One of the two great epics of India, the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki, has been the basic text for the story of Rāma. It has been the primary source of inspiration over the millennia, for many a poet who has retold the story in his own way, often adopting it to the philosophy of his life. One such work is the Adbhuta Rāmāyaṇa (‘the Wonder that is Rāmāyaṇa’). Though attributed to Vālmīki, it is obviously a late work. Scholars are divided about its being earlier or later to another, more well-known work, the Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa (A. D. 1400). The glorification of Kālī and identifying her with Sītā induce us to think that the work must have been written at a time when reconciling the Rāma cult of the Vaiṣṇavas and the Śākta cults had become a social necessity. Also, the words in the colophon as seen from a printed text—‘iti ārṣe śrīmad-rāmāyaṇe vālmīkīye ādikāvye adbhutottarakāṇḍe...’—give rise to the suspicion that the writer might have attemp-ted to pass it off as an appendix to the Uttarakāṇḍa of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa.
The Adbhuta Ramayaṇa is a compa-ratively smaller work of 1355 verses spread over 27 sargas or chapters. Unlike the other Rāmāyaṇas it is not divided into kāṇḍas or books.
The contents of the work may be summarized briefly as follows: The sage Bhāradvāja approaches the great sage Vālmīki and requests him to give the secret teaching that is hidden in his original Rāmāyaṇa which is rather voluminous. Vālmīki replies that the real secret is that Rāma is the Highest Brahman and Sītā, the Highest Prakṛti, the power of Brahman. Then he goes on to narrate the reasons for the descent of Rāma (sargas 2 to 4) and Sītā (s. 5 to 7), which were apparently due to the curses of the sages Nārada and Parvata, but really to destroy the wicked and protect the good. This is followed by the story of the birth of Sītā as the daughter of Rāvaṇa, but abandoned by his wife Maṇḍodarī, and found by Janaka, the king of Mithilā, in his field. After this, the events move at a terrific speed: Rāma’s marriage, Paraśurāma’s humiliation at the hands of Rāma (s. 9), Rāma’s entering the forest along with Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa (The entire episode of the Ayodhyākāṇḍa of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa leading to Rāma’s banishment is glossed over here!), Sītā’s abduction by Rāvaṇa and Rāma striking friendship with Sugrīva and Hanumān (s.10). In answer to the simple question that Hanumān asks, ‘Who are you?’ (s.10) Rāma waxes eloquently to describe himself as the Ātman, Parameśvara, Māyāvī and Antaryāmin (s. 11 and 12). Most of the ideas and even the words are reminiscent of the Bhagavadgītā, and some of the Upaniṣads. This is followed by a short discourse on bhakti or devotion (s. 13) and a curious mixture of a variety of philosophical and mythological topics (s. 14). The next chapter contains a beautiful hymn of Hanumān on Rāma (s. 15). The sixteenth sarga disposes off very briefly (in 20 verses) the entire story of the Yuddhakāṇḍa. In the seventeenth, Sītā reveals the existence of a thousand-headed Rāvaṇa, the elder brother of the ten-headed demon, and describes him as she had heard from a brāhmaṇa in her younger days. Hearing this, Rāma starts on an invasion of the Puṣkara Dvīpa, the abode of the thousand-headed monster, in order to destroy him. In the terrific war that ensues, Rāma falls down unconscious (s. 18 to 22). Seeing this tragedy that had overtaken Rāma and his forces, Sītā assumes the terrible form of Kālī and destroys the demon along with all his forces. She is helped in this by her innumerable emanations (s. 23). Rāma wakes up and is surprised to see Kālī there (s. 24). He praises her with a long hymn containing 1008 names (s. 25). Though called Sītā-sahasranāma (‘thousand names of Sītā’) almost all the names belong to the Śakti cult. Sītā dissolves the form of Kālī and reappears in her original form. After thus gaining victory, Rāma returns to Ayodhyā and resumes his rule (s. 26 and 27).
Though this work might have served a specific purpose during the days of its composition and later, it fails to come up to the level of the Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa and the Ānanda Rāmāyaṇa.