Did Rama exist? by Dr Nanditha Krishna

http://www.newindpress.com/sunday/colItems.asp?ID=SEC20030705031327

 Columns by Nanditha Krishna

Sharing an old column which was published in the Indian Express. Worth reading

Creations

Did Rama exist?

Ayodhya is in the headlines every day. One would have to be an ostrich to avoid the subject. Was there a temple before the mosque? Archaeologists would have to answer that. Was Rama born there? The answer is a matter of belief. Did Ramaexist? Yes, I am quite sure he did. Rama‘s life was a fact. His divinity is a matter of faith.

To doubt the existence of Rama is to doubt all literature. There is no archaeological or epigraphic evidence for either Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed, who are known only from the Bible and Koran respectively. Does it mean they did not exist? If Rama performs miracles such as liberating Ahalya, the Biblical story of Jesus walking on water or the Koranic tale of Mohammed flying to heaven on a horse are equally miraculous. Such stories reinforce divinity, not fact.

The Ramayana starts with Valmiki asking Narada who was the greatest man who ever lived. Narada narrates the story ofRama, king of Ayodhya, in a few terse, factual lines. Valmiki then goes on to elaborate the story in poetry, creating the Ramayana. Creativity distinguishes the epic from Narada’s news report. Rama is not a god in the epic. But we have contemporary examples of people deified in their lifetime, such as the Shirdi and Sathya Sai Babas, who need a Valmiki or Vyasa to immortalise them.

The Ramayana is geographically very correct. Every site on Rama‘s route is still identifiable and has continuing traditions or temples to commemorate Rama‘s visit. Around 1000 BC, no writer had the means to travel around the country inventing a story, fitting it into local folklore and building temples for greater credibility.

In 1975 the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) unearthed fourteen pillar bases of kasauti stone with Hindu motifs near the mosque at Ayodhya; reports of the excavations are available with the ASI. Rama was born in Ayodhya and married in Mithila, now in Nepal. Not far from Mithila is Sitamarhi, where Sita was found in a furrow, still revered as the Janaki kund constructed by her father Janaka. Rama and Sita left Mithila for Ayodhya via Lumbini. In 249 BC, Ashoka erected a pillar in Lumbini with an inscription referring to the visits by both Rama and Buddha to Lumbini. Ashoka was much nearer in time toRama and would be well aware of his facts.

Rama, Lakshmana and Sita left Ayodhya and went to Sringaverapura — modern Sringverpur in Uttar Pradesh — where they crossed the River Ganga. They lived on Chitrakoot hill where Bharata and Shatrughna met them and the brothers performed the last rites for their father. Thereafter, the three wandered through Dandakaranya in Central India, described as a land of Rakshasas, obviously tribes inimical to the brothers’ habitation of their land. Tribals are still found in these forests. The trio reached Nasik, on the River Godavari, which throbs with sites and events of Rama‘s sojourn, such as Tapovan where they lived, Ramkund where Rama and Sita used to bathe, Lakshmankund, Lakshmana’s bathing area, and several caves in the area associated with their lives in the forest.

Rama then moved to Panchavati near Bhadrachalam (AP), where Ravana abducted Sita. The dying Jatayu told them of the abduction, so they left in search of Sita. Kishkinda, near Hampi, where Rama first met Sugriva and Hanuman, is a major Ramayana site, where every rock and river is associated with Rama. Anjanadri, near Hospet, was the birthplace of Hanuman (Anjaneya); Sugriva lived in Rishyamukha on the banks of the Pampa (Tungabhadra); Sabari probably also lived a hermitage there. Rama and the Vanara army left Kishkinda to reach Rameshwaram, where the Vanaras built a bridge to Lanka from Dhanushkodi on Rameshwaram Island to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. While parts of the bridge — known as Adam’s Bridge — are still visible, NASA’s satellite has photographed an underwater man-made bridge of shoals in the Palk Straits, connecting Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar. On his return from Sri Lanka, Rama worshiped Shiva at Rameshwaram, where Sita prepared a Linga out of sand. It is still one of the most sacred sites of Hinduism.

Sri Lanka also has relics of the Ramayana. There are several caves, such as Ravana Ella Falls, where Ravana is believed to have hidden Sita to prevent Rama from finding her. The Sitai Amman Temple at Numara Eliya is situated near the ashokavana where Ravana once kept her prisoner.

The presence of the Vanaras or monkeys, including Hanuman, has made the authenticity of the epic suspect. But this is the most plausible part of the story. The Vanaras were obviously tribes with the monkey totem: after all, the Ramayana belongs to a period when most of India was jungle with tribal forest-dwellers. India still contains several tribes with animal totems. An early issue of the Bellary District (now in Karnataka) Gazetteer gives us the interesting information that the place was inhabited by the Vanara people. The Jaina Ramayana mentions that the banner of the Vanaras was the vanaradhvaja (monkey flag), thereby reinforcing the totemic theory. Similarly, Jatayu would have been the king of the vulture-totem tribe and Jambavan of the bear-totem tribe.

Was Lanka the modern Sri Lanka? One school of thought places Lanka on the Godavari in Central India, citing the limited descriptions of the South in the latter half of the epic. Narada does not mention Panchavati or Rameshwaram, but refers to Kishkinda and Lanka. Living in the north, it is unlikely that Valmiki knew the south. But Valmiki would know the difference between a sea and a river. Lanka, says the author definitively, was across the sea.

All the places visited by Rama still retain memories of his visit, as if it happened yesterday. Time, in India, is relative. Some places have commemorative temples; others commemorate the visit in local folklore. But all agree that Rama was going from or to Ayodhya. Why doubt connections when literature, archaeology and local tradition meet? Why doubt the connection between Adam’s Bridge and Rama, when nobody else in Indian history has claimed its construction? Why doubt that Rama traveled through Dandakaranya or Kishkinda, where local non-Vedic tribes still narrate tales of Rama? Why doubt that he was born in and ruled over Ayodhya?

Major settlements, including temples, were renovated several times: restoration is a 20th century development. When the main image was made of perishable materials, it was replaced by stone. For example, we know that the wooden image of Varadaraja Perumal of Kanchipuram was replaced by a stone image, for the earlier image is still preserved in a water tank. The present architecture belongs to the sixteenth century Vijayanagara style. Yet the temple was known to have existed before the Pallava period (seventh century). This is the story of many sacred sites in India. This happened to several Ramatemples too.

Rama‘s memory lives on because of his extraordinary life and his reign, which was obviously a period of great peace and prosperity, making Ramarajya a reference point. People only remember the very good or the very bad. Leftist historians have chosen to rubbish archaeology, literature and local tradition. So how do we prove that Rama did exist?

Finally, although there is enough evidence that Rama did exist, it still does not justify breaking down a mosque. WouldRama have approved? It makes us as barbaric as Babar and his General Mir Baqi who, says Hafizullah in his Persian document, built the mosque over the Ramjanmasthan.

The author can be contacted at nankrishna@vsnl.com

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My article in Vedanta Kesari December 2016 Special issue

 Please find attached my article titled ‘Indian Culture and Indian Education’ which has just been published in the current issue (December 2016) of The Vedanta Kesari, a monthly journal of the Ramakrishna Math.
In case you wish to read the full issue online, here is the link:
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Celebrating Tyrants, Denigrating Heroes

My column on the controversy surrounding Tipu Jayanti in Karnataka was published on Vijayvaani on 9.11.2016

Let me humbly acknowledge and thank Sri Sandeep Balakrishna ji whose book on Tipu (Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore) was the primary source of information for writing this column.

Please read, share and post feedback at the link below. Thanks.

http://vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4127

Celebrating Tyrants, Denigrating Heroes

9 November 2016

 The divisive legacy of Tipu Sultan has become the centre of a heated political controversy in Karnataka with the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government trying to impose a new ‘Jayanti’ day to the State’s festival calendar by celebrating Tipu’s birthday on November 10. While a historical debate on the legacy of Tipu Sultan would be welcomed by all sections of our democratic society, the idea of spending public money on celebrating a controversial figure like Tipu Sultan, who is perceived to be a religious bigot and tyrant by many communities in Karnataka, only reveals the ulterior political motives of the Siddaramaiah government.”

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Seva is the foundation stone of spirituality – The Vedanta Kesari, December 2014 – Centenary Year Special Edition

Seva is the foundation stone of spirituality

The Vedanta Kesari, December 2014 – Centenary Year Special Edition

– Pramod Kumar

A Life of Purpose

There is a popular Sanskrit Subashitam (proverb) which declares that the very purpose of life is to lead a life of purpose:

Paropakaaram vahanti nadya, paropakaaram duhanti gaaya |

Paropakaaram phalanti vriksha, paropakaaram idam shariram ||

“Just as the rivers flow for the benefit of others, the cows give away milk for the benefit of others, the trees bear fruit for the benefit of others, so is the human body meant for the service of others.”

The Vedic vision of the oneness of life, the Buddha’s message of compassion, Mahavira’s emphasis on ahimsa and Nanak’s emphasis on brotherhood have one underlying principle in common – spiritual knowledge culminates in a vision of life whose practical application is seva and vice versa – seva done with proper attitude leads a human being to zenith of spiritual attainment. Thus, seva bhava has always been one of the central themes of religion and spirituality in India.

 

Surviving vs. Contributing

Vedanta urges every human being to become a contributor and not merely a survivor. Seva or the attitude of giving and serving becomes natural to a society which is not chronically impoverished but well-nourished and economically stable. India till the 16th century was known as ‘Sone ki Chidiya (Golden Bird),’ for it occupied a position of dominance in the world economy – experts on the history of world economics like Angus Maddison point out that India retained the no.1 position in world economy for a long period of 1600 years from the 1st century CE to 16th century – an unprecedented and unmatched feat in the history of humanity!

For a prosperous society whose worldview was rooted in the ideals of Dharma, Karma and Daana, service became an integral part of the everyday cultural life of the Indian people. It is an erroneous notion popularized by colonial historians that Hinduism is other-worldly and therefore did not encourage its followers to serve and contribute.

The householder or grihastha was the economic pillar of Indian society who supported people in all the other phases of life – brahmacharya, vanaprastha and sannyasa. Hence, we find that the dharma shastras exhorted the grihastha to share and to contribute wholeheartedly.

The Brihadarnyaka Upanishad, for example, highlights the value of charity ‘Datta’ for human beings through the following story:

“On one occasion the gods, the human beings and the demons all observed self-restraint, Brahmacharya, Tapasya and austerity for the sake of gaining knowledge from the Creator. Having observed great austerity they went to Brahma, the Creator Himself, and said, “Give us instruction.” Who went? Three groups. One group of the celestials, the gods, denizens of Indra-loka, paradise, who enjoy all sorts of pleasures, second the men of this earth plane, and third the demons, extremely cruel in their nature. To the gods he said, “I give you instruction. Listen! Da.” He said but one word, “Da”. “Do you understand what I say?” “Yes, we understand.” “Very good! So, follow this instruction.” Then he looked to the human beings, “Do you want instruction from me?” “Yes!” “Da,” he said again. “Do you follow what I say?” “Yes, we understand.” “Very good! Now go and follow this instruction.” Then the demons were called and he said “Da” to the demons also, and the demons, like the others said, “Yes, we have understood what it is.” “Go and follow this instruction.” To all the three he told the same thing, but the meaning was taken differently by the different groups. “Da, Da, Da,” he said. That is all he spoke. The celestials, the people in paradise, are supposed to be revelling in pleasures of sense. They are fond of enjoyment. There is no old age there. There is no sweating, no toiling, no hunger, no thirst, no drowsiness and nothing untoward as in this world. It is all pleasure and pleasure, honey flowing everywhere in paradise. They are addicted to too much enjoyment. So the instruction to those people was Da-‘Dāmyata’. In Sanskrit Dāmyata means, restrain yourself. Damyata comes from the word Dam, to restrain. Subdue your senses. Do not go too much in the direction of the enjoyment of the senses. That was ‘Da’ to the celestials. Kama is to be controlled by self-restraint. Human beings are greedy. They want to grab everything. Hoarding is their basic nature. “I want a lot of money”; “I have got a lot of land and property”; “I want to keep it with myself”; “I do not want to give anything to anybody”. This is how they think. So, to them ‘Da’ meant Datta – ‘give in charity’. Do not keep with you more than what you need. Do not take what you have not given. Do not appropriate what does not belong to you. All these are implied in the statement – be charitable. Charitable not only in material giving but also in disposition, in feeling, in understanding and in feeling the feelings of others. So, to the human beings this was the instruction – Datta, give, because they are not prepared to give. They always want to keep. Greed is to be controlled by charity. And to the demons, who are very cruel, who always insult, injure and harm other people ‘Da’ meant Dayadhvam – be merciful to others. The third ‘Da’ means Dayadhvam – be merciful. Do not be cruel and hard-hearted. Demons are hard-hearted people. They eat, swallow, destroy and demolish everything. Anger is to be controlled by mercy.”[1]

The householder was expected to contribute at least one-tenth of his income to charity. This contribution was not merely a suggestion but a compulsory injunction. The well-being of the individual here and in the journey beyond death depended on the quantum of charity made by him / her. The law of Karma applied to giving encouraged the conviction that what one gives in charity in this life comes back as inheritance in the next. Poverty becomes the only inheritance for misers, to teach them the value of caring and sharing.

The grihastha was also enjoined upon to perform the ‘Pancha Maha Yajnas’ (Five Great Sacrifices) – Deva Yajna, Rishi Yajna, Pitru Yajna, Manushya Yajna and Bhuta Yajna. Manushya Yajna and Bhuta Yajna laid out the individual’s responsibility to serve fellow human beings and all other beings in the plant and animal kingdom. The practice of setting aside food for unexpected travellers or guests and sharing a portion of the food with cows, crows, dogs and other animals became a household custom.

The Downfall – from Seva to Selfishness

However, the picture that the average Indian and the great Indian middle class presents today is one of rank selfishness which manifests in public life through symptoms like corruption, a sickening indifference and apathy to the plight of the poor and downtrodden and the ‘mera kya mujhe kya’ (what will I get if I do this?) or ‘chalta hai’ (let it be) attitudes which have come to define us a people today.

What led to this degeneration of the Indian character from seva to selfishness? It is important to understand the root cause of this change as it will enable us to bring in correction and revive the old ideal of seva in the everyday life of our people.

There are two causes which seem to have warped the Indian spirit of giving and sharing – (1) prolonged slavery and poverty imposed by the harsh circumstances caused by foreign invasions and colonialism and (2) a materialistic education system that produces only selfish survivors instead of productive contributors to the society

This is not the right place to recount the economic atrocities under British rule which led to genocides like the Great Bengal Famine. But it is important to understand that at least some of the selfishness and cut-throat attitude one comes across in the Indian middle classes today is partly a hangover of the crushing poverty caused by colonial rule. The Indian people never accepted poverty as their fate. But in their eagerness to regain their economic status they have perhaps lost sight of the instruction of ‘Datta’

The educational policies which India adopted after Independence were completely divorced from the ideals of dharma and seva. Secularism devoid of dharma and a materialistic education that excelled in producing degree-holders devoid of life enriching skills have only helped in corrupting our inborn commitment to share and serve.

 

Swami Vivekananda and the revival of the Indian Ideals

Swami Vivekananda was one of the pioneering visionaries of modern India who revived the ideals of seva and tyaga and reintegrated them into the institution of sannyasa which had otherwise become fossilised with the world rejecting attitude of the ascetics who sought their own moksha and turned a blind eye to the suffering of their countrymen.

Swami Vivekananda’s Vedantic vision of charity stands out in dazzling brilliance in the most inspiring lecture he delivered at Rameswaram:

“This is the gist of all worship — to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, or creed, or race, or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.

A rich man had a garden and two gardeners. One of these gardeners was very lazy and did not work; but when the owner came to the garden, the lazy man would get up and fold his arms and say, “How beautiful is the face of my master”, and dance before him. The other gardener would not talk much, but would work hard, and produce all sorts of fruits and vegetables which he would carry on his head to his master who lived a long way off. Of these two gardeners, which would be the more beloved of his master? Shiva is that master, and this world is His garden, and there are two sorts of gardeners here; the one who is lazy, hypocritical, and does nothing, only talking about Shiva’s beautiful eyes and nose and other features; and the other, who is taking care of Shiva’s children, all those that are poor and weak, all animals, and all His creation. Which of these would be the more beloved of Shiva? Certainly he that serves His children. He who wants to serve the father must serve the children first. He who wants to serve Shiva must serve His children — must serve all creatures in this world first. It is said in the Shastra that those who serve the servants of God are His greatest servants. So you will bear this in mind.

Let me tell you again that you must be pure and help anyone who comes to you, as much as lies in your power. And this is good Karma. By the power of this, the heart becomes pure (Chitta-shuddhi), and then Shiva who is residing in every one will become manifest. He is always in the heart of every one. If there is dirt and dust on a mirror, we cannot see our image. So ignorance and wickedness are the dirt and dust that are on the mirror of our hearts. Selfishness is the chief sin, thinking of ourselves first. He who thinks, “I will eat first, I will have more money than others, and I will possess everything”, he who thinks, “I will get to heaven before others I will get Mukti before others” is the selfish man. The unselfish man says, “I will be last, I do not care to go to heaven, I will even go to hell if by doing so I can help my brothers.” This unselfishness is the test of religion. He who has more of this unselfishness is more spiritual and nearer to Shiva. Whether he is learned or ignorant, he is nearer to Shiva than anybody else, whether he knows it or not. And if a man is selfish, even though he has visited all the temples, seen all the places of pilgrimage, and painted himself like a leopard, he is still further off from Shiva.” [2]

In these few words, Swamiji has condensed the essence of Vedanta and spirituality and given us all a manual to live by. Shiva Bhave Jiva Seva and Daridra Narayana are the new taraka mantras which have the potential of liberating Indians from the shackles of demeaning selfishness which have bound ourselves with.

It is heartening to see that Swamiji’s fiery message of seva and tyaga is reaching out to more and more youth across the country, inspiring them to do great deeds of service. A Babar Ali who set up a school for the poor kids of Bengal and became the youngest school principal of the world or Dr. Hanumappa Sudarshan who left behind his medical practice to work with the tribal communities in Karnataka or R. Balasubramaniam who launched the Vivekananda Youth Movement – they are all living examples of the ideals of seva and tyaga that Swami Vivekananda placed before the Indian youth.

India is eagerly waiting for their numbers to grow, for those “… hundred thousand men and women, fired with the zeal of holiness, fortified with eternal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preaching the gospel of salvation, the gospel of help, the gospel of social raising-up, the gospel of equality.”

[1] The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by Swami Krishnananda, Chapter V, http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/brdup/brhad_V-01.html

[2] Address at the Rameswaram temple on real worship, Lectures from Colombo to Almora, http://www.vivekananda.net/BooksBySwami/LecturesColomboAlmora/4.html

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My column on Smriti Irani posted on Vijayvaani.com

 

HRD Minister and the noise about a formal degree

by M Pramod Kumar

 

Smriti Irani has much to cheer about as she is not an emaciated victim of the Indian education system. A lady who managed to scare the M Phil pass from Trinity College, Cambridge, UK (or so we are told), and reduced his victory margin drastically in barely a month in Amethi, is definitely capable of emerging as a game-changing HRD Minister. She may yet plug the gap that produces educated clerks while entrepreneurs find their own way by exiting the educational mainstream.  

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My column on Vijayvaani – “Congress: Party without differences”

Congress: Party without differences

M Pramod Kumar

9 June 2014

http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=3227

 

Conspiracy, secrecy, slavish obedience to the dynasty and intolerance towards all dissidents characterizes theCongress leadership today. No wonder that there is no difference of opinion whatsoever within the Congressparty as far as the leadership abilities of the dynasty is concerned, despite its worst electoral defeat. Thus, theCongress can now proudly proclaim that it is a party without differences, in contrast to the BJP – the party with a difference, where even a ‘chai bechne wala’ can become Prime Minister!

 

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My column on Vijayvaani about the Shirdi Sai Baba controversy and Swami Swarupananda

Swami Swarupanand is an embarrassment to acharya parampara

by M Pramod Kumar on 26 Jul 2014      

http://vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=3278

 

“Swami Swaroopanand’s divisive agenda must be exposed and refuted decisively. If Hindu society succumbs to such bullying, we will soon be on the road to irreversible decline and disintegration.”

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