Rama’s extended exile

With politics, cricket and cinema occupying all of public mind space, Lord Rama, indeed, is an unlikely candidate for journalistic attention. The provocation to download that divine deity, who straddles all the worlds and beyond, into these columns are many. Maybe it is the occasion of Sriramanavami; it could also be the raging controversy over the Sethu project, not to speak of Ayodhya. Or probably a nation let down by its men in blue should seek sanctuary with the God in blue, who, incidentally, got the better of Sri Lankans, in his times. But whatever the urge, it shall be Rama all the way.

Though deemed an avatara and a King’s son, Rama’s was a life of torment, much as an ordinary man’s. Yet, he shows the way to humanity by remaining a shining symbol of character and conduct as an individual and an epitome of righteousness as a King and leader. Indeed, Rama and Ramarajya are the ideals that an individual and a society should aspire for. Ramayana, therefore, is a moral beacon and is the country’s cultural treasure, a proud inheritance for the people of Bharatavarsha. The gems of wisdom that it contains, however, transcend time and nations. Yet, despite all such glory, Rama is a much maligned icon, getting a raw deal on many counts from all and sundry.

Topping the list of tormentors are the self-styled rationalists. Periyar, the leader of the pack in this part of the world, made a career out of garlanding Rama with slippers. A feature film on him to be released soon reportedly contains a song with references to Sita that are not just offensive to Hindu sensibilities but also violate even the basic norms of public decency. Of course, the lyrics have passed censor and legal scrutiny, but would these rationalists dare display their ‘slippery’ character or use their poetic licences and artistic freedom w.r.t other faiths?

Such selective atheism has wrought bigger damage to the legacy of Rama, besides the patent disrespect to religious sentiments that it entails. Our rationalists and scientific historians would not mind the miracles and mirages that abound in the lives of messiahs of other religions in due secular deference. But Rama has been mercilessly consigned to the annals of myth without as much as a ‘fair trial’. Rama’s crime: He preceded all these ‘modern’ messiahs by eons. And he is not even entitled to the benefit of belief that is unquestioningly bestowed on the prophets of other believers.

For them Ramayana is a cock and bull story contrived by Valmiki, with no historical basis. Such a dismissive approach only smacks of political or personal bias. If anything, Valmiki might have taken some literary liberties or resorted to poetic exaggerations, but that does not in anyway make Rama an imaginary figure. That myopic historians and modern archaeological tools have been unable to reach out to those distant times does not mean that Rama did not exist. On the contrary, from Ayodhya to Prayag in the north to Dhandakaranya in the middle to Dhanushkodi and Sethu in the south, India is littered with tell-tale evidences of Rama’s presence and movements that also tally with the incidents narrated in the Ramayana. Also, local legends in all these places, handed down over hundreds of generations have singularly remained in sync with Valmiki’s chronicle of Rama’s life.They may not qualify as conclusive proof, but certainly have a sound basis. A genuine rational scrutiny in search of truth should not ignore these as insignificant but consider them in all seriousness. But unfortunately such benign indulgence has never come Rama’s way. He remains an Amar Chitra Katha caricature.

In Ayodhya, Rama is the victim of both secularism and vote-bank politics. All the political and judicial dramas in his nama have at best helped many politicians on both sides of the communal divide to advance their careers. While those who championed his cause have since had their coronations in the Capital, Rama continues to languish in exile. And now we have Rahul Gandhi virtually assuring the Muslims that Rama can never enter Ayodhya if only the Nehru family is voted to stand vigil in UP! So the abiding faith of millions that Rama was born there is of no consequence. Now, what can the good Lord do? Can’t utter a word because the whole thing is sub judice too!

The most recent assault is the Sethu project. The Ramar Sethu bridge is a NASA-proven reality, not a Ramar Pillai concoction. Again, there are alternatives by which the project could still be implemented without damage to that bridge (believed to be built by Rama and his sena, en route to Lanka) and also salvage the fragile marine environment there. Of course, the larger geological and geo-political concerns on account of the recent tsunami and LTTE respectively remain. Yet such sentiments are of no avail. Development is the much touted alibi for what is essentially a reckless venture. Now, why are the dime-a-dozen heritage-guardians who hit the streets to protect dilapidated colonial structures silent on Sethu?

Denied and derided by secularists and atheists, used and abused by politicos of various hues, rejected and relegated to historic oblivion by academics and rationalists, banished from his own birth place by medieval marauders and their modern apologists and above all, left in the lurch by his own impotent subjects, Rama’s plight is poignant. The noble Lord, doubtless remains above all these worldly wranglings, but it does reflect the decaying soul of the nation.

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Jawahar T R