Is Ramayana oppressive?

This article aims to to give some critical views regarding some of Sheldon Pollock’s opinions on Ramayana.

I

In Rajiv Malhotra’s ‘The Battle for Sanskrit’, Sheldon Pollock’s views on Ramayana are critically analyzed. Here, in this article, I wish to give my own critical views regarding some of Sheldon Pollock’s opinions.

Pollock appears to sideline the traditional view that the Ramayana is a reflection of actual events. In essence Ramayana is a myth for Pollock.

Sheldon Pollock

“The important aspect about the Ramayana is that when Valmiki wrote the epic, he made it with many proofs. He packed up so much information about the various planetary positions of those days, the geography of the areas mentioned in the epic and the seasonal events that it is virtually a no-brainer to establish the dates on which those events occurred.”- Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam1

I do not know why Ramayana has to be a myth. Geographically, archaeologically, astronomically and botanically, Ramayana seems to historical [2]. To my knowledge, before few Europeans like James Mill and Charles Grant (1813), nobody branded it as a myth. Many historical Kings like Nandivarman[3], Pratap Singh[4], Bhoja[5], Krishnadevaraya[6], Akbar[7], Shivaji[8] and Shahaji [9] were inspired by Rama. Many great national leaders like Gandhi and Rajaji were influenced by Rama. The whole India resonates with the story of Rama. Rama is a living culture. He is in our DNA. All vernaculars of India have minimum a dozen of Ramayana literature. Stamping such a Rama as myth is an insult to the whole nation of India, her culture and her people.

One may say that Ramayana should be a myth, because it describes supernatural events. Supernatural events are there even in Buddha’s life and Mahavira’s life. Life of Jesus and Mohammed are also filled with miracles. Why these persons are taken to be historical and not Rama by the Western Indologists? In the western historian’s eye, the whole history is based in fact on the date of Jesus. But Rama has to be a myth. Babur prayed Allah, “May the disease, which my son Humayun has, should come to me.” That disease came to Babur. Babur died. Humayun was rescued. This story is made historical, though it is supernatural. This story should be read by all children of India as history. But Ramayana should be a myth.

How the so called historians of the west treat the supernatural events in the life of Buddha and Mahavira? They say that these supernatural events are mythical; but the persons are historical. Why can’t the same thing happen with Rama? In fact, supernatural elements found in Rama are far lesser than those that are found in the life of Buddha or Mahavira or Jesus. Anybody who goes through Valmiki’s literature can easily understand that Rama’s life is more humanistic than that of Jesus or Mohammad. Then why should Rama be a myth?

SV (Sheldon Pollock’s view): Ramayana of Valmiki came only after Dasharatha Jataka, a Buddhist text. The metrical verse form of Jatakas was imitated by Valmiki in writing the epic.

MR (My response): As the same meter was used both in Ramayana and Jataka, one cannot say that Ramayana came from Jataka. Anyhow the meter did not originate from either of these literary texts. Originally it belongs to the Vedas (Rig Veda, 10.90.).

Many scholars like Jacobi10, A.L. Basham[11], John Brockington [12], Gaspare Gorressio [13], B.B. Lal [3], Pushkar Bhatnagar[2] and Goldman [14] are of the view that Ramayana belongs to Pre-Buddhist era.  Jacobi gives various reasons for Ramayana pre dating Dasharatha Jataka. The reasons given below are derived from it-

1. Dasharatha Jataka uses the epithet Rama pandita for Rama and Sita devi for Sita. These epithets are not found in Ramayana. These are later developments. Suffixes like ‘Pandita’ and ‘Devi’ have to be later additions to the original epithets like Rama and Sita. Valmiki mentions bluntly the pure epithets without prefixes and suffixes. He does not call Rama as ‘Ramachandra’ or ‘Ramabhadra’ that are of later age. In general using the names with prefixes and suffixes is a later development, which cannot be found in the Vedas and Ramayana.

2. Vishala is different from Mithila in Ramayana. Buddhistic scriptures came only when Vishala and Mithila got united and was called as Vaishla.

3. Saketa was the capital of Kosalas in Buddha Jataka, while Ayodhya was the capital in Ramayana. Name ‘Saketa’ is post Buddhistic and this epithet occurs nowhere in Ramayana.

In my view there is a simple reason that Ramayana has to belong to the pre Buddhist era. Any literary master piece, especially a magnum opus like Ramayana should have the influence of Buddha’s teaching of Dukkha (the whole world is filled with misery) and Nirodha (therefore we should escape from that), if it comes after Buddha. There are only some shades of these two principles in few pre Buddhistic literary works. But any literary master piece which came after Buddha in Sanskrit certainly has this influence strongly. Though Abhyudaya or Vyavaharika or worldly life is dealt in detail even in post Buddha era, it is considered only of secondary importance. But in Ramayana there is not even a shade or hint of the principles of Dukha and Nirodha. The epic is filled with bubbling Abhyudaya everywhere. For this simple reason Ramayana cannot be of post Buddhist era.

SV: In the story of Rama’s exile, Valmiki may be creating a fictional parallel to Buddha’s renunciation.

MR: Buddha’s sacrifice is a sage’s sacrifice. He lost interest in worldly life and royal delights. But Rama on the other hand was interested (2.33.7.) in governing the state. And he was capable too to rule the state (2.2.46.). Sacrificing his interest prioritizing Dharma or Satya and not Nirvana or Moksha is a unique thing in Rama’s sacrifice. This sacrifice is not like Buddha’s disinterest in worldly life.

II

SV (Pollock’s view): Taittariya Brahamana speaks about how in the royal consecration ceremony, when the King takes the strides of Vishnu, he becomes Vishnu himself and thereby triumphs over all these worlds. Thus King establishes himself to be authoritarian as he is magically divinized here by Brahmins, who perform Yajna for the King.

MR (My response): Identifying the devotee with God is common throughout the Vedas, Tantras and Puranas. In fact seeing the whole world as one Divine is the core of the Vedas. Why the King? People belonging to different occupations including carpenters, architects, hunters, keepers of animal- bird husbandry, etc. are seen as Rudra himself (another significant God in the Vedas) (Krishna Yajurveda, Taittiriya Samhita, 4.5.2-9). This does not make them authoritarian.

SV: As the Kings were divinized by Brahmins magically through some ritual, they could not be questioned by anybody. Thus, Indian Kings remained oppressive authoritarians.

MR: “No doubt that Kings are rewarders of rare Dharma and auspicious life.  They should not be harmed and scolded. They are the divinities wandering in human form (4.18.43&44).” This is the statement in the whole epic (that is of more than twenty thousand verses) based on which Pollock proclaims that the Vedic Kings were authoritarians, who could not be criticized or questioned at all. Using this statement, he conveniently sidelined not only the critical views given about the King by the subjects and author in Ramayana, but also in all Kavyas in India. Using this statement and one more statement from Mahabharata, he conveniently comes to a conclusion brushing other things, that the Hindu Kings were authoritarian and oppressive, who could not be questioned by their subjects at all.

Let us look at some of the evidences sidelined by Pollock.

King Dasharatha fears for his ill fame: “People are going to condemn me. I shall get a bad name like a Brahmin who drinks (2.12.79). “Rama, the great soul is going to get deprived by me, a wicked. I deserve a bad name in the world (2.12.83&84).” “A matchless ill fame and firm insult by all beings are going to come to me (2.12.97).”

Sagara, the King of Ayodhya, after listening to the complaints from his subjects, exiled his own son Asamanja for his crime (2.36.). All people cry on seeing Sita wearing the tree barks. They exclaim, “Fie! Unto the King.” On seeing this, the King gets tensed. He loses interest in his life and glory (2.38.1&2.). Sumantra, the charioteer, condemns Kaikeyi, the queen, in public, in front of the King, for her evil deed (2.35.). There are many examples where the subjects openly criticize the king (E.g. 2.49.4-9).

Now let us see few samples for how the epic finds fault with the King, who does not take care of his subjects: May he acquire the sin of that King, who does not take care of the subjects after collecting tax (2.75.24.). If a ruler does not guard his subjects even after collecting taxes, it is a great Adharma. On the other hand, if a ruler cares and guards the life of his subjects as his own, he gets eternal glory. He goes to the world of Brahma and he gets glorified there too (3.6.11-13.). Even if one is the lord of all the three worlds, he cannot be safe if he threatens the beings (3.29.3.).

Subjects do not revere that King who is drowned in materialistic pleasures, as the funeral fire is not liked (3.33.3.). People leave that King, who is not self-restraint and who works always as he wishes without consulting others, like elephants that leave the dusty pond. The Kings, who do not protect their own subjects are not resplendent, just like mountains hidden in the sea (3.33.5&6). Even his own people kill that King who is egoistic, wrathful always and who never respects his subjects (3.33.16.). The King who is all-alert, who has sense-control, who never gets cheated, who has gratitude and virtue alone can sustain for long. Only he, who keeps his mental eyes of wariness wakeful even while sleeping and he whose wrath and grace are made evident to people without any concealment or cunningness, will be revered as a King by the people (3.33.20-21.). The armies shall give up the King, who always punishes and kills in battle, devoid of lovable virtues (6.125.10.).

If a noble one is falsely accused of some offence despite his honesty and integrity, he should not be punished impatiently without proper enquiry. If a thief is seen and caught at the time of his act on sufficient grounds and well interrogated, he should not be released due to the greed of bribery.  Does your educated ministers examine a case in an unbiased manner when a contention occurs between a rich and a poor, after studying the situation carefully? The tears that fall from the victims of false accusations destroy rulers’ progeny and resources (2.100.57-60).

An example for Rama’s concern about his subjects- Whenever he goes to resolve an issue in any village or town, he never returns back without resolving it. Settling the issue, he returns back on an elephant or on a steed and enquires about the welfare of everybody in the villages and towns. He enquires about the children, the daily prayers, servants and attendants in sequence, like a father enquiring his own sons: “Are your attendants attending you sincerely?” This is how he asks with care. He suffers subjects’ sufferings and enjoys subjects’ joys. He talks ahead with a smiling face and builds excellent rapport. By all means he adores Dharma (2.2.38-43.).

“Are you duly honoring warriors, who are mighty, skilled in warfare, experienced and brave? Are you regularly paying suitable salary to your employees without any delay?” asks Rama (2.100.32-33.). When Hanuman asks permission from Sita to punish those, who spoke harsh words to Sita, she responds, “They committed these only obeying other’s instructions. They were after all under the control of Ravana, who shall be angry with such poor servants of others committing the blunders for others? (6.116.39).” See how the royal lady has humanitarian considerations even to her foe’s employees, who tortured her like anything.

Pollock says that Ramayana’s King is authoritarian. An example for King’s spirit of democracy is his speech to his subjects regarding crowning Rama. “By delegating the job of subjects’ welfare to Rama, I shall get relieved of my responsibilities. I have well thought a lot about it. I hope that it is befitting. Can you give your consent? What do you feel? What should I do? If my thought is right, please sanction this. Though this is my wish, you may think of alternatives too, as divergent thoughts of moderators are better (2.2.14-16.).”

Ramayana condemns the King Ravana. Mahabharata condemns the King Dhrutarashtra. Rajatarangini condemns Mihirakula and Harshadeva. All these only reveal that the Kavis were critical about the Kings, even if they were the Vedic initiates, as above mentioned Kings were all Vedic initiates.

III

SV (Pollock’s view): Hindu kings took care of Brahmins alone.

MR (My response): Rama showers compassion and grace to all four classes. That is why they follow him (Ramayana, 2.17.15). The king Chandrapida went to the house of a cobbler to settle cobbler’s problems and patiently listened to his issue and solved it even condemning his own ministers from the cobbler’s side (Ramtej shastri, Kalhana’s Raja Tarangini, Chronicle of the kings of Kashmir, 4.57-78. Chowkamba Sanskrit Pratishtan, Delhi, 1985.). This is an instance to show how the Kings were doing welfare to all classes of people and not merely to Brahmins. The King Shantanu in Mahabharata loved a fisherwoman. He respected her and her family. This is revealed by how he married her only after fulfilling her family’s demand. He did not force her to marry him. (Vishnu S. Sukthankar, The Mahabharata, Critical Edition, Volume I, Part II, Adiparva 94, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, 1997.).

Having base as Ramayana, Pollock accuses all Hindu Kings as selfish. As an example of selflessness, I wish to quote the Kings in Kavyas. Rantideva in Bhagavata (9.21.) and Raghu in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsha (5.2.), who offered everything and lead a life of poverty. Dilipa in Raghuvamsha was asked by the cow Nandini to milk her. But he replies that he would take the milk which will remain after consumed by the calf and after its utility to the usage of Vasishta’s Agnihotra as he used to take only the remains of what was used by the subjects as tax (2.66.). These are few examples for the selflessness of the Kings in Hindu Kavyas.

SV: Only to show that the Kings were divinized through some magical ritual by Brahmins and also to show that the divinized King could be an authoritarian, Valmiki describes Rama as Divine incarnation.

MR: The epic contains more than twenty thousand verses. But it proclaims Rama as God only in fifteen contexts. Therefore, previously many Indologists had declared these fifteen contexts as interpolations. But, after traditional scholars showed that this could not be interpolations, since it occurs in all recensions, now Pollock makes a new twist. He says that Valmiki has an agenda to proclaim Rama as incarnation and therefore it is dangerous. If Valmiki has an agenda, he can describe Rama as God throughout the epic like Bible does with Jesus. (I don’t feel that even Bible had an agenda.) But Valmiki describes Rama only as a human being with human feelings everywhere, but for in these fifteen contexts.

SV:  Rama is completely obedient to his father. (This again indicates only oppression.)

MR: Obedience to the parents is seen as a great merit in the early religions like Sanatana Dharma and Judaism. But it is taken to be enslavement, so that an object of ridicule among the so called liberalists.  Anyhow the story of Rama’s exile is not merely a story of obedience, though obedience is of great importance in Ramayana. In fact Dasharatha had told Rama to be in Ayodhya and to get installed as a King in the Kingdom, after even neglecting him (2.34.26.). If obedience was prioritized by Rama, he would have done it. There is a great principle behind the obedience here. It is nothing but Truth. Regarding this I just want to refer my own writing “The preface to the Ramayana of Valmiki.”

In those days, all the business transactions were based on oath. Orally one used to take an oath to repay the debt on a particular date. He certainly did so fearing breaking the oath. Even now all the court transactions are based on this oath. How can a convict be proven a convict? How can a judge trust a convict to be a convict? How shall a judge not misunderstand an innocent to be a convict? Is it just through the conversations of lawyers in the court? No. It alone cannot help. A lawyer who supports a convict may talk effectively while another lawyer who supports an innocent may talk inefficiently. This may lead only to the judge’s misunderstanding of a convict to be an innocent and an innocent to be a convict. Is it not?

Can the video clips, photography, audio voice recording and his signature which reveal the blunders of a convict be the evidences? No. Video clips and photography can be explained as camera tricks. Voice recording can be described as mimicry. Signature can be called as forgery. Even if all of these are available, they all can be dismissed some way or the other. How can one judge, if they are not available?

Here the only three evidences are the hearts of the convict, victim and witness. If they fear to contradict their heart through their words in the court then certainly it becomes easier to find the faulty one. If they are comfortable in contradicting their hearts in their words then the case becomes complex and the faulty cannot be found at all. Anybody who is answerable in the court takes this oath in the court: “Whatever I say on this Dias is true.” After taking this oath even if he tries to break this oath his conscience shall prick him severely. Therefore, he shall remain truthful without breaking the oath.

In the society where the oath breaking becomes common, consistent, fashionable and conventional, nobody bothers on breaking oaths. There the conscience becomes dull and becomes hardly visible. Then the case in the court becomes complex which may lead to punishing the innocents and releasing the faulty ones. If the faulty ones are released consistently in this way, then there will be a severe infiltration in the society. The faulty ones shall start to co-exist with the normal persons of society. Further seeing the unpunished faulty ones, the normal persons also may start to commit blunders for their selfish needs. In this way, the whole society shall get corrupted, filled with cheats in all sectors of society. That society shall perish in which the people are proud to be untruthful and where the people feel cheating as smart. That corporate shall perish where the promotions are given to the so called smart ones. That state shall commit social suicide in a literal sense, which considers truth as out dated and lying as a fashion.

Rama considers truth as the highest value to sustain society (2.109.13.). He also considers it as an obligation especially of government and royals as they are the exemplary of the society (2.109.9.). He realizes that if he breaks his father’s oath, the   people shall start to follow it, which in turn can lead to chaos. Rama calls truth as God (2.109.13.). If Rama would have broken the oath and had become the King, all the subjects would have been happy for some time, including his mothers and brothers. But in the long run, this would have resulted in the loss of truthfulness in the state, which would have in turn corrupted the whole state. Keeping the oath in this context may make his brothers, mothers, subjects, father and his wife suffer for a time being. But in the long run, it sets a right ideal to the society leading to a truthful and therefore corruption less society.

IV

SV (Pollock’s view): Rama is bound to act fatalistically lacking in free will. (This is another indication of oppression.)

MR (My response): The characters of the Ramayana believe themselves to be denied of all freedom of choice. This is the opinion of Pollock. Nowhere, any character in Ramayana says this. There is no evidence of any character in Ramayana believing this. In the epic. Rama talks on his unconquerable ill fate only on three contexts. One, when he is about to go to forest, he silences Lakshmana by talking about fate in few verses. Two, when Bharata pleads Rama to take back the Kingdom, Rama talks about fate, in one verse. In both these contexts, Rama talks about destiny only to draw support to his decision, which was based on Dharma. Three, after Rama loses Sita and while he laments over the loss, he makes reference to his unconquerable ill fate. But, none of these three contexts can lead to the conclusion that Rama lacked free will.

When he faced a severe trouble in the form of loss of Sita, he did not lose hope. He did not think about going back to Ayodhya or renouncing his life. Instead, he toiled hard, gathered an army and marched against his enemy to rescue Sita. All these exertion of free will and performance of positive actions have been exalted in the epic. Finally Rama roars with cheer, “I, a human being, have won the blunder caused by destiny” (6.118.5.). Even the Rama’s decision to go into exile shows enormous will power and exertion of free will. Only a great will power and conviction in his decision, could have made Rama to reject the pleas of his brothers, Gurus, parents, friends, and subjects and choose exile, instead of kingdom.

Another important thing to understand here is that unlike in the West, the Hindu concept of fate is based on Karma theory, which in essence means virtuous actions leads to joy, while vice leads to suffering. Thus, this fate in Hindu context, is based on free-will itself, as rightly concluded by Swami Vivekananda, “your destiny is in your own hand.”

SV: Unlike the Greek epics, Ramayana is so fatalistic that even gods play no role (in the events happening in Ayodhya at the time of Rama’s exile) to establish justice when the destiny takes its course. This also strengthens the oppression further.

MR: This statement that gods do not intervene is not correct. In various events happening in the woods and in the Lanka, gods rendered help in various forms. They come in the forms of Vanaras to serve Rama (6.114.16.). In fact, Rama himself is God, who came to liberate those, who suffered from the evil (6.114.14.). Varuna helped Hanuman by sending Mainaka (5.1.97-98.). Varuna promises that he would carry the bridge, which would be constructed by Rama (6.22.). After the construction of bridge all gods come to Rama and encouraged him with cheerful words (6.22.91.). Garuda came to free Lakshmana from Naga missile (6.50). Vayu came to instruct Lakshmana to take Brahmaastra against Atikaya (6.71.98-103.). Indra sends his chariot to Rama in war against Ravana (6.103.). Indra gifts a garland to Rama in his coronation ceremony as a sign of triumph (6.131.66.). They did not interfere in Ayodhya events as they expected Rama’s exile to happen, so that the evil would be demolished (2.112.4.).

SV: Sita and Kausalya are praised for being blind subservient. This is also a sign of oppression.

MR: “You are not for me. Rama too is in the woods. I am unable to go to the woods ruined by you. You have ruined the state. You have ruined yourself with your ministers. You have ruined me with my son. You have ruined the subjects too. Only your son and wife are happy (2.61.25,26.).” These are the harsh words spoken by Kausalya to the King. Let us see how the King responds, “O Kausalya! Be pleased. I clasp my hands in front of you. It is well known that you are motherly refuge even to others (2.62.7.).” For this, Kausalya responds, “I know Dharma and I know you as truthful. I spoke harsh words as I am troubled by the separation of my son (2.62.14.).”

Here and in few other contexts, Kausalya does not seem to be a blind subservient of the King as alleged by Pollock. Instead, she talks harshly. But, at the same time, she understands the situation and the grandeur of sacrificing the Kingdom for the sake of truth and Dharma. This I see as a great virtue.

Sita also understands the grandeur of truth, while she goes to the woods with Rama. This great selfless sacrifice of Sita was, is and will be extolled, nay, worshiped by us, Indians. But it does not mean that she is blind or incapable of thinking for herself. We see how she defends herself perfectly in front of Rama after Ravana’s death.

Those who consider Ramayana as male chauvinistic say, “Ramayana paints women as evil by portraying how all misfortunes of Ayodhya happened due to the King’s adherence to a woman (Kaikeyi).” They ignore another fact that the misfortune in Vali’s life happened due to his deaf ears to a woman (Tara) and the misfortune in Ravana’s life was also due to his non adherence to a woman (Mandodari). Even Vali was repenting for that (4.22.13.). Valmiki neither narrates the former incident to put down women nor does he narrate the latter to glorify women. There are good and bad characters in both genders in Ramayana. That is all. In fact, Dasharatha in his lament (after Rama decides to go into exile) cries, “Fie unto the selfish and cheating women. But all women in the world are not like Kaikeyi (2.12.103.).”

V

SV (Pollock’s view): Ramayana and other Kavyas are the Brahminical response to the Buddhists usage of Sanskrit for non-Vedic purposes.

MR (My response): Through Ramayana we cannot prove the caste of Valmiki, the author of Ramayana. The epic never talks about the caste of its author. But conventionally the people belonging to a huge tribal caste called Valmiki say that Valmiki belongs to their caste. Even Dr. Ambedkar was of that opinion[15].  In vernaculars, but for a few like Tulsidas and Eknath, all the Ramayana writers like Kamban, Ezhuttachan, Kuvempu, Gona Buddha Reddy, Guru Govind Singh and others were all non-Brahmins.

SV: The Vedas belong to oral tradition while Ramayana was written by its author.

MR: Though writing was prevalent at the time of Ramayana (E.g. 5.36.2 & 6.131.120.), there is no evidence in Ramayana that shows Ramayana as being written by its author. Therefore, the scholars like Goressio [16] and Sirinivasa Ayyangar [17] think that even Ramayana once belonged to oral tradition. They feel that Valmiki orally transmitted it to his disciples.

SV: Geographical description in Ramayana is meant to foster expansionist political ambitions.

MR: It is clear in Ramayana that Rama never conquered any region to annex them into his Kingdom. He crowned only the sons of soil, Sugriva and Vibhishana after defeating Vali and Ravana. These are the only two Kings whom Rama conquered that too only to regain Sita and not due to the ambition of annexing the land. He did not even enter into the city of Kishkindha and Lanka after conquering them. In fact he politely rejected the plea of Vibhishana to enter into Lanka after defeating Ravana (6.124.).

There are several hard rules prescribed by Smritis regarding taking the wealth from the conquered king. One cannot take the wealth without offering the prescribed share to the relatives of conquered King [18].  Smriti insists that the winner should not forcibly impose any other culture in the conquered land [19].  According to Arthashastra [20] and Manusmriti [21]  even in the conquered Kingdom, the conquered King’s son or other relation should be installed as the next King.

Pollock, according to Malhotra, says that some places are shown as rustic and others as sophisticated. Naive rustic women, Pollock says, differentiated from the cultured, beautiful ladies of a city. We see the descriptions of three cities in Ramayana- Ayodhya, Kishkindha and Lanka. None of these three cities in Ramayana’s description is lacking in richness or wealth. Valmiki never says anywhere that Vanaras and Rakshasas are poorer than the people of Ayodhya. Neither has he said that they are more rustic. Ramayana does not have any rustic character at all. Including the hunters like Guha, all are wealthy in Ramayana.  Ramayana describes Rakshasis and Rakshasas as having some demonic physical features. But they are not described as rustic or poor.

SV: Kavya makers were well paid by the Kings. Kavyas were written to establish the rulers’ divinity, so that rulers can oppress others authoritatively. For this, Kavyas and their Brahminical writers were appreciated by the Kings and in this way Kavya literature and its language i.e. Sanskrit grew throughout India. Even Ramayana was sung in the court of Rama.

MR: A striking point is that some scriptures discouraged Brahmins from spending time in writing Kavyas [22] as it may cherish in their mind human eulogy while their focus should be mainly on rituals and philosophical concepts. Therefore if at all Brahmins wrote Kavyas, they mainly wrote about gods and goddesses. Brahmin scholars like Vedanta Deshika, Vadiraja and Neelakanta Dikshita to name a few. In the context of Kavyas related to humans mainly non Brahmins contributed. The great Sanskrit poets like Bhoja, Kalidasa, Maagha, Bhatti, Harsha and Bhartruhari are believed to be non-Brahmins. Many Kavyas (but for a few like Harshacharitam) do not extol the contemporary kings. Many of the Kavyas are about the stories found in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. If Kavyas were written with an agenda of oppressing the people, their main focus would have been the contemporary Kings.

It is true that many Kavyas had royal patronage. This was not because it was used as tools for oppression, but because Kavyas teach Dharma. Moreover, not only Kavyas and grammar enjoyed honor from the Kings, but also Ayurveda, Jyotisha, Sthapatya etc., were honored by the Kings, as they are all expressions of Dharma. Even now in India, we have several Government awards to poets and scholars of Sanskrit. If we think that these awards encourage oppression, I think that it is highly ridiculous.

Moreover, there were poets and scholars who discarded royal honor- Abhinava Gupta, Vedanta Deshika,  Tyagaraja to name a few. There were Kings in India, who were disinterested in their own praise. When Rama listened to his own praise from his subjects, he remained disinterested (2.17.12.). The King Prithu stops the musical bards from singing about him and instructs them to sing on God. He ridicules the ones who listen to their own glory (Bhagavatam, 4.15.22.).

Ramayana was not sung only in royal courts. It was sung even in the courts of saintly persons even before reaching the royal court (Ramayana, 1.3.). Uttara kanda clearly mentions that Valmiki and his disciples rejected the wealth offered to them by the King (94.20.) and others (93.12.) in general. Another interesting thing is that, I do not know what Pollock derives from the event of Valmiki’s Ramayana being sung in the court of Rama, since, he considers the whole story of Rama as a myth. If he says that this Rama in whose court Ramayana was sung symbolizes some other King, a contemporary of Valmiki, then another striking thought comes why Valmiki never extols any of his contemporary Kings in the epic, if acting as tool for oppression by the contemporary King and getting royal patronage was his goal. There is no evidence of Valmiki or Vyasa getting royal patronage for their epics. Moreover their epics are not mere eulogies of Kings. They record the tragic flaws of their own heroes in their epics without a least of hesitation.

I have seen many condemning Ramayana being envious of the epic as it has guided many cultures and millions of people in Asia for many centuries now. I hope that Pollock does not belong to this category. I am thankful to him that his critical opinions on Ramayana, made me contemplate on so many things related to Vedic culture in general and Ramayana in particular.

Regarding Ramayana, I have referred to Srimadvalmikiramayanam, Srimadgovindarajiya-ramanujiya-tanishloki- maheshvaratirthakhya- vyakhya- chatushtayasahitam, Gangavishnu Sri Krishnadas, Lakshmivenkateshvar steem press, Kalyan, Bombay, 1867.

References

  1. Saroj Bala, Historicity of Vedic and Ramayana eras, Scientific evidences from the Depths of Oceans to the Heights of Skies, page number:2, Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas, New Delhi, 2012 .
  2. Pushkar Bhatnagar, Dating the Era of Lord Rama, Rupa.co, New Delhi, 2004. M.Amritalingam and P. Sudhakar, Plant and Animal diversity in Valmiki’s Ramayana, C.P. Environmental and educational centre,Chennai, 2013.Mira Roy, Environment and Ecology in the Ramayana, Indian Journal of History of Science, 40.1 (2005)9-29.
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  15. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Bahishkrit Bharat, 27-Nov-1927: quoted in Dhananjay keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Popular Prakashan, 1990, p.96.
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  18. E.g. Pandita Sri Brahma shankara mishra, Kashi Samskrita granthamala, 185, Shukraneethi, 4.401-405, Chowkamba Samskrita Samsthan, Varanasi.
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  21. Shri Ganesh Datta Patak, Manusmriti, 7.201&202, Takur Prasad & sons Book seller, Varanasi.
  22. E.g. Kashinatha Shastri & Mahadev chimnaji Apte, Saurapuranam, Vol 18, 19.10&11, Anandashrama, Pune.
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Dr Rangan was awarded the Yoga-vidya-varidhi (a doctoral degree in Yoga) from SVYASA, Bangalore. He also has a master’s degree of management from SIMS, Pune. He is well versed in Vedas, Vedic Sanskrit, Upanishads and epics. He is founder president of WEBOLIM which conducts several Ramayana classes throughout the globe. He runs two vedic schools, one in Bangalore and other one in Faizabad.