Extracts from Sri D.V. Gundappa's essay on the conception of Rama Rajya
D.V. Gundappa one of the Rishis of the last century regarded Sri Ramachandra as one of his greatest ideals and till the very end of his life, was deeply attached to him. His prefaces to the Kannada translation of Srimad Ramayana are a treat to savour. These apart, his substantial corpus of writing and speeches are generously interspersed with Sri Rama Bhakti and one of his finest essays is titled, Rama Rajya. This is a sublime delineation of what a true Rama Rajya looks like in practice. Its clarity of thought is unmatched and its insight, unequalled.
It is only fitting to recall this essay today, on the grand occasion of a civilisational reclamation unfolding right before our eyes. The site of this reclamation is Ayodhya but its reverberation is being felt in every Hindu heart across the world.
Note: This was first published as a series in Prekshaa Journal. The following are some extracts from the series.
Every creature felt happy. Everybody was intent on [performing] Dharma. Turning their eyes towards Rama alone, creatures did not kill [or inflict violence upon] one another.
While Rama ruled the kingdom, the conversations of the people centered round Rama, Rama and Rama. The whole world became Rama's world.
Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras were performing their respective duties, satisfied with their own work and bereft of any greed.
While Rama was ruling, the people were immersed in Dharma and lived without telling lies. All the people were endowed with excellent character. All were engaged in virtue.
The ideal of Rama Rajya (the Kingdom of Rama) is also a goal in itself and is as dateless as Sanatana Dharma and Bharatavarsha. The extraordinarily vivid, deeply compassionate, warmly gentle, and lakeside-serene picture that Maharshi Valmiki has painted in the foregoing verses is a perfectly-blended distillation of all the best elements of the Vedic conception of the “Rashtra Yagna” described in chapter 2. This picture also reminds us of a great scholar of art and aesthetics who averred that the purpose of art is to show the possibility that a better world exists. In the parlance of traditional space-time notions of Bharatavarsha, Rama Rajya can be likened to a kingdom or a world order that existed in the Krita (or Satya) Yuga, which Rama brought ushered in in his own time, i.e. in the Treta Yuga. A renowned description of the Krita Yuga is available in the Mahabharata:
In other words, no external factor was necessary to regulate order in the Satya Yuga while the very maintenance of order became an ongoing task in the successive Yugas. This point becomes significant when we consider the following phrases in the aforementioned verses: (1) rāmamevānupaśyanto nābhyahinsanparasparam -- Turning their eyes towards Rama alone, creatures did not kill [or inflict violence upon] one another; (2) rāmabhūtaṃ jagābhūdrāme rājyaṃ praśāsati -- The whole world became Rama's world. This also has a beautiful parallel in “rāmo vigrahavān dharmaḥ,” that is, Rama is the embodiment of Dharma. To state the obvious, both the meaning and the message in this is that people turned to Rama, the human embodiment of Dharma in order to guide them on the virtuous path and help them abstain from wrongdoing.
The logical question that arises from this discussion is this: how is politics and statecraft conceived in this Rama Rajya? To which D.V. Gundappa answers in his inimitable style that
The subtext here is the fact that the political life of a ruler, the daily application of statecraft, and politics in national life do not exist in independent realms; DVG clearly eschews the popular connotation embedded in the term, “political machinery.” Instead, he (correctly) views these elements as a “jīvaśarīra,” a life-body motivated by a higher and nobler impulse because the worshipped Deity of a state/nation is the life of its people. For DVG, the primacy of the human spirit and its higher impulses in politics was paramount. Unless this spirit was underlaid and motivated by Dharma, any political system was superficial at best and dangerous at worst. In his own words, “politics is also a mere instrument like the numerous paths and approaches to pursue and practice Dharma,” and “the state akin to the family, is a field for the pursuit of Dharma.” And he provides a guidepost of sorts as to what this Dharma is in the practice of statecraft in lines that are matchless for their simple profundity.
This is entirely consistent with the Sanatana conception of statecraft which instructs the king to be an upholder, protector and an agent of Dharma in the verse, rājā dhārmiko bhūyāt. The most effective discharge of this duty is also the price that he pays for enjoying his royalty (or its equivalent in today’s democratic terms). Even a cursory perusal of the life and legacy of great monarchs, royal dynasties, and world leaders (in various democracies) clearly shows the verifiable truth that the yardstick of a politician’s merit is the condition of the citizens.
There is however a jarring note of sorts which can be made by way of contrast. The Sanatana conception of statecraft (or Raja Dharma) allowed for a certain class of people who were beyond the king/state’s power. In common parlance, these were the Rishis, Sadhus and so on who contributed at a far profounder level by staying within society and being detached to it simultaneously. Prof M. Hiriyanna offers one of the best characterizations of such people. They were people who deliberately chose Moksha or Jivanmukti “as the ideal to be pursued, and thereafter [made] a persistent and continual advance towards it.” The system of democracy that India adopted after 1947 makes no allowance for such class of people. But the fact that they still exist and are accorded the same level of respect and reverence is not because this system of democracy protects them but despite it, owing to millennia of our civilizational inheritance.
DVG’s essay titled Rama Rajya is the fitting finale and the crowning glory of his monumental, semi-academic work, Rajyashastra (Statecraft/Politics) meant for a general audience. This essay touches the upper echelons of pure political philosophy akin to the precision of the tip of a finely-sharpened pencil.
While defining completeness (or fulfilment) as one of the vital characteristics of Rama Rajya , DVG simultaneously clarifies that this completeness in a Rama Rajya is attained in both our outer and inner worlds. This clarification is essential because a mere outer completeness is fraught with a terminal risk: it ushers in complacency by making self-effort and self-reliance unnecessary. World history shows that every great civilization that attained this stage (of external completeness) eventually went into a downward, self-destructive spiral. To this end, DVG offers this timeless warning written in a splendidly pithy style in the original Kannada.
DVG’s exposition of Rama Rajya occurs at three major levels: the literary, the philosophical, and the practical (in the sense of political philosophy). This exposition is a harmonious blend of all three, marked by an element of indivisibility. Thus, when he extols Valmiki Maharshi’s description of Rama Rajya, he also makes allowance for the deep-seated, traditional faith of millions in Rama’s kingdom. Among other things, DVG’s reverence towards Valmiki Maharshi is based on the grand vision of life and perennial philosophy that he has embedded throughout the Ramayana. And whether Rama really existed or not or was based on an existing king’s life is secondary to DVG: the fact that Valmiki Maharshi offered an immortal, inexhaustible bounty to the world by conceiving such a character holds greater value. Which is why DVG invokes a sort of Advaita between Valmiki Maharishi and Rama when he says:
DVG also stresses upon and upholds the necessity and importance for a ruler to be guided by poets, philosophers, scholars and wise people, a tradition that has been maintained since the dawn of political systems throughout the world. This has an echo in P.B. Shelley’s rather passionate statement that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” As also in an oblique warning attributed to Thucydides that “a nation that separates its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools."
At the practical level, DVG offers perhaps the most profoundly insightful and compassionate understanding of what Rama Rajya really means.
As far as DVG was concerned, the inner world was the surest and most reliable guide of actions and transactions in the outer. This is completely in consonance with Valmiki Maharshi in this context. Valmiki Maharshi’s conception of Rama Rajya has “truth in its soul.” It is an attainable truth for which the only path is continuous study, introspection, incessant pursuit, and penance unlike established facts like “statistics, data, reports, census.” In the quest for Rama Rajya , “all of us are Sadhakas—seekers—and not Siddhas” (self-realized people). The nature of our Rama Rajya will be directly proportional to the extent to which our quest and penance is truthful and noble. Or to state this in plainer words, when the entire nation is shaped by such ideals, it will be automatically reflected in its political, social, intellectual, moral, ethical and spiritual health.
At the same time, DVG was not blind to the real-world pitfalls because the pursuit of ideals is met more with opposition than support and encouragement in an era of parliamentary democracy and a climate of free expression which exists largely in its abuse. The extent to which “old fashioned” ideas of conviction, shraddha, devotion have a place in this climate is still a matter of debate. Given this everyday reality, how pragmatic, or even possible is it to pursue this ideal of Rama Rajya? As early as in the 1940s DVG sounded the same caution:
The truth of this caution and the analysis made by DVG of the aforementioned pitfalls can be accurately verified in hindsight. When we examine the history of elections fought since 1951, we observe a very prominent slogan—used almost customarily—till the early or mid-1970s. This slogan was the promise by aspiring candidates to usher in Rama Rajya in contemporary India. After seventy years, none in our political class have managed to rebuild just one Rama temple.
The reason behind this electoral promise of bringing Rama Rajya is no secret: it was a blind, templatesque parroting of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s declared notion and dream of bringing a Rama Rajya in India.
DVG’s exposition of Rama Rajya did not stem from a mere intellectual understanding of the ideal. He had internalized not just Valmiki and his immortal epic but drew from the inexhaustible Sanatana treasure. DVG’s Rama Rajya admits the critical questioning of even Rama, and firmly declaims against narrow sentimentalists in public life. Indeed, DVG’s classic musical narrative poem, Sri Rama Parikshanam [The Trial of Sri Rama] as the title suggests, is one such questioning of Rama. The two appendixes at the end of the work are deeply instructive in the context of DVG’s ideal and goal of Rama Rajya.
DVG’s ideal and vision of Rama Rajya was a harmonious amalgamation of the original genius of Bharatavarsha that includes the collective wisdom, insights and legacy of our Rishis (and heroes like), Rama, Krishna, Kautilya and Vidyaranya, to the name the most outstanding ones. The Rama in DVG’s Rama Rajya was also a Jnani in the sense meant by Vidyaranya Swami in his immortal dictum of jñāninā carituṃ śakyam samyak rājyādi laukikaṃ.
The summary: DVG’s Rama Rajya implies a perfect harmony of Raga and Dwesha and a balance is maintained among the three gunas. Translated in the realm of the kingdom, statecraft, social and public life, this Rama Rajya properly ensures Dushta Shikshana (punishment of evil) and Shishta Rakshana (protection of the good). Both require the application of violence if need be. In other words, DVG’s Rama Rajya assigns the rightful place to the ancient and original Indian ideal and noble tradition of Kshatra (spirit of valour).
There's a profound truth in the great insight of D.V. Gundappa’s realistic and practical ideal of Rama Rajya. It is a sādhyasatya: an attainable truth.
|| Sri Rama Jayam ||