Dr. Macdonell was Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University who in 1907 persuaded Chandra Shamsher Rana the PM of Nepal to donate a huge collection of Manuscripts collected from all over India.
This is the Chand Shamsher collection at Bodelain library at Oxford. MdcDonell also persuaded Balamukunda Sharma Malaviya penname Karmkandin (an ardent collector) to donate his collection of thousands of manuscripts (called Max Mueller collection now) as well as Jayaram Kala, Ganesrama Vyasa, Raghunath Pusalkar Narahari and other collectors.
Shamsher collection is alone 6330 volumes and one of largest collection of Sanskrit manuscripts to leave India.
800 of them are Mahabharatas, Many ramayanas, atleast 26 variants of Valmiki Ramayana and many commentaries and Puranas as well.
Lot of this was studied to create the Critical edition of Valimiki Ramayana by Oriental Institute of Baroda.
The Mahabharata had eight main recessions and 40 versions in those 8 scripts.
Ramayana has 6 major recessions Sh, N, V, B, D, S.
I will get to the strange names later. Well, it is simple, each variant was marked and given an identity number and alphabets were used. For example, if they have 4 copies of V, then they would be termed V1 through V4.
Unlike Mahabharata, the original was penned by Vyas and Vyas only. Vaishampayana, Narada, Paila, Devala, Jaimini may have presented variants but based on Vyas.
Ramayana cannot claim that uniformity. It was written by many sages in the past. Valmiki himself wrote it ahead of Rama’s events based on story told by Siva to Parvati. (or told by Brahma to him, there are variations on his source also.)
Though there are many Ramayanas, the one penned by Valmiki is said to be the earliest. It was written in the Treta Yuga at that. Original was written, atleast some 300 years before Mahabharata if not more. The text as available to us now consists of 24,253 verses and is divided into seven kandas or Books. Each kanda is subdivided into sargas or chapters (total number of sargas being 647) and these comprise shlokas or verses. Though the work is almost entirely in the shloka or the anustubh metre, bigger metres like indravajra or upendravajra have also been employed.
Second more important point is that, Ramayana became the national epic because of its use in combating the Huna invasions around 400 AD. That catapulted Rama to prominence and he has been our Purushottama since then. Ramayana was rewritten then and distributed widely so the language Sanskrit in it would differ from original language that Valmiki employed. Panini’s ashthadhyayi fixed the language in 3rd cen BC atleast but Ramayana was written some 1500 years anterior to it and language would have changed a lot. The language we have again points us that Ramayana we have was copy of Valmiki copied in 400 AD and thereabout.
Three paathas or recensions of the Valmiki Ramayana have been discovered so far: the Daksinatya (southern), the Gaudiya (Bengali) and the Vayavya (north-western).
The Southern Recension version tells us about the total size of the poem (24,000 slokas in 500 [or 600,depending upon version] Sargas divided into 6 or 7 kandas whereas the Northern Recension version goes into more details and gives us a breakdown of the number of sargas per kanda and number of slokas per sarga. Let’s call this sloka the “list of contents”.
Now here’s the problem: the actual count does not match up with the list of contents in any recension. They are greater than the described figures. Further, the kanda-by-kanda and sarga-by-sarga breakdown provided in the Northern Recension versions of the list of contents don’t even add up to 500 [or 600] sargas and 24,000 slokas (they add up to bigger figures)! In other words, even the mathematics of the list of contents provided in the Northern Recensions are erroneous, forget the actual count. There is no version available where the counts and descriptions match up perfectly.
This is due to the fact that the manuscripts were passed down from generation to generation by manual copying and errors and interpolations crept in, resulting in bloated, confusing texts. This is why the commentaries are important in trying to figure out which slokas/sargas could be interpolations.
There are some well-known commentaries on the Valmiki Ramayana in Sanskrit. They also support the various recessions and copies.
The recensions also vary in the division of kandas and sargas as well as the sequence of slokas in some cases. There are entire sargas in a recension not found in the others. One sarga in a recension might be split up into multiple sargas in another and vice versa. Where one kanda ends and another begins also varies.
The Critical Edition is actually much shorter than the individual recensions because, as I mentioned earlier, they tried to reconstruct an authentic version by removing what they considered unsupported or interpolated verses from the Southern Recension which they consider the least distorted. The size of the Critical Edition is 606 sargas in about 19,100 slokas. Did they discard some slokas they shouldn’t have? Did they include some slokas they shouldn’t have? These questions are being debated even today.
By the way, about a third of each recension is unique to itself. So if we count the common slokas only once, the total number of slokas in all the recensions adds up to around 40,000 – 50,000.
To give you an idea of the situation, when the Oriental Insitute (Baroda) started on their Critical Edition project, they first compiled a list of 2,500 known manuscripts! These manuscipts are spread all over the subcontinent and not easy to obtain (they belong to various institutions and private owners). They sent out an appeal for the loan of these manuscripts. They also asked information about uncatalogued manuscripts. Yes, there are even more manuscripts: scholars are of the opinion that the total number far exceeds 2,500! Ultimately they obtained more than 200 manuscripts and ended up using 231 for the constituted text of the Critical Edition. Their quest to continually improve the presentation of the holy work of Valmiki continues.
The influence of the Ramayana of Valmiki has been so powerful and deep that quite a few other Ramayanas have come into existence in course of time, thereby enriching our Ramayana literature. Of these, mention must be made of the Adhyatma Ramayana (4200 verses) considered to be a part of the Brahmanda Purana. Cast in the form of a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati, the Adhyatma Ramayana is a highly devotional piece of work and contains quite a few philosophical discourses including the well known Ramagita.
Ananda Ramayana (12,000 verses), is another popular work. It is also in the form of a dialogue, first between Parvati and Shiva, and later between Ramadasa and his disciple Visnudasa. This work contains a number of stories popular even now, such as those of Gokarna, the famous pilgrimage centre in Karnataka and the of the raksasa brothers Ahiravana and Mahiravana of the nether world who tried to help Ravana.
Then there are some other Ramayanas, also in Sanskrit, like the Adbhuta Ramayana (1355 verses) the Yogavasistha Ramayana (32,000 verses), the Tattvasangraha Ramayana and the Sangraha Ramayana.
The story of Rama, either in its original form as depicted by Valmiki in his Ramayana, or in a metamorphosed form, has travelled widely outside India. The following list of works – by no means exhaustive – gives an idea of this movement: Ramayana Kakawin (Javanese) Hikayat Seri Rama (Malaysian) Ramakien (Thai)
Pha Lak Pha Lam and Khvay Thuaraphi (Laos) Hobutsushu (Japanese) Ramasvamedha (Nepali) Janakiharana (Sinhalese).
I will get to them later.
Ramayana Critical edition states several things which were raised by the people at the forum.
Large portions of Uttarkand are probably much later and rewritten by someone else.
Ramayana in Mahabharata
There is no doubt that Rama preceded Krishna by 13 to 30 generations depending on accuracy of the Puranic lists you believe in. Valmiki already wrote Ramayana before Veda Vyas ever wrote Mahabharata. But Ramayana we have now is written much after Mahabharata.
The Ramayana as we stated before was revived as an Epic by Gupta dynasty in around 400 AD and rewritten, the Pauranic stories and the Pauranik names in the Ramayana are written based on Puranas from around 400 AD and not the original Puranas. The dharmashastras were started to be written much earlier but we have copies from 500 BC onwards and thus, the dharma shastra references in Ramayana are not the original older references but later Dharma shastra references from around 1st cen AD.
That is why the Pauranika and philosophical references were taken out of Ramayana and consolidated in the Yoga-Vashishtha, a text twice the size of Ramayana. It is also called Vashishtha Ramayana. Again, we have access to a much later version of that and I myself have had three copies of it which have differences in contents if not in metaphysics. Imagine a Yoga Vyasa taking out the Pauranika stories from Mahabharata would leave it a leaner 48K to 60K verse version creating a separate 54-60K Yoga Vyasa version.
In Mahabharata, we have had the occasion of Ramayana being told to Pandavas on various situations:
- Meeting Markandeya just after meeting Krishna in 1st year of Vanavasa.
- Meeting Valmiki during teerthayatra. From the original author himself!!
- Lomasha’s description of every other part of Ramayana during teertha Yatra including Kaushiki Mahamatya, Sagara Mahamatya, Rishyashringa Mahamatya, Gangasagara, Parasurama.
- Hanuman secretly meets Bhima and tells him a succint Mahabharata.
- Marakandeya returns in 10th year of Vanavasa and explains Balamukunda and lot of topics from Yoga Vashishtha.
- Ramopakhyan told by Marakandeya to Yudhishthara in 12th year after Jayadratha incident.
Only portions of succinct Hanuman narrative survive as did Ramopakhyana. Hanuman and Krishna both are on record narrating Ramayana and Mahabharata war and very few sections of their narratives have actually survived is more because of later sectarian and maybe non-hindu violence against the Epics.
It is literally impossible to argue against the words of the Lord and Hanuman themselves so later sectarian editors of different hues just removed their descriptions.
By the way, Mahabharata Ramopakhyan narratives are older than the Ramayana we have now, going by language used.