Portions of Ramcharitmanas I have been hearing being recited from my childhood days. My stepmother could recite the entire Sundarkand by memory_ so many times she had gone through it. Almost the entire Hindu population of Eastern UP & Bihar, whether rural or urban, swears by the Manas written by Goswami Tulsidas, a devotee of Ram. Dohas (couplet) and chhand (four line metre) of Manas are quoted in almost all the speeches and even in dialogues sometimes to prove a point. Akhand Ramayan when the entire epic is recited at one go is organized by the religious minded in almost the entire region.
In the circumstances, examine critically the character of Ram is sacrilege and blasphemy, something which the wise avoid. Maryada Purushottam could never do wrong. He had to maintain and follow the system, and if it demanded a cruel and heartless action, well, it could not be helped.
I Picked up C. Rajagopalachari’s (CR) version of Valmiki Ramayan. This is a short book which does not deviate from the main text as penned by Valmiki, though at places CR Does express his disappointment, and how other versions of Ramayan differ from it. Curiosity led me to another version of Vamiki Ramayana by Krishna Dharma. Before coming to to the character of Ram, a few things struck me which I thought I would mention. First , the total absence of any mention of Urmila (Lashman’s wife) at the time Lakshman is preparing to go with his brother to the jungle for 14 long years. Sumitra, his mother is mentioned when Lakshman comes to bid farewell, but where was Urmila at the time? Did Lakshman go without meeeting her, or is their last night together too holy to describe? Not that I am the first person to ‘discover’ it. Maithili Sharan Gupta, renowned Hindi poet, as if to atone for this omission wrote a whole epic (Saket) on Urmila.
The second striking thing is that Seeta did not conceive during the long fourteen years in the forest. Was some kind of herbal birth control method known and available to people those days? Seeta did conceive about 2 years after they came back to Ayodhya after completing the exile term.
(That sets at rest any suspicion that Love-Kush were conceived not by Ram but while she was in captivity in Lanka). The same about Draupadi during her years in the jungle and at Virat’s place. During this time her five children were staying with Subhadra,
Krishna’s sister. For that matter Subhadra did not leave her brother’s place permanently to stay at Indraprastha prior to the period of exile.
Anyway, to come back to theme of Ram’s character. For this analysis, one can easily start and stop with his behaviour towards Seeta, his beloved wife. All the versions of Ramayan point out how dearly he loved her. But let us examine his behaviour after Ravan was defeated and killed. Let us see what CR’s and Krishna Dharma’s versions say.
. After Ravana was vanquished and killed, and Visbhishan crowned the king of Lanka, Ram
Asked Hanuman to carry the news to Seeta in Ashok-van. Upon Hanuman asking Sita as to what message he should carry to Ram, she said that that she was eager to be in his presence. When Hanuman gave the message to Ram, he fell in a brown study, and after some time told Hanuman to convey to Seeta to bathe and bedeck herself whereupon Seeta said that she would go as she was, but ultimately was persuaded by Hanuman to go as desired by Ram. When Sita came in Ram’s presence, Ram told her that he has done his duty as a Kshatriya in vanquishing Ravan and for Seeta she has to live alone, and as a Kshatriya he cannot take back a wife who has lived so long in a stranger’s house. Seeta was angry and asked Lakshman to bring faggots and kindle a fire. The fire was lit, and Seeta jumped into the fire requesting gods and rishis to take her as their own. Brahma and Agni and all the gods assembled there and Brahma declaring her to be of irreproachable purity, Ram accepted her as fire –proven to be pure.
Come to Scene II. Ram is reported by his courtiers about the differing views the people of his kingdom have about the purity of Seeta. Ram summons Lakshman and asks him to leave the pregnant Seeta in the forest the same day, where she will hopefully live with some sage in his ashram. For years Ram does not find out anything about her, nor about the children. When the time came for Ashwamedh, and as per the ritual followed those days, it was considered necessary for the spouse to sit alongside the husband for the yajna, he gets a statue built of the likeness of Seeta.
Scene III. The two boys who come to sing the Story of Ram during the yajna, are recognized as the sons of Ram. Seeta comes to Ayodhya , and Ram asks her to prove her purity and chastity again. That was the last straw on the camel’s back so far as Seeta’s patience was considered. She requests mother Earth to take her in a she had been given unto Janak long time back. Mother Earth obliges. And thus ends the story one of the most revered characters in Hindu religion and mythology. The only explanation CR gives for Ram’s actions is that they can be explained simply as the behaviour of a king in accordance with the customs of the times.
Then there is the story of Shambook, a Shudra who was doing penance in the forest which according to the custom in that era was reserved for Brahmans. Ram on getting to know of it and the lament of the Brahmans that this was the reason of the Brahman’s son dying, went and beheaded Shambook.
Add to it the story of the assassination of Bali for which Ram had to hide himself, because it was said that
Bali could not be defeated in open duel.
Krishna. Once he was convinced of the correctness of Pandava’s demand for a share in the kingdom, he adopted all means, fair and foul to destroy the Kauravas. Bhishma, Drona, Karna as well as Duryodhan were killed by unfair means. When Draupadi was stripped and nobody including the Kuru elders did anything, it was Krishna who gave here cloth to cover her modesty. Whereas Ram is devoid of all emotions and just follows the path of a correct ruler, Krishna his practical, as well as compassionate. Some say that his thousands of wives were the gopis of is adolescent days in Gokul. Whereas Ram is well-versed in the art of war and is brave, Krishna is more versatile and as battle-ready as Ram. But when the time comes, he knows how to change the tactics. When he was sick of frequent border skirmishes with Jarasandh who happened to be Kans’ brother-in-law, Krishna moved his capital to Dwarka. Another time in a battle, when he saw himself facing defeat, and capture, he ran away form the battlefield. That is why the name Ranchhod Bhagwan.
All I can say is that I am more confused now than when I started.
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