There will be a couple of these, as said set of wonderful questions are eleven in total. I’ve also shelved anything else I thought of writing because I might miss out and not complete them. These questions are from Dante at Dialectics, an amazing blogger and a great friend. His posts sometimes bring you closer to reality, sometimes make you question the way things are, and sometimes give you a good laugh because he sounds like a thoroughly frustrated English professor (he does teach language so, close enough!). Thank you, Dante, for re-nominating me and giving me the chance to respond to the questions you wrote.
Since I don’t want to do another nomination post right after my previous one, I’m taking each question as a prompt (a delight to me, who adores explaining my answers). The question I’d like to answer today is: May you teach me something from/about your country/culture?
In my homeland of Kerala, the period from mid-July to mid-August is called Karkkidakam – one of the months in the traditional calendar. In the earlier days of our agrarian society, this month of dark monsoon clouds and prevalent illnesses was bad news. Our ancestors hence devised a detailed plan for us to weather this seasonal storm and stressed upon the importance of looking after our health.
My favorite part of this plan was the Ramayana recital.
Karkkidakam wasn’t just the month of ill humors, but of rejuvenation. Ramayana recitals, among other practices, were seen as a means to spread some positivity in dark times.
For all those who know of my obsession with stories, my love for Ramayana might not come as a surprise.
Ramayana – one of the two most beloved epics of India – is the story of Rama, the crown prince of Ayodhya – a prosperous kingdom.
Widely considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who in Hindu mythology is said to be the one who sustains the universe, Rama is seen as the ideal human being. A man who always put his ideals and values before all else, even himself.
The story in short goes like this:
Rama is soon to be crowned the king of Ayodhya by his aged father – a decision that is well-received for Rama is loved by all. But then on the eve of the coronation, his father, with a heavy heart, has to banish Rama to 14 years of exile in the forest for no fault of his. Rama humbly accepts and along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, both of whom volunteer to go with him, leaves for the forest.
They face many travails in the forest, but their life is mostly peaceful. Towards the end of their period of exile however, the demon king Ravana abducts Sita. The distressed Rama, along with Lakshmana, gathers a force of vanaras (monkey warriors) and move to Lanka, the kingdom of Ravana, from where they rescue Sita and kill Ravana.
When they return, they are received with all fanfare and Rama is crowned king, but rumors about Sita’s purity start to go around and some even openly question her chastity. Rama is faced with a difficult choice – his reputation or his beloved wife who stood steadfast beside him and was fully loyal to him.
He chooses the former and banishes the pregnant Sita to the forest. She finds a new home at the hermitage of a sage (the one who wrote the epic) and gives birth to twin boys – Lava and Kusha, unknown to Rama.
Years later, Rama – along with his retinue of royal ministers – encounter Sita and the boys. However, a potential reunion is ruined when doubts about Sita’s purity resurface. Sita, tired of the world and its double standards, calls upon Mother Earth to take her back home. The earth splits and receives Sita, who happily embraces her death.
Rama takes over the care of the boys, refusing to marry again. When he gets to know that his time on Earth is over, he transfers the kingdom to the able hands of his sons and walks into the river Sarayu, ending his life that would be recited for ages thereafter.
This is the bare-bones version of this colorful, exciting and enchanting tale. Over the ages, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana all came to be worshiped as gods – a devotion that would be politicized in later years.
I hold a neutral stand over the politicization of religious symbols. Rather, I think we need to look into the stories deeper – for they hold deeper truths.
Rama’s life was tragic, to say the least. True, he was consumed by the need to secure his reputation. But he was nevertheless, someone who tried to do the right thing from his view point, and suffered greatly for it.
However, Rama took everything in his stride. He displayed an almost inhuman ability to take the good and bad with equal presence of mind, and it is this characteristic that makes him divine.
This is a prominent theme in many of our stories – a central theme too in the Bhagavad Gita, a text that is dear and holy to Hindu tradition.
And while I’m far from achieving such equanimity, any recollection of Rama’s story inspires me to aspire for such strength. That strength is what I wish for all the people of the world – regardless of cultural barriers – for then, by sheer force of their will, they would be able to weather anything.