Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ram Re-discovered

I grew up in a culture that loved, respected and believed in Ram. My dadi would often quote incidents and chaupais from the Ramanaya to drive home a point, we grew up surrounded by the stories of the bal kaand and the yudh kaand, of Lakshman's rage, Ram's patience and Hanuman's strength. We grew up being taught to be dutiful sons and daughters like Ram and his brothers, to be virtuous in thought and in action like Sita and her sisters, not to give in to desires and temptations like Kaykai. We knew The Ramayana by heart.

Although, I believed in most of what Ramayana stood for -- virtue, devotion, obedience, goodness, karma, I never could fathom Ram -- he was too good to be true. The non conformist in me could never subscribe to his goodness, it always felt unnatural and in any case what good is the goodness of a man who banishes his pregnant wife -- the woman who stood by him in the hardest of times, who served him, loved him and was totally devoted to him? I always empathised with Sita, never with Ram. And I never read the Ramayana because I did not agree with Ram's ideology.

When one is young he often sees only his point of view, eager to establish his identity and form his own opinions, he often fails to acknowledge others' perspective. Maturity and experience however, teaches one to look beyond his own, to respect and understand others' outlook and ideologies, to accept if not embrace diversity. Going by this definition, I can perhaps consider myself mature, for I finally picked up the book some weeks ago -- to see his perspective.

Although many great scholars have written about and brought forth Ram as a hero -- an ideal son, an ideal king and an ideal man, not many talk about him as an ideal husband or a lover. How could they? For he was a man who denounced his wife for no fault of hers and that, as I mentioned earlier, was my grouse with him too -- until I read the book.

Reading and rereading the Ramayana, I for the first time could see things objectively. I saw the man behind the God. I saw a dutiful son, a perfect king and  I found in him a tender lover and a caring husband too, much to my surprise.

Ram is usually a stoic, pensive and silent husband, never a passionate lover. His aloofness can easily be mistaken for indifference. Neither does he profess his love for Sita nor sing verses in her praise, he hardly talks to her about love. The only time he openly expresses his love for her is in his grief -- of having lost her, so much so that his brother has to remind him that he is not just a forlorn lover, but a king too and therefore he needs to regain his calm. 

Yet throughout the story we find instances which reflect his deep affection and love for his wife. He is always mindful of her likes and dislikes, always considerate about her comfort, always kind in words and action, always respectful of her opinion and the only man to be called ekam patni vrat -- the only man devoted to a single wife. Ram is an ideal husband too. 

So deep is his love for Sita, that after banishing her he keeps with him a gold replica of hers -- it never leaves his side -- it is his Sita, his wife, the only woman he ever loved. But why then did he banish her? My question remained, until he answered it for me, in the following passage.

One day Sita hesitatingly asks Ram 'Your father has three queens, one that he respects, the one that he loves or the one that serves him, which one will I be to you?' Ram replied without a moment's hesitation 'He may have three but I will have only one. I shall be satisfied with whatever this wife of mine has to offer me and hope she is satisfied with whatever I offer her.'

Sita said softly with a smile 'I asked you about the queens, not wives.' 

'I am a husband now, who has a wife. Should I be the king, then my wife will also become the queen. The two are not the same, Sita. My wife sits in my heart, I exist for her satisfaction. The queen sits on the throne, she exists for the kingdom's satisfaction,' he said.

Thus, in one sentence he explained what no one ever could: that he banished the queen, the one who exists for the kingdom's satisfaction and not his wife who he so dearly loved and missed that he never married again. That, once he is the king and she the queen, the wish of the kingdom is supreme, they must do what is expected of them and not what their hearts desire.

No wonder the world loves him and for once I seem to agree with the world.

* The sentences in italics are quoted from SITA, a retelling of Ramayana, by Devdutt Patnaik.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Bhuti...you helped me too with the perspective which I seemed to have struggled with for long. I love reading your posts.