Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sita continues to be abandoned

The following short piece, due to my father, appeared in The Mathrubhumi feature -- Ramayana in my view (06 August 2005) [Link].


Sita parityaga that continues even today
by N.V.P. Unithiri

I have read Valmiki's Ramayana many times, some times in its entirety, selected portions some other times. The very first time I read the [Malayalam] translation by Vallathol [Narayana Menon], later, many a time, the original in Sanskrit. For me, the most poignant part of The Ramayana is Sita parityaga -- the abandonment of Sita. Even today reading that chapter makes my eyes water.

In the 42nd sarga of Uttara Kanda, we see Rama, Sita, and others entertaining themselves singing and dancing, on great food and liquor. Rama asks Sita, who is pregnant, what her wishes are. She tells him her desire to go for sightseeing in the forests on the banks of the Ganges. Rama promises that they could go on the very next day. Soon after, a spy named Bhadra intimates Rama that fabricated stories about Sita are spreading everywhere, in junctions and markets, in the gardens and the forests. Rama now tells his brothers about his decision to abandon Sita. Rama also remembers Sita's undergoing the test of fire in Lanka, and says: "in my mind though, Sita is chaste and pure."

But Rama's concern was whether he would lose his reputation. He says: "What the society thinks is important. The Gods too look down upon ill fame, and fame brings respect everywhere. Does not every noble man yearn for it? I fear dishonour, oh, learned men, I'll even renounce your company and my own life, if needed, for the sake of honour. Sita has to be deserted. Understand my state of mind, I wasn't sadder on anyday before. Lakshmana, tomorrow you take Sita in Sumantra's chariot and leave her at our border. Abandon her near the holy Ashram of Sage Valmiki on the banks of the Tamasa river, and get back here soon."

A helpless Lakshmana leaves Sita in the forest, and tells her about what had happened. Unable to get over the shock, Sita loses consciousness and faints down. Valmiki sees Sita, and takes her to his Ashram and looks after her. Months later, Sita gives birth to two sons -- Kusa and Lava. In fact Valmiki composes the Ramayana in order to teach them their story.

Who wouldn't be moved by Valmiki's portrayal of the Sita parityaga?

Today, in one way or the other, in worse forms, this story continues. Indeed an instance that speaks volumes of the powers of prescience of the first poet.

82 Comments:

At 5:34 AM, Blogger uma said...

Abandon her near the holy Ashram of Sage Valmiki on the banks of the Tamasa river, and get back here soon.
So poignant. What a difficult thing to say, to hear, and to carry out.

Thanks for bringing us this.

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Uma -- Thanks.

 
At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The link follows to the main page of Mathrubhumi. In which section the article is featured?
-Anjali

 
At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Vishnu said...

Anand, what font will let me read the Matrubhoomi page? I've managed to install some malayalam fonts, and can read sites like puzha.com, but Matrubhoomi still eludes me! I use a linux machine.

 
At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Anjali -- The link does work sometimes. I don't really know why it doesn't work always. In any case the article appeared on the 6th of August. On the left, a bit to the bottom, you can see the feature logo -- ramayanam ente kannil. A click there will take you to the article.

Vishnu -- I think the Mathrubhumi font is called Vidya. You could google for that font and download it.

 
At 7:55 PM, Blogger www.gypsynan.blogspot.com said...

I have always had a fundamental problem with Sri Ram's choices in life. The Mahabharat features many men and women by their convictions and their hearts and Rama never does. But this basic theme of sacrifice and fear of society is the defining thread of (North) Indian culture. You see the echoes in hindi movies like DDLJ and countless Hindi soaps, where everyone is sacrificing and no one is happy. Was Ram Rajya such a great place after all. It sounds more like Sarat Chandra's village to me. With its petty but cruel jealousies and intolerance and absolute absence of true moral convictions. How is the abandoning og Sita different from the Shariah law that states there should be 4 witnesses to rape. And at the end of the day it highlights the fundamental difference between Indian "morality" and universal morality-where courage of conviction adn the individual struggle is central.

 
At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anand said...

gypsynan -- You have said it well. I also agree with your comparison with Mahabharata.

One reason for this difference could be that Mahabharata is an epic of many varied layers, narrating stories and stories inside stories spanning different times and places, so it portrays different societies at different times, and we see all kinds of characters there. Ramayana is essentially just one narrative and depicted one particular society. Naturally we see the ills of Ramarajya as well.

 
At 10:57 PM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

Anand, gypsy said it before and better that me, but let me say it again: Ram's treatment of Sita is the reason I find him a figure I cannot respect. The honour, it seems to me, comes from standing by your loved ones, not abandoning them for some imagined idea of honour.

For similar reasons, I cannot respect Arjuna in the Mahabharata.

I also want to reiterate something else I think gypsy alludes to: that the Mahabharata (despite Arjuna) is a far more believable, human tale than the Ramayana.

Your father must be an interesting man.

 
At 12:03 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Probably one can interpret that as rAma's concern being more for the happiness of his subjects than his near and dear ones. Probably that would be a consequence of the "fame" aspect, from which the notion of "fame" derives importance.

I have to disagree with what seems to be an assertion by gypsynan implying the existence of some "universal morality". We kill other beings for food and many other requirements. Even if you say that plants don't have a central nervous system, animals do - hence I don't think killing animals is *any worse* than killing a human being. And the modern "accepted" notions of universal morality consider it basic human right to kill animals! None of us lead cruelty-free lives, and I don't know if such a thing is possible.

Hence I don't think there is any practical manifestation of "universal morality". And from this standpoint, why Ramayana - I don't think modern morality is *any* day superior to the time when the worst of caste system was practised in India.

Also, I would prefer a God like this anyday to someone who did the kind of stuff in the Old Testament. I am not quoting anything from Koran because it is politically incorrect to criticize Islam.

And Dilip, even if you cannot respect one aspect of Rama's morality there are several attributes of his that are eminently respectable by your notions of relative-morality as well. So I hope you did not exactly say that "you cannot respect Rama".

 
At 12:05 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Which particular story of Arjuna is being referred to in the "despite Arjuna"?

Thanks.

 
At 2:22 AM, Anonymous Charu said...

Anand, this story does not fail to move me each time I read it. you are so right - Sita continues to be abandoned... do you know thse lines from Amar Prem - tu kaun hai tera naam hai kya? Sita bhi yahaan badnaam hui... (who are you, what is your identity after all? even Sita had her name slandered here) - for all that piety surrounding Rama and the story itself, the Ramayana is full of not-so-moral lessons...

I don't know what Dilip meant about Arjuna - but what I despise that character for is the easy way in which he shared his wife with his brothers - out of a misguided sense of - what? devotion to his mother's words? Share the spoils among the losers too?

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Thanks Dilip.

Froginthewell -- You are right one could interpret these things in different ways. Gypsynan, Dilip, and Charu have interpreted it in one way, and one cannot find fault with that interpretation. It's as valid as any other probable interpretation.

As for Bible, Quran, etc, I don't think we are fighting over the merits of one religion vis-a-vis another here. In fact Ramayana is not even a religious text.

Charu -- Thanks. Thanks also for the Amar Prem reference. I didn't know about that.

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

I hope you did not exactly say that "you cannot respect Rama".

Put it this way: Let's say I find a friend of mine has treated his wife as Ram treated Sita. Whatever his other sterling qualities, it would be hard to remain his friend.

As for "despite Arjuna", what I meant was that even though I dislike his character, I prefer the Mahabharata to the Ramayana -- it being more human and believable etc. What about Arjuna do I dislike? His reactions to Ekalavya and Karna.

 
At 12:44 PM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Yes, one can interpret it in many different ways - but I think it is somewhat improper to use that as the touchstone for Indian morality and compare with personal notions of universal morality. My point is that the same people who do not believe in scriptures select precisely the controversial parts from them, supplies interpretations according to their own convenience, and use them to blast Indian heritage. And at the same time, only hindu religious texts suffer from so much ignominy at the hands of the scholars in Indian universities or in Indian poems, movies etc.

Even in American TV programmes featuring some Islamic terrorists they go to all lengths to explain that actually Koran doesn't sanction their activities. Why are hindu texts never given that consideration?

Anand : rAmAyaNa becomes a non-religious text only if you remove the bAlakANDa and the uttararAmAyaNa ( which are of course said to be later additions ). For instance, you can see in the shlOkas 1-15-15 onwards here about explicitly stating that rAma is an incarnate of viShNu. So if you quote from uttararAmAyaNa ( which have the controversial abandoning of sIta etc. ) certainly you are considering a religious text.

Although, here seems to be a reference to rAma as an incarnation even in the yuddhakANDa.

dilIp : Unlike what you said, I think arjuna's jealousy only makes mahAbhArata more believable - and arjuna is not said to be perfect or anything. Moreover, drONa was the guy who actually damaged Ekalavya - being a jealous child and at the same time brought up in the guru-is-right tradition, it would only be natural for arjuna to keep quiet when drONa asks him for the thumb. And if you read the relevant portions here and here you can see that it was the impetuous bhIma who really insulted karNa ( with that famous/notorious dog-and-sacrificial-butter-analogy ), and that too only after karNa claimed to excel arjuna, expressed his wish to fight with arjuna, actually had an armed encounter with arjuna etc.

 
At 5:40 PM, Blogger Vishnu said...

froginthewell, if something can be interpreted in some manner, what is the problem in doing so? Also, as far as I know, there are people interpreting The Bible and Christ in different ways, which seem controversial to many.

Isn't the society better where people are free to criticise/comment on religious texts as compared to the ones where people are killed for such actions? After all, the texts are verse written by humans.

I have some issues in admitting Rama as nothing above man, two of them being Sita's abandonment and Bali's cold-blooded murder. I have many more issues with Krishna.

But it is interesting to see that the Gods in Hindu mythology are not portrayed as ideal beings. Perhaps they were just powerful humans, elevated to Godhood by the poets. What say?

 
At 9:46 PM, Blogger Old Path said...

I do not think Mahabharata or Ramayana were written with a goal to idolize the characters like Rama or Krishna. Those epics, in my opinion, are attempts to open our mind to the Reality of this life, this world. Then to apply reasoned thinking and act according to our best judgement. The following Gita stanza summarizes that message:
“I have imparted to you the most secret knowledge. Do not believe it blindly. Apply reasoned thinking and confirm it. Thereafter you may act freely in life”.

Vyasa, in the beginning of Bhagavada purana, clearly states that whatever he says in it are just stories, stories to help the listener to understand the Reality.

 
At 1:31 AM, Anonymous Harini Calamur said...

there are those who claim that the original valmiki ramayan ended with the return home of ram after 14 years of exile.and many believe that the abandoning of Sita is an add on to placate later conservatism. there is a version where Ram sends Laxman to kill a sudra who is reciting the vedas. and the logic is that his time would come in the kalyug. again here i would think that it is a later add on than part of the original story. Especially given Valmiki's own origins.

Ram's treatment of Sita always struck me as being uniquely unjust. My problem is also that since Tulsidas - people began accepting Ramayan as religious text as opposed to epic tale - and therefore Ram's treatment of Sita was used to justify atrocities against women.

But, and this is probably going to get me a lot of flack - take a slightly different perspective.
look at Ram's behaviour not as a husbands treatment of a wife. But, a rulers' bowing down to accepted societal morality - no matter how much personal grief it causes him. maybe then we would be able to see it with more empathy.

Our problem is that our leaders live in direct contradiction of society's accepted norms (or even legalities). And it would be so wonderful if our leaders took the lesson from Ramayan and took their loved ones to task bowing down to the publics will. Maybe that is the message of Rama Rajya - that the ruler is bound by the path of right. and his/her people have power over the ruler.

As an example for marital bliss it makes for a poor example. But, this could be a lesson our leaders will do well to imbibe as what constitutes the duty of the leader.

 
At 3:03 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Froginthewell -- What I meant was Ramayana in not a religious text in the Bible - Quran mould.

You are right, Ramayana mentions Rama as Vishnu's incarnation precisely in the supposedly later additions. And again it's precisely here that he ill-treats Sita, kills Sambuka - the Sudra, etc. So it's not just any powerful king, but Lord Vishnu's avatar who commits these crimes!

Harini -- That's an interesting twist that you are pointing out. But I would argue that that isn't a good thing either. In fact many of our leaders have taken a cue from this Rama episode the way you portrayed. What else made Babulal Gaur say that social customs are stronger than laws?

To my mind if Rama genuinely wanted to get rid of Sita, and if he did that, that makes some sense. It's this idea of "honour" based on which he acted that makes his case worse!

A word on the original Valmiki Ramayana. One cannot conclude one way or the other about the question of whether or not Bala Kanda and Uttara Ramayana are later additions. What one can say is that the Ramayana tradition has accepted these sections as part of the Ramayana for more than two thousand years now. Kalidasa viewed these as part of the Ramayana, so did Bhavabhuti much later.

Thanks also to Dilip, Vishnu, and Madhu for the interesting points raised.

 
At 3:34 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Perhaps this is a good place to quote Amartya Sen on the Ramayana (from The Argumentative Indian).

"[T]the adherents of Hindu politics -- especially those who are given to vandalizing places of worship of other religions -- may take Rama to be divine, but in much of the Ramayana, Rama is treated primarily as a hero -- a great 'epic hero' -- with many good qualities and some weaknesses, including a tendency to harbour suspicions about his wife Sita's faithfulness. A pundit who gets considerable space in the Ramayana, called Javali, not only does not treat Rama as God, he calls his actions 'foolish' ('especially for', as Javali puts it, 'an intelligent and wise man'). Before he is persuaded to withdraw his allegations, Javali gets time enough in the Ramayana to explain in detail that 'there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that', and that 'the injunctions about the worship of gods, sacrifice, gifts and penance have been laid down in the sastras by clever people just to rule over [other] people.' The problem with invoking the Ramayana to propagate a reductionist account of Hindu religiosity lies in the way the epic is deployed for this purpose -- as a document of supernatural veracity, rather than as 'a marvellous parable' (as Rabindranath Tagore describes it) and a widely enjoyed part of India's cultural heritage."

 
At 4:23 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Madhu has expanded his earlier comment in a nice post here: The Story of Contradictions.

 
At 5:14 AM, Anonymous Harini Calamur said...

When Babulal Gaur says what he does - he is not talking about the majority of society. He is talking about a power elite that wants to control whatever it can. Much like the morons who asked Imrana to leave her husband and marry her father in law.Neither represent the majority of society.Does the bulk of society want it. The answer is no.

In the Ramayan it is not the chattering of the elite that led to Sita's exile. it was the masses symbolised by the washerman that led to the decision.

I am not defending Ram abandoning a pregnant Sita in the middle of the forest. And the treatment of Sita by RAm probably became the excuse for men to abandon their wives on suspicion of infedility. Like i said it is a bad symbol for marital bliss, but a few more leaders like him may not be a bad idea.

, listening to the outrage of population and acting on it is not a bad way for a ruler to behave. End of the day the ruler is responsible to the ruled, as well as being responsible for the ruled.

Our sense of moral outrage on Ayodhya - and many many hindus believed that destroying the mosque was wrong -- should have led the leader to give up his post. AFterall, if RAm could give up the wife he adored - could not Advani give up the post that he craved for. Or Modi. Or anyone for that matter of fact. put any politician in there and the example will fit.
It seems like a good way to get rid of the bulk of our leadership :)

 
At 8:27 AM, Blogger Sunil said...

A wonderful piece, and a more than stimulating discussion in the comments section!

Without getting into this or that (Ramayana vs. Mahabharata, or whether Rama should be respected or not)....here are my personal favorite bits from the Ramayana:

1) Dhasharatha's outburst after Kaikeyi reveals her wishes.

2) Rama's reaction towards Kaikeyi when he's told.

3) Bharata's character (too good to be true, but so what?)

4) Hanuman's meeting with R & L.

5) Jatayu's attempted rescue of Sita (leaves me all teary eyed).

6) The characters of Vali, Kumbakarana and Indrajit. They, more than any others, are the remarkable characters of the story.

7) Sita's "Agni pareeksha". The sense of outrage that I have every time I read it.....

8)The very end, when "Bhoomi devi" supposedly splits the earth to take Sita away with her. Again, all teary eyed, and calling Rama a spineless worm.

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

viShNO, even a cursory glance at what I wrote should make it glaringly obvious to you that your allegations don't apply to me. I said it was okay to interpret these things in different ways but it is *improper* ( not a crime that warrants execution or a fatwa ) to use one's own fanciful interpretations and project it as a nation's defective point of view of morality. And I was lamenting the double standards by which Indian liberals etc. subject *only hinduism* to such *assaults* ( not just several interpretations ) though there are many several incidents in the old testament etc. where much stronger statements can be made.

I don't find any difference between murdering in a war and murdering from behind. From the point of view of ancient dharma Bali was just an animal so the laws of humans don't apply to him. After all he had usurped sugrIva's wife and was himself a threat to sugrIva's life.

Now to the "shambuka" guys : Rama killed shambuka because according to nArada shambuka's penance killed the son of a brAhmaNa. And tapas by shUdras is sanctioned in kaliyuga so historically people could not have used that to oppress shUdras. The relevant chapters in uttararAmAyaNa can be found in sargas 65-67 here.
To read it you can use the translation found in this argument - though I don't see in the sanskrit text all those praises by agni, vAyu etc. cited by one of the argumentators.
Also note that the child comes to life ( as per the sanskrit text cited above ) as soon as shambuka is killed.

As for sIta's abandoning - I have already pointed out that one could interpret it as rAma caring more for his subjects' happiness.

As for sItA's agniparIkShA, it was sItA who herself wanted to light a pyre etc.

So Anand, the interpretation that an avatAra of viShNu is commtting sins would only be popular among those who believe that viShNu is not an avatAra! ( and I thought only a person who believes in a religion should criticise it? ).

As for Babulal Gaur's statment, I don't see any reason to believe that it was our scriptures that motivated it.

 
At 9:54 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Also what is so remarkable about vAli, kumbhakarNa and indrajit? And how would anyone else be more remarkable than hanumAn?

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Amardeep has a long post @ Sepia Mutiny about this theme: Versions of Ramayana. Lots of interesting comments over there too.

Harini -- There's one thing that Rama could have done as a comment suggests @ Sepia Mutiny: "If he was so noble, and if he did really believe her, wouldn't it have been so much more honourable for him to abandon his throne, and follow her into the forest to prove that HE believed her. By abandoning her, he justifies the peoples mistrust in her." I think there's a point there. Perhaps Rama stuck to power too!

Sunil -- Thanks. That's a long list out there!

Froginthewell -- I'm confused a bit. Are you saying that son of a brahmin should get priority over a shudra? I think I didn't follow.

I thought only a person who believes in a religion should criticise it?

Really? I guess even in that case I'm qualified! In any case criticisms like these are in the spirit of Ramayana. Afterall Valmiki made Javali criticise Rama in harsher terms. See my Amartya Sen quote above.

 
At 11:16 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Of course I am not saying that a son of a brAhmin should get priority - I am only suggesting that shrI rAma's action can be compared to a death sentence for murder.

As for saying that only a person who believes... - the reference is to something else, which I am sure you would remember. The purpose - to bring certain breaches to your attention ( more clarification only by email, if necessary ). I don't believe that, nor do I follow it myself, hence I have no objection to jAbAli. But if I see bias, and if I see one religion alone being the target of similar attacks, I can't help but ridicule the hypocrisy.

I don't see how just because rAmAyaNa is "not a religious text in the mould of Koran/Bible" attacks on the Koran/Bible are any less justified or welcome than attacks on rAmAyaNa.

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Also note that sage vAlmIki was of nIShAda-origin or so but he was only respected.

 
At 10:27 PM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

Anand, I bet your father would be intrigued by the discussion here!

I want to reiterate one thing you said in response to Harini: yes, Rama was "bowing to accepted social morality", and therefore we should understand him. But I've always felt that leaders must also set the agenda, the direction, show by example. They must have the fibre to take unpopular decisions and stand up and explain to their people why they did it and why it is the right decision in the long run. I wish -- as far as it is possible to wish about an epic! -- that Ram had said: no, this woman is honourable and has nothing to prove to anyone, and she stays right here with me. I think that's leadership and kingliness too; more important, if the Ramayana had gone that way, I think we might have had another (and in my opinion better) standard of "morality" (whatever that is) to follow today. Though if the Ramayana had gone that way it might have been a less interesting story, I don't know.

Yes, frog, Arjuna's jealousy makes the Mahabharata more believable, which is my point. It doesn't make Arjuna more appealing to me, though.

In a similar way, I can't understand why you object to SUnil's liking of Vali etc. There's such a thing as an interesting character (apart from his virtues and valour), and I think Kumbhakarna is a fascinating one (for example).

Also frog, I don't see the point (or validity) in your feeling that it's only Hinduism being attacked. For one thing, do you see this discussion as an attack? For another, plenty of people scorn plenty of things in the Old and New Testaments (feeding a multitude? virgin birth? turning people into pillars of salt?), and similarly with other faiths. You yourself imply that there's stuff in the Old Testament that is absurd, but then you follow that up with this: I thought only a person who believes in a religion should criticise it?

Which is it to be, frog?

I'm all for attacks and criticism on any Bible/Koran/Ramayana/whatever, and not just because I have no use for religion. If they cannot stand the criticism, they aren't particularly sacred. They might as well be those pillars of stone. To me, it's because these various books say different things -- even contradictory things -- to different people that they have their great power and appeal. That is why the Mahabharata is so interesting.

 
At 5:41 AM, Blogger Veena said...

Anand - Thanks for this! A lot of interesting comments too happening.

Just wanted to bring up something that I have always felt while reading this part of Ramayana. The entire issue here seems to be 'given that Sita's honour is intact what should Rama do?' - but what if it isn't? As far as I can see, Sita didn't really go to Lanka willingly - she was forcibly kidnapped. Lets assume for a moment that Ravana got his way with her - Ravana is supposed to be too honorable to do that, but hey, the dude kidnapped her in the first place - then it would get classified as rape in my worldview. Does that mean our hero will/should not take back a wife because she is a rape victim? I, foe one believe that the story would have been much more interesting and we as a society might even show a greater empathy towards rape victims if only there was this twist in the kahani!

 
At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking ..

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

1. dilIp : Of course I am not objecting to sunIl's calling vAli, kumbhakarNa and indrajit as the most remarkable characters. It is very much within the realm of free speech to ask "what is so remarkable about them". This highlights one aspect of left-liberal philosophy : "it is okay to criticise our scriptures but not so to question liberals' interpretations".

2. "Plenty of people" do criticize other scriptures too. For instance the rationalist international who uniformly attack all religions - no hypocrisy there. But I am talking of the Indian liberals and "liberal art guys".

3. As I mentioned before, "I thought only people who..." - the statement you quoted in italics - is a reference to something else, and I have also stated that I don't believe in it. Hence I don't object to people criticizing scriptures, as long as they don't use it to attack one religion alone or in general our countries ethics based on that.

It was this same rAmAyaNa, the same gIta that asked arjuna to fight etc. that played an important role in shaping the nonviolent ideology of gAndhiji. While mahAtmaji interpreted it positively, cleansed himself and derived strength from the scriptures, the liberals use it only as a weapon to make biased attacks.

4. rAma has no way to "prove" to the world that sItA is pure. As for people who really believe in rAmAyaNa, they would interpret it as a mechanism to get lava and kusha to vAlmIki etc. I think rAmAyaNa would only make people empathic to the lives of sIta in particular and women in general - but to see that you have to look at it from the point of view
of one who believes.

5. It is not true that rAvaNa was too honourable to rape sIta. He did not do so because of the curse that he had obtained. The myth of rAvaNa being too honourable only shows how people are driven basically by the tendency to oppose the scripture rather than look at it objectively.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

Frog:

It is very much within the realm of free speech to ask "what is so remarkable about them".

Ah, but that's not all you asked. (If it was, I would not have reacted). You also asked, how would anyone else be more remarkable than hanumAn?

Your problems with liberals, I'll leave you to deal with. But this seems to bother you: the tendency to oppose the scripture rather than look at it objectively.

But suppose someone looked it objectively and then opposed it?

 
At 12:17 PM, Blogger froginthewell said...

"How would anyone be more remarkable than hanumAn" is very much in the same spirit - hanumAn to me seems way ahead of others and I was genuinely curious to know about a metric that would place the likes of vAli/kumbhakarNa/indrajit above hanumAn. Apriori, to me, it seems only fashionable rather than natural to like these characters.

But suppose someone looked it objectively and then opposed it?

I have already made it clear that criticism per se is not the problem. But biased interpretation, selective choice of targets etc. smack of an unholy agenda. And therefore I have been registering a ( I suppose civilized ) democratic protest/counterargument. If Anand feels that I am trying to curtail free speech/infringing on civility I would very much be ready, though not happy, to stop writing.

 
At 9:12 PM, Blogger Anand said...

Thanks Dilip, Veena, Anonymous, and Froginthewell.

Froginthewell -- No I don't feel neither you nor anyone else who has commented here is trying to or even thinking of curtailing free speech or conducting an "uncivilised" discussion. I appreciate your passion for epics like the Ramayana as well. I also feel that all the commenters here have high regards for the epic. They wouldn't have bothered to interpret stories (the way they like of course) from the Ramayana otherwise.

Look at once again, in particular, the last sentence of my father's piece, that started the discussion here, about the Adikavi's prophetic poetic vision. Does that smack of an unholy agenda? I don't think so. On the other hand I think such a sentence arises from a deep sense of admiration to works like that. I can't think of anyone reading the Ramayana in the original, say 20 times or so, in its entirety, without having that kind of respect to the work.

I do believe that there are those who use the Ramayana for 'unholy' purposes. And if my blog was consistent in anything that was in trying oppose them. It's they who go for biased interpretation and selective projections of our epics. I like to think that Gandhi understood the Ramayana in its entirety. He knew about human weaknesses. Rama had his share of weaknesses too. Abandoning Sita for the sake of honour was one such, according to me. According to many, including Valmiki himself, in fact. Gandhi's Ramarajya had an inclusive vision. The choice for India today is, figuratively speaking, is between two Ramarajyas, one Gandhi's, and another Godse's. And I believe it's the Godses who go for a picture perfect, macho Rama, always the arrow on the verge of being shot. Shoot whom, I wonder.

I have a clear view on this subject. And it's not one of tarnishing this country's heritage. Time for another quote from Amartya Sen, and that says all that I think of this question:

"[I]t has to be accepted that these old books and narratives have had an enormous influence on Indian literature and thought. They have deeply influenced literary and philosophical writings on the one hand, and folk traditions of storytelling and critical dialects on the other. The difficulty does not lie in the importance of the Vedas or the Ramayana, but in understanding their role in Indian culture. ... ... It would be as difficult to ignore their general importance in Indian culture (on some allegedly 'secular' ground) as it would be to insist on viewing them through the narrow prism of a particularly raw version of Hindu religiosity."

 
At 8:56 AM, Blogger kuffir said...

the ramayana, if it isn't taken as a religious text, should attract as much attention as the mein kampf. it contains the same twisted interpretation of its period, same frenzied documentation of the protagonist's
worldview.
it serves as a very loose kind of record of how the tribes and clans of early india coalesced around more aggressive, more smarter groups. it also signals the beginning of the sporadically successful attempts to build a pan-indian icon based on the ram-character in order to legitimise the narrow, twisted manifesto of the more aggressive groups mentioned above. i say sporadically successful because the rama cult took very long to take root in india. there weren't many temples dedicated to ram until half a millennia ago. in contrast, you'd find shrines dedicated to the leaders/heroes of the oldest indian peoples like ganapathi(meaning leader of a clan/village, broadly), hanuman etc., all over the country. an aside : the building of temples dedicated to ram has always engendered controversy and scandal. let me cite an example- i quote from the wikipedia here: 'Abul Hasan Qutb Shah (also transliterated in different ways) was the seventh and last ruler of the kingdom of Golconda in southern India under the Qutb Shahi dynasty. He ruled from 1672 to 1687. He was known as Tana Shah, meaning "benevolent ruler".

He is remembered as a popular statesman who did not discriminate against those of other ethnicities or religions. He hired Brahmins as his ministers and generals. For example Madanna, a Telugu Brahmin from Hanamkonda City, was his Chief Minister. Tana Shah gained a place in the Telugu literature due to Kancharla Gopanna, nephew of Madanna. Kancharla Gopanna is famously known as "Ramadasu". Ramadasu lived in Nelakondapalli City in Palvancha county. Tana Shah hired him as "Tahasildar" (head of the revenue department) of Palvancha county. Ramadasu diverted the public funds to construct a Rama temple in Bhadrachalam and for the jewelry for the idols of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. Tana Shah found Ramadasu guilty of misappropriation of public funds and put him in jail. Later, according to legend, Tana Sha released Ramadasu from jail because Lord Rama appeared to him in person and paid back the money. For this goodwill gesture to Ramadasu, Tana Sha gained praise of the Telugu people.'
the last section, if you notice, seems to mix history and pure hallucinations, right? if read with a little hindsight one would find a more plausible explanation of the ruler's generosity. ramadasu(he was the popular carnatic composer,yes) belonged to the powerful(at that period and until pv narasimha rao's time)niyogi brahmin community. leaders of this community were 'appointed'(hence the name niyogi) hereditary custodians of the revenue records of most villages by earlier rulers. the sultans of golconda continued this practice in order not to disturb the power equations to their detriment. this is also the most proble reason why tana shah chose to pardon ramadasu. he obviously didn't wish to earn the ill-will of the niyogis and other poerful hindu interests.
i do not wish to deprecate here the very real merits of ramadasu's work. nor do i wish to criticize valmiki's or countless others' interpretations of the ramayana. they are to be read as creations of very passionately 'godloving' men, i believe, and it is their zeal and imagination that makes the ramayana a very enduring tale. as i said earlier the ramayana, if it isn't regarded as a purely religious text or at worst an adoring fan's biography of his 'idol', is an inherently sordid political document.
as for the so called 'ethical' issues raised by the ramayana, i commend the diligent minds who can find any.
my advice to sita : seek 'abandonment'.

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

I just wish to clarify that by my "unholy agenda" etc. I was not referring to your father's article at all. My comment was based on some others' comments, which did seem suggestive of the unholy agenda and unwarranted bias I was talking of - as I have tried to justify in the above paragraphs.

I don't think India has only two choices of rAmarAjya etc. Nor am I insisting on viewing the scriptures only through that "narrow prism of hindu religiosity". But the critiques of rAmAyaNa should be open to interpretations as well, as also the motives behind the critiques to analysis. The process can go on recursively as long as there seems to be civilized and sensible dialogue. For every book, every statement, every idea. And that would aid, if not foster, true multiculturalism.

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger kuffir said...

'this is also the most proble reason why tana shah chose to pardon ramadasu. he obviously didn't wish to earn the ill-will of the niyogis and other poerful hindu interests.'
please read it as 'probable' and 'powerful'.

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous ?! said...

There used to be a school competition called "Just a minute" in which a person had to speak (without repetition, grammatical errors etc)for a full 60 seconds on a random topic. The trick was to start at any random topic (e.g Coffee crops in Brazil) and arrive as soon as possible to the the topic one wanted : say, my views on school, regardless of how thin the connecting bridges were. So regardless of what is discussed, some people will turn it into a Hindu/Muslim-secular vs pseudo secular-PC vs non PC etc debate! Regarding the reason advanced for abandoning Sita: Character is what you are. Reputation is what others think of you. A compromise on character for the sake of reputation is essentially a mark of insincerety.

 
At 12:51 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Thanks Kuffir for the long comment. I don't agree with your extreme viewpoints on the Ramayana though.

Thanks ?!

Froginthewell -- But the critiques of rAmAyaNa should be open to interpretations as well, as also the motives behind the critiques to analysis. The process can go on recursively as long as there seems to be civilized and sensible dialogue. For every book, every statement, every idea. And that would aid, if not foster, true multiculturalism.

I don't disagree with that at all!

 
At 1:11 AM, Blogger kuffir said...

'?!' :if your comments are directed against mine let me assire you that you have misread my interpretation of ramadasu's pardon. i have no wish to initiate any hindu-muslim, secular......etc., debate.
bhadrachalam, the shrine built by ramadasu, is the most popular ram temple in ap(built on the banks of river godavari, in a tribal region,supposedly near places where rama had actually spent part of his exile). the poet-erring tahsildar's story had intrigued me since my early years.more than two movies were made on his chequered life and one more is in the making.his songs and kirtans are part of the musical lore of the telugu people. so please understand that my interest in him is a result of unadulterated curiosity and not because of any animus i bear against his privileged background.
my contention is that:
a) the ramayana, it's protagonist, his worship and his character(or lack of it, as you rightly pointed) have always generated controversy because they have never really been fully accepted by 'all' indian people,
b)it is precisely because of the above reason that one encounters so many written and oral versions of the tale(modified according to local acceptance standards, i suppose). therefore, my conclusion is that more than the tale itself it's the narrator, and his literary craft'smanship, his worldview, his code of ethics and his imagination itself that deserve more careful study.

 
At 1:15 AM, Blogger kuffir said...

'if your comments are directed against mine let me assire you that you have misread my interpretation of ramadasu's pardon.'
please read 'assire' as 'assure'.

 
At 1:25 AM, Blogger kuffir said...

'my conclusion is that more than the tale itself it's the narrator, and his literary craft'smanship, his worldview, his code of ethics and his imagination itself that deserve more careful study.'
please read craft'smanship as craftsmanship.
and, about bhadrachalam, if i recall correctly, aravindan's 'kanchana sita', a very unusual representation of the ramayana, was made around the same locales.

 
At 6:20 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Kuffir -- Thanks again. I don't think ?! was commenting specifically about you. If you are included in the 'Just a Minute' category, most of us too are there I guess :)

I've got a lot of new info from your comments and I'm glad that you took the time to post your thoughts here.

I was also wondering: if I start correcting the grammatical/spelling/punctuation etc mistakes that I make, as you do, how many more extra comments I'll have to post!

 
At 10:10 AM, Anonymous ?! said...

Just a general observation@ Kuffir. Read several of the blogs linked here and you'll realize what I mean: every comment section eventually comes down to the Great Debate. Whether it is correct or not is subjective: that it's tenor leaves a lot to be desired in most cases is not. This series is probably one of the more restrained ones! As for the author's craft, whether it is the author or the subject that has drawn enduring attention is not something that can be resolved. However, the popularity of different versions and translations, to the extent of a tawdry tinsel paper/plastic arrow TV version, indicate that the subject IS the causative factor. The support of public figures for religions across the communal divide is another constant : whether it be Dara Shikoh being credited with the first written version of the Upanishads ( far fetched?) or Jesudas singing at Guruvayoor.

 
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At 11:41 AM, Blogger Nina Paley said...

Thanks for the great article and discussion, all. Although I can't read Sanskrit, I've read many translations of Valmiki, my favorite being Arshia Sattar's Penguin India edition, which she translated directly from Sanskrit to English. In spite of my earliest impressions and some misogynists' using the Ramayana to justify mistreatment of women, I now think the agni pariksha and uttara kanda are feminist stories. Even while Rama mistreats Sita, Valmiki stays far more sympathetic to her in the narrative. Sometimes I think the uttara kanda was written for readers who don't get the gravity of Rama's rejecting Sita in Lanka (leading her to enter the pyre). It spells it out for them: Sita is a goddess, and treating her badly can't be justified, even by Rama. Rama's behavior is supposed to be egregious, and Sita is supposed to be a martyr. The suffering, abandoned, heartbroken women (and men) of the world need Sita to endure all this, so she can be a goddess to them (us). I never would have explored the Ramayana had it not been for the outrageous fire trial and last book. Sita continues to be abandoned, because we do - and so the story is kept alive to remind us we're not alone.

 
At 5:13 PM, Anonymous dee said...

Did Rama consider how his handling of the Sita's purity issue may be misused by later society?
Is this why pregnant wives are sometimes kicked out today?
Is Sita's return into earth- actually a wishy-washy account of a suicide?
How were his kids impacted? Did they hate their father for their mom's suffering?
Did they hate their Praja for their gossip?
Is that why despite Rama we had a slew of bad rulers later?
Has this tale of the dhobi been used to oppress the lower castes as unthinking? Did this lead to the caste system?

Why could Rama not have spoken to his Praja on the importance of compassion on several grounds-
e.g.- on Kakieyes deceit causing her the most loss- of husband's life and sons love.
- on Sita's abduction by Ravana and the emotional trauma this would have caused her. It is immaterial whether she was able to keep off ravanas advances in captivity.
If this would have been his approach the agni pariksha would not have been relavant, nor the need to send her away.
Oppression of women and the caste system may not have occured.
Raped women would not be commiting suicide in fear of being abondoned, but would be able to take a stand against those who hurt them

WE as a nation have learnt the lessons from Rama's acceptance of an unfair exile- to keep peace in the land.
We have been able to absorb the meaning of non-violence and of non-war-mongering; have accepted unfair circumstances as a nation. Have been able to preserve our culture despite invasions, as well as protected cultures that came to us.

We should look at the consequences of not being able to totally absorb the consequences of the Sita Parityaga- and see that we correct this within ourselves for future generations.

Is this why the Parityaga episode is only found in some writings of the ramayana? Was it introduced to create thought?

How do we change our people from just praying, to thinking along the above lines?
How do we get an unenlightened brahmin class into understanding the above?

How long will the efficacy of Kalki Avatar [when he comes] last if we keep repeating our mistakes?

 
At 5:36 PM, Anonymous dee said...

further thoughts-
1. The agni pariksha was never justified.

However when the spy told Rama about the gossip- what other options did he have and what would be their outcome-

a.- arrest and punish the gossipers and the spy- but would ramrajya have been established

b.- give a talk on empathy to the masses. Would they have said "YEAh Right- your family is royal!!!"

c.- Ignore all and have Sita stay on in the palace. But would someone have tried to hurt her?
Would his child have been raised in a bad atmosphere with aspertions being cast on mom?

d.- Should he have given up his kingdom and accompanied Sita to the hermitage?
Would his kid have respected his limited understanding as a sage [after all his training had been as a ruler].
Would there have been gossip that Bharat conspired to have him out again?
Or gossip on Urmilla and Bharat?
Would even ramarajya not have been established?

Was it the wahserman who gossiped? or the spy?
Should we each not look into our own souls for self-improvement, rather than look for the devil in others?


When Sita returned with Lava and Kush- why was there gossip again? Afterall the twins looked like rama.
- Twins were then not common in first-borns but in 4-5th kids.
- The difference being that while most women had kids in their early 20's- Sita would have been close to 30 at her first pregnancy.
- And twinning is a function of maternal age [not which-born].

-Did people question why one identical "twin!" was dark [lava] and one fair [cush]. And think they were concieved at separate occasions by separate partners?
We know now in 2006 that there have been 5-6 recorded cases on identical twins with separate skin colors.
This was a test of faith, in those days- and is a lesson for us in the future.
Everything is not explainable by man [after all we are made by God].

How much better to believe in the innocence of Mother mary and the immaculate conception of Christ since 1BC.
[Today there are case reports of this, and scientific explanations for this, as well for his resurrection]

Many lessons to be learned from world history

If The gossip on Sitas return with Lava and Cush had really occured would they have been good rulers with respect for the masses?

 
At 6:00 PM, Anonymous dee said...

Why did Rama not take another woman/ wife after Sita parityaga?

How did he accept Cush as his- even with the color difference [1:million identical twins are born with color difference]?

Do these show that Rama had faith in Sita and did what he did to protect her? While giving and "official reason" that was for the state.

Should Rama have discussed with Sita- his fears for her, and the state before sending her away? Would she have insisted that she and her child would be safe in the palace?

 
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