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A Question of Age

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

My neighbour was trying to persuade me to send my ten year-old son along with his family for a trip to Mumbai, during vacation. And I was extremely reluctant to send the boy along, for I felt that he was not old enough to travel without his parents. He could not look after his own needs adequately, I told my neighbour. Only my wife and I knew what an effort it took for us to get him up from bed in time, to have him finish his morning ablutions and Sandhyavandanams in time for getting ready for school. And meal times were really horrid ones, with his refusing to eat anything nutritious, especially abhorring wholesome, healthy milk, cereals, greens and fruits. With all this, how could I think of sending the boy with neighbours, whose concern for his welfare would no doubt be adequate, but could never substitute that of parents?

The matter was given considerable thought and ultimately it was decided that the Mumbai trip with neighbours should be postponed by at least a couple of years. Such then, was my concern in parting with my son, even for the harmless purpose of a pleasure trip to a metropolis.


Imagine, then, what would have been the concern of Dasaratha, who was called upon to dispatch his illustrious son to the jungle along with Visvaamitra, that too for the purpose of combating and destroying wicked asuras! Whither the battle-hardened asuras and whither the tender Rama, untutored in the ways of war and whose face still smelt of the milk He was consuming! The concern of Dasaratha was eminently justified on another count too. Rama was the Prince of Ayodhya, used to the comforts of the palace and the rigours of jungle life were yet unknown to Him (though He was to spend 14 long years in the forests before long). If He were to be sent with Visvaamitra, the spartan Rishi, who cared little for his own comforts, would hardly ensure that Rama had the creature comforts He was used to. All these apprehensions plagued Dasaratha and he was on the threshold of refusing to send Rama with the Rishi for protecting the latter?s Yagya or for any other purpose whatsoever.

Dasaratha’s plaintive words addressed to the Rishi bring forth in full measure a parent?s anxiety in sending his beloved son with a practical stranger, bound on a dangerous mission?the son who was born as the result of long years of penance and the performance of the difficult Putrakaameshti:

“Oona shodasa varsha: asou Ramo raajeeva lochana:
Na yuddha yogyataam asya pasyaami saha raakshasai:”

“My Rama is a mere infant ? He has not even completed sixteen. How then could He be equal to battling with terrible raakshasaas?? enquires the Emperor of Visvaamitra. It is obvious that Dasaratha is driven solely by putra vaatsalyam, ignorant of the unmatched prowess of the Paramatma who is born as his son, despite being reminded of Rama?s exalted stature by both Visvaamitra and Vasishtta. The father?s anxiety is entirely understandable. Dasaratha, a veteran of numerous battles, knows well the prowess and war power of raakshasaas and is hence loathe to sending his son, who is just into His teens, to an encounter with the cruelest of raakshasas like Maareecha, Subaahu, et al. Dasaratha considers Rama so infantile that the latter smells yet of milk from the mother’s breast? ‘Paal manam maaraada baalakan’ as they say in Tamizh. Muraari Kavi in his version of the Ramayanam, brings this out with the beautiful words, ‘Ksheera kanttascha Raamabhadra:’

“Oona shodasa varshosou” says Dasaratha, complaining that Rama is not even sixteen, under sixteen to be precise in translation. What is so significant about sixteen years of age? According to Shastras, one who is yet to complete 16 is yet an infant and unfit to engage in worldly activities, being considered immature and incapable of holding his own against the outside world. Such a person is therefore to be under the tutelage and supervision of an adult, mostly the parent. Maharshi Manu lays this down by calling an under-sixteen a “Baala:” (infant)”Baala aashodasaat varshaat pougandascha iti keertyate”. When He is yet to cross the sixteen year deadline which would promote Him to the stage of an adult, how can Rama be expected to battle against asuraas? This was Dasaratha’s legitimate argument. (Even the English Mercantile law, the precursor of the Indian Contract Act, tells us that one who is under eighteen is a minor and is disqualified into entering into any binding financial transactions). So, by all accounts, one who is under sixteen is not expected to engage in any major civil transactions, leave alone go to battle against hardened criminals like rakshasaas.

However, we shall leave aside the main issue of whether or not Rama was fit to be sent on a mission of battle with raakshasaas. We shall consider only a portion of the aforesaid slokam, that relating to Rama?s age at the time of Dasaratha?s dilemma.

How old was Rama when we went with Visvaamitra for Yagya rakshanam? This is the real question we would like to deal with here. Why should the question at all crop up? Is it not clear from Dasaratha?s statement that Rama was nearing sixteen (“Oona” refers to something just falling short of the target?thus, ?Oona shodasa varsha:? would refer to someone about to complete sixteen, but still short of it somewhat). What then is the need to go into the matter at all?

Had Dasaratha’s been the only statement on Rama’s age at the relevant period, there would be no problem. However, we find Sri Mythily telling Ravana, when he comes in the garb of a sanyaasi, that Her husband was 25 (“Bhartaa mama mahaa tejaa vayasaa pancha vimsaka:”) when He was banished to the forests, while She Herself was 18 (“Ashtaadasa hi varshaani mama janmani ganyate”). While giving a brief introduction of Herself and Her family, Sita Piraatti tells the Raavana sanyaasi that She had spent twelve blissful years at Ayodhya after marriage (“Samaa dvaadasa tatraaham Raaghavasya nivesane”), before being banished to the forest by Kaikeyi. If Dasaratha’s words were correct and Rama was indeed slightly less than 16 when He went with Visvaamitra first for protecting the yagyam and thereafter to Mithila for wedding Piraatti, and the Princess of Mithila had spent 12 years at Ayodhya after marriage before leaving for the jungle, it would make Rama (16+12) 28 years of age when they left for vanavaasam and not 25 as Sita says.

If this sounds like a Chinese puzzle, let me put it more clearly:

1. According to Dasaratha, Rama is slightly less than 16 at the time of accompanying Visvaamitra. Since Rama’s marriage takes place almost immediately after Yaaga samrakshanam, Rama could not have been much older and must have been either less than sixteen or just sixteen.

2. If Sita married Rama when the latter was 16 and spent 12 years at Ayodhya before leaving for the forests at the instance of Kaikeyi, then Rama must have been 28 when He left Ayodhya for vanavaasam.

3. This conflicts with Sita’s statement that Rama was 25 and She Herself 18 at the time. (An interesting inference from Her statement is that Sita married Raghava when she was 6 and that the difference in their ages was 7)

4. To add to the confusion, there is one more version, this too from a reliable source, that Rama was 17 when He left for the forests due to Kaikeyi’s machinations. Sri Kousalya tells Rama, when He goes to take leave of her, that she had been waiting all these seventeen years since His birth, looking forward to an end to her misery?

“Dasa sapta cha varshaani tava jaatasya putraka!
Aasitaani prakaankshantyaa mayaa du:kha parikshyam”.

According to this account, Rama could not have been more than 5 when He married, for He leaves for the forests only after residing 12 years at Ayodhya after the wedding with Sita.

5. One more voice which adds to the puzzle regarding Rama’s age is that of Maareecha. While advising Ravana not to entangle with Rama, Maareecha recounts the episode of his having been thrashed soundly by Rama when the raakshasa tried to disrupt Visvaamitra’s yaagam. Mareecha tells Ravana, quoting Dasaratha, that Rama was just twelve when He went with Visvaamitra for Yaaga samrakshanam.

“Baala: dvaadasa varshoyam akrita astrascha Raaghava:”.

We thus have four persons, all of them very much credible (perhaps with the exception of Maareecha), all with different versions of how old Sri Rama was when He left Ayodhya for vanavaasam. Since none of them could be wrong, nor could all of them be correct, how do we reconcile the discrepancies and arrive at the correct age of Raghunandana? Given that Sri Valmiki was an honest and accurate chronicler, we do not expect such inconsistencies in his account. Therefore, all these statements must be true and it is only a matter of reconciling them.

In this, Sri Periavaacchaan Pillai shows us the way in his Tanisloki vyaakhyaanam.

Could it be that Rama was older when He left Ayodhya for vanavaasam, but Sri Sita tells Ravana He was 25, out of either not knowing Her husband’s correct age or because Rama looked just 25 though He was actually older? This cannot be, for if anyone knows her husband’s age correctly, it is the wife. And Sri Mythily is no ordinary wife, but an extremely well-informed and intelligent one, not given to understatements or exaggerations. Further, She is talking to an ascetic (which form Ravana had assumed) and would not be casual in Her statements to him. Hence we can very well assume that Sri Rama was indeed 25, when He began His jungle sojourn.

This would also dovetail with Mareecha’s assertion that Rama was 12 when He undertook Visvaamitra Yaaga Rakshanam and married Sita shortly thereafter. If Rama was 12 at the time of marriage and spent 12 more years at Ayodhya before leaving for the jungle, He must have been 24+ when He left Ayodhya. Giving due allowance for a few months, Sri Sita’s statement that He was 25 at that time, appears correct.

We have an apparently irreconcilable assertion from Kousalya Devi that Her beloved son was 17 when He left for vanavaasam. Here too, a careful perusal of her actual words provides us a way out. “Dasa sapta cha varshaani tava jaatasya Putraka!” says Kousalya, which could be broken up into
1. Dasa — 10
2. Sapta — 7
3. Cha — 7
Thus the interpretation of the word “cha” (meaning “and”) to mean another seven years, would put Rama’s age at 10+7+7=24, at the relevant time. Hence Sri Rama must have completed 24 and must have been running 25, when He began His jungle sojourn.

What we have left is Dasaratha’s statement to Visvaamitra that Rama was less than 16 and should hence not be deputed for battle with raakshasaas. If indeed He was 16 and later spent 12 years after marriage at Ayodhya, this would put Him at 28 when He fell victim to Kaikeyi’s intrigue. Here again, a careful scrutiny of Dasaratha’s words would reveal that the Chakravartthi merely says that Rama is under sixteen–“Oona shodasa varshosou” he doesn’t specify the actual age of Rama. And 12 is definitely below 16.
This is also borne out by Maareecha’s averment that Dasaratha told Visvaamitra that Sri Rama was only 12 and as yet untutored in the ways of war. This would put Rama comfortably in the region of 24 or 25, when He chose to leave Ayodhya as a model and obedient son adhering to the letter and spirit of His parents’ words.

We thus find that though the versions of different persons on the issue appear different, they are actually in unanimity.

An interesting sidelight, though not strictly relevant to the subject on hand, is the wealth of astronomical information provided in Srimad Ramayanam. The Epic is a veritable astronomer’s (astrologer’s?) delight, with Sri Valmiki furnishing the planetary positions obtaining at the time of the major events in the Rama Katha. For instance, when Sri Rama was born, we are told that five planets were on the ascendancy Sun in Mesha, Mars in Capricorn, Jupiter in Cancer, Venus in Pisces and Saturn in Libra

“Nakshatre Aditi daivatye svoccha samsttheshu panchasu
Graheshu Karkate lagne Vakpaatou Indunaa saha”

When Rama leaves for vanavaasam, another configuration of planets, portending disaster and distress, was seen in the sky, says Valmiki, with Trishanku, (Crux), Mars, Brihaspati and Budha in unfavourable positions, making Chandra and other planets too similarly disposed?

“Trishanku: Lohitaangascha Brihaspati Budhou api
daarunaa: Somam abhyetya grahaa: sarve vyavastthitaa:”

Signifying Dasaratha’s impending end, the Visaakhaa nakshatram, which was the presiding asterism of the Ikshvaaku dynasty, had lost all its lustre and merely winked weakly from the skies above”

“Nakshatraani gataarchishi grahaascha gata tejasa:
Visaakhaascha sa dhoomaascha nabhasi prachakaasire”

When Sri Rama left for the jungles, the whole universe was in tears. None of the usually lustrous planets or stars was even visible in the overcast sky, says Valmiki.

“Na graham: naapi nakshatram prachakaase na kinchana”

From the planetary positions, astronomers surmise that Dasaratha’s star must have been Krittika. The Chakravartthi says, while arguing with Kaikeyi against banishing Rama to the jungles, that Rahu, Mars and Sun were disturbing his nakshatram.

In describing Sri Mythily’s plight at the Asoka vanam, surrounded and constantly threatened by raakshasis, Valmiki likens Her to the star Rohini imprisoned or eclipsed by planet Mars. Several slokas of the Sundara Kandam contain such similes.

The day fixed by Vasishtta for Sri Rama’s coronation was a Thursday, with Pushya nakshatram “Adya Baarhaspata: sreemaan ukta: Pushya: nu Raghava!”
While describing Hanuman’s return from Lanka with the good news of having discovered Sita’s whereabouts, Valmiki paints a broad canvass of the planetary position in the skies above– the Moon was like a beautiful lotus, the Sun resembled a golden crane and a span from Pushya to Shravana was seen. Punarvasu appeared like a big fish, Mars like a crocodile, Airavata like an island and Swati like a swan, says Valmiki.

The campaign against Lanka was commenced by Sri Rama on Hasta Nakshatram.

“Uttaraa Phalgunee hydya shvastu Hastena yokshyate
Abhiprayaama Sugreeva! Sarva aneeka samaavritaa:”

Sri Raghava declares, “Today is Uttara Phalguni. Tomorrow, when the moon dawns on Hastam, we will proceed to Lanka”

These are just samples of planetary and asteristic positions portrayed by Valmiki at the time of key events of Ramayana. The Maharshi, among his other accomplishments, appears to have been an eminent astronomer/astrologer too, recording with precision and drawing tenable conclusions from the movements of stars. It is these precise statements of planetary positions that enable historians to fix, to the best of their abilities, the various probable dates of events in Ramayana. No two historians, like no two experts in any field, agree on substantive issues. Similarly, in dating the Ramayana too, non-traditional accounts ascribe wide-ranging dates to the events of the historical Epic. (One account even puts the Ramayana later than the Mahabharata, which is indeed ridiculous, due to the numerous references in the latter to the former). One such version, by Prof. B.P. Vartak (author of Vaastav Ramayan in Marathi) and based solely on astronomical data available in the Epic, assigns the following dates to the key events of Ramayana:

Sri Rama’s Birth 5th Dec 7323 B.C.
Wedding of Sri Rama with Sri Janaki 7th April 7307 B.C.
Rama’s exile 29th Nov 7306 B.C.
Hanuman’s entry into Lanka 1st Sep 7292 B.C.
Hanuman’s meeting with Sri Mythily 2nd Sept 7292 B.C.
Building of Sethu across the ocean 26th to 30th Oct 7292 B.C.
Commencement of War 3rd Nov 7292 B.C.
Slaying of Kumbhakarna 7th Nov 7292B.C.
Ravana vadham 15th Nov 7292 B.C.
Rama’s triumphant return to Ayodhya 6th Dec 7272 B.C.

Readers would observe that the third item in the table does not tally with Sri Sita’s statement that She spent twelve blissful years at Ayodhya after marriage, before accompanying Rama for vanavaasam. However, the aforesaid dates are reproduced only for giving readers an idea of probable periods of occurrence and not as absolute indicators. In fact, so many dates and years are bandied about by historians, each with his own pet reasons, in fixing the period of occurrence of the Epic.

Valmiki’s epic is indeed an unfathomable ocean (“Samudra iva ratnaadyam”) and one can come up with the most precious of gems and pearls, each time one dives into it. One can easily spend a lifetime researching the Epic from various angles, not for unearthing dry and desultory academic data, but for enjoying the innumerable facets of the Lord’s countless auspicious attributes that each exploration into Rama katha reveals. Is it any wonder then that the legend of Rama is the most frequently told and retold among tales of the human race for all time, passing on from generation to generation like a heirloom and inspiring countless millions over the ages?

“Karpaar Iraama Piraanai allaal mattrum karpparo!”

Srimate Sri LakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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