Feb 21, 2024
Feb 21, 2024
The West as usual has a culturally biased view and tends to label non-western scriptures as mythical while its zealots swear fealty to the literal truth of the Bible. In fairness, it subjects its own ancient books to independent verification by acceptable standards, but devotes more time, intellectual effort and talent to the biased purpose. The archeological efforts by Schliemann at Troy and Rawlinson at Beheshtun lend credence to parts of the Iliad and the biblical story of the Assyrian destruction of Israel respectively. There are other ways than archeology, for example human nature, the parallels of selective memory and its fading with time and social relevance and geography and common horizons that can be used to analyze ancient stories.
Let me begin with the Ramayana. There seems to me be little doubt that the Ramayana is an idealized myth to appeal to the better nature of humanity. It is rife with too many characters behaving idealistically and contrary to human nature to be plausible or true. To begin with is the killing of Shravana by Dasratha.
Shravana, a dutiful son opts to carry his blind and infirm parents in the two pans of a balance over his shoulders while walking. The four divine places of pilgrimage form a diamond with the four sides constituting over 4000 miles. At a rate of fifteen miles a day, without paved roads and passing through jungles with rest times, the journey would take years. The story is hyperbole to promulgate reverence to aging parents at the cost of Bhagirathian sacrifice.
The next hyperbole is the sacrifice of Kaikeyi, who inserts her fingers as a fulcrum to prevent the wheel of Dasratha's chariot falling off during battle and ensures his victory in combat. The dutiful wife with infinite capacity for sacrifice for her husband is rewarded by the grant of one wish which she exploits by demanding the throne for her son Bharata and exile for Rama, thus emphasizing that a mother's love should exceed all bounds of propriety.
Then comes the hyperbole of the acceptance of the poetic justice of the curse of Shravana by Dasratha with his willingness to fulfill a promise even if it leads to death. "Raghukul rit sadaa chali aai, prana jaai per vachan na jaai". Rama speaks not a word of dissent or protest and rejects any rebellion by advisors for acting with filial respect. Not only he has no anger towards his scheming stepmother but he bows his head at her feet with the same reverence that he has for his mother and dutifully thanks her for her boon of exile and love.
Not to be outdone, Lakshamana insists that he must accompany Rama in his exile and leaves his wife Urmila on his wedding night with the marriage unconsummated without a word of protest from her. The ideal fraternal love and wifely devotion are the new hyperbole. Bharata, not to be outdone chastises his mother and refuses to accept the throne and when forced to do so by Rama, asks for his shoes and enthrones them while reluctantly accepting the role of a caretaker.
The only irrational behavior in the epic is ascribed to women like Kaikeyi and her maid who instigates her and Sita with her desire for the skin of the golden deer and her imputing base motives to Laxmana when he refuses to leave her unguarded to attend to the false cries of help of the demon mimicking Rama's voice. Then comes the piece de resistance of Lakshmana drawing the circle of Lakshmanarekha and swearing that if he has lived without sin then no power on earth or in heaven will be able to step over the circle of his integrity that will serve to protect Sita. His integrity is upheld when the mighty Ravana, conqueror of the gods and heaven, winner of the boon of Shiva is stopped cold by the invincible might of Laxmana's integrity.
After Sita is taken away by Ravana in his airplane, she drops her various ornaments as signposts to direct Rama and Lakshmana on the ground to her flight path. The frantically searching Rama finds her ornaments from her head, neck, wrists, girdle serially and shows them to Lakshmana to confirm that they are on the right trail. Lakshmana is unable to identify them and recognizes only her anklets when they are found. Rama questions him why he could only identify the anklets and the epitome of integrity gives a simple reply, "My eyes never looked beyond her feet".
After the defeat of Ravana, Sita who has spent time in captivity of an alien man is forced to prove her chastity by a literal passage through fire, once again the hyperbole of a devoted and obedient wife. The victorious Rama having completed his long exile sets out on his return to Ayodhya. He knows that much time has elapsed and time is the corruptor and destroyer of all, including the good. He worries that Bharata may have been transformed from regent of his shoes to the real king. He does not wish to deprive his brother of anything and reminiscent of Tennyson's poem "The Lotus Eaters" return as stranger to the old home to upset the prevailing order. He thus sends Hanuman in his newly acquired airplane to see if Bharata would still welcome him. Hanuman finds the shoes on the throne and Bharata living in utter simplicity without arrogance or intoxication of power, as a humble regent.
Rama returns and is crowned. The finale is that a good king has duties to his subjects that override his personal desires. Not only justice must be done, but more importantly it must be seen to be done. Thus a chance derogatory remark by a washerman while Rama tours his city incognito leads to the second exile of Sita on the allegations of being unchaste. She commits the ultimate sacrifice of appealing to her mother earth whose furrow she was and the ever loving mother opens up her bosom or womb to accept her daughter irrespective of public, legal or regal opinion. Thus the final hyperbole at the end.
My ideal myth list is comprehensive but not complete, but nevertheless improbable, nay even impossible collection of such ideal characters to be anything but an idealized myth. It is interesting to add that despite all the idealism, it is tinged with a male chauvinistic bias prevalent then and even now.
More by : Gaurang Bhatt, MD
|Please help - I need information from the Ramayana on Mother Earth's Appeal for help.
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|Jai Shri Ram: unfortunately only literal meaning of Ramayana is found in this analysis. In fact the sum and substance of this wonderful work should be followed to discipline the life.