Saturday, March 12, 2005

Ramayana : My Thoughts

There are 2 ways one can read our great epic – The Ramayana. The first way is to look at it as a religious book, where the protagonist is no less than the Primal Lord incarnate and every action He takes is keeping in mind the larger good. In effect, He can never commit a mistake, and even if He does it is only because He has destined it so.

The other way is to think of the Ramayana as a beautiful work of fiction which would sit easily in the shelves of the fantasy genre. The protagonist has a lot of superhuman powers, but the book still looks at the human angle.

And the latter is my way as well. Hence I was pretty disappointed when I was done with the Kamba Ramayana. On the macro level, Kamba’s version tells us right in the beginning that the character is indeed the Lord incarnate and only Rama alone isn’t aware of this. You can see the obvious conflict that I would have faced while reading the book. With a lot of effort I was able to blank that cynic in me and finish the book. But it still left with me a lot of touchy issues.

Killing of Vali
In what was clearly the best part of the Ramayana, Vali, after being felled by Rama in hiding, reels out a speech challenging the legality, morality of Rama’s action. If Rama had been just a man, this action would have been understandable, though I would still not condone it. All that it showed me was the hypocrisy of Rama. Later on in the story, when Ravana is unarmed, Rama asks him to leave the battlefield and return the next day as it is against Dharma to kill an unarmed person. So, how were the rules any different when he shot Vali from the back?!
There are 2 counter-arguments put forth by Rama and 1 by Lakshmana when they attempt to justify Vali’s killing:
  • Rama 1: Sugriva came to me and asked me for help and I agreed to do so. If I had shown myself to you (i.e. Vali), you would have also asked for my help and I could not have refused. This would have lead to a quandary. Hence I had to be in hiding.
  • Rama 2: You speak about values, but where were your own values when you had no qualms about marrying Sugriva’s wife Tara after you chased him out of his kingdom. Did you know that Sugriva was reluctant to accept the crown?
  • Lakshmana 1: You are a monkey. So Rama firing an arrow hidden is similar to humans killing a deer from a place of hiding. It is akin to hunting, and as a result what Rama did is not the least bit amoral.
I have this theory that whenever a person begins to justify his actions with more than one reason, he is invariably the one in the wrong. He just comes up with multiple excuses to cover all bases of his guilt. But that is just as an aside.
Lakshmana’s justification has to be the funniest. He is trying to get out of this situation on a technicality. Rama’s first argument is absolutely childish. Does it imply that if Ravana had come over to Rama and said, “Can you give me Sita?”, he would have just said, “Oh sure Ravana! Take her by all means. I do not have the power to refuse!”!

Hence the only plausible justification is the middle one – but only if Rama were human. It still doesn’t gel with his god-like stature.

Sita’s chastity
When Hanuman sights Sita in the Ashokavana, he is stunned by her chastity. He listens to her conversations with Trijata (a good rakshasi) and Ravana, and notices the way Sita bears Ravana’s threatening advances and is highly impressed. He pronounces her as the pinnacle of chastity, the reason for the continuance of the world, and other such aggrandized adjectives.

But I don’t get it! There is a curse on Ravana that if he were to even touch a woman without her willingness, he would die. Despite being consumed by lust, Ravana never makes any such move on Sita because of this curse. Its only the rakshasis around Sita who urge her to marry Ravana and become the queen of the world. So here’s my question – what is so great about Sita’s “achievement” of maintaining her chastity?

Is it really that hard to not give in to the guiles of an evil asura? Were there any temptations around her strong enough to make her want to give in?

Or take an extreme case, even if Ravana did force herself on her, how would it be a flaw in her chastity?

Rama’s doubt
This, I guess, must be a contentious issue for most people who have read the Ramayana – Rama forcing Sita to prove her chastity.

If we look at Rama as a God, there cant be a more shameless act than this. And no amount of justification can absolve him of the blame. “I did it not to clear my doubts, but to prove to the world…” is absolute balderdash.

Such an action as a human is more believable, though it would push Rama right down the morality ladder. Apparently there is a spin-off version of the Ramayana where Sita and Ahalya (the rishi’s wife who was in the form of a stone and returned to her original form when the dust off Rama’s feet touched her) argue over Rama’s actions and in the end, Ahalya decides that her lease of life gotten from a person like Rama is a disgrace and turns herself back to stone!

Despite all these aspects, the Ramayana was an enjoyable read. Its obvious to see why it is the forerunner for most fantasy classics of all languages. The inspirations taken from the Ramayana into other language books is highly evident.

I have now begun to read Ramesh Menon’s modern rendering of The Mahabharata. It is a 2 volume 1500 page mammoth with the utmost details of each event. Its going to be one great journey!

11 Comments:

At 12:02 AM, Blogger sudeep said...

Wonderful post man....
The kamban's ramayana is in Tamil language, right ? Do you know to read and write tamil ?

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

Yes, it is in Tamil. And Yes, I can read and write Tamil.

But No, I didnt read the Tamil original. :P Had to settle for a detailed English translation. Pretty good work by the author.

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger Bloggard said...

Wow!!! Took me a while to finsidh readign your post. Excellent!!!

 
At 3:12 AM, Blogger richie said...

Super post. Have you also read the Ramayana by Rajagopalchari: and as i recall, he covers the issues you mention, and gives similar arguements. Is the Mahabharatha a personal copy :)

 
At 11:33 AM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

I remember reading Rajaji's Ramayana and Mahabharata a long time back. But do not remember much apart from the basic story.

And yup, the Mahabharata is a personal copy got after a lot of struggle. Interested people can order it from www.firstandsecond.com.
It costs 1500 + 105 Indian rupees.

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

Oh...not that I am loath to lend my copy.

:))

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Randhir said...

Its time you come up with your own version of Ramayana. Dont worry about sales, we'll be there.

But yeah, really nice post.

 
At 9:03 AM, Blogger Roopa said...

Amazin post.. really really good read.. waitin to read ur post on mahabharata..

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Sridhar Raman said...

I already wrote the post on Mahabharatha. :)

Here's the link: http://sridhar190.blogspot.com/2005/05/mahabharata.html

 
At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should read Sri Aurobindo's explanation of all the points. Ramayana is not only an ithihaas but it is also a deeply symbolical and allegorical work. Or, do you have problems with Sri Aurobindo too?

Funny isn't it? Everyone reads a concise version of the Ramayan and suddenly everyone is a critic and an expert. I have read parts of the book Grey's Anatomy. I should just call myself a doctor!

 
At 1:12 AM, Blogger Aakrithi Aourora said...

I just wish to share an interesting tale i came across about Ramayana and its connection with Mahabharata. Even though its quite irrelevant to the topic in hand, thought i'd share it. Its the connection between Vali's death in Ramayana with Krishna's death in Mahabharta. Check it here: Why vali is the reason for death of krishna

 

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