One thing led to another and I realized that I had never really read the Ramayana. We all know the story but most of us haven’t read it. So I thought of summarizing it the way I remembered it. And then I threw open the question to my Facebook friends, asking them if mine was a fair summary?
I got a lot of interesting responses (although almost nobody claimed they had read the full thing – from any author, be it Valmiki or Tuslidas).
If there is any perspective that doesn’t get captured in the above discussion, do let me know.
While having these discussion on my FB timeline, I did think about reading Valmiki’s version (Hindi/Sanskrit) myself. But 3,700+ pages.!!
Also, when almost nobody has really read the story, I wonder what matters more – Valmiki’s (or anybody else’s) written text or how the world today in general remembers the story? If it’s generally understood for example that Surpanakha was made fun of because of her ‘ugliness’, does it matter if Valmiki wrote it that way or not? This is an open ended question – I don’t know the right answer.
Anyway, so I was also pointed to an animation film (which to an extent is a bit insulting to a “proud Hindu” but it’s witty too). I think it is pretty fascinating to watch. It might offend some of you, especially those into ram-bhakti. But if you are not that type of a person, then you may rather enjoy this.
Why did I suddenly dwell upon these Ramayana / Ram related thoughts? Well I was reading “The Ayodhya Movement” chapter from L. K. Advanis’ autobiography. Among other things, he writes about “RAM: AN INSPIRING SYMBOL OF INDIAN CULTURE”.
Ram was also an ideal human being; hence the title ‘Maryada Purushottam’ (an exemplar among good human beings) was accorded to him.
Many Indian Muslims, too, have seen in Ram an ideal ruler and an embodiment of great human qualities.L. K. Advani – My Country My Life
And so I thought about it. And put together my summary, with the feeling that I must be missing something major. But now after all the comments that I have received, it seems like I didn’t miss much! Weird!
<Update – 18 Aug 2020>
Received the below detailed summary from a friend.
I have read both Valmiki (recently) and Tulsi Ramayan(in school) . my mom reads Ramayan everyday. None of the chapters give patriarchal ideas. It is Infact one of the first pro-choice story ever written. Kaikayi, Supranakha, Shabri, Sita all chose and had a command over theiir choices. Sitas choice to have a seat of Golden Deers skin made Ram take her leave for instance, Lakshman too had to obey her orders and go looking for Ram. Supranakha made a choice to court married men, the way Lakshman reacted became the reason for war. Ravan knew at every step who he would be fighting against but it was at Supranakha’s behest that he had to.Arun Govils Ramayan is a tv show, it isn’t how Ramayan is written. Valmiki has written it as a cause and effect poetry. The interpretation of Agni as Pariksha and Deh samarpan to dharti have been contectualised based on the TV representation as patriarchal, chauvinistic and what not but none of them are true. They are very specific, for instance. agni (fire) would become Sheetal (ice) on touching sita is referenced several times in Valmikis Ramayan couplets.
Both these talk about how Janaki (Sita) blessed Hanuman and because she gave her the boon that Agni won’t be able to give you heat, he managed to burn down the Golden Lanka and while Lanka was on fire and the whole country burnt, fire couldn’t do anything to sita who was out in the open! The hanuman chalisa shlok talks about how Sitas blessing made Hanuman so powerful.
Sita was also World’s first single Mother. If patriarchy was a prevelant idea she would have been frowned upon but instead her kids got the best education and best teachers etc. That too was a lesson on her heroics.
Ram and Sita in the story are considered one in all this and were the operators who knew every next step before it happened as possibilities m. They were aware of everything (unlike how its shown in Govils presentation) but the lessons of right and wrong, good and evil were to be created and given through this epic.
Ramayan is actually about much more than Ram. Ram won the war against Raavan in just 13 days. So his heroism is limited to that. Rest of Ramayan is so so many things. It’s about him understanding humanity, humbleness, being an ideal king, being an ideal husband, ideal son, ideal father, ideal brother, ideal warrior etc. He didn’t shy from giving tests or cheating even in the process. His life was a conquest to teach men and women to live a life of truth and honesty. Thus Maryada Purushottam. Nowhere in all the written literature he is self doubting or doubting sita. Even the decision of Sita to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya wasn’t his. It was Sitas, her own choice. He never doubted her. Nor did she doubt Ram of malice. They just decided it was time for one last lesson to humanity when she left the luxuries of a kingdom and gave birth in a jungle house to the Kings children and herself lived without all the luxuries available at her husband’s kingdom as well as her father’s Kingdom.