Thoughts on the Ramayana – Part 2

(This is part 2 of the reflections inspired by my YouTube conversation on the Ramayana with my friend Pranav. Available here)

Nārada muni had confirmed to Vālmiki that it was possible for someone to have the sixteen guṇa-s, and Ram was one such person. After few days, Brahma the sriśṭikartā visited Vālmiki’s ashram. Brahma confirmed about Ram, what Nārada had claimed. He encouraged Vālmiki to write Ram’s story and spread it in the world, for people to follow as an example. The advice from Brahma created a resolve in Vālmiki to spread the word about Ram.

One morning, Vālmiki saw a hunter hunt down a bird while the bird was in middle of mating with his partner. Seeing this, Vālmiki spontaneously said ­– मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमश्शाश्वतीस्समा: । यत्क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधी: काममोहितम् ।।1.2.15।। 15 (Tr. “O fowler, since you have killed one of the pair of infatuated kraunchas you will be permanently deprived of your position”). Importantly, the sentence was spoken in a particular chhanda (meter) of poetry. It was beautiful. After that, Vālmiki decides to narrate/compile the story of Ram in the particular meter of poetry. And hence, we witness the birth of the poet in Vālmiki.

In my opinion, there are two important points to note here. First, in both classical India and classical Greece, the poet was the historian. Histories were written/sung in the form of poetry. And unlike the modern process of history writing, for which time-sequence is sacrosanct (what happened before : what happened after), the classical historiography is description of an event. For the classical poets, “the lesson of each event, deed or occurrence is revealed in and by itself” (Arendt. “Between Past and Present”, p.64, Penguin Books 2006). In my opinion, an event by definition is autonomous i.e., it has the capacity to reveal (aspects of) Truth independently, with no need for any causal relation with past or future events. Our interest in narrating events is reflection on Truth, and not to find causal ‘time-sequence’, which modern historiography seems to be obsessed about.

Secondly, the prominence of poets in a society (and poets as those who describe events) was common to both classical Greece and India. The importance accorded to poets is probably due to the realization that whatever is worth passing on to next generation needs to be inscribed in meter of poetry. This is in contrast to contemporary attitude (or modern attitude) which gives importance and dignity to inscription in the form of binary-logic. I think, one important tenet of Indian civilization is its kalā-pradhāntā or kathā-pradhānta and this aspect is a natural outcome of the tradition of poets in our society.

Pranav, in this recording calls maharishi Vālmiki as ādi-kavi (the original poet or the first poet) and Rāmayaṇa to be ādi-kāvya (original poetry or first poetry). The purpose of Rāmayaṇa is to pass the learnings of Veda-s amongst people. And therefore, there is a bias towards knowledge (veda). The classical historiography is biased, is subjective unlike modern historiography whose character is “eunuchic objectivity” (Arendt. “Between Past and Present”, p.49, Penguin Books 2006) i.e., incapable of any reflection on matters of Truth.

In my opinion, this is an important matter to flag – the classical process of historiography, when conceptualizing the ‘Indic framework of expression’.

2 replies on “Thoughts on the Ramayana – Part 2”

I think we should talk more in existential terms. If reality is existential then it is available for everyone to see and not exclusive to only scholars and academics. I want to make two points in the way i understand . First is about History and Itihaasa. History focuses on temporal reality only. Therefore dates and particular events become important. History is concerned with facts only. And facts can be right or wrong. And then facts are interpreted by the particular historian. Again this is entirely subjective and prone to (deliberate or otherwise) mistakes. Itihaas on the other hand is more concerned with learning lessons and getting inspired from what may have happened (Itihaasa). We can not learn from facts (even assuming they are true and not distorted) simply because facts are bound both by time and space (location). Truth is eternal – for all times and everywhere. Beyond time and space. In any happening there are two aspects – the temporal and the eternal. The temporal lies in the “doing”, the manifested, the visible aspects. At least these aspects dominate the transient aspects. History on the other hand is concerned with that aspect of happening that remains the same, beyond time and space. Like human desires, human defilements, human avarice, human traits, nobility and other qualities which uplift human life. So there is fundamental difference between history (fact focussed, transient) and itihaasa (Truth focussed, eternal). Iitihaasa is supposed to make you think, ponder, contemplate, learn and inspire. It is meant to uplift. For this the only way is Dhyanakarshana. To draw the attention of the reader/listener to Truth. Since Truth neeeds to seen within. It can not be shown outside. Truth is beyond logic too. Truth needs to be realised and experienced therefore itihaas does this by attempting to draw the attention. And here is my second point. In this (drawing attention to something which lies within and not without) verse is more conducive as compared to prose. Prose tends to be flat and therefore prosaic (i wonder if prose and prosaic have any relationship epistemologically speaking). Verse encourages the reader/listener to imagine and use that imagination to get inspired and then SEE.

Current historians probably feel that history is best left to the historians and them alone… Hence best to remove all traces of beauty and vitality, then no one will read, nor disturb nor raise questions !

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