I am guilty for my long silence. I know I can blame it on my work load, travelling and much more, but all that would be lame. When we are aware of the body of work people like Dr.Raghavan, TNR Sir, M.Goplakrishna Iyer and others have done, writing, working and writing more I hang my head in guilt. However, Bharati said “yamakku tozil kavidai…” I therefore say “yamakku tozil kootu”. I dance before I write the process. But friends, in the last several months I have had so many experiences, each worthy of a blog! I have shared them with friends with whom I have conversed and upon their insistence, I choose for this writing my experiences with Ramayana.
Although, chronologically (in my life) Ramayana has featured much late, it has occupied a prime place. As a child I grew up, like most Indian children with tales and stories of and from Ramayana. We are taught to look up to Rama as God. He is mighty and gracious, strong and kind at the same time. He is ideal and therefore adorns our pooja rooms as an idol ! Being tamil Iyers, in my family Rama was not the prime deity. But as a young child, I watched Ramayana on TV. Strangely, I never learnt any dance composition on Sri Rama for several years (did Sarasama intuitively sense my lack of understanding and connection with Rama?) except for the stray Bhavayami Raghuramam which I learnt musically but never cared to dance to, on stage.
I never paused a second in life to wonder why I had never willingly chosen any composition on Rama. Ofcourse, I did learn and perform the mandatory Pancaratnams (which by the way are very unsuited for dance, according to me). I learnt several Tyagaraja kritis in my paatu class and practiced them steadfastly, but never was I ever moved by any of these songs on the Rama level. To me they were symbols of Tyagaraja’s devotion to Rama, his God and epitome of musical genius.
As a young student of S.V.Venkatachalam sir (principal of Rishi valley school), mentor who taught me vedic chanting and bhajans for over a decade, I learnt several Tulsidas Bhajans. “Tumaka chalata ramachandra bhaajata peenjaniya”, a beautiful composition on baby Rama walking around with his anklets tinkling. As sir explained the song, I was visualizing “kaalalandige gejja….Krishna nee beegane baaro…” of baby, blue krishna walking towards me with his anklets tinkling away, to sing and enjoy Tumaka chalata !
As a young soloist, during the early days of my performances, I have never performed many compositions on Rama. One fine day, my guru was to teach me Yaro ivar yaro, the Arunachala Kavi song. Glancing at Sita, stopping at her sight, Rama, the charmer? I just couldn’t put a face to the name. He was to be Rama, the man who let Sita go. He was the man who ambushed and killed Vali. He was to me a man who waged a war, killing many for a personal vengence (even though Sita is Bhumija, she was one man’s wife). Maybe Sita was better off with Ravana who atleast wanted her bad enough to fight for her. Maybe Rama was no God. How is this itihaasa an ideal for the world? Why is a man exalted when he has deserted his wife who had gone through much? Swarnamalya, the strong feminist had emerged.
To me Rama was the name of a God I use a million times a day as an axiom in adages and an absurdity in sheer desperation, example “aiyo Rama ! or Raaaama chandra murrrthi!!!(sigh)” I didn’t hate him but I wasn’t exactly a fan.
Sometime during the middle of 2012, my students and I were planning our Ranga Mandira’s Anniversary. It was a very special occasion and we wanted to stage a production that would involve all our students. During discussions, all my students unanimously screamed “Akka! the Ramayana!”. I was startled by the roar and conviction in the voices of even my 3 1/2 year old tiny tot. I made weak attempts at alternative suggestions but was promptly shot down with un controllable over enthusiasm. They were bent upon the Ramayana and I had to choreograph.
As a dancer and choreographer, I have always felt the need to comprehend and identify with the protagonist, the principle characters, the theme, the context and construct of any composition or story. To me, that is the first step to searching for the internal source knowledge through which I seek the spiritual. How do I confess to my young students that I have no empathy towards Rama. How do I tell them that Sita was more of a hero in the Ramayana, according to me. How was I to depict Ravana as a villian while I infact admire him for his artistic prowess. How can I reinterpret the Ramayana and infuse my feminist ideas in the minds of young children for whom the epic was a story of good men winning over the evil ones? How am I to not be sacrilegious to The Ramayana and still perform it?
I needed a quick fix devotional trip into Rama’s life. And I needed it now. I was desperate. Even as my entire school was preparing to meet the coming Saturday to start choreography on Bhavayami Raghuramam, I toiled with these uncomfortable personal confrontations. The day arrived. All my students filed in and waited for my instructions. I searched every corner of the room, every nook, every face in front of me, all the paintings and portraits that hang on our walls for some help, I needed to know that I was embarking on a journey (actually leading about 50 people along with me) that made sense to my conscience.
When all eager eyes and faces were reverted towards me, I, in order to gain some time to orient myself, I asked everyone to close their eyes for a while. I called it meditation for creativity.
If only hearts could be heard, everyone in the room would have heard mine. It was screaming. Was I Rama impaired !?!!? Am I an un -devout Rama-atheist? I shut my eyes and called out to Sita. Believe me when I say, I was very melodramatic (drastic situations can call for drastic measures). I called out to her saying ” you are a woman, you are a strong woman. I have never understood your Rama. Did he deserve you? Today, more than ever, I need to know some answers. Please help me. You will be my guide”.
“Sri Rama rama rameti ramerame manorame
sahasra nama tattulyam rama nama varanane”
My bold voice was echoed with 40 other voices. The second and the third time in unison.
Suddenly, the dance hall was filled with silence. quietus. Every child opened her/ his eyes and looked me in the eye. The agarbatti fragrance filled our nostrils. The breeze from the ceiling fans were cooler. Our hearts felt something, a stir. A stranger had walked into the room. He was tall, dark and handsome. He was smiling and as he walked he swayed gently. We felt him. He was a feeling. He was presence. He was a singular thought.
Vaanarootama sahita vaayu suno kararpita
Bhanushata bhasvara bhavya ratnaaguliyam…
as I sang these lines, I had goose bumps. I was visibly in tears, choking. I was stunned. Was I moved for what Rama felt for Sita? What was so touching about their separation while he dumps her again after their union? I was truly puzzled. But my tears were damn real. It was there for everyone to see. Was I crying for Rama or Sita. I checked, and damn again, I was crying for Rama. Was he mortal or God? Did he manifest to show me his power?
Dr.A.K.Sharma, the archaeologist who along with J.P.Joshi, site inspected the excavations at Ayodhya and drew the following conclusions in a long affidavit and a 19 working days long cross examination by the Supreme court says, here are some of his arguments based on archaeological findings
1. Rama’s birth place was Ayodhya. He was raised as a child there and a temple in commemoration of this was built here.
2. Any temple or Rajdhani, according to agamic sastra, if near a river, has to be built on the north eastern direction of it. At Babri-ayodhya site the river flows at 19 degrees North Eastern direction to the site.
3. The walls of the temple but be constructed parallel to the river and here, the base walls that were excavated run parallel to the river.
4. Every mosque must face the direction of Mecca. But here Babri does not. The pillars will always face N in a way that they can offer prayers to the South. Here at babri the pillars are not N facing.
5. No exacavations have found minarets and Vaju tank, which are salient and are mandatory features in a mosque construction.
6. There are remains of “miharab” art found on the mosque walls which may lead archaeologists to believe that this was a site of Islamic worship all along. But, the concept of miharab for Islam was inspired frim hindu art and this has been noted in works like Tarikh-I- Farista (1452 CE, pg 70)
7. There is visibility of green sist pillars. There is no availability of green sist in UP but only in Sikkim.
8. There are so many animal figurines, human figurines on the walls at babri. These are not common sights we see in any mosques.
9. Not a single full brick has been used for the construction of the mosque. The blocks and their measurements match exactly to that of the temple remains that have been unearthed.
10. There were four levels of flooring that were found. Each belonging to a temple.
11. A circular Siva temple towards N. Its called pranal, a Rama temple, a Nandi temple and one more. The last temple was perhaps in 1228 CE.
12. There is the Sita Rasoi (if excavated will unearth more reveling facts), a Buddhist monument on the southern side and more.
Thanks to these archaeologists, the ASI established the following and Justice D.V.Sharma wrote
“the disputed site is the birth place of Lord Rama and is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as the birth place of the Lord Ram as a child. The disputed building was constructed by Babar, the year in uncertain but built against the tenets of Islam, thus cannot have the characters of a mosque”.
Although the ASI has proved that this was infact the Rama janma bhumi and the temple of Ram lala was demolished and built over by Babar, we as Indians and heritage enthusiasts feel equally strongly about a mosque. That’s our heritage and history too and we respect that part of our history as much. When we can’t build, we have no right to demolish, even though Babar had done it.
Now back to Rama. Rama therefore was a human being. He was born and raised as a child at Ayodhya. Tumaku chalatu ramachandra indeed. But my questions about Rama as a stita-pragnya, udharana purusha were unanswered.
If the Ramayana is an epic about human values and ethics, is deserting Urmila acceptable in order for Lakshmana to be a phenomenal brother? I do realize that the Ramayana is an epic that was in a different place at a different time. But as an epic, it must have the ability to transcend time and stay relevant.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati says, Rama is not a mandate of Dharma but its manifestation. If Rama stood as a manifestation of Dharma, then, shouldn’t the basic tenets of righteousness remain unchanged through time? How are we going to appease the questioning minds of our generations? How are we to defend Rama’s manifesto of Dharma at the wake of sending Sita to fire?
Rama was a stita-pragya. He was steadfast in his approach to life. He was doing his best under all trying circumstances to follow this mandate of Dharma. The Ramayana is at the fulcrum of tribal-feudal change. It was a story that brought the two worlds together in both camaraderie and conflict. Rama was a man who stood at the center of this large social operation. His story was not a single man’s anger and revenge towards his wife’s kidnapper. But, it was a war of social power and more importantly a war of personal conflicts, introspectively. Rama is exalted in the eyes of Sita. She was the foster daughter of Valmiki after she was left in the forest. She brought up Lava and Kusha in his hermitage. If Valmiki documented the life of Rama, no doubt, he would have heard much about him from Sita. Therefore, to see Rama as a virtuous man was through her eyes. Sita was a very strong woman. She was pragmatic and saw and focused on the Rama who was at the center of ethical and political operations. Ramayana being at the tribal-feudal fulcrum, even to Sita, Rama’s vision to uphold Dharma of that time, was understandable in many ways. Its harder for us. Very hard for some of us.
But the Ramayana is retold because it is absorbed into several cultures as their own. It has the ability to manifest. and to a large extent,Valmiki has provided for that in his earliest version.
Ramayana is not a story that juxtapositions desire, anger, greed against righteousness, patience etc, told me Dr.Nanditha Krishna. How true, for if we attempt a very plain black and white understanding we may end up like me, rooting for Sitayana. It is a story of man with nature. Man exploring his nature. His psyche and its deepest darkest moments. A stita pragnya wins over that darkness but the traces of his falls are there for all to see. It is human and it ought to be. It is not Lord Rama who wins our hearts its Rama, the human who is gentle, brave, worldly wise, loving, compassionate, stupid, irrational and flattering who is of our interest, He is one amongst us. He is human. He is exalted because his strive for righteousness won him the appreciation of Sita, the one person to whom he was not always dharmic. If we can win over the people we hurt and if they can recall us as righteous and as victims of situations that call for dharma to be manifested, then we are Rama.
I am all for Sitayana, but it seems to me that she wanted Ramayana.
Why else will I shed tears of unknown joy and sorrow for Rama every time I sing
Bhanushata bhasvara bhavya ratnaaguliyam…
Why else will I feel the presence of a tall, dark, handsome, compassionate man whose presence I have never known or been sure of, when I summoned Sita, the Goddess whose voice as a woman I thought I represented. She made me realize that, her voice speaks the words of Rama because that is Dharma manifested for all of mankind, centuries ago, now and for centuries to come.
Bhaagayanaiya nee maayanento, Brahmakainakoni aada taramaa indeed !!!
finally not so hearing- impaired to listen to Ram lala’s gejja 🙂
Ranga Mandira performs Srimad Ramayanam
The Udharana Purusha- Sri Rama