The Kamba Ramayana, also known as Kamba Ramayanam and Ramavataram, is one of the different versions of Ramayana (the story of Rama’s journey). It is a quite well – known Tamil epic written by Kamban (Kambar). Although the majority of the different versions of Ramayana focus on the character of Rama as the story is based upon his journey, there do exit several such versions that do not focus and follow the same story pattern. Different Ramayana narratives are based upon different cultures and traditions. For instance, in several Jaina versions of Ramayana, Rama and his brothers are portrayed as the followers of Jainism. The authors of those Ramayanas have intentionally done that in order to attract more followers towards Jainism. The story of Ramayana has often been moulded as per the author’s wish and the reader’s demand. In The Kamba Ramayana, the author has focussed on several such characters that aren’t much popular in many Ramayana versions, and has tried to portray them in a different light. One such character is Bharata. In Valmiki’s Ramayana and several other Ramayanas, Bharata’s character is only limited to being the brother of Rama. But in The Kamba Ramayana, the author has tried to portray him as a separate and a major character. He has remarkably tried to shed light on Bharata’s personality, mindset and sufferings. In The Kamba Ramayana, Bharata is portrayed as a real hero.
In The Kamba Ramayana, the very first reference to Bharata’s character is “He who was born knowing the essence of the vedas was given the name Bharata” (p.33) This gives a hint about his excellent virtue and his bond with Dharma. On the contrary, the other three brothers including Rama got a nominal intro in The Kamba Ramayana. Rama is introduced as “(the) True Being the elephant invoked in his weary struggle with the crocodile” (p.33), whereas Lakshmana is introduced as “the might immovable” (p.33) and Satrughana as “a pearl incarnate” (p.33) This gives a profound yet an obscure hint to the brothers’ significance in The Kamba Ramayana.
Bharata hasn’t got the stardom he deserves in the majority of the different versions of Ramayana. As the title ‘Ramayana’ itself suggests, Ramayana= ‘Rama’ + ‘Ayana’, i.e., the journey of Rama, so, it is obvious that the authors of Ramayana are always bound to portray the character of Rama as much more glorious, great and gigantic in comparison to the other characters (including both the significant ones and the minor ones). The character of Bharata, in most of the Ramayanas is just a minor one. His struggles and sacrifices have always been overlooked by the different authors of the different versions of Ramayana.But here, in The Kamba Ramayana, the author has tried to show the character of Bharata in a completely different light. He has discussed in detail all the significant details about Bharata’s character. Not even just Bharata, Lakshmana’s character too is discussed in quite great detail in The Kamba Ramayana. On scrutinising Kamba’s account of Ramayana, one gets to notice that it’s not just that the characters of Ramayana (Rama’s journey) that are discussed in great detail and shown as major ones in Valmiki’s Ramayana are the only noteworthy personalities, but several such characters that are overlooked cum ignored by Valmiki do deserve grand mentions. Bharata is one such example.
What do we (people in general, who know the basic story of Ramayana) know about Bharata’s character? Well, after having read the abridged version of Ramayana as a mandatory text in school, or after listening to its story as a folk tale or bedtime story from one’s parents or grandparents, or after watching Ramayana as a mythological series or movie, all one gets to know about Bharata’s character is that Bharata is one of the three brothers of Rama, who gets to rule the kingdom because of his mother Kaikeyi’s deceitful plotting, involving the exploitation of Dasaratha through the boons. But out of his limitless love and affection for his brother Rama, Bharata rejects the kingdom and gets angry on his mother. He then goes to convince his brother who was dwelling in the forest, to return to his kingdom and accept to rule it as the king. But Rama refuses it, and orders Bharata to rule it in his absence. Bharata, then takes Rama’s sandals along with him, and keeps them on the throne of Ayodhya, and earnestly waits for the fourteen years of Rama’s exile to get over, so that he can see Rama happily ruling the kingdom after the exile. That’s all what people generally know about Bharata’s character. Some even detest his character because of his mother’s deeds. This is because they believe that he is in a way responsible for the exile of their beloved Lord Rama. Ridiculous, no?
But has one ever tried to wonder that is Bharata’s character only limited to these few things & episodes? Has a reader, listener or viewer of Ramayana ever tried to go into the depths of Bharata’s anguishes, sufferings and state of helplessness? Being a reader, isn’t it our duty to ponder over all the possible aspects of a text?
Whatever happened with Rama due to the cunning plotting of Kaikeyi and Kuni, as Rama himself said, is just an outcome of his past deeds of shooting mud balls at the hunchback. It has nothing to do with Bharata. But Bharata did suffer for no fault of his own. He was disowned by his father, deprived of his right to do the last rites of Dasaratha, became a subject of loath among the people of Ayodhya. But what was his fault? He wasn’t even present when his mother played her sinful schemes. It was all just a game of fate. Dasaratha asked him to go and spend some days with his grandfather. He said, “Dear son, your grandfather, king of Kekaya, is most desirous of seeing you. So, my handsome boy, you must go and spend sometime with him.” (p.55) But in The Kamba Ramayana, the author gives a hint to Bharata’s unwillingness to go, as the author comments, “Thus bidden, Bharata went to Rama, and with his blessings, reluctantly left, taking only his body to the Kekaya capital, leaving his soul behind.” (p.55) The author further states, “Many things happened thereafter, which shall be told by and by.” (p.55)
In The Kamba Ramayana, Bharata is often regarded as 1000 times and a crore times greater than Rama. Even Kausalya praises him and says, “O prince beyond all praise, can even a thousand Ramas equal you?” (p.83) But Bharata himself always worships his elder brother Rama, and always calls him “Dharma personified”.
One may argue that why and how Bharata can be regarded as more superior than Rama as per the narrative of The Kamba Ramayana. Well, a clear – cut answer to this is that Rama was a God, and Gods are known for their selflessness, kindness and morals. But such qualities are rare to find in a human being. And, if a human possesses them, then he is no less than a God. Here, one may argue that Rama was merely a man (who wasn’t any God), and talk about the flaws in his character, when in The Kamba Ramayana, he behaves so much in a humanely manner by denying to accept Sita after killing Ravana.
He eyes her “like an angry serpent” (p.266) and says, “You stayed content in that sinner’s city, enjoying your food and drink. Your good name was gone but you refused to die. How dared you think I’d be glad to have you back? I didn’t come to Lanka, bridge the sea, and uproot the rakshasa race and destroy all my enemies in order to rescue you. It was but to save myself from being known forever as one who spared my wife’s abductor.” (p.266) He further insults Sita (the epitome of chastity) by saying, “Solely because of the birth of one like you, womanhood, dignity, high birth, chastity, virtuous conduct, propriety and truth have all been destroyed, like the fame of a king without generosity.” (p.266)
But it is at this point when Sita enters the fire and proves to be chaste as “the flames went white as cotton” (p.267), when Brahma decides to tell Rama about his true identity. The Gods tell Rama, “You are Vedanta’s ultimate Truth. There is none greater than you. Prakriti, the oldest of things, and vikriti its offspring, and jivaatma, that is above all else and rare to realize—you are all these. This enormous world, this great illusion, is what you have created. The vedas without beginning or end are crowned by the upanishads. And what the upanishads proclaim as the Supreme One, the goal and aim, is none else but you. O Primal One, you are the sun who causes day, noon and night, in a manner perceptible to all. In the same way, you create the world through me as your agent. You then preserve it as Vishnu and, finally, as Siva, you destroy it.” (p.268) They further tell him, “Our wealth and power had inflated our pride and the rakshasas brought us down, making us flee in cruel wars. It was then that in desperation we sought your help. You entered a human womb, only for our sake.” (p.268) So here, it gets justified that Rama was a God. Although he wasn’t aware of his true identity, the qualities a God possesses were always there in him. No matter his awareness regarding being a God wasn’t there on surface in his conscience, yet it was inherent in his soul. So, his act of easily being ready to rule the kingdom on Dasaratha’s request, and then to give it up in an instant for Bharata, and to move to the forests for an exile of twice seven years, is no act of grandeur as a God is always expected to behave in such a manner. But for a mere man like Bharata to give up the kingdom he got, and to abandon all the comforts and luxuries to live an ascetic’s life is a real great act. To give up the kingdom he got due to his mother’s deceit is fine, but there was no need for Bharata to live the way Rama was living in exile.
When Rama after completing the exile, on his way to return to Ayodhya stops at Chitrakuta at Sage Bharadwaja’s dwelling, Sage Bharadwaja tells him, “And I must tell you how your noble brother Bharata has been living all these years as your proxy ruler. Berating his fate, perplexed at the unwanted honour thrust on him, he barely lives, more an ascetic than a king. Knowing no quarter except the south, a stranger to all pleasures, abjuring meat and sleeping on grass, he never entered the city of Ayodhya after you left. He lives in Nandigram, reciting your name day and night, the very picture of suffering.” (p.270-271) Apart from this, in The Kamba Ramayana, Bharata has directly been compared to “love”. When Kamba narrates about what happened in the invincible city of Ayodhya during the fourteen years of his exile, he says, “That formless and abstract thing called love had taken concrete shape in the form of Bharata! Eyes streaming whenever he thought of his elder brother in the forest, his bones melted by sorrow, he lived like an ascetic, a king only in name. Though food was available in plenty, he only ate what a forest would yield.” (p.271)
Apart from this, to despise and curse one’s own mother isn’t easy for anyone (especially for a virtuous man). From the very moment Bharata got to know about Kaikeyi’s doings from her own mouth, he started to detest her very existence. She tells him, “Through boons I’d obtained long ago, I sent the son to the forest. And by doing so, I got the kingdom for you. Unable to bear this shock, the king gave up his life.” (p.77) On hearing this, Bharata’s eyes shed blood. In The Kamba Ramayana, the author states, “A lion enraged, he spared the cruel queen not because she was his mother. It was for fear of invoking Rama’s disapproval that he decided merely to chastise her.” (p.78) In a thunderous tone, he says, “Your fell plot made my father die and my brother turn into a sage! I have heard this from you and yet not torn your mouth!” (p.78) He further says, “A king is to die for a thoughtless word, a hero is to give up this world and Bharata is to rule a world thus got! Can there be a more perverted Dharma than this?” (p.78).
Unable to bear his mother’s deceit, he showers all his wrath on her. He says, “You were a snake the valorous king lodged in his house and you struck at his root under cover of a boon…You are not a disease that killed your husband and departed with him. You are a demon that survives his death. You deserve to die. You are indeed my mother who fed me milk and deathless shame…You ate up alive the ever-true king and won through a boon, not just a kingdom, but eternal shame.” (p.78) He even advices her to kill herself to reduce her sins a little bit. He says, “Let me give you a piece of advice. Give up the life I have spared…There is no other way but this to salvage your name.” (p.78)
Although it was the “venomous woman” (Kaikeyi) who was responsible for everything, it was Bharata who felt guilty for the cruel tragic events. He says to Kaikeyi, “Through your murderous mouth I have killed my father. More than that, I’ve sent my brother into exile. If I still stay here and rule this land, it will be not your sin but forever mine.” (p.78) He abandons her and declares, “I will not stay with a sinner whose wickedness in words I can’t describe. To rid my sorrow, I shall go and fall at pure Kausalya’s golden feet.” (p.79)
Not only did Bharata abuse his mother, but he abuses his very own self. He calls himself ‘a blot’, ‘a heartless wretch’ and ‘a butcher’. His grief elevates even more when he rises to perform the obsequies of Dasaratha, but gets to know that due to his mother’s wickedness, his father disowned him before he died. On being asked by Guhan on Bharata’s journey to get back Rama, he introduces Kaikeyi as “the mother of woes, the foster mother of all blame, the one who carried me in her sinful womb a long, long while, so that I may pine and waste away for ever. If you must know the only one whose face is untroubled, let me introduce her to you—she is my mother.” (p.85) Here also, Bharata’s hatred and disgust over his sinful mother is quite evident.
If Rama hadn’t strictly ordered Bharata to rule the kingdom, then he certainly wouldn’t have agreed to do so. Rama’s words, “While I stay in the forest for fourteen years, you rule the kingdom given to you, and thus preserve Truth. This is my command to you.” (p.89) compelled Bharata to rule on his behalf. But that rule was the bitterest time of Bharata’s life. Every single moment, he wilted in sorrow. He counted every second, and eagerly waited for the fourteen torturous years of not only Rama’s but his own exile to get over. For him, the thought of his brother living in exile was his own exile, as exile isn’t necessarily a physical thing; it may be mental too.
When, at the end of fourteen years, Hanuman goes to Bharata to inform him that Rama is on his way to return to Ayodhya, he gets surprised on seeing that Bharata had already arranged fire to end his life. He was about to offer himself to the flames, when Hanuman stops him and says, “thirteen naazhikais remain yet for the prescribed time to elapse” (p.272). Here, one may notice that whenever one is waiting for something to happen or someone to come after a long period of time, then it’s absolutely normal that we generally wait for 1-2 days, thinking it to be a delay caused due to some genuine reason, emergency, etc. But Bharata, instead of giving himself an excuse to wait more for a day or two, decides to end his life even before his exact prescribed time was over. He could’ve assumed that Rama got stuck somewhere, or is a little late due to the long distance, or forgot the exact day on which he was supposed to return, but he chooses to keep his word. He once again proves that the words spoken for him, “without you, Dharma too ceases to exist” (p.272) are absolutely correct.
In conclusion, it can be said Bharata indeed is the real hero of The Kamba Ramayana. Although his character remains unrecognized, there exist a plethora of instances in The Kamba Ramayana which highlight and prove the significance of his character. Although Bharata was a mere man, the qualities he possessed even surpass the qualities of the Primal Lord, Rama. In The Kamba Ramayana, Rama’s act of insulting Sita and accusing her of enjoying her life in Lanka without even inquiring from others about her lifestyle makes the feminist critics detest his very character. Throughout the whole The Kamba Ramayana text, he behaves in a very balanced and composed way, but in the end after killing Ravana, he all of a sudden behaves like a completely different man. He says to Sita that he hasn’t fought the war to rescue her. But there are instances when before and even during the war, he was lamenting over the loss of his wife and was missing her. He always said that he’s just waiting for the day when he’ll get her back. But his sudden change of character stuns the readers. The reader is left baffled, and feels unable to figure out that what has caused Rama to think and behave in such a manner. But it’s all blurred. There’s no such answer available in The Kamba Ramayana. On the contrary, in the case of Bharata, there’s no instance in The Kamba Ramayana which makes the reader hate Bharata or find any faults in his character. One is forced to feel pity over his pathetic situation. Because of his genuineness and selflessness, Bharata makes the reader look at his character with great reverence. So, it can be said that Bharata is an extremely important part of The Kamba Ramayana, and it won’t be wrong to consider him as a real hero.