As I was reading Ramayanam, a few days back, I could not help notice a very profound statement made by the author in his introduction chapter. He wrote that he read Ramayanam several times – mostly out of choice and sometimes when he had no other choice. No other choice meant that he was forced to read Ramayanam due to some unforeseen circumstances in his life. As he was growing up, he mentions that, he saw his dad read Ramayanam with a towel wrapped around his head. Several times behind the veil of his towel, with his head immersed in an open book of Ramayanam, his dad was found weeping. The beauty of Ramayanam, its profound philosophies, and deep value systems melts anyone into an intense joy; the joy that can only get expressed through a bountiful flow of tears. No wonder Ramayanam has such a powerful influence on its translators, readers, listeners and commentators.
I remember one instance of a speech, in chaste Hindi, by a pandit in Singapore. In the middle of his speech, as he was speaking about Rama, his voice got choked and he was finding it difficult to swallow his tears. There was pin drop silence in the hall. The entire speech was so spontaneous and so full of extemporaneous originality, in beauty and profundity, that we all felt that we were transported into a different world altogether.
Such was the beauty of Sundarakanda recitation by Sri MS Rama Rao as well. I have been listening to Sundarakanda for over 3 decades and even to this day I find it hard to listen to it without putting myself into some very mystifying trance.
The original Ramayanam authored by Valmiki Maharshi has over 1000 translations. There are translations, commentaries and commentaries about commentaries. Those who read them, read them again and again. There are countless dramas, paintings, sculptures, burra kathas, songs in both classical and popular culture, and dance forms choreographed to the stories of Ramayanam. Yet there is a very popular feeling that there is still way too much untapped potential in Ramayanam that is yet to be presented in a form that is not yet presented to the world. In spite of knowing the entire story of Ramayanam, millions of people around our nation were glued to their TVs during the telecast of the Ramayana series on Doordarshan in the late 1980s. The lives of sants like Thyagaraya, Bhadrachala Ramadas and Tulasidas immortalized themselves in singing praises of Sri Rama.
Do we ever wonder what is it that makes Ramayanam offer such an irresistible appeal? There is no definite answer. In fact no one really cares to know why its appeal is so perennial as long as they are able to draw tremendous inspiration from it. Whenever we think of Ramayanam, we only think of its lyrical beauty, metaphorical ingenuity, linguistic brilliance, profound philosophies, inalienable value systems and over and above all a sacred sanctity that we rarely attach to anything else in our lives.
For centuries there has been an unending debate on why Dasaradha would send his beloved son Rama to the forests and disappoint the entire nation, why Rama had to enforce agnipariksha on mother Sita, why such a vastly knowledgeable and bravest of the brave Ravana would kidnap mother Sita after distracting her husband and her brother-in-law Lakshmana, what kind of a man is Lakshamana that he would leave his wife Urmila and accompany his brother Rama to live in the forests, why such an indisputably righteous Rama would kill Vaali from behind the trees, and finally why Hanuman gets to be the only true devotee of Rama who would be around until the end of kaliyuga to enjoy the privilege of being present wherever Rama’s life is celebrated in music and dance forms. There never were easy answers to any of these questions that would satisfy anyone. The one who thinks he knows the answers to these questions cannot stop digging further to find out the real answers.
The answers were not meant to be found. They are meant to be meditated upon. When we compare our responses to our own dilemmas with the actions taken by our role models in Ramayanam, it will be apparent to us that we may have found an answer. Not to be contended with the answer that we get, the universe conspires to present before us a new situation that requires us to revisit our answers! In the end Ramayanam has stood in front of millions of people for generations together as a blemish less mirror that requires us to look at ourselves more closely.
Each of the characters in Ramayanam – Lord Rama, mother Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Bharata, Ravana, Vibishana, Vaali, Sugriva, and scores of others – represent remarkable personalities. Each one of them had to grow through the vicissitudes of life like any other human on earth. In their case, however, they hold a position or power that adds additional encumbrances of following a certain raj dharma and gruha dharma in addition to handling their own personal convictions. They followed their dharma to the best of their abilities, their abilities are nothing short of being extraordinary and cannot be described in uncertain and vague terms. The unifying factor behind each of these characters and how they behaved in most difficult circumstances is none other than Lord Rama. It is perhaps because of this reason that many people find Ramayanam a treasure chest of knowledge on how one should conduct oneself both in most trying circumstances as well as in the best of the times.
When life throws at us tough questions for which there are no answers we sit down to read our sacred literature with the hope of finding satisfactory answers. Sometimes we find an answer and sometimes we have to be contended with soulful solace that we receive from the very fact of reading good literature.
Such powerful influence of our Hindu literature on our lives cannot be taken lightly. It is important that we pass on this treasure to our younger generation in a meaningful and purposeful manner. What our generation, and several generations before us, got benefited from cannot be denied to our future generations. The message from the past and the present is very simple – pass on our literary treasurers forward, help our younger ones to acquire them, preserve them and pass it forward.
All other material treasures will not serve life’s higher purposes.