Ram of Valmiki Ramayana same as Abraham of Bible
By Dr. Javed Jamil
Rama is perhaps the most important and revered figure for Hindus. Abraham is the patriarch of all Semitic religions and is the symbol of monotheism for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Interestingly when we read the story of Abraham in Bible and the story of Ram in Valmiki Ramayana, the resemblances are so striking that one cannot remain but convinced that they are one and the same figure. I had prepared a small paper on the subject in 1990 but deferred its publication because I thought the time was not right for it. I discussed the issue with Mr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala, renowned Economist and Hindu philosopher, and when he studied the matter, he was more than convinced about the oneness of both the figures and started working on a book about the common prophets of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. The difference between him and me remains regarding the location of the figure we call Ram-Abraham. While he thinks, Ram-Abraham was born in India – though not in Northern but South India – I think the Biblical place (Ur in Iraq) is the real location. Let me quote here the important parts of the story from Bible. I am not quoting the Ram story because it is very well known to most of us and it is too long to be reproduced here. However I will show the relevant similarities where required. Here are the parts of Bible that more or less sum up the moot points in the story of Ram:
When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.27Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chalde’ans.2
Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his sonAbram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.
And Abram took Sar’ai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sar’ai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, he-asses, menservants, maidservants, she-asses, and camels. 17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sar’ai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram, and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had.
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. 16 I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. 7
So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the child.” And as she sat over against him, the child lifted up his voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. 20 And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt. 2
1 Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 And Sarah died at Kir’iath-ar’ba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 And Abraham rose up from before his dead, and said to the Hittites, 4 “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5 The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our sepulchres; none of us will withhold from you his sepulchre, or hinder you from burying your dead.”7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 that he may give me the cave of Mach-pe’lah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as a possession for a burying place.” 10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it; in the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me; I will give the price of the field; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham agreed with Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants. 17 So the field of Ephron in Mach-pe’lah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave which was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Mach-pe’lah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.20 The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as a possession for a burying place by the Hittites
These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 Isaac and Ish’mael his sons buried him in the cave of Mach-pe’lah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the Hittites.
Now it can be seen that all the major events of Ram’s story are there in Bible:
(1.) The original name of Abraham in Bible is Abram, which in Hebrew means Father Ram.
(2.) Abraham was also exiled; he went along with his wife Sara (Sita) and his nephew Lot (Lakshaman)
(3.) On exile his wife Sara was kidnapped by Firaun (Pharaoh), the king of Egypt. In Arabic, if the fa of Firaun is removed, what remains is Ravan. In Bible, however, Pharoah releases Sara without any war because her captivity brings miseries to Pharaoh and he gets convinced that this is due to Sara. There are some Ram katahas that also do not describe any war between the two.
(4.) Abraham’s wife was also expelled. The difference is that while in Valmiki Ramayana, the kidnapping and expelling of the same wife is described, in Bible two wives are involved. In several Ramkathas, Rama is shown to have more than one wife.
(5.) Abraham too had two famous sons: Ismail and Ishaq like Ram’s two sons Luv and Kush.
(6.) When we study the description of places given in different directions by Sugriva to Vanar Sena, this description does not fit if we try to put it around Ayodhya. But if we put it around Egypt (see the old map in Biblical books) it is very much consistent with that.
(7.) In Bible, the birth place of Abraham is Ur, a place in Iraq, close to which Euphrates River flows. While the direction of the flow of Saryu in Valmiki Ramayana is opposite to that of the Saryu River outside today’s Ayodhya, it is the same in case of Euphrates.
(8.) The Black African race which Ram came into contact with during exile appears to have been described as vanars in Valmiki Ramayan.
(9.) I think, after Abraham’s death, some people of his time migrated to India and carried the story of Abraham along with them, and then parts of stories became associated with Indian places. Aryans are historically known to be of Iranian origin who migrated to India with considerable force. With Abraham/Ram’s origin in Iraq, which was earlier part of Persia, it is quite possible that his story came to India along with Aryans. Interestingly, nothing much is known to Indians about the descendants of Rama. Though some smaller castes trace their origin to Lav and Kush, there is no dominant caste with those roots. This appears to be because Aryans migrated to India and then lost contact with the descendants of Ram/Abraham. In Arabia, Palestine and other parts of West Asia, on the other hand, the majority traces their origin to Abraham and his sons. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus all these big names belong to the Isaac family and Muhammad belongs to the Ishmael family.
Now it will be even more interesting to look at from the work of Bharat Jhunjhunwala:
First, he has compared the genealogy of the figure in Ramayana and Bible.
The genealogy is ample proof of both being the same figure:
|Biblical Name||Indian Name of Rama’s Line|
|Reu or Raghai||Raghu|
I will like to quote here some parts from Mr. Jhunjhunwala’s article:
“From Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran
The Bible tells us Terah had three sons—Abraham, Nahor and Haran. Haran’s son was Lot. Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans. Terah migrated from Ur to Haran with Abram, Nahor and Lot. Terah died at Haran (Gen 11.27-32).
The Indian version is identical except that Dasaratha had four sons—Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. We shall show later that the description of Lakshmana matches that of Biblical Lot. The difference is that Terah had 3+1 accompaniments while Dasaratha had 4.
Valmiki says Dasaratha reestablished Ayodhya, the Biblical Haran, on a larger scale than earlier (Bal 5.9). He gives no details of what such reestablishment means though, it must be admitted, the ambience is of larger scale only. But Vimalsuri gives details that are closer to the Bible. He says that Dasaratha lived in the fear of Ravana—whom we will encounter as the Egyptian Pharaoh later. Then he married Kaikeyi in a swyamvara and returned to Saket—another name for Ayodhya—thereafter (23.16, 24.34). This entry to Ayodhya-Saket may be mentioned in the Bible as migration from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran. Dasaratha dies at Ayodhya-Haran in both narratives as also in the Bible.
Another small point of difference is that the Biblical narrative mentions the migration of Abram and Sarai with Terah from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran which means that Abram and Sarai were married at Ur. Vimalsuri, on the other hand, mention this marriage after migration to Ayodhya (28.129).
Haran to Bethel
The Biblical narrative continues with Abraham migrating from Haran to Canaan along with Sarah and Lot. Within Canaan he travels to Shechem, ‘Terebinth tree of Moreh’ and settles between Bethel and Ai. Bethel has mountains on the East. Here there was famine and Abraham went to the South to Egypt. In Egypt he asks Sarah to mention she was his sister so that the Egyptians will not kill him. Sarah was, as expected by Abraham, taken to the Pharaoh. But the Pharaoh was plagued with great plagues. He then returned Sarah to Abraham and sent him away with his possessions. Abraham returns to Bethel (Gen 12.5-13.3).
This story contained in 16 verses in the Bible occupies about 300 pages each in both Valmiki and Vimalsuri. We give here only the key similarities. Rama is asked to leave for the forests for 14 years by his father. He, Sita and Lakshmana travel for a long time in the forests and in the end settle at Panchvati with River Godavari and mountains nearby (Aranya 16.13-14). This is similar to Bethel and Ai of the Bible.
Sita is abducted by Ravana at Panchvati. Rama attacks Ravana’s Lanka and rescues Sita and returns with her to Ayodhya. They pass through Panchvati, i.e. Biblical Bethel, where Sita was abducted (Yuddha 123.45). Here there is a difference. Rama moves on from Panchvati to Ayodhya-Haran and further narrative takes place from Ayodhya while the Bible mentions rest of story with Bethel as the center. Another difference is that the Biblical narrative mentions Rama’s reluctant acquiescence to Sarah being taken to the Pharaoh while the Indian texts mention her being abducted. The common thread is that of Abraham-Rama’s wife being taken to the foreign King.
An important statement in the Bible is Abraham’s statement that Sarah is his sister. In later reference to Abimelech he explicitly states Sarah is daughter of his father but not daughter of his mother (Gen 20.12). The main Indian tradition has no such story. However, Jinsenacharya in Jaina Mahapuranam says that … [add Mahapuranam]. Further, Sita’s birth is shrouded in mystery in Valmiki Ramayana. It is possible this has something to do with birth of Sita.
Sequence of Lot’s separation to Sarah’s death
The Bible gives five key events after Abraham’s return from Egypt.
- Abraham and Lot separate due to strife between their herdsmen. Lot is captured by Chedorlaomer king of Elam and then rescued by Abraham. Lot dies (Gen 13-14).
- Abraham journeys to Gerar in Kadesh in the land of Philistines. Sarah is taken to king Abimelech and then released (Gen 20). Then a friendship is made between Abimelech and Abraham (Gen 21.32).
- Hagar is expelled. Her son becomes an archer in the wilderness (Gen 21-14-20).
- Abraham undertakes to sacrifice Issac (Gen 22).
- Sarah dies at Kirjath Arba. She is buried in land bought by Abraham (Gen 23).
These five modules are found with some variation in both Valmiki and Vimalsuri but the order is different as shown in Table below:
Order of four modules in Gen 13-23
|Order in genesis||Valmiki (Numbers refer to sequence in the narrative)||Vimalsuri (Numbers refer to sequence in the narrative)|
|1 Separation of Abraham and Lot and latter’s death||5 Sage Durvasa visits Rama and Lakshmana is expelled.||5 Lakshmana is in coma upon being told of Rama’s death and dies.|
|2 Conflict and friendship with Abimelech of Philistines||2 Shatrughna attacks Madhurapuri and conquers it.||1 Shatrughna attacks Madhurapuri and conquers it.|
|3 Hagar expelled. Son becomes an archer.||1 Sita is expelled. Sons Lav and Kush become warrior.||2 Sita is expelled. Her sons launch war against Rama’s kingdom and are united with him.|
|4 Isaac’s sacrifice.||3 Rama undertakes Aswamegha Yajna.||3 (Lavan and Ankush attack Ayodhya and are united with Rama).|
|5 Sarah dies and is buried.||4 Sita is subjected to fire test and then sinks into the earth.||4 Sita undergoes fire test and becomes ascetic.|
Valmiki’s Uttar Kanda, where these stories are found, is known to be a later addition. Hence, change in sequence of modules is pardonable. The sequence of Bible and Vimalsuri is similar except for interchange of modules 1 and 2. Having noted this difference in sequence, we now proceed to show their similarities.
Separation of Abraham and Lot and latter’s death
There was strife between herdsmen of Abraham and Lot after Abraham’s return from Egypt. Lot thereupon decides to settle in the plains of Jordan while Abraham remains at Canaan. Subsequently Lot is captured by King Chedorlaomer from Sodom. Abraham rescues Lot. Thereafter Lot lives in Sodom which is destroyed by God but Lot escapes to Zoar where his daughters get him drunk and cohabit with him to produce sons. Thereafter Lot is not mentioned in the Bible. One presumes he died (Gen 12.7, 14, 18.20 and 19.30).
The story in Valmiki Ramayana is very short. Rama was in serious discussion at one time. He appointed Lakshmana to guard the gates and ensure no one entered. At that very time Sage Durvasa visits and seeks audience with Rama. Lakshmana is caught in a dilemma. He decides to allow Durvasa to meet Rama, who expels him for this misdeed. Lakshmana controls his breath and dies (Uttara 105-106). The theme of Abraham-Lot conflict is found here.
Vimalsuri gives the story as follows: Two Angels decide to test the love of Rama and Lakshmana for each other. They come to Lakshmana and in jest inform him that Rama has died. Thereupon Lakshmana enters a coma and is not revived despite medical treatment and dies (110). Lakshmana’s going into coma resonates with Lot’s daughters getting him drunk. Conflict between Abraham and Lot is missing here but Lakshmana goes into coma and dies which is similar to Lot getting drunk and thereafter not being heard of in the Bible.
Conflict and friendship with Abimelech of Philistines
Abraham sojourns in Gerar in the land of Philistines after return from Egypt. Again he asks Sarah to say she is his sister and she is taken to the king and subsequently released upon knowing she is Abraham’s wife. Thereafter, Abimelech comes to Abraham and makes a treaty of friendship (Gen 20, 21.22-32).
The parallel in Valmiki possibly lays in Shatrughna’s attack on Madhurapuri. The common link is provided by the seafaring character of the Philistines. The King of Madhurapuri is son-in-law of Lanka which is also a seafaring country. However, Shatrughna, unlike Abraham, kills the king of Madhurapuri. This episode does not close with friendship (Uttara 69). Vimalsuri gives an identical story (87).
The similarity between the Biblical and Indian narrative is admittedly tenuous. The common point is another conflict with seafaring people after return from Egypt-Lanka.
Hagar expelled. Son becomes an archer
Sarah did not have a child till this time. Sita, likewise, also did not have a child till this time.
Sarah asks Abraham to go into her maid Hagar who bears Ishmael. Soon thereafter Sarah bears Issac. Thu Abraham has two sons. Likewise Rama has two sons Lav and Kush according to Valmiki or Lavan and Ankush according to Vimalsuri. The common point is that Abraham-Ram has two sons.
Abraham expels maid Hagar and her son Ishmael who becomes an archer (Gen 22.20). Similarly, Sita is expelled by Rama and bears Lav and Kush, who become great warriors. The difference is that in the Biblical account Hagar is expelled after the birth of the two sons while in the Indian account they are born after Sita is expelled.
Another difference is that Abraham has three wives—Sarah, Hagar and Keturah whom he marries later. Valmiki, however, says Rama had only one wife—Sita. This is extolled as a virtue. Rama wanted to undertake the Aswamegha sacrifice and that required presence of his wife. Then he makes a golden statue of Sita to complete the rites. This is contradictory to the Biblical narrative. However, this is partly nullified by Vimalsuri’s assertion that Rama had four wives—Sita, Prabhavati, Ratinibha and Sridama (91.18).
Abraham then received a call from God asking him to sacrifice his son Issac. Abraham proceeds to do the same (Gen 22). The parallel story in Valmiki Ramayana is of Rama undertaking Aswamegha Yajna (Uttara 91-92). There is no story of sacrificing son Issac though. Rama is united with sons Lav and Kush during this sacrifice. Vimalsuri mentions the same uniting with sons during attack by the sons and mentions no sacrifice (99-100). The common strand is that of a sacrifice (Bible and Valmiki). This sacrifice is associated with sons—in Isaac’s sacrifice or in the union of sons with father.
Sarah dies and is buried
Sarah dies at Kirjath Arba (Hebron) and Abraham “came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (Gen 23.2). The tone is as if Sarah died away from Abraham and he ‘came’ to mourn for her. The death of Sita is more dramatic in the Indian tradition. Rama asks her to take oath of chastity in public. She does this and enters Rasatala—the depths—which is similar to being buried in the earth (Uttara 97.19-20). Vimalsuri, however, says Sita became an ascetic (102.46).
Abraham dies soon thereafter and is buried with Sarah (25.8-9). Rama dies soon thereafter in the Indian tradition as well.”
It is pretty clear that the likelihood of Ram and Abraham being the same figure is very high. In Bible, God predicts that all the nations of the world will bless Abraham. But Abraham as is currently understood represents only Christians, Jews and Muslims. If the followers of Ram are included, then Ram-Abraham becomes a revered figure for almost all the nations of the world.
There are differences of course in some descriptions in Quran and Bible too. In Bible, it is Isaac who is put to the test of sacrifice while in Islamic literature it is Ismail. There is no mention of Abraham and Ismail building Ka’ba in Bible. The story of Abraham smashing idols is there in Islamic and Biblical sources but is missing in Valmiki Ramayana. It commonly thought that Azar was ibrahim’s father. But the Quran uses “abi” (instead of walid), which is often also used for an uncle or guardian. Bible names his father as Tarakh. Many Islamic books too including Rozath-al-Ahbaab,. al-Bidaya wan Nahaya, by Ibn Katheer, (v 1 p 139) and the history of Tabari also give Tarakh as his father’s name.
It will be worthwhile here to make Islamic position clear regarding certain issues because most of Hindus do not understand this.
(1.) Most Hindus tend to understand that Islam is a religion founded by Muhammad in Arabia. In Islam, Muhammad is not the founder but the ultimate figure in the long process of the establishment of God-directed system in the world. It began with Adam (or anyone else in Hinduism who is considered father of the current human race.) Many Islamic scholars believe (based on some ahadith and a quote of Ali) that, after descent from Garden, Adam started his worldly life in India. Incidentally, Adam may well be a derivative of Sanskrit word Aadi or Aadimanav. From Adam through tens of thousands of Guides and Ambassadors, it reached the ultimate destination, Muhammad who was declared the Last Ambassador of God and the Quran the Last Book of God. All the guides and Ambassadors were true devotees of God who preached that God alone is to be worshipped and everyone must work righteously and his deeds will be judged in the Afterlife.
(2.) Ram/Abraham is considered to be the patriarch in all Semitic religions and occupies a very high position among the guides and Ambassadors of God. In Islam, the Darud Shareif which is recited in every single prayer (Namaz) mentions the name of Abraham/Ibrahim along with Muhammad imploring God to bless Muhammad the way He blessed Ibrahim. (Jai Muhammad and Jai Sriram may be the short Hindi versions of Darud).
(3.) Abraham/Ram dynasties produced some of the most remarkable figures in Arabia including Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and Muhammad. (Peace be upon all of them!)
(4.) In Islam, no prophet or Ambassador can ever ask for his own worship or worshipping of idols. But the followers of many of them distorted the original concept and started worshipping idols. Further, Abraham/Ibrahim/Ram is particularly known for smashing idols.
(5.) In Islam, which is the Arabic word for “Peace in submission to God”, the whole universe has been created by One God and is following the Laws of Nature created by God. Every other entity, howsoever big, powerful or pious, is his creation and any creation cannot be worshipped in place of or along with the Creator.
In short, Abraham/Ram may well be the connecting figure between all the great religions including Islam and Hinduism. If his true message is understood, it will not be difficult to conclude that Islam represents his religion sent by God and finalized and perfected by Muhammad (PBUH) for all times to come.
All the religions need to unite together to fight the immoral system established by the anti-God ideologies. Unfortunately, the religious organizations and movements have become centred more around religious identity and hatred for others rather than on religious morality and love for others. The religious and the protagonists of religions have to recognize the fact that the challenge in the present world to them is not from other religions but from the ideologies that seek to commercialize human susceptibilities through misguided concepts aimed at political and economic hegemony rather than a cleaner, healthier and more peaceful world. Hindus and Muslims of India should ideally take a lead in this campaign.
[Dr. Javed Jamil is India based thinker and writer and Head of Chair in Islamic Studies & research, Yenepoya University, Mangalore. He is author of over a dozen books, and can be contacted at doctorforu123”yahoo.com]