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16th century)

A poetic retelling by Tulsīdās(a) of Vālmīki's Rāmāyaṇa (as filtered through the Adhyātma and Bhuśuṇḍi Rāmāyaṇas) in the eastern dialect of Hindi known as Avadhī. Tulsīdāsa is said to have begun his poem of over 10 000 lines in Ayodhyā in 1574, and completed it several years later in Vārāṇasī. By turning the account of Rāma's actions into a fully fledged bhakti text, Tulsīdāsa produced what quickly became the most widely disseminated, popular, and influential version of the story in northern India, in the process determining the whole character of late medieval and modern devotionalism in the area. Throughout the poem, Rāma's identity as the supreme deity, his dharmic and kingly perfection, and his gracious attitude to his subjects, are continually to the fore; all the other characters, including, in the end, Rāvaṇa, become his devotees, in an exemplary display of the only feasible reaction to such royal divinity. The ideal devotee in this respect, and the model for all human bhaktas, is Rāma's humble monkey-servant, Hanumān. Above all, it is hearing and repeating Rāma's name (‘Rām’ in Hindi) which saves. For the audience, the poem itself is therefore instrumental in their liberation (it is widely regarded as the ‘Hindi Veda’), as are the extraordinarily popular, Rāmcaritmānas-derived, Rāmlīla re-enactments of northern India. Tulsidāsa's emphasis on the maintenance of essentially Brahmanical dharma, and conformity to the norms of social purity (e.g. in his treatment of Sītā), mark him out from the frequently more antinomian poets of the Kṛṣṇa bhakti movements, although the inclusivism of the text, and the variety of its source material, allow for various counter readings.

Subjects: Hinduism.

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