Ritu  Verma   The  Ramayana  

Ritu  Verma   The  Ramayana

The  epic  “Ramayana”  is  so  naturally  ingrained  in  every  Indian  that  it  is  difficult  to  recollect  the

earliest  memories  of  being  introduced  formally  to  the  story  of  Rama,  the  ideal  ruler,  revered  as

an  incarnation  of  God  on  earth  by  the  Hindus.  India  has  been  known  as  a  land  of  sages  and

saints  since  times  immemorial.  Spirituality  has  been  flowing  like  the  Ganges  throughout  the

country  over  the  centuries.  The  worship  of  deities  like  Rama  and  Hanuman  is  a  difficult  concept

for  people  from  other  faiths.  Hindus  have  been  called  “kafirs”  or  non-­‐believers  sometimes  for

this  reason.

 

My  earliest  memories  of  the  “Ramayana”  include  watching  “Ramlila”,  a  play  that  is  dramatized

everyday  on  large  play  grounds  or  theatres  for  the  public  between  Dusshehra  and  Diwali,  the

main  festivals  of  the  Hindus.  Tall  effigies  of  Ravana,  with  many  faces,  are  placed  at  strategic

points  on  roads  and  streets.  These  effigies  are  burnt  on  the  last  day  of  Dusshehra  in

remembrance  of  Ravana  being  killed  by  Rama  after  a  long  battle.  Dusshehra  signifies  the  victory

of  good  over  evil  and  culminates  into  Diwali,  a  celebration  at  the  end  of  a  long  period  of  Rama’s

exile  and  return  to  Ayodhya.  People  wear  new  clothes,  prepare  and  exchange  sweets  with

friends  and  neighbors,  buy  new  silver  coins  and  utensils  and  families  offer  special  prayers  in  the

evening  at  home.  The  houses  are  decorated  with  lamps  that  are  lit  with  butter  or  oil.  Later,

adults  and  children  come  out  of  their  houses  and  burn  firecrackers  until  mid-­‐night.  There  is  an

array  of  lights  in  the  sky  and  the  noise  of  crackers  fills  up  the  air.  No  one  can  miss  the  story  of

Rama  in  the  midst  of  this  fanfare.

 

 

 

I  also  remember  watching  a  film  named  “Ramayana”  with  my  friends  in  childhood.  It  showed

Rama’s  sons  Luv  and  Kush  growing  up  with  their  mother,  Sita  in  exile.  In  the  original  story,  Sita

was  found  underground  as  a  newborn  baby  by  Janak.  In  this  movie,  Sita  was  taken  underground

by  mother  earth  at  the  end.  It  was  the  first  time  I  saw  a  different  version  of  the  “Ramayana”.  As

a  teenager,  I  studied  verses  written  by  Tulsidas,  a  blind  poet  who  is  known  to  have  written  the

epic.  The  verses  were  written  in  a  dialect  and  style  that  is  difficult  to  understand  for  an  average

Hindi  speaker.  I  found  these  verses  boring  compared  to  those  of  “Surdas”,  who  described  the

antics  of  Krishna,  another  deity  worshipped  by  the  Hindus.  Later,  I  watched  the  story  of

Ramayana  on  television  in  episodes  on  weekends.  The  people  in  villages  and  smaller  towns

watched  it  religiously.  The  residents  in  urban  areas  watched  it  out  of  curiosity,  hoping  to  gain  a

better  understanding  of  their  holy  scripture  written  in  Sanskrit,  an  ancient  language  and  the

realm  of  Indian  priests.

 

My  flirtation  with  the  Ramayana  ended  here  as  I  became  interested  in  other  religions  and  their

teachings.  The  esoteric  practices  of  all  the  faiths  did  not  agree  with  me  and  I  streamlined  into

spirituality.  My  journey  on  the  spiritual  path  changed  my  perspective  in  many  ways.

 

I  started  reading  the  translated  and  abridged  version  of  the  “Ramayana”  by  R.K.  Narayan  out  of

curiosity  since  he  is  a  famous  writer.  My  curiosity  turned  into  admiration  at  his  precision  of

words  and  the  elaborate  narratives  of  certain  scenes.  I  had  never  read,  watched  or  heard  these

narratives  as  depicted  in  this  version.  The  vivid  description  of  Valmiki  visiting  Ayodhya  and

 

 

asking  for  Rama’s  help  to  destroy  the  demons,  Rama  and  Sita  falling  in  love  at  first  sight,  the

people  of  Ayodhya  going  on  a  journey  for  Rama’s  wedding,  the  scenes  and  dialogues  between

Kaikayi  and  Dashratha  are  a  few  examples  that  make  it  difficult  to  comprehend  and  analyze  if

the  verses  of  “Ramayana”  were  written  by  one  of  the  greatest  poets  of  the  century  or  spurred

by  real  events  in  that  period  of  history.

 

Rama  is  a  deep-­‐rooted  concept  of  an  ideal  being  and  will  remain  prevalent  for  many  centuries

in  Hindu  tradition.  However,  modernization  and  materialism  have  impacted  Hindu  culture  and  a

major  shift  is  seen  in  recent  times.  The  festivals  of  Dusshehra  and  Diwali,  the  idols  and  pictures

of  Rama  have  become  ritualistic  symbols  instead  of  models  of  ethical  conduct.  Women  are

mostly  loyal  to  their  husbands,  like  Sita,  but  men  are  not  Rama  anymore.  There  is  dishonesty

and  widespread  corruption  at  every  level.  While  the  people  in  Ayodhya  flourished  in  wealth  and

happiness,  modern  Indians  have  faced  poverty  and  hardships  due  to  over-­‐population.  This  has

given  rise  to  materialism  and  greed.

 

In  spite  of  these  changes,  people  are  loyal  and  caring.  Families  are  close-­‐knit  and  there  is  a  spirit

of  sacrifice  among  parents  and  children  even  when  they  grow  up.  Brothers  generally  help  each

other  in  times  of  need.  Marriage  is  still  considered  to  be  a  sacred  bond  and  women  are

expected  to  live  in  the  shadow  of  men.  Traces  of  the  “Ramayana”  still  trickle  down  the  spine  of

Indian  culture.

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