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Two perspectivesto Ramayana

The Ramayana is an unique epic that resurges periodically in history with its instrumental utility through contemporary interpretations.

The folklore is a repository of hundreds Ramayanas reflecting completely divergent narratives and values compared to the mainstream version. On the other hand, the epic has also become a source of literary and scholarly inspiration to understand India for both the left and right wings of the political spectrum.

It was VD Savarkar, from the right wing, who made the best attempts to re-invent Puranic Ramayana as a historical narrative to establish the ancientness of the Hindudom or Hindu Rashtra. While Gandhi disagreeing totally with the political project of Savarkar, elevated Ramayana and the God Rama to the level of spiritual benefactors of the new nation. Lohia, on the other hand, resorted to decipher cultural and political ideals from the gods, especially Shiva, Rama and Krishna treating them as metaphors of human predicament.

On the other side of the spectrum, Marxist scholars like DD Kosamabi and Ambedkar interrogated the text and the context of Ramayana with innovative tools of Historiography and came to a solid understanding of pre-feudal and feudal epochs of Indian History. In the post-91, Babri-Ramajanmabhoomi period the right wing has become successful in eradicating the distinction between History and Mythology, which in turn is feeding into growing communalisation of Polity and Society.

It is in these trying circumstances that two important books on understanding Ramayana have been published in Kannada. “Nija Ramayanada Anveshane” ( Bahuropi Prakashana,Rs.180)- by well-known thinker and political activist G. N. Nagaraj. Another book is “Moola Ramayana - Bhaga Ondu” (Ontidani Prakashana, Rs. 180) by famous writer and director Prasanna.

Both books reject the right wing interpretation of Ramayana. But that seems to be the only commonality between these two books. For Nagaraj the Rama and Ramayana are a testimony of fthe eudal system and values in India.

Two perspectivesto Ramayana

But for Prasanna, Ramayana is a socio-cultural metaphor and an egalitarian value system to be achieved to save the world from impending disaster. Hence, while Nagaraj continues the legacy of Kosamabi and Ambedkar, Prasanna comes closer to Gandhi and Lohia.

“Nija...”is a product of 25 years of scholarly pursuit by the author. The book is divided into two parts, the Poorva kanda and the Uttara Kanda. In the first part, Nagaraj attempts to decipher the real meaning of the narrative of Ramayana. According to the author, Ramayana reveals the story of expansion or aggression of polity, culture and societal systems based on the agricultural societies on the pre-feudal social order of the Indian society.

Drawing from the epistemological tools developed by Marxist historians like DD Kosamabi and DP Chattopadhyay and others, Nagaraj argues, rather convincingly, how the characters like Sita, Ahalya are metaphors for cultivatable and un-cultivatable agricultural lands respectively. It is the authors case that “Seetapaharana” (kidnapping of Sita)- is nothing but the disappearance of cultivable land by the growth of “Ra-vana”- vana meaning forest in Sanskrit.

The war against Ravana, hence, is nothing but fight of the agricultural communities to regain their land for cultivation. In the second part of the book, authors excels in his scholarship and establishing how the character of Rama is nothing but a consolidation of feudal prowess over all other earlier social systems due to the invention and utilisation of iron in agriculture and Archery in the warfare. He also describes how the extrapolation of actors and narratives are appended to Balakanda and Uttarakanda of Ramayana, to suit the needs of consolidation of feudal order which demanded complete destruction of values of equality and harmony that were innate in the existing society.

According to the author, this extrapolated Ramayana and not the original Valmiki Ramayana, successfully achieved four things, which is intact till today. Aryan hegemony over the entire sub-continent, Brahminical Varnasharama over the society, unquestionable right of the Father or the eldest brother over the property and the power within the Hindu Undivided family and total disempowerment of women.

Prasanna’s first volume of “Moola Ramayana” develops on the Balakanda and the Ayodhyakanada of the Ramayana. Lord Rama for Prasanna is not the destroyer or expansionist, he is someone misused by the communal forces argues the author.

Ramayana, for him, is a story of limits and possibilities of struggle between Purusha, that is Rama and Prakriti that is Sita. And Ravana is the embodiment of a civilisation based on greed. The conflict between inner and the outer, male and the female, selfishness and the selflessness, human and the nature are all personified in the epic of Ramayana. Hence the story of Ramayana is in essence the fight to re-establish the harmony which is otherwise destroyed by the machine-based-civilisation represented by Ravana. Hence for Prasanna, Ramarajya can also become the modicum of Gram-svarajya. Hence the whole Ramayana is a metaphor and an Utopia to be achieved. .

Thus, in broader sense, these two books also represent two different politico-cultural responses to growing communalisation of the society from the Kannada world.

They also represent the strength and weakness of understanding the great epics through pure historical analysis or as a pure metaphor. But when the culture and history is employed to reap the benefits in the political economy, pure metaphors may not capture the metamorphosis of the context.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 5:36:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/two-perspectivesto-ramayana/article29643793.ece

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