'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Ramayana as an Allegory

Deconstructing the Ramayana and choosing episodes from the many versions of the epic to show up Rama as the sanctimonious, cunning, patriarchal, anti-subaltern villain of the piece (or something thereabouts) has been fashionable among a section of our intelligentia for quite a while; and since the Babri Masjid fell, this fringe fashion became almost the norm among desi intellectuals (presumably the idea is to make Rama unacceptable to a large section of those who the 'parivar' was trying to rally/corral in his name). Even given that, I was more than struck by an article that appeared in a 2010 issue of the 'Matrubhumi' weekly and that I read the other day; written by eminent Kerala writer/intellectual Anand, the piece is a procrustean feat of imagination that manages to twist, squeeze and wring the ancient epic into a profoundly disturbing allegory of Power and its abuses. For good measure, Anand confidently asserts that getting this allegory across was Valmiki's primary intent when he wrote Ramayana (Aside: Valmiki himself was not so sure as to his objective; he begins Ramayana saying it is the story of a "brave and virtuous man" but signs off with the confusing: "thus concludes Ramayana, the saga of noble Sita"). An extract from Anand's meditation (my free translation):

"Ayodhya never knew peace. The city had impregnable defences against external attacks but its innards festered with intrigue.

Brothers fought for power; queens vied for influence; fathers banished their children; Husbands suspected wives. Sons revolted against their father...

The city's troubles and fratricidal conflicts spilled over its mighty walls and swept the land; there were repercussions as far away as the far South of India and beyond. Even the animals, birds, trees, rivers, mountains, the ocean, the very elements were sucked in. The evil shadow of War crept over the seas and eclipsed the island of Lanka. The ocean was violently rolled back to make way for savage hordes of invasion; mountains bearing life-saving flora were torn asunder and hurled across the land to aid the wounded and the dying. A treacherous incendiary attack set off a firestorm that laid waste to the finest city of the times, Lanka.

The genocidal war finally ebbed and the king returned but Ayodhya, the epicenter of troubles, remained a disturbed, demon-haunted place. Doubts, rumours, scandals kept the lives of its citizens in a chaotic churn. To retain his hard-earned power, the monarch thought it fine to abandon his wife, his constant and faithful companion for 14 years in the wilderness. He thought it his duty to his subjects to summarily decapitate a Sudra who 'dared' to adopt a monastic life. His spineless subjects willingly collaborated with the king in all his sordid acts. And when the king and his minions collectively doubted the paternity of her children, the hapless queen gave up her life in front of the World; but in that cruel city, none repented.

At the end of it all, guilt caught up with the king. Overcome by the burden on his conscience, he decided to commit ritual suicide. His courtiers, servants, citizens and even birds and animals went down with him. And that marked the beginning of the decline and ultimate collapse of a great dynasty.

The Ramayana is thus the terrifying chronicle of the jealosy, intrigue, lust for power and faithlessness of rulers and the self-serving, shameless servility of the ruled combining to utterly ruin a proud and powerful city. One hopes the cruel fate of mass-suicide does not revisit Ayodhya - and this country."

I won't comment any further and just stop with a hope that I share with Anand - that nothing bad happens to our country, Ayodhya included. And appropriately enough, today is Ram Navami in northern India.


  • At 9:18 AM, Blogger Rajesh said…

    If we leave out the contemporary politics of Ayodhya and religious mambo jumbo, Anand's interpretation sounds really interesting. To make something akin to Greek tragedies out of a benign glossed over story and make it human is no mean task.

    Taking it even further, if Valmiki or someone in the past had done it, critical thinking in India would have had a great thrust!

  • At 7:38 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks rajesh.

    anand's opinions are always cerebral and provocative. agree or disagree, they enrich.


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