Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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

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.

Who really was 'Jatayu'? The *myth* behind: 1. 'Ravana slashing Jatayu's wings and Sita throwing down her jewellery.' 2. 'Ram fighting his twins: Luv and Kush'. Some thoughts on: the much-derided number: '33 crore', Krishna's 16000 *wives* and *what* the 'contemporisation' of the Ramayan and the Mahabharata has achieved. [Do read: Part-IX – to get the drift.]

Lets continue from where we left off...

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

A whole lot of them... right?

Jatayu has been turned into a bird (!) though he was very much a human belonging to the Shakuna clan - who were a group of people that worshiped the vulture (or maybe the bald eagle). In other words: he belonged to the Shakuna clan or community that had a vulture-totem or a bald-eagle-totem.

And this group may have had something to do with Garuda. Meaning: it was probably a sub-group or a sub-clan of the Suparna to which Shri Garuda belonged.

Garuda was not an eagle, but a human that belonged to the Suparna clan - a group or community with an eagle-totem (or perhaps a falcon-totem). He (very likely) hailed from the foothills of the Himalayas or surrounding areas. And if we are to read our ancient texts we will find: that there clearly has been several mortal Vishnu, Shiv and Garuda, besides a mortal Parvati, a mortal Vaishnavi (now Mata Vaishno Devi or Maa Sherawali), a mortal Kaali (Bhadrakaali)... and so on.

Perhaps they were part of the 1st era: the Satya/Sat/Krita Yug or the early part of the 2nd era: the Treta Yug.

[Given the greatness of their deeds (keerti) they have been hailed and elevated to the status of the divine, or the unseen and formless forces or energies of the cosmos, also known as: Shiv, Vishnu, Kali and Shakti. Our ancients knew the constellation 'Aquila' as 'Garuda'.]

Jatayu and his brother (Sampati) were part of a clan or group that perhaps was an offshoot of the one that Garuda belonged to.

Yet they have been turned into birds...!

In the Ramayana, wherever different kinds of humans or technology have been mentioned, and all of it is far more advanced technology (than what we see today) - the later-day translators and writers have got confused.

The narrative tells us: the bird - Jatayu - heard Sita's cries for help and rushed to save her from being forcibly carried away by Ravana. She cried loudly and sought assistance, then threw down her jewellery, instructing Jatayu to inform Ram. Meanwhile: Ravana slashed Jatayu's wings and the great bird fell down - mortally wounded. Later: Ram and Lakshman found the dying Jatayu, who narrated the events and urged them to find Sita (and recover her from the clutches of the nefarious Ravana). Shortly afterwards, Jatayu succumbed to his wounds. We are also told that Ram and Lakshman wept and lamented - on hearing about Sita's abduction.

But Jatayu was not a bird...!

Ravana and Sita were (apparently) in Ravana's aircraft - the pushpak vimana. And it would have been a tightly closed vimana with no open windows etc. [As we know from our experiences with modern aircraft (or vimanas), we absolutely cannot open windows - while in the air. Ravan's Pushpak Vimana may have been far more superior or advanced than whatever aircraft we have today; but it couldn't have been an open-topped one, or a contraption with open windows. For sure.]

So the question of Sita's loud cries, throwing down of jewellery, or instructing Jatayu - does not arise.

Or for that matter Ravana's merciless slashing of Jatayu's wings - with a sword.

Therefore: this whole bird angle or throwing-down-jewellery angle or slashing of wings, etc, etc... cannot be Valmiki's work.

All of it is most certainly the result of the fertile imagination of one or more later-day 'kavi' or poets' work, or that of one or more later-day dramatists.

Frankly: these sort of things (high on emotion and fantastic narrative) help stage plays and street plays. Some centuries ago - given our situation - people would not have understood technology, aircraft, advanced weaponry or advanced medical science. Nor could these be depicted in stage plays, etc. Therefore: the story has taken a detour. ...And what we have with us today is (clearly) much '-embellished' version(s).

Valmiki is unlikely to have witnessed what happened @ Ashok Vatika. And therefore, he is absolutely unlikely to have written anything about it.

And so: all that we read... are clearly the work of later 'kavis' (poets or dramatists) and a result of their imaginary narratives and add-on events.

In the process: humans too have turned into monkeys, bears, and even birds...!

Valmiki's original narrative would (very likely) have been some to-the-point, dry stuff. In the sense: he would have listed down some events, names, etc; and of course the weaponry, technology, et al.

Other people (down the ages) did not quite figure out the technological aspects (due to a combination of factors: the difficult times, change in language, phonetics, perception, norms, et al)... and so, in an effort to 'flesh-out' the narrative (and to 'contemporise' it as well) - they have given it some other 'embellishments'. The result of all of this has been: that the story itself has taken on a different hue.

As you can see: from the 'Jatayu episode' and also from the 'Lakshman Rekha' incident. [Do read: Part-IX.]

The latter is the work of a much later-day 'kavi' or poet - Tulsidas and his version of the Ramayan [the 'Ramcharitmanas' - which is widely popular.]

Tulsidas was part of the Bhakti Movement and was also instrumental in starting what we know as: the Ram-Lila.

Some stuff can be attributed to Mahakavi Kalidasa, or to Sri Chaitanyadev (who too was a part of the Bhakti Movement), and others (like: Krittibas Ojha). But we must remember that: none of these people were contemporaries of Valmiki. And hence have clearly relied on their respective imagination - and this in turn has been a reflection of their respective times (which is much closer to our current times.)

Also: someone, somewhere obviously 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. But: what's worse, the story itself has taken a completely different detour.

Much heavy weather has been made about Dasarath's demise. However, if we are to read carefully, we will find the narrative also stating that Dasarath was very aged and suffering from a variety of old-age related ailments (jaragrasht); and that: he was extremely keen to get Ram's coronation over and done with.

To my mind: this is because, his physicians may not have given him a clean bill of health, and perhaps may have sounded the alarm bell too. And this in turn prompted Dasaratha to want to complete the succession process - as soon as possible.

[We have already discussed the Shravan Kumar episode, the supposed 'curse' on Dasaratha and the birth procedure of Shri Ram and his siblings. There too, technology (advanced medical science) came into the picture. Later-day folks have not understood any of it, and so... the narrative has (unfortunately) changed. Do read: Part-V.]

However: undoubtedly, all of these later-day 'embellishments' (heavy-duty, emotional stuff) would have helped draw bigger crowds @ stage plays, street plays, melas, Ram-lila, et al.

Frankly: Valmiki (very likely) heard the story of Ram and Sita from other sources - and documented it, in his own way (and in the language that was spoken in his times). Much of it may have remained un-deciphered (by later-day translators, due to change in phonetics, etc), and so: the imaginations of various people have come into play - so as to 'fill in the blanks'. And this has undoubtedly and automatically 'contemporised' the narrative - without much ado.

'Coz none of these later-day folks (poets, dramatists, singers, artists, painters, translators, et al) have witnessed that era (Treta Yug) - first-hand, and therefore: they would have (very obviously) relied on what they saw and found around themselves or gathered from a generation or two before them - in order to 'fill in the blanks'. [And all of this has without doubt resulted in the 'contemporisation' of the narrative.]

The entire narrative about Sita and Valmiki's ashram is a later-day 'add-on'.

As for the erotic descriptions of Sita [See: Part-IX]: I am aware that Vatsayan wrote the 'Kama-Sutra', and many of us have read Kalidasa's poems.

However, what I am trying to say is this: that Valmiki was neither Vatsayan-like nor Kalidasa-like. So, his outlook and disposition would have been very different, and he would have only documented some events, names, technology, etc.  [Btw, Valmiki was not Tulsidas-like or even Sri Chaitanyadev-like either. Valmiki was simply Valmiki - the 'aadi kavi'.]

[Incidentally: Sri Chaitanyadev hailed from a region (Gauḍa, Gour, Gaur) which is part of the ruined city of Lakhnauti - and is associated with Lakshman. The city's ancient name was Lakshmanavati; 'Lakhnauti' is just the corrupted version - due to mispronunciation. This beautiful city was ransacked, plundered and razed to the ground by droves of barbaric Mlechchas. As to whether: Gauda, Gour or Gaur had anything to do with Garuda or not - I don't quite know.]

Maharshi Valmiki is unlikely to have witnessed the events of the Ramayana himself. He has (very likely) gathered the details from other people (various learned persons and maybe from his teachers even.) I say this because: the Mahabharata has a far more detailed narrative despite having awesome technology, etc (though it too - sadly - has fallen prey to later 'embellishments' and 'contemporisation'.) 

However, none of that negates the fact that it is far more detailed. And the likely reason for this is that: Maharshi Vedavyas has been a major player in the happenings and events of the Mahabharata. He has not only witnessed the events - first-hand, but has also partaken in them. As you know, he was Maharshi Parashar and Satyavati's son - born out of a short-term 'Gandharva vivaha'.

And thus: the narratives (in the Ramayana) describing Ram fighting his twins - Luv and Kush (without knowing they were his twins, that is) - is also a later-day 'add-on'.

I say this 'coz: I see a similar narrative in the Mahabharata too; where Arjun fights his son Babruvahan - without being aware that Babruvahan is his son.

Now, why this likeness or similarity in the events/narrative - you may ask.

The answer to this is that: there have been some efforts invested (by a succession of people) in order to turn both Ram and Krishna into 'avatars' or 'physical manifestations' of Shri Vishnu (i.e. of what various people thought to be Shri Vishnu).

And: some efforts have gone into turning Arjun into a (sort of) 'part' or 'manifestation' of Shri Krishna (and hence, by extension: a 'part' of Shri Vishnu as well).

[In the process: two reformers and Karm Yogis who were also Kshatriyas - Ram and Krishna, have been turned into Sri Chaitanyadev-like figures; a fiery Sita has been turned into a weepy, helpless character, Ravana has turned into the very incarnation of 'evil'; two great women - Kaikeyi and Manthara - have been turned into villainous characters; while two other great women - Draupadi and Kunti - have been conveniently sidelined, and a weak-willed Yudhisthira has come to be gloried as the 'Dharmaraj' or the very 'incarnation' of 'dharma' or righteousness...! :)]

These stories of Ram and Arjun fighting their respective sons - their own flesh and blood - and being defeated by them, was perhaps weaved into the narratives in order to reinforce the perception that since they (Ram and Arjun) were 'avatars' of Shri Vishnu, none - except their own flesh and blood - can defeat them.

I see some echoes of these stories in the Rustam-Sohrab story. [Rustam was a Persian hero and a favorite of King Kaykaus. Now, whether Kaykaus had anything to do with the ancient 'Kekeya', 'Kaikaya' or the 'Kaikeyas' - the clan from which Kaikeyi hailed - I do not know.]

A few centuries ago there have been various movements: reform movements - yes, but also movements to debate the 'supremacy' of Shiv, Vishnu, Shakti - over each other...! An assortment of humans have led these various movements and they have squabbled - essentially to gain greater influence (for themselves and for their respective groups), though all of it has been routed through some or the other narrative or movement.

The names of Ram, Sita, Krishna, et al have (unfortunately) not remained immune to these various entities, movements and debates.

Ram is not 'avatar' (in the way some entities think or in the manner in which certain entities want to project him). Ram was a great human and a king (raja) - a 'Chakravarti Raja' at that. Meaning: he ruled over a vast kingdom. [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*.]

Krishna too was a human, a great human (a Yug Purush); he was also a 'guru' or guide and a king (raja). He too looked after the welfare of his praja (people) and avoided unnecessary bloodshed (i.e. the unnecessary loss of precious lives and property) - by moving to Dwarka. However: in due course, he successfully freed this great land of the spectre of the all-constricting Magadhan Python.

Sitting in Dvarka (also: Dvaravati) - this great man kept an eagle-eye over this great land, and did whatever had to be done - for the greater good (Loka Kalyana or Loka-sangraha).

Both Ram and Krishna were Kshatriyas (or warriors). Though much effort has gone into turning them into 'avatars' of (what various people - a majority of whom belonged to the priestly class - believed to be) Shri Vishnu. But all of this is thanks to the 'efforts' of other people and movements. Neither Ram nor Krishna was Sri Chaitanyadev-like figures, and so their thinking or their outlook and disposition too would have been vastly different. As humans of totally different eras or yugs, they 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, longevity, caliber, knowledge, intelligence, and so on and so forth. And their principles or 'way of life' would have differed greatly from ours. 

Also: Krishna and Jambavan are unlikely to have met - ever, since both belonged to completely different eras (Treta and Dvapar - respectively). And hence: Krishna would have nothing to do with Jambavati either.

As we already know, he had nothing to do with the 'Gopis', the 'Raas-Leela' or with Radha. Or for that matter: with Meerabai. [Do read: Part-IX.]

As for his supposed 16,000 wives (some even put the figure to: 16,108) and 180,000 (supposed) sons: well, these are stories that later people created in order to amuse themselves. And therefore: they should be ignored (meaning: they should not be mixed with Krishna's persona or narrative in any way whatsoever). Many of these stories can be traced to the various movements, especially to the Bhakti Movement, various cults, and emotional and romantic poets; as well as to the kirtans, 'Raas-Leelas' and to figures like Sri Chaitanyadev.

[If we are to examine the many stories associated with his supposed 'wives', it does become clear that many of these stories were later-day creations either for amusement purposes or to bring forth or convey some or the other lessons, values or ethics. Or in order to mainstream some marginalized groups like the tritiya prakriti (the third gender). Some of the stories were a result of cults, movements, paintings, poems and stage plays. Come to think of it: it is very likely that Krishna was only married to Rukmini, and that makes him the only king (apart from Shri Ram of course) to have been: ek-patni. Echoes of the Krishna-Rukmini story can be found in Sir Walter Scott's lovely poem: Lochinvar. That our ancient texts and literature have traveled far and wide is indisputable. The great German writer and artist - Goethe - has accepted that Mahakavi Kalidasa's work inspired him.]

Actually: a lot of these stories (about Krishna's 'wives') are allegorical. Just like 33 crore to our ancients meant: 'infinity'. And they used this figure (33 crore) to indicate that the unseen and formless forces of the universe are everywhere: omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. Whatever could be seen with our mortal eyes: plants, water-bodies, rocks, stones, soil, mountains, the sky, the elements, animals, people, the stars, the planets, et al - were part of (or physical 'manifestations' of) the formless forces of the cosmos. Creation is infinite. And for our ancients, 33 crore meant precisely that: infinity.

Through whatever could be viewed with our mortal eyes, the unseen and formless forces of the universe 'manifested themselves' (or in other words: could be 'seen'). Meaning: it was a medium for everyone to "see" the otherwise unseen and formless forces of the universe or the energies behind the cosmos (no matter what name has been assigned).

Therefore: this figure - 33 crore - is not meant to be taken literally. [Also: at one point in time - when our friendly colonizers held sway - Indians were 33 crore, and the friendly colonizers were 3 lakh in number. For some great persons (freedom fighters, etc) these 33 crore Indians represented the divine.]

[Note: It does not mean (in any way whatsoever) that there are 33 crore 'gods' in our pantheon; at least: not literally.]

Similarly, through the 16000 'wives' and 180,000 'sons' it is essentially being conveyed that: Krishna is part of every mortal: man, woman and child (and vice versa) - and that he represents all that is good and worthy. [Hence: these figures are not to be taken literally.]

Frankly: all these stories are primarily a product of the many cults and movements that sprang up in Krishna's name (in much later times and era). And much of it can be attributed to the very well-known Bhakti Movement. [Members of this movement considered themselves 'married' to Shri Krishna.]

Therefore: 'sons', 'wives' et al should not be taken at face value.

Even our raags or ragas were classified as 'husband', 'wife' and even 'son'. Rāginī is a term for the "feminine" counterpart or "wife" to a rāga. The rāga-rāgini scheme from about the 14th century aligned 6 "male" rāgas with 6 "wives" (rāginis) and a number of sons (putras) and even 'daughters-in-law'.

The holiest of our ragas is Shri Bhairavi (another name for Maa Kaali - a part of Maa Shakti - the names assigned to the 'feminine' energies of the cosmos.)  [Do read: Link.]

The corresponding raga of Shri Bhairavi is the Raga Bhairava (Bhairav or Bhairava is another name for Shiv - the 'moving' force behind the cosmos - and this force or energy (as per our ancients) must remain inert so that there is no cosmic turbulence (i.e. tandav nritya).

[Incidentally: Shiv and Vishnu are one and the same: Hari-Hara. Hari = Vishnu. Hara = Shiv. Vishnu = Vish + Nu (Vish = poison). 'Shiv' spelt backwards is 'Vihs', i.e. 'Vish' or poison - in another form.]

There is a third raga - Raga Velavala - that is also referred to as the Ragaputra Velavala (i.e. 'son' of the raga Bhairava.) It is a soothing morning raga to be sung with a feeling of deep devotion and repose. The very auspicious Raaga Hamsadhwani - is a part of Raga Velavala (to be sung in the morning). [Velavala is Sanskrit. This raga is now known as the 'Bilaval thaat'; it also appears in the Sikh tradition. You can listen to this raga (Raag Alhaiya Bilaval): Link1 (Ustad Rashid Khan), Link2 (Pt. Bhimsen Joshi), Link3 (Kishori Amonkar), Link4 (Pt. Jasraj – 1/2) and Link5 (Pt. Jasraj – 2/2.]

Therefore: 'wives', 'sons', etc is not to be taken literally.

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

(Do stay tuned…)

Picture: An illustration of 'Ravana forcibly carrying off Sita'. Courtesy: Raja Ravi Varma. Basohli painting of Ragaputra Velavala, 'son' of the raga Bhairava (opaque watercolour with gold on paper [ca. 1710]).

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