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What is in a name?

Random thoughts on Ramayana in the month of Karkatakam

Karkatakam, the last month of the Malayalam Calendar traditionally believed to be a month of scarcity, or to use the Malayalam expression ‘panja masam,’ has arrived and with it the Malayali’s obsessive observance of ‘Ramayana month.’ I do not know if the reading of all cantos of Ramayana in the course of 31 days in Karkatakam is an ancient custom or something customized somewhere along the line by interested sections in Kerala. Can we refute if someone says it is a clever marketing stratagem dovetailed to suit the local market by some publishers bringing out Ezhuthassan’s Adhyatma Ramayanam, as evidenced by the spate of press advertisements on the book?

Everyone knows what has happened over the years to the month following Karkatakam, the golden Chingam, the month of plenty, when people celebrate Kerala’s leading festival ‘Onam.’ Once upon a time Onam was an occasion for family reunions and what everyone highlighted was the happiness and contentment that such family gatherings provided. It is no longer as simple as that. Chingam is the month now when the entire Kerala is transformed into a milling market place by almost all manufacturers of consumer goods in the country. The products range from automobiles, to jewellery to furniture, to textiles to home appliances, each company vying to make a clean sweep of millions of rupees in profit in the course of four weeks by bombarding the gullible Malayalis with offers, deals, discounts and what not.

The observance of Ramayana month is peculiar to Kerala. Ramayana is indeed for all seasons and for all people, but it is only in Kerala that a month-long reading of the epic is made such an elaborate ritual. We do not hear of the original Ramayana of Valmiki or the regional versions like Ramacharitamanas in Hindi, Kamba Ramayanam in Tamil, Sri Ranganatha Ramayanam in Telugu or Kumudendu Ramayana in Kannada being read in this fashion during any month. So how can anyone explain its raison d'être?

Whatever be the reason, the practice and propagation of Ramayana month are not only taken up by religious and cultural organizations and temples, but even by political parties now, as the latest trends show. Obviously they have their own reasons for doing so.

While the reading of Rama’s story is thus all pervading in Kerala, there is an intriguing aspect to the way in which Malayalis use names from the Ramayana. Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna are all very common in Kerala but there are almost no takers at all for the names of Rama’s sons Luv and Kush.

In contrast to this there are many, many parents in Kerala who fondly name their sons after two of the seven sons of Ravana: Indrajit (as also his other name Meghanadan), and Akshayakumar. Why this marked preference to Ravana’s sons over Rama’s? Also, does it in any way mean an indirect way of expressing one’s compliment to or adulation of Ravana?

Can anyone explain why?


More by :  P. Ravindran Nayar

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