Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Ramayana adventures - part 2

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

Exploring a few more disconnected angles in the Ramayana would be the natural evolution of the last post. A reader, confused martian, felt that ''The fact that there was such a person as Lakshmana, sacrificing his entire life at the feet of his elder, is something unbelievable.'' Now, in today's world such a person might be rare (note I use rare suggesting that there will still be many people like Lakshmana now, rather than the word impossible), but the puranas and the epics are full of such characters. Not only did Lakshmana willingly sacrifice his entire life at the feet Rama, he took great delight in it and as a result achieved a lot of merit from it. Even today as a result of this his total devotion to his brother, Rama and Lakshmana are always portrayed, thought of and spoken of together.

One of the most beautiful verses in the Ramayana illustrates this point wonderfully. I do not know the full verse in Sanskrit off the top of my head, so I desist quoting the verse here. I will though when I get my hands on the text. But the emotion and the content of the verse I can convey even in English. After the abduction of Sita and after the episode where Rama laments his fate and questions the Ashoka and the Kadamba tress and when he cries out to the deer in jungle regarding the whereabouts of Sita, the deer keep looking southwards. Rama and Lakshmana picked up the cue and went southward to find Sita. Eventually they reached the kingdom of Kishkinda where Sugreeva and Rama made a pact of friendship with the fire as witness. Then Sugreeva brought out some jewels from a cave and told Rama that these jewels were flung down by Sita when she was being carried away by Ravana in the Pushpaka vimana (flying chariot of Ravana).

On being shown the jewels worn by his beloved, Rama broke down as he recognised each of the different ornaments worn by Sita. In this state, perhaps Rama thought that his mind was too clouded by his sorrow, Rama begs Lakshmana to identify whether the jewels do actually belong to Sita. At this juncture, the verse in question comes as Lakshmana's reply to his brothers question. He says (ah, so beautifully) that he does not recognise the necklace, nor the ear rings, he does not know if the bangles and the golden oddiyana (waist band) belong to Sita, but he can say with all certainty that the anklets were Sita's as he has worshipped the feet of Sita every day of his life and can thus recognise the anklets. God, is there any more of a heart wrenching and emotional strings pulling and poetic way than this to point out the nature of Lakshmana( while at the same time teaching us a bit of the Dharma sastra which holds that the wife of the elder brother is like the guru as well and it is not proper to pay attention to any other part of the body of such a person other than the feet, to which alone the disciple has the authority)?? The guru too is the same. The disciple has no authority to meditate on the rest of the form of the guru, just his lotus feet alone.

This response from Lakshmana alone is enough to drive home the point that he was one who had verily given up everything in the love and respect for his elder brother. There are of course plenty more instances where Lakshmana proves to us the stuff he was made of. And with respect to the other half of the comment regarding Rama being the hero of the story, I agree - the epic itself is named Ramayana and not Lakshmanayana or Hanumanayana. However, let it be known that there is no lack of heroes in the epic called Ramayana. Lakshmana, Bharatha, Vibishana, Hanuman, Angada and plenty more are in close contention for the hero's seat. Sita herself is quite heroic. Never mind the human and semi humans (vanaras), even other creatures like the mighty and noble Jataayu (vulture like mega bird), Jaambavaan (the wise black bear) and little squirrels and parakeets all play a part to earn them for a while at least the hero's seat. Whether the many fallacies of Rama serve to further his tragic nature or not, they are features which help the regular folk like us identify on a deep and emotive level to Rama. The God Rama is not someone alien to the sorrows and pitfalls of being human but is someone who time again shows through his apparent delusion and attachment that he is no different from us, really.

Probing the angle of the Dharma sastras that I briefly mentioned while discussing Lakshmana's response above, there is another gem in the Ramayana. This is set in the context of the Ashoka vana (forest of Ashoka trees) where Sita was held captive by Ravana. When Hanuman arrived at the Ashoka vana in the kingdom of Lanka after crossing the mighty ocean in his search for Sita (who he has not seen or met before), he passed from tree to tree trying to find out where Sita was. Finally he saw Sita, sitting all alone and deeply immersed in the thoughts of her lord, under the tall Ashoka trees he decided to wait a while before making his appearance. So he waited on a branch of the tree under which Sita was sitting. In order to first make it clear to Sita that he was a messenger of her lord Rama and not another rakshasha (demon) or Ravana in disguise to torment her further, Hanuman decides to recite the glories of Rama aloud so that Sita could hear it. Thinking thus he began to recite the story of Rama the prince of Ayodhya leaving for exile with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana and continues the story further. Hearing the words in praise of her lord in this the kingdom of the Rakshashas, Sita looked around to see who was speaking thus. She looked up on the branches of the tree and saw Hanuman sitting there. She then wonders if the monkey on the tree was a dream, a bad dream? This verse shows the dream analysis and prediction science of the Dharma sastras - that seeing a monkey in a dream was a bad omen! But then Sita concludes that it could not be a dream as immersed in the sadness of being separated from her lord, she had'nt slept a nights sleep in days, nay, months. She has just been there sitting and thinking about Rama all these days, oblivious to hunger or sleep or any of the normal distractions. So the monkey sitting above had to be real and not her dream, she concludes. Here in this verse not only are the words of the dharma sastras revealed but Sita's character as the pati vrata (chaste woman) and her grief and pain at the separation from her beloved where even the most natural (albeit temporary) solace of the suffering millions, i.e. sleep, is even not an option. Ore kallula pala maanga (lit. many mangoes from the same one stone, to mean - the one simple verse paints a multi layered picture).

The Hindu epics are just saturated beyond belief with such gems. Not only are they a great read with plenty of the usual masala mix (grandeur, love found, love lost, love found again, love triangles,fights, suspense) as any bollywood block buster, they are also noticeably lacking in the vulgarity of human excesses found in today's world. To add another feather to their crown, they pack plenty of sophisticated yet subtle metaphysical truth and thought and are the instruments through which the words of the dharma sastras and vedanta are brought home to the masses who have not the time and/or the inclination to study the sastras and tantras themselves.

To go back to the point touched in the previous post where I mentioned (thought out loud) that the relationship between the three sets of brothers forms the constant back ground music for the Ramayana - If not for the unquestioned support of Lakshmana, Rama could not have succeeded in enduring his exile or the journey to seek Sita and rescue her from Ravana. If not for the enemity between Sugreeva and Vali, there would have been no chances for Rama to form the crucial alliance with Sugreeva his monkey army which as we all know was instrumental in the search for Sita and for the construction of the Setu or the mega bridge on the oceans to reach Lanka. If not for the alliance with Vibishana it would have taken a lot out of Rama and his army to understand the maya of Ravana and his allies. Kumbakarna the other brother of Ravana too plays an interesting and revealing part in this drama, that however is material for a seperate post. Surely someone who sleeps for six months of the year and eats without a break for the other six months when awake is great material for a post!


Anonymous said...

|| Om Shri Hanumate Namah: ||

Thank You for telling the great Ramayan!!

If you love Hanuman Chalisa, you can download a very cool Version and many other Mp3-Bhajans at:

YouRs SinCereLy M!sTer CrippLeD SaM

Confused Martian said...

You actually stole the story from my mouth! I was thinking the story of Lakshmana and Sita's jewels would be slightly big for the comments section :)

And thank you, for elaborately breaking down the premise that we discussed in the earlier post. Another observation, though:

This episode of Lakshmana and Sita apparently was not present in Valmiki's Ramayana and was added later by Kamban in Tamil. This is just something I heard on the grapevine that drips the soma.

Another episode that Vamiki missed was the final exchange between Vaali and Rama as the former lies dying in the lap of the latter.

Vaali: (Referring to Angadha) This is my son and I entrust him to you. If he makes a mistake, please do not give him the mercy of your arrows too!

mooligai sidhan said...

Sri gurubhyo namaha.
@ Crippled Sam
Thank you and welcome. I have to mention here that I am merely touching on a couple of small points of the great epic Ramayana.It is beyond by capabilities to give a holistic picture of the epic.

mooligai sidhan said...

@ confused martian

Yes indeed. The story of Lakshmana and Sitas jewels is a bit too deep for the comments section.I am actually no expert on the Ramayana - to be honest I have not read either version (Valmiki's or Kamban's)in their original form. I have read a few versions of both in different translations and also in other texts where verses from the Ramayana are used to illustrate concepts pertaining to the vedantic pursuit. So I am afraid, I do not know if this sloka appears in the Kamba version or in the Valmiki version. But it is one of the most beautiful and moving episodes in the Ramayana as far as Iam concerned.
Regarding the final words of Vaali to Rama, I have come across this but am not sure if the author/commentator followed any one version alone or got what was needed by going through both versions. Even the enemity mentioned earlier between Vaali and Sugreeva is not actually because one is good and one is bad.Theirs was an enemity due to a misunderstanding and both were to be fair exceptional beings. I would not at all be surprised by the last words of Vaali to Rama.
Makes me think though the fairly well known subject of Ramayana and the Mahabharatha etc are quite bloggable subjects - no need to show any originality in thought on my part and quite a gripping story to narrate and there seems to be plenty chance to comment and reply to the comments to boot!

Confused Martian said...

No wonder why pulp fiction is so popular in India. It has been bled into us through the epics :)

But even retelling these epics are supposedly not to be undertaken lightly. Some people have given their right tusks for this!

mooligai sidhan said...

@confused martian
Right tusk sacrifice was only the scribe's!Imagine the authors pain - Valmiki sacrificed all his previous vaasanas till then (and god knows they were many many!)with the constant rama naama japa and see the result.
I would certainly not imagine the retelling of these epics to come at a low price tag!