The Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya dispute has been declared. The judgment has ruled that Muslims will be provided with an alternate piece of land for a Mosque while the Ram Janambhoomi has been awarded to the proponents of a Bhavya Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.
In the aftermath of the verdict, the liberals had a meltdown on social media. It was only to be expected as they mocked the idea of a Ram Mandir for years. To cope with their misery, liberals resorted to their usual narratives on social media. One that they have relied on extensively in recent years is the much exaggerated ‘North-South divide’. Journalist and lawyer Nikhil Kanekal suggested that South Indians are wondering today who is Ram Lalla.
It is not surprising that a liberal isn’t aware of the extent of Rama’s popularity in the southern regions of the country. As elaborated by Historian Meenakshi Jain in her book ‘Rama & Ayodhya’, Ram has always been a revered figure in South India and stalwarts of the Ramayana have composed the Ramayana in their respective languages centuries ago. In this article, we shall elaborate on the pervasiveness of devotion towards Ram in South India.
1. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
There are three major compositions of the Ramayana in the Telugu language. The oldest was by Chakrapani Ranganatha, which is sometimes attributed to Gona Buddha Reddi, in the 13th century. It was called the Ranganatha Ramayanam and was the first complete Ramayana to be composed in the indigenous metre and was sung widely. The second, composed around the same time as the predecessor, was written by Hulakki Bhaskara and was called the Bhaskara Ramayanam. The third was composed by the poetess Molla from the potter community in the 14th or the 15th century. It was called Molla Ramayanam and it enjoyed a great popularity among the people.
Various other Ramayanas have been lost to the tides of time. Ramakatha by Errana or Errapregada, Annamayya Ramayanam, Ramayanas by Koravi Satyanarayana and Chitrakavi Ananta Kavi and Raghunatha Ramayana by the rule of Tanjore, Raghunatha Nayaka are either no longer available at all or not available in their complete form. The Uttara Kanda, a sequel to the story of Ranganatha Ramayanam, was composed by the sons of Buddha Reddi.
2. Tamil Nadu
Ram finds mention in the earliest of Tamil compositions: The Sangam Literature. The Purananuru, the Ahananuru and the Paripadal collection of verses mention various incidents of the Ramayana. The post-Sangam classics, Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai, alluded to incidents from the Ramayana.
In the 7th and 8th centuries, Ram became very popular due to the Alvar and Nayannar saints. However, the earliest exclusivist devotion to Ram is found in a hymn of Nammalvar (9th century), the son of a Pandya chieftain. One of the most ardent devotees of Ram, Kulashekhara Alvar, who lived in the first half of the 9th century, is credited with “the foundation of Ram-worship in Tamilnad”. His Perumal Tirumoli confirmed that the Uttara Kanda was widely known in Tamil Nadu by the 8th century.
However, it’s speculated that a complete Ramayana had already been composed before the 8th century as the famous poet, Perundevanar, referred to Shri Ramakatha and he lived in the 9th century. The Yapparunkalavriti, dated to 9th century, spoke of “Ramayana and Puranasagara” composed in the Tamil Venba metre.
The most well known Tamil rendition came from Kampan, the “emperor of poets”, who is believed to have lived sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries. It is considered the first adaptation of the Epic in languages other than Sanskrit and Prakrit and also the first devotional version of the Ramayana in the various languages in the country that are still living. Kampan considered Rama “a Tamil hero, a generous giver and a ruthless destroyer of foes”. According to him, Rama was on a “mission to root out evil, sustain the good and bring release to all living beings”.
The great Tamil dynasties, the Pallavas, Cholas and Pandyas, are known to have made endowments for the public exposition of the great Hindu Epic as well. In addition to this, several Jain versions of the Ramayana were composed in Tamil during the medieval era.
It is not precisely known when the Ramayana tradition was established in Kerala. However, it is a popular belief that Parshuram retrieved the land from the sea. Moreover, the Malayalam language is believed to have evolved sometime around the mid-ninth century. Therefore, no Malayalam work has been derived thus far prior to the 12th century.
Ramcharitam by Cheraman, who is identified with a king of Travancore but on insufficient grounds, is considered the earliest Malayalam rendition of the Ramayana. It is believed to have been composed in the pattu genre a little later than Kampan’s version. Rama Kannassa Ramayana, composed from a Bhakti perspective, was composed by Rama Panikkar sometime in the 14th or 15th century.
Ayyipilla Asan’s Ramakathapattu came after Panikkar’s work towards the end of the 15h century. The Ramayana Champu is attributed to Punam Namputiri who is believed to have lived in the second half of the 15th century. The best known, however, is Ezuttaccan’s Attiyatuma Ramayanam, based on Adhyatma Ramayana, in the 16th century.
Kavirajamarga by Nripatunga in the 9th century is the earliest available literary composition in Kannada and it has references to earlier poets in addition to excerpts from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The earliest Ramayana in Kannada, however, was the Jain Chavundaraya Purana which is believed to have been composed in the 10th century.
Sometime in the 11th or 12th century, poet Nagachandra composed the Pampa Ramayana, also known as the Ramachandra-charita Purana. Narahari’s Rama Katha, based largely on the Valmiki Ramayana, was the most important Kannada Ramayana during the Vijayanagara era. In the early 17th century, Virupaksha was commissioned to compose the Valmiki Ramayana in prose by Chamaraja, the Wodeyar King. It was called the Chamarajakoti Vani Vilasa Ramayana.