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Who Is Ram? What A VHP Worker, A Shiv Sena Cadre, A Buddhist Priest And A Tribal Woman Said

Testimonies: Who Is Ram? Whose Ram?

Who Is Ram? What A VHP Worker, A Shiv Sena Cadre, A Buddhist Priest And A Tribal Woman Said

As part of its latest cover on 'The Many Ramayanas', Outlook asked people across India who Ram is and what the Ramayana means to them. What we found is a rich oeuvre of testimonies, histories, emotions and identities.

A graffiti artist painting a scene from the Ramayana on a wall in India
A graffiti artist painting a scene from the Ramayana on a wall in India Getty Images

'Nobody reads it but everybody knows about it'

Ram is the hero of the epic Ramayana written by sage Valmiki and thereafter retold by many across the world. It is not just an epic, it is a second language in India – nobody ever reads it but everybody knows about it. The diversity of the text brings out its richness. This makes the narrative so endearing and is probably why the text still has meaning to its readers. The richness of the epic lies in its adaptability and the more rigid we the text or narrative, the more we alienate the people. 

I feel Ramayana is not a text to be wrapped in sacred cloth and kept aside, it is to be read and enjoyed and learned from. A scholar once said – Ramayan is like a flowing river that changes its course depending on the land through which it passes. It is a living tradition, it speaks to its people and the people speak to it. Let it flow!

UTKARSH PATEL
Faculty – Comparative Mythology Department, University of Mumbai & Author of Mythological fiction

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'Confined to Ram Navami'

Since our childhood we are familiar with the stories of Ram and Sita. Unlike his father who had many wives, Ramji stayed married to one woman – he practiced ek patnitva. There is not much of his presence in Maharashtra. We recite Ram Raksha, which is a part of our worship. Since childhood we are told that the recital of Ram Raksha will make all the evil disappear and only good things will remain. This is the power of Ramji. In Maharashtra, Ram is confined to Ram Navami, here the worship of Vitthal and Ganesha is more. 

The definition of Ram differs from person to person. By giving God Ram a human form, he has come closer to the people. Ramji is more a north phenomenon, not much in Maharashtra. 

GANESH PHADKE
Shakha Pramukh – Shiv Sena

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'Rashtrapurush, Idol For Freedom Fighters'

Ram is a Rashtrapurush (National man). He was an idol for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and all the freedom fighters. They lived by his example. Ram did not follow in his father’s footsteps and marry many times. He was devoted to one wife. The Ram worshippers are united as a family. The ideology of Hindustan is Ram. He cannot be bound in a frame he is much bigger than that. 

The sacrifices of Ram must set an ideal for everyone to follow and emulate. Though Ram could have kept Lanka, which he had won, he did not force himself there. Ram was above caste and embraced the smallest people into his fold. He took everyone along. Ram’s influence was such that for 14 years when he was in exile, Bharat worshipped his padukas (slippers). He has given us many ideals to base our lives on. 

Ram is the truth and is light. He is the strength of the weak, the powerhouse of Hindustan and the protection of our homes.   

SHANKAR GAIKAR
Maharashtra Coordinator – Vishwa Hindu Parishad

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'Don't know Ram'

I do not know much about Ram. I have only heard his name. My family and I are forest worshippers. Our gods are in the forest. I know about Ganpati. 

RENUKA KATKAR
Tribal – Yeoor Hills in Thane district

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'Ideal Man?'

I have read the Ramayana out of interest. It is an interesting scripture. I keep questioning how a person who makes his wife go through a purity test after hearing a washerman talk about her abduction, become an ideal. The story is in a sequence and is easy to understand. There are many questions that arise as you read the Ramayana. 

As Buddhist, we do not know much about Ram and his life. He is worshipped more in north India. During my travels I have not seen much of Ram worship in the south.  

ADHIARAJ BAGUL
Buddhist priest

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(As told to Haima Deshpande)

(As part of its latest cover on the many Ramayanas, Outlook asked people across India who Ram is and what the Ramayana means to them. What we found is a rich oeuvre of testimonies, histories, emotions and identities. Read all the Ramayana stories here).

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