The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki, although widely renowned as a kāvya, and, indeed, as the very origin and inspiration of the entire genre of poetry, is also understood to be an itihāsa, a history. It shares, in fact, both non-mutually exclusive genre designations with its sister epic, the Mahābhārata. Nonetheless, the central books of the work, particularly kāṇḍas two through six, in large measure read as much like a romance as they do an account of human military and political history. In this article, I argue that the lack of such history in these books was a concern of the authors of the epic’s seventh and final kāṇḍa, the Uttarakāṇḍa, and that one of the several functions of this important but generally understudied, frequently criticized and often excised book is to remedy this perceived lack. In support of this argument, I compare the treatment of history in the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata and examine a series of largely ignored Uttarakāṇḍa passages in which the authors appear to revise and extend the military and political history of the earlier kāṇḍas in ways suggestive of their reading of the Mahābhārata.
Studies in History – SAGE
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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