Sheldon Pollock Ramayana Review
Pollock’s Ramayana: A Review- I

Taking a socio-political event of recent past as apogee, Professor Pollock peeks into India’s history and tries to find similar instances to draw a pattern. However a biased study of history on basis of scattered dots is hazardous to scholarship; for it not only imparts distorted knowledge but also adds fuel to already volatile environment.

Published in the backdrop of 1990 and 1992 communal riots of India, Professor Sheldon Pollock’s “Ramayana and Political imagination of India” is a classic example of misinterpretation of Indian culture and historical facts and misrepresentation of socio-political dynamism. Taking a socio-political event of recent past as apogee, Professor Pollock peeks into India’s history and tries to find similar instances to draw a pattern. However a biased study of history on basis of scattered dots is hazardous to scholarship; for it not only imparts distorted knowledge but also adds fuel to already volatile environment. A student of history carries a huge responsibility, of trying to know the truth and effectively conveying it.Correctly interpreting the information and delivering it to the society have to be done with great care and accountability. Any bias, prejudice on the researcher’s part is going to colour the vision of society and have manifold repercussions. Professor Pollock’s essay needs to be scrutinised carefully to decipher his motives, his observations of historical events of medieval India and his conclusions. Pollock’s statements (1993:264) reflect his motives,

“Initially I was only interested only to discover when, in what circumstances, and with what significations the Ramayana entered the arena of political discourses in South Asia”.

This clearly declares that research conducted was based on preconceived notion that Ramayana entered politics at some point of history, the question to him was when. In the introductory part of his paper he mentions (1993:263),

“About the earliest course of the political life of Ramayana theme, especially its genetic history in contrast to its receptive history, we know little at present, in part because our sources are so few, but also because, the sources we do possess have never been read mythopolitically.”

This assertion undoubtedly echoes not only Pollock’sview of Valmiki’s Ramayana as mythology, but is in itself an attempt to project it as mythology and connect contemporary politics to it. When he refers to 1990 rathayatra of L. K. Advani, 1992-1993 communal riots and subsequently comments (1993:262)

“from an early period the story supplied, continuously and readily, if in a highly differentiated way, a repertory of imaginative instruments for articulating a range of political discourses”,

His aim becomes clear: to establish Ramayana as divisive political tool.

This paper employs structuralism, a methodology in which elements of human culture are understood in terms of their relationship to a larger overarching system or structure. This method of study is similar to Samasthi, where an individual is studied as a part of bigger whole. Man is a social being. He cannot be studied in isolation. Man is a part of family, society, country and the entire cosmos. Man is basic unit of society, contributing to psyche and culture of society. It is this dynamic mutual relation between man and society that has been explored in this paper. Also psychological, historical and archaeological anthropology have also been engaged to study the ancient and medieval period. Based on these tools, this paper has counter examined Pollock’s essay, viewing Valmiki’s Ramayana as Mahakavya in which historical events[1] related to Rama have been accurately documented. The antiquity of Indian civilization in Rigvedic era prior to 5000 BCE continuing into the sophisticated and urbanised Sindhu-Saraswati civilization[2], emergence of republic and democratic Mahajanpadas and their consolidation and cohesion into the Maurya and Gupta empire have all been taken into account to get clear understanding of medieval India and scrutinize Pollock’s paper.

Sheldon’s observations and conclusions have been broadly categorised under three headings:-

  1. Compartmentalising of history of Ramayana
  2. Ramayana as a divisive political tool, a text of “othering”, utilised to dichotomise and demonise enemy and divinise the kings.
  3. Temple cult theory

Compartmentalising of history of Ramayana

According to Pollock (1993:262,263),

“Yet, if one actually plots a history of the Ramayana in the two realms of the political and literary imaginations, one finds disparity.”Ramayana’s receptive history started much later than its genetic counterpart and literary history commenced in most probably 2nd century AD with Bhasa and its political journey started with Pravarsena II’s Setubandha and Prabhavati Gupta’s Ramagirisvamipadamulat.

Though Pollock has not clarified what he means by receptive, genetic, literary or political history, the meanings may be inferred from his paper. Genetic history could imply actual age of Valmiki’s Ramayana; receptive history could indicate permeation in common populace; literary when other versions and translations came to be compiled and political when Ramayana started making a mark in ruling community.

Prabhavati Gupta who was married to Rudrasena II of Vakataka dynasty was daughter of Chandra Gupta II of Gupta dynasty. She was a strong woman, a brave warrior who acted as regent of Vakataka Empire for 20 years from 390 CE to 410 CE and successfully repelled the Saka invasion in Saurashtra. Kalidasa, the renowned court poet of Chandra Gupta II was invited by Prabhavati Gupta to supervise education of her sons Divakarsena, Damodarsena and Pravarsena II. It was here at Ramgiri (modern Ramtek) away from his family and native land where Kalidasa composed the Meghdoot. Having grown up in rich environment of literary explosion in Gupta period, under guidance of Kalidasa and care of warrior queen mother, Pravarsena II was not only an able administrator but also a poet himself and reigned for 30 years (410 CE to 440 CE). He wrote Setubandha (Ravan Vadha) in Maharashtri Prakrit (Majumdar,1952, 271, 272). This could be probably, the first known regional work in Ramayana. In times when Sanskrit was language of court, Pravarsena II produced his work in Prakrit, the language of people. Setubandha clearly shows Kalidasa’s influence on his disciple. He also revised Gatha-Saptashati (Prakrit-GahaSattasai) a collection of Maharastri Prakrit poems compiled by the Shathavahana King Hala[3] of 1st century CE (Phalaksha, 2008, 249-250). A Shiva icon was discovered in 1972 (which is now housed in National Museum Delhi), along with excavation of 16 Shiva shrines of brick and 4 Shivlings in the ruins of Mansar, identified as Pravarsena II’s capital , between today’s Nagpur and Ramtek (in Maharashtra) about 10 kms from Nandivardhan (former Vakataka capital) ,all ascribable to Pravarsena’s II reign. This indicates that Pravareshvara (Shiva) continued to be Kuladaivat. Other images found on Hidamba Tekdi (surrounding hillock)reflect Buddhist influence.

From above it is quite evident that Pravarsena II was a broad-minded king as well as a poet. The ruins of Mansar reflect his able administration. So where do we place Pravarsena II’s Setubandha? In political history of Ramayana: because it was compiled by a king? In literary history because it was compiled by a poet who was also Kalidasa’s protégé? Or in receptive history because it was instrumental in Ramayana becoming accessible to common man in a local language?

Coming back to Kalidasa (5thcentury CE), contrary to Pollock’s claim,

“For a thousand years from at least fourth century CE., the literary imagination of India received undiminished hypertrophied stimulation from Rama legend”,

consider Kalidasa’s works: “Raghuvanmsa” is poem describing valour of various Raghu kings like Dileep, “Abhijnanasakuntalam” is a play dealing with love tale of Dushant and Shakuntala and “Meghdoot” is a fictional poem depicting a warrior’s love for his partner and motherland; to name a few of his works.. His opuses are nowhere monopolised by Rama theme. Bhasa (?200 BCE to 200CE) who has been revered by Kalidasa in his works has been attributed with 13 plays. Pratima-Nataka, Yagna–Phalam and Abhishek-Nataka derive inspiration from Ramayana, Urubhanga and Karnabharam present alternate personality of Duryadhana and tragedy of Karna of Mahabharata respectively, whereas Bala-charitra or Harivamsa is about Krishna. So here as well, Bhasa’s themes are nowhere dominated by Rama theme alone.The above known legendary works of Kalidasa, Bhasa, Hala and Pravarsena II reflect popularity of Rama theme in, not only literary and political but common populace also.

Going beyond 2nd century CE,there are important well known sources of Ramayana and Rama themes.In the Buddhist literature there are the Jatakas, three of which deal with the story of Rama.The Jatakas form a part of the Khuddaka –nikaya,ascribable to the 3rd century BCE.The most important of these is called Dasaratha Jataka. A careful scrutiny of Dasaratha Jataka shows that few verses of the Jataka are almost replicative translation from Valmiki’s Ramayana in Sanskrit. Rama is referred as Rama-pandita, Laksmana as Laksmana-Kumara and Bharata as Bharata Kumara.The other two Jatakas are the “Nidana of the King of Ten Luxuries” and “Jataka of Unnamed King”. Unfortunately the originals are lost but the above two Jatakas are preserved in their Chinese translations done in 475 CE and 251 CE respectively. A canonical work in Jain literature “Anuyogadvara” supposed to date back to 2nd century CE lists many other works which include the Ramayanam. (Lal,2008,8,9,)There are few more eminent sources that cannot be discounted, Mahabharata (and Vishnu Sahasranama), Ramraksha Stotra and Rama-kathas .Rama appears as 394th name in Vishnusahasranama in Anushasanparva (chapter1,verse-149)of Mahabharata.The entire story of Rama is narrated by Markandeya Rishi in Vanaparva (Rama Upakhyana parva, chapter18, verses, 272-291) of Mahabharata to Yudhistira in exile when the latter is dejected and despondent.Going beyond this one finds Rama theme in oral traditions. This system of oral traditional narrations cannot be ignored or discredited, especially in Indian culture. Before manuscripts appeared on palm leafs around 5th century CE all the ancient works of shastra, purana, Veda and ithihas were preserved intact orally. Ramraksha Stotra has been composed by Budha Koushik Rishi identified as Bramharishi Vishwamitra, Guru mentor and contemporary of Rama himself and daily oral recitation of this Stotra has been a part of traditional Indian family till today. Rama-Katha narration at social functions, festivals, rituals and to children at bed time is very much essential part of traditional Indian family.

From above instances it can be firmly inferred that there is no period (post Valmiki’s Ramayana) in Indian culture when Ramayana has not permeated any aspect of human life, political,literary, social, cultural, philosophical or spiritual. Rama-kathas and Ramayana with numerous versions,translations and adaptations have always been in Indian civilisation and their origin lies in period of Rama Himself starting with oral narration of Ram-gatha by Luv and Kush.There is no such thing as Ramayana’s entry into arena of politics or literature, neither is its receptive history r any different from genetic history.

Ramayana as a divisive political tool

Pollock states (1993:281)

“Ramayana is profoundly and fundamentally a text of othering: outsiders are made other by being represented as deviant –sexually, dietetically, politically deviant. Ravana is not only “other” in his reckless polygyny –“others” always threaten to steal our women—but is presented without question as tyrant.”

These statements reflect not only shallow visualisation of Ramayana characters but also of Indian society and culture. Polygyny was not seen as a vice; Dashratha, Rama’s father himself was polygynous. It was Rama and his brothers’ personal choice to remain monogynous. It was not Ravana’s polygyny that was issue; it was his forceful violent imposing of his unwanted attentions on a woman.Which part of story, which incident or character “other’s” Ravana? In Valmiki’s Ramayana Ravana is described as learned Brahmin, son of Rishi Vishravasu and grandson of Rishi Paulasth. He is known to be a Bramhagyani, Ved pundit. Many verses are dedicated to his administrative qualities, his bravery and valour. He is not “othered” and demonised. Unfavourable qualities like arrogance, aggrandization of self, exaggerated ego, forceful imposing of belief system on others and lust which are not conductive to a peaceful and harmonious society have been identified in him. Rama’s inclusion and acceptance of Ravan is beautifully reflected in following two verses of Valmiki’s Ramayana, (all the references to Valmiki’s Ramayana in this paper refer to Srimad Valmiki Ramayana, Volume I and II Gita press, Gorakhpur);

महात्माबलसम्पन्नोरावणोलोकरावण:I मरणान्तानिवैराणिनिर्वृतंनःप्रयोजमII
क्रियतामस्यसंस्कारोममाप्येषयथातव I त्वत्सकाशान्महाबाहोसंस्कारंविधिपूर्वकम् II (Yuddhakand, Sarga111,verse no 100 and 101)

After death of Ravana, Vibhishana initially laments his brother’s death, and on seeing destruction around him, refuses to perform funeral rites for his bother. However Rama consoles him saying,“he was a great soul endowed with great might. Enmity ends with death. He (Ravana) is as much mine as much he is yours.His last rites must be performed according to prescribed rituals”.There is no instance in Valmiki’s Ramayana which reflects Rama disrespecting, belittling or insulting attitude towards Ravana. Absence any feeling of bitterness, anger and resentment after enduring much
reflects strength of character .Absence of even a single reference of “othering phenomena” from Valmiki’s Ramayana in Pollock’s paper except irrelevant mention of polygyny of Ravana echoes his (Pollock’s) preconceived notion of “othering.”

Taking this concept of “othering”the enemy further Pollock says (1993:.283),

“Ramayana, with its demonizing imaginary, provides as does no other Indian text, a conceptual instrument for utter dichotomization of the enemy.The argument he presents in favour of his statement is (1993:264): Ramayana came alive in the realm of public political discourse in western and central India in 11th to 14th centuries in a dramatic and unparalled way. He believes tha ttext offers two unique interlinked instruments –whereby on one hand, a divine political order can be conceptualized, narrated, and historically grounded and on other hand, a fully “demonized other” can be categorized, counter posed, and condemned. The makers of elite culture of medieval South Asia (he doesn’t clarify who these makers are)chose these two instruments of divinization and demonization at this historical moment because of enabling condition of the appearance of others.The others (Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khaljis and Arabs) who whether, in fact, they presented an unprecedented unassimilbility or could opportunistically be presented as such –were especially vulnerable to the demonising formulation the Ramayana made unavailable.

This is, now, a really serious charge, and needs to be critically examined in detail and in depth.

Arabs, Ghaznavids, Ghurids and Khaljis were not the only invaders of India. Prior to Arab conquest of Sindh in 725 CE, India has been subjected to multiple invasions. But the early invasions were essentially different from latter invasions commencing with Arabs. Earliest incursion of foreign power may be traced to Darius of Achaemanian dynasty in 520 BCE, followed by Zerxes in 465 BCE. 326 BCE heralded the arrival of Alexander and his conquest of Asvakas and other hilly tribes of Afghanistan, Punjab and Sindh. While some like kings Ambi of Takshashila offered unconditional surrender, King Porus (Pururavas) chose to fight for his motherland. Then came Selecus (273 BCE), Demetrius (190 BCE), Menander (180-160 BCE), Sakas, Parthians, Yu Chi tribe, Pushyamitras and Huns (Majumdar, 1952, 119-121,Phalaksha,2008, 141-143, 217-219)These invaders did not infringe upon India without any resistance from home landers. The rulers of that period gave them a stiff opposition. Why did these rulers not use any Ramayana theme in their political discourses, as we know that even during this period Ramayana was essential part of Indian political and cultural scenario? Or if one considers Pollock’s hypothesis that medieval rulers used Ramayana themes in casting the outsiders/invaders as others, demonising them, rakshasization of the enemies the question then arises is, why?

It is normal human psychology to protect what one perceives to be valuable.When outsiders arrive at doors of homeland, fight and flight are two options. While some like king Ambi of Takshashila presented unconditional surrender, King Porus (Pururavas) chose to fight for his motherland. The Asvakas –hilly tribes offered stiff resistance and when their chief fell fighting, his queen led the fight.On his back at confluence of Jhelum and Chenab he faced confederacy of Malavas and Kshudrakas and another tribe Arjunayanas. Alexander (Majumdar, 1952, 97-102, Phalaksha,2008, 143-149)left a tale of massacre and death behind him but his abrupt withdrawal that[4] cut short his invasion to form lasting impressions. Ablest general of Alexander, Selecus cast his eyes on India, but unlike earlier, Punjab was no longer parcelled out among petty chieftains but a part of well organised mighty empire, at the head of which stood a great military genius Chandragupta Maurya and a far sighted politician Chanakya[5].Next came the Greek king Menander (Majumdar,1952, 119-120, Phalaksha, 2008,217-218)who ruled land from Gandhar to Mathura with Sialkot as his capital. His kingdom was a refuge for Buddhist monks and he himself became disciple of Nagsena a Buddhist preacher. The Sakas, Parthians Yu-chi tribes and Scythians who entered India during various periods became so Indianised that it became almost impossible to identify their origins or separate them from the indigenous. They adapted Indian culture and contributed to the same.[6]

Then came the Arabs who had imbibed along with a new religion, a war like spirit bordering on fanaticism. The Arabs Islamised in the 7thcentury, within a short period conquered Africa, Spain, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. After initial defeat, the Arabs under leadership of Mohammed Ibn Qasim, and sanctioned by the Caliph, scored their first victory against King Dahar of Sindh and set their rule in Sindh in 712 AD. Their expansion beyond Sindh was checked by Lalitaditya of Kashmir, Nagbhatta of Avanti (Gurjara-Pratihara king) in Malwa and viceroy of Chalukya king of Badami in south. The Arabs were not good administrators or rulers. Under their sway, administration was divided into many divisions, each under control of Arab official. One of his main duties was to enlist men to army. Jijiya (tax) was imposed on Kafirs (non-Muslims). Those Kafirs who did not render military service had to pay tax. Those who could not pay had to convert to Islam. The laws implemented were highly discriminating. If a non-converted was found guilty of theft, his whole family was burnt alive. (Majumdar, 1952, 264-267, Phalaksha,2008, 320,343-349)

This was something India had not encountered before. India has been bearer of numerous internal hostilities, kings waging wars on each other for kingdoms. But common man remained unaffected to a large extent. Off course wars brings disruption, but this forceful imposition of faith and profession was something new to Indian culture and sowed seeds of resentment in their minds. It was much worse during Mahmud Ghazni’s (son of Turkic slave Sabuktin) invasions subsequent to his ascension to throne of Ghazni in 997 CE. Sheldon’s narration of Mahmud’s raids nowhere does justice to the devastation rendered by Mahmud. Year after year he repeated marauding incursions into India leaving a tale of ruined cities. His last plundering raid of Somnath in 1026 is horrific and unparalleled in history. More than 50,000 common men women and children lost their lives in single raid. Those who survived the physical assault witnessed smashing of the huge Shivlinga. Out of the four pieces of broken icon, two were used as mosque step and royal court at Ghazni and two were sent to Mecca and Medina. (Majumdar ,1952 305-311, Phalaksha,2008, 321,349-353,Rizvi,14,15)What was left in midway due to Mahmud Ghazni’s death was completed Muhammad Ghori.After defeating Prithviraj Chauhan III of Chahamana dynasty in battle of Tarrain in 1192, his commander Qutubuddin Aybak took possession of Ajmer, Delhi. In 1194 Jaychandra Gahadavala lost Kanauj and Banaras to the Ghurids and within 10 years of battle of Tarrain whole of North India, Western Bengal, northern Bihar, Malwa and Gujarat passed to them. (Majumdar,1952, 343-350, Phalaksha,2008, 353-357, Rizvi,1987,18-24)).These were not just wars or battles for territories, but cities were plundered, temples razed to ground, common people butchered, gold and other jewels taken away as booties and soldiers and war animals captured. Under the Mongol pressure, these Turkish warrior bands were pushed from central Asia into fertile and relatively less resistant lands of India. They had no choice because their way back to their central Asian homelands was blocked by Mongol expansion (Stein,1998,136-137).Both Mahmud Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori were in need of plunder from India to maintain slave armies and to attract the wandering bands of Islamised mercenaries to their domain. (Rizvi,22) The same trend was continued by Bhaktiyar Khalji who conquered Lakshmana Sena of Bengal in late 12th century CEand slaughtered Buddhist monks and common men alike and captured a huge wealth in the said raid (Majumdar,1952,320-321,350,Rizvi,1987,21). In reign of Alauddin Khalji (1295-1316 CE) half crop produced from arable land and fixed tax on all animals reared by pastoralists was imposed along with sumptuary restrictions on clothing. He established a system of forced procurement of food grains for Delhi and other garrison centres. All grains collected as taxes were stored in state granaries so that armies didn’t face shortage of food. In the subsequent Muhammad Tughlaq’s rule the Muslim military officials appointed for collection of taxes who were granted group of villages became politically and financially independent. These Muslim rural elite though far away from Delhi Sultanate failed to link themselves in any substantial way to local people. The army personnel presence on North Indian country side was terrorizing and plundering to the agrarian population, becoming objects of fear and loathing. (Stein, 1998, 139-142, Rizvi, 1987, 35-55)

Following years saw innumerable conquests of lands and their people; these include the conquest of Ujjain along with the demolition of its Mahakal temple in 1236 by Iltumish (Rizvi, 1987,27), the founder of slave dynasty of Delhi, similarly Jhansi temple was destroyed in 1290 and Deogiri of Deccan (ruled by Ramchandra Yadav) was annexed in 1291 by Alauddin Khalji (Rizvi, 1987 ,35,36,44), The temple of Somnath that was rebuilt after its destruction in Mahmud’s raid was sacked again by Alauddin in 1299 CE (Rizvi, 1987,37). The examples are numerous and beyond the scope of present paper, but suffice it to say that the same destructive conquests continued on. Babur’s victory over Ibrahim Lodhi in battle of Panipat in 1526 was no different from earlier foreign conquests. 16000 to 40000 Indians were estimated to have been killed and immense quantity of booty along with Delhi and Agra passed into Babur’s hands and Kohinoor diamond from Gwalior rulers to Humayun[7] (Rizvi, 1987,91-97).The coming centuries saw emergence of independent Sultanates like Bahamani kingdom, Sultan dynasties fighting each other for different territories of India and laying claim to war spoils, brothers[8] and sons[9] of same dynasty competing for Delhi throne. In all this ambitious competition for supremacy over India, who suffered the most was the common man of India. The Jijiya which was relaxed during time of Akbar was revoked by all other rulers. Enhanced tax structure and compulsion of either military service or change of faith drained people financially, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, especially when Hinduism has always offered freedom of thought, profession[10] and faith.

Pollock describes these Muslim invasions (1993:286)as,

“something new was encountered: a cultural force possessed of an apparently secure identity (or, perhaps, in case of Turkic peoples recently converted to Islam, a particularly assertive identity, largely unassimilating in such crucial areas as linguistic and religious practice.”

However in my firm opinion, the differences were most certainly, more than cultural, linguistic or religious. There was a huge gap in the stages of civilizations of India and invaders of India.As a community the Muslims were still in first stage of civilization, material and territorial. In contrast to this, Indians had far advanced into their journey predominantly into spiritual and philosophical. That doesn’t mean that Indian rulers did not wage wars or know how to defend. But Indian rulers could never match ruthlessness or cruelties of outsiders. Whereas the Muslim invaders mostly ravaged the Hindu temples, the Hindu rulers even after victories respected the wealth and faith of the defeated. One of the famous testimony in this reference is of Vikramaditya II (733-745CE)of Chalukya dynasty who defeated Pallava king Nandivarman II. After entering the city of Kanchi, far from destroying it made rich donations to temples of Kanchi (Majumdar, 1952, 279). Rashtrakuta kings permitted Arabs to build mosque on west coast (Phalaksha,2008, 398); the 9th century. Arab traveller Sulaiman who had visited the court of Amoghvarsha appreciated the religious policy of the Rashtrakutas (Phalaksha, 2008, 398). Similarly Barbosa is full of praise for Krishnadevraya of Vijaynagar who built mosque for his Muslim soldiers (Rizvi, 1987, 87).Whereas there are many such examples of tolerant religious policy of Hindu rulers, very few rulers of foreign origin rise to match them.

From above instances it can be safely inferred that the foreigner invaders or rulers were not “othered” by Indian rulers. They did not need anyone else to “other” them. They made no efforts, either to assimilate or adopt any aspect of indigenous culture or to tolerate it. It was not the Indian society that “othered” them. By their actions alone they proved that they had firm intension of maintaining their separate identity and imposing the same (their identity) on others. Othering and inclusion is a two way process involving different entities. Multi-ethnicity, multi-religious and multicultural nature of India even today, stands witness to the fact that Indian culture has always been tolerant of diversities. However if the incoming societal group is bent on not assimilating the indigenous culture as well as wiping out its identity, there is very little that native culture can do except fight for its preservation.

Indian panorama houses numerous deities; Indra, Varun, Vayu and many others. Why then Rama? Well why not? The personality and charisma of Rama is such that it even a life time is insufficient to correctly interpret him. However, on the other hand quite paradoxically, his qualities appear simple and inspire entire mankind with his truthfulness, loyalty, patriotism and righteousness. Kaikeyi his step mother who sent him on exile gets from him the same respect that his mother commands and so does Shabari, the bhilla ascetic woman. He does not promote fatalism or passive tolerance but a conscious acceptance of situations beyond one’s control and doing one’s best in the given circumstances. He values friendships and loves Guha and Vibhishana equally.

Following verses from Valmiki’s Ramayana (Ayodhyakand) beautifully reflect Rama and Guha relationship


निषादजात्योबलवान्स्थपति:चइतिविश्रुत:II (Sarga 50, verse 33)

 The king of that territory was Guha who was friend of Rama, dear to him (Rama) as his own Self. He was Nishad by jati, a strong man and a well-known ruler of Nishads.


ब्रवीम्य्एपत्अहम्सत्यम्सत्येनएवचतेशपेII (Sarga51, verse4)
Guhasays, none on earth is beloved to me as Rama. I speak truth, and swear to you by truth.

 The above verse reflects mutual love and respect of Rama and Guha. Discoursing the qualities of Rama is beyond scope of current paper but suffice is to say that Rama inspires humanity to be a better self like no other.

Pollock’s says (1993:282)

Ramayana promotes social and political subordination and hierarchy, whereby claims of younger brother become unthinkable.

However in Uttarkand of Valmiki’s Ramayana (Sarga 101) it is shown that Rama’s sons, Luv and Kush get North and south Kosala respectively, Lakshman’s sons Angada and Candraketu get Karupatha, near Mithila, Bharata’s sons Taksha and Pushkala get Takshashila and Puskalavati respectively while Shatrughna’s sons Subahu and Shatrughati get Mathura and Vidisha respectively. The vast empire is judiciously split amongst the brothers than the elder one or anyone inheriting it. This example alone refutes Pollock’s claim of Ramayana promoting hierarchy and political subordination. Rama and Guha’s friendship contradicts Pollock’s assertion that Ramayana promulgates social subordination. Rama’s own declaration of humanness in Valmiki’s Ramayana, repudiates Pollock’s statement (1993:282)

“Valmiki’s solution to the political paradox of epic is the divinised king”.

सोSमंयस्ययतश्चाहंभगवंस्तेद्ब्रवीतुमे II (Yuddhakanda, Sarga 117, verse 10 and 11).

The context is of Sita’s Agnipariksha. All the gods and Brahma Dev tell Rama that he is Supreme Being himself. Rama very humbly folds his hands and says, I am a human being, son of Dasharatha.

Divine origin of kingship was not new to Indian culture.The origin of sovereignty is discussed in Aitreya Brahmana (I.i.14), in relation to Sur and Asur. Now looking at Sur as gods and asur as demons is one way. There are multiple ways of interpreting them. Sur can be understood as people who find happiness and satisfaction within themselves whereas asur try to find the same externally (Dr Bannanjaye Govind Acharya). “It is because we have no king that we have been defeated, so let us elect a king” say the gods in the above Brahmana (Majumdar, 1952, 74). And they so installed Indra as king, among the gods, the most valiant, the most perfect, who carries out best of any work. In these passages, one cannot fail to notice a rational theory of origin of kingship which may be defined as the election by common consent of a person who is regarded as the most suitable for carrying on the business of state in general. Along with this developed the theory of divine origin, “The Lord created a king for the protection of whole creation, taking for that purpose, eternal particles of Indra, Vayu, Yama, Surya, Agni, Varuna, Chandra and Kubera ((Majumdar, 1952, 141-Manusmriti,VII,3,4,8).A beautiful amalgamation of both of these theories is summarized in Kautilya Arthashastra “people suffering from anarchy first elected Manu to be their king and allotted 1/6th of grains grown and 1/10th of merchandise as sovereign dues. Fed by this payment kings took upon themselves the responsibility of maintaining the safety and security of their subjects.” The paramount duty of the king was to protect the people and seek their welfare. Shastras presented well defined code of conduct for Kings. Shweta Yajurveda declares, “As a ruler from this day onwards, judge the strong and the weak impartially and fairly. Strive unceasingly to do well to the people and above all protect the country from all calamities”. Kautilya Arthashastra says (1.19.34), “In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; whatever pleases himself he shall not consider as good but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good.”

Whereas on one hand Manusmriti advocated Kingship of divine origin, the same states (Majumdar, 1952,145), “a king who is voluptuous, partial and deceitful will be destroyed and the very Danda, the symbol of royal authority strikes down the king who swerves from his duty”. Special care was taken to impart sound education, moral training and military schooling to the future king. Arthashastra says, (Majumdar, 1952, 145), “Never shall a wicked and lonely son be installed on the royal throne.” The Samhitas and Brahmanas contain references to the Sabha and Samiti, Mantri and Mantri-Parishad. Satapatha Brahamana refers to Sabha and Samiti (consisting of representatives of people) as twin daughters Prajapati-Creator (Majumdar,1952, 77). So not only the king was supposed to be of Divine origin, due and equal importance was also given to the people. Kautilya considers Raja as one wheel of chariot, the other being praja. In Valmiki’s Ramayana in (Sarga II, AyodhyaKand) on the eve of coronation of Rama, Dasharatha, his father expresses his desire to install Rama as King of Ayodhya. He then asks for his ministers’ opinions who unanimously second his opinion. Dasharatha then asks for their reasons as to Rama’s suitability to ascend throne; as a responsible ruler he doesn’t want his opinions monopolised. The ministers say about Rama,

बुध्याब्रूहस्पतेस्तुल्येवीर्येसाक्शच्छचीपते:II (30)

Equal to moon in making people happy, equal to the earth in quality of forgiveness, Brihaspati in wisdom and Shachi’s husband (Indra) in valor.


धर्मजञ: सत्यसन्धश्चशीलवानसूयक:
क्शान्तंसान्त्वयिताश्लक्श्ह्नरक्रूतञोविजितेन्द्रियII (31)

He is righteousness and patience embodied, true to word; there is no trace of envy. He consoles those in trouble and speaks good words. He has gratitude and his senses are well under control.


व्यसनेषुमनुष्याणांभृशंभवतिदुःखितःII (40)

उत्सवेषुचसर्वेषुपितेपरितुष्यति I
सत्यवादीमहेष्वासोवृध्दसेवीजितेन्द्रियः II (41)


In their (people’s) sorrow he is a willing partaker, in celebrations a joyful participant, upholder of truth, caretaker of the aged, defeater of senses and guardian of people like a father.


पौरानस्वजनवन्नित्यमकुशलंपरिप्रूच्छति II (37)

निखिलेनावुपूर्व्याच्चपितापुत्रानिवौरसान II (38)

After returning from battle he goes to citizens on elephant or chariot and enquires about their well beings as though they were his own kinsmen, like a father does to his sons. He asks about their wives, servants, students and sacred fire.

From above examples it is quite clear that choice of Rama as ascender of throne was decided by his character and not because he was son or elder son.

Now consider the following passage from Kautilya Arthashastra (Rangarajan,1992,38) which suggests the subsequent line of action for the conquering king, “He should follow friends and leaders of people. He should adopt the same mode of life, the same dress, the language, and customs as those of people. He should follow the people in their faith with which they celebrate their national, religious and congregational festival.” It is very clear from where the most celebrated work on Rajadharma derives its inspiration from. From above examples it is quite clear that kingship narrated in Valmiki’s Ramayana is in consonance with the rules of Rajadharma mentioned in various shastras. Kingship was much more than power and position. Throne and power were not always motive as evident from examples of Lavanaprasad and Pushyamitra Sunga. Pushyamitra Sunga (2nd century BCE) who assassinated Brihadratha (Maurya) retained his old title of Senapati (Majumdar,1952,116)and successfully repelled Greek invasion and Lavanaprasad (12th century CE the Vaghela chief remained lifelong loyal feudatory to Bhima II, the Chalukya king (Majumdar,1952, 335-336). He virtually carried on administration of the state in the name of king, from his headquarters at Dholka and successfully repulsed Muslim invasions.

Pollock’s claim that Ravan was othered because his polygyny stands refuted; polygyny was well accepted in society till recent times when it was criminalised in 1955 through Hindu Marriage Act. A tyrant is not accepted in society: be it the king Vena from puranas, Epic king
Ravana, Udayi of Haryanaka dynasty of Magadh (5th century BCE), Mihirgula of white Huns (6th century CE), Lalitapida (Majumdar,1952,354) of Karkota dynasty of Kashmir (9th century CE) or Aurangzeb of Mughal rule (17th century),whether a native or of foreign origins. Neither is a weak ruler acknowledged; Brihadratha of Maurayas or Ramgupta of Guptas belonged to prestigious dynasties but inherited none of their splendour. There is no admiration for Mihirgula (Majumdar, 1952, 243-4,) not because he was a Hun, but because he was a cruel king who enjoyed pushing elephants from hill tops and listen to their pitiful cries. Similarly society finds no honour for Ramagupta who sold his own wife for his safety. Othering a person or group of people is accreditable to their qualities rather than to anything else. From above examples of verses from Ayodhyakand, Sarga II it is evident that Ramayana does not promote hereditary or hierarchical kingship but a king is chosen on basis of suitability, neither does it promulgate social and political subordination,; this is repudiated by judicious division of land amongst the eight heirs of four brothers (Uttarkand).Rama’s act of forgiving Ravana (Yuddhakanda sarga 111) inspite of having endured personal hardship rebuts Pollock’s (1993;282) claim of Ramayana as fundamental text of othering.

[1] There are many works which claim to prove historicity of Ramayana and Rama as historical figure. However following three books have been to found to be accurate and scientific in establishing historicity of Rama and Ramajanmabhumi: 1. Pushkar Bhatnagars’s Dating of the Era of Lord Rama. 2. B. B. Lal’s Rama, his historicity, Mandir and Setu, evidence of Literature, Archaeology and other Sciences. 3. Ayodhya revisited by Kishore Kunal’s (Rd. IPS officer)

[2] The Rigvedic people, Evidence of Archaeology and Literature by B. B. Lal.

[3] Interestingly one of these poems throws light on Laxman’s immense respect towards Sita, their relationship and Laxman’s blemish less character. देवरस्याशुध्दमनसःकुलवधूर्निजककुडचलिखितानी दिवसंकथयतिरामानुलग्नसौमित्रिचितानी I This reflects popularity of Ramayana themes as early as 1st century CE.

[4] Reasons for his withdrawal are disputed. Mutiny of homesick soldiers according to some is main reason.According to some Alexander did not want to face the powerful Nanda Empire at Magadh. (R C Majumdar—Ancient India)

[5] Kautilya’s Arthashastra (Rangarajan,1992,144) attributed to this period in its 6th adhyaya “Indriya-Jaya” i.e.control over senses recommends abandoning of six enemies namely lust, anger, greed, vanity, arrogance and overjoy. Here Kautilya says, a king should not be like Ravana, unwilling under influence of vanity to restore a stranger’s wife or like Duryodhana to part with a portion of his kingdom. This clearly indicates Chanakya (Kautilya)alias Vishnugupta’s familiarity with plot of Ramayana.

[6] Ushavadatta, Saka ruler of western Satrap (119-124AD) was follower of Hinduism. Raudramana (130-153 AD), another Saka ruler was well versed in music, grammar and composed a few works in Sanskrit.

[7] In The wonder that was India:S A A Rizvi (1998,91-97) says, Babur very generously shared his booty with noblemen and soldiers.All Kabul residents and major Muslim towns in Mecca and Medina were beneficiaries. Where did this booty come from? Obviously from the India’s pocket.

[8] Aurangzeb executed his own brothers and other family members (Rizvi,1998,129,130)

[9] Shahjahan favoured one of his sons Dhara. Hostility developed between Aurangzeb and his father. Shahjahan shut the fort gates of corner him, Aurangzeb stopped the supply of Jamuna drinking water to his own father (Rizvi,1998, 129,130).

[10] There were number of schools of thoughts and Indian culture was characterised by freedom to choose any of them. Varna system of Vedic culture was based on attitude of people. Jati was profession of his choice adopted byindividual. Members of same family took to different arts crafts and trades (Rig Veda IX 112). In later years Jati and varna system became hereditary and rigid. However the debauchery of few should not be attributed to entire culture.

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