Nagar, Shantilal (trans); Adbhut Ramayana, attributed to the sage Valmiki; B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi, 2001. Main text 429 pages. Preface etc 18 pages.
Parallel texts: Sanskrit, Hindi, English
Review by Colin Robinson
The text in which Shiva throws
himself beneath Kalis feet
I had wanted to read the Adbhuta Ramayana for many years. I was aware that the nineteenth century English scholar Sir Monier Monier-Williams had mentioned it in his book Brahmanism and Hinduism 1. Monier-Williams says the Adbhuta Ramayana is the source of the well-known story in which Lord Shiva casts himself beneath Kalis feet, in order to restrain her destructive behavior.
I also noticed some interesting quotations from it in the book Principles of Tantra by the tantric scholar Shiva Candra Vidyarnava,2 and I saw it mentioned by Narendra Nath Bhattacharyya in his History of the Sakta Religion.3
So I was very happy to learn that a book containing the full Sanskrit text, together with Hindi and English translations of each verse, had been published in Delhi. Of course I took steps to obtain a copy. It reached my hands a couple of days after the festival of Divali, and about a week before my birthday, which seemed to make sense.
The translator/editor, Shantilal Nagar, has more than 30 books to his credit. The covers notes and preface show that he has made a specialist study of Indias many narratives about Rama, such as the Jaina Ramayana, the Sri Ranganatha Ramayana, the Mantra Ramayana.
He doesnt seem to know quite as much about shakta literature, the extensive body of writings which glorify the Goddess. Readers more familiar with shakta writings may find things in the Sanskrit text of the Adbhuta Ramayana which do not come out clearly in Nagars translation.
The Adbhuta Ramyana is a half-forgotten treasure of Sanskrit literature, written around the fourteenth century. Its true that there are other, older texts about the heroic Rama. Its true that there are other, older texts about the destroying and saving Goddess. But I know of no older text that brings together the Hero and the destroying-saving Goddess in the way that this one does.
The Adbhuta Ramayana tells how Rama, who has recently triumphed against one great demon, is struck down by another. His beautiful wife Sita, also called Janaki, then changes her form, becoming a dark naked wrathful figure, who cuts off the demons heads. She then begins to dance wildly on the battlefield so wildly, in fact, that the earth begins to shake...
And Monier-Williams is right this text does show Lord Shiva throwing himself beneath the feet of the dark dancing lady. In spite of which, she remains angry until the gods bring Rama back to life.
In her dark form Sita is still called Sita and Janaki. She is also called Kali. The point, however comes across more clearly in the Sanskrit text than in the English version. Ive discussed this question in more detail in another article. (Ferment Dec 2002)
There is at least one instance of apparent bowdlerization in the English text: a half verse (chapter 24 v 24) where the angry Sita/Kali declares:
grasam ekam karishyami jagad etac caracaram
Those words are left right out of the English translation of the verse. Their literal meaning is...
I will make a single meal of this moving and still world.
Yet, a few verses later, (chapter 24 verse 31) there is a similar statement which does get translated into English.
Whatever its flaws, a ground-breaking translation of a very important Sanskrit work.
1 published by John Murray, London, 1887; p 189 - 90. David Kinsley cites this in his The Sword and the Flute; University of California Press, 1975.
2 edited by Sir John Woodroffe, published by Ganesh, Madras, 1986.
3 published by Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1974.
Review first published December 2002 in the journal Ferment
Revised for the Web 2007.
Review © Colin Robinson 2002, 2007.
Artwork © Colin Robinson 1999, 2007.