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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

When its new name of Saketa was still unknown


The

question whether the Greeks were known to the author of our epic is, of course, also of chronological moment. An examination of the poem shows that the Yavanas (Greeks) are only mentioned twice, once in Book I. and once in a canto of Book IV., which Professor Jacobi shows to be an interpolation. The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that the additions to the original poem were made some time after 300 B.C. Professor Weber's assumption of Greek influence in the story of the Ramayana seems to lack foundation. For the tale of the abduction of Sita and the expedition to Lanka for her recovery has no real correspondence with that of the rape of Helen and the Trojan war. Nor is there any sufficient reason to suppose that the account of Rama bending a powerful bow in order to win Sita was borrowed from the adventures of Ulysses. Stories of similar feats of strength for a like object are to be found in the poetry of other nations besides the Greeks, and could easily have arisen independently.

The political aspect of Eastern India as revealed by the Ramayana sheds some additional light on the age of the epic. In the first place, no mention is made of the city of Pataliputra (Patna), which was founded by King Kalacoka (under whom the second Buddhist council was held at Vaicali about 380 B.C.), and which by the time of Megasthenes (300 B.C.) had become the capital of India. Yet Rama is in Book I. (canto 35) described as passing the very spot where

that city stood, and the poet makes a point (in cantos 32-33) of referring to the foundation of a number of cities in Eastern Hindustan, such as Kaucambi, Kanyakubja, and Kampilya, in order to show how far the fame of the Ramayana spread beyond the confines of Kosala, the land of its origin. Had Pataliputra existed at the time, it could not have failed to be mentioned.

It is further a noteworthy fact that the capital of Kosala is in the original Ramayana regularly called Ayodhya, while the Buddhists, Jains, Greeks, and Patanjali always give it the name of Saketa. Now in the last book of the Ramayana we are told that Rama's son, Lava, fixed the seat of his government at Cravasti, a city not mentioned at all in the old part of the epic; and in Buddha's time King Prasenajit of Kosala is known to have reigned at Cravasti. All this points to the conclusion that the original Ramayana was composed when the ancient Ayodhya had not yet been deserted, but was still the chief city of Kosala, when its new name of Saketa was still unknown, and before the seat of government was transferred to Cravasti.

Again, in the old part of Book I., Mithila and Vicala are spoken of as twin cities under separate rulers, while we know that by Buddha's time they had coalesced to the famous city of Vaicali, which was then ruled by an oligarchy.

The political conditions described in the Ramayana indicate the patriarchal rule of kings possessing only a small territory, and never point to the existence of more complex states; while the references of the poets of the Mahabharata to the dominions in Eastern India ruled by a powerful king, Jarasandha, and embracing many lands besides Magadha, reflect the political conditions of the fourth century B.C. The cumulative evidence of the above arguments makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the kernel of the Ramayana was composed before 500 B.C., while the more recent portions were probably not added till the second century B.C. and later.


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