Valmiki and Kamban: The Ramayanam Differences

 'Kambaramayanam, is a Tamil epic, lyrically rich with abundantly engaging magical poetic indulgence. This   is a book of values, revealing the dimensions of personalities through characterisation. The epic is about the experience of being a human and cohabiting in this World with good and bad.

In the original work of Valmiki, Raman was characterised as a man who lived in this World. Valmiki's version was the creation of witnessing the life of Raman, with profound and penetrative message to establish Lord Raman , as a man of character. Thus, Valmiki's version of Raman was the creation of witnessing the life of Raman as a living personality contemporary of Valmiki.

Whereas Kamban created Raman as a man and then elevated him to a position as God by Raman’s exemplary qualities eloquently described in Kamban’s epic. While Kamban from Tamilnadu,  characterised Raman as a man of character, never forgot to   remind  us that Raman -   a God himself , at every instance with varying  strengths and weaknesses; The key intention of the text is to enhance awareness of God – Raman, balancing between the qualities of Gods and human nature. It is very surprising that Kamban’s Raman never identified himself as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, anywhere in the epic. Whenever any of the characters in the epic acclaimed Raman as an incarnation in the presence of Raman, there was no sign of response or reaction from Him. Kamban built the character with meticulous care that Raman lived as a human being with Godly characteristics, which Raman himself was not aware of.

 Thus, Kamban’s Raman is Eternal. That’s why “Kamban can never become outdated as he speaks to us, to the whole world, with the voice of tomorrow.” as rightly quoted by Justice S. Maharajan.

 Kamban has not just translated Valmiki’s Ramayanam, he has constructed his epic on the blueprint created by Valmiki. However, as one of the early translators of Kambaramanyam in English V.V.S.Aiyar stated, ‘Here is a building which is built on the same plan no doubt, and with the same materials, but which possesses a striking individuality of its own”.

 Kamban, belongs to  the ninth century,  much later after  many centuries, nearly a millennium later than Valmiki’s time, in the south indian cultural landscape.  While  Kambaramayanam,consists of 10,368 versus the Valmiki Ramayanam only had only a total of 6000 verses. More than fifty percent of Kamban’s versus (4500) was dedicated to the final chapters ‘Yudha Kandam’ (the Book of War)  - the war episodes.

Rama’s story was not new to Tamilnadu when Kamban decided to write his epic. There have been many references about Raman in the Sangam Tamil classics, the great  twin epics namely the Silappathikaram and the Manimekalai, and praises  in the hymns of Nayanmars and Alwars of the later period. It is evident different versions of the Ramayanam were prevalent prior to Kamban’s attempt to commence his work, thus the worship of Raman as one of the incarnations of the Almighty was already existing in his period.

Kamban was mindful while engaging in the creation of the epic, on the treatment of the story, decisions on the embellishments and omissions, could engage meticulous care in establishing   the characters, interlacing the rich morals suitable in the events. His choice of words to create appropriate dialogues of the characters, use of the similes, the metaphors, and the choicest expression of his poem to suit the Tamil land and Tamil culture were all packaged to suit the Tamil land and culture. This has given an entire new dimension to his epic. The cultural background of Tamil land has guided him not just recounting the story as depicted, by the sage. While he has adapted changes, necessary to make the epic grandeur, he has forced himself with the compulsions those demanded him to strictly follow to suit to the culture of the populace of the soil avoiding any controversies.

 Some of the significant differences are:

  • The journey of Dasaratha to Mithilai for the marriage alliance is described in two versus in Valmiki Ramayanam. Kamban dedicates four chapters to this episode.
  • In Valmiki Ramayanam, Ravanan carries Seetha. In Kambaramayanam, Ravanan excavates the entire hermitage along with Seetha and carries it without touching her at all.
  • Kugan , the hunter-chieftain who helps Raman while in exile,   is given prominence as a devotee of Raman, later as his brother in Kambaramayanam.
  • In Valmiki Ramayanam, Seetha is kidnapped by Ravana to avenge Surpanakhai’s insult, But in Kambaramayanam, Ravanan develops love and lust towards Seetha.  
  •      Kamban has portrayed the character of Agalya different from how Valmiki has created. Her agony was not accepted or respected by the readers. Kamban ‘s Agalya has been deceived by  Indran, the head of the celestials who impersonated the sage to cheat her. This creates sympathy and respect for her.
  • The wife of Vali,  Tharai of Valmiki is essentially a monkey,  changes husbands as a monkey who later chose to live with Sukreerivan, whereas Kamban’s Tharai, was still living as a widow of Vali.
  • The adaptations made to the female characters by Kamban have elevated the characters and portray the women characters like Seetha, Agalya, and Tharai to command greater respect and adoration in view of cultural perspectives.
  • The original Valmiki Ramayanam does not include an episode of the killing of Hiranyan. However, Kamban has devoted an entire chapter narrated by Vibhishanan to Ravanan, establishes that devotion is more powerful and capable of destroying the pride and evil characters.
  • Valmiki’s, Raman, Lakshmana and Seetha’s food habit has been is portrayed only as nonvegetarians but it is not so in Kambaramayanam.
  • The last rites of Dasarathan were performed by Bharathan according to Valmiki’s version but Kamban has changed that Satrughnan did them. In addition, the funeral ceremony of Dasharathan introduced by Valmiki was very casual whereas Kamban’s account made an emotional interpretation, binding and striking the readers’ minds.
  • Kamban made Dasarathan disowning Bharathan as an act of anger towards Kaikaeyi which prevents Bharathan from doing the last rites for Dasarathan. This change has given a fine dramatic touch to the epic.
  • Surpanakhai’s meeting with Rama as described by Valmiki portrayed that on seeing Rama her lust grew beyond boundaries. Valmiki further described Surpanakhai, an ugly, old woman with a frightening appearance, with a bloated belly and cruel eyes, sacring with reddish hairs. Kamban slightly deviated from the original and beautifully portrayed the the scene as  Surpanakhai appeared in the form of a beautiful damsel and walked tenderly with the gait of a swan and a peacock , bearing the  sole intention of captivating the heart of Raman.
  • Valmiki treated Kugan , Sukreevan and Vibheshna, who helped when he was in difficulty, only as his friends and not as his brothers. Whereas, Kamban treated them as Raman’s brothers promoting universal brotherhood.
  • The central theme of Valmiki’s Ramayanam was focusing, that anyone despite all the qualities, strengths and spirituality if desirous of the wives of others will ultimately ruin themselves. Kamban in addition to this moral has introduced many other values such as universal brotherhood, devotion, the character of individuals, friendship, the relationship between siblings, and war ethics.

Kamban described some of the events in the same way similar to Valmiki’s narration. However, he has ​recognised their importance based on the ​demand of the story ​and simply changed their positions in the epic. In addition, Kamban has introduced incomparable poetic indulgence, similes, and great idyllic beauty in Kambaramayanam.

Such changes were important to Kamban because he was keen that literary contribution should not harm the culture of Tamilnadu and should include high moral values in addition to  divine narration.  This is the main reason for   Kamban, well deserved for what he was acclaimed with the title and honor as ‘The Emperor of Poets’ for his poetic magic.




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