From my Ramayana Series!
Christian theology has a long history of debate over Jesus’ divinity. In my diagram above I playfully experimented with locating some of the common “Christologies” in relationship to each other.
Please feel free to correct my placements but please remember that the point of this post is to illustrate that a similar debate exists about a Hindu god-man — Rama.
Hindus consider Rama to be an incarnation of the God Vishnu but it may not have always been so. Exactly how god-ish Rama is considered nowadays is also debated similar to the same debate among Christians. Hindus, like Christians, have a wide variety of opinions on the issue. In the diagram you can see two types of Rama – one much more human than the other. Both of these Ramas can be found in the different versions of the Ramayana.
The Ramayana’s earliest versions were written in Sanskrit – between 700s and 100s BC (see my diagram). The author is reported to be the poet/saint Valmiki whose text claims that he was a contemporary of Rama. But Valmiki’s Ramayana, like the Bible, has gone through many oral tellings and redactions since Valmiki’s composition. Most extant Sanskrit versions are composed of seven books/cantos but modern literary criticism (similar to that applied critically to the Bible) has shown that the first and last book are most probably later additions. And without those two books and their influence on later redactions, Valmiki’s tale shows a much more human Rama. “Rama’s character is that not of a god but of a god-man who has to live within the limits of a human form with all its vicissitudes.” Rama is an inspirational filial son and valiant warrior but very human. It was only later additions to Valmiki’s tale that pulled Rama far closer to being 100% god — sort of like John’s Gospel did to Jesus.
Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana is popular in North India whereas the most popular version of the Ramayana in South India is written in Tamil by the famous 12th century poet Kampan where he tells us that Rama was clearly god — 100% god. In Kampan’s version, Rama’s “mission [is] to root out evil, sustain the good, and bring release to all living beings…. Rama is a savior of all beings, from the lowly grass to the great gods.” The South Indians possessively love Kampan’s version of the Ramayana, for as I wrote here, the tension between North and South India is long-standing.
I think it is helpful for Christians to realize that they are not the only ones who wrestled with god-man issues — several cultures wrestle with this theme.