Feb 23, 2024
Feb 23, 2024
It is often said that no decent English household is without a copy of Shakespeare’s works and the Bible. But the Ramcharitmanasa of Tulsidasa takes the place of Bible and Shakespeare combined for the teeming millions of North India.1
Tulsidasa and Shakespeare, the two literary giants of this world, one an embodiment of ‘complete devotion’ and the other ‘the prince of renaissance’, are the spokespersons giving voice to the eternal desire of mankind for the ideal state, the ‘utopia’. Their works are the true classics of world literature. Though hailing from two completely diverse backgrounds, socially and culturally, their works have expressed the continuous struggle and strive of man for what is good, what is moral, and thereby attain what is ideal. Literature is an expression of this hope of the people. And great literature is one that expresses these hopes, dreams, aspirations and apprehensions of man irrespective of the social milieu or the age when they were written. Tulsidasa’s Ramcharitmanasa and Shakespeare’s The Tempest undoubtedly possess this eternal and universal quality that endears them to every generation.
Both the writers, Tulsidasa and Shakespeare have in their works given expression to man’s longing for ideal human values and morals that would restore some sanity to this insane world of ours’. Divinely inspired, they both have an inherent quality of universality of knowledge that gives a clearer insight cutting across the darkness of ignorance present in the world. Through the narration of various difficulties and hardships in their works, they provide a better and clearer perspective, that would help man to reconcile himself with the actual world having the potentiality for good as well as evil, and with this new understanding uphold the element of goodness in life and strengthen the ethics of this world.
“Ethics is a commitment to a higher order of moral values and an ability to distinguish right from wrong.”2 In giving expression to the moral ethics of his culture, Tulasidasa traces the origin of morality to ‘Maya’, the cosmic illusion, which is the creator of both good and evil. The whole world is an illusion born out of maya and given a more concrete form by ignorance. When ignorance reigns, ‘maya’ becomes the root of all evil and weaknesses, breaking the very foundation of humanity.
“Main aru mor, tor tain maya
jehin bas kinhe jiv nikaya.
Go gochar jahen lagi man jaai.
so sab maya janhu bhai.”
Excess of feelings like ‘me’, ‘mine’, ‘you’, ‘yours’, has brought an end to compassion and goodwill. It has poisoned the relations between men. Wherever exists dualism and discrimination, there rules the reign of ‘maya’.
It is only through the light of knowledge that truth can be achieved. These illusions or maya is created by circumstances represented by giving the worldly events a cloak of magical charm. The many supernatural characters and events in both the works embody this illusion or maya, out of which is generated both benevolence and malevolence.
One of the key players in this play of illusion in life is ‘Fate’, the ever immanent fate or the ‘Will Divine’. In Ramcharitmanasa it is pre-destined, the incarnation of Shri Hari as Rama, a human being with divine powers. But even the Lord has to become a pawn in the hands of fate which charts the course of his life from the moment he takes birth. His royal birth, exile, the war that he wages with Ravana, and later reconciliation to his role in life as the King of Ayodhya, are all the workings of fate or the Divine Will. “Man is a puppet in the hands of God and dances like a monkey at His will.” (Ramcharitmanasa, 4. 10. 7)
Shakespeare also expresses his belief in the Divine Will as is seen in these lines:
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.” (Hamlet. V. ii. 9)
In The Tempest, fate is the creator of Prospero’s role as the master and magician of the forces in the deserted island, where he is marooned with his infant daughter after being betrayed by his brother Antonio.
Universality is an important characteristic of great art, and thus such diverse cultures as East and West meet in the realm of great art. But here it cannot be denied that an author is always a child of his age. As such Tulsidasa and Shakespeare both, had man and society of their times in mind when they composed their works. Tulsidasa represented the ethics of the medieval times of India while Shakespeare has portrayed the Elizabethan times. The ethical code of conduct, the right and wrong, justice, benevolence, forgiveness, love and peace are some of the qualities upheld by both the writers in their works mainly through their central characters and their thoughts and actions.
Rama and Prospero are the two pivotal characters of Ramcharitmanasa and The Tempest respectively, around whom all the actions of the tales revolve. They are both two distinct persons with varying characters, conflicts, motives and impulses. One is an incarnation of Divine while the other is the possessor of supernatural powers, but both uphold in their own unique ways as per their distinct worlds and situations, the moral and ethical qualities that would help take this world and society a step closer towards that ideal state, that dream ‘utopia’.
Rama is himself the embodiment of that ideal, the perfect – son, brother, King, and husband. His birth in itself is an event destined to bring into this chaotic world, order and peace. The very order and peace that according to Elizabethan philosophy is necessary for man to attain happiness.
Social duty and responsibility, prominence to degree, priority, place and reason are the pre-requisites to bring in this happiness, order and peace in society. Rama is a ‘Just’ king for whom, the welfare of his subjects find a priority of place in his life. He is the upholder of the righteous and the truth, for protection of which he wages war against evil, embodied as ‘Ravana’. Through his epic, Tulasidasa thus tries to prove that ultimately it is the good that triumphs over evil.
And for the protection and upholding of the good over the evil, it is necessary that the ill or the evil is punished. It cannot be overlooked or ignored, wrongs have to be properly judged and redeemed for good to triumph. Rama kills Ravana and frees the world of evil; truth and justice prevails and everyone is reconciled in happiness and peace.
In The Tempest, for reconciliation to take place, vengeance has to be taken on the wrong doers. Prospero takes his sweet revenge with the help of his magical powers and the aid of Ariel, who cooks up a storm that brings all his foes to the island. The wicked are punished with hardships and strange visitations conjured up by Prospero’s magic, and finally in the end harmony returns with forgiveness and love.
Both, the deposed Prince of Tulsidasa and the Duke of Shakespeare had to go through a lot of difficulties and obstacles, and persevere to come back triumphant from the wilderness into the world of reality which has the capacity of both good and evil. They come back not only victorious but also with the wealth of knowledge that they have gained during exile which enables them to realize and accept the truth of this world, and face it bravely with renewed vigor and strength. As the rulers of their lands it is in their hands to guide their states towards the ‘ideal state’.
‘Yatha raja, tatha praja’. A king should therefore be wise, virtuous, strong and an expert on matters of polity. Rama was a ‘Just’ king but still he had to do face hardships in exile which further enhanced the brilliance of his persona with new understanding and depth. Prospero also had to undergo an exile of his own to emerge as a better, more industrious, strong and capable ruler than he was before. Though the reasons or circumstances that led to their exile or the way they have gained knowledge through their individual penance in the wilderness is entirely different, yet the outcome is the same in its true essence. And that is enlightenment and reconciliation through knowledge and compassion.
The stories of Rama and that of Prospero are in fact a eulogy to the power of truth, goodness and virtue in life. Instead of sermonizing the moral and ethical truths of life, both the writers Tulsidasa and Shakespeare have used the device of story telling for didactic purposes. One has taken refuge in religion while the other has sought the help of supernatural machinery. Supernatural powers are at work in both the tales, helping the protagonists to re-establish order and goodness in the world. Hanuman in Ramcharitmanasa and Ariel in The Tempest are the two main characters displaying the supernatural powers of magic. Hanuman is represented as a strong and mighty being who carries out the orders of lord and Master Shri Rama. His might and powers can be visualized in the scene where his huge tail is lit up, and he causes immense destruction in Lanka; or in the incident wherein he carries a whole mountain in order to bring the life saving herb ‘Sanjivini’ to save Laxman’s life. Like Hanuman Ariel is the agent through whom Prospero exercises his magical powers. He is the one who creates the tempest that drowns the King’s ship, and also conjures up the strange sights and scenes to prick the conscience of the guilty men. As Stopford A. Brooke says:
Ariel is ‘but air’, the free spirit of the air, subtle, changeful, in incessant motion, lively, all penetrating like the other, having power in the air and water, in fire, and to the depths of the earth.3
Both Tulsidasa and Shakespeare in their own distinct manners have successfully reiterated the faith of man in the soundness of moral order that sustains the world. In their simple manner they have upheld to the masses the qualities of truth, social responsibility, goodness and justice, worthy of being adopted and followed by each and every human being irrespective of the cultural background or the age. T. S. Eliot has remarked:
… the true sage is rarer than the true poet; and when the two gifts, that of poetic speech, are found in the same man, you have the great poet. It is poets of this kind who belong, not merely to their own people but to the world…4
Tulsidasa’s Ramcharitmanasa and Shakespeare’s The Tempest have in fact given expression to life’s final purpose which is goodness and virtues, the establishment of moral order. Throughout the various model characters like Rama, Sita, Bharata, Hanuman, Urmila or Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, Ariel; the authors have tried successfully to inspire goodness and virtues amongst the people so that happiness and peace which is associated with the image of the ‘ ideal state ’ can be achieved. Shakespeare has confirmed in his play that goodness prevails ‘better late than never’. To quote M. Luce:
In the Tempest, for example, he dwells upon the mysterious way in which all things connected with the crime of twelve years before have worked together for good, …5
Goodness is the way to the eternal truth that forms and shapes all our life, the very foundation of the ‘ideal state’, seeing which we will also surely exclaim as Miranda did in The Tempest:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new World
That has such people in’t! (The Tempest. Act V, Scene 1. 24)
1. Ram Awadh Dwivedi, A Critical Survey of the Hindi Literature, (New Delhi: Varanasi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1966), p.53-54.
2. Shiv Khera, Living With Honour, (New Delhi: Macmillan India Ltd., 2003), p.22.
3. B. P. Chaudhuri, William Shakespeare: The Tempest, (New Delhi: Aarti Book Centre, 1977), p.293.
4. ‘Goethe as the Sage’, On Poetry and Poets, (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1957), p.207.
5. B. P. Chaudhuri, p.282.
More by : Devasree Chakravarti