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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 5 February 3, 2024

Finding Ram amidst the Chorus of Ram Temple | Preeti Chauhan

Saturday 3 February 2024


Ram — The word uttered in pain and in veneration denotes the power of its healing magic. Something ethereal is there in this word as described by Sage Vashishth while naming Ram. The chanting of his name gave solace to millions not only in past Yugas but even in the modern world. And it is the making of modern India after Independence that Ram became the battleground for diametrically different visions of this great country.

The divinity, deepness and simplicity of Ram seems to be lost in the grandeur that surrounded him in the run up to the consecration of Ram Temple on 22nd January 2024. Ayodhya belonged to Ram with or without the temple, and Ram belonged to millions of people who marveled at some of his virtues, but also related to his sorrows, his struggles and some of his contradictions too. Ram seemed real and near for he was both a God and also human.

Ram Navami was celebrated across homes in villages and towns of north India without the menacing rallies and call for violence as has been witnessed in past years. The birthplace of Sita in Bihar saw a Baraat (wedding procession) coming from Ayodhya each year, and then moving to Janakpur in Nepal. The little traditions were kept alive for ages without direct state power. Ram Janaki temples abound in many parts of North India particularly in the Awadh Region and in Mithila. The folk songs, artistry of these regions are full of stories of Sita-Ram. From daily activities to grand events, parts of Ramcharitmanas, Chaupaais (quatrains) from it continued to be recited.

β€œPrabisi Nagar Kije Sab Kaja, Hriday Raakh Kausalpur Raja" before beginning a new task for success in it, β€œRam Nagariya Ram ki, base Gang ke Teer, Atal Raj Maharaj ka, Chowki Hanumat Veer”—to be not fearful, are just two amongst many such chaupaais (quatrains) that common people continued to say with a firm belief in the presence and guiding force of Ram.

The Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas was recited not in schools and colleges as is being done and proudly propagated these days, but in homes, temples, parks across North Indian villages and towns. Religion and reverence were personal not marketed and sold! India remained a religious society without blurring the distinctions between secular institutional spaces and religious institutions which are not only blurred but stand collapsed today. Secularism is not an ideal but a necessity in multi-religious democracies as the events of recent years show us clearly. Here, both the much-maligned Nehruvian idea of Secularism with state standing at a distance from religious activities and the Gandhian notion of Sarva Dhrama Sambhaav, show us why. In a multi-religious society with state backing one religion against others, leads to majoritarianism both in polity and society. Nehruvian idea is therefore instructive here. Trying to give equal space to all religions, though takes away the distance between state and religion but still guards against the brute majoritarianism of the dominant religion. Sarva Dharma Sambhaav is therefore a valuable idea. Both of these seem to be lost in the run-up to the construction and now consecration of Ram Temple. Ram himself perhaps would have gone for the second conception if his was a multi-religious society or even the Nehruvian distance as he would have wanted himself to be seen as neutral. Ram can show the way here also!

For a generation who has seen Ram being worshipped in smaller, simpler and yet such meaningful and reverent ways, it’s hard to find the karunanidhan, sujaan (compassionate, accomplished) that Sita wanted to marry but who following his Rajdharma (duty of the king) banished Sita to forest, the curse of which Ayodhya continued to bear!

(Author: Preeti Chauhan, Teaches Political Science at Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi)

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