Hari Anant Hari Katha Ananta
Ram bhaktas paint their image of the Lord with their hearts and minds. Some of us draw upon our scriptures while others turn to Ram Leelas or even TV serials. Some are inspired by their life experiences... but all agree that Lord Ram is woven into the warp and weft of daily Indian life, and, indeed, all nurture their own image of Ram.
Interwoven together, a composite image emerges.
Lord Ram; not only a God for us all. He is also a Civilisational Hero for India, that is Bharat.
I have had the opportunity to be a part of a team that is making a documentary on the Ram Janmabhoomi temple. Releasing soon, this documentary traces the story of the temple from its beginning.
Even those among the team members who imagined we knew this story in its entirety were surprised by the facets we discovered. But, in all honesty, the most precious revelation was not so much about the temple itself, but how the common men and women saw Lord Ram.
I share some anecdotes and observations from my experiences.
Why is He a Civilisational Hero?
India is the only pre-bronze age culture that is alive and breathing. Every other ancient culture — our fellow travellers in the past — is either forgotten or its husk lives on in museums. This happened largely because they were overpowered and overwritten by themselves and sometimes, enemies.
The most powerful enemy though is Time itself. Who indeed conquers Time? Paraphrasing Milan Kundera, the struggle of Life and Civilisation is the struggle of memory against its erasure.
The story of Lord Ram and the example of His life reminds us who we are. He reminds us about the building blocks of our civilisation. And, so long as we continue to remember, we live on.
What is it that Lord Ram teaches India and our civilisation?
As mentioned in various versions of the Ramayan and other texts, Lord Ram, the eternal King of India, epitomised His deliverance in matters of governance, law and order, safety, infrastructure, and education.
I suggest though that the most crucial learnings are philosophical in nature, for the ethos of a Civilisation defines its future. These tenets are expounded in texts like Yoga Vashishtha, of course, but the essence can be extracted from the words and actions of Lord Ram as well.
What are these philosophical lessons that Lord Ram can teach our civilisation?
Firstly, country above family, family above self, and Dharma above all. Lord Ram repeatedly exemplified this credo in His conduct; indeed, He led by example. We live in times when leaders across the world, oftentimes, put family above the country. It is instructive then, to know a God who always put the country above family.
Furthermore, He put family above himself; He willingly exiled to the forest and kept His father’s word-of-honour to His step-mother. And, most importantly, He repeatedly placed Dharma above all. Truth controls the world, He said, and Dharma is rooted in truth.
The above was revealed to us by a devotee in Ayodhya — a simple musician. We asked him whether he would choose Lord Ram or Dharma; his answer was beguilingly simple: that Lord Ram would never put a devotee in this situation, because He Himself would always be with Dharma, even at the greatest personal cost to Himself.
Country above family, family above self, and Dharma above all... This philosophy will help us build a strong and prosperous India.
Secondly, we can learn genuine inclusivity from Lord Ram. We all know of His affection and respect for King Nishad and Maa Shabari. While shooting for the documentary at a temple in Ayodhya, we saw devotees from backwards castes, SCs, STs, and also Muslims. We recorded a community of cross-dressers — men dressed as women — who sing praises of Lord Ram as if they are friends and family of Goddess Sita. Lord Ram says in the Ramcharitamanas:
Purush napunsak nari va jiv charachar koi/Sarv bhav bhaj kapat taji mohi param priy soi.
Any man, any transgender, any woman, any living being, for as long as they give up deceit and come to me with love for all, they are dearest to me.
When we say that all Indians are one, and that there is unity in diversity, we are not following some elite Westernised edict established when we became an independent nation. We are, in fact, following the teachings of Lord Ram.
A third lesson is on how to treat enemies and those who mean us harm.
In this too, Lord Ram teaches us the path of Dharma and peace. However, when war is inevitable, fight hard.
Have we absorbed this teaching?
Modern India has given birth to an urban legend that holds that we have always been a peace-loving, non-violent people. Take for example our freedom struggle. But are we indeed so? Have we always been so? This perspective misreads Mahatma Gandhi to some extent, and our independence struggle to a large extent.
Note, for instance, the Ghadar movement. Pronouncements of love and peace do not win all arguments, and sometimes one has to fight in pursuit of our enlightened self-interest. Yes, India did produce the most ancient pacifist philosophy in the world — Jainism — but our ancestors used violence when necessary. Lord Ram says in the Ramcharitamanas:
Bhay Binu Hoe na Preet
Without the presence of fear, love does not emerge
Our enemies must fear us, and then, maybe, come to respect us when we display mercy. Without that fear, mercy may be viewed as pusillanimity. Indeed, it was so when we displayed kindness at the Shimla Accord of 1972.
The Pakistani government saw it as a sign of stupidity and weakness, and did not reciprocate our decency. Our enemies must know that if they cross our red lines, we will respond. And respond hard. It is what Lord Ram would expect from us.
Furthermore, Lord Ram tried every possible route to avoid war if possible; He sent Prince Angad as a peace emissary to Ravan before the war.
Our enemies must fear us. They must know that we fight hard. But we should not go looking for fights. Fight only when all other options have been exhausted. And fight hard till all our objectives have been achieved.
What are the other philosophies that you think we can learn from Lord Ram? Do post comments on this article.
Amish Tripathi is the fastest-selling author in Indian publishing history, with 7 million copies in print of his books. He is also a former Indian government diplomat and a host for TV documentaries. He is working on his to-be-released-soon documentary on the Ram Janmabhoomi temple.
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