The humour in Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam has always appeared in the most appropriate places. Humour always demands an awareness of the world around us. Only someone who can understand the world and the whims and fancies of the people can handle humour well. In that respect, maharṣi Vālmīki is someone who knows the world well. The observation made by maharṣi Kaṇva in the play abhijñāna-śākuntalam, ‘वनौकसोऽपि सन्तो लौकिकज्ञा वयम्’ i.e. ‘Even though we dwell in the forest, we are well-versed in the worldly ways!’ applies well to maharṣi Vālmīki. It is therefore not surprising that in every description, every conversation between the characters, we find flowers emanating earthly fragrance. These aren’t the proverbial imaginary flowers of the sky. Being an expert in the secret ways of great poetry, understanding the psyche of sahṛdayas, maharṣi Vālmīki has provided a optimum amount of hāsya by interspersing it here and there. He hasn’t limited it to the sweet dates but has enhanced the taste by adding a tinge of sourness of the tamarind too here and there! He has added humour like how elaichi is added in the rasāyana.
काव्यज्ञलोकहृदयस्पृशि भव्यकाव्ये ।
हास्यं न्यवेशयदनर्घमिवैलचूर्णम् ॥
[In Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam which is verily a rasāyana of a myriad emotions, an epitome of poetry which touches the connoisseur’s heart, maharṣi Vālmīki the king among the poets, a visionary of the philosophy of poetry, has placed humour like how one adds elaichi in the rasāyana.]
This is the import of a talk I’d given at the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). GIPA had published some aspects of this text before. In the current edition some of the stotras dedicated to Śrī-rāma have been added. These have been collected from a work called Śrī-rāma-karṇāmṛta. The work which is attractive due to the construction and also the emotions is fit to be committed to memory and also be recited as part of daily pārāyaṇam. These verses can attract the minds of connoisseurs by mere recitation. There is also the Śrī-rāmacandra-suprabhāta, composed by me. Since these would be very small to be individually published, I’ve added them in this book.
My esteemed friend, M S Srinivasa Rao who is the head of the publication house ‘Udaya Prakashana’ has happily come forward to publish this. I would like to express my gratitude towards him.
N Ranganatha Sarma
October 22nd, 1996 (Vijaya-daśamī)
[Translator’s note: We have skipped the publisher’s note here since it is not relevant for a translation series present on an online platform., but it will be included in the final publication.]
Maharṣi Vālmīki’s sense of humour
Any aesthetician worth his salt agrees that hāsya is one among the nine rasas. It is a state of mind. It manifests in some people in a special way. In others it lies dormant and manifests only in special situations.
Some people opine that hāsya is an impediment to the seriousness and profundity of a human. This is unfounded as we see that great personalities like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Mahatma Gandhi etc were people with great sense of humour. If it was a lowly emotion then aestheticians would never opine that it is an ornamentation for good poetry.
Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam is a mahākāvya. It is a divine story of a great man and an equally great woman. Is there a scope for maharṣi Vālmīki to introduce hāsya? Why not? As long as it does not hinder the profundity of this great poem. Vālmīki himself has said:
रसैः शृङ्गारकरुणाहास्यरौद्रभयानकैः ।
वीरादिभिश्च संयुक्तं काव्यमेतदगायताम् ॥
[The kāvya comprising of śṛṅgāra, karuṇa, hāsya, raudra, bhayānaka, vīra, and other rasas were sung by…(Lava and Kuśa)]
It is worth noting the main difference between other rasas and hāsya. The rasas like karunā, raudra might be enjoyable in the context of poetry but not so in the case of the real world. Śṛṅgāra may be enjoyable to certain individuals but for a neutral person it might even be disgusting in some cases. Hāsya, on the other hand, has no such limitations. It can be enjoyed right from children to the elderly, from scholarly to the laity, even by people who have renounced the worldly affairs and have become sannyāsins.
While karunā seems to be the main rasa in Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam, there is ample scope for other rasas too. For such a great work which evokes the noblest and profundest of the feelings, hāsya should indeed be in small but appropriate quantities. Maharṣi Vālmīki has therefore used it sparingly and with propriety. A connoisseur should be able to spot such instances throughout the epic. The aim of this essay is to remind some of those instances.
The trophies given by the ṛṣis
The expertise of Lava and Kuśa in Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam was unparalleled. Once in an august gathering of the ṛṣis they sung the great epic in their usual best. Even the ṛṣis who were benumbed by their constant study of vedas were moved by their singing. They wanted to give something in return. But what would such ṛṣis who have renounced everything possess? One ṛṣi gave a pot. Another ṛṣi gave the bark-garment in his possession. Yet another gave the maunji threads! Someone gave ropes which were used to tie logs. Someone else gave a kaupīna!
बृसीमन्यस्तदा प्रादात् कौपीनमपरो मुनिः
[...one gave a cushion made of grass used to sit while the other gave a kaupīna!]
While there is hāsya here, one should note that it doesn’t undermine the profundity of the situation. What else would be the worthiest possession of a ṛṣi other than a kaupīna! That was what he gave with affection. We should observe the loftiness of their appreciation in this instance.
The episode of Ṛṣyaśṛṅga
As per the orders of Romapāda, courtesans were sent to bring Ṛṣyaśṛṅga. Those courtesans reached the forest where Ṛṣyaśṛṅga stayed and were waiting for an opportunity to meet him. On the other hand Ṛṣyaśṛṅga was always under the care of his father in the āśrama and was contented with that. Right from his birth, he had never seen or even heard of women. He hadn’t even noticed the horses and poultry living just outside the vicinity of his āśrama. He was always engaged in tapas, living on a diet of fruits and roots. The courtesans waited till his father maharṣi Vibhāṇḍaka ventured out of the āśrama and came in decked with strange clothes. Ṛṣyaśṛṅga had never seen the beautiful feminine form. The innocent Ṛṣyaśṛṅga thought that they were some other ṛṣis from a different āśrama! He welcomed them thus.
“O noble ones! Please accept these. Here is the arghya! Here is the pādya! Here are some roots! Here are some fruits!” They accepted all of it and were convinced and happy that Ṛṣyaśṛṅga has been trapped and is at their mercy. “O ṛṣikumāra! Accept these fruits which we have brought! Have a bite!”, they offered him sweets like laḍḍu which they had brought. Ṛṣyaśṛṅga wasn’t even aware of such delicacies. They were delectable! He assumed they were some variety of fruits!
मोदकान् प्रददुस्तस्मै भक्ष्यान्श्च विविधान् शुभान् ।
तानि चास्वाद्य तेजस्वी फलानीति स्म मन्यते ॥
[They gave him sweets and other delicacies. He savoured them all thinking that they were fruits.]
This is the fourth part of the multi-part translation of the Kannada book "Valmiki Munigala Hasya Pravrtti" by Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Dr. N Ranganatha Sharma. Thanks to Dr. Sharada Chaitra for granting us permission to translate this wonderful work. The original in Kannada can be read here