Ayodhya: myths demolished
Harbans Singh

The Legend of Ram-Antiquity to Janambhumi Debate
by Sanujit Ghose.
Bibliophile South Asia in association with Prgmilla & Co. Pages 1-261. Rs 595.

Ramayana: A Journey by Ranchor Prime
Ramayana: A Journey by
Ranchor Prime

It is a fascinating study of the variations of the myths relating to Ram that have been in vogue since times immemorial. The author, Sanujit Ghose, takes the readers through the Iranian and the Babylonian epics as well as the thousands of folktales that have gained currency to the times when Tulasidas appeared on the scene to deify Ram for all times to come.

The author has also dealt in considerable detail the influence of Kamban's Iramavataram and Tulasidas' Ramcharitmanas in bringing Ram closer to the people, helping in the process to stabilise a society that was divided into many sects and yet hoping to face the rapid spread of Islam. Finally, he leads up to the present when the country seems to be torn asunder between the forces that would like to assimilate and absorb all that has happened in the long and eventful history of the country, and those who would like to appropriate all the space to themselves and declare that the Ram Janambhumi movement is an expression of a nationalist sentiment. The contentious issue apart, the purpose of the book, really, is to throw as much light on the background rather than the problem that exercises the nation today. That, to an objective reader, it educates, is a tribute to the hard work done by the author.

The Ram Janambhumi issue is not an isolated problem, for, those very forces that insist upon a particular spot to be the place where Ram was born, are also inclined to assert a particular route of River Saraswati as well as India being the cradle of all civilisations.

This intellectual imperialism has been in vogue for quite some time and has been polluting the mind of the young as it excludes rather than include the various experiences that mankind in any geographical locale undergoes.

Thus, we need more and more people who remind us that even though we might recognise Kishkindhya as the modern Andhra Pradesh, yet, Panini, the eminent Sanskrit grammarian living in Gandahar (modern Afghanistan) in 350 BC identified it as Kalat in Baluchistan, west of the Indus in Pakistan, and where people still speak a Dravidian dialect.

No less intriguing is the fact that the Horayu (River Sarayu) and the Haravati (the Saraswati) are in the modern Iran, raising enough doubt to wonder if the migration of the people might have made people bring the names to their new abode?

People could be migrating to the Ganga-Yamuna Doab with memories and names belonging to Central Asia, or the other way round, but the fact that there exists such a possibility should cast a shadow of doubt on the dogmatic adherence to the theory of Janambhumi.

However, the reader cannot but regret that despite digging through a mountain of information, the author has followed a style where he refrains from expressing his own opinion. We notice that even while bringing out the chronology of the life and times of Tulasidas and suggesting in no uncertain terms that had a temple dedicated to the birthplace of Ram been destroyed by Babur or any other invader, it would have certainly found mention in the various writings of Tulasidas.

The destruction of the Somnath temple had led to an upheaval, which resulted in the Nirguna movement. Could another such emotional upheaval have gone by without any of the Bhakti poets addressing to it?

The author could have been more categorical as Tulasidas ought to be credited with the present deification of Ram and the record of his life and times alone are enough to disabuse the mind of the poison that is being spread.

In the preface, the author mentions that on reading the manuscript of the book his children found the style terse. The truth is that in his effort to leave the judgement to the reader, he appears at times disjointed, laborious and unnecessarily shy of throwing punches. The book, nevertheless, is immensely readable for those interested in the subject, though it is doubtful if it can convert anyone.