Why does Sri Rama matter? Why so much noise and din about the mediaeval demolition of a Rama Mandir of all temples? Why is the construction of the Rama Mandir in Ayodhya a matter of so much celebration and joy? Why does it feel like ananda of a beloved returning home? Why this indulgence despite the guilt heaped on Hindu society after Babri demolition? What makes Rama endure in the collective consciousness of the Hindu society despite such vile propaganda against him? Despite gospels, lectures and fatwa-e-feminazi on misogyny and patriarchy, why Rama is still the ruler of Hindu hearts. The original Hindu Hriday Samrat.
Sri Rama and His legend
A reason that Rama and Ramakatha still rule the hearts and soul of Indians is that larger society still leaves outside the pale of the modern education system, print and television media. India still remains a country largely informed and moulded by loka shruti — the oral tradition. The digital revolution has only brought about the convergence of this tradition through the common language of English.
This loka shruti, since the time of Valmiki, has established Rama as the benevolent and the perfect king. As mentioned in Aranyakand, when He meets a group of ascetics and rishis after leaving the ashram of Sharbhanga Muni:
“O King of great reputation, you are the refuge of the people, a protector of dharma, a chastiser of wrongdoers, a worshipful and respectable preceptor. O Rama, in this world a king is considered the fourth part of Indra as He protects the people. Therefore, He is
respected, and He enjoys the choicest pleasures of life.”
Even the distorted TV serials and ‘retellings’ reminded people that there did exist a great king thousands of years ago, whom the enemies of their religion can only hope to malign because they can never wipe Him from the memories of this land — and that was enough for enough people to double down on faithful retellings like Ramcharitmanas, Kamban
Ramayana, Krittibas Ramayan, etc.
[It’s to be noted that the original Ramayana of Valmiki does not stress too much on Rama’s divinity though it did mention Him explicitly and implicitly as an avatar on various occasions. It simply shows Him as the complete, well-rounded man and king. It was indeed the loka shruti that magnified His divinity, elevating Him from ‘Raja Ram’ to ‘Bhagawan Ram’, inspiring retellings like the Ramcharitmanas, which wore His divinity on their sleeves.]
The collective consciousness of this land remembered that the greatness of a king was not measured by His conquests but by how much of His own blood and sweat He could shed for His subjects, all the while remaining in an optimal, mutually respectful harmony with other kingdoms as well. Adherence to dharma — He is Dharma-Parāyana — and love for justice (Nyāyapriya) were the attributes of great kings in this culture.
Ashoka was not great for people of this country and its religion, neither was Akbar, no matter how much they were hyped in a bid to push “secularism” down the Hindu throats. It remembered Rana Pratap, who watched his daughter die of starvation for the freedom of his people. It honoured King Bali who asked for meeting his people once a year as his boon from the lord of all beings. And Sri Rama was the king of this league of kings. Here it has to be noted that Rama dropped the idea of rajasuya yajna and opted for ashwamedha because the former would involve strife with neighbouring kingdoms.
It will be educative and meditative to reflect upon Sri Rama & Raja Rama and compare that with actions of His contemporaries and predecessors. Rama was considered king because of His capacity and centredness in Dharma. As told in Aranyakand by a group of Rishis.
“Since we are residents of your territory, we deserve to be protected by you; whether you live in the city or in the forest, you are our lord, the lord of people, and our king.”
The only modern loka shruti that sketches Sri Rama correctly is the blockbuster movie series Baahubali in which the titular character of the first instalment, Mahendra Baahubali, is partially based on Sri Rama. In the movie, his enemies exile him from his rightful kingdom, but find him becoming spontaneous leader and king of the common folk, and grumble among themselves, “ये जहाँ रहेगा, राजा बनके रहेगा!”
This parallel struck a chord with the millions who flocked the theatres to see the Rama-esque glory galore on the silver screen. However, deluded in their ego (among other things), the ‘social scientists’ and ‘film analysts’ remained impervious to reality.
Why? Why are people of this country mad for a king who “may or may not have existed” thousands of years ago? Why did they make Him their god back then, and continued to live and die for Him and “monument” for centuries? What was so special in that forever-pained, tormented, exiled prince of a city-state that even a Tabrez Alam, the Muslim antagonist of Prakash Jha’s Apaharan — a movie with no obvious religious centre — is compelled to compare “political schemes” against himself with Rama’s exile, and immediately the public warms up to him?
What was it about Rama that made, and continues to make, Indians go mad for and about him?
Not obedient but upholder of Raghukula convention
One of the most primary jobs of a state is to enforce contracts. It’s in return for this promise to guard and uphold the sanctity of mutual agreements in good faith that citizens agree to part with their hard-earned money as taxes, subject themselves to the tyranny of laws imposed by others over them, and accept several other restrictions to maximising their personal liberty in submission to the state. So, when the state fails to ensure that any and all mutual, good faith contracts are upheld and enforced, the state machinery no longer deserves to enjoy the power it does. The very existence of the state comes in peril. When the state is gone or when it goes rogue after losing the faith of its subjects; when it no longer cares for even the pretensions of rule of law (as we’re seeing happening in Maharashtra, and in the US to a slightly lesser extent), its place is taken by Matsya Nyāya — the law of social Darwinism.
In a democratic republic like India or the US, all of this is held at bay by people’s faith in free and fair elections, and due process of law, which is currently under severe stress-test. In the days of Rama, the faith was vested in the ruling dynasty, Raghukula. That kula, in turn, was known for unforgiving and uncompromising enforcement of a contract once made. Raghu himself waged a war against Indra, of all the kings, to assist an ascetic Kautsa in fulfilling his contract, who owed 14 crore gold coins to his guru as the tuition fee against his education. His ancestor Harishchandra gave up his entire kingdom in the blink of an eye, let his wife go into prostitution, sold himself to the slavery of a lowly funeral director, let his son die, stripped his erstwhile wife of her last piece of cloth as payment of his own son’s cremation. All to keep a promise made in a dream.
People expected this dynasty to keep their word at any cost. That’s what held their faith in the state established and presided over by this lineage. If their word lost its value, the city would have descended into bloody chaos in no time, as a king who could not keep his pledge would have lost the moral right to enforce contracts on others. Chaos is the only thing that reigns in a state without the legitimacy of the ruler in the eyes of the populace. Since the issue in contention was verily of succession, the issue couldn’t have been resolved any better by either Dasharatha abdicating in favour of Rama (since that would still have rendered the king’s promises to Kaikeyi and her father hollow), or Rama usurping the throne, as Lakshmana and many others, including Dasharatha himself, preferred over Rama’s exile and abdication.
In a society where primogeniture was the norm, Rama could have usurped the throne, but then, it would have led to patricide, regicide and even fratricide if it turned out that Bharata did have the same intentions as his mother. Both Sri Rama and his mother Kaushalya realised this, as written by Tulsidas in Ramcharitmanas:
As if the father and brothers being killed by the son and brothers weren’t abhorrent enough, the revolt would have shifted the burden of enforcement of contract from legal obligation to equations of power. That would again be Matsya Nyāya, which is abhorred as the worst societal adharma. This, despite Indian history of latter years, from Ashoka to Aurangzeb, getting replete with such examples. The collective consciousness of the ‘illiterate’ millions realises this without needing such long expositions but not those who tint their glasses with ideologies and try to pass them off as history and rationality.
He knew His kingdom
When Rama was exiled and His royal charioteer Sumantra was driving him to the edge of the forest, Rama was intimately familiar with the geography of His kingdom, making remarks on trees, roads leading to directions and other geographical markers. This was a clear indication of how much time He had spent exploring even the mundane, inanimate aspects of the empire He was slated to rule. It can only be imagined how much familiarised He would have made Himself with the people and their conditions, and how much it would have endeared Him to the masses. Only that we don’t have to imagine. Ramayana tells us that as well.
When Bharata, in a bid to bringing Rama back to Ayodhya, orders construction of an inroad into the deep forests where he has heard Rama was last heard of, almost the entire city either starts preparing to leaving with him on the mission to bring back their crown prince or runs over one another in contributing to the efforts of the expedition.
So far, we have laid the foundations of the claim that Sri Rama was not “just” a holy, ever-smiling divine descent of godhead, not just a valiant warrior, but an astute-yet-dharmic political person as well, who understood well the philosophies and principles of law and polity. We will develop this more in the second part of this series.
With inputs from Mrinaal Prem Swarroop Srivastava