(Last Updated on : 23/03/2013)
Assamese Religious Epics during Ahom Rule depict the ongoing plethora of religiosity in the epics. Comparatively few books were written during this age on themes of the two epics, Ramayana
. One of the leading poets who enjoyed great reputation in the later part of the eighteenth century and who drew on the Ramayana story was Raghunath Mahanta. Raghunath's fame as a poet rests on his two long narrative poems Adbhuta-Ramayana and Santrunjaya; both appear to have been based on some floating Ramayana legends.
According to the poet, the source of adbhuta-Ramayana is the Markandeya Purana
. The story relates to Sita in the Nether World (Patala) after her final estrangement from her consort, Rama. After having parted from Rama for good Sita was living in Vidyabilasinlpura of the Nether World. But she had lost her peace of mind. She had left behind her husband and her two beloved sons, Lava and Kusa.
The pangs of separate on pierced her heart day and night. In Ayodhya
, Lord Rama
was pining for the company of his beloved wife. His agony was still deeper. It was because of his unkind innuendos that Sita had been compelled to beg her mother, the Earth, to rend herself asunder so that she might find solace in her bosom. Sita asked Vasuki, the king of Serpents in the Nether World, to abduct Lava and Kusa from Ayodhya. Vasuki made an abortive attempt and reported his failure to Sita. He found it impossible to break through the hosts of invincible warriors like Hanumanta, Nila, Nala, Vibhisana. Sita understood his difficulty, but implored him to try again, this time by using his magical power. Accordingly, Vasuki went in the guise of a Brahmin and, on the pretext of training Lava and Kusa in archery, brought them from Rama. Having thus fulfilled his mission, the disguised Brahmin succeeded in persuading the princes to accompany him to Vidyabilasinipura where their mother lived. Vasuki then arrived at Patala where the mother and the sons met to their unbounded joy and happiness. This treachery of Vasuki infuriated Rama so much that he at once ordered his courtiers to find out Lava and Kusa from wherever they might. Everybody tried his utmost but to no avail. At last the task was entrusted to Hanumanta, who, by virtue of his great magical power, adopted many subtle devices. He had very tough fights with the serpents and the Serpent King. At last he defeated all of them, ferocious and frightening as they were, and brought Sita and her two sons back to Rama.
Naturally Rama's joy over the reunion knew no bounds. Sita
made obeisance to Rama, but urged him not to press her to live with him as she was not destined to do so. She assured him, however, of her daily visit, which would be visible only to Rama, Lava, Kusa and Hanumanta. Sita then vanished into the air.
In Santrunjaya, the Rama legend is treated very briefly as a sequel to another story. The author's intention was not so much to tell the well known story of Rama as to narrate the exploits and expeditions of Bali and Hanuman. The first part of the story which describes these exploits in detail is very amusing, and seems to be the poet's own invention. The poem begins with the author's invocation to Visnu who in his different incarnations on this Earth did away with corruption, vice and injustice and established the kingdom of justice, truth and virtue. The narrative begins as in a Purana
with a dialogue between Valmiki
and Bharadvaja, the former relating to the latter how and why the gods became monkeys. Brahma, the Preserver, was one day presiding over an assembly of the gods in Manivatipura on Mount Meru. The gods, including Sumeru, King of Meru, attended the assembly accompanied by their daughters. All of them enjoyed the graceful dances of the charming Vidyadhari maids. Sulocana, daughter of Sumeru, unsurpassed in beauty, made all the gods spellbound with her graceful dance. Everybody wanted to marry her. The wind-god Vayu, one of the prominent gods, decided to make advances to Sulocana's father with the intention of asking his daughter's hand and sent a messenger to this end, along with a letter to Sulocana herself requesting her to accept him in wedlock. The messenger accordingly informed Sumeru of the purpose of his mission, but the latter turned down the proposal flatly. Being at a loss, the messenger prayed to Vayu to send a puff of gentle breeze. This was sent, and the messenger had the letter borne by the breeze to Sulocana who, having read the letter, laughed away the strange proposal. At this Vayu flew into a rage and declared war on Sumeru. A fierce battle broke out. The gods were frightened and prayed to Brahma to bring about a settlement. Brahma commissioned Narada who brought about a compromise between the contending parties.
According to the terms of the compromise, Sumeru gave away to Vayu one of his summits, the Vihanga Srnga, which was blown away by Vayu to the Milk Ocean (Ksira Sagara) where lay Mount Trikuta. On this mountain fell the Vihanga Srnga. When Vishwakarma
, the architect of this universe, found this Vihanga Srnga, he carved out on it a beautiful city known as the golden city of Lanka. In this city lived Mali, Sumali and Malyavanta, the three Raksasa brothers. Vishnu beheaded Mali with his disc (cakra), and the two other brothers fled for dear life.
Then came in the scene Kuvera, King of Lanka; One day Sumali found Kuvera on the throne, and bewailed the deplorable lot of Raksasas who had been driven to recapture Lanka. He had given his daughter Naikesi in marriage to Visrava, father of Kuvera, in the belief that Visrava would restore the lost kingdom. Naikesi conceived in her 'unclean period' (during menstruation) and was afraid of the progeny, who, according to popular belief, would be notorious for their violence and evil-doing. During the period of her conception, evil omens were sighted everywhere. Everybody on earth and in heaven got panicky. In view of the universal fear and impending menace, Naikesi retained the bitter fruit of her womb for one hundred years. But the panic was all along there. The gods went to Brahma who told the former that the danger was real and imminent. He then explained how Jaya and Vijaya, the two gatekeepers of Lord Vishnu
, who were cursed to be born to Diti first, were both of them being cursed by Goddess Laksmi
again, in the womb of Naikesi now. He finally told them that the moment they were born there would be no end to the miseries and distress of people and that Visnu alone could overcome the calamity. Brahma then lay in a deep trance awaiting the 'unbodied message' of Visnu, the Supreme Power of the universe. The message came that there would be an incarnation of Visnu Himself to put an end to the menace. The gods were ordered to be reborn on earth as monkeys. Brahma was directed to be reborn as a bear, Vayu as the monkey Kesari, Indra as Bali, the monkey-king of Kiskindhya, and thus all the gods and goddesses were directed to become monkeys. Some of the monkeys would be savage and would plunder and pillage one kingdom after another until at last they would reach Kailasa where Nandi, God Mahadeva's disciple, would persuade them to assault Kiskindhya, the kingdom of the mighty king, Bali, who would conquer them.
Brahma intimated to the gods all that he had heard, and in course of time all were reborn as desired by God. Bali went out on world-conquest. In the course of his march he found a tender-aged monkey throwing stones at the fruits of a tall mango-tree. Bali saw to his great surprise that the monkey-boy was physically too strong to be ignored, and so Bali, instead of using force, had the monkey persuaded by one of his ministers to be the adopted son of Bali who pretended that he had no son to call his own. The monkey boy agreed to the proposal and became his adopted son. Asked about his birth and name, the monkey replied that he was son of Kesari. His mother was Anjana, and his name was Hanumanta. Immediately after his birth, he climbed the mountain Lokaloka where he saw a huge elephant. He could not check the temptation to mount the elephant, which presently began to groan under the weight of the boy monkey and almost collapsed. But the bushy and pointed hair on the back of the elephant pricked him and caused severe pain. So he jumped down and faced the elephant, challenging him with his tail raised. His attitude frightened the elephant so much that the latter ran for life, and in this way Hanumanta defeated eight such elephants. This act of Hanumanta displeased his father and made him very angry. He admonished Hanumanta; for the elephants whom he had given so much trouble were none other than eight incarnations of God, who had borne this earth on their backs. Hanumanta politely replied that since the earth itself had been borne by God, it was absurd to accuse him as one guilty of mounting them. Moreover, God is all-pervasive and the soul of every living being is an inalienable part of that Supreme Soul. So what one did was done by God Himself. Hence he pleaded not guilty, adding that he was always ready and happy to do whatever his father would bid. Kesari was moved. As desired by his son, he ordered him to serve pilgrims and devote himself to Rama heart and soul. Bali was much pleased with the story of Hanumanta and appointed him commander-in-chief of his powerful army. It was now that the real adventure began, and the succeeding verses tell of Hanumanta's deeds. In no time Hanumanta brought one monkey-king after another under the suzerainty of Bali.
He attacked the demon king Bhauma, son of Dharani. Bhauma got the help of Dhananjaya, a prominent king of the Nether World. He helped Bhauma with his innumerable serpent-soldiers. Kankana was his great general. This was a formidable alliance. There was an 'unbodied message' from heaven that it would be next to impossible to defeat Dhanafijaya Naga who possessed 'Sarangadhanu' and 'Narayani Astra'. He, therefore, called upon Rama to help him. A golden chariot with some invincible weapons in it came down from heaven. Hanumanta got into it and a fierce battle followed resulting in Hanumanta's victory. Thus Hanumanta conquered all the notorious serpent-kings who helped Bhauma. The news upset Bhauma who immediately went to Mangala (the planet Mars) and wanted to know from him if Bhauma should fight with Hanumanta. Mangala laughed away the idea of fighting with a petty monkey. Meanwhile, a serpentking, who had fought with and been defeated by Hanumanta, arrived there and told them that it would be absurd to fight with Hanumanta who had no parallel in warfare. Bhauma realised the situation and withdrew. In the meantime, Gajaketu encouraged Hanumanta to march to Sakadvipa. Hanumanta ordered his armies to start by Yogapatha. They got down at the mountain Isana where they met a large number of very beautiful monkeys. They came to know that Nala was their king and they were the direct descendants of the Gandharba, Citraratha. Hanumanta, along with Satavali and Dividha, then went to Nala and told him of their mission. Nala replied that he was a devoted disciple of Rama. At this Hanumanta's joy knew no bounds, and they became true comrades. Hanumanta now enquired about the kings of Sakadvipa who were to be conquered. Nala supplied all the information. Strengthened by the company of great warrior like Nala, Hanumanta fought with vigour and defeated all the kings concerned and compelled them to surrender. Most of the kings were, however, devotees of Rama, and so the victory was pleasant and easy.
Then Hanumanta arrived at an island called Baimanika where one Rudrabahu ruled. The people of that land used to fly in airplanes. Passing by Baimanika, Hanumanta at last reached the city of Puskalini which was his birth place. There he bowed to his parents who blessed him, wished him a long life, and inquired about his exploits. Hanumanta told them of all that he had done. Now he sent all the vanquished kings to Bali. But the monkey-kings of Lokaloka Mountain were yet to be conquered. Moreover Bali desired the company of Hanumanta's parents whom Hanumanta wanted to take with him to Bali. While the three had such conversations, they welcomed Narada who expressed joy at the victory of Hanumanta but forbade Hanumanta to attack the monkey kings of Lokaloka, for they were destined to be conquered by Rama who was going to incarnate himself very soon. Then Narada asked Hanumanta and his parents to leave for Bali's capital. Hanumanta consented and asked his mother Anjana to take the charge of two princesses, daughters of Susena, and train them in such a way that they might be worthy queens. Then along with his father, he went to Bali, who was naturally much pleased. Hanumanta proposed that Bali and his brother be pleased to marry the two pretty daughters of Susena. Bali agreed and, after his marriage, left for Kiskindya, where he began to live amidst royal pomp and grandeur.
The story of Bali's adventures ends here. The author then adds a new chapter describing Rama's birth and banishment, the abduction of Sita by Ravana
, Rama's fight with Ravana - practically the whole Ramayana in a nutshell, including the story of Lava and Kusa. The long poem ends with a prayer to Visnu. The aim of the poet was, no doubt, to depict Rama as an incarnation of Visnu and also to propagate the tenets of Bhakti. This he certainly achieved. But he also deserves praise for handing down these entertaining Rama-legends which would otherwise have been consigned to oblivion. The poems reveal the poet's acquaintance with the floating Jaina versions of the Ramayana.