Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ramayana 3/4

Previously Ramayana I & Ramayana II

Banker’s book presents Rama as a human being: A very relatable human being who is vulnerable to a variety of emotions. This was quite refreshing. As much as I loved N.T. Rama Rao and thought that NTR was the best Rama on TV, he was a pre-determined winner. All Ramas I’ve seen or read would come in with divinely grace and would conquer everything with a smiling face. The god-like attribute in them diminished every other attribute. I never remember the valor, dharma or toughness as Rama’s attribute. It was just his divinity. The staid face and the constant habit of being correct in everything. Banker presents a Rama who is angry, scared, romantic, forlorn, tough, skilled. He presents a warring kshathriya with extraordinary tactical acumen, a playful person, a confused person – in essence a exemplarary human being. While this ‘human mode’ is good, I wouldn’t say this was the best aspect of the book. There are two aspects to Banker’s book which really made me a fan of his work. These are two aspects which no grandma story, TV series or movie ever touched upon.

1. Cultures & People: This book widened my perspective towards life. It really put to me, in proper context, the philosophy surrounding judgmental attitudes and responsible criticism. This book juggles with a variety of cultures with diametrically opposite viewpoints. It has a very clear way of showing differences across cultures, opinions, people and ways of life. It shows that different cultures might not hold the same opinion on even fundamental things. The same culture will change its morals and opinions on a single issue over time. Quite simply, what we hold as fundamental or common sense is just an opinion that might change over time. And, without being judgmental, it beautifully drives home the point that different opinions on the same subject are valid under their own individual context. While many people verbally assert that there is no one way to live life or that there is no one truth, this book very clearly shows how we could view this information. Saying so is very easy. Showing through a believable example is another job.

2. Upholding Dharma: The second aspect was in showing Rama’s sense and unwavering intent of upholding dharma. The key does not lie in merely telling us Rama held on to dharma under even the most trying of circumstances, the key lies in creating situations, those trying circumstances, where it is tough for the reader to determine what the right path is, forces the reader to guess and guess incorrectly. This is really different from typical Rama stories of ‘do good be good’ – where it was plainly obvious to everyone as to what the right path was. If the common man completely ‘got’ Rama’s sense of dharma there would be no difference between him and Rama. I wouldn't be interested in that kind of Rama. I don’t want the plainly obvious, I can get that somewhere else. I want the subtly obvious. Like many excellent opinions of any time and age, I would expect the common man’s agreement with Rama’s actions to be inversely proportional to the purity of the said action’s value. Hold my brain to the fire, make me flinch, make me disagree and call the author a fool and then make me realize I was wrong, I’d love you as an author. This book brings all this out wonderfully.

With this being said;

Sex and The Ramayana

Sex, is an important topic as far as any adi-kavya discussion is considered. I have seen many folks attribute sexual undertones to seemingly odd/"magical" passages of adi kavyas such as Mahabharatha or Ramayana. The ones that begin with "you know they would have actually 'done it' but our clever ancestors hid it from us". Such attribution is usually followed by some smug patting each other on the back. It almost suggests as if Valmiki, Vyasa or Kamban would shy away from the truth to protect us from the sexuality of Ramayana (or the other way around). What is worse is that it arrogates an assumption that we are the most sexually liberated generation ever and are more free in discussing sex than any other generation. Nothing could be farther away from the truth. This is just factually wrong. It is also very insulting to the adi-kavya authors. Vasishta's levitate in the air sexual technique with a queen in Ikshavaku dynasty has been described by these authors as the source of continuance of the Ikshavaku clan. If the king could not deliver, the people of those times and the authors were, for lack of a better word – ‘liberated’enough, to be satisfied with the next best thing - a Rishi delivering the seed to the queen. The authors did not think twice about describing any such sexual situation in all its detail. It is 'we' the reader who interprets the purity/impurity of that act. The reader from another era might consider this normal. To the adi-kavya authors if somebody was gay or bisexual or if somebody had sex with animals they would be described and not just describe it but architect it in temples. Sex and orgies have been described without a second thought. If sex happened, no details have been spared. Valmiki and Kamban were very detailed and descriptive in their references to the sexual lives of the people in those times. It is Tulsidas, in catering to the main audience of the epic, who moderates and removes all elements that describe the sexuality of those people. He wasn’t wrong or right. He was Tulsidas.

When one ponders all this and wants to put everything into perspective, one has to consider the question of the segmentation of the Ramayana. Who reads the Ramayana? Who narrates stories of Ramayana? Who hears the Ramayana? What is their age group? If I were to make a guess, I'd venture and say if 100 people hear or read the Ramayana, about 99 people would be less than 15 years or older than 60. Only one person in hundred would fall in the 15-59 category. All the doubting-Dhandapaanis would agree that is inappropriate to narrate how Dasaratha pressed and fondled Kausalya's breasts to people younger than 15. They youngsters can get all that from somewhere else. The old people aren't interested in Kaikeyi's well shaped body and her superb anatomy. They may be interested but it is reasonable to assume they are not into Ramayana for the sex. On the other hand consider this - Who narrates the Ramayana? Again if I ventured to guess all people who narrate Ramayana to others are aged 60 or over. These are people who narrate it for religious purposes. The sex of Ramayana is not what interests them. So it is very natural that the versions of Ramayana they narrate, hear and discuss would lay emphasis on the religious, philosophical and moral aspect of Ramayana. So if someone grew up and is now between 25- 50 years old and is upset that nobody told him about the sex in adi-kavya, it is only his/her fault. Valmiki /Kamba Ramayana is available for everyone to read. Go read it. If you haven’t done that then blaming some oldman, who is making up his own story as he tells it to you, for not giving you the details is just lame.

Ashok Banker corrects the gap with a Ramayana for adults. His book is more sexual than any modern version of the Ramayana. He is faithful. To put his book in perspective, Valmiki and Kamban indulged more (much much more than Banker) in their description of women and sex. Valmiki puts the number of official concubine's of Dasaratha at 350, Kamban puts it at 64,000. That is the reflection of the old times. This was casual in the ancient royal life. To put Dasaratha and the old kings in perspective, Rama was a weird oddity of those times. His one-wife policy was so weird that his contemporaries shuddered and thought he was unusual or eccentric. They even thought he had problems. Sugreeva and Hanuman wouldn't be able to come to terms with the fact that Rama, a prince, would not want to spread his seed across as many women as he could get his hands on. Valmiki describes Rama as the odd person of those times. Banker observes this of both Valmiki and Kamban (they) "depicted sex honestly and without any sense of misogyny. Valmiki neither comments nor criticizes Dasaratha's fondness for fleshly pleasures, he simply states it. When Rama takes leave of his father before going to exile, he does so in the palace of concubines, and all of them weep copiously for the exiled son of their master". Banker is quite simply right when commenting on Valmiki's description of every part of a women's anatomy in great detail "there is no sense of embarrassment or male chauvinism; he is simply extolling the beauty of women characters just as he does for male characters". I couldn’t help but appreciate our man Kamban when Banker says "Even in Kamban's version, women are depicted in such ripe full-blown language that a modern reader like myself blushes in embarrassment. Yet the writer experiences no awkwardness or prurience in these passages - he is simply describing them as he perceived them in the garb and fashion of his time". And Banker in his own book does talk about Dasaratha brushing against a maid's breasts, Kaikeyi's body and refers to Dasaratha's thoughts morning-after he makes love to Kausalya after a long time. He does so with no affectations whatsoever. The questions Hanuman and Angada ask Rama regarding is curious one-woman choice is to put it simply, a work of beauty.

Maryada Purushottama:

There is a segment in Banker’s book, where hanuman meets Rama for the first time, which left me very impressed. They get into a cultural-difference discussion and Hanuman is offended by Rama’s suggestion that Vanars and humans are similar. He argues that humans are barbaric and vanars are better because a Vanar female can choose to procreate with any male without her husband having any say in it. Hanuman is dumbfounded as to how a human male can have so much say in a human woman’s biological behavior. Hanuman is also offended when he is called a monkey. He questions Rama if humans can also be called monkeys just because they share the same ancestors as monkeys. These are delightful discussions and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Rama gets the highest honor a man can get by being called, not just a yoddha - a supreme warrior, but a Maryada Purushottama, as he is a person who upholds his dharma under all circumstances. Under the direst of circumstances, under the severest of threats and under no practical obligation to follow the rules, Rama is shown to abide by dharma. Usually this concept isn’t presented well in religious discussions. It is wrapped in gooey sentimentality. Valmiki wasn’t maudlin when he wrote this. It is simply a term to suggest fastidious adherence to dharma ( that depends on Manu Vaivasvata’s code of life). It might make as much sense today as IPC would make in Aranya Khanda, but it is a dharma based on the kshathriya way of life as Rama knew it. That his contemporaries neither understand the dharma nor expect Rama to follow it make both dharma and Rama more interesting. The contents of the dharma maybe regarded as an anachronism now but it is interesting to see Rama follows it with a rigor and discipline that borders on maniacal obsession to follow rules. This aspect, understandably so, has never been shown in Amar Chitra Katha or TV. That’s why I love this book. Read it and see the way it presents Rama’s profile.

Rama is presented like a rule-following robot, intent on executing the task. But in following the rules he is presented as more ‘deep’ than a typical ‘Rules Ramanujam’. He is not interested in loop holes, exceptions to the rule or an easy way out. He wants to follow the real philosophical intent of the Dharma regardless of whether people consider some terms of the dharma as ‘subject to interpretation’. The real intent is also not very obvious. It has to be found. If the substance of Dasaratha’s promise to Kaikeyi is that Rama has to go in exile, it does not matter if he can still be king by exploiting a technicality. Similarly, it does not matter if you hold an opinion on him and don’t express it. Not verbalizing an opinion is a minor technicality when your opinion is known to him. He will go for the substance of the rule. The form that the substance is wrapped in is immaterial. He will go after the value of your opinion regardless of whether it is expressed in verbal form or not. This is often frustrating to his contemporaries and the reader. It should be so. Adherence to rules isn’t easy to explain as the violation of it is. This is a hard concept to put one’s hands around but if you do get to understand this and get a sense of the philosophy behind Rama’s actions, it is a wonderful experience. The consistency of his actions is unbelievable.

Banker’s class lies in creating a situation where we can see an apparent contradiction on the surface and a consistency several layers beneath. This was Valmiki’s area of expertise and Banker does well to understand that and recreate this important aspect in his own book.

22 comments:

Ashok K. Banker said...

Don't mean to butt in, as you're entitled to your opinion on anything. But I have to correct a couple of factual errors:

Nowhere in any of my Ramayana books does Dasaratha 'fondle' a maid's breasts! The closest I can think of is that he brushes past a maid inadvertently in a corridor--but is barely even aware of her presence, let alone pausing to 'fondle' her. Also, there's no mention of Dasaratha and Kausalya's 'orgasm' at all in my books. In fact, there is no sexual intercourse depicted between them at all. The only thing they do is embrace fully-clothed, and the scene ends there. As far as mention of Kaikeyi's figure is concerned, yes, I do imply that she was sensual, without going into details. So that last bit is fine.

You're most welcome to speak your mind freely on the books. Please go ahead! Just do correct these two errors at the earliest. Look forward to reading the fourth part of the essay.

Best wishes

Ashok

I said...

oho kamayanam engira.

Hawkeye said...

Hi Ashok,

Thanks. Needless to say I am honored by your presence in this blog.

I will delete it as per your wishes. But, at the risk of carrying coal to newcastle, I wish to point out page 65/66 of chapter 4 of price of ayodhya

" kausalyas gentle voice roused him from his daydream. Dasaratha raised himself on his elbow and looked at his queen. She looked contended and sleepy-eyed after their lovemaking. Kausalya was a traditional Arya woman, brought up to never reveal their desires, yet not constrained from enjoying them when legitimate opportunity presented itself. She was pleased by their joining, he saw, and her pleasure gave him pleasure. With kaikeyi the second queen, it was always a challenge, a contest of libidos. To see who could outdo whom, in what exotic manner.... But this... what he felt now, lying in his post coital state of bliss in the akasa chamber".

I accept that orgasm is nowehere mentioned and I was incorrect in using that word. I am going to delete its reference from the post. I quoted the above in the hope that you would understand why I took the latitude to abridge all that and assume an "orgasm" happened.

Anonymous said...

1. I thought it is the victorian influence on Indian literature/culture that brought in the showing two people having sex as two flowers shaking, etc. Ancient India was as free as it was. And ridiculing this post victorian time sounds like is okay with you too. Infact Europe was as free as it was too until Constantine came by.

2. In my opinion, every age feels superior to any other age in all aspects of life. Sexual liberation is one of those. Hence I dont want to agree that Rama's age had it right, they seem to have had a superiority complex too. If liberation = right to choose, then only a superiority complex would term Rama as a weird person with problems just becasuse he chose one woman and stuck to her.

Hawkeye said...

anon,

when you bring about some good points (regardless of whether you criticise/appreciate) like what you have done now, why dont you just reveal your name. it helps me overcome some amount of bias i have against anons

/*And ridiculing this post victorian time sounds like is okay with you too.*/

ridicule? Please point out where I ridiculed and I will change them.


/*Hence I dont want to agree that Rama's age had it right, */

again, I never judged them as right or wrong. except for judging the whole 'judging' thing I did not judge anybody at all.

Anonymous said...

/*
/*And ridiculing this post victorian time sounds like is okay with you too.*/

ridicule? Please point out where I ridiculed and I will change them.
*/

Meant that you i am sure would be okay with making fun of the two flowers kind of way to explaining whats behind the flowers. Not that you ridiculed victorian age in this post.

/*
/*Hence I dont want to agree that Rama's age had it right, */

again, I never judged them as right or wrong. except for judging the whole 'judging' thing I did not judge anybody at all.
*/

While you did not say Rama's age had it right, you did say that the current generation that assumes its sexual liberation as being superior is wrong. Thats the point being contradicted.

Finally as to why I am anonymous, I have my reasons. Anyway, I am no Ashok Banker :) And I do think you already may have a clue as to who I am :)

Hawkeye said...

/* you did say that the current generation that assumes its sexual liberation as being superior is wrong. Thats the point being contradicted. */

is the same as

/*except for judging the whole 'judging' thing I did not judge anybody at all. */

you cant criticise judgmental attitude without judging the process of judgmental'ness itself. its all very recursive :-)

Anonymous said...

/*you cant criticise judgmental attitude without judging the process of judgmental'ness itself. its all very recursive :-)*/

I am not asking you not to critize. I am just presenting my criticism to your judgement. I dont see anything wrong with that.

And by posting this comment, I am reiterating the reiterated. Isnt that fun :)

Sarang said...

This port was for me at least, one reason that I am going to read Ashok banker's version. It is more accessible than Valimiki's and Kamban's. Though, I have been wanting to read them for a long time.

I wish to see your comments on other liberties taken by Mr. Ashok with his characters. (I haven't read the books myself but i have read a lot of reviews online)

On the context of sex and love in our ancient kAvyAs, I do agree with your post that as times change so do the definitions of 'acceptable' and 'non-acceptable' and the way we deal with them changes.

I remember a quote form Mahabharata (MBh) made in the movie Ekalvya: 'dharma: matibhya: udgruta:' I still need to look up where that is present in MBh.

Looking forward to the next post...Regards,
Sarang-

Ashok K. Banker said...

Bharath,

Yes, I do understand why you used those terms. It was more a case of being cautious for many who have not read the books and would be quick (too quick) to judge the entire 3,500-page series based on only one or two alleged instances of offensive material. In this age of moral policing, it's vital to be accurate about such details, hence my request that you correct the errors. I have absolutely no problem with your comments and opinion and analysis. I only want to make sure that when referring to the actual contents of my books, you are doing so accurately. Your corrections, for which I thank you, have rectified the problem, and I have absolutely no issues with anything else you wish to say.

Unfortunately, there are many people today (perhaps always) who feel that merely reading one criticism about a book is sufficient justification for seeking a ban on the book. Such people even go to the extent of refusing to read the book, as in the famous historic case of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, because doing so would 'pollute' their morality. Those of us who are fair-minded, logical, analytical and liberal and intellectually strong in our attitudes and outlook, should be careful not to provide such fanatics with the ammunition they need to launch such misguided attacks.

You and every other reader has every right to state your opinion boldly and fearlessly on my or any other book. It's only when you make reference to actual contents of such books that the author has the right to intervene and point out factual errors.

Thank you for taking my feedback in the right spirit, and I look forward to reading the end of your series. I've already taken the liberty of posting an excerpt from your articles on my website--would love to post the whole thing but it's too long! I hope you don't mind either, I do this often with reviews of my books found on the web.

Best wishes

Ashok

Abhay Tiwari said...

Mr. Banker,

That is a good point. But only half of the story. There are miscreants who will start a propaganda that Ramayan was a sex story and that people mentioned in the story were sex maniacs. That is the level of maturity we are dealing with.

Hawkeye,

I came as an anonymous commentor and bashed you to pieces when you condemned Crystal Blur. I humbly submit my apologies. I did not realize where you were coming from and mistook you for a religious fanatic, who was afraid of sex. Now I understand your view point. Crystal was commiting a huge misrepresentation. Hers was no contemporary contextualization. It was retrogressive. Your posts reflect a maturity and sexual liberalism than her work can ever be.

Your series of posts were an eye opener for me. I hope I will not judge anyone harshly in the future. I am really humbled by your writing prowress and force of persuasion.

Anonymous said...

Bharath,

Just Curious, are there sexual references in the valmiki ramayana and Kamba Ramayana?

- Ganesh

Nattamai said...

ganesh,

have you heard of "vidiya vidiya kadhai kettu seethai'ku raman chittapava"

how apt you ask your question on a Ramayanam?

Anonymous said...

nattamai,

hehe.. good one... but i'm kinda surprised though.. so asking bhartah...

-Ganesh

eNGee said...

Bharath,

A very interesting and intriguing series on Banker's Ramayana. I must confess that I am slso facinated by the the threads each of these posts are generating.

I remember you recommending me Banker's series when we met, but the whole thing slipped through my mind.

I really need to compliment you for the post. Just to let you know, have just gone to the book store and bought the Book 1 of the series.

Looking forward for your fouth part of the post.

sundar said...

can't wait for your fourth part review.. very impressive writing hawkeye.. :) btw, if you could try and find out why some spam links open, when your blog link is clicked and fix it, tht wud be nice.

Hawkeye said...

folks,

i apologize for the sporadic responses. i dont have internet connection since i just changed houses. so unable to respond to comments. will hopefully get to it today.

Filarial said...

the discussion in this comments section is just as interesting as the post itself... fanatasim and the fear of sexual depiction is not limited to any society or religion- take what happened after the release of monty python- the life of brian!.. Take the way arabian nights is told as a set of childeren's stories when the actual stories have high amount of erotic content.. I have thought of how our indian culture came to be so when none of our really old literature or stories actually point towards tht.. and one conclusion that I came to was that it probabaly happened as an aftermath of the slave king invasions of the 11th century and subsequesntlly being ruled for 800 years by cultures which were (no slur meant) way backward in philosophy and intelectuality. This probabaly bobbed over into the way our older stories are told and highly influenced thinking...

sandeep said...

Hawkeye,

Interesting posts. Just one question: have you read the Ramayana in the original Sanskrit?

Thanks

Sandeep

Hawkeye said...

sarang,

thanks. in part 4 - i mentioned some liberties taken by ashok.

ashok,

protecting oneself from potential is not common sense anymore. i am glad you are thinking this way.


abhay,

thanks. fault lies in my side. i still stand by my criticism of her. but should have paid more attention to how i did it. like i mentioned to ashok above. i did not guard myself against potential. she was a cheap 3rd act trick. i wanted to expose her superficial act - that she was not well-read and had a poor sense of humor and was by no means contemporarily contextualising - not even in the same ball park (A. Banker was). She was conveniently tweaking existing material for silly page-hits. I ended up saying none of the above and used hindu sentimentality as an argument, which was nonsense.

ganesh and nattamai,

:-)

engee,

I am not able to locate you through the nick. when did we meet? looking forward to your reply.

sundar,

thanks. havent been able to fix spam links. dont know how to fix this.

filarial,

interesting commment about arabian nights. i didnt know they were Pg-13'eed

sandeep,

1. sanskrit verses traliterated in english
2. sanskrit verses transliterated in thamizh
3. velukudi krishnan's upanyasam on Valmiki Ramayana (very detailed - almost like a workshop).

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