(Article written in 2010)
It was Rosh ha-Shanah or the Jews on that day, 12-13 September – when I visited Jerusalem, the ancient capital city of the State of Israel. It is from there that the Government of Israel functions to this day, although for the outside world Tel Aviv is the capital.
Many Jews resent this. For them Jerusalem is the living testimony of the history and struggles of the Jewish peoples over Millennia. Tel Aviv, according to one scholar, is just a piece of jewellery that Israel wears on its body, whose soul lies in Jerusalem. “America is afraid that if they recognise Jerusalem as our capital, 1 Billion Muslims in the Middle East will stop drinking Coca Cola. It is just the economics”, says he deridingly.
You have to be in Jerusalem to see what Rosh ha-Shanah means to the Jews. It is their new year from the tradition. It is this calendar that Israel officially uses in its functioning. This Rosh ha-Shanah marked the year 5768 in Jewish calendar. The entire country was in a festive mood. Even the public transport – buses, trains – is closed down. A nation proud of its long history!
The Foreign Ministry official who conducted me to several places in the city showed me what they call as ‘the Temple Mount’. What stands there is the famous al-Aqsa Mosque from where Prophet Muhammad was believed to have ascended to heaven to receive Allah’s Commands for humanity. This site is the centre of all those battles that the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians have been waging with each other over the last one Millennium.
There is this world famous ‘Wailing Wall’ just underneath the al-Aqsa Mosque. The official explained to me that where the al-Aqsa Mosque stands today is where the Temple of David built by King Solomon in around 560 BCE – more than 2500 hundred years ago – stood. It was destroyed more than 20 times by various invaders, before it was taken over by the Muslims in the 6th century to build the al-Aqsa Mosque. Beneath the Mosque are the remains of an ancient temple wall, which the Jews regard as part of the Temple of David. Every New Year day, the traditional Jews assemble at the Wall to offer prayers, and many literally wail. Again a nation proud of its history!
I travelled towards the Lebanese border. On the way we were stopped by the sea-side. There stands the long and very old aqueduct – about 11 miles long when built, which was constructed by the Jewish rulers some 2300 years ago. The Israel Government showcases it as a great monument of the ancient history of the Jewish people. Again a nation proud of its history!
As I was returning to my hotel my mobile rang bringing me the information about that infamous affidavit that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had dared to submit before the Supreme Court bench looking into the matter of Setu Samudram Project.
The contrast was too glaring to be missed. Here is a nation that I am visiting – proud of its Millennia old history and heritage; and here is the nation to which I belong – writhing in self-denial and self-hate.
When I met Prof. Samuel Huntington in 2005 in his beautiful villa in Martha’s Vineyard off Boston he made a very interesting argument about his just released book “Who Are We”. America, although a nation with just 500 years of history, must invent a cultural identity for itself, he insisted. This identity can be the product of its history of five centuries plus the Protestant values that it has inherited from its early English and Spanish migrants; but any further delay in creating a core American cultural identity will only end up in breaking up of the great continent, according to him.
He even added that the entire Europe also will sooner than later begin this exercise of ‘getting to its roots’. Any careful observer of the European developments would vouch for this fact that while on one hand efforts are on to bring all the European nations together through the formation of the European Union etc, the raising sentiment of national identity is quite conspicuous on the other hand.
While this is the trend elsewhere all over the world, here we are – a nation in a hurry to negate its past, its history and its heritage. In fact self-flagellation has become the favourite pastime of our intellectuals, leaders and scholars.
How else can we explain the attitude of the Government that goes about proclaiming that Lord Ram was just a myth and Ramayan a cock and bull story? You can deny something only after examining it. This is the fundamental of honest enquiry. Have we done enough research on Ramayana and the description therein? Can the ASI enlighten us as to what sort of research and study have they undertaken to prove the non-existence of Ram and Ramayana?
Dr. S.R Rao, as the head of the ASI had undertaken study of the submerged Dwaraka off the Gujarat coast. Thanks to his research today we know that there exists a city under water which could be the Dwaraka of the Age of Lord Krishna. Even that research has not gone further. The Archaeological Survey should have utilized the opportunity provided by the Sethu Samudram Project controversy to undertake this all-important study of the historicity of Ramayana.
It happened in several other countries. Sri Ashok Malik had pointed out in his article in Pinoeer that even the Illiad and the saga of the Trojan War were dismissed as Homer’s imagination until Heinrich Schliemann conducted 20 years of excavation in the 1870s and 1880s to establish that Achilles and Hector did actually fight to the death outside the gates of Troy.
On the contrary we dismiss Ram and Krishna as mere figments of belief. If that is true, how come these items of mere belief remained in the public memory for so many millennia when similar Hellenic and Roman Godheads like Apollo, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Thor etc have vanished from the public memory?
Dieties depend on worship and the travails of time obscure them. Heroes deified appear unreal but their very historicity ensures their immortality.
Aldous Huxley expressed his doubt that even the historicity of Gandhiji could be put to question by the future generations because of the virtuous life he lived. “Generations to come will find it difficult to believe that such a man walked the earth in flesh and blood”, he wrote.
It is that general mood of self-hate and self-denial that is responsible for our negationist utterances, not the real knowledge about the issue. We tend to become so obtuse as to ask as to which Engineering College did Ram graduate from!
The other day I was on a TV show with the daughter of Karunanidhi, who has been made the Rajya Sabha MP recently. I wanted to know how come the champions of the Dravidian cause hold Ravan, a Brahmin, their idol whereas Ram, a Kshatriya and one who killed Ravana, the Brahmin becomes their persona non grata! Her argument was that Ravan couldn’t be a Brahmin as Brahmins are not entitled to be the rulers according to Manu’s code. She must be ignorant of the Shunga dynasty, Brahmin who ruled for more than a century nearly the whole of India with the valiant Pushyamitra etched in the Indian mind as the greatest resistor of the Shakas and the Huns.
Now, Kannimozhi’s party has prepared a new caste certificate ready for Ravana. Then how come Lord Ram is a myth?
It might interest the DMK to know that their betenoir, the Right-wing Sinhalas are re-discovering themselves through the Hela movement, which lionises Ravana as their greatest king and condemns Ram as aggressor. This movement takes inspiration from the research done by Dr. Arisen Ahubudhu who authored a book called ‘Sakvithi Ravana’. He gave the age of Ravana as 2554 BC – 2517 BC.
However, Ram is never regarded by Hindus merely as a God. He is Maryada Purushottama – Epitome of Virtue. Even a committed Socialist like Ram Manohar Lohia used to pray: “Hey Bharatmata! Ram ke samaan maryadit vyaktitva, Shiv ke samaan vishaalta, Krishna ke samaan unmuktata de”.
For Gandhi Ram was life and death. He espoused the cause of Ram Rajya throughout his life and died with his name on the lips. “To me Ram, described as the Lord of Sita, son of Dasharatha, is the all-powerful essence whose name, inscribed in the heart, removes all suffering – mental, moral and physical.”(M.K.Gandhi, Harijan, 2-6-1946).
Sage Valmiki, who authored Ram’s history, categorically stated that he had seen and talked to Ram. The following three Shlokas from Uttar Kand of the Ramayana stand testimony to that fact:
taam drishtvaa shrutimaayaanti brahmaananugaamineemim
Vaalmeekeh prishthatah Seetam saadhuvaado mahaanbhoot
(Sita,walking behind Valmiki,looked like a goddess.All present hailed her glory)
iyam Daashrathe Seeta suvrata dharmachaarini
apavaadaat parityakta mamaashramsameepatah
(O Dasharath’s son Ram,Sita is righteous and austere in her spiritual quest.You had abandoned her near my hermitage for fear of public outrage and calumny)
prachetaso-aham dashamah putro Raghavnandan
na smaraamyanritam vaakyamimau tu tav putrakau
(I am the tenth son of Pracheta, O Ram! I have never spoken a lie. I truthfully tell you that these two are your sons)(U.96.19)
Ramayana, or for that matter all our scriptures have been written in verse gaining the epithet Kaavya. But Kaavya is not mythology. It is the epic rendering of history. It is true that we Hindus have not maintained proper record of our history in its Western sense. But our Kaavyas and Puranas are our history. It is the duty of the scholars and historians to study their historicity before rejecting them.
It is believed that the first written Ramayana dates back to 4th century. Before that it was only the oral tradition that carried this history for Millennia through generations. Hindus are the practitioners of oral traditions unlike their co-religionists like the Buddhists. Since it is oral tradition verse was chosen in place of hard text. To deny historicity to our scriptures merely because they were in verse is foolishness.
By the same argument, if Ram is a myth what about Sage Valmiki? Is he also a myth? Or he existed but was a liar?
If Ram is a myth and Valmiki is a liar, why do we celebrate Ramlila on every Dusserra day and light countless lamps on Diwali? Why do those very same leaders who want to deny Ram his historicity vie with each other to participate in Ramlilas?
Denial of historicity of Ram is denying the very identity of this nation. That may not do any harm to our religion because as a religion we Hindus are not much bothered about this historicity question. Remove historicity from Jesus’ life or remove Bethlehem and Jerusalem from his history, Christianity will collapse. Remove historicity from Prophet Mohammed, Islam will collapse.
Hindus are not a people driven by history. Hinduism will survive any onslaught. But as a nation we will pay a very heavy price for questioning the existence of Ram, the Imam-e-Hind.