Monday, November 26, 2012

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

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.

What *really* was Manthara's role? [Please read Part-VI – so as to get the drift.] A glimpse of the 'Treta Yug' or the 2nd era. Thoughts on the much-bandied-about 'Lakshman-Surpanakha' episode. *What* does Shri Hanuman tearing open his chest to reveal the image of Shri Rama and Sita mean?

The narrative tells us that Manthara was a trusted attendant of Kaikeyi from her parental home. She is variously referred to as: 'Kubja' (hump-backed) and 'Vamani' (dwarf woman). This is a clear indication that she belonged to the group of people known as the Yakshas (male) and Yakshis (female). These were dwarf or small-sized humans. [Do read: Part-III - for greater clarity.]

In ancient times, these little people were mostly engaged in guard duties, such as: to guard the treasury, etc. They were renowned for their loyalty and for their strength.

Their knowledge of nature, plants and medicine is also well-documented. When Shri Hanuman went to get the 'Sanjeevni Booti' - the medicinal herb whose juice could revive the unconscious Lakshman, he was not quite aware as to: what plant it was, what it looked like or where exactly it could be found. However, the Yakshas that lived in the mountains (the Gandhamadhana Parvat) guided him. 

Manthara undoubtedly would have been extremely trustworthy and loyal, so much so that she would have under no circumstances, even in a moment of weakness (say: due to all the scorn being heaped on Kaikeyi) – would have revealed *anything*.

Also: Kaikeyi, who was known to have loved Ram and Bharat equally, could not have asked for Ram to be exiled for 14 years – all of a sudden, out of the blue! Right?

Quite obviously: a background had to be created. And for that to happen, someone who could be totally trusted was required. And this is where Manthara came into the picture.

There is a strong possibility that Ram may have maintained a covert correspondence with Ayodhya - in order to keep tabs on the goings-on there. This - he would have maintained with Kaikeyi - and no one else. Hence, Manthara would have been required. Since Kaikeyi, being a queen... would not have been able to do everything herself.

I say this because: Bharat and Shatrughna severely chastise Manthara and even attempt to assault her. The commotion draws Kaikeyi's attention. She stops Bharat and Shatrughna from assaulting Manthara, by saying that it was not right to hit a woman, and that: Ram would be very displeased if he heard of it.

Now, why did she say that? How could Ram (who was in exile) get to hear of it?

What do you think?

To my mind: Only four people were in the know: Ram, Sita, Kaikeyi and Manthara.

I do not think any of it would have been shared with Lakshman and Bharat (and Shatrughan as well), 'coz they would, very likely, not have accepted any of it, let alone co-operate. And: they were also known to have been somewhat emotional.

In fact, Bharat (along with Shatrughna) had been away - visiting his mother's place i.e. his maternal grandfather's place (Kekeya Mahajanapada or kingdom) - when all this happened. Later, he met Ram (at Chitrakut) during the exile period itself, and begged and pleaded with him - to return to Ayodhya. On being unsuccessful, he asked Ram to give him his 'paduka' (footwear) instead. This is because: in our culture, the feet are worshiped. Touching the feet of one's elders is a mark of respect.

As for the 14 years (exile period): we have seen in Part-VI - how an adult Ram has been mistakenly turned into a teenager or how say, a period of 12 months has been (mis)translated as 12 years.

Therefore: whether the exile was for 14 years or for a somewhat lesser period: we can only conjecture. 

BTW, keeping what Kaikeyi tells Bharat and Shatrughna (when they attempt to assault Manthara) in mind, if we are to examine the Lakshman-Supranakha episode, who might have been responsible? Meaning: who might have thought up and then inserted this episode?

The dacoits of Aravalli were notorious for cutting off the nose... of their victims, and then letting them off. Given that the current versions of the Ramayana - including the Valmiki Ramayana - are much-embellished versions, 'contemporised' too + customized for stage plays, etc., what should we make of this much-bandied-about episode?

What say you?

[Note: We do not know what happened to the community known as: Yakshas and Yakshis - given that a lot of intermingling between various groups of people has happened over the centuries.

However I wonder: whether the ones we call 'dwarf' today, are a type of Yaksha or Yakshi? I say this: 'coz even though they are very small in size, this does not seem to be a hindrance in any way. They are physically strong, lead a normal life and can procreate as well.

Incidentally: Tuberculosis (TB) is called 'Jakkha' in Bangla. So, we may want to explore whether this disease (or epidemic, or a series of such epidemics) caused the Yaksha population to dwindle - many years ago.

We must also take a closer look at our various ancient dance-forms. These are not restricted to entertainment alone, but very clearly convey aspects of our ancient culture, history and heritage. E.g. Kathakali. This dance-form may provide more information about the Kirat, the Kinnara and the Kimpurusha ("people with lion-like nature" or "people from the mountain"). Ditto: the various dance-forms including the war-dances from the mountainous regions in the north or the north-eastern regions of our country. While the Yakshagana and the Chau dance-forms may provide some clues about the Yakshas and the yakṣī or Yakshini - of yore. We may also want to look at the Bhuta Kola and the Aati Kalenja, apart from the Royal/Regal Tiger dance (Kannada: the Hulivesha, Hulivēṣa | Tulu: the Pilivesha, Pilivēṣa) as well as the Puli Kali, a similar dance-form in neighbouring Kerala. ("Puli" = Leopard/Tiger and "Kali" = Play - in the Malayalam language.) Do read: Part-III - for more info on these various groups of humans.]

We have discussed about Shri Hanuman and Shri Jambavan in some detail (in our earlier posts in this series). Shri Hanuman very likely belonged to a clan or community that had a monkey-totem. While: Shri Jambavan belonged to one that had a bear-totem (or maybe: sported a bear-mask). The Kirat and the Kimpurusha were groups that had a lion-totem or headgear while the Kinnara were communities with a tiger-totem or mask.

And their facial features e.g. the jaw-line may have invoked the image of an ape or a bear - respectively. As for the Kirat or the Kimpurusha ("people with lion-like nature" or "people from the mountain") - do watch a monk meditating, it will invoke the image of a lion in your mind.

We are (somehow) convinced that Nandi and Bhringi were bulls. But they were clearly humans hailing from a community with a bull-totem or one that sported a headgear of bullhorns; or perhaps a totem displaying the Chamri Gai (a high altitude cow or yak) and/or a headgear of yak-horns. [Chamer, Bengali for 'chowry' or fly whisker, is used during worship of a deity or shrine. The word 'chamer' is derived from 'chamri gai' meaning yak.]

Therefore: we must examine the different totems, masks, costumes, body-paint, head-gears, sculptures, whoops, musical instruments, articles used during rituals or worship, ceremonial objects, cuisine, crafts, metalwork, jewellery, paintings, languages and attire - of the many groups of people that still live in the forest or in and among the hills and mountains - all over our country. Who knows, we may (still) be able to gather some info - about some of our ancient groups and communities. And who knows we may be able to get some clues about the evolution of the human species.

I say this 'coz: given the passage of time and the movements between people, there has been a lot of intermingling of people as well as intermingling of blood. And all of this has given rise to a new set of humans: groups and communities... as well as culture and languages. Yet, despite all the proverbial water that has clearly flown under the bridge, we may still be able to find some traces of our ancient culture, history and heritage. And we must treasure whatever little we can salvage.

What say you?

Also: Please remember:

The Ramayana is geographically very correct. We are only attempting to piece together the events, in as dispassionate a manner as possible.

There has been a huge amount of flights of fantasy, mistranslations, misinterpretations, various crosscurrents and a mixing of multiple narratives - into the main narrative w.r.t the Ramayana. There are over 3000 re-tellings and versions (India and beyond), and counting! And half-baked knowledge has been responsible for the twisting of the Ramayana and the mutilation of our ancient history. Sadly.

[Note: What we today know as the Valmiki Ramayana is thought to be the work of several people, besides the 'aadi kavi' or the first poet - Maharshi Valmiki. We will discuss in our later posts as to why this is so. Not just bits and pieces, but two whole 'khands' - parts or chapters - are accepted as having been latter-day 'add-on'. And the much-bandied-about 'Lakshman Rekha' is a part of one of these two added 'khands'...! Isn't it strange that added bits are bandied about everywhere, while no effort is made to scrutinize the narrative - in order to weed out the 'impurities' that has so obviously seeped in?!]


Each era is distinct. Here we are discussing a completely different era or yug - the 2nd era, the Treta Yug. We cannot view it or discuss it though the prism of the current one. That will be unfair to say the least... as well as misleading.

The terrain that we see today is a much-changed one. It obviously would have been totally different - in another era. In all likelihood, it would have been heavily forested, infested with a completely different set of flora and fauna, wild animals included - the kind that we don't see now or rather: won't get to see - ever. And there would have been a much greater number of hills, mangroves and water-bodies too.

The land area itself would have differed. It would have undoubtedly been much larger. Over the years, due to the action of the waters, chunks of land would have slowly but surely been swallowed up by the sea and the ocean. Some natural events too would have contributed towards changing the landscape. [Read: Link.]

Humans would have been very different as well, and far more diverse than we see today.

And Ram, Lakshman, Sita, et al would have been very different from us - modern humans - in all respects: height, strength, appearance, longevity, intelligence, perception, caliber, knowledge, technology, and what have you. Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata very clearly talk about awesome technology, something that the modern world (5000 years into the 4th era or the Kali Yug) has still not seen...! [Please read: Part-V – to get an idea of how advanced our ancients were.]

[Our ancients undoubtedly had far more sophisticated technology at their disposal than most of us moderns (enslaved by our arrogance and a linear view of history) - are willing to give them credit for. E.g., the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath, the Iron pillar of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya in Mehrauli, the cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora, the Egyptian mummies and the pyramids, the drainage system, wells and water-storage system of the Indus-valley cities (i.e. the Sarasvati Civilization), the Stonehenge - to name a few. And many of these are from the current era or yug itself.

Yet, no matter how much or how hard we try... we cannot replicate them. In fact, we won't even come close.]

Also: the constraints and challenges (faced by the people of the Treta Yug) would have been different - in all respects, than what we (moderns) experience today, or have been experiencing for the past few generations.

The type of society and the societal norms followed and accepted in the 2nd era or the Treta Yug - is nothing like what we see around us today or are used to seeing or accepting.

Societal norms were far more rigid, and important personalities like the kings were bound by their words or by their 'dharma' (duty). They followed 'Raaj-neeti' or 'Raaj-dharma' - the 'way of a king' or the 'principles or duty of a king' and 'Kshatriya Dharma' i.e. the 'way of a Kshatriya' or the 'way of a brave-heart'.

'Raaj-neeti' or 'Raaj-dharma' is not to be confused with what passes for 'politics' today.

The society that we see today or have been seeing for a while now is far more flexible and accepting of many things. There are no rules or words that bind. And this of course works both ways. However: the earlier ears (yugs) were completely different... and unlike the current one.

Ram was a human, not God - as we have been led to believe. He did not possess any magical powers to make things happen either. It was only through 'Karm-Yog' that Ram and Sita (along with Hanuman, Jambavan, Kaikeyi, Manthara, Sugreeva and his 'Van-nar Sena', et al) - were able to achieve all that they have achieved - despite huge odds and challenges. And no less a person than Shri Krishna has paid the highest tributes to Shri Ram, while describing that unseen and formless force known as the Paramaatma (the Supreme Soul) or the Parameshwar (the Supreme Being) i.e. divinity - in the Srimad Bhagavad Geeta.

Do remember: we are discussing an era (yug) when the 'van-nar' (forest-dwelling humans) was not even considered as humans. They were shunned and taken as part of the 'animal world' or as 'lesser humans'. [The so-called tribal of today does not have to face such a plight.]

There are reasons for Ram not having sought the help of his own powerful army (that of Ayodhya + Videha) and instead going into battle with an army of 'Van-nar Sena' (i.e. an army of forest-dwelling humans) - led by Shri Hanuman. [Videha = the kingdom from where Sita hailed; after her marriage to Ram, Videha was a staunch ally of Ayodhya.]

There are reasons for Ram not having sought the assistance of his own highly-skilled engineers and technicians (from Ayodhya) - to build the bridge to Lanka (also known as: the Ram Setu). [Do read: Part-I, Part-II and Part-III.]

[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.]

In the course of our discussions, we have had a glimpse of the kind of society that prevailed in the Treta Yug (the 2nd era) and we have seen how shabbily even venerated and learned persons treated women, and the immense influence they wielded on society. [Do read: Part-I.]

Sita refused to receive instructions/education from Rishi Gautam, although the latter was the Raj Purohith (chief or royal priest) of her foster-father, Raja Janak. This is because: Gautam had killed his wife, Ahaliya. We are told that Gautam 'cursed' her and as a result Ahaliya turned into stone. This actually means: he either killed her by hitting her with a stone or buried her alive. The reason: he suspected her 'fidelity'. [Do read: Part-I - to know more.]

Therefore: In order to undo a variety of ills that plagued society (in the Treta Yug) especially in light of the influence and power wielded by certain sections, a routine ascension to the throne, as Raja Dasharatha's heir, would not have provided any Moral Gravitas or authority whatsoever - to Ram. That way: he would have been bound by the norms and duties of a king, and would have had to abide by them too. Long absence was not a possibility as per the norms of the Treta Yug, and articulating the reforms or changes he wanted to bring about - would have defeated its very purpose. There would have been a lot of resistance from powerful entities. Remember a king of the Treta Yug cannot be equated with a dictator. They were bound by guidelines, and societal norms were very rigid. [Please read: Part-I, Part-II and Part-III – in order to know more.]

We have unfortunately turned Ram into a one-dimensional figure, which he clearly was not. He possessed great foresight and has done what had to be done, by adopting appropriate methods... instead of relying on rituals in order to better the conditions of the people.

Instead of placidly accepting the norms and the various injustices prevailing in the 2nd era (Treta Yug), Ram and Sita chose to do something about it - in order to improve the conditions of the people.

Ram has been erroneously termed as: a 'Perfect Man' or an 'Ideal Man'. 'Maryada-Purushottam' does not mean 'Perfect Man' or 'Ideal Man'. 

Someone that accepts the prevailing norms (maryada) of society and abides by them or works accordingly: is known as: 'Maryada-Purush'

But someone that *goes beyond* the accepted norms prevailing in society and changes them - for the greater good: is 'Maryada-Purushottam'.

Ram is known and hailed as: 'Maryada-Purushottam'. He possessed the courage and the moral wherewithal to go beyond the accepted norms of the society (in the Treta Yug) and change them - for the greater good, i.e. for the upliftment of society and for the improvement in the lives of the people.

Also: When various 'knowledgeable' persons say that Ravan could have easily ravished Sita in captivity, but did not - and then take this as a sign of his noble-mindedness, they simply choose to overlook the fact that Sita was Mandodari's daughter. [Mandodari was Ravan's favourite queen. Sita and Mandodari were so alike that even Hanuman was confused.]

And it is these types that misrepresent what Sita's 'Agni-Pariksha' was all about, and then blithely twist certain texts to say that 'Ram subjected Sita to purification rituals since her chastity was questioned'...! He did not. [We will of course discuss what Sita's 'Agni-Pariksha' actually means, in our forthcoming posts.]

[Note: To know *who* Sita really was, i.e. *what* she was really like... and how shabbily women were treated in the Treta Yug: Do read: Part-I and Part-II.]

'Sita' or 'Seeta' is derived from 'Seet' - an instrument used to dig up the ground, especially for agricultural purposes. It is said that Raja Janak of Videha (now known as Janakpur) found her abandoned in a ditch, adopted her and brought her up as his own daughter. [Mandodari may have abandoned her for whatever reason, or Sita may have been lost or kidnapped.]

However: it is beyond a shred of doubt that we prefer theatrics and narratives that are high on emotional content. Plus: we love to learn by rote. In fact: we have managed to become champions at it.

How else do you think we have not taken a closer look at the Ramayana and sought to separate the grain from the chaff, in order to get a clearer picture?

How else do you think we have been celebrating 'Ram-Leela' year after year with so much gusto, where even the effigy of Vibhishan is burnt?! Since: Vibhishan and Ram were friends and allies...!

Unbelievable, right?!!

Now, let us consider our ancient texts. We know (and have discussed) that they are peppered with metaphor, imagery or camouflaged language. Here's yet another example:

What does Shri Hanuman tearing open his chest to reveal the image of Shri Rama and Sita mean?

Well, it simply means: body art or tattoo. As simple as that!

Yet such heavy-weather has been made of it...! Just think of the numerous serials on television or the many stage-shows - and how they project this simple thing. Not to speak of the various books and illustrations. They have all contributed handsomely towards a warped version of our ancient history or itihasa. :)

Yes, our ancient texts are filled with metaphors and imagery. But this should not surprise or baffle us at all. Simply because: this is how our ancients wrote. If we are to examine our ancient texts like the Devi Mahatmyam, the Shiv Puran, the Ramayana, the Mahabharat, et al, this pattern will become very clear.

It is we, the 'moderns' that have not been able to fathom, decode and decipher. Instead: we have royally entangled ourselves in cobweb and confusion. And theatrics. :)

Our ancient itihasa cannot be looked at in isolation. They are like flowers strung together on a string, and hence they have to be viewed as a whole; else the big picture will remain incomplete.

The 1st era or the Satya/Sat/Krita Yug: the Devi Mahatmyam and the Shiv Puran.

The 2nd era or the Treta Yug: the Ramayana.

The 3rd era or the Dvapar Yug: the Mahabharata.

There is continuity. [Of course there are several other texts too. And they all contain a wealth of info, provided we are able to separate the grain from the chaff - if you know what I mean.]

In my humble opinion, what needs to be done is this: having crisp, concise, sharp, taut, decoded versions of all the above (the Devi Mahatmyam, the Shiv Puran, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata), in simple language (that is easy to understand and comprehend) - resting within the same covers, is the way to go. Some illustrations would definitely help, since visual depiction leaves a greater impact than mere text. [However: we should not confuse the Shiv-Parvati stories with the Shiv-Sati stories. Also: the possibility that the Devi Mahatymam and the Shiv Puran (may be) depicting the early part of the 2nd era (the Treta Yug) cannot be ruled out.]

(Do stay tuned…)

Picture: 1. Kaikeyi and Manthara. 2. Shri Hanuman 'tearing open his chest' to reveal the image of Shri Ram and Mata Sita.

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