POSTED BY Sundeep Dougal ON Oct 27, 2011 AT 21:48 IST ,  Edited At: Oct 27, 2011 21:48 IST

Mukul Kesavan on the controversy over A.K. Ramanujan’s essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas

The reason Hindutva militants attacked this essay is not difficult to understand. Hindutva seeks to re-make the diversity of Hindu narratives and practices into a uniform faith based on standardized texts. When Ramanujan tells, in scrupulous translation, Valmiki’s version of Ahalya’s unfaithfulness, where Indra is emasculated by the sage Gautama for cuckolding him, the Hindutva right is embarrassed and appalled because it likes its epics sanitized.

If the members of the academic council and the vice-chancellor are appalled by the Ahalya story, they should know that their objection is to Valmiki’s Ramayana, not Ramanujan’s essay. They should also reflect on the implications of a decision that suggests that the academic guardians of the University of Delhi believe that their Honours students shouldn’t be introduced to an unexpurgated version of Valmiki’s Ramayana, that even references to the original of this epic text, should be bowdlerized or purged on the surreal ground that they distort the “…traditions of Hindu Culture…”

...A university’s academic guardians must know that there have been attempts in other times and places to fabricate an authorized past, to speak for an authentically Indo-European people, to concoct an ‘Aryan’ canon. Ramanujan’s essay is an intellectual antidote to projects such as these, it is a text that revels in the incredible diversity of our epic narratives. [Read on at the Telegraph: Three hundred Ramayanas
- Delhi University and the purging of Ramanujan

PS: For those interested in the Ramanujan poem Kesavan quotes: Some Indian Uses of History on a Rainy Day 

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in the Indian Express, takes the debate forward:

The exclusion of A.K. Ramanujan’s great essay from the syllabus of the Delhi University highlights the ways in which both the Left and the Right have reduced a great tradition to an impoverished political totem. In the process, both have elided larger questions. The deeper crisis is that our public culture no longer has even the minimal intellectual resources to engage in a serious debate over different “meanings” of Ramayana. The invocation by the Left of a diversity of traditions is technically correct. But in this invocation, diversity is merely a formal gesture. We like the fact that there are diverse Ramayanas. But we don’t want to have the space to discuss any one of them. It is a bit like Amartya’s Sen’s invocation of the unilluminating phrase “argumentative”. We wear the term argumentative as a badge of honour. But are embarrassed by everything the tradition argued about.

...The Left and Right in India share one deep premise. The tradition, in its final analysis, has to be reduced to the social question. Whose group interests does a particular narrative serve?

...But once texts are reduced to the social question, the contest over them will be a contest between raw group power. There will be no space for larger questions of meaning, ethics and ontology. So this Diwali, we wonder what is left of Ram, beyond personal piety on the one hand, and sectarian enlistment on the other. [Read on at the Indian Express: Questions Lit Up]

POSTED BY Sundeep Dougal ON Oct 27, 2011 AT 21:48 IST ,  Edited At: Oct 27, 2011 21:48 IST
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Daily Mail
Nov 23, 2011
01:25 PM

Ramakrishna (post 115), noted. You have chosen to ignore what i wrote (about the beauty of Ramanujan’s writing and his love for the Ramayana) and introduce a new spin – that of me being an anti-Hindu missionary zealot and ‘we’ okaying AKR’s essay under conditions!

Despite the digression, for the record let me state that i have no objections over essays about Mary and the Prophet. That, however, is for the University to decide, and not for me or priests. However, your logic of wanting to include AKR’s essay only if the other two essays are included does not make sense – unless one factors in the logic of the Sangh Parivar to be the custodians of all that is Hindu. A strong reason that the University has the Ramayana essay in its syllabus instead of a ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ essay is because the epic and its characters are part of this nation’s heritage in a manner that is far more widespread than the country’s comprehension about characters from Christianity or Islam.

My position against any kind of fundamentalism, majority communalism in particular, does not make me a missionary or anti-Hindu. And for the record, i love the Ramayana and Mahabharata ever since i (like many others) heard its stories while very young and subsequently got to read Rajagopalachari’s version. Hanuman is one the favourite characters of my yet-to-be-five daughter. It has not made her (or me) an anti-Christian.

Please read The last paragraph sums it up beautifully:
“Ramanujan concludes with another tale, of an uncultured dolt whose wife wanted him to open himself up to “the higher things in life”. She seemed to have meant precisely the kind of things that a university should ideally teach. She sends him to watch a recitation of the Ramayana. The first three days, he falls asleep as soon as it begins. On the fourth day, she sits beside him as ‘the reciter was enchanting the audience with a description of how Hanuman the monkey had to leap across the ocean to take Rama’s signet ring to Sita. When Hanuman was leaping across the ocean, the signet ring slipped from his hand and fell into the ocean. Hanuman didn’t know what to do. He had to get the ring back quickly and take it to Sita in the demon’s kingdom. While he was wringing his hands, the husband who was listening with rapt attention in the first row said, “Hanuman, don’t worry. I’ll get it for you.” Then he jumped up and dived into the ocean, found the ring on the ocean floor, brought it back, and gave it to Hanuman.’ Ever since, Ramanujan concludes, ‘he has been respected in the village as a wise elder, and he has also behaved like one’. The magic of reading Ramanujan’s essay is somewhat similar. Allow yourself a night of wakefulness.”

Please also have a look at Panikkar, as ever, is unsparing in his criticism of communalism of all colours. Check his answer to the question ‘A few months ago there was a controversy in Kerala about a Social Science textbook for Class X. Are the issues involved in it similar to the Delhi University case?’

Despite our agitated letters, we would also do well to remember that this is just a forum with a limited readership. Our comments would be of some purpose if they convey a genuine emotion, educate or enable a reader to see things from a different perspective.

Santosh John Samuel
Kochi, India
Nov 21, 2011
10:05 PM

"Chandan Mitra has the best take on this"

Interesting read. Thanks for sharing Ganesan.

NJ, United States
Nov 21, 2011
09:28 PM

 Chandan Mitra has the best take on this

Nov 20, 2011
11:07 PM

Santosh John Samuel,

You are an anti hindu missionary zealot for long. We can have Ramanujans essay provided we have another essay discussing Mary being really a virgin mother and We also need to have an essay by dashti who ennumerated 26 woman of prophet.

NY, United States
Nov 20, 2011
05:06 PM

Remove this essay from a syllabus! It's a piece that's needs to be read and reread, so beautiful and eye-opening it is. And it could not have been written by someone not completely in love with the Ramayana. And far from debasing the story, as zealots in this forum and elsewhere have alleged, the reader is enlightened by Ramanujan.

Santosh John Samuel
Kochi, India
Order by
Oct 28, 2011
06:59 PM

 "And one sits there and thinks, of the 90, how many actually took the trouble to read this essay when they were condemning it."

I am pretty confident that they took more time to read than Romila Thapar took the trouble to comment on sangam literature.

"o in a sense...what we lose out in this country is the habit of reading. We don't go back to reading texts. "

Coming from the woman who cited Rajatarangini incorrectly, this is rich indeed.

Oct 28, 2011
08:50 PM

 Santosh Samuel (comment 11):

There are two reasons why I asked if Deepak was Christian.

a) Read his first statement:"One thing is certain that valmiki's version cannot be oldest version because valmiki was not not there at the same time as Rama. If Valmiki wrote the original that would imply that Ramayan is an imaginary fiction rather than being related to some real incidents."

Certain? From where did he get that certainity? Any decent Hindu who knows the Ramayana (even the Ramanand Sagar or Amar Chitra Katha versions) knows that Rama and Valmiki belonged at the same time.

b) I know of Christians who are named "Deepak" who do say that Ramayana is a fiction. (incidentally one carries the same surname as you and lives in the US).

Discussing various versions of Ramayana is different from dissing the one written by Valmiki as "fiction" which is what Deepak did.

Bangalore, India
Oct 28, 2011
09:48 PM


>>>> ".....liberal and progressive Muslims are busy working on re-interpretation and re-contextualization of Muslim texts.." Anwaar
>> Do not these liberal and progressive scholars risk being accused of apostasy?

They do not try to alter the text or delete any verses. Instead of accepting the literalistic interpretations offered by past scholars they go back to the roots and derive interpretations consistent with contemporary ethos. Abul Kalam Azad tried to do somehing similar a century ago and met a lot of resistance. More recent attempts by Ziauddin Sardar in England and Chandra Muzzafar in Malaysia have found greater acceptance although there are many who are skeptical or unconvinced.

A common problem of Islamism and Hindutva is politicization of religion. Islamists talk of Sharia State and saffronites talk of Hindu Rashtra. Until recently it was anathema in Islam to try to separate state and religion, but now the issue is openly and frequently discussed. A current world wide signature movement originated by some Muslims in England is titled "Manifesto for a Secular Middle East and North Africa" and has the following demands:

 1. Complete separation of religion from the state.
2. Abolition of religious laws in the family, civil and criminal codes.
3. Separation of religion from the educational system.
4. Freedom of religion and atheism as private beliefs.
5. Prohibition of sex apartheid and compulsory veiling.

Dallas, United States
Oct 29, 2011
01:10 AM

A common problem of Islamism and Hindutva is politicization of religion. Islamists talk of Sharia State and saffronites talk of Hindu Rashtra (Post 22)

What the votaries of Hindutva are asking for is a Uniform Civil Code and not for laws based on religion.

The saffronites talk of Rama Rajya, not of a Hindu Rashtra. The term "Hindu Rashtra" has no meaning because Hinduism is concerned only with spiritual matters and not temporal ones. The closest equivalent of Rama Rajya in modern parlance is good governance, the kind which was given by the Ruler of Ayodhya to his subjects. It has no religious connotation.

Visakhapatnam, India
Oct 29, 2011
01:54 AM

'The saffronites talk of Rama Rajya, not of a Hindu Rashtra.' @D.L. Narayan
Have saffronites consulated women? about half of the country..?.  I am sure proving chastity by going thorugh fire and getting punished like ahilya for not fault of theirs, are not the additional responsibilities that Women of India are ready to take on.

Modern Progressive state is called Modern progressive state and no  Ram Rajya or Hindu Rashtra, period. 

USA, India
Oct 29, 2011
02:27 AM

>> "Modern Progressive state is called Modern progressive state" - Deepak

I am no fan of the term 'Ramrajya' and do agree that the phrase 'Hindu Rashtra' may end up alienating many. 

But, I sincerely hope that the self-styled sickulars will agree to your statement when the modern progressive state talks about uniform civil code, removal of Hajj subsidy, hanging Afzal Guru etc. I also hope that those jokers will not have convulsions when the government passes legislations aimed at discouraging families from rearing more than two childs.

The Irreverent Indian
Online, India
Oct 29, 2011
03:31 AM

 Irreverent - the term Hindu Rashtra seems designed to deliberately alienate and exclude *some* Indians.

As for the rest - yes, I hope so too.  But keep in mind:

From Manusmriti to Madhusmriti
Flagellating a Mythical Enemy
by Madhu Kishwar

From which:

People in India have demonstrated time and again that they are willing to accept changes in their customs, provided those who propose change take the trouble to win the confidence of the community, rather than attack or humiliate the community as hostile outsiders. The success of the 19th century social reformers is testimony to this inherent flexibility of Hindu communities. In recent decades, the work of Swadhyaya in parts of western India, the Radhasoamis in Northern India, and many other reform movements have carried forward the same tradition.

Sydney, Australia
Oct 29, 2011
04:55 AM


>> What the votaries of Hindutva are asking for is a Uniform Civil Code.

BJP is exploiting this issue for political gains. Nobody has even seen a draft of the UCC yet. Outlook had several articles written by lawyers about 5 years ago discussing the difficulties in reconciling Hindu law, Muslim law, Jewish law, Parsi law etc. There is a more urgent need to reform the Muslim law even if a UCC may not be possible now.

>> The saffronites talk of Rama Rajya, not of a Hindu Rashtra.

Saffronites do talk of a Hindu Rashtra. Savarkar, Golwalkar, Hedgewar and others have written about Hindu Rashtra. The VHP, which is a part of the Sangh Parivar, demands legislation from Parliament authorizing the proclamation of a Hindu Rashtra in Bharat. That does not mean all saffronites talk of Hindu Rashtra. Many saffronites don't, just as many Muslims denounce the idea of a Sharia-based state. I do not see Ram Rajya as a controversial issue.

Dallas, United States
Oct 29, 2011
04:58 AM
Comment removed for violation of Website Policy
Dallas, United States
Oct 29, 2011
05:20 AM

It seems we get just knee jerk reactions to names like Romila Thapar and Mukul Kesavan without any discussion pro and con of the issues. This is also true of Digvijay and Arundhati. In another website that I visit similar instinctive revulsions are evoked by the names Subramanian Swamy and Zakir Naik. Only sprinklings of information such as "She hardly knows any Sanskrit" or "He once referred to Osamaji" seem sufficient to end the discussion. Such attitudes engender lazy blogging.

Dallas, United States
Oct 29, 2011
05:31 AM

So Mukul Kesavan thinks that

there have been attempts in other times and places to fabricate an authorized past, to speak for an authentically Indo-European people, to concoct an ‘Aryan’ canon. Ramanujan’s essay is an intellectual antidote to projects such as these,

And Romila Thapar? She was the enthusiastic perpetuater of the AIT theory for atleast 20 years.  She now touts the Aryan Migration Theory (a strategic ideological retreat), without any apologies for her earlier falsehoods.

 1. There is no archeological attestation of aryan invasion/migration in spite of more than a hundred years of archeological effort.
2. There is no traditional memory or mention of aryan invasion/migration/intrusion in any of all the diverse historical traditions of India.
3. There is no genetic trace of foreigners to attest to such a historical mixing. If at all Indian genotypes not only closer to each other but substantially more diverse and much older than European or middle eastern genotypes - therefore suggesting a reverse migration. After Africa the most ancient and diverse population happens to be that of India. In essence most other non-African people descended from prehistoric Indians.
4. Philology is a tool of uncertain provenance and its conclusions are highly debatable. Aryan invasion/migration are hypothesis emerging basically from philology - hence open to debate.
5. Development of historical theories on ancient India through more accurate means (archeology & traditional history) rather than philology points to the indegenity and antiquity of Indians.
6. Self references in many ancient Indian texts points to indegenity of Indians in a time-scale far older than those proposed by Aryan Invasion theory.
7. In ancient Indian texts Arya means 'noble of conduct and character' rather than a race. If the oldest texts negate Aryan being a race - the idea of Aryan being a race of people can be traced to the rise of British imperialism and German nationalism - both historically discredited and defunct ideologies.
8. Geology (mapping of the old Saraswati), archeo-metallurgy (iron working in ancient india), archeo-agriculture (maize, rice farming) etc points to a far greater antiquity of ancient Indians (which does not agree with Aryan Invasion Theory).
9. Archeo-astronomy, archeo-mathematics, hydronomy (river names) seem to corraborate ancient indian texts on thier antiquity and claims of indigenity.

10. In a Michael Danino paper (PDF), Sanghamitra Sahoo constructs an eloquent table of genetic distances between several populations, based on Y-haplogroups . The caste populations of ‘north’ and ‘south’ India are not particularly more closely related to each other (average Fst value = 0.07) than they are to the tribal groups (average Fst value = 0.06). In particular, Southern castes and tribals are very similar to each other in their Y-chromosomal haplogroup compositions.” As a result, it was not possible to confirm any of the purported differentiations between the caste and tribal pools, a momentous conclusion that directly clashes with the Aryan paradigm, which imagined Indian tribes as adivasis and the caste Hindus as descendants of Indo-Aryans invaders or immigrants. In reality, we have no way, today, to determine who in India is an “adi”-vasi, but enough data to reject this label as misleading and unnecessarily divisive.

11. B.N. Narahari Achar has dated the Mahabharatha war to 3067 B.C.. It is based on the following facts: there was an equinox near jyeshTHa; a solar eclipse occurred at jyeshTHa in an eclipse season with two lunar eclipses on either side; the final lunar eclipse occurred in less than fourteen days after the solar eclipse. It is demonstrated conclusively by the simulations that the proposed date, which is identical to the one proposed earlier by Raghavan, provides the best agreement with the events described in the epic.

Yet the Mukul Kesavans of the world repeat their "Dravidianist" antidotes without ackonowledging these facts. And the Sundeep Dougals eagerly quote them. Is Goebbels happy in his grave?

Jhansi, India
Oct 29, 2011
11:51 AM

Post # 15: 

"I digress to Akbar just to compare with Ashoka" - Gajanan

This is an absurd comparison. Read H.G.Wells'  "A Short History of the World" and his superb Chapter 29 on King Asoka. In my recollection Wells had nothing to write on Akbar.

I hold the view that Indian history needs to be re-written with focus on Akbar for dispelling the myths surrounding him. I am not a student of history. Nevertheless  my eyes were opened when in the past there appeared two columns on Akbar in the olden days of The Calcutta Statesman.  May be those two articles could be retrieved in the archives.

The first one written by an eminent (Moslem?) historian had as usual great  praise of every thing Akbar did, what a "secular" emperor he was, etc etc, citing examples. This was followed then by an article by an history professor from some where in Delhi (?) carrying a Punjabi name I forget.

And he point by point rebutted the first one basing on verifiable historical data.  He opened my eyes on Islamic rule in India and how Hinduism was being destroyed inch by inch during the Moghul rule. And Akbar was a shrewd operator in that respect - he knew how far he could go without triggering a backlash. This was right in contrast to Aurangzeb whose bulldozing policies led to the demise of Muslim rule. Akbar mastered diplomacy in political pursuit in contrast to Aurangzeb to hide his real islamisation policies knowing well that frontal assalts would lead to disaster.. 

Aurangzeb's mother was a Hindu woman, and one of Akbar's wives among many was a Hindu lady of course to flaunt a secular flavour. In contrast, Like Aurangzeb Bhotto's mother was Hindu.

Akbar started islamisation by stealth all over the then India . In particular, the courts in the then Bengal were being obliged to use Urdu written in Arabic script by his imposition. Had that continued unimpeded, Urdu would have become the language of Bengalis.

That trend set by Akbar was reversed only when the English arrived at the front gates of Bengal. Without the colonial rule taking over the Islamic rule the presnt Bengali language would have disappeared. It is true that subsequently the British played their Islam card for political consolidation. But at least, the Bengali language survived leading to Tagore.

By a stroke of genius Tagore lifted the Bengali language sky high which eventually led to the dismemberment of jehadi Pakistan.  All Bengali muslims rallied around the language to create Bangladesh. Jinnah was giving a fitting reply in 1949 when he addressed in Urdu the Bengalis in Chittagong in 1949.

The source of Tagore's creative faculties lies in Ramayana. His very first composition was the play Valmiki Protibha where he himself acted as Valmiki. 

So much for the new comers on Valmiki. Remember that without the essence of Valmiki, there would be no Bangladesh in the political world. Because that epic was the source of Sanskrit - the mother of Bengali. Whether there were one or many editions of Valmiki is irrelevant. Ramayana will remain part and parcel of Indian culture for ever.

Pinaki S Ray
Adelaide, Australia
Oct 29, 2011
07:50 PM

@ Deepak (Post no. 30)

Rama was considered to be not only an ideal human being, but also an ideal ruler. His insistence on Sita's agnipreeksha (trial by fire) was not because he doubted her chastitiy but because he wanted to demonstrate to his subjects that their Queen was chaste. It was Rama the ruler who overruled Rama the husband.

Rama Rajya has all the elements of good governance. All his subjects has a say. It was in response to a washerman's loose comments about Sita that forced Rama to banish Sita; it was to illustrate that a ruler should always pay heed to what his subjects feel.

Rama Rajya does not mean subjugation of women. It does not mean a return to the Treta Yuga in which Rama lived. It is a metaphor for ideal governance. We do not need to conform to Western ideas of Democracy. The Janapadas and the Panchayats are examples of democratic traditions of India.  Slavish aping of other cultures will take us nowhere. We should devise and adapt methods which are more suited to our traditions and culture.

Visakhapatnam, India
Oct 29, 2011
10:41 PM

 To all the worthies here, of whom I am sure, 90% haven't read Ramanujam's essay, if the essay was fit to be consigned to a dustbin, then why was it introduced in the first place? Why such pretence? Let ABVP and khaki chaddi gang decide what we read and understand. Who knows in due time they could come up with a blue print of Udan Khatola and thereby prove that we had aeroplanes in Ram's yug. 

It's amusing to hear people hold forth on Romila Thapar's linguistic credentials when they cannot frame a single sentence without embarassing errors. If nothing else, it seems that people have lost all sense of irony. One on hand, there is a rabid criticism of Abrahamanic religion where there is one text, one interpretation, and then the same group goes on to trash someone who has just catalogued different versions of Ramayan. Khilji might have destroyed one Nalanda but we are destroying countless ones by our own hands. 

Tucson, United States
Oct 29, 2011
10:54 PM

To the likes of Mukul Kesavan, Romila Thapar and other Hinduism Disliking/hating libtard leftists, there is only one question -

Why is that all questions pertaining to freedom of expression arise only when we discuss about anything to do with Hinduism or its books/mythologies?

Let me be direct. Will the likes of Thapar and Kesavan fight for anyone who comes with an alternative version of Bible or Koran?

Okay let us even get specific. How about a 100 version of History of Gauthama Buddha? We always get to hear only about one sanitized and politically correct version of history of Gautama Buddha. How come no one questions it?

How about a critical enquiry into such aspects of the life of Gautama buddha - such as his plagiarism of ideas from Jainism, his (selfish??) desertion of spouse and child to seek enlightment?

There are many holy cows out here in India. But India's leftist libnazis want only to slaughter some of them and spare the rest. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Delhi, India
Oct 29, 2011
11:05 PM

Amit >> Let ABVP and khaki chaddi gang decide what we read and understand.

We dont want to be taught on which religions are to be liked and which religions are to be consigned to the dustbin. The hypocrisy of Leftist Libnazis is shocking. India as a nation guarantees freedom to practise and preach one's faith.  And surely just as we dont hear the views of a vegetarian on the virtues of eating meat, we dont want to hear from confirmed atheist lefties like Mukul or Romila (or their camp followers like you) on the version of Ramayana.

You Leftist Libtards, please Lay off from the discussions on religion.

Delhi, India
Oct 29, 2011
11:13 PM


>> Why is that all questions pertaining to freedom of expression arise only when we discuss about anything to do with Hinduism or its books/mythologies?

Remember Taslima Nasrin, or Salman Rushdie, or the Danish cartoons, or the movie The Da Vinci Code?

Dallas, United States
Oct 29, 2011
11:18 PM

>> "One on hand, there is a rabid criticism of Abrahamanic religion where there is one text, one interpretation, and then the same group goes on to trash someone who has just catalogued different versions of Ramayan." - Amit

While you were sleeping, the multiple writers and multiple interpretations of Ramayana have been recognized long way back. Incidentally, I am a right-winger (not of th egaumutra variety though) and have read Ramanujan's essay. I found it interesting and worthy of inclusion in the syllabus. So, please don't generalize. I have no appetite for either history or mythology; so, can't debate on the content - will let others slug it out while I struggle with my present.

As for your comment trying to rope in Abrahamanic religion into the controversy, it is unwarranted. Btw, why don't you try making multiple interpretation of those religions? Caveat: You will probably be left with only one arm to type with!!

And yes, the jokers who cannot decide whether Ramayana is a work of History or Mythology should abstain from talking about Uran Khatolas. 

The Irreverent Indian
Online, India
Oct 29, 2011
11:36 PM

Irreverent Indian,

>>  the jokers who cannot decide whether Ramayana is a work of History or Mythology should abstain from talking about Uran Khatolas.

The jokers who bring in the religions of others whenever Ramayana is discussed are not doing either Ramayana or Hinduism any favors. Religions are matters of faith and all religions are self-contained. Pointing fingers at the religions of others does not stremghten anyone's religious argument.

Dallas, United States
Oct 29, 2011
11:44 PM

>> "The jokers who bring in the religions of others whenever Ramayana is discussed are not doing either Ramayana or Hinduism any favors. Religions are matters of faith and all religions are self-contained." - Anwaar

I fully agree with that. Btw, it was not me who brought in the Abrhamanic religion into the context. I simply retorted, albeit with more arrogance. I must also concede that, in general, Amit has more balanced views than either of us. So, I don't want any further arm-wrestling.

>> "Pointing fingers at the religions of others does not stremghten anyone's religious argument." - Anwaar

And, I agree with that as well. And, I have no religious arguments to make. I get kicked by my family members for being a pseudo-atheist. And, get kicked on this forum for being a Hindutva hardliner. Leave me alone with my dharmic confusion. Please go ahead with your Sanghi bashing.

The Irreverent Indian
Online, India
Oct 29, 2011
11:50 PM

@Irreverent Indian,

  My reference point for loonies was from this blog. I didn't rope in Abrahamanic religion--it was this stubborn clique that insists that if anything remotely disparaging(I don't know how) about their version of Hindu religion is taught, then all existing versions for every religion be taught, which, in a way, I agree with. If I were a Muslim, I would be miffed at inclusion of an essay that details the diverse strands of a Hindu epic but leaves out a similar essay on diversity of Islamic thought in the subcontinent! It just boggles my understanding as to why people don't see his essay as a wonderful compliment to our inherent diversity of thought and Ramayan's fundamental importance to our cultural make up. That a host of such cretinous ideas comes from people residing in the US is surreal. 

As as aside, we have to thank ABVP and its loony tunes for raking up this controversy. I wouldn't have read this essay otherwise, and I am glad that you found Ramanujam's essay interesting.

Tucson, United States
Oct 29, 2011
11:57 PM

Irreverent Indian,

  Thanks for your compliment and thinking that I have requisite intellectual skills to write a commentary on Quran or Bible or Torah. As much as I would like to, I plead my helplessness--I am a lowly mathematician. :)

Tucson, United States
Oct 29, 2011
11:58 PM


"Okay let us even get specific. How about a 100 version of History of Gauthama Buddha? We always get to hear only about one sanitized and politically correct version of history of Gautama Buddha."

Be my guest, bro. You will have my sympathetic attention.

Tucson, United States
Oct 29, 2011
11:59 PM

>> "It just boggles my understanding as to why people don't see his essay as a wonderful compliment to our inherent diversity of thought and Ramayan's fundamental importance to our cultural make up. " - Amit

Simple answer: They probably have not even read it. Somebody handed them placards, flags and lunch packets - thereafter, it's picnic-time for them. 

Apologies for a harsh reponse in the earlier thread - did not realize my folly till Anwaar pointed it out.

The Irreverent Indian
Online, India
Oct 30, 2011
12:20 AM


No need for apologies. It's all a part of give and take.

Tucson, United States
Oct 30, 2011
12:29 AM


>> I get kicked by my family members for being a pseudo-atheist. And, get kicked on this forum for being a Hindutva hardliner.

A Hindutva hardliner, unlike a true Hindu, is a Muslim basher.

Dallas, United States
Oct 30, 2011
12:59 AM

>> "A Hindutva hardliner, unlike a true Hindu, is a Muslim basher."

To the believers of conspiracy theories, the entire planet will seem united with the sole agenda of Muslim bashing - as if, Muslim bashing is a full-time, paid job!! Muslims are themselves responsible for whatever mess they find themsleves in. So, stop blaming others.

That apart, a smart Muslim should still ally with Hindutva (whatever it means) hardliners than with self-styled sickulars and Jihadi apologists. At least, the former is honest about their loony ideas. Moreover, of the three, Hindutva brigade (whatever it means) has the least chance of establishing their supremacy. So, amongst the three, they are the safest bet. But, one can always trust your Pied Pipers to lead you to the cliff.

The Irreverent Indian
Online, India
Oct 30, 2011
02:30 AM

>>>> Why is that all questions pertaining to freedom of expression arise only when we discuss about anything to do with Hinduism or its books/mythologies?

>> Remember Taslima Nasrin, or Salman Rushdie, or the Danish cartoons, or the movie The Da Vinci Code?

Didn't the seculars hound Taslima, ban Satanic Verses and Da Vinci code, and pass resolutions in parliament against Danish cartoons?

Whats InAName
San Francisco, United States
Oct 30, 2011
02:32 AM


>> To the believers of conspiracy theories, the entire planet will seem united with the sole agenda of Muslim bashing.

This after I just said that Hindus are not Muslim bashers, only Hindutvadis are! Do you ever read a coment before answering it?

Dallas, United States
Oct 30, 2011
09:18 AM

A very interesting debate throwing up a lot of insightful information useful to the uninitiated in the making of Hindu Puranas, Kavyas and the like.

What I particularly liked in this debate is the fact that  along with the usual cheap jibes and personal attacks (some of which have been mercifully eliminated )- the unpleasant stuff that one finds in these columns-- there are  some informed and well-argued  ones such as those by Shri Gajanan (Post 18 ), Shri Venugopla Rao ( Post 51 ), Mr Zafar (Post 53 ), and  Shri Amit (Posts 59 & 67). Thank you gentlemen.

Competitive communalism and entry of  extraneous ideological considerations in all spheres of public life  have been the unfortunate realities in contemporary India. Instead of  cool and dispassionate debates that one ideally expects in matters academic ,what is  visible now  is lumpenisation of thought and actions leading to  politicisation.

Alas ! Everything is carried out in India only for furthering  political ends.

G. Niranjan Rao
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India
Oct 30, 2011
02:01 PM

Sydney, Australia


Sanskrit scholars almost uniformly agree that Uttarakhanda was not written by Valmiki. If you know a little bit of Sanskrit you can easily find this;one need not be a pundit to understand this.
At the end of Rama's coronation and happy moments later , Valmiki finishes Ramayana by a few slokas telling very clearly that people lived happily in "Rama Rajya" without any type of descrimination and deceases and Sita the queen gave birth to many male children. That was all.

But Uttarakhanda starts the whole story again. SITA was sent back to forests , ending finally with Sita going back to her mother, by going in to the Earth while the whole city of Ayodhya was watching it.

NO, Uttarakhanda , was not written by Valmiki.

It was written by Bahavabhuthi in the name of "Uttara Ramacharitam". Bhavabhuti made it clear in the begining itself, that he took the story from Valmiki and he was adding "fiction" to it. Bhavabhuti worked as a court poet , in the court of King Yasho Verman ( year 1 A.D.) of Kannouj , two thousand years ago, and probably at the instance of Yashovarman he might have written " Uttara Ramacharitam" , the book as written by Bahavabhuti is very much available.

As for Balakhanda , it was a poor imitation of Valmiki. It could have been written by various pundits and not by one ,lone sanskrit scholar. The truth was that many , generations after generations , Vashnavites , tried to make Ramayana a vashnavite text book. In that attempt ,they portrayed Rama as a God when HE was not aware that he was God. So, actually very little of Balakhanda shows the hand writing of Valmiki.

As for the person called Valmiki there should not be any doubt.
Valmiki described himself in the very begining. He bacme a Sage, he was taking bath or about to take bath and he saw two birds ,husband and wife (orinthologists agree that many classes of birds actually marry ) were making love and mating , and then a hunter shot an arrow and the male died, the female started crying making several rounds around dead body of her husband.

Valmiki feels exteme pain and auotmatically a sanskrit sloka came to his tounge. As we begin to read and coming to Yuddha Khanda , we realise, that the female bird is Mandodari and male one is Ravana and the hunter ? yes, it is Lord Rama !!! The tragedy , the language used, the intensity with which Mandodari weeps , is just the same as the first sloka on his tongue.
Valmiki, did not make Rama , a God until the end. While Sita , a highly realised soul, even by the time her marriage, was aware that she was Goddess.

Ravana was very much aware and instantly recognised Sita as Goddess Laxmi and hence he requested ( before he had finally abducted her ) her to sit in his palace and he would worship her with a garland made with all the flowers in his Ashoka garden.

Valmiki made use of "slesha" in Sanskrit which can be crudely defined  as "double meaning".

Ravana's mental worship and calling Sita as mother,one time even directly without resorting to use of 'slesha" and his suicidal instincts led to many Sanskrit scholars to comment that Ravana actually suffered from Oedipus complex, that of entertaining sexual ideas towards one's own mother at least in his subconscious mind. But this is not correct , we need not agree. 

Very people understood the actual nature of Ravana. The one who might have properly understood him was probably,  Hanuman and to some extent Lord Rama himself. ( Lord Rama admires Ravana for the radiance on his face but at the time Rama did not know he was Ravana)

None can write like Valmiki. In many Sargas, in Ramayana , if you read three slokas together you would get the sound "Ohm"!! with first letters.

bowenpalle venuraja gopal rao.
warangal, india
Oct 30, 2011
03:17 PM


You are first lowly and later lowly mathematician. You are making comments without understanding the issue. The congress stooge Anwaar will always take position what he is expected to.

The issue is Ramanujans essay though knowledgable is part of course. Part of course practically means official history by the state. Or a question on Rams character officially. So some one approached Supreme Court. Very similar to Rushdies writings about Satanic Verses or dashtis listing of 26 woman of Prophet. When Tirmidhi writes about verses or Bukhari collects hadith about prophets personal life then they are part of internal arabic documents but when the same is used in other language to highlight negative points then they become insulting.

Ramanujans writing read by hindus to get clarification about various Ramayans is different from Making it part of curriculam. The essay was removed by voting on orders from Supreme Court. The demonstrations by leftists for freedom of speech shows their usual stupidity. They didnt demonstrate when a christian professors hand was chopped when he used name mohammad for one of characters. Now the professor was not suggesting prophet but name Mohammad. Still his hand was cut and enquiry commission placed to dismiss professor, all by the leftist government.

I wonder why irreverent Indian gave you respect you didnt deserve. My point is simple either you make similar essay about Prophet or Mother Mary as part of curriculam for sake of freedom of speech or shut up.

NY, United States
Oct 30, 2011
04:40 PM

 The cup of India has always overflowed
With the heady wine of truth
Even the philosophers from the West
Are her ardent devotees
There is something so sublime in her mysticism
That her star soars high above constellations
There have been thousands of rulers in this land
But none can compare with Rama;
The discerning ones proclaim him
The spiritual leader of India
His lamp gave the light of wisdom
Which outshone the radiance
Of the whole of humankind
Rama was valiant, Rama was bold
Rama yielded deftly his word
He cared for the poorest of poor
He was unmatched in love and compassion.

Allama Iqbal in Bang I Dara as translated by AB Vajpayee
Iqbals interpretation is surely from Valmikis as most his works are always from the Pramana , the first source.

Sydney, Australia
Oct 30, 2011
06:04 PM

I have not read the Valmiki version of the Ramayana for the simple reason that I don't read sanskrit despite coming from somewhat of  an ancient priestly family , one of  direct ancestor having been Principal of the Sanskrit College founded by Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. The institues where I received  general & specialised education would not teach any of the vernuculars let alone the Ramayana .

But being a practicing Hindu I came to know the outline story of  the Ramayana in & out, I don't know how. That possibly is story of the average Hindu man & woman. That speaks volumes about the greatness & ageless attraction story of the Ramayana. But knowing what I know of the story of the epic , I cannot accept that Ramayana is an religious script. No problem if you insist on calling it an epic.

What everyone also know & generally not disputed is characters of the principal protagonists .

King Dasharatha seems to be a waekling  hen-pecked  polygamous husband who kept a harem where the women faught like tom-cats & under influence of his womenfolk would proceed to disinheirit his eldest son.

Rama himself is another weak character who would not fight for the property which legitimately is his & meekly give up , probably because he was afraid of responsibility like the current Indian prince  who once in a while pop up somewhere in UP, deliver a lecture , disappear & would not put his money where his mouth is. Rama's track record in the wilderness & field of battles including in the main one is not something worth writiting home aboaut. He also would  not mind taking  recourse to trickery where walking the main street won't work. He also deserted his wife & children. Worst of all he would attempt to burn his wife.

Laksmana is one more invertrabrate who would gatecrash in to a place of worship & kill a defenceless man who at that point did him no harm. In real fight he propmtly faints , poor Hanumana having to uproot an entire mountain to put back him on his feet. That's not great doing. He also do not seem to be his own man all the time following his elder brother's coat-tails.

Lady Sita is not much of a character. She does not play any leading role in the entire story. But one can  get a glimse how her mind worked when she unfairly accuses his brother-in law of eyeing her lecherously , while poor fellow was left to guard her in an wild forest at the instance of her husband.

The less said about Ravana is better. At the instance of his hyper-sexed sister on heat , he would go & abduct some one else's wife. Ravana sends all his relatives  & generals to war & death. He would only fight himself when no one was left & was forced vto join battle personally.

Hanumana of course is nit-wit. He is the beast of burden of every body & has the mentality of a slave. Who would go for searching a needle in a hay-stack & end up carrying an entire mountain on his shoulders? In anycase it was an improbable story as law of gravity would not permit such shenanigans.

The point of this character sketches is that university professors need not unnecessarily get het up on Ramayana , its versions or critiques of hundred versions so long they teach young boys & girls law  gravity properly & teach them how to reconcile & live with  gravity & the relatve, because at some point politicians will certainly take over & make things messier.

Oct 30, 2011
08:59 PM

>> "I have not read the Valmiki version of the Ramayana for the simple reason that I don't read sanskrit despite coming from somewhat of an ancient priestly family ," - Manish

You are either lying or have serious misconceptions. The reason you did not read Ramayana is that jokers like you are still hanging by Tagore's beard.

Btw, the priests in Bengal do not marry. Yours is either a different breed or you've been imported from Bangladesh. Your last paragraph makes sense. May be, you can start cleaning the education system from Presidency College.

The Irreverent Indian
Online, India
Oct 30, 2011
09:45 PM

Irreverent Indian,

must tell you that i just love all your posts!!

Kiran Bagachi
mumbai, India
Oct 30, 2011
10:55 PM


I suggest you read the essay before shooting off any further posts and more importantly, take a course in Reading and Comprehension 101 from NYU.

Tucson, United States
Oct 31, 2011
10:55 AM

@Venuraja Gopal,

Thank you for your informative posts. Very few of us have read Valmiki's epic and your posts gives us a peek into his nuanced narrative.


Tucson, United States
Oct 31, 2011
11:14 AM

Sh. Rao,

  Please write more about the character of Ravana. I have read/heard various interpretation, all quite fascinating, but I was not aware of this one where he thought Sita as his mother. Thank you very much.

Tucson, United States
Oct 31, 2011
11:37 AM

Wow! 86 comments in just 2 days; seems this controversy about Ramayana is going to bring the anarchy of another Ram-Janambhumi Ki Kissa. 

From the mid-1980s Hindu fundamentalists had become vocal and militant in their
claim to the site on which the mosque was built, which they believe to be the
birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. The BJP which had only 2 seats in the Indian
Parliament in 1980, riding on the Ram-janabhumi controversy managed to increase their tally in 1998 to 183 and form Govt. at the center. Then, it advocated a mild variety of
Gandhian socialism. Now after being out of power for more than two terms, it is ardently espousing Hindutva issues, and their brother in arms RSS and VHP combine are carrying out a sinister plan of making the Valmiki Ramayana alone as the authentic history.

Shyamal Barua
Kolkata, India
Oct 31, 2011
02:17 PM

Why Sita is an enigma??

Why so many critics had not properly understood Ramayana ?

We know that a humble indian farmer who may be an uneducated fellow understands the symbolism in Ramayana so easily that performers  through puppets played entire Ramayana at least until 50's.

Unless you understand an Indian's  family attachments, his traditions, his belief systems,  it is really difficult  to understand the significance of various deeds in Ramayana. Yet another problem is Puranas  and myths associted with them. A foreigner with a different cultural backgorund would feel difficult to understand even the significance of Goddess Laxmi let alone other Gods or Goddesses and added  to this Ramayana generously quotes from Puranas.

That is why it is essential for them to uderstand for example characters like Sachi's husband (Indra) or Devi Anasuya or Vishwamitra !!!. This is one simple reason for these people to read commentaries on Ramayana and they should put a rule to themselves that they should not comment on Ramayana without reading some associated works and commentaries. Take for example a story in Ramayana,  on the way , in the jungle Sita met Anasuya and Anasuya gave a face cream to Sita so that her beauty would not go because of walking under hot sun in the jungles. For a foreigner for example this episode is just next to nothing.

For example why Sita is an enigma ? an unsolved puzzle? why she is a legend and lives in every house, tresspassing the barriers of religion ? Why?

We have great legends about Anasuya, Arundhati and Savtri, all human beings for example. But none of these rose to the status of Sita.

Anasuya was put to a difficult situation by Gods. She turns them all ( trium virate of hindu gods) in to infant babies and breast feeds them. All the three, wives of these gods had to plead Anasuya so that they could regain their bodies. And so was Savitri. She followed God of Death ,Yamah Raja and finally brings back her husband alive. Even then these two are nowhere compared to Sita in the memory of people in general. But the question is why?

Any other housewife could not have behaved differently with her abductor and Ravan like person for example. Sita was also a naging wife like any other married woman, if you read Valmiki Ramayana you would know this.She is not a docile person or like the description of feminists "door-mat". Sita was very adamant woman with a very strong opinions. She also had too much attachments to her jewellery and carries along the casket of jewellery her father gifted her in her marriage. She wears all of this jewellary now and then right in the forest !!!

Sita being a strict vegetarian puts a condition to her husband that he should not kill any living being in front of her. She elicits three boons from her husbands who grants them very reluctantly. 1) that he (RAMA) should not kill Rakshas and the only exception is that a Rakshas should attack him for him to react !!  2) that he (RAMA) should pardon any rakshas or anyone even if he/she committed gravest sin, if such a person asks for pardon. 3) Rama should not kill any living creature ,including snakes,animals or birds in front of her eyes.

In Dandakaranya it was conclusively proved later on by archiologists , that there existed cannibals. Cooked bones were found in archiological surveys.  Rama in the begining (Aranya Khanda ) started killing Rakshas without any mercy. Sita starts nagging her husband. She argues that these Sages,sadhus godmen all are very selfish people and they are using her husband for their ends. They can use their powers of penance and burn those rakshas ,curse them etc., according to her. RAMA argues with his wife , that he gave his word that he would protect all these sages and their Yagnas from cannibals and Rakshas. That he is even ready to lose her than to go back on his word.

Finally she wins and gets assurance of those three boons.

There is something which makes Sita to easily identify woman of India and yet she is far away,yet she is an enigma ,yet only ideally possible for a such a woman to exist in today's world  and not in realty. Once a marriage is done, we have a Sita arriving in our house. That  much is the influence of Ramayana in our family life,cultural life and social life.

Yet Sita like person is difficult to undestand. In Yuddha Khanda, a forest bear one day sees a weeping Sita in Ashoka gardens of Ravana. All bears , which collect, in front of the city goes to war !! against  Ravana's forces ,which is well known as "war of bears"( Yuddha Khanda).  

Valmiki's Sita is a little bit different from Tulsidas Sita or Kamba or Molla Ramayana or even Rajaji's Ramayana where the primary difference is her dialogues with  Rama,with Ravana and with Laxman. In Valmiki Ramyana for example, Sita picks up argument with her mother-in-law !! (Kaikayi)  agrily shouting at her ,because her husband discarded royal robes and , put on only one sigle dhoti without any upper clothing !!! and that too saffron coloured piece of  clothe. She creates a big scene in the family weeping and shouting at her mother-in-law !!! Such scenes duly went on changing with each author making her only a deity without any human qualities.

bowenpalle venuraja gopal rao.
warangal, india
Oct 31, 2011
04:20 PM

Indian nationalism is not the patent of only 'self proclaimed' few, it is as deep rooted among Muslims, Sikhs and Christians as the right wing nationalists, if not better. And it is useless to keep mentionaing them, it bellittle their contributions.

A poet from yesteryears, Allama Iqbal, who penned poems like Saare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara and Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua Ban Ke Tamanna Meri wrote one more poem among many, that remains largely unnoticed even today, in his book Bange Dara, that is 'Ram'. Although his creations were largely based on teachings of Islam but the influence of Indian culture was clearly evident in his writings.

Translated version of poem 'Ram'. Taken from 'Allama Iqbal, Selected Poetry' By Muhammad Iqbal, K. C. Kanda

Brimful with the wine of truth is the cup of Indian thought,

Western thinkers feel enraptured when they drink this spiritual draught.

Thanks to the flights transcendent of the Indian mind,

Far above the heavens high shines Indian star.

This country has given birth to many men of angelic worth,

We have glorified this land with their deeds and thoughts.

India is mighty proud of Rama’s sacred name,

Discerning minds respect his word as voice of God.

The Indian evening outshines the morning of other climes,

What a great miracle this beacon has wrought.

Rama was a warrior great, uniquely brave at heart,

A reservoir of love abounding, pure in word and thought.

And the original version (from Bang-e-Dara) written in Urdu is:

Labrez hai sharabe-e-haqeeqat se jaame-e-Hind,
Sab falsafi hain khitta-e-maghrib ke raam-e-Hind.

Yeh Hindion ke fikre-e-falak ras ka hai asar,
Rif’at mein aasmaan se bhi ooncha hai baame-e-Hind.

Is des mein hue hain hazaron malik sarisht,
Mashhoor jin ke dam se hai duniya mein naam-e-Hind.

Hai Raam ke wajood pe Hindustaan ko naaz,
Ahle-e-nazar samajhte hain usko imam-e-Hind.

Aijaz is chiragh-e-hidait ka hai yehi,
Roshan tar az sahar hai zamaane mein shame-e-Hind.

Talwaar ka dhani tha, shujaat mein fard tha,
Pakeezgi mein, joshe-e-mohabbat mein fard tha.

Iqbal seems to have refered to Valmiki  very different to the approach o AKR.  Is it case of a non-Macaulayite vs Macaulayite?

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