According to AK Ramanujan’s essay, the Jain texts disregard the fantastic elements of Valmiki’s version of Ramayana. Here the epic starts with the raising of doubts on the extravagant parts of the epic – how could monkeys vanquish a strong and intelligent Ravana, how could someone like Kumbhakarna sleep for six months, etc. The Jain version does not start with the introduction of Ram, but with Ravana.
It talks about Ravana and his greatness and the fact that he was a devotee of the Jain masters. During one of his great siege, he comes to know that he is destined to die because of a woman, by the name of Sita. Later he meets Sita, abducts her and tries in vain to win her favour, but does not and is killed in a battle that follows, as is the original version. In some other texts, Sita is Ravana’s daughter, but Ravana does not know about it and later she is responsible for his death.
Another important aspect of the Jain texts is that it is not Ram who kills Ravana, rather it is Lakshaman who kills Ravana. This is because Ram is an evolved soul and was in his last mortal birth and thus cannot commit any crime. It was thus left to Lakshaman to do so.
Another very important distinction of the Jain texts is that their version is devoid of the elements of fantasy. There are no miracles and no acts of disbelief and the reason is that the Jains consider themselves as rationalists and are not prone to such extravaganza which is unbelievable. Their heroes can be heroic, but not unbelievably so. Further, the idea of Ravana with ten heads has been explained differently, rather rationally. According to the Jain texts, when Ravana was born, his mother was given a necklace with nine gems, which she put on Ravana’s neck. When she did so, she could see his reflection in the nine gems and thus she named him “Dasamukha” – ten-faced. Further it also goes on to explain, that the monkeys were not really monkeys, but a clan of ‘celestials’ who had a monkey as their emblems on their flags.
Some versions say that Dasharatha had four wives as against Valmiki’s version of three wives. Further, some versions even say that Ram had four wives, Maithili (i.e. another name for Sita) being one of the wives. This aspect of Ram is contrary to any of the other versions across the world. Further, after Rama abandons Sita, she renounces the world and becomes a Jain ascetic, again a different ending for Sita, but something that the Jains can understand and relate with.
There are many more differences which are beyond the scope of such an article, so I have highlighted only a few of them. The idea is to impress upon the fact that the text has reached out to a wider audience only after it has been made understandable within a cultural or a social milieu. If not done, then the text would be that much more alien to a group of people as the life of Archies (from the famous Archies comics) to a group of youngsters from a remote village in the district of Bolangir, Orissa, about 30-40 years back.
Next we will read about the Thai version of Ramayana