There is a Ramayana

 

There is a Ramayana

 

Partha Desikan

 

There is a Rama, therefore, there is a Ramayana.

Let us look at what Prof V.V.Raman, who writes under the pen name Acharya Vidyasagar, has to say in his website http://hinduperspectives.wordpress.com/ (in the last paragraph of his 31st article in a series giving his views on Hinduism and Hindu culture.

I have read our epics as masterpieces of literature, as compositions of gifted poets. I have difficulty imagining that Brahma revealed the saga of Rama to Narada who, in turn, told it to sage Valmiki who relayed it to us. I feel equally uneasy accepting the story that the Mahabharata was dictated to Lord Ganesha who patiently transcribed the entire epic. And yet, deep in my heart Rama and Krishna are divine beings out there somewhere in ethereal space. I cannot take them as concocted characters, and I often imagine them as superior beings in flesh and blood who walked in Ayodhya and Mithila, in Mathura and Vrindavan. In my mind, they are more real than Romeo and Juliet in Verona or Antonio and Bassanio in Venice. Such is the sway of the culture on one brought up in Hindu culture.

 

To this gifted intellectual, Ramayana exists, the same way the Shakespearean plays ‘Romeo and Juliet' and ‘Merchant of Venice' exist. He understands the 24,000-sloka-epic known as Valmiki Ramayana as the Ramayana and values its poetic grandeur and unquestionably valuable content. He cannot be bothered to listen to debates on whether Valmiki wrote all of it or whether anyone modified it before it reached us in this age, anymore than he is bothered about the authorship debates going on about Shakespeare's works. He may pick up other versions of Rama's story and enjoy or dismiss them on merit just as he would deal with abridged versions of the English bard's retellers and remakers.

 

Professor Raman also has difficulty in considering the story as having been revealed to Valmiki through Brahma's Grace and Narada's help. Like a large number of learned men of the modern age, the Professor cannot imagine truth being revealed. Truth has to be discovered with the senses available on a person, with the thinking faculty available to a person, with tools he can fashion himself or have some one else fashion for him. Truth may be orally or otherwise communicated. Truth can be learned and taught, but no, it cannot be revealed by ‘God'!

 

But, I am being unfair. I am putting words in the honest Professor's mouth. He only said that he has difficulty in imagining that Brahma revealed the Rama saga to Narada. This does not amount to saying that he cannot imagine it. He only says that there is difficulty. Fair enough!

 

For note that he also says that deep in his heart, Rama exists as a divine being, located somewhere out there in ethereal space. He cannot take him as a concocted character. He often imagines him as a superior being in flesh and blood (translate to avatara, if you like), who walked in Ayodhya and Mithila. In his mind, Rama is more real than Romeo or Antonio.

 

We find the Professor looking for a logical cause for his apparent lack of logic. He weighs and finds that the Hindu culture has this remarkable sway over him, because he was brought up in it.

 

What is this sway that the learned teacher, with both feet planted on the ground and clear head definitely above the clouds, is talking about? I for one would admire his forthright honesty in acknowledging a phenomenon which is somewhat difficult to explain, and express my hope that he has already come to terms with the possibility that there is no need either to understand or explain.

 

A large number of scientists, and non scientists who trust only scientists and not other lay-humans in understanding or interpretation of truth/truths/aspects of truth, can have peace of mind, if they can be reconciled to the idea that if they want to know truth, they have only to seek it most sincerely, the way some of our ancients and their likes even in the present age seemed/seem to do. And truth will be revealed to them as it has been revealed to others.

 

I find Professor Raman making up his mind somewhat along these lines, when I go through his article 29 in the same series. The Professor is here on a personal quest to find out whether there was something common and universal in the message of all religions.

Then, were personages like Ramakrishna, Guru Nanak, and Ramana Maharishi fooled into thinking that all religions are the same?

In an effort to find an answer to this question, I launched a project many years ago. Every week I visited a place of worship of a different denomination, often accompanied by my wife. Fortunate circumstances in my life have taken me to various churches, synagogues, mosques, and also to Buddhist, Bahai, and Hindu temples: mosques in Cairo and Algiers, synagogues in Curaçao and Penfield, Churches in Vienna and Seoul, Bahai temples in Wilmette and Delhi, Buddhist temples in Bangkok and Los Angeles, Gurudwaras in Calcutta and Rochester, Hindu temples in Kanya Kumari and Kalighat, and to many other places of worship. I even spent an hour at a worship center in Lapland.

Everywhere, I participated in the collective spiritual mode, not as an observer, but as one who wanted to feel a little of the spirit that moves people to piety. These were enormously rewarding experiences. I know very well that not all religions say the same thing: a well-intentioned, but naïve generalization that has rightly come under attack. Unfortunately such attacks come, not always from people who have the most generous heart towards, or respect for others, but more often than not from religious chauvinists who fear that any such identification would bring their own religion from the pedestal which they feel is its due. Every frog within every religious well is always croaking that not all the wells contain the pure and clear water that its own well does.

My own conclusion is that Ramakrishna wasn't at all deluded, as some of his critics suggest. I interpret his truth to mean that all religions have the potential to give an aspirant genuine spiritual fulfillment. Everywhere I went during a worship service, I saw an outpouring of reverence and devotion for the Unfathomable Mystery visualized and invoked in different languages and modes, through different symbols and gestures. Even with all the atrocities and abominations perpetrated in the name of religions by brutal bigots and deluded devotees, something sublime and spiritual is infused in the hearts and minds of people who are prayerful in a place of worship. Of this I became certain.

After my experiment, I was more convinced than ever of the wisdom in the lines:

akâshât patitam toyam yatha gacchati sâgaram

sarvadevanamaskârah shrî keshavam pratigachati.

As waters falling from the skies go back to the self-same sea,

Prostrations to all the gods return to the same Divinity.

The experience of participating in a pious worship-ritual of a religion is not the same as the experience of the founder of the same religion, when in the course of his sincere quest for truth, some significant aspect of it was revealed to him in a special way, moving him to share it with a number of others. But the one is rooted in the other. If prayer services of different kinds reassure the good professor of the oneness of the identity of a supreme principle, surely another lay seeker like me would be justified in seeing oneness in the Rama principle or the Rama saga being conveyed to Brahma, Narada, Valmiki, Kamban, King Kulasekhara, Lord Siva, Vedavyasa, Kakabhushundi, Tulasidas, the Alwars, Sri Thyagaraja, Sri Raghavendra, Sant Ramadas, Mohandas Gandhi, Kabir, Muslim chieftains and British collectors and several unsung devotees of Sri Rama all over the blessed land of Bharat through all of time!

Let us celebrate the significant similarities in the revelations and the colourful differences in the details! Let us know the devout from the scoffers and let us join in experiences which we do not need to understand, but only enjoy.

Rama exists for me as God. Therefore any story of his which focuses on his divinity and also carries any number of other features is Ramayana to me. If any of it can be proved to be history, historians are welcome to the findings. The tendency of Indian writers of old times to be supremely indifferent to dating their recordings and the difficulty of meaningful archaeology probing so much into the past stand in the way. But the messages of the epic story are evergreen, the most significant being the essence of sharanagati. All Hindu Acharyas without exception see in Sri Rama's advent the promise from the Infinite of deliverance from the unending cycle of births and deaths for those human beings who have the strength to believe in the one Infinite and to surrender to it.

 

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