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Twin myths of Rama and Ayodhya
A good story used to make bad drama



Only legend has it that Rama was born in a place called Ayodhya. But where
is or where was Ayodhya situated?

The Hindu pantheon has countless deities, each with its own function and
station, but if there is one who topped them all in popularity it is Rama.
He is popular because his image served a felt need. In a religious milieu
dotted with passion and strife, not just among the rajas but also among the
gods and goddesses, Rama's was an image of chivalry and sacrifice. To
celebrate Rama was an occasion of joy and glory: to celebrate the victory
of good over evil. So Rama towered above all other deities, emotionally if
not theologically.
The Rama story is thus a good story and with a lot of drama too. Once
upon a time there was a raja called Dashrath who ruled over the kingdom of
Ayodhya. He loved his son Rama most, but Rama's stepmother Kaikayi wanted
her own son to be the next raja and she, therefore, asked the king to
banish Rama to the jungles for 14 years. A henpecked Dashrath did exactly
just that and a dutiful Rama went into exile with his wife Sita and
half-brother Lakshman.
A personal tragedy strikes Rama in the jungle. His wife is abducted by
Ravana, the demon king of [Sri] Lanka. But the chief of the jungle apes,
Hanuman, comes to Rama's help. He leads his monkey brigade into Lanka and
frees Sita from the clutches of the demon king.
Rama returns and ascends the throne. The exile is over but Sita's
troubles are not. Tongues wag that she had not been faithful to Rama so she
is made to undergo the fire test (agnipariksha) in order to find out
whether or not she had been chaste and faithful. Sita goes through the fire
and passes the test. The tongues do not stop wagging, however. So Sita is
banished to the jungle and banished alone. There she gives birth to two
boys. Thankfully Rama acknowledges them to be his. The details are sketchy,
but Sita feels hurt and betrayed. She prays to her 'mother' to take her
back. The earth opens up and takes her in.
It was a rather sad ending for a nice story, but it is only recently that
apart from the Dravidians, the pre-Aryan native Indians, who regarded
Ravana as a hero, there is some questioning in the Brahmin belt too of the
moral of the Rama story. A booklet entitled, BJP: Mukho o Mokhosh (Face
behind the mask of the BJP), issued earlier in January by the Communist
Party of India (Marxist) accused Rama of being both 'anti-people' and
anti-women'.
'Anti-women', because he had forced Sita to go through the test of fire
and although she had passed the test, he still banished his pregnant wife
into the jungle.
'Anti-people'? According to Valmiki's Ramayan, one of his subjects,
Shambuk, learns to read and write. But instead of being pleased, Rama
punished him, severing his head with his own sword. Shambuk was 'low caste'
and in beheading him, Rama was doing his religious duty according to Vedic
law. The caste law laid down that education was a privilege, and it was
reserved for the 'upper caste' alone. It was, therefore, a crime for the
'low castes' to try to read and write, to the extent that if a 'low caste'
person happened even accidentally to hear someone reading the holy Vedas
aloud, then his ears have to be sealed with molten lead (sic) - so that he
didn't repeat the offence.
Such and many other questions of 'correctness' are bound to arise, if
Rama is to be taken as a real person and his life story a historical event
and not mere folklore created by its bright and often well-meant authors
who were inventing a hero for their times. Then, for example, few would
object to a 'low caste' person being beheaded simply because he had
committed the crime of learning to read and write.
Rama is, therefore, what the various authors have made him out to be. All
Rama stories originate from a body of folk literature called Ramayan. Badri
Nath Luniya, Indore University dean of social science and author of the
standard social history text book, Evolution of Indian Culture, (1951 and
1983) explains: 'The Ramayan is believed to be the work of Valmiki and the
Mahabharata [another epic folk history] is ascribed to Vyas. But the epics
as we know them do not belong to anyone or to only one author. The present
form [of Ramayan] is the result of additions from time to time in their
several recensions, the latest recension of Ramayan in the form in which we
find it was about 200 AD. However, by the second century BC the work was
complete.'
The origin of Ramayan, Luniya believes, 'lies in kathas or ballads of
heroes and of heroic events sung by bards in the courts of rajas on the
occasions of religious sacrifices or great feasts' and inevitably,
therefore, the epic has got interwoven with 'fact, fiction and allegory'.
In the event the various strata of Ramayan show a clear evolution in the
concept of Rama.
In the early stratum of Valmiki's Ramayan, 'Rama is simply a hero,
miraculous in strength and goodness', but according to British historian
Lionel D Barnet (Notes from Hindu Gods and Heroes, 1922), in the later
stratum 'Rama appears as a god on earth, a partial incarnation of Vishnu'.
Vishnu is considered the supreme deity and saviour of the world. He is,
according to Bhagvad Gita, 'born from age to age' in order 'to guard the
righteous, to root out sinners, and to establish the sacred law.'
However, it is significant that the deification of Rama did not happen
before the 11th century though it took another three to four hundred years
for the emergence of cults venerating Rama as the incarnation of Vishnu.
Shantiniketan University historian Professor A M Muzumdar pointed out that
while the famous grammarian Painani made allusions to the Mahabharata hero
Arjun and other characters in the epic, he shows no awareness of Rama. Rama
finds a mention only at the beginning of this century, according to
Muzumdar.
But whatever the anthropological mechanics and the time frame over which
Rama may have evolved from 'a local hero of the solar dynasty' into a god,
it is significant that the kingdom of Ayodhya over which he is alleged to
have ruled does not find any mention either in ancient history or in any
other ancient book of India. Only the legend has it that Rama was born in a
place called Ayodhya. But where is or where was Ayodhya situated?
The Ayodhya where Rama is claimed to have been born was, according to
Valmiki's Ramayan, close to theriver Ganga and some 1.5 'yogena' (about
14.4 km) from the river Sarayu.
The Ayodhya of the Babari Masjid lies on the bank of Sarayu.
In Valmiki's Ramayan, Sarayu river flows into the Ganges river.
The Sarayu river of the Ayodhya of the Babari Masjid flows into another
river called Tapti.
In Valmiki's Ramayan, Rama is said to have gone to Bharadavaj Ashram (a
retreat at Bharadavaj) by crossing the Ganges river at a place called
Shirangupur.
But Bharadavaj lies in the town of Allahabad which is 150km south of
Ayodhya. Shirangupur is 35 km north of Ayodhya.
None of any other mention of Ayodhya in Valmiki's Ramayan corresponds
with the Ayodhya of Babari Masjid.
The Archaeological Survey of India studied the 'Archaeology of the
Ramayan sites' and made extensive excavations at the present Ayodhya of
Babari Masjid, in Shirangupur and in Bharadavaj. The excavations dated the
place to around 700 to 600 BC and that the people then lived in houses made
of mud, sticks and grass.
The legendary Ayodhya, according to Valmiki's Ramayan, had magnificent
palaces, eight-storey houses, arterial roads and fortifications etc.
However, since kiln brick structures appeared in Ayodhya around 300 or 400
BC, could the legendary Ayodhya have come around or after this period? No,
because none of the excavations for the kiln brick period provided any
evidence of the Rama kingdom in the Ayodhya of Babari Masjid.

M H Faruqi