I have seen majority of people having Ramcharitmanas and even temples keep many copies of Ramcharitmanas rather than Valmiki Ramayana for Akhand Ramayan Paath. Why has Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, which is a retelling of Ramayana, gained more popularity than Valmiki Ramayana? Tulsidas was criticized by the Sanskrit scholars of the 15th century ; is there any story why Tulsidas chose to write the Ramayan in Awadhi language. What were the events that led to the acceptance of his version more than Valmiki's?
Summary: Tulsidasji chose to write the story in Awadhi on being ordered to do so by Lord Shiva who appeared before him. The incident is a very interesting one read the detailed part to find out. Further the popularity of the Manas is only restricted to the Hindi belt of Northern India and the part the of the answer describing the factors responsible, is obviously based on my opinion.
1. Reason for Tulsidasji writing the Sri Ramcharitmanas in Awadhi
On the command of Hanumanji, Tulsidasji went to Kashi and stayed at a Brahmin’s house. There, at Prahladghat, he began writing the Ramayana in Sanskrit. Thereafter the story goes as follows:
In the daytime how much ever he would write, would get erased at night. This incident happened everyday and he didn’t understand what to do. Then finally on the 8th day Lord Shiva came in his dream telling him to write the story in his own language. Tulsidasji at once got up with the words of the dream echoing in his heart. At that moment Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati appeared and Tulsidasji bowed down to them with his eight limbs. Lord Shiva said, “Write this poem in your own language and don’t go behind the language of the gods (Sanskrit). Do what will be beneficial to others and leave the old tradition. Go to Awadh and write your story there. With my blessings your poem will be as fruitful as the Sama and Richa (Rigvedic verse).” Saying this Lord Shiva disappeared and Tulsidasji headed for Awadh.
- Mūla Gosāīm̐ Carita, Chaupais of Doha 37
Since Tulsidasji was a Sarayūpārīṇa Brahmin, who are found in the Awadh region, ‘his language’ was Awadhi. Oh well then following the orders of Lord Shiva, Tulsidasji writes his story in his ‘own language’, Awadhi and alludes to this in the Balakand of the Ramcharitmanas:
Despite a black cow being so, her milk is still is very beneficial and thinking this people drink it. In the same way despite being in the rural language, smart people still sing and hear this story of Sri Sitaramji-
2. Popularity of the Sri Ramcharitmanas
(This part of the question being opinion based is most likely to result in the answer being based on my opinion yet I’ll try to stick to the story as much as possible.)
There were many incidents occurring in Tulsidasji’s life that lead to the traditional Brahmins accepting his work. They are:
- Lord Shiva’s signature - After completing his work he made Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati hear it and kept it in the Kashi Vishvanatha temple. In the morning when the doors were opened, the book was signed by Lord Shiva himself bearing the words ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ - Mūla Gosāīm̐ Carita, Doha 47
- Lord Rama protecting the book from thieves - when the Pandits of Kashi sent thieves to rob the book, they saw two men of dark and fair complexion each, protecting the book with bows and arrows. - Mūla Gosāīm̐ Carita, Doha 48
- The Ramcharitmanas automatically reached atop the Puranas, Shastras and even the Vedas when kept below them, in the morning when the doors of the Kashi Vishvanatha temple were opened. - Mūla Gosāīm̐ Carita, Doha 50
These 3 incidents contributed to the acceptance of the Manas as an important book.
In my opinion, the popularity of the Manas over the Valmiki Ramayana in Northern India can be attributed to:
- Gita Press Gorakhpur’s efforts - Due to the absence of the printing press, many scriptures such as the Manas were not available to the public at large in the sense that each could not own his personal copy. Even after the advent of the press, these were costly. Gita Press was the first to publish a relatively authentic version of the Manas which was available at cheap rates for the general public to be able to afford a personal copy. Gita Press further advertised this book to a great extent, much more than the Valmiki Ramayana. (Refer: the entire story of Gita Press’ publishing of the Manas for more details.)
- The Ramayana television series of Ramanand Sagar. It is said that though the Ramayana was immensely revered, people re-gained awareness of the story due to the television series of the Ramayan which primarily bases its story on the Manas (as per the introduction). This too ignited reverence for the Manas in the minds of people.
- The most important reason being that the Manas is in one of the languages of Northern India and hence easier to understand than Sanskrit (before the translations of the Valmiki Ramayana emerged). Further as started by Tulsidasji, there used to be the Rama Leela during the 9 days of Navaratri in Nothern India, based on the Manas (instead of the Valmiki Ramayana)
Thus in my opinion, the above 3 are the primary factors causing the Manas to gain popularity over the Valmiki Ramayana in Northern India.
Note: The Mūla Gosāīm̐ Carita is the most widely referred biography of Tulsidasji, written by a disciple called Venimadhav. Also besides the biography, I have also relied upon Gita Press’ version of Tulsidasji’s life which too is primarily based on the Mūla Gosāīm̐ Carita.
Tulsidasji Himself laid down the threefold criterion and purpose of His composition (Manasa, 1,14,5)
It should give Him joy and satisfaction.
He must reach out to the connoisseurs and His work must earn their respact.
His work should bring benefit to the masses.
His work fulfilled all the three above.
He could put Rasa on the highest pedestal, focusing on the bhakti-rasa as the sthayi bhava. His language is very lucid and appealing to the common masses and is easy to comprehend.
So He received more popularity than the Valmiki Ramayana in the parts of India where His language is understood. In Bengal for example, the Krittivasa's Ramayana is more popular than the Valmiki Ramayana. The talent , the language and the grace of God --all of these three matter. In fact His objective was to spread the eternal message of the Ramayana for the benefit of the masses as mentioned above. He was blessed and successful.
As K.M. Panikkar puts it:
The Ramacharitamanasa is not only a magnificient epic, singing the great deeds of Rama, but a scripture of the people to which the entire Hindi knowing people..turn for spiritual sustenance; a code of ethics constantly on the lips of all, from princess to peasants and a truly fine expression of the poetic genious.(A Survey of Indian History. page 215).
According to popular legend, Tulsidas had originally planned in writing a Ramayana in Sanskrit. However, Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and instructed him to write it in Awadhi language.
In fact, in the Bhavishyottara Purana, Lord Shiva tells Mother Parvati that Valmiki will reincarnate in Kali-Yuga as Tulsidas to compose Ramayana in a vernacular language:
वाल्मीकिस्तुलसीदासः कलौ देवि भविष्यति ।
रामचन्द्रकथामेतां भाषाबद्धां करिष्यति ॥
vālmīkistulasīdāsaḥ kalau devi bhaviṣyati । rāmacandrakathāmetāṃ bhāṣābaddhāṃ kariṣyati ॥
O Goddess [Parvati]! Valmiki will become Tulsidas in the Kali Yuga, and will compose this narrative of Rama in the vernacular language. (Bhavishyottara Purana, Pratisarga Parva, 4.20)
During time of Tulsidas, Sanskrit had become a monopoly of the elite. Hence, in order to make the work more accessible to all sections of the society, Lord Shiva instructed Tulsidas to write it in popular language. However, the text isn't as popular in South India (where Kamba Ramayana is arguably more popular) as it is in North India.
It is also said that when the work was heavily criticised by elites for it being in written in popular language, Tulsidas asked them to keep all sorts of scriptures on the top of the Ramcharitmanas in the Kashi Vishwanath temple, locked, for a night. The next day, the Ramcharitmanas came on the top of all the other scriptures, even above the Valmiki Ramayana! Tulsidas claimed this miracle to be an authentication of his work by Lord Shiva. As a result, Ramcharitmanas became a more popular work, even more popular than the Valmiki Ramayana.