Ramayana came first; Mahabharata came later!

Written by London swaminathan

Research Article No.1847; Date: 5 May 2015

Uploaded at London time: 16-08


Which came first Ramayana or Mahabharata? It is a question debated for long. Hindus believe that Ramayana happened in Treta Yuga and Mahabharata happened in Dwapara Yuga. That means Ramayana happened well before Mahabharata. But the question arose because of Parasurama and a few others who figured in both the epics. How is it possible if both the epics are Yugas (eras) apart?

The answer is very simple. There were more than one Parasurama.

Let us look at this issue in more details. There are two questions: Which one happened first? Which one was written first?

1.Ramayana happened first and was written first. Mahabharata has abridged Ramayana in the Ramopakhyayanam. Since Mahabharata (here afterwards abbreviated as Mbh) included lot of old stories Vyasa did not want to miss it. Like he gave other stories, he gave Ramayana in short. It is not the other way round.

2.The word Arya is used in its archaic sense in an archaic way in Ramayana. Sita addressed Rama, Hey Arya! and Ravana’s palace guards address him as Hey Arya (Respected Sir, or Cultured man)

  1. In the Ramayana we come across many ‘not so civilized’ tribes such as the Monkey people (Hanuman), Eagle (Jatayu) People, Bear (Jambhavan) People. These may be their totem symbols or they had such tattoos for identification and recognition. We see such customs among forest tribes around the world. During Ramayana days the forests were full of cannibals called demons. Mahabharata has more urban areas and urban culture. Very rarely we come across tribes or cannibals (except Bakasura). Both the cultures are poles (Yugas) apart.

4.Hanuman came across Mainaka Parvat, Simhika, Langini and other hurdles on his way to Lanka. We don’t see such things or similar hurdles in Mahabharata.

5.Parasurama fought with Karta Veerya Arjuna. Mahabaharata Arjuna came several hundred years after Karta Veerya Arjuna, according to historians. So that Parsurama could not have taught Karna martial arts. Some one bearing similar name or someone was called  Parasurama for his Anti Kshatriya stance. Throughout our Puranic literature this confusion exists. There were several Parikshits, several Janamejayas etc. But Pauranics confused the public by saying all are one!

6.In Ramayana we come across some old phrases such as Dasaratha ruled for 60,000 years, Dasaratha had 60,000 wives. The meaning is “a lot of”. This archaic expression was not used in Mahabharata (Mbh).

7.Rama –Ravana battle was like an old style battle. No military formations etc. Whereas Mbh yuddha was fought on military formations. The result of the battle was decided by such formations. Abhimanyu was killed because of this. Moreover the army was divided into 7 and 11 divisions and each one had its commander. In Ramayana days they were never organised on similar lines.

8.Lava and Kusa “sang” Ramayana ballads. Valmiki taught them the ballads. Valmiki himself was praised as a Koel (Vande Valmiki Kokilam). So Ramayana evolved out of ballads like the Odyssey and Illiad of Homer. Whereas Mbh was “written” by Vyasa. There is a big time gap between the ballad period and writing period.

9.Some people were misled by the archaic style of Mahabharata and simple style of Valmiki Ramayana. Vyasa was well versed in the Vedas. In fact he was the one he compiled all the Vedic hymns fearing that it may be lost once and for all. But for him we would have got anything Vedic. Moreover he knit all the existing older materials into Mbh. To make the style uniform he used archaic style. Valmiki being the Adi Kavi—the First Poet—sang in the Anustubh metre for the first time in Sanskrit (apart from the Vedas).

  1. The message of Ramayana is very simple: Be honest, Speak the Truth, Obey your parents, Don’t desire for another man’s wife. Being Treta Yuga people were 50 percent to 75 percent good. But Mbh is full of intrigues, conspiracies, infightings in the family, hatred and jealousy. It was nearer to Kaliyuga, the Dark Age. So we have lot of moral teachings.
  1. Ramayana days were nearer to Upanishadic age. So there was no need for philosophical teaching. Whereas Mbh has the Bhagavad Gita which is the gist of all major Upanishads.

12.Ramayana has 24,000 slokas. When Lava and Kusa sang the ballads it might have been done in a different way; but the story line did not change. Mbh is the largest book in the ancient world with 100,000 slokas. It was that big even in the first century BCE. Lot of scholars have bluffed that it slowly grew to the present level. No scholar could show until today what the original was and what snowballed later. In spite of computers and other modern techniques they could not show it. The fact of the matter is Vyasa compiled everything available at his time. That is why we even see some contradictions in the moral teachings in it. The very word VYASA means a compiler, an essayist.

  1. Ramayana has 300 different versions because it was very old. The longer it travelled it, more and more varied it became. Whereas Mbh has got only one version throughout South East Asia. Ramayana has different versions from country to country in S E Asia. This shows the length of gap between the two epics.
  1. Mbh has got at least 29 countries represented in the great war. Ramayana has not got that many political divisions. We knew even the names of lots of kings of Mbh time. Whereas Ramayana gives only four or five kings names in the entire subcontinent.

15.We could identify many of the places mentioned in Mbh whereas we did not even know where Kiskidha was. We could only guess, but no written or literary records for Lanka or Kiskindha. Mbh places have been continuously repeated in several written or literary records.

  1. Mahabharata has many stories woven into the main Pandava-Kaurava conflict. Whereas Ramayana has only one simple story. It shows that it was the first one.

17.We have highly developed subjects/sciences in Mbh; but Ramayana did not deal with medicine or astronomy or astrology in the same way.

18.In short we see more advanced civilization in the Mbh and a very simple culture in Ramayana.

Since Parasurama existed at the time of Karta Veerya Arjuna he could not have lived at the time of Mahabharata Arjuna to teach martial arts to Karna.

I will deal with more minute details in another article.

Pictures re used from the book “Epic Narratives in the Hoysala Temples” by Kirsti Evans;thanks.