In Ayodhya, Dasaratha’s wives gorged on idli-dosa

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: The late A.K. Ramanujan is arguably one of the best-known Indian writers worldwide. Ramanujan, who taught at the University of Chicago for decades, introduced India’s oral folktales to the West through his scholarly and fascinating writings and translations.

The Mysore-born Ramanujan died 15 years ago in the United States but he is now making news in Delhi, no thanks to our ill-informed and self-proclaimed custodians of Hinduism and Hindu mythology: the outfits of the RSS like ABVP and VHP. Ramanujan’s essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas—Five Examples And Three Thoughts On Translation,” is embroiled in an ugly controversy created by the members of the saffron brigade.

In their protest, the lathi-wielding gang reveal that they don’t even know the basic difference between Hinduism and other religions.

Hinduism, which is described as a way of life and not a religion in the strictest sense, is highly pluralistic in nature. It allows greater freedom of expression than other religions, and the right to question the very religion, rituals and beliefs. In my view, that is what makes Hinduism the most tolerant and unique religion.

The ABVP activists who never try to understand these basic strengths of their religion, and are ignorant of India’s diverse culture and languages, are trying to trash Three Hundred Ramayanas as the work of a pseudo-secularist, intended to hurt the sentiments of Hindus.

***

Indians have been reading, writing and listening to the Ramayana for at least 2,000 years now. Most of our Ramayanas are in oral form, preserved and popularised by tribals and illiterate villagers across the length and breadth.

Valmiki‘s Ramayana isn’t the only Ramayana that we have. There is nothing called authentic mythology. Ancient Dravidian languages like Tamil and Kannada have Ramayanas by ancient poets that are thousands of years old. Kamba Ramayana in Tamil and Pampa Ramayana in Kannada treat the epic in entirely different styles. The story may be the same, but their interpretation is different.

The Department of History of Delhi University, which is facing the ire of so-called ‘Ram bhakts‘ clarifies its decision to teach Ramanujan’s work in the following statement:

“The sole purpose of this course is to create an awareness and understanding of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of ancient India among students, and to acquaint them with original sources. Apart from the reading mentioned in the letter, the course includes readings on Kalidasa‘s poetry, Jataka stories, ancient Tamil poets and poetry, ancient iconography, and the modern history of ancient artifacts.

“The essay is part of a unit titled ‘The Ramayana and Mahabharata —stories, characters, versions.’ It is accompanied by an excerpt from Iravati Karve‘s book, Yuganta: The end of an epoch. Supplementary readings include the Introduction of Robert P. Goldman‘s The Ramayana of Valmiki: an epic of ancient India (the most recent and most authoritative English translation of the epic), which gives a detailed, scholarly introduction to the Valmiki Ramayana.

“The late A. K. Ramanujan (recipient of several national & international honours, including the Padmasri) was a widely acclaimed scholar with impeccable academic credentials. His expertise in a range of languages including English, Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada was perhaps without parallel. His credentials as a scholar, writer, and teacher with extensive knowledge of ancient Indian literary traditions are incontestable.

“It is sad to see his name and work being subjected so such ill-informed controversy. In the article in question, he illustrates and analyses the great dynamism and variety in what he describes as ‘tellings’ of the story of Rama within India and across the world.”

The Ramayanas in the form of folk stories and songs in different parts of India have a distinct local flavour.

Indian folklore believes in anthropomorphism. They bring gods and human beings closer by imagining to behave them just like us. The gods of many ancient societies were thoroughly anthropomorphized, both in their form and in their familial and social relationships; for example, as presented in the folk tales and songs which were familiar throughout the ancient India, they get drunk, marry, quarrel, and make up just like we people.

In Assamese folklore, for example, Sita and Surpanaka are good weavers. It is so probably because Assamese women are traditionally good at weaving. Telugu folk songs speak of Kousalya‘s morning sickness and baby Rama’s bath, things that women can relate to.

A Telugu folk song titled, ‘Lakshmana‘s Laugh’, explains how, in order to guard Sita and Rama round the clock, Lakshmana prays to the Goddess of Sleep that he be relieved of the need to sleep. The Goddess agrees, but on one condition. The moment Lakshmana returns to Ayodhya, he would have to start sleeping again.

When Lakshmana returns to Ayodhya, the Goddess appears before him in the palace hall, and says, “The deal’s over. You start sleeping from tonight.” Lakshmana bursts out laughing. Now, only Lakshmana can see the Goddess. So every person there wonders if Lakshmana is laughing at him for some reason. This is a self-reflective folk song, because each character in the story reflects on himself.

A modern example of self-reflectivity would be a short story by Amba, in which Sita writes her version of the Ramayana, and calls it Sitayanam. Stories have a better appeal when they incorporate local customs and traditions.

Paula Richman, who has done in-depth research on various Ramayanas, says there is a Tamil folk song which is about the various dishes the pregnant wives of Dasaratha crave for. One of them wants murukku, one wants idlis, and another wants dosas!

Idlis in Ayodhya? A deft touch! Women in Tamil Nadu can relate to pregnant women who crave certain dishes.

Writer Pudhumaipithan contemporises Rama in one of his stories where a grandson of Rama is named Bharata. The story is set in the 1900s and Bharata is Gandhi! The allegorical touch is further strengthened when the writer dwells on the imperial powers discovering the culinary delights of India, and each wanting a monopoly over Indian food. Thus the humble dosa becomes expensive!

One night Rama waits for Sita, who is busy cleaning the kitchen. When she finishes, she massages the feet of her mother-in-law. Rama keeps asking her to come up to their room, but Sita continues to massage Kousalya’s feet. When Sita finally goes up, an angry Rama shuts the door, and locks her out. “You have time for others, but not me,” he says angrily. Thus goes a Telugu folk song! These are marital tensions that any couple could face.

According to a tribal folktale in Bastar district of Chhatisgarh, Ravana is an ideal man ‘Maryada Purushottama‘. Because he strictly followed the ethics till his death.

Do these modern retellings matter? “They’re important because, as A.K.Ramanujan said, they show how both folk stories and modern short stories improvise in order to make the epic contemporary,” says Paula Richman.

Why the special interest in the Ramayana?

“Many reasons,” Paula Richman says in an interview to The Hindu. “One of them is the portrayal of Sita as a strong woman who faces difficulties unflinchingly. When Rama banishes her, she brings up her children all by herself. The world’s earliest example of a single parent!”

***

A cultural fascist organisation like the RSS doesn’t believe in pluralism of any kind. It doesn’t allow pluralism or freedom of expression within Hinduism. The essence of Hinduism is free thinking. One can disown all rituals and beliefs of that religion and still remain a Hindu. As far as I know this isn’t possible in any other religion.

This isn’t the first time that the ABVP has taken objections to a Ramayana which isn’t in an ‘ approved ‘ format.

The same ABVP activists assaulted a noted Kannada writer and English professor, the late Prof. Polanki Ramamurthy in mid-1980s in Mysore. They were ‘ incensed ‘ by his audacity of writing his own Ramayana called Seethayana. Time and again they have demonstrated that either entire the Hindu population in India must accept their version of Aryan-centric Hindu mythology and religion, or be ready to face their wrath.

The RSS, which draws its strength from the Aryan thoughts and principles, has always been trying to impose its own version of Sanskritised Ramayana over all Hindus across India. For these self-styled protectors of Hindus, the different versions of epic are seemingly an insult to their religion and belief. After all, it has always been denying the existence of the Dravida race, Dravidian history, and, very importantly, Dravida mythology itself.

They must understand that there are a hundred Indias in one India, and a hundred Ramayanas in one Ramayana. All are equally imporant and equally vibrant.

I am for many Indias in one India—and many Ramayanas woven around one Ramayana.

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38 Responses to “In Ayodhya, Dasaratha’s wives gorged on idli-dosa”

  1. Abhi Says:

    All said and done, why is blame put on RSS? Is RSS = VHP and Bajarangi in media eyes? It’s true that RSS and VHP has a subset in common and RSS is a superset of VHP and Bajarangi. But why should RSS be held responsible for what VHP does?

  2. Poli hudga Says:

    I completely agree with DPSatish that: Hinduism, which is described as a way of life and not a religion in the strictest sense, is highly pluralistic in nature…. I guess this is accepted by all except for the cheddis. Atleast now I feel like appreciating DK shivkumar’s novel proclaimation of “cheddi-udristhini makla”. I would like to bring up the popular demand of cheddis to ban Cow Slaughter in India. Now I am a hindu, I dont eat meat/beaf… but what if tomorrow I want to eat beef? Now, please dont tell me that hindus dont eat beef ….. if you disagree, then you are simply not considering a considerable chunk(outcastes… rather socially prejudiced victims) of people as hindus ….. isnt this a ridiculous demand.

  3. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Lo Poli,

    Indian cows are unique. Their urine has medicinal properties. If not for religious sentiments, their slaughter should be banned for above reason.

  4. Anonymous Coward Says:

    >>It allows greater freedom of expression than other religions, and the right >>to question the very religion, rituals and beliefs. In my view, that is what >>makes Hinduism the most tolerant and unique religion.

    Agreed Hinduism is the most tolerant and unique religion. But its tolerance is both a strength and weakness. In this age of pseudo secularism, tolerance has become a weakness. Because of this tolerance, gods of Hindus are painted nude and the elected PM openly says minorities (read Muslims) have the first right over nation’s resources.

  5. NI Says:

    Positive outcome of this drama would be some wise soul putting the essay online and I could finally get to read that essay! :D

  6. Madhukar M P Says:

    “Time and again they have demonstrated that either entire the Hindu population in India must accept their version of Aryan-centric Hindu mythology and religion, or be ready to face their wrath.”

    You are ready to accept, any folk version of ramayana. Even if, one writes that sita was ravana’s wife , you are more happy to listen to it. Becuase you are hindu and ost pluralist.

    But , then, why don’t you accept ”their version of Aryan-centric Hindu mythology and religion”. You are not ready to say, its another folk version.
    But you say. their verion.

    And one more important thing is that,, there could be 100s of or 1000s of Ramayana versions. But the authentic and only 100% Correct, proper version is Valmiki Ramayana. This is world acccepted Truth. You or me, can not change it.Ffor that matter, even AK Ramanujan. Hence you China’s slavery Fascist communista of JNU, you go n teach any thing. But you can not wipe off Ramayana from Hindu jana manas. And RSS will work for the country, in its faith only. And you people will witness the India’s Parama Vibhava in very few years.

  7. Sir Vibhudi Aatmapudi Says:

    A stupendous article with great scope for guffaws! Please keep them rolling. Thank you.

  8. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Lo coward,

    There are enough and more cows to provide your daily dose of medicine. Slaughter of cows for beef wont effect your urine fix.

  9. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Lo Anonymous Guy,

    Just because there are enough no of cows it is not right to kill an innocent animal.

  10. Doddi Buddi Says:

    DPS

    Now, Tamils will demand their version of Ramayana to be the ‘wariginal one’ and claim that the rest are all bogus:)

    BTW ABVP and even RSS have as much right to protest what they see as the bastardization of Ramayana! There are a lot of good things about AK Ramanujam and he was brilliant no doubt. But he did stretch a few things in many places.

    Next there will MF Hussain’s ‘Raheemayana’ probably based in Western UP where the wrter will claim that Rama became Raheem after visiting the Oil Rich Kingdom and instead of Sita aka Shehnaz, Raheem took 64K wives or so. Then we can build on this ‘Raheemayana’ and say the royalty of the day craved for Hyderabadi Paya and Biriyani.

    DPS mindless creativity and even more mindless poetic license are usually met with more basic forms of protest. Going by your logic almost any epic can be found in folklore each with its own version of thali-meals craving royalty to Bollywood wannabe Hanumans. I would politely request the daughter of our foremost Economist with Truth Sirdar MMS to play fast and loose with the Sikh religious text and others. Then we can all take a deep breath and say , “Mera Bharat Mahan.”

  11. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Good for you coward. You dont kill innocent animals. But dont force others to live like you. Like I wont force you to stop using urine as medicine.

  12. Anonymous Coward Says:

    I am not forcing anyone not to kill animals. I just voiced my opinion. You are free to have your meat fix.

  13. tarlesubba Says:

    more smokes and mirrors. itlaag dhoopa atlaag roopa.

    if DPS sticks to the set of arguments and really goes down to the bottom of the issue and uses this to analyse related issues–intra and inter, then i’ll accept every word of this set of cliches.

    otherwise, this is more of the same dhoopa and roopa that we have been peddled so far.

    we need not be educated on this “tolerance”. just make sure that your theory is in coherance with reality.

  14. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Madhukar M P,

    Well said.

  15. Poli Hudga Says:

    Coward,

    You have exactly voiced my opinion. As you have said, everyone is entitled to enjoy their fixations as long as its moral (subject to their beliefs) & legal. Cheddis act as if they own the religion and forcing other people follow what they want … thats what I hate about them.

  16. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Poli,

    1. I don’t think killing innocent animals to satisfy our taste buds is moral.
    Man is also an animal. So why is killing humans illegal and immoral. Are animals killed because they can’t talk or defend themselves in a court of law?

    2. “Cheddis act as if they own the religion and forcing other people follow what they want ”

    Do you know anything like fatwa issued by the Cheddis banning something or to follow them?
    They have the right to protest and demand a ban on cow slaughter.

  17. Taleharate Says:

    Coward,

    Sure Cheddis have a right to protest and demand a ban on cow slaughter. In fact we should stop slaughter of animals totally. I think the government should enforce it.
    We need to import beef and pork cold cuts from the US, chicken from New Zealand or Australia. That way, meat eaters won’t miss meat and our animals are saved and the Cheddis will have one cause less to fight for. We should also call the Cheddi Ramayana the official Ramayana and categorise all other Ramayanas as unofficial. We should do the same for Mahabharata, Bhagavata and all other mythological works. Hopefully that should make them keep quiet.

  18. Poli Hudga Says:

    Coward,

    This is where pluralism comes into picture, whats moral to you … may not be moral to me …. its the more over, even in Hinduism killing animals (rama hunting the golden deer for sita is very well documented) or eating meat is not considered to be Immoral.

    Cheddis & Fatwas ….

    Dear friend how can you forget a bigot asking for MK’s head ? who are they to attack Valentine revellers ? What business they have in baba buddan giri ? … list is endless ….

  19. KL Says:

    DB,

    Absolutely Brilliant!!!

  20. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Its strange that some cheddi defenders want to have it both ways.

    On the one hand they want to show how intolerant fundamentalist Muslims and Christians are. On the other they dont want any criticism of their own intolerant ways. Which is no different from religious fanatics in Islam or Christianity.

  21. Aatmasakshi Says:

    I found these paragraphs by U.R. Ananthamurthy in an essay. They concern Ramanujan and are very illuminating of the beauty of so many Ramayanas:

    “You know Ramanujan once came to Karnataka and did some research on the Ramayana in Kannada. Not the written Ramayana but the oral Ramayana. He found nearly a thousand oral versions.

    “In one version, Sita is not literate and is a village girl. Rama is also not a literate. They argue and the question is whether she should go to the forest with Rama.

    “Rama argues that you are a princess, your feet are very tender, you should not be going to the forest with me, there are wild animals, etc. etc. But Sita argues that I am your Dharmapatni and you can’t leave me.

    “But Rama is clever and makes another argument. You know in oral epics you can make your own argument, they don’t recite what is given to them. Then Sita says: “In every Ramayana, Sita goes to the forest, so how can you deny it to me?”

  22. dharma Says:

    Nice article. Well done. It would be nice if some intellect wrote similar article about The Bible and The Quron and as to what Mr Christ and Mr Mohamed liked for their dinner and after.

  23. Anonymous Guy Says:

    I saw this fascinating program on TV where they tried to reconstruct how Christ would have looked like in reality.

    They used anthropological evidence and remains of the tribes of people from the area at the point in time and other historical data to come up with a likely semblance.

    The reconstruction was a short middle eastern looking person with rather unruly hair.

    Very different from the white, saintly person with a halo shown in most western representations!

    Dont some religious nutcases go insane if Mohammed’s picture is shown? I dont recall seeing his picture anywhere, though I suspect he wouldnt have looked too different from the reconstruction I saw on TV.

  24. shining light Says:

    dharma

    follow this step by step guide to exorcise the demons in your head.

    1) using your intention connection, open your web browser
    2) type google.com
    3) type “what jesus ate” in the window.

    presto, all your questions will be answered!

    repeat similar procedure for “prophet mohamed”.

    since a.k. ramanujan did not report what rama and sita liked after dinner, i leave it to your sick imagination to do the needful. by seeing ghosts and threats behind every tree and light pole, buffoons like you are trying to turn your religion into a pale copy of the religion you secretly despise. even the gods on whose behalf you are fighting must be feeling scared in the skies above.

  25. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Glowing Prakash,

    I think you have taken a wee bit more than usual libation. Please go and have a lie down, Sir. You will feel clear headed in the morning. And don’t forget to type, “Cure for Hangover for a pseudo intellectual” and presto you will find relief!

  26. Abhi Says:

    Surprised to see my comment (and a few others as well) posted here is appearing IBNLIVE website under the name of Abhishek Pai (Which is certainly not my name)! Plagarism for comments also!

  27. mangalurumanga Says:

    None of the Ramayanas excepting the likes of Polanki’s tend to denigrate, insult the Ramayana Characters to hurt the believers. (Why do you think the people who questioned Polanki about 10 years or so back should go to Delhi now as the report says).
    A version of Ramayana by Beechi of Kannada was a talk of the town in the 60′s. Rama does suspect Laxmana who is behind him and Seetha. Laxmana keeps throwing little pebbles at Seetha and when she turns back he would lift his ‘Lungi” halfway up. By chance a pebble reaches Rama and he curses Laxmana that the ‘Lungi” reamin up in that part of the country. This was taken very lightly every one laughed and forgot about it. Most of the people that time or this time know Ramayana is fiction. That does not mean one should go and insult or convert the believers including their elders the way Mr. Husain does.

  28. Hanuman Says:

    mangalurumanga, do you have any proof to say that Ramayana is fiction?

  29. Randheera Says:

    Ramayana is a beautiful oral tradition and has been written down by people who wanted to make a name for themselve like Valmiki, Pampa, Kamba, Tulsi Das etc.

    In modern times also we see people bringing newer versions of Ramayana. Until this BJP et al started making politics out of Rama there has been a million Ramayanas as retold by Ajjis and Ajjas to their grandchildren and the millions of Ramayana in Jaatres and Street plays.

    One Hindu leader Sampangi Ram Shetty used to render modern Ramayana in the late 70s in Rajajinagar. We as children enjoyed it as it brought us and Rama closer. It was a Ramayana set in our era.

    I have read a lot of AK Ramanujam’s essays and poems and they are so beautiful. He is an Iyengar and Rama matters to him more as he is a Vaishnava. If he did not have any problem in bringing out the truth of the 300 Ramayana, what is the big problem with the ABVB students. As a student you have to study everything under the sky to have a bigger world view not only a bigoted world view that your leaders preach. Even Advanis is an atheist if I am not wrong in what I know of his personal belief.

    Most priests who officiate in these temples also know that the stones they worship or not really gods, otherwise would the priests in these temples accept money right in front of these statues and allow the devotee to stay a little longer in Tirupati??

    Forget god and religion and enjoy Ramayana as a beautiful Indian tradition of a Black Rama marrying an Aryan princess. Well that is enough colour politics in ancient history!

  30. Madhukar M P Says:

    i think, some people cannot digest what they if they don’t critisize Hindus, RSS VHP BJP or anything about hindiusm for that matter….
    but people.. just keep in mind that…
    howmuch ever you shout… RSS will clean up the country and re build it and it will take the country to its supreme glory. thats 100% sure.

  31. rahman Says:

    ur site is excellent, it makes a difference. why not the owners introduce themselves or provide a physical adds so that readers can know that u r real and not fictitious

  32. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Yakkappa rahman? ‘physical adds’ ittkondu yen maadbeku anthaiddhira?

  33. Aryan Says:

    Dear Readers, I want to bring something to ur notice which is very important for the simple reason, Mr. Sathish was a PARASITE of RSS. He took shelter in YADAVA SMRITHI(ABVP office in Bangalore) for years. Now he is preaching n bashing RSS? How ungreatful are u? There is nothing wrong in criticising anyone, but disrespecting the very organisation that sheltered is unacceptable. It shows Sathish’s upbringing.

    Mr Sathish, cross ur heart and declare-Arent u the beneficiary of RSS?

  34. Enlightened One Says:

    Guys,

    When you talk about vegetarianism.. ppl always say that killing animals is sin.. blah blah… but I want to ask you a question:
    Do you know that if you pluck the potato plant (or othere underground vegetables & edible stem vegetables) it will ‘die’ on the fly?
    Actually ancient ppl was not aware of the fact that plants are living beings.. so they wrote that killing animals is a sin.. thats it.. all blufffffff…

  35. Abhishek Says:

    It’s wrong to bash RSS for the matter, to case is filed by some individual, a historian. Anyways all the things people are linking with it, are the job of ABVP, VHP and the MNS, and Sena.

    As far the text is concerned, you can read it from this blog by Ashok Banker http://ashokbanker.com/2008/05/22/three-hundred-ramayanas-five-examples-and-three-thoughts-on-translation-by-a-k-ramanujan/

    The “blasphemous” part for which the petition is filed seems to be coming from Valmiki’s Ramayan only.

    I think the best thing in our religion what I am really proud of is the freedom, we should enjoy it. Like Voltaire says “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”. So no need to take any sides. But one must ignore and discourage any individual or social or political group trying to take any gains out of the issue.

  36. Harish Says:

    “Nice article. Well done. It would be nice if some intellect wrote similar article about The Bible and The Quron and as to what Mr Christ and Mr Mohamed liked for their dinner and after.”

    The secularist wont write such things because they are intolerant religions and so they can beat up people who bring out alternate versions of Quran or Bible. But Hinduism is a tolerant religion, so you can write blasphemous things about the hindu scripture and nobody is supposed to get angry and beat people up as we have to be tolerant.

    Essentially, secularists accept the right of muslims to indulge in violence at the slightest provocation, because their religion is semetic and intolerant, but hindus don’t even have the right to indulge in the smallest amount of violence, because their religion is tolerant.

    Essentially secularism is all about giving carte blance to muslims when it comes to the right to indulge in violence while denying the hindu the right to even get angry.

  37. Jishnu Says:

    DPS should have restricted his arguments to the AKR’s article itself, rather than promoting his mundane anti-Hindutva agenda.
    It’s so obvious that Ramayana happened at least 7000 years ago and the epic is passed on across generations, majority of which were illiterate. In the original article, AKR should have given some due respect to these facts and instead could have constructively argued about the similarities in different versions of oral Ramayana that exist despite of differences in languages/dialects across the peninsula.

    I am really glad, the DU is scrapping this blasphemous article from its text. In any case, those leftists can always go and read this article and are free to make any sense out of it!

    Anil Bal had already done an in depth analysis of AKR’s article:
    http://anilbali49.sulekha.com/blog/post/2009/03/three-hundred-ramayanas-legal-notice-to-oxford-university.htm

  38. soundarya Says:

    http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft3j49n8h7&chunk.id=d0e1254&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e1254&brand=eschol

    find above the ‘Many ramayanas’ essay

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