Sunday, December 2, 2012

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

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 does 'Maryada Purushottam' mean? The *truth* about the much-trumpeted 'Lakshman Rekha', and some thoughts on: *what* the 'contemporisation' of the Ramayan and the Mahabharata has achieved.

The Ramayana is not a discourse about a woman's 'chastity', 'purity' or 'devotion' to her husband. It is not a story of triumph of 'good' over 'evil'. It is not a story about morality: including excessive morality or soap-opera-style narratives. It is not a story about magical beings or supra-magical powers.

Unfortunately: it is us that have turned it into all of these... and more.

The Ramayan - is a romance; a romance like no other. It also tells us about the people (a completely different set of humans), society, knowledge, technologies and the 'way of life' that prevailed in another era (yug) - the Treta Yug (the 2nd era).

It is a part of our ancient history (pracheen itihasa) as well as a testimony (or treatise) about how men and women - together - can achieve great things, and thereby undo a lot of social ills despite considerable odds: through sheer dint of action. In other words: through Karm Yog.

The Ramayana is not about excessive and foolish display of noble-heartedness vis-à-vis a possible adversary. Ram is not a one-dimensional, frozen-faced, celibate and wannabe ascetic either. He is absolutely not a Sri Chaitanyadev-like figure for sure. Ram is a warrior, a red-blooded Kshatriya and an Arya as well. His primary concern is the welfare of his kingdom and of his praja (subjects). His aim is to secure the borders of his kingdom and undo various social ills and negative perceptions prevailing in society (at that time and era). And he knew how to find a way - to achieve all of this - despite the many constraints placed on him by various entities that wielded a lot of influence and power (that were even greater than the king). And despite the many dynamics resulting out of the accepted rules and norms prevalent in society in that era. [Do read:  Part-I and Part-VII - to get the drift.]

That is why Ram is known and hailed as a 'Maryada Purushottam' i.e. as someone who can not only overcome various constraints put forth by an assortment of entities, rules and norms - but also achieve certain tasks that are good for the people and for society. ['Maryada Purushottam' does not mean 'Perfect Man' or 'Ideal Man'. A 'Maryada Purush' = one who accepts the prevalent rules and norms (maryada) and abides by them. Ram (and Sita) did not accept the injustices of their time. They chose to undo them instead. [Do read: Part-I and Part-II.] Hence: Ram is a 'Maryada Purushottam' (and not a 'Maryada Purush'). And unlike Bhagavan Shri Gautam Buddh, he did not have any inclination or propensity towards 'celibacy' or 'asceticism'. Let us be clear on that. He was a 'Warrior-Saint' or a 'Rajarshi' - simply because he was concerned about and worked for the welfare of his praja (people). Ram's memory lives on because of his extraordinary life and because of his extraordinary reign, which was obviously a period of great peace and prosperity, making Ram-Rajya a reference point. People only remember the very good or the very bad. No one has been (nor will ever be) able to etch their name in the heart, mind and soul of the people - on the strength of *anything else*.]

Ram knew how to preempt an unwanted situation, rather than wait for the consequences to materialize (which would have made things even more difficult and complicated). His handling of Sugreeva's brother Bali (also: Vaali) - is an indicator of this. Those who go about beating-around-the-bush should perhaps answer what did Garuda gain by displaying innocent faith and extreme noble-mindedness vis-à-vis the smiling fire-breathing Nag (dragon) in 1962.

[Btw, the Arya Nag-worshipers are not to be confused with this Nag.]

Ram's handling of the situation turned Ayodhya, Kishkindhya, Jamvanta Nagari and Lanka into staunch allies, and thereby ensured peace. Ram, Lakshman, Sugreeva, Angad, Hanuman, Jambavan, Vibhishan, et al became personal friends. This further ensured that there was no loss of precious lives and property in unwanted skirmishes, and that there was no unnecessary drainage of time, energy and resources - in fighting each other or being wary of each other.

Else: the situation would not have been much different from what we now find between India, Kukri-land, Lama-land and Dragon-land.

[Also: Videha, Kosala, Kashi and Kekaya Mahajanapada (kingdom) were already allies - due to the presence of Sita, Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi respectively.]

If you read the Mahabharata, you will find echoes of Ram (and his handling of Bali) in Krishna and the way he handles certain situations. In the Srimad Bhagavad Geeta, Krishna pays the highest tributes to Ram, while describing that unseen abstract force known as the divine:

"I am the Wind among the purifiers, and Shri Rama among the warriors."

Remember: Krishna is not describing himself. He is talking about the best of creation and action. [To my mind: in a way he is also paying his 'gurudakshina' - and Krishna was much better placed than all of us put together - to know the real story of Ram and Sita, minus all the 'embellishments'. However, when he mentions Ram, do remember that he is also implying Sita. 'Coz Ram and Sita are inseparable. It is always Sita-Ram or Siya-Ram.]

Much later, in the current era (i.e. in the 4th era or the Kali Yug) we find echoes of Ram and Krishna in Chanakya. The latter's actions (along with protégé Chandragupta Maurya) saved this great land from being plundered, and our culture and 'way of life' from being annihilated by Mlechhas (the white python that had arrived at the gates of ancient India.)

However: Ram could not have achieved all that he achieved without the help and support of Sita, Kaikeyi and Mandodari. 

Similarly: Krishna could not have achieved all that he achieved without the assistance of his paternal aunt: Kunti and that of his sakhi or best friend - Draupadi.

If Ram and Krishna are known to have played the role of a 'balancing force' (i.e. have been equated with Vishnu or Narayan) in their respective eras - since their actions helped society and civilization to flourish well, then Sita, Kaikeyi and Mandodari (in Ram's case) and Draupadi and Kunti (in Krishna's case) have played the role of Narayani.

Ram, Sita, Krishn, Chanakya, et al are Karm Yogis. Their actions were for the greater good and have helped society (i.e. Nishkam Karm). Whatever they have done was for Loka Kalyana.

Ram, Sita, Krishna and Hanuman are humans. Their divinity is a matter of faith and I have no comments to offer on that: 'coz to each his (or her) own. To me: they have always been humans; the kind of humans that one would love to have a conversation with over cups of steaming hot masala chai or filter coffee.

Frankly: if we are to observe closely, we will find Ram and Krishna to be very similar. They both come across as quiet, intense, knowledgeable people that are also perceptive and possess great foresight. They do not come across as boastful or flamboyant characters. [At least to me.]

However: the image that we have of Krishna is the one courtesy the 'Raas-Leela'. But Krishna and the 'Raas-Leela' or the 'Gopis' have absolutely nothing to do with each other. 'Coz all of these are later additions, very likely: in the last millennium or so. And much of it has gained credence and momentum thanks to the well-known Bhakti Movement.

We are told that Krishna sang and danced with the Gopis (or the 'milk-maids') as a young boy. In reality: he would have been a student in Rishi Sandipan's ashram - being put through a rigorous training regimen (wherein he would be busy learning math, science, economics, literature, the ancient texts, warfare, and the like.)

Yet, we believe the Krishna-Gopi stories or the Radha-Krishna stories. :)

Despite knowing that Radha and Krishna were not even contemporaries! Krishna lived in the 3rd era - the Dvapar Yug. While: Radha appears through Jayadeva's 'Geet-Govind' (also: Gita Govinda) - and that is barely a millennium old.

It is possible that Radha may have been a Meerabai-like figure and was part of an earlier reform movement that predated the Bhakti Movement - by a few centuries. And she may have been a devotee of Krishna (and probably also composed and sung Bhajans dedicated to him). Over time: the lines have blurred, and Radha and Krishna have become entwined, so much so that they have become part of our psyche. And just as Meerabai's "love" for Krishna is celebrated, Radha's "love" for Krishna too is celebrated - but with considerably greater fervour.

But does that mean Krishna and Radha have ever interacted?


Does that mean Krishna had anything to do with Vrindavan ever?


Does that mean Krishna had anything to do with all the numerous 'Raas-Leela' stories?


Yet, all of these have become an inseparable and integral part of his persona...!

[Frankly: some of these stories came about to essentially inculcate some ethics and values - such as: to leave aside one's pride or ego in order to be truly enlightened, and to put forth the merits of humility and service to mankind, etc. Or in order to mainstream some groups of humans like the third gender i.e. the tritiya prakriti. While several other stories came about since people simply wanted to amuse themselves. However: none of these stories were meant to be taken at face value or literally. Many of them are allegorical and some of them can simply be ignored.]

Sometimes what we create transcends reality... and envelopes it as well. Even to such an extent: that we come to totally accept and believe in it - as actual events or as reality.

...And just as it has happened to Krishna, so it has happened to Ram and Sita.

Ram and Sita were humans. But the humans of the Treta Yug (or the Dwapar Yug) would have been nothing like us - 'modern humans' of the 4th era (the Kali Yug) - in any way whatsoever; be it: in strength, height, appearance, caliber, knowledge, intelligence, and so on and so forth. And their principles or 'way of life' would have also differed vastly from ours. 

Strangely: the current versions of the Ramayana (or for that matter: the Mahabharata) do not dwell on any of this.

From whatever we can figure out (or gather) is: there are references to a variety of aircraft (vimanas), awesome technology (including: 'holographic images' and advanced medical science) as well as powerful weaponry (astras and shastras) - but the current versions of the Ramayan (or the Mahabharata) do not dwell on any of them at all...!

All of these have been blithely referred to as 'trickery' or 'illusion', and then attributed to either super-human powers or to magic...!

As for the powerful weaponry: they have been reduced to ordinary bows and arrows. Humans (like Ram, Sita, Kaikeyi, Vibhishan, etc) have been brought down to the level of 'modern humans' - complete with a love for weepy, soap-opera-style narratives. A human Ravana has been depicted with 10 physical heads (while 'dasanan' or the ten-headed one was just an allusion to Ravan's great intelligence, vast ego and possibly: 10 kingdoms). Unfortunately: various jokes, etc have also been weaved around his (supposedly) ten heads (e.g. how he might have fed all those 10 heads, how he slept, and the like) - and this too has contributed towards strengthening the perception that he was a gigantic figure with 10 heads.

Other groups of humans have been turned into monkeys, bears... and even birds! Yes, birds.

Tell me: how many folks (rather generations) have been and are totally convinced that Garuda and Jatayu were birds?!!


Unfortunately: a lot of effort (misinterpretation, mistranslations, flights of fantasy, contemporisation, etc) have gone into turning Shri Ram into an 'avatar' or 'physical manifestation' of Shri Vishnu; a lot of effort have gone into turning a fiery Sita into a groveling, weepy, helpless character. A lot of effort has gone into turning Kaikeyi and Manthara into villainous figures. And a lot of effort has gone into turning Ravana into a 'demon' and the very incarnation of 'evil'.

...And we have happily believed all of this and lapped them up, and what's more, learnt it all by rote too: even though we do not have a concept of 'demon' or 'evil' - in our culture!

But why only this? We absolutely believe and accept what is popularly known as the 'Hindu Trinity', despite not having such a concept...!!

Frankly: given our propensity towards learning by rote and inclination towards trusting hearsay, we have never even bothered to read - let alone examine or scrutinize the narratives - for irregularities, impurities and contemporisation ('add-on'). We have simply accepted whatever has been dished out to us - even by the ones that have a clear amnesia with respect to: Mary, Joan or Padmini, or by the ones who feel that the epitome of romance (or fair-mindedness) - is to bury alive a beloved. Or by the ones that have been trying their bestest to label people as 'celibate' - as soon as they (the supposedly 'celibate' ones) attain even an iota of greatness.

Even one reading of what is today known as the Valmiki Ramayan will bring out the discrepancies in the narrative - very clearly and without much ado. There have been clear mistranslations and misinterpretations: due to a complete misunderstanding of the advanced weaponry and technologies mentioned; due to a lack of understanding of what the many different groups of humans were all about (the modern versions of whom are today known as: tribal people, backwards, etc) and due to various people's utter inability to decode the camouflaged language (metaphors, imagery). 

...And also due to multiple attempts to contemporise it [for the sake of stage-shows, bigger audience, etc.]

I have said this before and I say it again. That: after the demise of the Gupta era, this land has undergone huge turbulence. What a wondrous land was ancient India, what scientific and technological advances were achieved - until the Gupta era - is well documented by greats like: Varahamihira, Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Pingala, Bhaskaracharya, Sushruta, Charaka, et al. But what has been achieved after that?

The light of education and knowledge was extinguished from every home across the length and breadth of the country - barring the ones that belonged to those that were chameleon-like.

The only means of entertainment was stage shows, street plays, melas (fairs) and the like. And (hence) the only way to carry forward (and ensure the survival of) what was our ancient history (pracheen itihasa) was through these stage shows, street plays, emotion-filled poetry, songs, wandering theatres and wandering minstrels. And is it very difficult to figure out what has happened?

One result of it is very clearly in front of us: the much-celebrated 'Ram-Leela', wherein: even Vibhishan's effigy is burnt with much gusto, despite him having been a friend and ally of Ram...!

Today: it is an accepted fact that what is known as the Valmiki Ramayana - is the work of several people, besides the 'aadi kavi' or the first poet - Maharshi Valmiki.

Valmiki Ramayana is the "aadi" (original) Ramayana. It is an accepted fact that the Valmiki Ramayana originally consisted of five parts: starting from the 'Ayodhya Khanda' to the 'Yuddha Khanda' and that: the Bal-khanda and the Uttar-khanda chapters (of the Valmiki Ramayana) were later additions.

Amazingly: the much-bandied-about 'Lakshmana Rekha' story (in the 'Aranya Khanda') is not part of the original, the Valmiki Ramayana.

This 'story' can be attributed to Tulsidas and his very fertile as well as emotional imagination and disposition (that was also a clear refection of his times.) And to his magnum opus, the widely popular: 'Ramcharitmanas' (which is also: Tulsidas' version of the Ramayan). Very likely: the entire conversation between Sita and Lakshman is his creation.

[In the 'Lanka Kanda' of the 'Ramcharitmanas', Mandodari rebukes Ravan on his vociferous claims of valour - by hinting that his claim of strength and valour is shallow... since he could not even cross a small line drawn by Shri Ram's younger brother Lakshman.]

Quite obviously: Tulsidas' excessive Bhakti and zeal to turn Ram into 'avatar' of (what he considered to be) Shri Vishnu - may have motivated him to weave such (imaginary) events and anecdotes into the narrative.

And given the passage of time and other factors (including the huge popularity of the 'Ramcharitmanas' + the turbulence that this great land underwent), lines have become blurred and this imaginary story of the 'Lakshman Rekha' has (unfortunately) become a part and parcel of Ram and Sita's story. 

Today: this 'add-on' story is bandied about everywhere...! But with what result?

[There is a very good chance that the entire conversation between Sita and Lakshman is Tulsidas' creation. Do read and decide for yourself.]

Also: Hanuman, Sugreeva, Angad and the 'Van-nar Sena' were humans, not monkeys. The Rikshas were humans (forest-dwellers with a bear totem) - and not bears. The kinnars were humans (forest-dwellers with a tiger-mask or totem). Yet the narrative has clearly turned them into animals: monkeys and bears...!

Jatayu has been turned into a bird (!) though he was very much a human - belonging to a group of people that worshiped the vulture (or maybe the bald eagle).

Hanuman was the finest pilot of his era (hence he was variously referred to as: Maruti, Pavan-putra and Vaayu-putra). So, he would - no doubt - have been able to fly a variety of aircraft (vimanas). However: he wouldn't have been able to uproot trees, swallow the Sun or indulge in what is clearly 'monkey-business'. Ditto: the 'Van-nar Sena' (or the army consisting of forest-dwelling humans). [The 'Van-nar Sena' was not 'monkey-army' or 'an army of apes'.]

Therefore: there has been a whole lot of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, mistranslation (including tweaking) weaved into the original narratives, apart from astonishing flights of fantasy - that has seeped in, in the last millennium or so - and all of this have resulted into distorted stories and perceptions.

...There's more.

Maharshi Valmiki has documented Kaikeyi's skills as a warrior (including her skills with horses) - in the Ramayana.

However, all of a sudden we find Kaikeyi being described as: 'an unsteady woman, on account of her feminine nature...'

Well, someone, somewhere clearly did not understand as to: why Kaikeyi did what she did, and why Ram along with Sita and Lakshman straightaway went to Dandaka Aranya (via Chitrakoot) - the moment he was asked to go into exile. And has therefore, tweaked the narrative. In the process: not only has a great woman been turned into a villainous figure, but also yet another great woman has been labeled as a scheming old hump-back. And: what's worse, the story itself has taken a completely different detour. [Do read: Part-VI and Part-VII - in order to get the drift.]

We also find: Kope Bhavan or 'Anger Room'.

This is a language and terminology of a much later time and era. One that is much closer to our current times: more specifically, it is a pre-renaissance-era language or lingo.

Frankly: one can find clear and unmistakable echoes of the pre-renaissance era - in what is today known as the Valmiki Ramayan. [Do read and decide for yourself. But make sure to put on your thinking cap - while you are at it.]

[Valmiki was originally a forest-dweller (Van-nar) belonging to the hunter (vyadh) community. In his youth, he was a brigand (dashyu) that looted people of their valuables. Later he changed, left his wayward ways and became a learned and venerable person. Thereafter, he came to be known as: Maharshi Valmiki.]

Now, whether Valmiki witnessed the events firsthand or heard it through another or from several persons, he would have simply documented certain facts and happenings. And these would have made for some to-the-point cut-and-dry narrative.

Unfortunately: other people - down the ages (and especially in the last millennium or so) - have added their own perspective and thinking to it - in an attempt to 'flesh-out' the cut-and-dry original narrative. [None of these later embellishments is difficult to figure out though.]

I say this 'coz: there are some quite erotic descriptions of Sita. I am unable to ascribe this to the 'aadi kavi' (the first poet) - Maharshi Valmiki.

This has to be Mahakavi Kalidas' doing. And he has penned his version of the Ramayan too: known as the Kalidas Ramayan or the Raghuvamsa (also known as: the Raghuvamsam).

Plus: It is very likely that all the separation related (viraha) stuff is Kalidas' contribution.

Kalidasa was particularly known for his fine exploitation of the sringara (erotic) element in his verse.

Maharshi Valmiki and Kalidasa were two great poets - in their own right. But their eras, lives, disposition and outlook were totally different. And therefore, undoubtedly, their perceptions and thinking too would have differed greatly.

Mahakavi Kalidasa was an extremely... umm, romantic poet, i.e. his forte and genre was romance; the 'aadi kavi' Maharshi Valmiki was not.

Hence: I cannot believe that Valmiki would have been interested to know or document Sita's 'feminine charms'... etc, etc.

Strangely: one finds similar erotic descriptions of Draupadi. And this too cannot be Maharshi Vedvyas's doing. It has got to be a latter-day kavi's work.

In Part-I, we have mentioned about the sheer number of re-telling and versions of the Ramayana. And even if we are to only consider what is today known as the Valmiki Ramayana, we must remember that the manuscript of this work (whatever we have, that is) is not the one written by Valmiki himself.

This is because: a manuscript is not eternal. All manuscripts have a limited lifespan. And the ones that our ancients wrote on had a lifespan of about 600-650 years. Therefore, it is imperative that before the lapse of this said time period, these manuscript(s) had to be copied. And from the time Maharishi Valmiki wrote it - until now: it would have been copied innumerable times.

And this is important: since with the passage of time and eras (yugs), language changes, phonetics change, the meaning of words and phrases change, society changes, perception changes, outlook changes, there are changes in the principles, norms, 'way of life', and so on and so forth. In fact, even the terrain and the flora and fauna (humans, plants and animals) do not remain the same.

And it is unlikely that any manuscript would remain immune to various aspects of these changes... from successfully weaving their way into it.


However: do also spare a thought regarding *what* gets altered and how, then takes on *what* hue and flavour, and finally: *what* it morphs into... and in the process *how* much knowledge and information is lost - forever, as a result of 'contemporisation'.

[We will continue our discussions in the next post...]

(Do stay tuned…)

Picture: An illustration of Maharshi Valmiki.

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