Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reclaiming our History | Decoding the Ramayana: The *real* Shri Ram: Whether he was a "bad husband" and what is 'Ram-Rajya'? (Part-VI)

Author's Note: Please visit - The 'Real' Ramayana/ Ram-Rajya - to read the other parts of this series, so as to be able to fully understand or grasp the contents of this one.

Kaikeyi was a great woman. What *really* was the reason behind Ram, Sita and Lakshman's 14-year-long exile?

We have grown up listening to stories from the Ramayana, and we have all been told that Kaikeyi and Manthara were two 'evil' women that exiled Ram, Sita and Lakshman to the forest - for a period of 14 years.

Reason: Apparently she wanted her son 'Bharat' to ascend the throne, instead of the eldest of Raja Dasarath's sons: Ram.

And we all have somehow believed this version, despite having known what had pre-ceded and after-ceded Ram's exile - purportedly orchestrated by the 'evil' Kaikeyi and egged-on (or instigated) by the 'evil' and scheming Manthara.

The narrative says: Maharshi Viswamitra was facing a lot of disturbance from the cannibalistic Rakshasas, who did not allow him to perform his activities and rituals in peace. Tadaka Rakshashi, her son - Maricha, and their companions are mentioned. [Cannibalistic humans were known as 'Rakshasas' or 'Rakshasis'; remember: we are discussing a completely different era or yug - where a varied kind of people as well as flora and fauna may have been found.]

Maharshi Viswamitra lived in the Dandaka Aranya (or Dandaka Forest). [There may have been some unwanted wild animals too.]

Fed-up with the disturbances and trouble caused by the Rakshasas, he visited Raja Dasaratha and asked him to send Ram - so as to subdue the Rakshasas, and let him live in peace.

Raja Dasaratha offered to go himself. But Maharshi Viswamitra specifically asked for Ram.

[The narrative says: Ram was 15 or 16 years old then. We will discuss this in a while.]

Ram, as we know, was Raja Dasaratha's son from his eldest queen: Kaushalya; the 2nd queen, Kaikeyi's son was Bharat; the youngest queen - Sumitra - had twins: Lakshman and Shatrughna.

All four of them were known to have grown tall, strong and handsome.

All four brothers were close to each other; though Ram was closest to Lakshman, while Bharat was closest to Shatrughna.

Therefore, when Raja Dasarath acquiesced to Maharshi Vishwamitra's request, Lakshman too accompanied Ram.

In the Dandaka Aranya, they fought off the obnoxious Tadaka Rakshasi and killed her. Then they subdued Maricha who fled along with his companions (whoever remained, that is.)

Maharshi Vishwamitra was, needless to say, very pleased... and gifted some rare weapons to Shri Ram (or probably shared with him the procedure to make them) - as a token of his appreciation.

Thereafter, they proceeded to Videha (capital: Mithila), where Raja Janak was holding the Swayamvar of his foster-daughter - Sita. [Videha is now known as Janakpur.]

[Swayam in Sanskrit means self and vara means choice or desire. In ancient India, there was a practice of choosing a husband, from among a list of suitors, by a girl of marriageable age.]

Ram, the then Prince (Yuvaraj) of Ayodhya, too participated in the 'Swayamvar'. We are told that he was the one that successfully broke the 'Shiv-dhanu'.

[Given that our ancients used a lot of metaphors in their writings, the 'Shiv-dhanu' has been depicted as a bow (dhanu = bow). However, it was not a 'bow' per se, but the most destructive of all weapons (of that era). Obviously, a consensus would have been reached amongst the rulers and other influential entities of that era, to dismantle that fearsome weapon. Shri Ram does it.]

Ram and Sita were married (in Mithila, now in Nepal) and returned to Ayodhya via Lumbini. Dasarath and others accompanied them back with great fanfare. [In 249 BC, Samraat Asoka erected a pillar in Lumbini with an inscription referring to the visits by both Shri Ram and Bhagavan Shri Gautam Buddh to Lumbini.]

[Lakshmana married Sita's sister: Urmila. Bharata and Shatrughan married Sita's cousins: Mandavi and Shrutakirti respectively.]

Therefore, Ram could not have been a 15 or 16 year old. At that age he would have been a student.

We can also infer that during his time spent in Dandaka Aranya, he may have made certain observations:

1. The threat that ordinary humans faced from cannibalistic humans (also known as 'Rakshasas' (male) and 'Rakshasis' (female). He would most certainly have realized that for the non-cannibalistic humans to live in peace, and to survive and prosper, the cannibalistic variety had to be dealt with.

2. The plight of the 'van-nar' or the 'forest-dwelling humans' and the attitude of the rest of the humanity towards them, as well as the threat that they too faced from the cannibalistic humans - could not have escaped his attention either.

[Note: It is also possible that many of the Rakshasas and Rakshasis may have essentially been people who were inimical to the kingdom (and people) of Ayodhya, Kishkindhya, Jamvanta Nagari, etc. and were creating disturbances for them.]

... Therefore: something clearly had to be done.

And Ram may have figured out the amount of time that would be required in order to accomplish the following tasks: 

1. To integrate the 'van-nar' or the 'forest-dwelling humans' with the rest of the humanity (and with society). That is: to ensure that the rest of the humanity accepted them as 'full-fledged humans'. [Do read: Part-I, Part-II, Part-III and Part-IV - to know more.]

2. To improve the status and position of women and other marginalized people - in society. [Do read: Part-I, Part-II and Part-III - to know more.]

3. To ensure the acceptance of humans not born the natural way as full-fledged humans. [Do read: Part-V - for greater clarity.]

4. To secure the lives of his praja (subjects) and the borders of his kingdom, so as to eliminate unnecessary skirmishes or wars, and to plug the unwanted drainage of time, energy and resources - of his kingdom and of his people.

5. To establish peaceful relations with some of the neighbouring kingdoms and the people living there.

[Remember: Videha was already an ally - after his marriage to Sita; while Koshala and Kashi were allies as well, since Kaushalya and Sumitra hailed from Kosala and Kashi respectively. We will discuss where Kaikeyi hailed from - in the next post.]

However: Raja Dasarath was aged, and Ram's coronation was to happen shortly.

And so: Shri Ram would clearly have been in a dilemma. Here's why:

1. After his coronation, he would be the king or the monarch (Raja) and no longer the Yuvaraja (or Prince). And for the king to be absent from his kingdom (and subjects) for a long period of time - would not have been acceptable to the praja (people) and others (officials, etc).

2. He had no intention of renouncing the throne and leading the life of an ascetic.

3. He could not have requested to be passed over - for coronation either, since that would have been contrary to the norms accepted by the society in the Treta Yug (or the 2nd era.)

4. Any request to the Raj Purohith (or the chief priest), to his father: Raja Dasaratha or to his mother: Kaushalya - would have been futile.

5. Trumpeting or publicly articulating the reasons for his wanting to be away for some years - would have defeated its very purpose.

Our ancients followed a clear process of succession; according to the laid-down rules, the eldest son would ascend the throne [primogeniture], provided he did not have any physical or psychological issues.

Ram had neither... and he was the eldest son.

But he had to be away - for a certain number of years, so as to accomplish some tasks (listed down earlier in this post), and therefore, an acceptable alternative had to be found. That is: someone who could occupy the throne - in the interim period. Someone - who would be acceptable to everyone else as well...

Now, who do you think could help him achieve all of this - smoothly?

Not Kaikeyi?

Though we know that Kaikeyi was Ram's step-mother, yet we find that she had never differentiated between Ram and her own son: Bharat. She had always loved them equally.

Kaikeyi was also a brave warrior. Many years ago she had saved Raja Dasaratha - in the battlefield - from certain death, and then nursed him back to good health. A grateful Dasarath quite obviously wanted to show his gratitude and offered her 'two boons'. Meaning: she could ask for any two things and he would give them to her (or get them for her.)

Kaikeyi had never used this gift of 'two boons'; since there was never any need for it. And she was also Raja Dasarath's favourite queen.

... It is unlikely that Ram was not aware of all this.

Now, lets move on.

Shortly before Ram's coronation, we find Kaikeyi putting forth her demands to Dasarath, reminding him of his 'two boons'. ... And the demands were:

1. That Ram is exiled for 14 years.

2. And that: her son - Bharat (who was younger to Ram but older to Lakshman and Shatrughna) be crowned instead.

Dasarath, quite obviously was shocked, since Kaikeyi had always loved Ram and Bharat equally. And her demands (made so close to Ram's coronation) - meant breaking the accepted norms or rules of succession.

However, since he was bound by his words, he therefore, had no other alternative but to acquiesce.

Ram was duly exiled for 14 years (Sita and Lakshman accompanied him) - to Dandaka Aranya. Lakshman accompanied them by choice, while Sita was the lynchpin - for everything that had to be done and accomplished.

[Do read: Part-I, Part-II and Part-III - to understand *who* Sita really was and *what* she was really like.]

Now, the question is: if Kaikeyi so wanted her son - Bharat - to ascend the throne, why did she not exile Ram and Sita (and if necessary Lakshman as well) - forever? Why only for 14 years and why to Dandaka Aranya?

Why does Ram (along with Sita and Lakshman) straightaway go to Dandaka Aranya via Chitrakoot? And how come Kaikeyi is able to tell Bharat (once he returns from his maternal grandfather's place after receiving urgent summons from Maharshi Vasistha) – that Ram has been exiled to Dandaka Aranya? What does all this mean?

We all are good at solving crosswords and Sudoku, right? I guess: we should also try and solve the many riddles weaved into our ancient texts, and decode them. About time, don't you think? :)

And: I also hope that given all that we have discussed so far, we can now quite clearly make the connection and join the dots, so as to figure out just why this 14-year exile had to happen. What say you?

As for the specific time period of 14 years: Ram was a warrior and would have been an excellent planner and strategist too. He may have figured out that in order to achieve the above-mentioned tasks, he also needed to: get acclimatized with unknown and difficult terrains, get to know the people there and build trust and friendship with them; understand the terrain and the people - so as to have a good idea about his neighbouring nations and territories; get used to a different culture, 'way of life' and language, obviously he would have had to learn different languages in order to interact with the 'van-nar' and vice versa; some terrain-clearing may have been required - rocky and forest terrains; negotiations had to be held, also: intelligence gathering, planning and strategizing; building prototypes and testing them; training, sourcing materials and building a bridge, fighting battles, etc. [Nala was the 'van-nar' architect-engineer who led the sethu-bandhan. The Setu was used for pedestrian traffic between India and Sri Lanka right until 1480 when a major cyclone destroyed it.]

[Note: Ram could not have been a teenager when he killed Tadaka Rakshasi. He was 'exiled' at the age of 25; before that: he was married, and prior to that, he had come to 'Dandaka Aranya' on Maharshi Vishwamitra's insistence. Also: all of these events could not have had much of a time lapse between them, though it would have certainly provided them with sufficient time to think and plan - discreetly; and some time for Ram and Sita to get to know and understand each other.

Therefore: It is possible that some mistranslations have resulted into Ram being erroneously described as a teenager. Just like: a clear mistranslation says that Ram and Sita were happily married for 12 years before their exile. Very likely: the stated 12 years may have been 12 months.]

Dandaka Aranya was a big forest that lay between the Godavari and the Narmada rivers. Some passages of the Ramayana represent it as beginning immediately south of the Yamuna River. Dandak was also a kingdom, rather: a colonial state of ancient Lanka - under the reign of Ravana. Ravan's representative/brother - Khara - ruled this state or province. It was also a stronghold of all the Rakshasas that lived in the Dandaka Forest.

It is possible that Ravan may have occupied this area by force.

Ravan's 10 heads was a metaphor: a testimony to his great intelligence as well as vast ego. But it may also have been an allusion to 10 kingdoms. Therefore: either the sea has swallowed up some parts of ancient Lanka, or we may want to explore the possibility of (modern) Australia having been a part of ancient Lanka and ancient India. [Do read: Link.]

(Do stay tuned…)

Picture: An illustration of Kaikeyi and Raja Dasaratha. 

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