In today’s times we note that whenever something happens, we read different accounts of that event on the different media channels. We also hear different versions from the people involved, the people close to them, the people who love them, the people who hate them., and so on.
That in itself is proof for us that ‘something’ actually happened.
We develop our own ways of assessing the truth based on what we hear from multiple sources and from our previous knowledge of the people involved and our own beliefs, biases and preferences.
This was true in ancient times also. The names Rama, Sita and Lakshmana and their variations occur in all the versions, and most agree that they were royal, and that they went to a forest, and they came back. Differences crop up along the way.
For eg, Indians believe that Sita ‘entered’ the fire., but the Thai believe she walked on it for the Agni Pariksha. The custom of walking on live coals is prevalent in South India even today. (Some Muslim castes walk on live coals chanting Sri Rama’s name!) The Thai version also has a reconciliation between Rama and Sita, with some advice from the Brahma and Siva as well as from Vibhishana!
My task today was tracking the Versions of the Valmiki Ramayanam in Sanskrit and I found that there are 3 important versions of Valmiki’s Ramayanam alone. Of these the Southern Recension is the most trusted. (Please do not confuse this with the Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil versions by other authors.)
Don’t even get me started on the versions in other languages, other religions and other countries.
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