THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
By M.V. Kamath
What is all this song and dance over the Ramayana about? All the discussion and debate over it sounds ridiculous. As a Shakespearean scholar might say, it is much ado about nothing. A lesser scholar would dismiss it as making a mountain out of a molehill. It seems more like a news-starved media trying to rake up a controversy where none exists. Practically everything about the history and replication of the classic is well-known. It is no secret that there are as many as over three hundred versions of India’s epic poem, Valmiki’s Ramayana, written some time between the 5th and 4th century BC, respected and honoured throughout the length and breadth of India. In its extant form, Valmiki’s Ramayana contains some 50,000 lines divided in seven kandas and there is cultural evidence that it predates the Mahabharata.
Is it ever possible that such a major work would travel down the centuries and across continents without undergoing some change, reflecting local ethos? Understandably, there have been some. There have been re-tellings in several languages. There are Buddhist and Jain versions, which we don’t have to accept. We have variations of the main theme in Ramayanas written in Indonesia, Thailand, Laos and other south Asian countries. We don’t have to take them seriously.
In India itself there are beautiful rewrites, as for example Kambha Ramayana in Tamil, Pampa Ramayana and Adbhuta Ramayana in Kannada, Bhavartha Ramayana written by Eknath in the 16th century in Marathi, not to speak of Ramayanas in Orissa, Bengali and Gujarati, though, one supposes, there can be nothing to beat Sri Ramacharitmanas written by Tulsidas in 1576. what is important about Ramayana is the upholding of values by practically every one of its main characters. Dasharatha sticks by the promise he made to Kaikeyi. Rama sticks by the promise his father made to his step-mother. Laxman stands by his brother through thick and thin. Bharata refuses to assume kingship and gives pattabhisheka to his eldest brother’s padukas. Instead of staying put in Ayodhya and enjoying privileges, Sita follows her husband to reside in forests. What more can one teach our children and the GenNext about the values Hindus hold so dear to their hearts?
And above all, think of Hanuman, the last world in loyalty. He has Rama carved in his heart. It is most touching. And remember this: For all his wickedness, even Ravana doesn’t dare so much as to touch Sita. And, in the end, Sita herself has the courage to undergo agni pariksha (trial by fire). There is no such story of imperishable values upheld by everyone concerned, written in any other part of the world. That is why the Ramayana stands out not just as a classic, or an itihasa or even as plain myth. It is above everything else: it is pure gold. Anyone who rubbishes it can only be despised. Against this background, it sounds sad that it is turned into a subject for study, not for the values it upholds but for the rubbishing it has undergone. Please, please, can we think of a different approach to scholarship?
The trouble with our Hindu intellectuals is that they think by damning their own religion and culture, they can establish their scholarship and objectivity. Will any Muslim dare to challenge or question the Koran, or a Christian, the Bible? Why do our Hindu intellectuals constantly seek to debase their own religion? What do they gain thereby? There would have been no Godhra, no riots, if the Muslim community had the beauty, the decency or the grace to willingly return the disputed Babri structure and its grounds to the Hindus as an act of singular penance for all the temples destroyed by Muslim raiders and fanatics who were later to rule over India. The strongest supporters of Muslim obstinacy happen to be our own Hindu scholars – should one name them? – who argued, among other things that the Ayodhya where Sri Rama was supposedly born was somewhere in Nepal or Afghanistan, besides which no one can produce a Magistrate’s certificate about Rama’s birth. It is sickening. And why do our intellectuals always have to blame the RSS or the Sangh Parivar for getting irritated over alleged slights to Hinduism?
There are millions of Hindus who have nothing to do with the RSS, who feel angry and upset over the behaviour of their fellow religious scholars who think they can get away with murder. Forget those who run down the Ramayana. They are irrelevant. The Delhi University has redeemed itself. The point has been made that what is at issue is not about the ‘truth’ of the ‘revisionist’ Ramayana, but about “tolerating the diversity of tradition’ – and that is supposed to be a smart and valid argument.
God knows Hindus are the most tolerant people on earth. Hindu rulers have not gone to the Middle East or the Central Asia or to Europe with their armies to destroy mosques and churches, rape women, kill innocents and establish a Hindu Order. It is not in their tradition. They could well have, considering the high quality of ship-building they had mastered, not to speak of their valour, that would have easily enabled them to sail beyond the Indian Ocean. The Hindu record is clean. We are tolerant beyond imagination, a mind-set that many have freely exploited. We even tolerate dissenters in our midst.
The best advice that one can give to Delhi University is: Teach our students, the GenNext, the values for which Ramayana stands for. The issue is not A.K. Ramanujam’s essay, or the arrogance of our Leftist ‘intellecutals’, cowards all. The issue is much wider. It is the very relevance of Ramayana of the Treta Yuga where dharma as we know, prevailed, of which every character is a noble and outstanding example.
Kindly respect peoples’ sentiments, We respect all religions. Can’t we respect our own religion, which does not give offence to anyone? Do we have to involve the Sangh Parivar which is the fashion among our Leftist ‘intellectuals’ to do whenever they think damnation is the order of the day? To this day Rama Rajya is what every government must aspire to attain and, whether he uttered those words or not, that is why we hold Mahatma Gandhi is such awe as he is supposed to say ‘he Ram’ as he lay dying. Think positively. There is more to Ramayana then the world thinks of. It is not communalism, to advocate Values. Can’t we for once get over old shibboleths?