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Periyar’s lies regarding Ramayana

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Periyar’s lies regarding Ramayana
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The recent controversy over the vandalism of Periyar’s statue in Vellore, Tamil Nadu has yet again cast the spotlight on his legacy.  Erode Venkata Ramasamy, more commonly known as ‘Periyar’ was a social activist and a politician who started the ‘Self Respect Movement’, centered around Dravidian identity.  The Dravidian movement was based on three important planks – ‘Anti-God’, ‘Anti-North’ and ‘Anti-Brahmin’ ideology.

Periyar is known for his controversial comments on religious beliefs and Brahmins.  He believed that Ramayana and Mahabharata were texts written by cunning North Indian Aryans (whom he considers Brahmins) to subjugate and control Southern Dravidians, whom he described as ‘Sudras’ and ‘Mahasudras’.[1]  Periyar wrote a book titled ‘Ramayana – A True Reading’ in English and ‘Sacchi Ramayan’ in Hindi, wherein he reversed the traditional and mainstream accounts of Ramayana and sought to paint Rama and other positive characters in a negative light. He has also glorified negative characters like Ravana and Kaikeyi.  In short, it is an antithesis of the original Valmiki Ramayana.  This book should be read and understood in the context of Tamil politics and caste system. However, on reading this book, we find that with an intention to tarnish Lord Rama, he has distorted various important facts, resorted to telling half truths and whole lies.  This articles aims to expose some of those lies.

It may be noted that there are several versions of the Ramayana.  However, the only accurate version is the Valmiki Ramayana, as he was a contemporary of Lord Rama.  The other versions can be considered genuine only to the extent they match with Valmiki’s Ramayana.  Hence, I have based my analysis on a reading of the Valmiki Ramayana only.

Periyar’s lies

Lie #1: Ravana was a Dravidian King from South India[2]

Truth: Ravana was neither born in South India, nor was he “Dravidian”, nor a ‘Sudra’.  Ravana was born in Bisrakh[3] in Uttar Pradesh.  He was born as a Brahmin to Sage Vishrava and his wife, princess Kaikesi. He was born in the ‘Devagana’ (godly lineage), as Vishrava was the son of Saptarishi Pulastya, who was also one of the Prajapatis (mind born sons) of Brahma.

Then, how did he come about to rule Lanka? – Ravana usurped the entire kingdom of Lanka from his elder step-brother Kubera.  Kubera, the god of wealth was born to Vishrava’s first wife, Varavarnini.  Ravana, Shurpanakha and Vibhishana were born to Vishrava’s second wife, Kaikesi.

Further, Ravana was a scholar in the Vedas and Shastras and used to perform many Vedic rituals.  Rama, himself had referred to Ravana as a “Maha Brahman” in the context of his education. Now, why would Ravana, who Periyar considers his role model, read the Vedas and Shastras, which Periyar considers Anti-Dravidian and Anti-South, and an “Aryan” text to subjugate Dravidians to the slavery of North Indians?.

Lie #2: South Indians (including Tamilians) are either depicted as Rakshasas (demons) or as Vanaras (monkeys)[4]

Truth: Asuras were anyone who opposed the hegemony of Indra (King of celestials).  Rakshasas were bloodthirsty cannibals who devoured human beings. Nowhere is it mentioned that Rakshasas or Asuras were native only to South India. In fact, Rakshasas or Asuras were found in North India as well.  Narakasura, one of the most infamous Asura was from Pragjyotisha (Assam).  He had imprisoned 16,000 women and was ultimately killed by Krishna. Bakasura stayed near Ekachakra (West Bengal).  Hiranyakashipu’s (father of Prahlad) capital city was Hindon (Rajasthan).

Ravana was originally not from Lanka. Lanka was a magnificent city built by Vishwakarma (architect of gods), which was ruled by Kubera (god of wealth), until Ravana evicted him by coercion.

Coming to Vanaras (monkeys); – They are just one of the many exotic creatures mentioned in our ancient texts.  They were believed to be inhabitants of Kishkindha (modern day Karnataka).  In addition to Vanaras, our ancient texts also describe Gandharvas (culturally superior beings), Yakshas (nature spirits, who were custodians of treasures), Pishachas, Nagas, etc.  The Yaksha Kingdom is mentioned as the region surrounding the Kailasa mountains and Manasa lake (ie, Tibet) in the Himalayas.  So, using Periyar’s logic, would it be right to say that the people of Tibet were depicted as spirits?.  If we further stretch this absurdity, was Jambavan, likened to a bear because South Indians were hairy?.

Also, the Ramayana describes Vanaras (monkeys) to be followers of Vedic tradition and were in no way were akin to barbarians.  Kishkindha is described as a culturally resplendent and magnificeint kingdom.

The Ramayana also describes other South Indian kingdoms.  Sugriva, while dispatching his Vaanara soldiers in search of Sita in the Southern direction, advises them to search in the Southern provinces of Andhra (present day Andhra Pradesh), Chola (Tamil Nadu), Chera (roughly in between Andhra and Chola) and Pandyas (southernmost area in Kanyakumari district) and Kerala (roughly present day Kerala state)[5].  He goes on to give a detailed description of the southern territories to the search party.  While describing the Pandya Kingdom, Sugriva says:

“You shall see a fully golden castle door bracing the compound wall of the fortress, which is decorated with pearls and jewels. Conduct your search even in that kingdom” [6].

Periyar's lies regarding the Ramayana 01e

Nowhere does he describe the Pandyas to be Rakshasas or monkeys.  From the above, we can conclude that Southern Kingdoms/ South Indians were described to be wealthy and prosperous and have not been shown in a poor light in the Ramayana.

Lie # 3: As a pre-condition to his marriage to Kaikeyi, Dasaratha had agreed that the future son born to them (Bharata) would be made the King.  As per some accounts, Dasaratha had even handed over the entire kingdom to Kaikeyi and was only ruling it on her behalf. [7]

Truth: Neither Kaikeyi, nor her father imposed any such condition prior to the marriage, nor did Dasaratha ever hand over the kingdom to Kaikeyi.  The truth is that Kaikeyi had once saved Dasaratha’s life due to which, he had granted her two boons.

When Manthara, the wicked housemaid first informs Kaikeyi that Rama is going to be crowned as King, Kaikeyi’s first reaction was one of happiness and she rewards Manthara with a necklace.  Till that moment, Kaikeyi had loved and cared for Rama as if he were her own son.  However, Manthara flings the necklace away and successfully poisons Kaikeyi’s mind about Rama. Subsequently, Kaikeyi invokes the two boons from Dasaratha and asks for Bharata to be crowned King and Rama be sent to exile in the forest for 14 years.

Also, in the Valmiki’s Ramayana, we find several instances, wherein Kaikeyi herself acknowledges that Rama is the rightful heir to the throne. While replying to Manthara,  Kaikeyi says:

He is the eldest son of Dasaratha and hence eligible for the kingdom.  After Rama’s rule for 100 years, Bharata, the best among men will certainly replace Rama on his father’s throne”[8]

Periyar's lies regarding the Ramayana 02e

Credit – www.templepurohit.com

Lie # 4 – Rama had multiple wives apart from Sita.  He had married many other women for his sexual pleasure[9]

Truth: Rama had only one wife, Sita. He was an ‘Eka Patni Vrata’ – the man who married only once.  This lie emanates from a monologue by Manthara, a housemaid who is trying to poison Kaikeyi’s mind. Given her bias towards Rama, her opinion is not really reliable. Further, if we analyse closely what she told Kaikeyi:

“You will become Kausalya’s (Rama’s mother) maid servant.  Bharata will become Rama’s attendant.  Rama’s wives will be delighted.  Your daughter-in-law will be unhappy because of Bharata’s waning position”[10]

The words “Rama’s wives” here do not indicate that Rama had multiple wives. Manthara refers to a possible future where Rama, being a King would marry other women.  It was a norm then for a king to have more than one wife.

Further, when Shurpanakha tries to seduce Rama, he politely rejects tells her:

“Oh, honourable one, I am already married and this is my dear wife, thus it will be distressing for you to live with a co-wife”[11]Rama tells Shurpanakha that he belongs to and can only belong to his wife Sita.

Lie # 5 – No North Indian Arya (Brahmin) or devata died in the war with Ravana[12]

Truth: The problem with this statement is that it assumes that all North Indians are Brahmins and that all Brahmins are “Aryans”.  Ironically, the term “Aryan” means the same as the word “Periyar” or the “respected one”.  Aryan does not refer to any caste, colour, nationality or religion.  Since Brahmins are found even in Southern states including Tamil Nadu, the very premise upon which this statement is based is wrong. Interestingly, Ravana’s son also addressed him as “Arya”.

Coming to the second part of the statement – during the course of the war, countless number of Vanaras lost their lives. During the course of the war, Indrajit single handedly kills scores of Vanara soldiers[13]. Subsequently after the war, Indra grants a boon to Lord Rama and all the dead monkeys are restored to life.  The problem is that Periyar sought to make the Ramayana a conflict between North vs South and Aryans vs Dravidians, rather than Good vs Evil.

Lie # 6 – Dasaratha loved Rama more than Bharata.  As Dasaratha knew that Bharata was the rightful heir to the throne, he had sent off Bharata to his maternal Uncle’s house for a period of 10 years. Meanwhile, when Bharata was away, Dasaratha conspired to install Rama to the throne without Bharata’s knowledge. Rama was also part of this conspiracy. [14]

Truth: Bharata did not stay in his maternal uncle’s house for 10 years or for such a prolonged period of time. In the very first verse of the Ayodhya Kanda – Sarga 1, it is mentioned that Bharata sets out on a visit to his maternal uncle’s house, (just before Rama’s coronation) accompanied by his brother Shatrugna. It further mentions that when they were away, they constantly remembered their aged father.  The next verse mentions that Dasaratha loved all this sons equally. Based on a reading of these verses, we understand that when Bharata was away from Ayodhya even for a short period of time, he missed his father and his thoughts were always in Ayodhya.

Periyar’s aforementioned lie seems to emanate from Manthara’s rant when she is poisoning Kaikeyi’s mind about Rama.  As mentioned before, Manthara’s opinion is not reliable, given her bias towards Rama.  However, let us examine what she said about Bharata:

“You sent Bharata to his maternal uncle’s house even in his childhood.  By being nearer, love is born even on inanimate things.  By sending Bharata to a distant place, you made Dasaratha to have no affection towards him”[15]

Here, Manthara wanted to emphasize that Kaikeyi’s love for Rama grew due to Bharata’s absence owing to his frequent visits to his maternal uncle’s house (which took approx.

7 days of travel). We cannot discern anything else from this statement, apart from the fact that Bharata was quite close to his maternal uncle Yudhajit. Nowhere does Valmiki mention that Bharata stayed with his maternal uncle all the time, while abandoning Ayodhya.

We shall subsequently explain why the decision to crown Rama had to be done in Bharata’s absence.

Lie #7 – Dasaratha announced his decision to crown Rama as the King without consulting his ministers, counselors/ advisors and subjects. This decision was taken in haste in the absence of Bharata so that he would be deprived of the throne.[16]

Truth: The decision to crown Rama as the King was a unanimous and a collective decision.  Dasaratha had decided to call a great council, consisting of ministers, prominent people of his kingdom, his officers and his subjects to debate upon the question as to who would ascend the throne.  In this council, Rama was unanimously chosen to be the king by consensus. Below is the translation of the relevant verse:[17]

“After understanding the opinion of King Dasaratha, who knew the holy and worldly matters, the Brahmans, important people, urban and rural citizens came to a consensus after discussing together and told the aged king as follows:

“Oh king! You are an elderly person with great experience. Hence, inaugurate Rama as the ruling prince.”

Subsequently, Dasaratha experienced various ill omens and he feared that some harm may befall the kingdom or that he may die.  Fearing this, he decides to install Rama on the throne as early as possible and fixes the date of coronation after consulting his ministers and astrologers – ie, on the date the Pushya star is in conjunction with the moon – which was the very next day.  He felt that this decision would be in the best interest of the people of Ayodhya.  He dosen’t wait for Bharata, as he opines that Bharata is righteous and would understand that this decision was taken in the best interest of the people.[18]

Periyar's lies regarding the Ramayana 03e

Lie #8 – Ramayana and Mahabharata were written by cunning Arya Brahmins who wanted to destroy Dravidian identity.[19]

Truth: Again, Periyar seeks to make this a racial issue rather than viewing these as texts which provide moral and ethical guidance. He also seeks to make this a caste issue by contending that Brahmins wrote the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Our religious texts make it amply clear that caste system (order or class system being a better term) was conceptualized based on division of labour. Kshatriyas were the warrior class, Brahmins were teachers and priestly class, Vaishyas were traders and Sudras were the service providers. Each class had their own set of rules and regulations (Code of Ethics one may say).  In modern times, we do not bat an eyelid when someone says: “I am an Engineer” or “I am a lawyer”. The Varna system was conceptualised purely based on one’s profession.  However, unfortunately over time, the system became perverted and thus modern caste system came into being.  In my opinion, the modern caste system has become redundant and it is time to eliminate it altogether.

A person’s birth didn’t determine his caste. There have been instances mentioned in our ancient texts, wherein people have changed their Varna due to their deeds – Vishwamitra became a Brahmarishi, even though he was born as a Kshatriya.  Dronacharya was a Brahmin by birth.  However, he renounced his right to be called a Brahmin when he took up weapons and became a Kshatriya. Jabali Rishi was born as a Sudra.  However, he became a Brahmin due to his penance and austerities.

Lie #9 – Shambuka, a Sudra was killed by Rama for merely performing religious rites which were reserved for Brahmins. Rama believed that this act of Shambuka had led to the premature death of a Brahmin boy. Rama was therefore casteist. [20]

Truth:  The Shambuka story appears in the Uttara Kanda.  We have to understand the context which led Rama to take this drastic step.  The Shambuka story has no caste angle though Periyar might mislead one into believing so.

Shambuka was a Sudra ascetic who had performed penance with a motive to attain celestial power and attain heaven, while keeping his material body. Tapas has to be performed for a pious purpose. Ravana also performed penance, but they were not for pious reasons.  It is forbidden to aspire to attain heaven with a material body. [21]The material body is meant only to fulfill one’s Karma on Earth.  Shambuka had violated Dharma and the resultant bad karma led to the death of a Brahmin child.  The Shambuka story is very similar to Trishanku’s story. Trishanu also wanted to attain heaven by keeping his material body.  In this case, Trishanku was a Kshatriya and not a Sudra. He was also not permitted to enter heaven by keeping his material body.[22]

Rama’s outlook towards people from lower caste can be seen in his treatment of the Nishada King Guha (who was an outcaste).  Rama had embraced him and accepted his hospitality.  Rama also ate the fruits offered by Shabari (who belonged to the Bhil/ tribal community. He treated all subjects equally without discriminating them based on caste.

Lie # 10 – Rama killed many women and also mutilated many women by cutting off their nose, ears, breasts, etc (Tadaka and Shurpanakha)[23]

Truth: The above statement is incomplete and misleading without understanding the background or context in which these circumstances happened.  Tadaka was an evil man-eating demoness who lived in a forest on the banks of the Ganga (again North India!). She terrorized people and devoured anyone who dared to set foot in the forest. She destroyed the Yagnas (sacrifice) of Vishwamitra with rains of flesh and blood. Unable to bear the mischief any longer, Vishwamitra approached Dasaratha for help and asked him to send Rama and Laxmana to protect his Yagna.

Rama was initially hesitant to kill her as she was a woman and initially maimed her, chopping off her hands.  However, she used her demonic powers and continued to attack Rama, while remaining unseen.  After being advised by Vishwamitra that he had to carry out his duty regardless of his own personal reservations about killing a woman, he pierced her heart with arrows.[24]

While in exile, Shurpanakha tried to seduce Rama.  Rama had politely refused and said that he belongs to Sita, and only Sita. Angered by this, Shurpanakha rushes to devour Sita.  At this point, Laxmana rushes towards Sita’s protection and chops off her ears and nose[25]. Even by modern standards, attempt to murder is punishable with death.  A homicide may also be considered justified if it is done to prevent a very serious crime, such as murder, rape, etc.  Thus, the act of Laxmana maybe considered appropriate.

As you can see from the above, Valmiki’s Ramayana has been misinterpreted and distorted by Periyar with an agenda to suit his ideology and discredit the values espoused in our ancient texts.

Notes

[1] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Refer Prelude/ Introduction

[2] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Refer Prelude/ Introduction

[3] Bisrakh is named after Vishrava, Ravana’s father.  Vishrava had found a linga in the forest area and had established the Bisrakh Dhaam (abode of God) with the linga deified therein where he offered worship.

http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/only-the-elderly-come-to-mourn-ravana-in-birthplace-bisrakh/

[4] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Refer Prelude/ Introduction

[5] Kishkindha Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 41, Verse 11,12

[6] Kishkindha Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) 41 – Verse 18, 19

[7] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Page 14

[8] Ayodhya Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 8 – Verse 16

[9] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Page 19

[10] Ayodhya Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 8 – Verse 12

[11] Aranya Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 18 – Verse 2

[12]  Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Refer Prelude/ Introduction

[13] Yuddha Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 80 – Verse 36

[14] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Page 14

[15] Ayodhya Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 8 – Verse 28

[16] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Page 15

[17] Book II – Ayodhya Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 2 – Verse 19,20,21

[18] Ayodhya Kanda – Chapter (Sarga) – 4 – Verse 25,26

[19] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Refer Prelude/ Introduction

[20] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Refer Prelude/ Introduction

[21] Uttara Kanda – Chapter 73-76

[22] Bala Kanda – Chapters 57-60

[23] Sachi Ramayana – By Periyar – Hindi version – Page 23

[24] Bala Kanda – Chapter 24,25,26

[25] Aranya Kanda – Chapter 18

Featured Image: Periyar’s damaged statue in Vellore, Tamil Nadu (NDTV)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
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