Ramacharitam, The

Ramacharitam, The is a unique Sanskrit kavya written by Sandhyakar Nandi and its importance lies in the fact that it throws light on the condition of Bengal in the period between the second half of the 11th and the first half of the 12th century AD. The Ramacharitam is the only Sanskrit text, composed in Bengal by a poet of varendra (North Bengal), which had a contemporary historical event as its main theme. As such it is considered to be an authentic source for the history of the late Pala period.

The author enjoyed the patronage of the last known Pala king Madanapala (c 1143-1162 AD) and ended his kavya with the wish for a long life of the king. His father Prajapati Nandi was the Sandhivigrahika (Minister of Peace and War) of ramapala (c 1082-1124 AD) and hailed from the village of Brhadvatu near the city of Pundravardhanapura (possibly same as Pundranagara).

The kavya contains 215 verses (though the Buddhist scribe, Shilachandra mentions 220 verses) including the 20 verse appendix, Kaviprashasti. The verses were composed in a rare Sanskrit figure of speech called shlesa (double en tendre) providing two different meaning simultaneously by play of words. Read one way it gives the well-known story of the Ramayana and the other way it gives the history of Ramapala of the Pala dynasty of Bengal. The second meaning could only be understood from the prose commentary (tika) in one of the two manuscripts found so far, which, however, ends with the 35th verse of the second canto. As a result it is difficult to reconstruct the second meaning of the last 14 verses of the second and the 48 verses each of the third and fourth canto.

Sandhyakara Nandi dealt with the early history of the Palas in only 10 verses, and then dwelt on his main theme in the rest of the text. He equates the story of Ramapala with the story of the epic figure Rama. The loss of Varendra to the Kaivarta chief Divya (Divyoka) was equated with the loss of Sita to Ravana and her retrieval by Rama has been equated with the reoccupation of Varendra by Ramapala. Then he continued the history of the Pala kings to the beginning of Madanapala's reign in the last two cantos of the text. An appendix has been added, Kaviprashasti, in which the poet calls himself Kalikalavalmiki (Valmiki of the Kali age) and gives his genealogy and explains the nature and style of his work.

Historians are indebted to this work mainly for the history of the varendra rebellion that took place during the reign of Mahipala II, which resulted in the loss of Varendra to the Kaivarta chief Divya, and its reoccupation by Ramapala. It is an important source for Ramapala, who being the central figure of the kavya got elaborate treatment. Nandi carried his narration to the initial years of Madanapala's reign. However, Nandi's partisan treatment of his hero Ramapala is apparent, and one has to be cautious in deducing proper history from panegyric narration of the kavya.

The value of the Ramacharitam also lies in the detailed description of Varendra provided in the first 18 verses of the third canto. The flora and fauna of Varendra, situated in between the Ganges (on the west) and the Karatoya (on the east), palaces and gardens, places of pilgrimage, cities (specially Ramavati) and institutions (specially Jagaddala Mahavihara) have been recorded, though in hyperbolic terms.

This is the only important literary evidence for the history of ancient or early medieval Bengal, and, being a contemporary work, it is of immense value for the reconstruction of the history of the period covered by it.

haraprasad shastri discovered a palm-leaf manuscript of the kavya and published its text in 1910. Subsequently two more editions with English and Bangla translations were published respectively in 1939 and 1953. [AM Chowdhury]

Bibliography RC Majumdar et al (ed), Ramacarita, Rajshahi, 1939; Radhagovinda Basak (Rev. edn), Ramacaritam of Sandhyakaranandin, Calcutta, 1969.