(Sudarshan Ramabadran and Guru Prakash Paswan)
Indian civilizational history has a unique vantage point. It has several individuals who hold contemporary relevance several thousand years after they have gone. Be it for a young man or woman, an aspiring professional, or a political or social worker, they hold several lessons. Rama is one such character who holds deep relevance and significance till this date. What often inspires is the fact that he was anchored in Dharma, despite life’s tremendous and unexpected upheavals all through. In Hindu culture, Dharma is defined as one’s duty; besides, of course, it is the substratum of life. His life story has resonated not just in the common man’s home in India but across the globe and has left an indelible impact. Safe to say Rama is not an ideological obsession but gives hope to millions that if life is lived well, it can be a rewarding experience to attain divinity, the very fulcrum of Indian thought.
Rama is incredibly relational; referred as Prince Rama or Lord Rama, he appeals to all, similar to what Mahatma Gandhi said, Rama’s life is his message. Per our research for Makers of Modern Dalit History, a paper by Kanad Sinha details that, in his dialogue with Narada, Sage Valmiki is said to have asked the wandering sage whether he knew any man who was truly virtuous, mighty, righteous, truthful, steadfast in his vows, of exemplary conduct, benevolent to all creatures, learned, capable,good-looking, self-controlled, of proper temperament, judicious, envy-free, and fearsome in battle. Narada answered that so many qualities, though hard to find in one person, Rama, born in the Ikshvaku lineage, was known among the people as one such person (‘ikṣvākuvaṃśa prabhavo rāmo nāma janaiḥ śrutaḥ’, or ‘Rama, born in the Ikṣhvaku lineage, is known among the people as one such person).
Sage Valmiki equated Rama to an ideal human being despite being tossed around with life’s vissicitudes. It is important to remember here, Rama was never above questions or criticism throughout his sojourn but never left the side of the truth. Sri Aurobindo has also beautifully written about how Valmiki has ensured that the Ramayana is ingrained in the national character of India. So much so that in 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address at the Rama Janmabhoomi puja at Ayodhya, underscored, ‘Rama is in all and for all’.
Rama is an embodiment of inclusion; be it for Shabari or Guha in the Ramayana, their single-minded devotion enabled them to get a glimpse of him and not just that, but serve him in their best capacity. It is due to these characters that Rama’s journey in the forest was actually made possible. In his masterpiece ‘Mastery’, Robert Greene explains the importance of imbibing social intelligence in the path of mastery. Greene further adds that one of the components of social intelligence is to empathize with the other person and understanding his or her point of view. Juxtaposing this analogy with Rama’s life and his interactions with Shabari, Sita, Guha, Hanuman, Lakshman, Bharat, Dasharat, Vibhishana et al, it is amply clear that Rama exemplified unmatched high levels of social intelligence.
Sage Valmiki, who is single-handedly responsible for giving the world Rama, epitomized Martin Luther King’s words, “We are not makers of history, but we are made by history,” through his intellectual brilliance. Today, his works are a subject of study not just in India but across the globe. The advice of Sage Narada of then Ratnakar to chant ‘Mara, Mara’ in reverse ‘Rama, Rama’ transformed Ratnakar into Valmiki and enabled him to commit to the path of social transformation and social change. Communities in India have been so inspired by Rama that they have tattooed themselves with his name, such as the Ramnaami community founded by Parasuram in Chattisgarh, who were denied entry into temples owing to their social origin. Till date, the community members have a copy of the Ram Charit Manas and are well versed in Ram Katha.
Culture, connectivity, and commerce are three important pillars of India’s foreign policy. No doubt, Rama has emerged as the pivotal catalyst for India’s shared legacy with several countries and has contributed immensely to the country’s soft power orientations. Be it Joko Widodo of Indonesia presenting world leaders with a small box with a figurine of characters from the Ramayana or Barack Obama carrying Hanuman in his pocket. Rama’s story and the various characters in the Ramayana have remained in the imaginations and minds of the people of several countries and heads and former heads of state. A Muslim-majority country in Indonesia has not shied away from taking to Rama or Ramayana.
More than anything, studying Rama’s life can be an inspiration to crack the very fundamental aspect of attaining life’s mastery, which is why we do what we do. There are so many instances that critics point out that what Rama did on that occasion or instance was just not right, but in his head, being ideal was of significance and not appeasement. He was objective in the true sense, doing what was right and refraining from doing any wrong of any kind.
Rama is about values. Why do families so fervently follow and recite the Ramayana? Or, for that matter, why did the streets wear a deserted look when Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana was televised? The character that Rama has in him gives him the power to bring people together and not just inculcate the right values but live the values. Imbibing these values will ensure we collaborate to solve the world’s challenges and not confront over them. Take climate change, for instance. If the value of playing one’s part in climate action is clear, we are indeed living up to the value that Rama stood for all his life. Incidentally, once Rama was confused about how to stand up to Ravana, that is when he seeks inspiration from the Sun(Surya) courtesy Sage Agastya through the Aditya Hridayam to conquer the battle field. The pre-eminence given to nature in Hindu culture cannot be missed.
Rama is about valuing public opinion and keeping their interests as the foremost. History is evidence of the fact that Rama moved among his people to understand what they thought of him. A contemporary understanding of Rama will enable world leaders to understand this more concretely and keep people’s interests as the foremost for the benefit of the good of the world.
The Rama temple in Ayodhya is not an attempt at a majoritarian message but at setting right India’s civilizational history. Ayodhya by itself means ‘a place where there is no conflict’; the temple is a powerful symbol of the syncretic nature of Indian society and to avoid any future conflicts. Ayodhya today holds special significance for communities of South Koreans; many of these communities believe that they trace their ancestry to the city. In fact, it seems to be more than just a belief; it is a fact, which the former first lady of South Korea Kim Jung’s visit to Ayodhya in 2018 so firmly validated.
Finally, Rama is not about anything abstract, as beautifully explained in the Swades song by Shah Rukh Khan’s character in the song ‘Pal Pal hai bhaari’ in which the lyrics loosely translated into English go, “Rama is in compassion, in all, in unity, in progress; he is present in both friends and foes’ hearts; in everyone’s thoughts; he is in every house, every courtyard; so much so that whoever removes Ravan from their hearts, Ram is present there too”. In the age of the 21st century, it is important to internalize Rama as a quality. We understand there is a long way to go for India to develop and progress on several social indicators. In pursuit of transforming into a developed country, contemporarising Rama will help India cement itself as a responsible power and signify to the world as the real ‘vishwa mitra—friend of all’.
(Sudarshan is policy expert and author. Guru is National Spokesperson of BJP. Views expressed are their own)