The Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata are the two popular scriptures that have ruled the hearts of the Hindus for millennia. They have inspired innumerable writers, poets and artists to create marvellous works of literature and art based upon the themes drawn from their stories and personalities. One of the numerous Rāmāyaṇas that have sprung up in imita-tion of Vālmīki’s is the Ānanda Rāmāyaṇa, sometimes styled as Manohara-Ānanda-Rāmāyaṇa also. Though attributed by tradition to Vālmīki himself, it is obviously a late work, later than the Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa (14th cent. A.D.)
The work comprises 12,323 verses spread over 109 sargas or chapters contained in nine kāṇḍas or books. It is written in the form of a dialogue between Pārvatī and Śiva, later on introducing another dialogue between two sages Rāmadāsa and his disciple Viṣṇudāsa. A few innovations and many additions have been made to the original story as given in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa.
Perhaps, the book was written at a time when the Kṛṣṇa cults were becoming more popular, to reassert the glory and supremacy of Rāma. Though attempts have been made to establish the identity of the two incarnations and to foresee the events of Kṛṣṇāvatāra in Rāma’s story, the predisposition in favour of Rāma is obvious.
An attempt can now be made to summarise the work briefly:
The first book known as Sārakāṇḍa (13 sargas, 2565 ślokas or verses) summarises the entire story of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa, including Rāvaṇa’s story as given in the last book, Uttarakāṇda. The story of Rāvaṇa’s bringing the ātmaliṅga of Śiva from Kailāsa and the liṅga being fixed to the ground at Gokarṇa due to the machinations of Viṣṇu in the guise of a brāhmaṇa boy appears in the 9th sarga. So also the story of establishment of the liṅga at Rāmeśvara. Other additions to the original are: the humbling of Māruti’s pride, the slaying of Airāvaṇa and Mairāvaṇa (friends of Rāvaṇa from the nether world), the story of Kanyākumārī and the teaching of Catuśśloki Bhāgavata to Vyāsa by Nārada.
The second book called Yātrākāṇḍa (9 sargas, 746 ślokas) deals with the worship of the river Gaṅgā by Sītā, the story of the river Sarayū and Rāma’s pilgrimage.
The third book designated Yāga-kāṇḍa (9 sargas, 628 ślokas) describes the Aśvamedhayāga performed by Rāma along with Sītā.
The fourth book, the Vilāsakāṇḍa (9 sargas, 676 ślokas) describes the amorous sports of Rāma and Sītā.
The fifth book named Śubhajanma-kāṇḍa or Janmakāṇḍa (9 sargas, 804 ślokas) deals with the story of the banish-ment of Sītā and the birth of Lava and Kuśa to Sītā. The interesting points to be noted are: Rāma deliberately plans and enacts the drama of banishment; Kuśa is the son born in the natural way to Sītā, whereas another baby created by Vālmīki out of ‘lava’ seeds (cloves or nutmeg) (hence named ‘Lava’) and infused with life is accepted by Sītā as her own son and a special vrata (religious rite) called ‘Saṁyogakaraṇavrata’ is performed by Sītā at the behest of Vālmīki. The famous Rāmarakṣā Stotra forms part of the 5th sarga.
The sixth book christened Vivāha-kāṇḍa (9 sargas, 585 ślokas) describes the marriage of Kuśa with Campikā and Lava with Sumati, as also the marriage of Yūpaketu (son of Śatrughna) with Madanasundarī (daughter of the King Kambukaṇṭha). The last section deals with the mūlamantra of Āñjaneya and the process of repeating it in order to get rid of the maladies due to diseases and evil spirits.
Rājyakāṇḍa (24 sargas, 2641 ślokas), the seventh book, contains some miscellaneous topics like Rāmasahasranāma, the story of a dog and a saṁnyāsin who was given the ‘punishment’ of being made the head of a temple organization, the banning of laughter in his kingdom by Rāma, the story of Vālmīki’s previous births and Rāma teaching a lesson to Sītā and Rāma’s discourses on dharma to his subjects. The 8th sarga of this book is completely in prose.
Manoharakāṇḍa (18 sargas, 3101 ślokas) the penultimate book is the largest in volume and contains Rāma’s expounding spiritual truths to his mother Kausalyā as also Sumitrā and Kaikeyī, at their request. A number of hymns, technically called ‘kavaca’ (= armour) have been included in this section (Śrīrāmakavaca, Hanūmatkavaca, Sītākavaca and so on). A ritual recitation of these is said to fulfil any desire one cherishes. The 17th sarga gives the story of Rāmāyaṇa in a nutshell and is called Sārarāmāyaṇa.
The last book, with the appellation of Pūrṇakāṇḍa (9 sargas, 577 ślokas) is the smallest in size. It describes Rāma’s ascent to Vaikuṇṭha (the abode of Viṣṇu) as Viṣṇu after installing Kuśa on his throne as his successor.