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1 October 2010

Ram Lalla

Last year on a trip, at Rome, wandering about and seeing the ancient relics and studying the history meant I deeply wondered about our own. A few thoughts and assumptions, theories I had crystallised though I’m sure none of them are original or path breaking to write a PhD I want to share it with you.

While discussing the Ayodhya verdict on twitter, in context of a western reporting on the topic, I remembered my thoughts and the occidental versus the oriental approach to viewing and understanding an issue.

1. Firstly get the concept of time in India. For a civilization almost 5000 years old, 300 years is not too much, or more than a hundred years for a verdict on a suit is not as absurd as it may seem to the west. It is absurd to me from a governance angle but from patience of the litigants- it is part of 'Keep the faith'.

2. An idol is not a statue. Especially one that is prayed to. The act performed of “Prana Pratishta" means “Infused with soul" when installing it, means after which it becomes a living thing. How can a philosophy that states everything in the Universe has soul, a leaf, a fish, a bird not have so much more importance to an object of worship?

3. Once it is so, then God is not a distant figure who lived and died a long time ago. Or, not only that. To Hindus, God then becomes and is a part of living routine. Almost human, a family member. Which means the routine of worship includes bathing,feeding and putting him to sleep. Whether Ram Lalla or Balgopal, it is a form (rupa) of a child. If God is worshipped in any other form as adult, female, etc the worship may vary but the principle remains the same. e.g. buying silks,clothes, jewellery & flowers for Devi etc. The God pictures one carries in wallet, seen in taxi and car dashboards and propped up on walls is as dear as a photo of wife & kids on the desk in the West.


4. Given the above, what follows from that is God to many Hindus is a dear member of the household. For example, his birthday is celebrated every year just as one would celebrate ones own or that of a brother or sister or parent. Thus, God is not something that is merely in books, temples or in hands of a powerful few like clergy. In fact, anyone who is devout can still be a person who has not read the 'books' - Gita or Ramayan or Mahabharat unless it is an Amar Chitra Katha or story book form. And no less devout for it as say it'd be in another religion. God (or Godess) is personal, accessible and everything and anything else a family member or friend is. It includes, love, healthy skepticism, some fear, respect,support and all human emotions. Due to this, there is no question of what is faith and belief. One may question the historical reference out of intellectual ignorance, but spiritual blindness is not there. As I am not a very erudite person, I will refer to it here for working purpose as “faith” – in India called as Bhakti.

5. Now the Rome story. In Rome, almost the whole city is built by Christians after destroying the Roman Empire. Of all ancient civilisations, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Mayan, any other- almost all have died out due to invasions and conversions. India still survives to some extent. One of the main reason for that is all the above and, most of all, the oral tradition. Of story telling. (See more on story telling as way to preserve collective memory).Stories of Sri Ram, Hanuman, Krishna, Shiva, Devi, Ganesh, etc were & are told to every Indian child passed on from grandmother to grandchild. This oral tradition meant that even when temples were destroyed or burnt down and people fled their homes, the stories they took with them. They hid from invaders and when some peace returned slowly returned or rebuilt their lives from where they migrated or settled. Very similar to what is happening today even as I write this with the Kashmiri Pundits in India.

As it goes with stories, when the mother sat to tell a tale, (imagine this in Hindi or language of your choice spoken at home) ‘Once upon a time there was a King who lived in Ayodhya. His name was Dasharath”; if the child interrupts with, this king lived in which year? Or, Where is Ayodhya, give me latitude/longitude. The few (like me) who did ask questions were sternly told, believe this because my mother told it to me. Getit? Anyway, the story would never go ahead.

So the tales were narrated one generation after another. Some people today (as I'm sure there were before them) feel they should question historical accuracy and proof of existence because of various reasons, one is science. That ancient Indian and Hindu religion accepts even atheism and supports scientific enquiry, even puts emphasis on it, is a topic for another day. But briefly, enquiry was for the "thinkers” – people who engaged in study, priests, teachers, philosophers etc (Gyana Yoga); for the common folk (householders) it was “stories” (Karma Yoga) and for saints and mystics it was “Bhakti Yoga”. The underlying premise being that any and all these paths lead to the same realisations.

The path of Inquiry; of Service & Duty, Of Love & devotion would all lead to the same destination. Diferent approaches to the one goal. Moksha.

Most Hindu children are dressed up as Krishna on their first birthday. And for adults, Ram Lalla is "Mere rom rom mein basne wale Ram" (one who lives in every pore of the body). Even outside of a devout context, Urmila Matondkar will sing "Hai Rama yeh kya hogaya" as she sizzles on screen and sets it on fire with her dance in Rangeela. "Ram Naam Satya hai" is what is chanted as a corpse is taken to the pyre. From cradle to coffin. As one may say.

This my friends in short is the story of Ayodhya Masla (issue), Ayodhya Vivaad (argument) and now, Ayodhya verdict -three twitter trending topics for a whole day.

Will it go to appeal in SC, will in 20 years today’s youth forget and totally eschew their roots I don’t know. I care deeply about it and feel emotional about it but, frankly I don’t worry insomuch as I won’t be living to tell the story.

But it is about India. Something we got in inheritance from our forefathers and hold merely in trust for future generation. It is not our own to do as we will. The identity and survival of a civilization that has survived many external attacking armies. And survived due to its stories. If you care about it, tell your children the stories. Protect the idols of Gods and nurture faith. Temples are structures. Though they can be built and rebuilt, the 1000 year old ones are really something uh? Lets face it, a couple of decades down the line, no one is going to visit India to see ruins of CWG village or to eat at a McDonald outlet. The Prince of Ayodhya is the collective heritage of not only India, but many other countries in South East Asia, the sub-continent and rest of the world.

Last but not the least; The wandering minstrel sings, "Mandir todo, Masjid todo, Magar pyar bhara dil kabhi na todo." Every Indian knows this. And one reason why there is support from common folk for the verdict and opposition to what is seen as 'divisive' and 'communal' politics. But one must not forget that we live in troubled times and any peace is also on the basis of hundreds of "preventive arrests" and bans on bulk sms etc for four days after the verdict. Politicians who played the Ayodhya card as they went about setting up investments in other states and buying IPL teams. That is why the posturing of shrill media both new and old poses a threat to peace even as appeals for calm are on.

Someone else, on twitter asked if you had one word to describe India what would it be? Mine would be, "Love". In all its forms, India is the land where Love is synonymous with everything about it.

A post on a related topic I had written in 2007, Squirrel & the Setu is here .  It has a link to "Two views of Hinduism" . I heard a 1992 article by Swapan Dasgupta is a good read too but haven't looked it up as yet.

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