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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Tamil Language & Literature > Kamba Ramayanam > Kamba Ramayanam: A Study  in English - V.V.S.Aiyar

Kamba Ramayanam: A Study in English
V.V.S.Aiyar

  published posthumously, a quarter century after his demise in 1950
 [see also 1. About V.V.S.Aiyar's Kamba Ramayanam -  in  R.A.Padmanabhan's Biography  and
 2. One Hundred Tamils of 20th Century -V.V.S.Aiyar]


"It is not easy to convince the literary world at this late hour of the day that there is, unsuspected by the greater part of it, a Tamil poet who is worthy to take rank with the greatest names in literature. It is, however, my purpose in this book to make an attempt to prove that in the Ramayana of Kamban the world possesses an epic which can challenge comparison not merely with the 'Iliad' and the 'Aeneid', the 'Paradise Lost' and the 'Mahabharata', but with its original itself, namely, the 'Ramayana' of Valmiki. This is not the language of mere patriotic enthusiasm. It is an opinion that has grown slowly with the years and after deep and careful study. And I hope to make the impartial reader rise from the study of this monograph with a conviction of the truth of my contention and with a desire to know more of the poet than what he will see exhibited within the pages of this volume...

I spoke of Valmiki's work as the original of Kamban's Ramayana. But Kamban has not translated Valmiki. He has merely taken the story immortalised by the Aryan sage and, though he has followed it closely enough in all its details, has written an entirely original poem. Bentley said of Pope's Iliad', 'It is a pretty poem, but you must not call it Homer.' Of Kamban's Ramayana we should say reversing the language, it is not Valmiki Ramayana, but it is a grander poem.' 

 ...The reader will have noticed that the Ramayana follows in its natural order the life of the hero from his birth and childhood up to the close of the action which forms its theme. On the other hand, the epics of Europe, as is well known, follow their prototype and example, the 'Iliad', and start the story as near the end as possible, filling in the earlier events by slight allusions as well as by episodic narrative. These epics have an undeniable advantage over the Indian maha kavyas in that their dramatic opening arrests the imagination even at the very commencement of the poem, while the Indian epics have to gather momentum before they are able to carry with them the attention of the modern reader. But our great epic poets have proved one may tell a story in the chronological order and yet write a poem that generations will not willingly let die...

....The build and structure of the Ramayana of Kamban are superb. The poem satisfies the soul with its ampleur, the proportion of its parts, and the art with which the parts are combined into an organic whole...Kamban has shown his genius for the architectonics of poetry both where he follows Valmiki as well as where he departs from his order...

...Now the plot in almost all its details is Valmiki's. But if Kamban takes the situations from Valmiki, he has treated them absolutely in his own way. In the manner of developing the situations, in the gradation by which the climax of each situation is brought about, in the justesse which knows how to bring about all its capabilities out of each situation, we feel the touch of the master artist. In the manner also in which the incidents have been joined together to form the whole, no ordinary skill has been displayed. Every limb of Kamban's story is of course familiar to the student of  Valmiki. But on going through the whole poem of Kamban, one is constrained to exclaim, '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.'...

..In the delineation of character, Kamban stands on a level with the greatest poets in the world. The lines are drawn with a firm hand, and the characters are painted with such accuracy and fullness that from any single sentence, and sometimes even from a single phrase in a speech, one can tell the person speaking without any the least doubt.

Here too, Valmiki has set the stamp on the characters of the Ramayana. But in Kamban's hand they have become much more grand. The student of Valmiki will wonder how his Rama and Bharata, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, Vali and Hanuman, Sita and Kausalya, and the rest could be improved. The fact, however, is there that Kamban's heroes and heroines are beings of a decidedly higher stature than those of Valmiki..."

(1) Rama's description of Sita, as he gave his final instructions to Hanuman before his departure in search of her:

'Even the lotus has its petals pale, 
The moon has got its spot, and where is form 
Of any kind without the slightest fault ? 
But thou wilt see no imperfection mar 
Her shapely form. Great Brahma made the flute 
And vina, parrots, koils, and children's babble,
And then he coped all sweetness with her voice:
But nought could he create to parallel 
Her speech and tone; and can he e'er succeed 
If he should try ev'n now for all his life ? 
Though earth and heaven should search to find its like 
What can approach amrit in taste ? And what 
Can e'er compare with the sweetness of her speech ? 
Thou think'st of honey and amrit: but can 
They e'er delight the ear?...'

(2) Sita calls on Rama to capture the Golden deer:

Pouting her ambrosia-dropping ruby lips 
Like a sweet-tongued parrot young she lisped, 'Then, thou 
Wouldst not thyself pursue and capture him 
For me ?', and left him with tears flowing down 
Her cheeks. But Rama could not bear to see 
Her in a pet, and said, 'My golden love, 
Behold I myself go and shall bring Him in a trice.'

(3) Rama on learning that Ravana has carried away Sita:

He scarce spoke when rushed the blood at once
To Rama's eyes; a storm was in his breath;
A frown settled on his manly brow; the spheres
In terror shook; the stars their orbit fled!...
The worlds lay crouching lest his sudden wrath
Should burst on them; when with a smile that meant
Destruction dire, he thus addressed the bird: 
'Behold the world on its stable axis moves 
And Gods unmoved look on, while in their sight 
A Rakshas carries off a helpless dame, 
And thou art mangled thus in her defence! 
I will destroy them all in one single ruin. 
The stars shall scattering fall! The sun shall burst ! 
The void of heaven shall shimmer with the light 
Of burning spheres! And water, air, and fire 
And all that lives and moves shall soon dissolve 
To their embryon atoms! And my wrath shall end 
The gods themselves in heaven. And thou wilt see 
The circling universe and all that lies 
Beyond, burst like a bubble in a stream!'

(4) A battle scene the fight between Indrajit and Lakshmana:

The world-consuming fire now issued from 
Its loins, and now the whirlwind sweeping clean 
The earth and all that lives on Judgment Day. 
And now the waters of the seas beyond 
The seven did issue forth from its entrails. 
The sky it darkened as with outer darkness, 
The gods in terror fled, and Rishis left 
With whitened face the field; the Vanar host 
Sank in despair upon the ground; and moon 
And sun and all the worlds their orbits swerved 
In fear! Vibhishan trembled at the sight 
And called the holy name aloud of Ram, 
But lion-like Lakshmana only smiled...

(5) Rama's lament when Lakshmana falls a prey to Indrajit's Brahmastra:

'I died not when I heard of our father's death,
Though he a kingdom gave, for in thy love
I learnt to forget his loss: but thee now dead,
What's life to me ? I come, my brother, I come.
But wert thou brother alone? Thou wert to me
A child and father, mother and blessings all:
And thou art gone! And thou art gone without
A farewell said. Alas! have I become
More cruel than thee? For I see thee dead
And still, pretending sorrow, I bear to live.
My heart is made of stone, it breaketh not;
E'en thy loss I shall bear and cling to life!...'

(6) Hanuman's grief at not having discovered Sita in Lanka:

'Alas, that jewelled one is not in this
Extensive fort. Has he, perchance, killed her
Because she would not yield her charms to him ?
Or has he eat her in wicked rage ?
Or haply does he hold her captive close
In another world ? I know not what to think
Or where to search for her?...'

(7) And how he discovers her:

There in the midst of black-skinned Rakshasis 
Seated as a flash of lightning in the bosom 
Of a sable cloud, he saw the sun-flower bright 
That smiles alone to the light of Kaushtubha -
The brilliant sun-like gem on Rama's breast.


About V.V.S.Aiyar's - Kamba Ramayanam in  R.A.Padmanabhan's Biography of V.V.S.Aiyar
 - Copyright Mythili Padmanabhan, 1980

Kamban, "the king of poets in Tamil', is better known outside his Tamil country now than at Aiyar's time. His Ramayana has been translated in part by the eminent son of India, C. Rajagopalachari, and published under UNESCO auspices. But Aiyar's work still continues to hold the field as not only providing a sizeable translation but also a good study of Kamban's work in comparison with Valmiki's and the world's greatest poetical works... 

In the twenty-eight years since its publication, the work has earned the respect of scholars of different persuasions. Today it is accepted as one of the best works of literary criticism on a Tamil subject. Of course, it is easy to make such assertions in a casual speech or article. But, in Aiyar's case, he was making these statements in a serious book with a view to adducing proof to convince the truth of what he was saying. He deals with literary theories about the narration, theories about the build and structure of the story, the place of supernatural elements in epics, and the delineation of the various characters of the story. 

Sketching his canvas wide, he quotes from Greek and English authorities, as well as Sanskrit and Tamil masters of literature. Whatever statement he makes, he tries to substantiate by evidence from the world's literatures. Comparative studies of the characters of other epics are also made to show how Kamban excels. Some four thousand verses from Kamban's Ramayana are rendered into English - mostly in English verse - for the purposes of the book. This task of translating a third of the Ramayana by Kamban is by itself a monumental achievement, leave alone the arguments in support of its greater comparative merit. The vast erudite, multilingual learning and scholarship of Aiyar shows brilliantly on every page. The authorities he has cited for literary dicta include Aristotles Horace, Milton, Boileau, Valmiki, Dandin, Chateaubriand, and Virgil, while those with whom he compares Kamban's Ramayana include the Ramayanas of Valmiki, Tulsidas and Bhaskara (Telugu poet), and the works of Homer, Virgil and Milton. .. 

Aiyar was no chauvinist bragging about his own language and his own poetic hero. He was not rousing a rabble. All his interests were purely literary: it was literary discussion of a high order that he desired. Whether he carried conviction at once or not, he was content to have the literary aspects of Kamban's achievements argued by scholars who could look beyond personal predilections... 

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