An Indian scholar claimed that the ancient Sanskrit epic The Ramayana features historical accounts of interactions between Homo sapiens and Homo erectus. Dr. Rangan Ramakrishnan made the claim in his ten-volume study of the Ramayana, its traditional author Valmiki, and its later reception and adaptation in Indian culture. He holds a doctorate in yoga (!) and produces content valorizing ancient India and the Vedas. An article in the South China Morning Post quoted the author on the bizarre claim. Here, Ramakrishnan speaks of Hanuman, a monkey god, and the Vanaras, his monkey retainers:
“If one reads the original Ramayana without the influence of succeeding vernacular versions, which emerged at least several centuries after Valmiki, Vanaras like Hanuman are referred to as a distinct species altogether,” said the author of the new book, Dr Rangan Ramakrishnan, a scholar of the Ramayana and literary historian. “Like other human species, they speak fluently and they inhabit a distinctive culture.”
In India, Valmiki is considered both a historical figure and an incarnation of the god Brahma, as well as the first poet in human history. There is no evidence for any of that. The Ramayana, allegedly his work, dates from perhaps the seventh to fourth century BCE on philological evidence, which makes it younger than either the Homeric poems or the Epic of Gilgamesh. So much for being the first epic poet. Hindu nationalists often falsely claim a primordial origin for the Ramyana, dating back to the Treta Yuga, 870,000 years ago, which is what allows Ramakrishnan to presume a memory of Homo erectus lies buried in the poem.
But it gets worse. Ramakrishnan claim the text also features Neanderthals:
Ramayana is perhaps the only literature to speak about a variety of human species offering to fill an important gap in human ancestry and evolution through literary support,” said Ramakrishnan. “Interestingly, the protagonist Lord Rama corresponds to the sapiens, other ‘Vanaras’ loosely match Homo erectus, while the villain Ravana and his ‘Rakshasas’ clan are mostly consistent with the description of Homo Neanderthals.
When challenged on his claims based on the facts, notably that Homo erectus did not have a tail or the other monkey-like features that are dissimilar to the apelike elements of Homo erectus, Ramakrishnan claimed that too few fossils have been studied to truly understand whether ancient humans exactly match ancient Sanskrit myths.
By identifying different animal gods with various human species, Ramakrishnan could therefore falsely date the Ramayana to the Treta Yuga. He notes that the different gods and creatures treat each other as equals, so he claims the text represents a point in time when the various human species lived in equality and Homo sapiens had not yet ascended to dominance. By contrast, the text presumes the urbanization of India and makes reference to cultural developments after the sixth century BCE.
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