The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP), involving demolition of the undersea bridge like construction, between Rameshwaram and Sri Lanka, known as Ram Sethu, to make way for a shipping canal had been under government consideration since 1999 (or earlier). It, however, came to public knowledge only about six months back. Soon there were public protests against it.
Some people petitioned to the Madras High Court to direct the Union government not to tamper with the Ram Sethu, which Hindus have held in high reverence for ages as the pathway of Lord Ram and his vanar sena to reach Lanka to rescue Sita and also because it was a national heritage. The matter has since come to the Supreme Court, in New Delhi.
Apart from the economics and connected issues resulting from the SSCP, a nationwide stir was caused by the Congress led UPA'sCentral government'saffidavit in the Supreme Court denying the historicity of Ram and events related to him. Through it, government intended to demolish the very basis of Ram Sethu and Hindu sentiments towards it. Seeing the nation wide outcry, the Union government hastily withdrew the affidavit, with the promise to file another one within three months. The SSCP, however, remains in government agenda. Simultaneously, all anti-Hindu allies of the Congress, the Leftist historians and authors have jumped into the fray in support of the withdrawn affidavit. Briefly, they insist that Ram, Sita, Hanuman, and others, are mythological characters and events connected with them are poetic imaginations. On top of them has been DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He used the harshest words against Ram. Misquoting Valmiki, he even called Ram a drunkard. It is clear that the UPA government is made of all anti-Hindu forces.
Historicity of Ram: There is no dispute about the fact that Maharshi Valmiki'sRamayana is the oldest and the most authentic book on Ram. Other authors have borrowed from it with modifications and new innovations according to their time, places, language and traditions. Before penning down Ramayana, Valmiki had asked Maharshi Narad, ?Is there a man in this age, who embodies all human virtues, strength, devotion to dharma (dutifulness in all its aspects), gratefulness, and is true to his word??, (Bal Kand, Sarg ?). Replying in the affirmative, Narad tells him of Ram, the king of Ayodhya, a descendant of Maharaja Ikshwaku of the Sun dynasty. He very briefly narrates the main events of Ram'slife, including his exile, abduction of Sita by Ravana, construction of Ram Sethu, killing of Ravana and rescuing Sita, his coming back to Ayodhya his coronation and his excellent administration.
On the occasion of Ram'smarriage with Sita, Maharshi Vashistha speaks out the long list of Ram'sancestors, beginning from Ikshwaku, (Bal Kand, Sarg 70/22). Such dynastic accounts are not held for fictional characters. With slight variations, this account of Ram'sancestory is also found in the Mahabharata, Puranas and Kalidasa'sepic ?Raghuvansham?. A few Hindu sects, (like the Arya Samaj), who do not believe in the incarnation theory, also believe in the historicity of Ram as an ideal king.
Did Ram drink?: Karunanidhi'sremark that Valmiki called Ram a drunkard is false, mischievous and blasphemous. It is also an insult to Maharshi Valmiki, worshipped by all Hindus. Nowhere did Valmiki describe Ram as a drunkard. On the contrary, Ram'syounger brother Bharat names drinking as one of the vices, (Ayodhya Kand, Sarg 75/38-39).
Laxman, who had accompanied Ram in exile, too condemns drinking. Reprimanding Sugriva, the King of Kishkindha, for ignoring search of Sita as promised, he first speaks to Sugriva'swife Tara: ?One who wants to pursue dharma (righteousness), and material gains should not drink, because it robs the man of righteousness, wealth and his goal, (Kishkindha Kand, Sarg 33/46). On meeting Sugriva, Laxaman says: ?The wise men have prescribed penance for the sins of cow-killing, drinking, theft, breaking one'svow, but there is no remedy for the sin of ungratefulness, (Ibid, Sarga 34/12).
Was Ram a north Indian God imposed on south?: Karunanidhi'sallegation that Ram was God of north India and imposed on the south is another mischief. The truth is just the opposite. In his Ramayana, Valmiki projected Ram as an ideal man and an ideal king. The Mahabharata too describes Ram in the same mode. Ram was raised to an incarnation of God or Lord Vishnu by the south Indian saints. Ramayana is mentioned at many places in the famous Sangam literature of Tamil, (200 BC to 200 AD). Vaishnava saints, known as Alvars, (6th to 10th century), have venerably referred to Ram and Ramayana in their hymns.
Kamban'sRamayana, perhaps the greatest literary work of Tamil, presents Ram as an avatar of Vishnu. Notably, Kamban was not a Brahmin. Thus, at least since the 2nd century AD, worship of Ram has continued in the Tamil land. Conflict between ?Aryans? of the north and ?Dravids? of the south was a British innovation.
In north India, worship of Ram started much later. It is well known that ?Bhakti Dravid oopji, laye Ramanand?, meaning, the Bhakti cult was born in the south and brought to north by Ramanand, a disciple of the 11th century exponent of Ram cult in Tamil Nadu. Ramanujacharya. Sant Tulsidas, who wrote Ramcharitmanas in Hindi, appeared in the 16th century, during the reign of Akbar.
Logic of Ram getting Godhood in south: Though born in north India, Sri Ram performed all his great feats in the south, during his 14 years exile. It was there that he saw heaps of bones of saints and sages, killed by demons and took the oath of exterminating the demons (rakshasas) root and branch. Sita tried her best to dissuade Ram from this vow and to observe non-violence even to the demons. Countering her arguments, Ram said, ?I can sacrifice life; I can abandon you and even Laxaman; but, I cannot go back from my words. It is my duty, without waiting for a complaint to protect saints and sages. Now, they themselves have sought my protection and I have made them a promise. How can I go back?? Pursuant to it, Ram killed demon king Ravana'stwo brothers, Khar and Dooshan with their 14,000 army, positioned in Dandakaranya. In retaliation, Ravan abducted Sita. Ram befriended Sugriva, helped him against his tormenting brother Bali, raised the vanar sena, got Ram Sethu built, sieged Lanka, killed Ravana with all his army, kith and kin, and rescued Sita, the honour of Bharatvarsha. It was, therefore, quite appropriate for south India to confer Godhood on Ram, which north India followed later.
No wonder, Gandhi chanted ?Ram-Nam? to make him the greatest leader of the masses.
(The author, a wellknown historian, can be contacted at A-2B/94-A, MIG Flats, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi-110 063, e-mail-[email protected])