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What is the oldest…Ramayana or Mahabharata?

Updated on May 3, 2014

It has been thought by the scholars that period of Ramayana precedes the period of Mahabharata. The main reason that has prompted scholars to believe Ramayana being older is that the story of Rama appears in the Mahabharata. Also the argument is that social structure that appears in Ramayana is much simpler and primal than the complex structure of Mahabharata, hence it is said and believed that Ramayana is oldest epical work than Mahabharata.

We have to check this argument from different points of views. It is a well known fact that there have been many additions, interpolations and alterations in the whole body of Mahabharata. Originally this epic was merely of 12000 stanzas, titled as “Jay” in which many additions were done in the course of the time to make it “Mahabharata”, as large as hundred thousand stanzas epic. While Rama story appears in present Mahabharata, Buddha too appears which makes it almost impossible for us to determine exact time of the Mahabharata.

The same is with Ramayana. Originally Ramayana was titled as “Paulatrsyavadha”. First and seventh parts of the present Ramayana have been proved to be later additions. It is agreed that the both epics took final shape during third or fourth century AD. The original language of both the epics only could be Prakrit as Sanskrit was developed in later times.

However, without debating on whether both the epics are based on real life stories or are imaginary poetic creation, we shall try to find out which epic was oldest based on the raw material both the epics provide.

  1. We can see from the various stories of the Mahabharata that polyandry and polygamy was in the practice in the same era. Also a system of “Niyoga” (Having child from other man if husband was impotent, or is died childless.) was in practice. Kunti and Madri conceived children from other men as their husband Pandu was cursed. Dropadi married five brothers. We have ample of evidences of such practices in Mahabharata.
  2. We are aware that polyandry was a normal practice during ancient period when matriarchal society did exist. Polygamy occurred during the period when patriarchal system gradually replaced the old system. As we find in Mahabharata examples of both the practices, it appears that Mahabharata story shaped up during the transitional period of the social order.
  3. In matriarchal society women had more powers with enormous freedom in the society. We can find that the women in Mahabharata enjoying the freedom, even having children before marriages and no social stigma upon them for their immoral conduct. When present Mahabharata took final shape, social order was changed to patriarchal society, male dominated society it was necessary for the writers to provide sanctity to the acts of polyandry and Niyoga, which had became a sin by then. Hence to cover up the realities of those times authors of later times mixed mythical stories around such acts, that it was all divine and God’s wish, not to be copied by common men.
  4. The similar stories can be traced back to the ancestors of the Kuru clan.
  5. At the other hand, when we look at Ramayana, we find that the patriarchal society is strongly established. Polygamy is not considered to be a sin but monogamy is praised over polygamy through the Rama story.
  6. In Ramayana, women seem to have lost their freedom. Even sexual thought of any man other than husband seems to be considered as a sin. Rama can abandon his wife with a mere doubt that she might have cohabited with his prime enemy Ravana.

So, what we see from the above is Mahabharata and Ramayana are representing entirely different societies. The course of the human social history flows from matriarchal to patriarchal society. Mahabharata appears to be happened during the transitional period when old system was gradually dying while new system was emerging. In Ramayana we find that, at the least in the north, patriarchal society was fully established by then.

From this it seems to me that Mahabharata time (not the writing time, but when the original story was shaped.) is older than of Ramayana. There could be distance of few centuries between both the stories, so to have social order entirely changed.

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      M.A.Padmanabha Rao 12 months ago

      RAMA's PERIOD FROM RESEARCH ON VALMIKI RAMAYANA:

      Many people express their own estimations arbitrarily without providing any documentary proof. Some people say Ramayana was held 5000 years ago without ay basis. Ramayana composed by Valmiki has the answer, particularly in Rama Pattabhishek sarga. Rama ruled for 11,000 years. In Sanskrit, it is said dasa varsha sahasrani, dasa varsha satanicha (Ten times to thousand and ten times a hundred). One may argue how is it possible for a man to live for 11,000 years. Thousands of years ago, longevity of man was high and age of ancient man should not be equated to the modern man. If we add his 14 years of exile to forests and life at Ayodhya, it can be around 40 yrs. Anyhow, we can approximate his longevity was around 11,000 years. One cannot be sure whether Treta Yug ended with the end of Rama. Anyhow, Dwapar Yug followed, the exact time period of which is not known. It can be several thousands of years. Next, Kali Yug entered. One is not sure how many years are already over till now. But it can be few thousands of years. Considering all these periods, Rama's or Ramayana's period should be over 11,000 years ago.

      DID RAMA REALLY EXIST?

      My research into Valmiki Ramayana unfolds King Rama, who ruled a portion of North India called Kosala desa (kingdom) with Ayodhya as capital, existed more than 11,000 years ago. Hindus broadly named the period as Treta Yug. Traditionally, historians seek archeological evidences such as fossils, coins, vessels etc on Rama, and if they find evidences in or around Ayodhya, then only they agree on Rama's existence. But, our archeologists have not made serious efforts to find such evidences, if any, at Ayodhya, so none should jump into a hasty conclusion that Rama never existed. Some people argue that Valmiki Ramayana does not reflect Rama's history. Instead, it is mistaken by western scholars as mythology, and fiction, while some others say it is nothing but an epic. My years of research into Valmiki Ramayana revealed that Valmiki has written it mainly as the history of King Rama, because he has found extraordinary abilities and nobilities in him. Valmiki became the first historian, much before the word 'history' was coined. Ramayana also described with unprecedented details about civilizations of humans, Vanara, Gradru, and Rakshasa. He has correctly mentioned Nuwara Eliya Hills of Sri Lanka as trikuta parvat as congregation of three mountain ranges, when facilities of areal survey was unavailable.

      Nala Sethu visibly seen as a road from Rameswaram in India to Sri Lanka is the definite marine archeological evidence on existence of Rama, Vanaras, and Rakshasa civilizations. Valmiki Ramayana clearly mentioned that under the command of Crown Prince Rama, crores of Vanaras, Golanguls and Rukshyas have built the road just in 5 days. Incredibly, they have built on 200 meters deep sea. A rough estimate shows that it is around 60 km long and 5 km wide. During British rule, number of attempts were made at various places to see whether a passage to ships can be made through Nala Sethu. Since it became a huge unbreakable fossil, it was not possible to make a passage, as a result a chain of islands are seen visibly and also through satellite.

      https://www.facebook.com/groups/1739434762937587/

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      Sanjay Sonawani 2 years ago from Pune, India.

      Sandeep, pls go through following link to know my views on Lord Krishna.

      https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/LordKrish...

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      sandeep 2 years ago

      thank u very much..and great insight and analysis..ur conclusion seems to be accurate..as ramayana is thought to have ocvured during 8th century b.c....when there is historical evidence of janaka kingdom..in vedic literature while king parikshit was at least two centuries older...the grandson of arjuna in mahabharata...but only only a great king in vedic literature with no divinity attached to even his son janamejaya..who is also mentioned in both..plz do reply what do u think about lord krishna..

    • profile image

      sandeep 2 years ago

      thank u very much..and great insight and analysis..ur conclusion seems to be accurate..as ramayana is thought to have ocvured during 8th century b.c....when there is historical evidence of janaka kingdom..in vedic literature while king parikshit was at least two centuries older...the grandson of arjuna in mahabharata...but only only a great king in vedic literature with no divinity attached to even his son janamejaya..who is also mentioned in both..plz do reply what do u think about lord krishna..

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