, Ram was born after a Yagya was performed by King Dasharatha. Sita, daughter of Janak was born after a Vedic ritual of ploughing the field. The leading Vanara characters of Hanuman, Sugriva and Vali are sons of Vayu, Surya and Indra respectively. In Mahabharata, by the power of mantras, Kunti bears Karna, Yudhishthira, Bhima and Arjuna by invoking Surya, Yama, Vayu and Indra. Madri invokes the Ashwini twins to bear Nakul and Sahadeva.

Therefore, we can say that deities of the Vedic period occupied a supporting role in the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata and not had a vital say. The epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata were instrumental in the transition from the Vedic era to the Puranic era. These epics established Rama and Krishna as more popular heroes of the masses. In these stories, God himself descends to the mortal world, to live with people and demonstrate what an ideal life is like. These concepts were cherished by the people, hence, Puranic heroes like Rama, Krishna and Hanuman became the front cover of Indian culture, whereas the Vedic deities took a corner seat.

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Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla is an Indian Author, Poet and Entrepreneur. His age is 16 Years. He is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He writes on history, mythology, culture, global politics and Hinduism.
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