A grand temple to Lord Ramachandra in his birthplace, Ayodhya, should be cause for celebration and reverence, rather than politics and polemics. The return of Sri Rama to rule the city of his birth after a long vanvaas, banishment, of 14 years. His defeat of the evil Ravana, who had abducted his wife, Sita. And his reign as the righteous ruler. All these are etched into the very soul of India and the fabric of its eternal consciousness, which we call Sanatana Dharma.
Nor is the narrative of this maryada purushottama, embodiment of rectitude, virtuous monarch endowed with all good qualities, praised by humans and Gods, unknown outside India. The Ramayana story, in its hundreds of versions, has influenced the entire region where Indian culture flourished in the days of yore. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Korea, Japan. And in more recent times, because the Tulsi Ramayana was so much a part of the interiorised survival toolkit of the girmitiyas, our diaspora of labour, the legend of King Rama spread to even more distant parts of the world, from Suriname to Fiji.
From the dying syllables of mahatmas like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to the ubiquitous chant that accompanies the already dead on their last journey to the cremation ground and beyond, the name of Rama, some have claimed, is greater than the god-hero himself. The mantra of Sri Rama Jai Rama Jai Jai Rama, credited to Samarth Ramdas, the guru of Shivaji, also links Rama to our struggle for svarajya, freedom from bondage and slavery. When all else fails, we say ‘nirbal ke bal Rama’—Rama is the strength of the weak. Only Rama.
That’s all you need. Rama nama, the name of Rama is the tarak mantra, the surety of safe passage across the treacherous seas of samsara. Rama, thus, is not just a person, real or legendary, but another name for the Supreme Consciousness itself. What better way to return to his capital, Ayodhya, the city of eternal peace, for this great symbol of Indian unity, truth and moral perfection, than through a non-violent, constitutional resolution of the dispute over the shrine commemorating his place of birth? What then of the destruction of the Babri Masjid?
Yes, it was brought down, but it was one mosque as opposed to the thousands upon thousands of temples, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh, ravaged by Islamic conquerors. Have Islamists uttered one word of apology or regret for so much destruction, an entire people, culture, civilisation oppressed and brought almost to extinction? All is justified, still vaunted, by its more extremist proponents. A grand temple to Lord Rama in Ayodhya! An aspiration fulfilled after nearly 500 years of prayers. A movement spearheaded some three decades ago, in independent India, at last coming to fruition. Who would object to it? But such is the contentious nature of our public culture that you will find a headline such as ‘Ram, I will not find you there’, shouting at you. But, then, why should it surprise you at all?
Even if its author is Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a respected and learned liberal champion, known both for his courage and good sense. Of course, he is entitled to his opinion. That’s not the point. The question is, what is the basis for his assertion? So, a closer look is called for. The author says, Ram is enough. No need for Sri as a prefix, let alone ‘Jai’, or victory. ‘Sri’ or ‘Siya’ stands for Rama’s spouse, Shakti, or, more specifically Goddess Lakshmi, since Rama is considered an avatar of Vishnu.
The conjoint address of Sri Rama or Siya Rama thus includes his female aspect, like Radha Krishna or Sambashiva (sah-Amba-Shiva, the Lord with his consort, the Divine Mother), typical of Hindu modes of understanding, in which God is the Shiva-Shakti or Yin-Yang compound of Absolute Reality. As Supreme Spirit, formless and timeless, Rama, of course, is everywhere. So how can he not be found in Ayodhya? The notion is metaphysically and theologically preposterous. As the RSS Sarsanghachalak, Mohan Rao Bhagwat, said in his consecration address, Rama resides not just in Ayodhya, but in our manmandir, the temple of our mind and heart.
What commenced in Ayodhya on August 5 was thus an external manifestation or realisation of the temple to Rama already within. How can we then say that Rama should only remain inside, but never be given a proper habitation he so richly deserves in his own city? Is the only good Hindu one who externally and compulsorily appears non-Hindu, who always passively and helplessly complies to the destruction of the symbols of his faith, never having the courage to defend it?
Nobody has waged war in Rama’s name. Using specious constitutional arguments to gloss over the terrible history of devastation and violence—nearly a thousand years of war and misrule against the very ethos of the land—is only a sad testimony to our own hypocrisy and denial. Let’s not be such bad losers, dear Le-Lis! The restoration of Lord Rama to his city was effected through judicial means, not street fights or armies of vandals. Come! Ayodhya invites us all to pay homage to the Lord on his triumphant return. Even Mehta, whose version of Rama differs from mine, is most welcome.
Makarand R Paranjape
Director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Views are personal