Friday, 23 October 2015

Why must I worship Ram?

Dussehra just went by, and like every year, this year too the Ravan effigies were burnt with great gusto. I'm a huge fan of festivals and celebrations and I love this time of the year, but every time a Ravan is burnt, I'm left thinking, is the Ramayana really relevant today?

From a feminist point of view, the Ramayana is what's everything that is wrong with our society. If you read it just as a story and not as a religious scripture, you realise how much it reveres the patriarchal system. The telling of this story, generation after generation, is an indicator of how deep this reverence is embedded in our culture.

There are such great flaws with the character of Ram. Firstly, suppose some prince's very unreasonable step mom insists that he be thrown out of the palace and lead an ascetic life. The King stays mum and lets it happen. The prince too, like a spineless git, agrees to such a demand. Not only does he give up the privileges of being a prince, but he's also running away from his responsibilities as a prince. Very convenient huh? Does choosing to lead a life of suffering make one a worthy head of state?

Would such a thing be acceptable for our generation? Should the prince not have tried to reason it out with his parents? Dictatorial roles for parents are no longer the norm. There are disagreements in every family, sure, but happy families sit down and sort it out like adults. Or they fight it out. That's ok sometimes too. Everyone in the family has a say. Even the youngest child. That's what we want to show and teach our children. It's ok to question authority and think for yourself. It's an important skill in life. To be assertive and be able to negotiate calmly. In fact, many Asians lose out to the Westerners because we aren't assertive enough, we do not speak up in the presence of authority and try to be too nice.

Coming back to the Ramayana. Ram, of course, is an extremely skilled warrior and wins his wife back from the clutches of the evil Lankan king. But what does he do after that? On popular demand, he asks his wife Sita to take the Agni Pariksha to test her 'purity'. Even after she passes the test, he abandons her to please everyone. Really?

Firstly, it isn't a woman's fault that she gets kidnapped by someone. Secondly, imagine the trauma. After coming back from captivity a woman is asked to prove her purity! Who does that? Even if a woman does get kidnapped and raped, should her husband's role be that of a protector and healer or must he join the bandwagon in shaming and abandoning his wife?

Look at Ravan on the other hand. He is an extremely learned king with many great skills acquired through many years of 'tapasya'. As a matter of fact, he's portrayed as having ten heads to highlight his brilliance. The main reason he kidnaps Sita is to avenge the insult of his sister Sarupnakha. Now that's a very brash thing to do and I in no way approve of it, but look at the reason. Protecting his sister's honour. How many men are bold enough to do that?

Next, while Sita is in captivity, she's treated with the utmost respect by Ravan. She's well looked after and provided for. Not once does he touch her forcibly. He's waiting for her consent. Which never comes because she loves her husband too much.

Until the very end, this powerful king is invincible, but loses out to Ram only because his own brother betrays him. I almost feel sorry for the guy. Almost.

Doesn't Ravan sound like the better of the two men? His only vice is his arrogance. Why must I favour Ram over Ravan, when Ravan sounds like the kind of man who would stand by you and protect you.

History has always been kinder to the winner. I'm sure if Adolf Hitler had won the war, a 1000 years down the line, there would have been legend and folklore surrounding his greatness.

I do not, for one moment question Ram's morality and integrity. He was after all a committed monogamous man, hugely popular, respectful and nice and a very skilled warrior. I question the relevance of such a character in our time. I haven't read the scriptures myself, so this is probably a very superficial analysis based on the stories I have been told. Maybe we aren't telling the stories right. Isn't it time that someone revisits the scriptures and tells the stories again? Makes Ram more popular and returns his lost glory? So that I see more pro-Ram and not pro-Ravan messages on Dussehra...


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