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Pollock’s Ramayana: A Review- II

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Pollock’s Ramayana: A Review- II
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The concluding part of the review of Prof Sheldon Pollock’s “Ramayana and Political Imagination in India” deals with “Temple cult theory” and refutes the political nexus between worship of Rama (Temple cut) and politics.

Says Pollack (1993:269),

“What is certain is that cult of Rama has a history”.

All things have history whether it’s a modern invention or institution, a family or a dynasty, a temple or a kingdom, a philosophy or a school or thought; all have their own journeys. But where I beg to differ is in his claim,

“That from 7th century AD onwards substantial interest in the Ramayana tale is attested (1993:265) and 12th century AD saw sudden onset of activity of building temples to Rama which intensified over next two hundred years (1993:266). Says Pollack, at first extraordinarily restricted in time and space, it exhibits striking efflorescence and assumes a prominent place within the context of a political theology from end of twelfth century onward, achieving in some instances a centrality by the middle of the fourteenth (1993:269).”

Here he cites examples of temples by Kalachuris of Ratnapur, substantial temple building by Gahadavala, Ramtekdi complex near Nagpur by Hemadapant for Yadav kings and Ramchandra temple of Vijaynagar.

Temples were never random places of worship, sacrifices, rituals or gatherings. Temples reflect the psyche of society; mirror the relationship of man with God. The progress of man from animal to human, from materialistic and territorial to philosophical and spiritual is echoed in the architecture of temples. Indian civilization dates back prior to 5000 BC. Archaeological evidences are few to indicate forms of worship. But Vedic hymns give us clear picture of nature worship, yagnya and homa. Statues, terracotta figures of female goddess, pipal tree, tiger elephant, bull and Pashupati seal and the “citadel” with fire altars found in the excavations of Kalibangan of Saraswati-Sindhu civilization reveal the prevalent form of worship. As the Indian culture developed, so did the form and means of worship namely rituals and temples.The sciences of mathematics and astronomy developed along with Upanishad, Samkyashastra of Kapilachrya, Yoga of Patanjali, Vaisheshika (atom theory) of Kanada, and Nyaya of Rishi Gautam (Dharma sutra). These sciences and philosophies found application in practical life and what was in texts, scriptures and philosophies in course of time came to be imaged in temples.The same God came to be addressed with different names in different forms…Rudra of Rig Veda, Pashupati of Mohenjo Daro, Mahadeva, Maheshwara, Shiva and Nataraja in later times. Vishnu (Vis-allpervading) of Rig-Veda and Narayan of Upanishad came to be later worshiped as Vasudev and Krishna. Man’s progress in material culture from caves, pits, thatched huts, to kiln fired well planned houses, stone mansions, wood palaces, intellectual progress in astronomical, physical and mathematical sciences along with spiritual journey of Veda, Upanishad and Vedanta reflected in temples. From simple structures of worship, by 5th century AD temples slowly evolved in magnificent and multidimensional institutions of art, culture, science and philosophy.

Along with numerous Stupas and cave temples of Ashokan times, are found the terracotta representation of Ramayana scene (Ravana carrying away Sita) ascribable to 2nd-1st century BC from Kausambi in Uttar Pradesh, multiple terracotta plaques from Nachara Khera, Haryana (Rama and Lakshman searching for Sita,Rama and Sita admiring the deer), and Jind,Haryana (describing Hanuman as destroyer of Lanka), Nagarjunkona, Andhra Pradesh (depicting Bharata’s meeting with Rama at Chitrakoot) 3rd century AD, Nachana –Kuthara, Madhya Pradesh (depicting Ravana guised as ascetic at Sita’s cottage) 5th century AD. A terracotta figure currently lodged in the Los Angeles County museum of Art, USA, but believed to have come from Nachara Khera in Haryana. It portrays Rama whose name is also inscribed; in Brahmi characters of 3rd century CE (refer to appendix) (lal,2008,34-43). The Hathigumpa inscription of king Karavela of Chedi dynasty in 2nd century CE reflects the popularity of Jain school of thought in Odishha (Phalaksha 2008, 161). From above instances it is very clear that not only all school of thoughts namely Buddhism, Jainism, Shaivism Vaishnavism and others were well developed but Ramayana themes were popular as well in very early period. So when Fahein, the Chinese traveller visited India in the reign of Chandra Gupta II in late 4th century CE he found equal number of Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples (Bose,1913,179). By 500 CE, art of temple architecture- Sthapati Shastra was very developed, in itself, Vastushastra, Shilpashastra, carpentry, metallurgy and allied sciences.Stone came to be used as building and carving material. The first half of first millennium saw India experiencing flourish of art and literature and regain of political stability. Nalanda University (comparable to Takshashila University of 6th century BCE) was built in Skandagupta’s period. Manuscripts of Vedas that had been transmitted orally so far appeared during this time, Bhatti’s Ravan Vadha, Vishakadatta’s Mudrarakshasa, Vatsyana’s Kamasutra, Aryabhatta’s Surya Siddhanta and Aryabhatiya and numerous others, some historical,some fictional, playwrights, were compiled. The extensive exposure of literature, art, philosophy and sciences and prosperity of Gupta Empire reflected in construction of rich and variety of temples. Dashavatara temple at Devagadha Jhansi, Shiva temple at Gwalior, Sarangdhar temple, Vishnu temple at Gaya, Surya temple at Vaishali near Patna along with famous statues of Shiva at Devaghada,Buddha at Mathura and Jain Theerthankars at Mathura are a very few to name from innumerable constructions.

Pollock says, (1993:265)

“From the seventh century on, substantial interest in Ramayana tale is attested, as in Chalukya temples of Virupksha and Papnath at Pattadkal,which are among first to attempt any kind of systematic narration.” He also claims them to be of Shaivism nature.[1]

But above examples from Haryana, AndhraPradesh and others show that Ramayana scenes had already appeared much earlier than the above said period and most importantly not in isolation.They had developed with many other themes in conjunction with other schools of thought.So it can be clearly concluded that Ramayana themes in temples were present far earlier than Pollock’s ascribed period.

The earliest example of temple building activity is attributed to Kalachuris by Pollock (1993:266). Here he cites examples oftwo Rama temples, one in Ranjim in 1145 CE and second in Rewa in 1193 CE. As far as statistics is concerned Pollock is correct. Ranjim stone inscription incised on left wall of Rajiv-Lochan temple describes the details of temple and local history, consistent with other stone inscriptions found in surrounding areas.The temple was built by Jagpala (also called Jagatsimha) a feudatory to Prithvideva II as well as his father Ratnadeva II. However Pollock has partially quoted the inscription, implying that Jagpala was compared to Kshatriya Rama, best of warriors trying to connect politics and Ramayana. What he doesn’t bring to light is, Jagpala has been also compared to Karna of Mahabharata in liberality, Yudhistira in religious merit, Rama in valour and Jimutvahana in truthfulness. Also Jagpala did not this build this temple. He renovated the already existing 8th century Vishnu temple supposedly built by a king of Nala dynasty as revealed by another much defaced record on same wall of mandap. A comparative study of all the stone inscriptions of surrounding areas names Kharod, Ratnapur, Bilaigarh (plates), Koni and Akaltara[2] reveal building of numerous shrines dedicated to Shiva, Durga, Vishnu, Parvati, Mahakali, Surya Dev, Tunta Ganpati, Dakshinmukhi Hanuman, along with temple ponds, step wells, charitable feeding houses, plantation of mango grooves and gardens built by Kalachuri kings and their ministers and feudatories. So building a couple of Rama temples along with numerous other temples does not amount to substantial Rama temple building activity. Temples dedicated to Rama did not develop in isolation. If there was one Rama temple constructed, then there were numerous other Vishnu, Shiva, and Parvati temples as well.Motives of ruling community cannot be decoded on basis of temple building activity alone. Their administrative and social reforms, warfare strategy and religious tolerance have all to be considered to judge them politically.

As per Pollock (1993:267,) the next instance of temple to Rama seems to be one constructed at Svargadvar ghat, Ayodhya by Chandradev of Gahadavala dynasty in late 11th century who had conquered Ayodhya and Banaras. A detailed study of Gahadavala history reveals many temples dedicated to Vishnu were built during their rule (Kunal, 2016, 346). Govindchandra[3] grandson of Chandradeva in 1130 built the famous Vishnu-Hari temple at Janma bhumi. Pollock’s statement (1993:266)

“Between the mid eleventh and the end of twelfth centuries the Gahadavala dynasty begins to develop Ayodhya as a major Vaisnava centre by way of a substantial temple building program”

fails to strike any relevance to current topic. All preceding as well as succeeding rulers also undertook extensive temple building. And since the current topic of debate is Ramayana themes in political discourses how building Vishnu temples can have any bearing on the same? Moreover Rama is equally revered in Vaishnav, Shiva and Shakti cult. Ramcharitmanas of Goswami Tulsidas of 17th century AD is narrated as dialogue between Shiva and Shakti. So building Vishnu temples does not solely favour Rama theme and building Rama temple doesn’t imply Vaishnavism. Interestingly inscriptions of this dynasty refer to a tax –Turushka-danda (Majumdar, 1952, 315) is debated to be levied for covering military expenses against Mahmud Ghazni. Govindchandra in 1168-69 AD repulsed attack by Khusrav Malik. They did everything in their power to safeguard the homeland from foreign invasions. The successors of this family continued their fight against Muslim invaders till the last king Jayachandra lost life and battle to Mohammad Ghori in 1194 CE..

The subsequent example quoted by Pollock is Ramtek temple complex by Hemadpant on insistence of Yadav king Ramchandra. Pollock says (1993:266),

one Hemadpant (some say a Rakshasa, and others a Brahman) built five temples on Ramtek hill, Rama and Sita, Lakshmansvami, Hanuman, Ekadashi, and Lakshmi-Narayan.

Hemadpant (Hemadri Pandit) is most certainly a historical figure, who was Prime Minister (Karnadeep) to both Ramchandra (also known as Ramdeva) till 1272 and his father Mahadeva, the Yadav kings[4]. Hemadri Pandit was in himself a very learned person and Sanskrit scholar. He started the Modi script (cursive writing) in Marathi which was used for all official documents till 19th century AD. He started the Hemadpant style of architecture which uses lime and black stones. Along with books on architecture he also authored Chaturvarg Chintamani which lays down format of Ramanavami utsav (birth ceremony) and Raghavadvadassivrata and numerous other vrata (cyclical rituals prescribed for gainingpunya).These include Mangal Gourivrata, Shravan Somvar vrata which are observed extensively in North Karnataka and Maharashtra even today. 1293 CE inscription of Pandharpur temple speaks of donation received from Hemadri Pandit and Ramdeva for construction of Vitthal temple (Panniker, 1997,350). These were the times when Varkari sect was gaining momentum and influence of saint Dynaneshwar (1275-1296 CE) and Namdev (1270-1350 CE) who were contemporary to Hemadri Pandit was far reaching. Sant Dnyaneshwar’s philosophy and works reflect inspiration from Upanishad,Bhagavad-Gita and Advaita philosophy. Numerous abhangs which are poems in praise of individual deities and advocate worship of Nirgun Brahman (cosmos) and through Saguna roopa (form) through bhakti (devotion) came to be compiled during this and subsequent period, dedicated to Vitthal-Rakumai, Rama-Sitamai and others. Chanting of “Jai Jai Ram Vitthal Hari” became the easiest tool of practising devotion.The chances of Hemadapant being inspired by these dynamic events to build temples are more than him nurturing a political agenda.Pollock’s statement “What is in any case indisputable on the evidence of this praise –poem is that King Ramchandra empowered his viceroy substantially to embellish the Rama cult here” (1993:267) appears preposterous as Hemadapant was more than a viceroy to the king. Having served his father as well he was more of a father figure and mentor. Be it then Sumanth to Dasharatha and Rama, Vidura to Pandu, Dritirashtra and Duryodhana, Chanakya to Chandragupta Maurya and Bindusara, or Rudraditya to Parmar king Munja, they were more than just ministers to kings. They owed their allegiance to their king, land and people. Welfare of people alone dictated their moves. Considering above circumstances it would appear that Hemadpant initiated Rama temples along with other his other socio-cultural activities and not on orders from the king (but taking customary permission).What Pollock (1993:267) wants to imply by stating

“His minister is described as a descendent of Vasistha, is the family priest of Rama and whole of Raghu clan”

is not clear but Hemadpant belonged to Vasistha Gotra. The same system of mentioning ministers with their gotra is found in Kalachuri inscriptions as well and identifying a family by gotra continues today till today.

So from above examples of Gahadvalas, Kalachuris and Yadavs it is clear that temples dedicated to Rama, Vishnu and others were developed along with numerous socio-cultural activities, and defensive military strategies at the backdrop of foreign assault.

Medieval India experienced continuation of the old as well as acceptance of the new. The philosophies of earlier period continued to guide the civilization under different school of thoughts. Along with commentaries on Brahma Sutra, Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishad, Adi Shakaracharya of 7th– 8th century made the Nirakar (formless), Nirgun (devoid of Rajas, Tamas and Satvik gunas) concept of God easily comprehensible to common man as Sagun (personal God) (Munshi,1958,33-61). He established four Mathas at Badrinath, Puri, Sringeri and Dwarka in four cardinal directions and popularised the Panchayatan mode of worship, taking into account popularity of Vishnu, Shiva, Ganapati, Ambika and Surya. He started the system of chatrabhog in the Jagannath temple of Puri wherein all the devotees and pilgrims could share the prasad. Equal is the contribution of Ramanujacharya (1017-1137 CE) who included disciples of all castes (Munshi,1970,1-39). He was inspirational force for founding of Channa Keshav temple of Melkote, Karnataka. Raja Choda of Ganga dynasty and Vitthaldevraraya of Mysore became his ardent followers. Anandateertha (later known as Madhvacharya) of Pajak (Udupi) Karnataka (born-1238 CE) may have been the most influential in promotion of Bhaktimarg through worship of personal God. He compiled numerous commentaries and poems. A verse from his Dwadashstotra (1st shloka) is

स्मरामिभवसन्तापहानिदामृतसागरम्
पूर्नानन्दस्यरामस्यसानुरागावलोकनम॥

This work was composed in the praise of Krishna, whose image Madhvacharya had obtained from a Valabhi King of Gujarat.The meaning of this verse can be interpreted as

In this world full of sorrows remembering or meditating on the ever happy, ever satisfied and ever in bliss Rama, and experiencing his love and compassion filled glance is like nectar, amrut.

He journeyed India thrice in his life time and many became his disciples. Prominent among them is Samashastry, minister of King of Kalinga (Narasimhadeva II or Bhanudeva) [5] of later eastern Ganga dynasty. Later known as Narharitheertha (Krishnaswamy Rao,2003,3),he obtained idols of Rama and Sita from the royal treasury of the king which are worshipped even today in Uttaradhimath and Mantralaya math as Shri MoolaRama.He also founded Yakshagana in Karnataka and Kuchipudi in Odhissa.

These are just three great personalities out of many. Nimbarakacharya in 13th century AD hailing from west Bengal, Vallabacharya in 15th century CEin Gujarat,and innumerable Shaiva (Nayanars) and Vaishnava (Alwars) saints, Varkarisand numerous other saints; their contribution to Indian culture and spirituality is unparalled. They advocated worship of Radha-Krishna, Rama-Lakshman-Sita, Vitthal-Rakumai, Shrinivas-Padmavati, japa (repeated recitation) of names of God as easiest way of purifying mind and practicing devotion. In conjunction with this temples dedicated to Rama, Radha-Krishna developed.These spiritual leaders were not arm chair preachers or philosophers, but very practical leaders who travelled all over India, had one to one correspondence with king and common man alike and influenced them. They knew the pulse of people, collective psyche of society at a given time and how to boost their morale and were driven by common cause of welfare and betterment of society. Here let me quote initial stanza of Purandaradasa’s poem in kannada,

Ramanan payasakke, Vitthal naam sakkare

Krishna naam tuppave berisi bayi chapparisi ro

 Which when translated would mean; to the name of Rama which is like payasam (kheer), add name of Vitthal which is like sugar and then mix name of Krishna which is like ghee (clarified butter) and enjoy the bliss.

There is vast poetry, devotional songs and literature dedicated to Rama, Krishna and others contributed by above such spiritualists. They made abstract sciences and philosophies easily accessible to common man. They acted as catalysts between man and his God. They played a monumental role in maintaining India’s cultural, political and spiritual identity and inspiring feelings of devotion and patriotism. This all was necessary when India was being ravaged by foreign powers. Men, women and rulers were torn in tug of war, between adapting alien culture, identity and sovereignty or lose everything. The existence of an entire civilization was at stake, either submerge in the new culture or get swept away. In times of such turmoil, Indian society needed selfless leaders who could cement people’s faith in themselves and their culture, fortify self-respect and self-esteem and inspire them to protect their identity, territory and their civilization. When offended and attacked; fight and flight are two options of survival for existence. Offence and defence are two sides of same coin. Action of defence is always going to be in reciprocation to offence.The need of time gave rise to these enigmatic noble leaders who stood like bulwarks against foreign assault. They became the backbone of society, so that Indian society could thrive and flourish. It is not the hand that fights the battle, but the head and heart that fight. These spiritual leaders fortified the heads and hearts of Indian society to rise up against the overwhelming tide of foreign power. They dealt with almost all subjects pertaining to human life, health and hygiene, medicine and devotion, administrative strategies, government policies, military art and many others and mentored raja and praja alike. They acted as nexus between raja and praja inspiring a sense of mutual respect and responsibility. And most of the times, temples which belonged to no one in particular, but to everyone were places of their sermons and temporary residence.Thus temples dedicated to Rama were not powerhouses executed by Hindu rulers but along with numerous other temples, came to be centres for social gatherings, spiritual discussions and shared thinking[6]. Templesthus came to be reflection of collective psyche of society, defined by man’s relation to God, influenced by economic, cultural and political conditions, rituals and traditions of society and inspiring a sense of unity amongst various strata of society. (Hence concept of Rastradaivat where entire rashtra bows down to One single God, and Ishtadaivat where there is freedom of devotion to deity of personal liking)..

Similar role was played by Vidyaranya in establishment of Vijaynagar Empire and Ramdas in Maratha Empire.Vidyaranya (born 1658CE) who was at that time the 12th pontiff of Sringeri Sharada Peeth acted as mentor to Bukkaraya and his brother Harihara (Rizvi1998,84-88) helping them in establishing to Vijaynagar Samrajya in Kannada-Telugu provinces and acted as spiritual guide to three generations (Rizvi,1987,84). Similarly Vyasarayaru (Vyas:1447-1548CE) was the supporting pillar of Krishnadevraya. Krishnadevraya was gifted administrator, tolerant king who constructed mosques for his Muslim soldiers (Rizvi, 1998,87) a talented poet and a military genius.He who was defeater of Adil shah of Bijapur considered himself a disciple of Vyas. Krishna and Vijay Vitthal temple, Hazara Rama temple and many other were built during his period. VyasTeerth built hundreds of Hanuman temples across India, prominent being Yantrodharaka Hanuman temple in today’s Hampi. Mathas dedicated to Vyasarayaru are extant today, commanding substantial followers in Karnataka. Ishtadaivat of Vyas was Hanuman, of Krishnadevraya was Rama and whereas Virupaksha of Hampi remains Rastradaivat till today. Moving on to the last part, Narayan (later known as Samarth Ramdas) was influenced by Ramayana from his earliest days. At age of 12 he left home and studied various scriptures in Nasik and it was here he wrote down Valmiki’s Ramayana in his own handwriting (manuscript in Dhule library, Maharashtra).Later he moved through various parts of India for 12 years, interacting with people and penning down his observations. It was during this time that he penned down a collection of poems, Anand Van Bhuvan. In one of the poems he describes Aurangzeb as Mleccha (nonVedic, of foreign origin) and foretells his destruction. He came in contact with Shivaji Bhosale and accepted him as his disciple. Ramdas built Rama Mandir at Chaphal (Maharashtra) and Pratap Durga Mandir at Pratapgadh, near today’s Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani (Maharashtra) along with many hanuman temples,. He did not compile complete Ramayana but only Sundarkand (because he was a great devotee of Hanuman and Sundarkand is about Hanuman’s efforts in finding Sita) and Yuddhakanda (he felt that it might inspire common man to fight against obstacles). Ramdas included men and women from all strata as his disciples and strove hard to abolish evils of caste system. It is very clear that Shivaji Maharaj had nothing to do with Ramdas’s Ramayana. Ramdas was driven by his own devotion and love for his motherland (Samarth Sangrah Bhandar, L.R.Pangarkar[7]).

From above discussion it is very evident that influence of these charismatic leaders cannot be discounted in popularising Ramayana, Rama themes and Rama worship in public domain.The question one may ask is when Vishnu temples developed as early as 5th century CE, what were the reasons for late deification and worship of Rama? Worship in India is in major directed towards two historical figures namely Rama and Krishna. The People were already familiar with concept of Vishnu:Vis—all pervading, and it was easily for them to associate Krishna or Vasudev of Mahabharata with Vishnu of Rig-Veda or Narayana of Upanishad due to His direct declaration in the Bhagavad-Gita as Supreme Being. However Rama in Valmiki’s Ramayana claims “I am a mortal human being son of Dasharatha.”Though Ramayana provided simple messages, and Rama appealed to human mind as “an extraordinary human with divine qualities or divine in human form”, nothing happens overnight. It takes generations together to correctly interpret a philosophy, for it to permeate into society and then reflect in the consciousnessof society. And Rama in Himself is an infinite institution and philosophy. Chances are more of misinterpretation and hence misrepresentation than correct interpretation. A lag of a century or two in appearance of Rama as object of worship in temples in comparison to Krishna fades into insignificance when we take into consideration thousands of years of Indian culture. Why Kapilacharya’s Samkyashastra found resonance in Madhvacharya’s Tatvavada in 13th century and “Aham Brahasmi” of Upanishads laid foundation of Mayavada of Adi Shankaracharya in 7-8th century CE? This is diversity accreditable to humanity.The objects of inspiration for artists poets, dramatists, philosophers and a common man are diverse and cannot be generalised. So Krishna a later historical figure as compared to Rama became object of worship earlier; this phenomenon should be attributed to diversity of human culture. Pollock establishes a hypothetical link between worship of Rama and politics where none exists.

Pollock’s assertion (1993:286) (through narration of various inscriptions andother examples)

“In the face of substantial political uncertainty, then and consonant with other kinds of cultural representations, the Ramayana was repeatedly instrumentalized by the ruling Indian elites of the middle period to provide a theology of politics and a symbology of otherness”

is repudiated by interpretation of same events in context of socio-political scenario. From above examples of Kalachuris, Gahadvalas, Yadavs, Marathas and others it can be inferred that in face of substantially aggressive political policies of invading powers, forced identity and presence of unassimable cultural force, there arose few men and women who inspired the common populace as well as ruling community to maintain faith in native culture and fight for preservation of identity. Pollock’s proclamation (1993:269)

“The development of Ramayana themes in political theology is paralleled in other areas of cultural production as well”

is an exact opposite interpretation of concurrent socio-politico-cultural scenario. Counter argument would be “The already popular Ramayana along with Mahabharata and other works continued to find practical application in lives of people Kings and citizens alike, boosting their morale and inspiring them to spiritually evolve in face of adverse foreign powers.”

Claiming that Yashovarma of Kanauj composed “Ramabhyudaya” to satisfy his political agenda is grave injustice to the outstanding brave warrior who not only successfully repulsed the Tibetan attack in 8th century AD, built also contributed to culture through building of Vishnu and Parshwanath temples in Kanauj. So is with Prithviraj Chauhan III who died a heroic death in battle of Tarrain in 1193 AD. This doesn’t mean that Ramayana theme has not been misused. It has been. Just as Bhagavad-Gita and Karma theory is. It is not easy to interpret the scriptures. But it is much easier to misinterpret. However incongruities of few should not be a burden to all. Individual divergences should not be generalised. A colour blind person will never be able see red or blue colour in a picture, inspite of their presence in the picture. Similarly a culture blind or person can never acknowledge cultural aspects of Ramayana. World appears of the colour of the glasses which the beholder has adorned. So a person wearing glasses of politics can never concede to devotional, cultural, ethical, philosophical, spiritual and patriotic aspects of Ramayana. The fault lies in the sight and not the object. Numerous are examples where Ramayana has been misinterpreted, the latest being a popular serial broadcasted in leading TV channel, Siya Ke Ram, where Rama is reduced to a pathetic husband begging for forgiveness and ready to move to Valmiki’s ashram to be with Sita and Sita is portrayed as avenging woman, full of anger and bitterness and a precursor of feminist movement. This is in contrast to the entire gist of Valmiki Ramayana which upholds Rama first as king, and then as husband, and Sita as embodiment of duty, love and courage. Where lays the fault? In the society which is incapacitated to distinguish between education and entertainment? In the media for broadcasting epic works without sufficient knowledge of Indian history? In the producer? In the director? Or in the advisor of the show who is an eminent Indian scholar dedicated to study of Indian scriptures and symbols through western framework. Abusers are pertinent to all ages and periods.The land which has seen kings like Samudra Gupta or Chandra Gupta II who were epitome of ideal kingship or Siladitya Harshavardhan who in charity gave away all his personal belongings and ruled his kingdom in two pieces of borrowed garments has also seen kings Lalitpida or Rama Gupta. So it is improbable to generalise on basis of few inscriptions of few kings that all kings cast themselves as avatar of Rama or Divinising of kings was a universal phenomenon.

Pollock’s lack of definition and explanation of term “politics” endows the reader to interpret meaning in accordance to one’s capacity and knowledge. If one goes by its definition as regards to its etymology, Greek: Politikos or Latin: Politicus meaning, “of, for, or relating to citizens”, then yes, most certainly Ramayana is political, it is of people, for people and related to people. But does Pollock while composing his essay, refer to this meaning? Unlikely. Had he considered this meaning then entire effort of writing essay and portraying Ramayana as a political tool by ruling community would be futile.From his examples and narration it can be inferred that by politics, he could mean selfish agendas of ruling community. But then this is his interpretation. Not the definition rendered by famous philosophers like Aristotle or Plato. In Indian counterpart, what is a synonym to politics? Rajdharm? Rajneeti? Samajshastra? Any of these? Or all of these? Ramayana and Mahabharata talk of all of these and much more. When Pollock implies L K Advani’s rally as nexus between politics and Ramayana theme (1993:261,289) without taking archeologically evidences into consideration, his essay becomes prey to narrow framework and biased research. He doesn’t need to turn much back. What does his silence on Ayodhya issue in 1989 when gates of the Masjid were opened in regime of congress government to play the religious card indicate? The BJP rally or Congress involvement are not complete truths in themselves, but significant parts of a mammoth reality. If a political party plays religious card to secure vote bank then the fallacy lies not in the institution, but its participants. One party playing games for satisfying selfish agendas does not amount to entire system of politics pry to this game.In such instances generalization of individual experiences imparts grave injustice to non-offenders.

While studying a society (contemporary or historical), both native as well as foreign scholars need to be careful; whereas a native is vulnerable to be biased due to familiarity with culture, an outsider may fall prey to prejudices and misconceptions of unfamiliar culture. The society or the historical period under study cannot be judged on basis of one’s lofty principles and personal framework of ethics. Neither can past societal rules calibrated to contemporary society ideals. For example, polygamy in ancient societies cannot be judged as immoral by today’s legalised status of monogamy. Polyandry which is frowned upon in today’s society plays different functions in different societies in different periods. It was practised in Nair communities of Kerala till late 19th century, and is still practised in tribes of Kinnaur district in Himalayan areas and Toda tribes of Neelgiri hills in South Asia. In every part of society, its function is different. The Nair (equivalent to Naik, meaning leader) goes to battle assured that in his absence and in case of his death, his wife would be taken care of by another male member of the community, whereas in Kinnaur tribes, marriage of single woman to brothers of same family prevents disintegration of land and property in subsequent generation (Samuelson, 1890, 18, 20, 46, 47, Majumdar D N, 1986, 71).Kautilya Arthashastra approves of Levirate type of polyandry, where queen marries king’s brother for sake begetting heir (Majumdar R C,1952,145). From above case it becomes clear that judging a society or individual as amorous on basis of polyandry alone becomes improbable. Thus in above case, personal dislike of polygamy and unfamiliarity with culture can play havoc with the scholar’s observations and conclusions. Similarly saying (Pollock, 1993, 263)

“But something very different happens early in the next millennium: at that moment the tale comes alive in the political sphere and for first time, perhaps, kings become Rama”

on basis of temple building activity or few inscriptions without taking their administrative policies, socio-political activities, warfare tactics, economic strategies and religious reforms is preposterous.

Labelling Ramayana as promulgator of divine sovereignty without considering the concomitant patterns of kingship reflects narrow vision. Ramayana can never be catalogued as divisive political tool owing to its message of unity, love, respect and harmony in all interpersonal relationships.

Thus having critically examined Pollock’s “Ramayana and Political imagination of India” (which advocates Ramayana as divisive political tool, temples as powerhouses of ruling community and Kings as divinised avatars of Rama), this paper through the same examples cited by Pollock demonstrates, Ramayana as an inspirational force to people, temples as reflection of prevailing socio-political circumstances and impropriety of generalising individual instances.

[1] Scene at Pattadkal is of Ravan lifting Kailas mountain along with Shiva and Parvati on his head out of arrogance and haughtiness. Shiva to teach a lesson presses his thumb which makes the mountain very heavy and Ravana withers in pain. Sheldon says this is Saiva character. That is one way of looking at it. Another way is Ramayana was interlinked with other Puranas like Shiva Purana, Vayu Purana Padma Purana, and Adhyatma Purana where Rama’s story appears in different versions. Papnath temple depicts scene from Ramayana as well Mahabharata whereas Pattadkal houses Ravangraha, Ugranarsimha and Nataraja.

[2] Central Archaeological library, Department of Archaeology: Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol IV, Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi Era, Part II. Edited by Vasudev Vishnu Mirashi, Govt Epigraphist for India, 1955.

[3] Five temples are attributed to this period (Kunal, 2016,346)

[4] The Yadav kingdom faced two assaults of Alauddin Khalji once in 1296 and then in 1306-1307 CE. Ramdeva was forced to pay heavy tribute to buy peace for his land after losing to Khalji. Deval Kumari, daughter of Raja Karan Vaghela of Gujarat who was to be married to Ramdeva’s son was abducted and forcibly married to the Sultan’s son. (Rizvi 1998, 44)

[5] Narasimha II or Bhanudeva successfully fought against Ulugh Khan in reign of Muhammad Tughlaq

[6] Here I am not divulging into the scientific aspect of temples. Garbh-Gruha (inner sanctum-sanctorum), parikrama (circumbulation), gopura or vimana and mandapa were built in calculated proportions. Each had its own function. Temples were built usually near water source. All these aspects had practical and spiritual applications. Going into details of Sthapati shastra is beyond scope of current paper. It is sufficient is to saythat temples were scientifically designed dwellings for betterment of society.

[7] The events regarding Ramdas were sourced from Dr Ulhas Ratnaparkhi, Former Head of Department of Marathi, Former Vice Principal,K.K.H Abad Arts and S.M.G Lodha Commerce College, Chandwad, Nasik District, Maharashtra, through telephonic communication

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