Monday, September 1, 2014

Rational criticism of Ramayana by prof (late )Hari Mohan Jha

RAMAYANA Uncle was cleaning kismis (dried grapes) for munching during Ramnavami celebrations. “Uncle, would you like to come for Rama’s story recital tonight in the public ground?” I asked. “Which part?” “Sita’s vanavas, banishment to the forest.” “Then, no. I won’t go.” “Why uncle? Rama, the righteous, the noblest among the human beings, was personification of unparalleled virtues, wasn’t he?” “He was, surely! How to condemn a weak woman to a life of grief? How to banish a wife away from home? Cut the nose of a woman? In a way, his life of valour began by making a woman cry and ended too similarly,” Uncle said. “Uncle, God took birth as man and went through all those trials, didn’t he?” “Could he have not done those things without being so harsh? In truth, you can’t really blame him alone for those deeds. His misfortune was that at the very beginning of his life he had a teacher like Viswamitra who started his instruction to Rama with the killing of Tataka. Otherwise, would Rama’s first arrow have been aimed at a woman? Viswamitra’s were all unusual ways. He wanted to prove that his name indicated friendliness. So, the rules of grammar had to be changed to accommodate that. In order to scale up from Rajarshi to Brahmarshi, he changed the caste rules. In competing with Vasishta, he dumped morality and good conduct in the river Karmanasa. A man such as him, what education could he impart to Rama? How could he convey to others what he himself did not possess?” Uncle said. “Uncle, Rama was embodiment of justice. He did not hesitate to banish his wife to the forest in the cause of justice, didn’t he?” “No, son. The contrary was true. In fact, it was a habit with his dynasty. His father banished him to the forest. Rama did the same to his wife. You said justice, didn’t you? Do you mean that it’s justice to hang someone just because someone said something? If he was interested in justice, he should have summoned both the parties to the royal court and should have weighed the evidence of either side dispassionately. He didn’t do that. Quietly, he sent away Sita to the forest. What justice was this? What ideal was this? Sita, the queen, didn’t even have the rights of a commoner!” “But Rama had to demonstrate the ideal of bowing to the people’s wish...” “That hardly was the case. People of Ayodhya never wanted Sita to be banished from the kingdom. That’s why she had to be taken out in the chariot at the dead of night. And Lakshmana was ever ready. He was ready with the sword to cut Surpanaka’s nose! Ready with the chariot to take Sita to the forest! “Uncle! He went to the forest in order to fulfil his father’s promise.” “Try some logic. What is exile? Living in many forests or in one forest? He didn’t follow vanavas in the sense of the former. If it were in the latter sense, he should have lived in a forest close to Ayodhya or lived in Chitrakoot for fourteen years. That would have sufficed to comply with his father’s word. Where was the need for him to roam about thousands of miles? That too by foot, taking along the dainty Sita with him! When Gautama, the legal scholar of Mithila, posed this very question to him, Rama had no answer. On top of it, he cursed, ‘Those who study Gautama’s logic would be born a jackal.’ What response was this? Did logical debate mean howling like a jackal? If Rama had studied the law of the land of Mithila, he wouldn’t have been so unjust.” Cutting the coconut kernel into pieces, Uncle resumed his talk. “Assuming that the people unanimously demanded banishment of Sita, what should Rama have done? He knew that his consort was blemishless and had come out of the ordeal by fire unscathed. Then how did it matter what the world said? He should have stood firm. If he suspected that the people would revolt, he ought to have enthroned Bharatha and retired to the forest with his wife. That would have been recognised as an ideal. Rama as a king understood the nature of the kingdom but not the love of his wife. Queen Sita, in deference to her duty as a wife, trifled the kingdom. But Rama the king could not forsake the throne in obedience to his duty as a husband. An English king (Edward the Eighth) gave up the throne in order to marry a woman (Simpson) he loved. Rama could not measure up to that English king.” “Uncle! You seem to be hurt by Sita’s banishment to the forest.” “Why not? Sita’s whole life was one of grief. She hardly had any good time. First, she roamed about the forests with her husband. Then when she was settling down to live in the palace, she was bundled out. When he was in the forests, he cried for her all over. He got a bridge built across the ocean. But after returning from Lanka, Sita could not stay at home. That’s why people of Mithila say that their girls should not be given in marriage to those who live in the west.” There were tears in Uncle’s eyes. He was upset. “Such neglect for a queen like Sita? In thought, word and deed she was devoted to Rama. She followed his footsteps. She walked about the dangerous forests with him. She jumped into the leaping fire to appease him. And before jumping into the fire, she said, ‘If in thought, word and deed I always worshipped Rama, O! Lord of Fire, you know my purity. For my sake become cool like sandal.’ It happened like that only. The leaping flames turned cool like the sandal. “She came out shining like pure gold. Yet, against such a chaste woman, how cruelly did he behave? She was thrown out when she was pregnant for eight months. We must applaud such cruelty! Sita, being born in Mithila, was not the one to be easily irritated. That’s why she tolerated all this. If she were from any other area, she would have shown her might. Hey, tell me this. If the idea was to break their relationship, he could have sent her to her father’s place. Couldn’t he? Instead, why did he pack her off to such a dense forest? She entered the nether world because she had no hope of justice here. She was consumed by the same earth from which she was born. Should the life of a wife, who was by all means most virtuous, end like this? No wonder, the earth cracked up and took her in.” I tried to mollify Uncle. “The washerman was the reason for all this.” Uncle saw red. “Tell me this. If a washerman falls off the donkey, I wouldn’t throw your aunt out of our home, would I? Rama actually spent most of his time in the company of creatures such as Nishad, Kevat, Bhillini, eagle, bear, monkey and the like, didn’t he? Because of a foolish maid servant’s words, a father banished his son to the forest. And this man sent his wife away to live in the forest because of the prattle of a mindless washerman. In their court, the petty held sway – Mandhara at home and Durmukah, Rama’s spy, outside.” “Uncle, it was done to uphold morality...” “Not morality. Say, immorality. If morality was the ideal, why did he shoot Vali hiding behind the tree? He should have engaged him in a face to face battle and killed him. What happened to the vow that ‘Men of Raghu dynasty do not fear Lord Yama also’? That’s why Vali sarcastically said, ‘Mahatma! You are born to protect dharma, righteousness, but you have killed me like a vyadha, a hunter (treacherously).’ “If the idea was to punish Vali for his misdeed of taking Sugriva’s wife, Tara, then why did he not kill Sugriva who also was guilty of the same offence? “But Rama was the noblest of all the human beings and he upheld morality...” “You say so but I consider he was quite hasty. Why, like a child, did he run after the golden stag? Pining for Sita, why did he cry roaming about in the forest? Sugriva was a friend and yet he was ready to rain arrows on him for the delay in finding Sita. He strung the bow against Samudra too in haste. When Lakshmana was felled in the battle field, he cried piteously. Does it behove the brave to lose their equanimity like this?” Uncle began to shell the badam and said, “After a careful consideration, it appears to me that Rama was not at fault. Actually, his father Dasaratha was a hasty man too. He went out hunting. He heard a sound on the river bank. And immediately he drew the bow, placed the arrow on the string and released it pulling it to the ear in the direction whence the sound came. It didn’t occur to him that he could be shooting a man. Poor Sravanakumar was killed and his blind father died of heartbreak. And, as a result, Dasaratha too had to die of the pangs of separation from his own son. Look at this. When he had two queens, for what fun did he think of marrying another in ripe old age? ‘For an old man, a young wife is dearer than his own life.’ He was so smitten of Kaikeyi that even when he went to war, he made her sit beside him in the chariot. What kind of a chariot was it! It broke just at the nick of time! His name was Dasaratha but he didn’t have a single rath (chariot) which was useful. Otherwise, where was the need for Kaikeyi to put her wrist in the wheel and hold the chariot from crumbling? Her wrist indeed was strong! It didn’t snap even when it was put in the axle. Her heart too was no less. Because of her prowess, the old king’s life was somehow saved. Then without a second thought, he promised her that he would give whatever she wished. He didn’t have the sense to think what he would do if she wanted him to get her a star in the sky. Afterwards, when she asked for Rama’s banishment, he was mightily upset. By the way, it must be said that Kaikeyi was quite reasonable. If she were to ask him to give his heart, what would the righteous Dasaratha have done? This is not all. Having given the word, what made him beat his chest? Anyway, after fourteen years, his son would have ruled the kingdom again, wouldn’t he? He should have waited patiently until then. If his love for the son was so overwhelming, he too should have joined and gone along with Rama to the forest. He didn’t do any of that. ‘Haa Rama, haa Rama’ he wailed and died. Would a Kshatriya’s heart be ever so weak?” Uncle wouldn’t leave a job half done. Now he was after Dasaratha, I thought and said, “Uncle! Everyone learns lessons from the characters in Ramayana...” “I too will learn lessons: That I shouldn’t release the arrow without seeing the object; shouldn’t give a boon without thinking and shouldn’t beat the chest in despair after promising.” “Uncle! You are only looking at the frailties.” “Well, show me the virtues.” “King Dasaratha was a man of truth...” “True. So truthful that he tried to fool Sravanakumar’s blind father by impersonating that he was Sravanakumar!” “Rama was such a devout son...” “Yes. He didn’t come even after he heard the news of his father’s death. Despite being the eldest son, he didn’t perform the last rites and instead moved down southward undeterred.” “Lakshmana was such dedicated brother...” “True. He aimed the arrow at one brother (Bharatha) for the sake of another (Rama).” “Bharatha sacrificed...” “Bharatha didn’t bother to know what happened to his brother for fourteen years. He didn’t have the leisure in the capital in order to go and find out in the forest, did he? If only he had taken out the army, would Rama have had to seek the help of the monkeys?” “Hanuman was devout...” “Yes. He left the first master, Sugriva, and devoted himself to the service of Rama.” “Vibhishana, such an ideal...’ “Yes. He has become the reason for the adage, ‘The house spy would be the cause of Lanka’s destruction’. Pray god that the country should be saved of such Vibhishanas.” “You mean to say there is not a single ideal character in Ramayana?” “Why not? In the whole of Ramayana, I can think of only one ideal character.” “Who?” Uncle smiled. “Ravana,” he said. “Uncle! You always joke.” “No joke. Cite one blemish of Ravana.” “You’re great uncle! Everyone sees so many faults in Ravana but you seem to find not a single flaw in him, do you?” “Come on. Out with it.” “He seized Sita by force and took her away...” “That was done to teach your virtuous, purushotthama, that the nose of a sister of another ought not to be cut; that while living in an alien land you shouldn’t court enmity with others; that you shouldn’t run after mirages and that you shouldn’t insult any woman. Look at this! Ravana took Sita to Lanka but he didn’t humiliate her. He didn’t take her to his palace. He put her in Asoka Park. Everybody might call him a rakshasa, demon, but such decent behaviour is seldom seen among the human beings.” “Uncle! You always speak contrary to what people believe. You’re arguing in support of one who committed such a heinous crime and blame the ocean of kindness that’s Sitapati...” “Say stone-hearted Sitapati. What happened to the princess of Vaidehi, who left for Ayodhya after marriage? She didn’t have the fortune of returning to her parents’ home. That’s why we keep off people of the west, don’t we?” “Uncle! You’re biased against the relatives of Sita from her husband’s side. If you saw Rama, you would at least put your palms together in salutation, wouldn’t you?” “How would I do that? I’m a Brahmin and he, a Kshatriya. I, of course, would have blessed him, “May you be filled with good thoughts. If hereafter people talk of Ramarajya, don’t give them scope to say, ‘Chee! Chee! Rama Rama’. I’d advise him to employ a Brahmin like me as his minister.” “But Uncle, Ramarajya means an ideal state, doesn’t it?” “True, Tulsidas wrote, ‘There are no wretched, poor, sorrowful persons in Ramarajya.’ But I would have added, ‘Except for poor Sita who was the most unfortunate.’ If our village administration is run on the lines of Ramarajya, we can’t say how many Sitas would be consumed by the earth.” “Uncle! Since you celebrate Sriramanavami you must have devotion in your mind.” “Yes, but that’s for Sita. But for Sita, Rama would have been acclaimed only as ‘Raghupati Raghava Rajaram’. He wouldn’t have been called ‘Patita pavana Sitaram’. Every Kshatriya king would routinely do whatever Rama did. Just in respect of one matter, he was an exception. He did not take another wife. He got a gold statue of Janaki made and spent the rest of his life looking at it. For this reason, I would forgive him of all his misdeeds. Rama’s greatness was due to Sita. That’s why, first Sita and then Rama. Tulsidas said, ‘I would raise my hands, put my palms together hands and pray assuming that the entire creation is pervaded by Sita and Rama.’ Valmiki also says, ‘Pray Sita and her husband.’” “Uncle. You are so devoted to Sita. Why then do you criticise Rama? You don’t spare his father too.” Uncle broke into a smile and said, “Arey, don’t you understand this small little thing? I’m from her mother’s place. The criticism of the barber from the mother-in-law’s place also is also acceptable. And I’m a Brahmin. Could anyone else venture to talk like me? People of Mithila would always pour scorn on the people of Ayodhya. Even god can’t make us shut up.” Original in Hindi By late Prof Hari Mohan Jha Telugu translation by Prof J L Reddi of Delhi University English traslation by K Chandrahas, Hyderabad

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