Feb 16, 2011

Ramayan: Do we Really know it?

Lakshman rekha, the word is so famous in Nepal that it needs no explanation. Just in case, Lakshman rekha is the mythical line drawn by Lakshman around his sister in law Sita to protect her, with express instructions that she should not cross it under any circumstances. Sita ultimately did cross the Lakshman rekha. All of us are familiar with this story. And we would be very surprised if we knew that the Lakshman rekha does not exist in Valmiki Ramayan. Yes, you read right, Lakshamn Rekha does not exist. In the original Valmiki Ramayan, Ravan approaches Sita’s house as a sadhu, and Sita welcomes him as a guest should be. He shamelessly proposes to her. When Sita refuses, he introduces himself. Sita is still not convinced after his braggadocio, and Ravan forcibly abducts her, with no transgression of instructions on Sita’s part.

We don’t know when or how the idea of Lakshman rekha entered Nepali society. Bhanubhakta’s Ramayan, a major source of Ramayan info in Nepal, has no mention of Lakshman rekha, and neither does Tulasidasa’s version popular in North India. Ramananda Sagar’s TV serial, popular all over the Hindu world, does contain a dramatic version of Lakshman rekha, and was a major source of information for many people. But from what I know, the concept of Lakshman rekha existed much before Ramananda Sagar invaded our living rooms. Maybe it has its source in an obscure version of Ramayan, or maybe it was a truly folk invention without a base in literature. Whatever it is, for generations it has been a catch phrase to describe women’s transgressions from their roles ascribed to them in patriarchal societies. It has been used to vilify a blameless Sita, and prove that women, whoever they are, better not act on their foolish impetuous natures. And, you might say, it was not even true.

The “truth” of the story might not be easy to determine in this case, because Ramayan is as much a folktale as a piece of literature. Its later folk additions have given it flavors that have enriched the bare bones sketched by Valmiki. Sometimes these additions have captured our imagination so well that they have come to define our understanding and interpretation of the story, and of social values. The example of Lakshman rekha is an example of this phenomenon. There are many other folk additions to the Valmiki Ramayan that surprise us because we have so long believed them to be original.

For example, there are the floating stones of Ram Setu that serve an important function in the story: that of accentuating Ram’s divinity. Throughout the text, Ram is treated as a brave man and does not do anything godlike. Apart from two long and boring monologues by gods near the end of the story, there are no mentions of his divinity. But we all vaguely “know” that Ram accomplished many magical deeds, the bridge being one of them. However, in the text, all of Rama’s deeds are human. They are brave, daring, and courageous, humanly so and not divine. Their divinity was established and exaggerated by later additions. An example is the famed floating stones that do not exist in the text. Ram Setu does exist, but is built by the gifted architect Nala, and is made of trees, vines and stones that are real and sinking. But a normal, physical bridge is no fun at all, and a man who can make stones float must certainly be a god! So the floating stones stayed, and folk imagination is full of stories that if “Ram” was written on a stone, it would float. There are even photos of floating stones between India and Sri Lanka that people swear on. Whether or not floating stones exist today is not a part of this article, but they definitely were not a part of Ram’s bridge to Lanka.

Among other differences between the folk and text versions of Ramayan is the Swayamvar scene depicted lavishly for several days in the serial. The Swayamvar ceremony does not exist in the Valmiki or Bhanubhakta versions. Highly mythologized character Shabri and her berries are conspicuously absent, and so is the ambrosia in Ravan’s navel, source of his instantly generating heads. In fact, Ram kills Ravan through his perseverance and courage in battle, not through Vibhishan’s knowledge of the secret. Antediluvian compliments like “bull among men” and “lady with thighs like elephant trunks” make us laugh out loud (eww, who wants thighs like that?).The relationships between Ram and Vibhashan, Ram and Sugriv, Ram and Bharat, and even Ram and Ravan, could all do with reassessments. For example, Bharat loves Ram unconditionally, but Ram is suspicious of Bharat’s motives at every step, and twice sends Lakshman to check if Bharat is feeling murderous towards him.

These are issues that enrich our understanding of the text but are not vital in their implication. However, it is important that major issues that define gender roles in our society be identified and reexamined. Lakshman rekha is one of them. There is no cause to cite the nonexistent Lakshman rekha to prove women’s gullibility anymore, for Sita was never guilty of crossing it. Ramayan is definitely admirable as a wonderful piece of literature and a very thrilling story, but there is no reason to continue to worship this story that has come to symbolize all that is wrong about gender roles in our culture.

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46 comments:

arjun said...

i haven't read any ramayana, but like you said, Lakshman rekha must have been invented to let women know of their boundaries. not a bad strategy for the smooth operation of the then society. times are different now, and its easier to criticize the old ways. was little disappointed to find that your article was more about gender role than a literary critique. nevertheless, enjoyed a lot.

nitz said...

I really like the way you compare stuffs and express your thoughts.. :) (Y)

Rachana said...

It is a great piece of writing for me.............

sewa said...

thank you guys for your feedback, i m glad you liked it.
Arjun, I want to make it clear that my intention was to attack gender role strategies hidden inside beliefs. We think beliefs are sacred, or if not, then they are just literature, and hence of not importance socially. But I disagree, I think myths are of immense importance in shaping society. Since I am a woman, I would like to do my share at breaking them down when I can. Thank you for liking the article, I really appreciate your well thoughtful comments :)

barsha said...

I have never read the Ramayanan but enjoy watching it. People do use “symbol” to explain thing and make things more dramatic. Since Television version Ramayan is a commercial project, it contains things people love to watch so it has drama, action and more emotion. In our gender bias world people ( both male and female ) love to watch women being victimized and being negative . That’s the reason balagee tele serials and MTV rodies are super hit.

Bishrut said...

I liked your piece Sewa. Once you told me you were reading different versions of Ramayana. I had read a book by a researcher (I will give the name if you r interested). The book is a kind travelogue and the researcher visits all the places and trails as much possible where Ram and Sita went. For me the Laxman rekha is just symbolic rather than it's physical existance. We still have these rekhas in one form or other. Some rekhas are deleted, some are eroded with time and space and some newer rekhas are being created.

I hope u don't mind my writing. It's just my opinion.

arjun said...

Eve was created for Adam and was told to take care of Adam and help him serve God. You can have up to 4 wives and numerous concubines somewhere in this very world. Krishna had 16,001 (not sure) wives. Billions of people try to live the life of a great man, whose favorite wife was a child at marriage. (est from 6 yrs - 14 yrs of age). Not a pretty picture...
Throughout human history, patriarchal society helped sustain population and thus, our survival. We are a big family now. 6 billion plus. Times are different. Old ways are definitely not the way to roll, but that doesn't mean we stop respecting our heritage. Different versions or not, texts like Ramayana and Mahabharata has survived thousands of years and now it is upon us to hand them to the future generation. People can choose to be atheist, agnostic, or whatever they choose, but may still comprehend the importance of these books. There is way too much injustices and unfair practices happening around the world and fixing these books isn't a part of the solution. What I write today might become obsolete tomorrow, since thats the world we live in- ever changing. It is amazing how these books have survived so long and in doing so impacted millions of lives giving answers to life's persistent and complex questions.

sewa said...

wow arjun, i really like your insight. The systems that you have pointed out did exist, but I am not sure that "old patriarchal system helped sustain population and survival". I rather think that if societies had been equal even then, they still would have survived and life would have been better. Patriarchy and polygamy was never essential, it only survived because it suited those at the pinnacle of power.

I am not advocating fixing old texts, no one can change what someone wrote hundreds of years ago. What I am saying is we should stop worshiping them, and instead regard them as pieces of literature and history.

Once again, I really really appreciate your time and your clear framing of thoughts. Thank you :)

sewa said...

dear bishu, I value your opinion, and yes, I would like the name of the book that you read. Your opinion on Lakshman Rekha is interesting, I agree that even if one s demolished, several others remain. We must keep working at whatever we can. Thank for your comments darling.

Bishrut said...

Sewa the book's name is-- Two weeks in the dust-- From Kathmandu to Kandy by Ann Mustoe

laze said...

Informative article, i had no idea that original ramayana had so less than what being offered in the TV series. But you need to work harder haii, criticism could have been expressed with more beauty. I don't know how to do that, although. :)

sewa said...

Sathi mero criticism ma beauty chhaina bhandine timi?
hehe, anyways, thank you for feedback, im glad you read it :)

govinda said...

A wonderful peace of writing sewa especially your power of critical observation standpoint and the language have invited me to repeat
A truly critical entry into true scholarship

A felt my wound heal up to go through your power of sustained criticism
baa

Richa said...

wow. i love ur blog.
i love the comments too.

sewa said...

thank you richa.
buwa, i m glad you enjoyed it. i find myself enjoying scholarship more and more, expect more in the future :)
bishi ill luk for the book.
barsha, better late that never, i appreciate ur support :)

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

thanks i had discussion with my friends this evening & they are surprised to know that Lakshmana Rekha doesnt exist. I found this blog while searching for some reference apart from Valmiki Ramayanam. I am sharing this with my friends
Jai Sri Ram :)

sewa said...

thanks sai :)

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

and one more thing
i completely disagree with
Bharat loves Ram unconditionally, but Ram is suspicious of Bharat’s motives at every step, and twice sends Lakshman to check if Bharat is feeling murderous towards him

its no where in ramayana

sewa said...

well, those r my findings from my readings, i can give u the verse numbers if u want

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

well
I am referring from valmiki ramayan
Rama loves Bharata more than anythng else
Rama sends Hanuman to see whether Bharata is having willingness to give kingdom or is he liking the kingdom. I guess Valmiki Ramayan is what we need to take reference

sewa said...

well this para is from when ram is returning to ayodhya and asks hanuman to check Bharat's feelings. He wonders if Bharat has become too greedy for power and will refuse to give up the kingdom...

this verse is from the english translation of Valmiki Ramayana that can be found here:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rama/index.htm


On to Avodhyá swiftly go.
There with my love my brother greet,
And all our wondrous tale repeat.
Say that victorious in the strife
I come with Lakshman and my wife,
Then mark with keenest eye each trace
Of joy or grief on Bharat's face.
Be all his gestures closely viewed,
Each change of look and attitude.
Where breathes the man who will not cling
To all that glorifies a king?
Where beats the heart that can resign
An ancient kingdom, nor repine
To lose a land renowned for breeds
Of elephants and warrior steeds?
If, won by custom day by day,
My brother Bharat thirsts for sway,
Still let him rule the nations, still
The throne of old Ikshváku fill.
Go, mark him well: his feelings learn,
And, ere we yet be near return.'

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

these were the exact words from Ramayanam
" “It is also to be observed by you, about the facial expression which Bharata wears, after hearing all this and also all that he intends to do in relation to me. All the occurrences there are to be known. All the gestures of Bharata are to be ascertained through the colour of his face, glances and the speech.”

“Whose mind does not turn round, with a kingdom abundantly rich in all coveted enjoyments, teeming with elephants horses and chariots and which is in herited from one’s father? Having been associated with the kingdom for long, if the illustrious Bharata is longing for it himself, let Bharata rule the entire kingdom in one piece. O Hanuma! Understanding his mind and perception, you ought to return quickly, before we are not gone for a long distance towards Ayodhya.”

"

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

these were the exact words from Ramayanam
" “It is also to be observed by you, about the facial expression which Bharata wears, after hearing all this and also all that he intends to do in relation to me. All the occurrences there are to be known. All the gestures of Bharata are to be ascertained through the colour of his face, glances and the speech.”

“Whose mind does not turn round, with a kingdom abundantly rich in all coveted enjoyments, teeming with elephants horses and chariots and which is in herited from one’s father? Having been associated with the kingdom for long, if the illustrious Bharata is longing for it himself, let Bharata rule the entire kingdom in one piece. O Hanuma! Understanding his mind and perception, you ought to return quickly, before we are not gone for a long distance towards Ayodhya.”

"

Sai Paada Dhooli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sai Paada Dhooli said...

http://www.valmikiramayan.net/yuddha/sarga125/yuddha_125_prose.htm

sewa said...

looks like we ended up giving the same lines, but i guess we have different interpretations.

Why does Ram send a messenger to meet his brother first?
Why does he want Hanuman to minutely check Bharat's expression?
Why so much scrutiny?

According to you, if Ram jsut wanted to check if Bharat wants the kingdom or not, he could have just met Bharat and asked.

But no, Ram's politics is more sophisticated than that. In a shrewd diplomatic move, he sends Hanuman to ascertain if there is any danger in his going back. If Bharat gives negative facial expression, then he will understand the danger and never meet him...

Sai Paada Dhooli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sai Paada Dhooli said...

Bharata is the one of the characters who was tested all through. Greatest character in Ramayana. And if you see once Rama mentions same to Sugriva: that there is no friend like you; there can be no brother like Bharata. He likes him a lot. Also once He praises Hanuma saying you are equivalent to Bharata

sewa said...

I am sorry to upset you, but I stand by my interpretation. MY view is that Ram is not this gentle and good simpleton that he is portrayed to be, but is a very shrew politician indeed. The checking incident that we have both discussed right now, it seems to me that Ram wants to check if the situation is safe to return, while u are satisfied with saying that "no one knows what is in Ram's mind".

I am trying to look for the earlier incident when Ram feels suspicious towards Bharat, it is at the beginning when he is going to the forest. I forgot exactly where it is, so I will post it as soon as I find.

sewa said...

as for the praise of Bharat, it is not equally given throughout the text. Ram's emotions and evaluations go through ups and downs, u choose to focus only the ups, and i try to mention the downs because no one notices them.

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

I have to disagree that - perhaps its interpretion.
Yes what you are referring is when a Rakshasa comes - then also Rama does not say about Bharata. its about Kaikayi. The virtues Rama have are clearly mentioned in Bala Kanda. From what I learned from elders, books that Rama has immaculate charater. Try referring to Bala Kanda about His character.
Regarding the incident u r referring these are the exact words
'"That which is desired to befall on us, and that which is the choicest desire of Kaikeyi, and that which is concomitant to her boons, oh, Lakshmana, that has come to pass quickly, and today only Lakshmana...
"She who is a foresighted lady, she who is not happy with the kingdom for her son, she by whom I, a dear one to all beings, am sent to forests, and she is my middle mother, her desire is fulfilled today, nay now itself
'
"To me, oh, Soumitri, the grief of others touching Seetha is more, than father's demise or grabbing away my kingdom

sewa said...

i don't agree with the count of ram's virtues, but that's a different issue altogether. Apart from the speech about Kaiketi, there is something about Bharat too, give me some time, ill post it by tomorrow.

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

And remember v shudnt wrong Sri Rama for His words on Kaika since He is a human being. When Viradha comes to take Sita Rama was so upset.
Definitely Rama has no other feeling for Bharata.
Even for Kaika He dont have cold feelings. Once Lakshama was telling Rama - 'See how good is Bharata. But how come Kaika like that' Then Rama told if u want tell some more about Bharata i will be happy to listen/ But never say a word against Kaika.

sewa said...

please don't include me in the "we". I am no devotee of Ram, as you might have guessed. I think of Ram as just a human being with normal feelings, and there are no such restrictions for me "never speak ill of Ram".

Sai Paada Dhooli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sewa said...

I am in the middle of reading Mahabharat. I can assure you that the words "has virtues not to be seen in other kings. His virtues cannot be counted and they are the best in the world" are applied to every king. Each and every one. Even idiots like Nahush who kick your Maharshis and Gyanis, and many other idiots

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

I guess its high time i conclude this post rather.
Mine and many others experience: Fortunate are those who can pray Rama. For other, i hope they get that chance to realize there was never and there can never be a man like Rama in any world and He is the sole protector- as Lord Hanuman says in Sundarakanda. He is none other than Lord Vishnu, who is there in everyone and everywhere, the creator, protector destroyer. Its just not to kill Ravana he came. He need not even come to Kill Ravana - But He assumed human form to guide people to set a way of living.
Its said in Vedas
Anthar Bahischa Tat Sarvam Vyapya Narayana Sthitha. Narayana is there everywhere.
Thats what Bharata Ramayana Bhagavata or infact essence of any scripture. Find out the God who is in u and everyone's heart.

sewa said...

yes, i too think it is high time we concluded this discussion because we are never going to agree. A man who deserts his pregnant wife twice can never be my guide and show me a way of living.

Sai Paada Dhooli said...

and please remove my posts

Anonymous said...

Get your facts right other wise shut the hell up if you don't know the story

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmmmmm....But in the Lanka Kanda version of Ramacharitmanas, its been mentioned by Mandodari wife of Ravana, when he boasts of his strength and his wife points out to him that he could not even cross the LINE drawn by LAXMANA.

curly locks said...

i m guessing it is Kamban Ramayaana, not Valmiki Ramayana

curly locks said...

Please make clear who you are addressing

s dev pandey said...

i appreciate ur intellect and courage to speak about the history in such manner neither i refute or accept the views but few observation u might think about
valmiki ramayan has taken ram as hero ,a worthy man who has set example of pious dharma maryada yukta life mind it ,iyt was for that period
valmiki ramayana has never portrayed seeta as weak or gullible she was strong women who had lift the shiva dhanush like simple stick when she was a kid only
whenever ram questioned her chastity she refuted and replied to ram befittingly and see no body liked that even hanuman sugreeva laxman got there head down and didnt liked what rama was asking her .
we may not like how he has left seeta but when we go deep we find that it was destiny of seeta and rama both as per curse of parrot narad and bhrigu.
now read further another ,ramayana by valimiki known as tantric ramayana or vichitra ramayan
here seetaje saved ram from bigger ravana of thousands heads she dared and teased him too,and when ram got unconscious by shsra ravans shakti ,seeta out tremendous anger became kalika and burned him down by just heave of sound humkar
i agree some patriarch and impotent weak men ,profess laxman rekha as to vilify woman and that is wrong i have seen that it was conspiracy of men society which has not let women read upanishads or vedas but read these stories where women is subdued insignificant sort of abla
there are absurd rules made by impotent insects men which says women shall worship her husband even more than god
this sure conspiracy to degrade her through white mail
earlier women read all shastras and were even exceeded men in power.

Tulsi das wrote few things to degrade women and show her as gullible because of his own mentality as he had such lust that he would climb snakes to mate with his wife as she scolded him his ego dented that made him sanyasi but though may be for others sake and project himself as great he called her wife as guru
but in his writing and chnaging of versions and verses like shudra pashu nari shows clearly that he had bias towards women because of his own weakness
the gut was such that when meera asked to meet him he refused saying i dont meet women ,so meera asked do u think u are men and if u are bhakta than tell me what is my atman and yours whonis female here
tulsi das giot her point and met her
see tulsidas being human may have committed some mistakes as all do but he was good enlightened man whose purpose was to set up morale in society of those days.
about vibhishadn when rama could nt ravan he worshiped surya through aditya hriday stotra ,
in one kalpa he worshipped shiva and got shiova geeta in padma puran and kurma puran ,
and yes vibhishan betrayed his brother big deal and told many secrets to him in valmiki ramayan too.
see sanatan has many scriptuires 18 purans 18 upapurans vedas 108 upanishads whole plethora of agam nigam and tantra shastra too
reading those ancient scriptures which are history u will find earlier women was treated as same as man ,many rishis kings did tapasya to ahve a girl child like janak of himalaya and many others too
women was given all shiksha of vedas and 64 shastras and vidyas kaikeyi was authentic vedagya ,so was seeta and mandodari ,
many times women has helped men to win in arguments in sahstrarth
after kaliyug or say 5000 years back avtar worship get started and people became less and less educated when insects mughal came society adopted parda system and eductaion of women took back seat few good families would educate there women
and than kaliyugi napiunsaks ahve degraded her changed shastra inserted there shit all to subdue women.
or see sita or sati or parvati were free women who wont listen to anybody and do what they want they would force thre spouses to have there wish fulfilled there are many suich stories

s dev pandey said...

in fact in reality this is the allegory behind ardhanarishwara concept where shiva made iut very clear women and men are same no body is superior aftyer marriage she is ardhangini so if pati is parmeshwar than she is parmeshawari
shiva and shakti both worship each other thats why u see mahakali dancing over shivas chest only a super potent man can let her women do her will and let her dance over him calmly .
there are incidents when wife became guru of her husband as lopamudra gave deeksha to agstya one hemchud made her wife hemlekha as guru
nigam shastra are dialogue of shiva asking questions to parvati and she explains his vidyas tantras

so real santana is very fair scietific logical and real history there are many irrefutable proofs of ram setu or dwarka or sri lanka and inumerable miracles proove that it happened and existed
in satyug no murti was worshipped but shiva linga only as it denotes nirakaar parmatman just after dwapar people started worshipping avtars
and amny particular sects came to exisntence who have manipulated shastra and doctrines

thats why shankaracharya came to defeat all those puny sampradaysa of personal one guru belief system
but see most people are gullible just living like pashus they just follow other sheeps of herd like dog follows other dogs
people are given false beliefs since childhood and thay dumbs wont question too people are greedy so they would worship any body who promises things no matter if he ius muslim sai or just human who throws krishna murti being obsessed with his mortal body
and so we have majority of dumb pashus who just follow
but than intelligent capable people shall change them not by refutinhg them but explaining things in simple language
they will accomply for sure
and one more thing about ur lauighter on compliments like man like bull or thighs of elephant
see these are allegories of poets and they use natural phenomenon to depict simiarity
other wise u will laugh at all poems of kalidas hemingway or shaupenhauer
he used words like i would take u in my eye brows how one can put big ass on a eye lid

u look like moon so she has pimples and sun tan ,or saying hairs like snake than she is dangerous and how hooribly thick would be those hair strands
or eyes liie lotus so its means eyes has flakes and grows.
so i think these are not matters of laughter but aesthetic sense

u ahve written good but that reeks of kind of enemity mistrust hatred towards scriptures which is not good ,may be you are atheist but than u are fanatic
as in reality no body can refuse god phenomenon or say for sure about his no existence as u atheist dont themselves they domt know whole about there town or home forget secrets of universe
so i guess people shall be real read test implement and than decide through own experience

hence mant intelligent meditators divine spiritual beings have known god and sanatna shastras would always stand the flux of time
as u are reading mahabharat see there is no human situation which is not dpeicted there

i would like to hear ur views but unbiased on draupadi ,five pandavs and krishna
according to me the war was wrong completely unfair full of adharma lets see what u conquer
thanks

i am at gmail too .

Arjuna Mahanayak said...

You are right that Lakshmana rekha was not present in the original Ramayana. But you seem to ignore the way Seetha attacked Ravana's ego and manliness and provoked him to kidnap her. In fact, she wanted to go to Lanka with Ravana. Valmiki associates her desire to send Rama off after the deer with cozenage, meaning fraud:

"Oh, Raghava, this kind of amazing animal with gemlike dapples is nonexistent in the world, isn't it. Hence, oh, lord of the world, this is truly a phantasm. No doubt about it." So said Lakshmana to Rama. [3-43-8]. While Lakshmana of Kakutstha-s is speaking thus, she who is self-satisfied as her heart is conjured by the cozenage, such a Seetha of a toothy smile deterred him and spoke. [3-43-9].

Also, to send Lakshmana off to Rama, she accuses him of lusting after her... So you should present a neutral perspective, instead of a biased one. Present the flaws in all characters, not just the male ones...

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