How Maharshi Valmiki and Bhagavan Veda Vyasa “wrote” the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are profound stories by themselves. Both these Maharshis authored their immortal Sanatana works in a state of deep, meditative contemplation during which they first visualized their respective epics and then put the proverbial pen to paper. Small wonder that the Sanatana tradition accords both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata the status of a Darshana (philosophy) understood in the sense of being all-encompassing and exuding universal appeal and relevance. This method of “writing” is something that continues to endure to this day among the writers and authors who are derisively branded as “traditionalists” and “purists” by artistic and literary philistines. This method is akin to bearing the Kavya-Shishu (infant of literature/poetry) like a mother bears her child in her womb and nourishes it with all the vital elements (loosely speaking, all the Rasas) of her entire Being. And so, when the Tattiriya Upanishad says
raso vai saḥ |
rasaṃ hyevāyaṃ labdhvānaṃdī bhavati ||
Paramatman is Rasa. Therefore, we obtain Joy or Bliss from the experience of Rasa. That which has the capacity to provide this Joy or Bliss is Rasa.
And when we extend this immortal Upanishadic verse in the realm of literature, it translates itself as Kavya-Ananda or Literary Joy obtained from the pursuit of such exalted works as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Indeed, very early in the Ramayana, Maharshi Valmiki himself says that
rasaiH shRingaara karuNa haasya raudra bhayaanakaiH |
viraadibhii rasair yuktam kaavyam etat agaayataam || (Balakanda: 4:9)
Aesthetic elements like romance, pathos, comedy, fury, fright, valour etc., embodied in the epic is sung [by Lava and Kusha].
Indeed, Srimad Ramayana does two things simultaneously: at the most mundane level, it provides unbounded entertainment as a simple story which unfolds in a linear fashion. On a higher plane, it a vast and timeless reservoir that offers inspiration, compassion, enrichment, a zest for life, and above all, is a great source of solace for coping with physical, psychological, moral, ethical and spiritual tribulations. The iconic D.V. Gundappa memorably says that Srimad Ramayana offers Jivotkarsha (Elevation of Life). It is a wretched tragedy of “modern” life that the so-called educated Indians willingly, gladly burn their pockets to buy and read or listen to a copious array of meaningless filth branded as “self-help,” “personality development,” and so on. Its latest incarnation is something called “life coach,” a euphemism for handing over one’s own life to expensive psychos—all this despite the fact that there exist tons of Ramayanas in all languages at all price ranges right in our own backyard.
It is precisely this all-encompassing and timeless quality that has made Srimad Ramayana an irresistible magnet for poets, writers, singers, dancers, dramatists, film makers, painters, sculptors and temple-builders for over five thousand years—within both India and outside. One must not forget the fact that Srimad Ramayana was first sung by Sri Ramachandra’s own sons: small kids—by itself, this holds an extraordinary lesson on how parents must bring up their kids.
Indeed, Srimad Ramayana is that boundless ocean of Amrita that Maharshi Valmiki has left behind for eternity. No price tag. No copyright. No patent. No rights reserved—no notion of “rights” even. How do we even begin to fathom the glory of Maharshi Valmiki who almost singlehandedly founded the Sanatana culture and civilization in his own inimitable fashion? Think about it: the moral, ethical, familial, social and national values he seeded more than five thousand years ago still continue to inform our national life. How does one even repay our debt to him given that Maharshi Valmiki didn’t treat his work as a loan? As we noticed earlier, every poet, dramatist, artist, painter, etc who followed his ayana (path, course) merely took a drop from this Amrita-ocean and became immortal in his/her own right: Tulsidas Goswami, Kamban, etc. Equally, as the cultural history of Bharatavarsha shows, savouring even that single drop has proven beneficial even to cowherds, fishermen, carpenters, tanners, illiterates, mendicants, and beggars. Even till the mid or late 1980s, it used to be a common sight in the “third class” railway bogies where beggars would sing poems and songs based on themes from Srimad Ramayana. What was the Old or New Education Policy that laid the foundation for this sort of education? It is the same education policy that also educated a traditional Srivaishnava Acharya, Sri Krishnabrahmatantra Yatindra whose moving Ramayana Bhakti has been described in an earlier essay on The Dharma Dispatch.
One must essentially develop a healthy and civilisationally-rooted attitude of contempt towards Ramayana analysts irrespective of their ideological affiliations. This sort of analytical mindset towards a work like Srimad Ramayana is inherently imbued with artistic joylessness at best and political utilitarianism at worst. My remark in the previous part of this series, that Sri Rama Mandir should have never been characterized as a “court case” and “title dispute” indicates precisely this. What the Ramayana analysts of differing ideological persuasions forget or are ignorant of is how their own native tradition regards Srimad Ramayana: as a Parayana-Grantha and a Dharma-Grantha. Consider the very first line of the very first Sloka of Srimad Ramayana:
तपःस्वाध्यायनिरतं तपस्वी वाग्विदां वरम् |
नारदं परिपप्रच्छ वाल्मीकिर्मुनिपुङ्गवम् ||
The Muni Valmiki inquired Naarada, ‘who was deeply engaged in austerity and study of Vedas, who was the most exalted among the eloquent and eminent among sages.’
In other words, Srimad Ramayana begins with a heartfelt question that the human Rishi Valmiki asks the Divine Rishi, Narada. And what prompts Valmiki to ask this question? It is this celebrated verse that inspired him to write Srimad Ramayana:
मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः |
यत् क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम् || (Balakanda: 2.15)
Oh! violent Hunter, by which reason you have killed one bird of the couple, who were engaged in the sport of love? For your cruel deed, may you never obtain rest for everlasting years!
Among others, this is the specific context for the origin of Srimad Ramayana. By what stretch of imagination does one even “analyse”this on an intellectual plane much less vulgarize it using soulless theories of sociology, anthropology and even secularism, which are of really recent origin? In the limited scope of my reading, I’m yet to come across even one such “analysis” of Srimad Ramayana that does one of the following:
The declared goal of one section of Ramayana Analysts is to intentionally vilify it in order to destroy it. Which is precisely why they purposely omit any mention of the sheer soul delight Srimad Ramayana offers. But what excuse does the other section of the Ramayana Analysts have when they rebut these Ramayana destroyers using the same verbiage and tactics in the grand hope that the outcome would somehow be different? In both cases, we notice the same approach: that of a surgeon whose scalpel repeatedly cuts the poet, Maharshi Valmiki. And to both sections, Maharshi Valmiki’s curse is equally applicable: of not finding peace anywhere.
However, there is a third approach: the time-honoured Sanatana approach. Of offering reverence to Srimad Ramayana by identifying with the spirit of Maharshi Valmiki. Our respectful and modest saluations are due to those scholars engaged in a Samskara-neutral quest for dating Srimad Ramayanam as also trying to “prove” whether Sri Ramachandra was indeed a “real” historical person. The Sanatana approach will be better served for example, by adhering to the contemporary Rishi D.V. Gundappa:
The Ramayana is not history but a historical poem. When one regards a historical episode from the perspective of realism, it becomes history: merely, history. However, when we regard it from the perspective of an event that has the capacity to transform our hearts, it becomes poetry—a poem that is far more effective and impactful than mere imaginative poetry. The Ramayana is a poem that has internalized history in an unparalleled, transformative fashion. This is why it has acquired nationwide [and even global] acceptance and reverence as if it a real historical fact including all details. The Ramayana definitely contains historical material. But beyond this superficiality, it is also material that innately refines our heart. It is the history of a country; but more profoundly, it is the history of the Atman of our people. [D.V. Gundappa: Preface: Srimad Valmiki Ramayanam: Translated into Kannada by Vidwan N. Ranganatha Sarma. p xii. Emphasis added]
Our ardent hope is that the designers, artists, sculptors and the entire team involved in building the upcoming Grand Sri Ramachandra Temple at Ayodhya take this essence of Srimad Ramayana as they undertake this sacred and defining civilizational-epochal task. And even as the construction begins on Sri Rama Navami, circa 2020, a befitting duty to accompany this sacred endeavor on the part of every Indian across Bharatavarsha is to gift a copy of Srimad Ramayana across the country to at least one new person he or she meets.
|| Sri Rama Jayam ||