Reading Valmiki Ramayana – An Effort At Dwarkamai Vidyapeeth
In 2013, we completed twenty years of an annual event of hosting a complete reading of the popular Hindi SriRamacharitamanasa of Sri Tulasi Das ay Srilakshmi Temple in Ashland. Tulasi Das’s writing is modern and reflects on our society directly. He is a social reformer and a teacher. His material is musical and his word use is simple. Sri Ramacharitamanasa has been a staple resource for immigrants from India wherever they have landed. It has been a source of solace and peace for the Indian immigrants in Boston.
Through the recitation of SriRamacharitamanasa I was introduced to the Sanskrit phrases and prayers leading to learn Sanskrit through my own efforts. Late Swami Sarvagatananda of Ramakrishna Mission helped me by becoming a sounding board to my understanding and late Yogi Dr V.S.Rao helped by encouraging me to translate and to interpret topics on yoga. Many personal friends helped to maintain a regular Sanskrit table at Harvard University while I was lucky to explore the vast collection of Harvard libraries on texts, translations and interpretations.
With my limited knowledge of Sanskrit, I initiated a set of Sanskrit classes at SriLakshmi Temple from 2000 till 2009, to help promote Sanskrit recitation. Some of the students from these classes have taken Sanskrit with serious interest and have made many other initiatives over the years. But I realized that the understanding of the Sanskrit grammar for the sake of speaking or reciting is different than understanding of the Sanskrit literature. This thought and a parting wish of Swami Sarvagatananda led me to pick up the text of Valmiki Ramayana for understanding and interpretation.
Dwarkamai Vidyapeeth, an oasis for Shirdi Sai in Boston, was established in 2010 in Billerica and has been a center of public discourse on faith, religion and literature. Sri Anil Naik and Sri Sandeep Srivastava of the Center helped to procure Valmiki Ramayana books from The Gita Press in India and we started the long journey of reading the Valmiki Ramayana on Sunday, May 5, 2013. Professor Kaladhar Rao, a Sanskrit scholar himself, and Pandit Krishna Bhattar, the Sanskrit teacher and scholar from SriLakshmi Temple, helped initiate the event. http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=9022
An anniversary event of the reading was held on May 4, 2014. All people involved with the project gathered at Dwarkamai to celebrate the epic creation. Through our readings we discovered that Valmiki’s Rama is a poetic characterization, and we enjoyed Valmiki’s literary genius. His description of events and persons makes everything look real and lovable. Knowing that the material was written at least two thousand years ago, one understands how literature can help shape a society. Indian conduct is rooted in Ramayana and every piece of it owes its origin to the words of the great poet. Our anniversary was recorded at the link http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=10172
Valmiki’s Ramayana is composed of seven books called kanda (trunks) in Sanskrit literature. We just completed the second book last week and would enter the third book coming Sunday, February 15. We meet at 3 PM in Dwarkamai and continue our reading till 5:30 PM. About six participants come to the meeting on an average. We read the Sanskrit stanza together and then I explain the words to get to the meaning; we move forward. Sanskrit reading is not difficult but needs concentration. Once the words are deciphered, Sanskrit is the most enjoyable language in the world. If you have good reading skills in Devanagari and have a passion towards story-telling and literature, you would love Valmiki and his creation.
Valmiki whom I read is a pure scholar. He is in search of that perfect man, who can be brave and just, righteous and truthful, strong and compassionate, good to all and always acting in dignity. Valmiki explores such a character and creates the realistic drama. Valmiki’s parameters were true at the time of his writing and they have by default shaped the social thinking of the nation over time. When we look for dignity, we invoke Rama. When we wish to walk in the world with our head high, Valmiki’s Rama is our guide. My respect to literature and Valmiki has increased exponentially after I started reading this majestic material.
On Sunday, we would read about Rama entering the forest of Dandakaranya. We do not know why Dandakaranaya existed and why learned sages preferred to live in the woods there. We would explore who else lived there and how sociology developed. While we would not get into any historical relevance, we would admire the poetic abilities of this great creative spirit who has been the greatest story-teller the world has ever seen. I on behalf of Dwarakami would welcome all interested people to be partners in this expedition. You can locate the schedule of the reading in the Dwarkamai calendar.
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