The story of Ram’s militant makeover

Substituting the calm image of Lord Ram with the wrathful image of him fitting an arrow into his bow to shoot the ‘wicked’ sea god

The two views of Lord Ram
The two views of Lord Ram

Krishna Pratap Singh

Readers may well recall that while the new Parliament building was being built, the ruling dispensation had tendered a series of clarifications in response to accusations of the aggressive ferocity displayed by the lions in the giant Ashoka Pillar hoisted on its roof. Those clarifications had elicited only one response from the experts: “If only they were credible!”

The truth is, they were not credible for several reasons. The first and foremost reason was that by then, PM Modi and his government’s involvement in the dazzling machinations of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and its affiliates in transforming our cool and calm, peaceful and patient, inclusive and reassuring religious and cultural symbols into aggressive and wrathful ones had reached such a crescendo that all social graces and limits had been forgotten. If there was anything new about this ‘promotion’, it was the targeting of our national emblem.

We might understand this better through the fact that during the golden period of its Ram Mandir movement, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the RSS, had left no stone unturned in substituting the serious, calm and courageous image of Lord Ram — as depicted in the popular Shri Ram Panchayatan — with the wrathful image of him fitting an arrow into his bow as he prepares to shoot the ‘wicked’ sea god for refusing to clear a pathway to Lanka.

Today, while one might debate the success of these manoeuvres, one can definitely not say that the VHP had even the slightest regard for the sublime images of Lord Ram that have long existed in our traditions and are deeply ingrained in the minds of our people.

Had the VHP so desired, it would have known that Ayodhya’s past is witness to the fact of preferring Lord Ram pictured as a source of perennial bliss, a king full of love for his subjects, kind, empathetic, equable and morally conscious, over the persona of ace archer, slayer of Ravan and conqueror of Lanka.

The reason being that when Agradas — of the fourth generation in the disciple tradition of Ramananda, founder of the Ramanandi sect — started the Rasik sect in the 16th century, most of the saints and mahants of Ayodhya had become his followers.

Anantananda was one of the 12 major disciples of Ramananda, whose disciple Krishnadas Payahari later became the initiation guru of Queen Balabai, consort to King Prithviraj of Amer. Agradas was a disciple of Krishnadas Payahari. His Lord Ram is both ‘Rasikbihari’ (one who dwells in emotions) and ‘Kanakbihari (one who dwells in golden environs).

Also, he is the son of Dashrath, friend of the poor, one who dispels the severe pangs of the material world, whose eyes are like new lotus petals, whose face has a lotus-like bloom, whose hands and feet are as carmine as the lotus, whose charms are greater than innumerable cupids, and whose presence is as beautiful as light blue clouds. Images that liken him to the sun, or portray him as the uprooter of demon dynasties come later.

That is why Lord Ram is sometimes seated in a bungalow of flowers and sometimes seen enjoying a ride on a merry-go-round. Notably, the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust overseeing the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on the orders of the Supreme Court earned general appreciation when it decided to adopt the rituals of the Ramanandi sect for the consecration and worship of Ram Lalla.

That’s because the Ramanandi sect is known for its pluralism, practising as it does the doctrine of not differentiating between devotees on the basis of caste or creed. No questions are asked, because the one who thinks of God is a man of God. Ergo, there is no discrimination in front of Lord Ram! Recently, however, the Ramanandi sect is believed to have said that the Trust had announced the adoption of its mode of worship only to increase acceptability; since then it has become mangled.

Socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia had indicated in his essay, Ram, Krishna Aur Shiva that Ayodhya did not give as much importance to Ram’s heroic victory as it did to the fact that even after conquering Lanka, he did not seize it. Instead, he handed over the kingdom to Vibhishan, choosing to remain the representative of liberal and sublime human values.

Why would one who had abandoned his father’s kingdom as if he were a passerby have any greed for the kingdom of Lanka? The values established by him are the ones visible in the traditional images of Shri Ram Panchayatan in Ayodhya, where he is seen in reassuring posture with Queen Sita and his three brothers.

But the only image the VHP always pushed forward is that of the fierce archer. The purpose behind this needs no telling. Just as there is no need to explain why the new representation of lions on the Ashoka Pillar installed on the new Parliament was given such a ferocious appearance. Supporters of the government have not asserted in vain on social media that being lions, they are bound to roar at some point, and may even bite.

Yogendra Yadav was not wrong when he wrote in one of his columns that the lions engraved on the Ashoka Pillar are installed on the Dharma Chakra — that is, the source of their strength is faith. But the lions astride Modi’s Central Vista are mounted on top of the Dharma Chakra, i.e. they themselves are the embodiment of power. The lions of the original symbol and their replicas are comparable to earlier images of Hanuman and his present-day images in wrathful mode.

The difference between the lions of the original Ashoka Pillar and the lions in its replica may also be equated with the difference between the rule of law and the rule of the bulldozer.

There are reasons to believe that the Sangh Parivar undertook many of these exercises very deliberately, with long-term goals. Given that, why would it bother to take on the burden of understanding that its machinations expose the intention of relegating or concealing that aspect of Lord Ram’s persona which made Mahatma Gandhi call him “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” — the one who purifies even the sinners.

It is no secret that the members of this organisation have been following the path of misinterpreting symbols in order to help their so-called cultural nationalism take root. As far as Lord Ram is concerned, it has been using him as a weapon of power politics.

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