When Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia was gifted with a Ramayana by an Indian sannyasi, he smiled, and said they were all descendants of Lord Rama. He explained how the Ethiopians are called as Cushites, or coming down from Kusha, a son of Rama. The country is called Kushadwip, or the land of the son of Rama.
Ethiopians admit their ancestor as Kush, and they quote the Biblical story of Cush being a son of Ham (a phonetic misnomer of Ram). This only confirms to the widespread influence of Ramayana, even in a land that is 3000 miles away from the mainland of India.
Phonetic describes the way spoken words sound or are pronounced. When we closely examine the names of various places across the world, we can logically deduce how the culture of Ramayana must have influenced these lands, even thousands of years ago. Egypt derives its name from Ajpati, a name of one of Rama’s forefathers. Even the various legends in Egypt contain references to Dasharatha, the father of Rama, and thus even five thousand kilometres away, Ramayana had an influence.
The traces of Vedic age can be seen even today. Iranians have the culture of reverence to fire, an essential sacrificial tool in Vedic process. Armenia has an ancient structure, called the ‘temple of the little blue boy’-referring to Krishna. A French historian even claimed that the original Armenians were worshippers of Radha and Krishna.
This is explained in the Vedic scriptures: Parashuram was a great warrior who destroyed warrior class many times. As a result many kings ran to faraway lands and settled there. Over a period of time, due to the far distance from the main land of India, the culture of Rama and Krishna worship deteriorated.
Nearer home, in the South East Asian regions, Ramayana’s influence can be seen even today. Thailand’s national epic is called ‘Ramakien’– glory of Rama. Until the late 18th century, the capital of Thailand was Ayutthaya, derived from Ayodhya- the capital of Lord Rama. Most of the kings of Thailand are called as Rama-I or Rama-II and so on.
When Lord Rama shot an arrow at demon Maricha and disposed him off to the middle of an ocean, he settled in an island there. That place was called Mauricha or later evolved as Mauritius.
These instances prove that story of Ramayana is not simply a story that belongs to India; this is one of the most powerful stories in the history of the world.
Just as Bible has played a pivotal role in shaping the history of the Western world- you can read novels, appreciate art and history, and you will find some Biblical references there- similarly Ramayana has shaped all of Asian civilization. China, Japan and Korea have their own version of Ramayana story telling. Indonesia- the world’s largest Muslim country- even today has a popular puppet show on Ramayana.
Japan created an animated Ramayana made for the Japanese market by the Japanese; they too love to narrate the Ramayana. Over three hundred different versions- from South Indian to Urdu- Ramayana has captured the imagination of the people all over Asia for millennia.
In recent times, lands outside of Asia-like Africa and Europe- have revealed Ramayana’s influence. The Warner bros in US made a movie, ‘A little Princess’; the heart of the movie is the rendition of Ramayana by a young girl Sara.
The Ramayana story thus has a universal appeal. And that’s because it has all the ingredients of a good story: there is a hero, the princess, the damsel in distress. Adventure, romance, action, it’s all there. Yet, there is something more in Ramayana. It is the ‘adi-kavya’– the first poem. And the poetic masterpiece of Ramayana is known to humans for thousands of years.
Unfortunately modern scholars declare Ramayana to be a fiction; in most book stores, Ramayana is classified as ‘mythology’. However we need to remember that Ramayana is not a fairy tale born out of the fertile brains of some creative writers. Ramayana is a product of divine inspiration, revealed in the heart of a devotee by the Lord himself.
Even when Lord Krishna was personally present on this planet-5000 years ago- Ramayana was well known. That’s the reason the speaker of Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Sukadeva Goswami devotes only two chapters to the Ramayana. The epic was sung in the courts of kings even those days.