THE MESSAGE OF “RAMAYANA”
TO THE MODERN WORLD
Dr. I. PANDURANGA RAO
RAMAYANA, THE WORD and Ramayana, the work are both marvellous, immortal and unparalleled creation of a Master Mind, sagacious in vision, soft and sophisticated in speech and silently eloquent in message. Ramayana is neither a story nor an epic, but an everlasting and telecasting lighthouse that has been working ever since the word has acquired vision in the history of Indian literature, culture and philosophy as a transformer converting dazzling darkness into leading light. It bears testimony to the Vedic verdict that a single syllable can serve as a source of stupendous splendour (aksharad-deeptiruchyate). This celebrated work has, therefore, been very appropriately described as a poetic version of the Vedic vision (Vedah prachetasadasit sakshat Ramayanatmana).
The word Ramayana, like the name Rama, has a world of significance and conveys in a compact and concise form the purport of the work Ramayana. It is a compound word formed with the combination of two component words – Rama and Ayana. Rama is the main character in the composition and ‘ayana’ (meaning march, movement or abode) is the characteristic feature of this pivotal personality. The central theme of Ramayana is the well-designed and purposeful March of Rama in search of Good – good conduct, good heart, good will, good words and a good world worth living in, Rama is, where good exists. That is his abode and that makes him mobile. Ramayana is, therefore, an inspiring and instructive description of the graceful March of Rama.
The word Ramayana also presents a judicious combination of static tranquility and dynamic adaptability. The word ‘Rama’ is derived from the root ‘Ram’ meaning “to get absorbed” and “ayana” from the root. ‘E’ meaning “to move on”. In Rama we find both these traits in rational proportion, making him a complete man–the Man of Valmiki.
The word “Ramayana” was so thoughtfully coined by Valmiki that it includes the Woman as well as the Man as conceived by the Master. Raamaa the feminine form of Ram stands for Sita and so the word Ramayana, split up in two ways–Rama+Ayana and also Raamaa + Ayana – denotes the concurrent and coordinated March of both Rama, the son of Dasaratha, and Ramnaa, of offspring of Janaka. Valmiki uses the word “Rama” to denote Janaki in a number of places. Thus the concept of equal importance to man and woman is inherent in the very title “Ramayana”. In fact Valmiki refers to his work as the great grand story of Sita (Sitaayaascharitam mahat). Goswami Tulasi Das used the word “Charitam” very appropriately in naming his celebrated work “Ramacharita Manas”. Incidentally, the word “Charit” used by Goswami also has the connotation of “movement” or habitation, and the Saint has placed his “Manas” at the disposal of his Lord to inhabit. That is why he seeks the blessings of Sri Ganesh to ensure that his “Manas”, the innermost conscience surging with vibrant waves of devotion, becomes the blissful abode or habitat for his Lord (Basahu Rama Siya Manasa More). Thus the “Ayanam” of the Adikavi has been wisely appropriated by the medieval saint-poet Tulasi as “manas”, the forum for the sportive manifestation and the characteristic deeds (Charitam) of his Lord. We are, therefore, fully justified in establishing a link between the two great souls when we say Valmiki is reborn as Tulasi (Valmiki Tulasi Bhayo).
If Rama was an embodiment of Dharma (Ramo Vigrahavaan Dharmah), Goswami Tulasi Das was Devotion personified. Devotion or Bhakti is the main spirit behind this immortal work which Valmiki chose to name “ayanam” to stmt with. It was indeed a big “start” which took innumerable forms not only throughout the country of its origin but also beyond its physical boundaries.
It was rightly said about this magnificent work of universal appeal that it would spread far and wide – wherever humanity exists, rivers continue to now and mountains stand firm. In all the Indian languages, we have a profusion of great epics based on the theme of Ramayana. To name a few, Kamba Ramayanam in Tamil, Toravai Ramayanam in Kannada, Ranganatha Ramayanam in Telugu, Adhyatma Ramayanam in Malayalam, Bhavartha Ramayanam in Marathi, Giridhar Ramayanam in Gujarati, Krittivasa Ramayanam in Bengali, Balaram Das Ramayanam in Oriya, Madhava Kandali Ramayanam in Assamese, besides hundreds of works in Sanskrit have given multiple colour and flavour to this fascinating theme which has become an integral part of Indian thought and culture.
Bhakti (devotion), Shakti (spiritual power) and Rakti (popular appeal) are the three main motivating forces which have driven home the message of this time-honoured composition ever since its genesis and hopefully it will continue to provide inspiration, guidance and direction to humanity in the centuries to come. Valmiki being a pioneer in the field maintained a marvellous balance between the three, while the later poets chose one of them as their main stream and incorporated the other two as tributaries. For instance, Bhakti is the main stream of Ramacharita Manas, while Rakti is that of works like Ramachandrika of Keshav Das. Whatever the main thrust, almost all the exponents of theme deviated from the original course of events depicted by Valmiki. But this deviation has only added dignity and magnanimity to the original theme as the message conveyed and intended to be conveyed is the same throughout.
Valmiki excels more in silence than in speech as far as his message is concerned. He speaks through his characters who also often choose to be less eloquent in order to be more expressive. Sometimes even inanimate objects express themselves better than articulate beings when they feel the solemn touch of the Sagepoet (Kavyarshi). For instance, when the sage stands on the bank of the river Tamasa watching the whispering waves, the crystal clear water seems to be suggesting to the seer that the human mind, too, should try to follow the fascinating movement of river-water. The poet gives a secular expression to this incomprehensible voice of the river thus:
(Look, my dear Bharadwaja! Just listen to the pleasant and placid water flowing with graceful gait like the pure conscience of a gentle person.)
While saying this to his intimate disciple, Bharadwaja, the sage must have had, at the back of his mind, the qualities of a perfect man narrated by Narada only a few days back when he was approached by the sage to find out whether a man of all the desirable qualities ever existed on this earth. Narada says in clear terms, “Yes, such a man exists–does exist – right now and here, with us, in us and around us,” and points out Rama, a man of great potentialities, a rare specimen of righteousness personified, and an admirable admixture of wisdom and strength, courage and compassion, conviction and consideration, dedication and detachment and finally ultimate reality and immediate justice. The sage-poet Valmiki finds all these qualities reflected in the reverberating rivulet Tamasa. Thus the man of vision identifies the man of mission whose thoughts, actions and expressions are themselves lasting messages for the vast mass of humanity.
As the basic concern in all these qualities and attributes is humanity, Valmiki finds that the man of his vision is one whose human virtues make him and his admirers forget even the intrinsic divinity in him. Thus the primary message that Ramayana has for the humankind as a work of art is that the basis for all human resource development is man-making. Dignity, decency and decorum are the basic virtues which go to make up a man or a human being. If the human being is human in the desired sense of the term, the world is worth living in. Otherwise all the material prosperity and scientific advancement will work against the interests of humanity and the purpose of life itself gets defeated.
Delighted to find an ideal human mind reflected in the river water, Valmiki takes a walk on the river bank. He looks around. He finds a couple of birds sitting on the branch of a tree engrossed in their sweet and soulful moments of joy. Suddenly a hunter shoots down the male-bird, separating the mates for no fault of theirs. This shakes the tender heart of the sage and his anguish bursts out in the form of a verse. This is the famous verse which is supposed to have converted deep agony (Shoka) into a fine poetic expression (shloka); an emotional outburst into an elegant verse. The very starting of the verse ‘Ma Nishada’, (Oh! hunter thou shall not) has a startling and stimulating effect which has had a lasting impact on human heart right from the Vedic or epic age down to the modem age.
The oft-repeated verse firmly seated in the hearts of all lovers of poetry and expressing compassion deserves a reproduction:
(You cruel hunter, thou shall not live for long with respect and rapport as you have mercilessly massacred one of the two innocent creatures depriving the pair of their legitimate personal pleasure.)
The moments that followed were momentous not only for the poetic community but also for the entire humanity as they have inspired innumerable votaries of poetic expression and conveyed the basic message of non-killing to the human race. This is all the more relevant to the modem world, miserably caught in a mess of mad and misdirected man-killing day-in and day-out. What is more significant to us today is that this message voiced by a magnanimous heart condemns not only man killing but all killing causing any imbalance in the organisation of the environment in which we are fortunately alive in spite of our meaningless animosity towards our fellow-beings, and the nature that nurtures us. This utterance made by the sage-poet in a moment of grief coupled with compassion for the cosmic community has a world of significance for the citizens of the world who are bound to deprive themselves of the right to live if they do not care for others who also enjoy this right by law of nature and natural justice.
The place of women in modem society is another common topic which finds a realistic approach in Ramayana. The very title of the story Ramayana places man and woman (particularly Rama and Sita) on the same pedestal giving them equal status, dignity and importance. This has been discussed earlier from the semantic point of view.
If we carefully analyse the course of events that brought elevation and elegance to the ideal couple – Rama and Sita – we find that each one of them excels the other in all respects – in physical beauty, mental makeup, metaphysical outlook, spirit of service and sacrifice, concern for others even at the cost of personal comforts, indifference towards earthly pleasures, integrity in thought, word and deed, unshakable faith and trust equally reciprocated by both, and above all a kind heart for the humankind even in the face of unkindness and unreasonableness.
In some respects Sita excels Rama. Rama became great because Sita was greater. Her readiness to leave for forests along with her husband, the forbearance she showed towards all atrocities committed on her, not only by the evil-minded enemies but also by her own kind-hearted husband reflect her guiding principle in life – silent suffering with strong determination to stick to the path of righteousness. This attitude towards life did reward her and her husband too and made their life story immortal and their message universal and eternal. This is what Sumantra says while consoling King Dasaratha and the grief-stricken Queen Kausalya:
(There is nothing to worry about your dearest son and devoted daughter-in-law. They arc quite happy because they have invited this course of suffering on their own. They are treating pleasure and pain alike. Therefore neither you nor the king should be distressed at this turn of events which is bound to make a mark in the history of mankind while endurance takes care of the trivial troubles and turmoils that we are facing now.)
These words of Sumantra have a Mantric (enchanting) effect not only on the aged parents but also on the age-old humanity as they provide strength-mental and spiritual to the majority of the suffering community in the world. Suffering is not a curse, but a crude form of penance gifted to a selected few who are designed and destined to distinguish themselves as the commissioned counsellors for human dignity – “Pratishtha”.
It may be recalled that the word “Pratishtha” occurs for the first time in the very first utterance of the sage Valmiki (Ma Nishada Pratishtham Twam). The same word repeated here as spoken by the royal charioteer Sumantra needs to be compared and correlated with its earlier reference. What is “Pratishtha”? May be, that is the essence of life–the net product of all pleasures and pains of life, what remains after everything in life disappears. All that happens fades away but the feeling left by these events does remain ultimately. This “ultimate” serves as an ultimatum to those who try to tread the path of temporary and temporal gratification in preference to the long-standing general good. This is the message which Valmiki is trying to convey here through Sumantra whom he describes as Mantra Kovida (an expert in the efficacy of human voice).
The Indian Constitution has added a new dimension to the concept of culture by incorporating a modern phrase ‘composite culture’ (Article 351) to promote the basic unity and integrity of the sovereign democratic republic of India. In the Ramayana of Valmiki, we find a comprehensive coverage to this concept developed on a far higher and almost a global perspective.
Starting with the national and human culture of public administration nurtured by the devoted and dedicated ruler Dasaratha, the poet takes us though an infinite variety of cultures including sage-culture, Vedic culture, work culture, family-culture, royal culture, rural culture, tribal culture, animal culture, bird culture, forest culture, terrorist culture, consumption culture, submissive culture, water culture, wind culture, space culture, thought culture, speech culture, action culture and so on. If we start citing instances of these various cultures, the entire story will be told. What is relevant to note and appreciate at this point is the marvellous way in which all these cultures were woven into a fine fibre of life by the composite personality of Rama.
Starting from Ayodhya, his march upto Lanka covers different areas where these cultures manifested themselves for his fraternal touch. He mingled with the representatives of these cultures and gave them a human touch, making human culture more dignified than even the culture of the gods and the godmen. The most touching example of his accommodative spirit in respect of cultural diversity is his alliance with Vibhishana, his friendship with Sugriva, his sympathy for Ravana coupled with a genuine admiration for his extraordinary valour and invincible courage and conviction. He treats the tribal leader Nishada (Guha) as a personal friend and embraces him. He performs the funeral rites for Jatayu, though unable to do so for his own father. He tolerates Kaikeyi and tells Bharata not to misunderstand her. He cares more for the coronation of Vibhishana than for his own re-union with Janaki, immediately after the battle was over. He makes his wife walk through the lanes of Lanka. He refuses to enter any town like Kishkindha and Lanka till he completes his full period of exile. He accepts the divine aircraft–the Pushpaka – for the sole compelling need to return to Ayodhya before the due date, lest his brother Bharata should end his life by surrendering his physical body to the sacred fire. This is the type of culture that Valmiki breathes into his characters, particularly the two main characters – Rama and Sita. But immediately after reaching Ayodhya, he sends it back to its rightful owner Kubera from whom his brother Ravana had grabbed it without any regard for propriety in matter of property. This surprises even Vibhishana who recollects the characteristic smile of Rama while accepting the offer.
Goswami Tulasi Das too presents the cultural aspect of the story from a purely devotional point of view. In fact devotion or Bhakti is the highest form of culture as it purifies the heart of the devotee and establishes his perfect identity with the deity. As the devotee advances in his capacity to visualise divinity, potentially present in all individuals, the cultural values automatically get absorbed in him. This is what Tulasi calls nirbhara bhakti and what Gita depicts as ananya bhakti. Valmiki chooses to term this ‘Pararna Preeti’ (the most refined form of love). In fact devotion is a chemical product formed by a spontaneous synthesis of pure love and unquestionable faith. We find this devotional culture predominant in hundreds of works written on the theme of Ramayana in Sanskrit and other vernaculars.
Valmiki depicts Hanuman as an ideal devotee balancing his acts of devotion with awareness, obedience and execution. Manas too does not lag behind; rather goes a step forward to place the devotee sometimes at the doorstep and sometimes at the centre of the sanctum sanctorum of the deity Himself. No wonder if the servant excels his master in some respects. Tulasi gives an example of Rama trying to cross the ocean with the help of a bridge while Hanuman just takes-off by his own propulsion. Tulasi also places Hanuman (Kapeeswara) at par with Valmiki (Kaveeswara). The common characteristic in the two seems to be their mastery over communication. Goswami must have meticulously observed how Valmiki, himself, an exemplary exponent of the calculus of speech shaped his favourite character Hanuman as his mouthpiece. Both are splendid specimens of word-culture.
Of all the types of cultures depicted in Ramayana, word-culture is the most subtle and also the most relevant one for the modern world. It is the word that creates the world. So the seers and the saints who handled the theme of Ramayana paid special attention to this aspect of word-culture so as to imbue the readers of Ramayana with this culture of using the most powerful instrument of speech for their own satisfaction and for others’ delight.
When Hanuman meets Rama for the first time on the outskirts of Kishkindha on the banks of Lake Pampa, what impresses Rama most is his art of speaking. It appeared to Rama as if it was not Hanuman that was speaking but his heart. This is the language of the heart which Hanuman cultivated and which pleases Rama most. More than the content conveyed, the manner in which Maruti presents it adds dignity to the diction. Rama exclaims at Hanuman’s skill in speaking, and tells his brother Lakshmana, “Look, how marvellously he speaks! He has not spoken a single syllabic without significance, he has not wasted a single word, nor has he missed an appropriate word. He has not taken more time than his ideas needed. Every word that he spoke can never be forgotten. Such a voice promotes general good and remains forever in the minds and hearts of generations to come.”
In the light of what Rama has said about Hanuman’s speech, one can easily see why Goswami equates Hanuman with Valmiki. Again when Hanuman sees Janaki for the first time in the Ashoka garden of Ravana, Hanuman exclaims, “To find Sita here is just like listening to a person devoid of word culture – who tries to say something, but actually says something else.”
The emphasis on word-culture can be seen in almost all characters of Valmiki including minor characters like Shabari, Swayamprabha and Trijata and also Kumbhakarna who sounds highly cultured in his presentation of an intricate problem and its practical solution to his adamant elder brother, Ravana. A careful study of Valmiki from this point of view is bound to promote word-culture in the modem world which is facing a communication crisis not only at political levels but also in social and intellectual fields.
Besides Rama, Sita and Hanuman, there are some major characters whose life and attitude towards life have an ocean of message to convey for the betterment of humanity. Most outstanding among them is Bharata whom Valmiki calls Bhratri Vatsala (favourite brother of Rama). Brother Lakshmana is also equally dear and near to Rama, but there is a difference between the two. Valmiki makes out this subtle difference between the two brothers by keeping one very close both physically and temperamentally, while the other enjoys not only affection but also admiration of the eldest brother. That is why Valmiki calls Lakshmana a Lakshmi Vardhana (one who promotes grace and grandeur). Even the youngest one Shatrughna is not ignored. He is Nitya Shatrughna (one who puts an end to the eternal enmity within and without). Rama, the chosen man of Valmiki, is of course, Satya Paraakrama (one whose strength lies in his truth). Thus the four attributes given to the four brothers communicate the composite culture nurtured by their elevated thinking, noble functioning and ennobling words.
In simplicity, humility and magnanimity Bharata ranks highest, partly because of the ordeal to which he was subjected by the unexpected turn of events. The shocking news of Rama’s sudden exile immediately following the proposed coronation first upsets the father, then mother Kausalya, thereafter the entire Ayodhya and finally the innocent and devoted brother Bharata. Bharata had to establish his innocence and dedication to his noble brother before everyone. He had to convince Kausalya first, then Vasishtha, later even a sage like Bharadwaja and ultimately the perplexed and perturbed audience at Chitrakoota. The dialogue between Rama and Bharata in Chitrakoota is a monumental discourse on human values in which both the brothers fight for their right not to rule but to reject their legitimate power. Both of them had a claim upon the kingdom in their own, way, but neither of them wanted to exercise it; for it went against all canons of human culture. Ultimately they found a solution to the problem in the sandals of the pious feet of Rama.
The scene dominated by the dialogue between the two strong advocates of eternal truth and immediate justice is an excellent illustration of practical philosophy, less preached and more practised in thought, word and action. There are very few instances when Rama of Valmiki preaches. The sermon on the mount Chitrakoota is an exception. On seeing Bharata approaching him, Rama, even from that distance, could discern a prince for whom propriety had a priority over power, and who has come to plead for that traditional propriety which should not be sacrificed even if it leads to momentary injustice. The words used and the thoughts expressed by the two brothers amidst the sages and citizens of Ayodhya and Chitrakoota articulate the lasting message that Ramayana has for the human society. Here lies a lesson which the modem world will be wise in taking from this great epic-particularly at a time when consumption, hoarding, exploitation, aggression etc., have crept into the society eroding our cultural and human values.
If Rama stands for truth, Bharata stands for justice, Lakshmana for duty and Shatrughna for humility. Besides these four brothers, we have other exemplifying figures. There are Vali and Sugriva, dealt with by Rama in his own characteristic way. The three mothers – Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi – stand respectively for modesty, magnanimity and determination. Other women-characters like Ahalya, Anasuya, Shabari, Tara, Mandodari and Swayamprabha also have their own philosophy of life which can educate the modem world if properly understood. Swayamprabha is a character miserably neglected by most authors; but she is the most mystic, magnificent yet modest character who helps Hanuman and his friends searching for Sita in getting through a critical situation. She literally leads them from utter darkness of a closed cave to the broad daylight illuminating the inquisitive waves of the ocean which bridges the gulf between Rama, the mission and Sita, the vision.
Even a very ordinary woman named Trijata visualises the ultimate victory of Sita and cautions her fellow watch-women against thinking ill of her as the future of Lanka depended on her mercy.
Let us consider the metaphysical message that Ramayana has to convey to those who have the necessary background. The entire Ramayana consisting of 24,000 verses is, in a way, an enlarged expression of Gayatri with its 24 key syllables (Bijaksharas), each syllable permeating through a thousand verses.
The last word that can be said about the message of Ramayana to the modem world is its emphasis on ‘general good’ (Shubham) as distinguished from its counter-concept of victory (Jayam) which forms the main thrust of Mahabharata. Ramayana provides the body for Indian culture while Mahabharata fortifies it with the ‘mind’ that is basically Indian but effectively human. These two works produced by two master-minds of the world have served as supplementary readers for the students of literature and culture through the ages. The purport of such works refuses to be measured by relative scales of time and space. They are for all time to come and for all people in the world.
The message of Ramayana is perhaps more meaningful to the modern world than to the ancient or medieval world as the modernity that we are proud of has been concentrating more on material prosperity, consumption of earthly pleasures even at the cost of the protection and preservation of the earth itself (which is gradually turning into an agnigarbha from the good old stature of ratnagarbha) and projection of self at the expense of fellow-beings. Valmiki uses a very beautiful word “madhavi” to convey the magnanimity and potentiality of the Mother Earth who produced a darling daughter, Janaki, who was dearer to the world than to the earth. She found her compeer in Rama, a jewel among the great rulers of solar race. The union of Rama and Sita is therefore an everlasting one – of heaven and earth, light and soil, truth and beauty, mission and vision, and above all of the Man, the embodiment of Dharma, and the Woman, the Chastity personified. What we need today is not a mansion, but man with infinite virtues to promote happy living in a peaceful world. That is the only answer to all the problems threatening the very existence of the terrestrial stability and celestial serenity in the modem world. Man-making, non-killing, sacrifice, sanctity, simplicity, integrity in thought, word and deed, and a firm faith in human dignity are the assets that Ramayana has given us. It is our duty to preserve them so that we are preserved as a race.