Hanuman: The World’s First Writer

It is traditionally believed that Mahabharata is the world’s first written text. A new story told by Prof Philip A. Lutgendorf, Professor of Hindi and Modern Indian Studies, University of Iowa and the translator of Tulsidas’ Ramacharitamanas into French, suggests that it is not Mahabharata but Ramayana which was the first written text, though that text is no longer available, thanks to the great sacrifice made by its writer: no other than the popular Hindu God and one of the most important characters of Ramayana, Hanuman.  Prof. Lutgendorf  says that it is not Valmiki but Hanuman who wrote the first Ramayana. And while Valmiki composed for oral rendition, Hanuman had actually written down his Ramayana.  “In my story,” he clarifies, “Hanuman writes, Valmiki composes”

This is the story that he narrated in the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2011, taking part in a discussion titled, Many Ramayanas.

Hanuman writes Ramayana out of boredom and sadness when Sita is sent away by Ram. He goes to the mountain and starts writing by his nail on the crystal floor (sphatik chattan) of the mountain. He writes this huge Ramayana and while he is writing Valimki starts composing Ramayan. In my story, he clarifies, Hanuman writes, Valmiki composes. Someone tells Valmiki that Hanuman has already created Ram’s story. Valmiki wonders: he is a eye witness, but can he write? So, he asks Hanuman about it and Hanuman carries the sage on his shoulders and takes him to the mountain and shows him what he has written. And then, he asks Valimiki for his comment on the work. Tears roll down from Valmiki’s eyes as he said it is so real, so perfect. “Now who will care about my Ramayana?” he says. Hearing this, Hanuman places Valmiki on one shoulder and all the crystal boulder on the other shoulder and flies out on the sea. He drops off the boulders in the sea and says to “Let it be an offering to Shriram.” An overwhelmed Valmiki says: “In Kalyug, I will be reborn and sing your praise and tell Ram’s story in the language of ordinary people. Thus Valimiki is reborn as Tulsidas and writes Ramcharitamanasa.

Prof. Lutgendorf’s session was both fascinating and moving. While his occasional jumping to chaste Hindi struck a cord with the audience, his recitation of Ramacharitamanas was soulful. Occassional humor added to the colors.

Here is the above story, in Prof. Lutgendorf’s own voice: hanuman-valmiki.

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