Moily’s Ramayana, an intense search for equality in democratic setup

July 6th, 2010 - 7:00 pm ICT by ANI  

New Delhi, July 6 (ANI): Dr. M. Veerappa Moily, a lawyer by training, entered politics in the sixties, occupied important positions in his home state Karnataka rising to the office of Chief Minister in the nineties. He moved to the Centre to head the Administrative Reforms Commission and at present is the Minister of Law and Justice in the UPA Government. Moily has dedicated himself to the cause of the exploited and the marginalized classes of our society throughout his career. Born in such a class himself, Moily has intimate knowledge of the problems faced by the marginalized classes. He has articulated their problems in many of his writings. Moily is the author of two collections of poetry, four novels, and a collection of discursive essays in English — and now — Ramayana Mahanveshanam, an epic in two volumes. His book on Ramayana was originally published in Kannada and now has been translated into English by Dr. CN Ramachandran, Mrs. Padma Sharma, Dr. Laxminarayana Bhat, C. Naganna and Dr. Vijay Sheshadri. I have been lucky in having had access to all his writings in Kannada. All his works bring out his serious, unfaltering social commitment. Moily’s first novel, Suligali is a touching story of rural life, full of conflicts as well as compromises. Second novel Sagaradeepa depicts the problems and sufferings of the community of poor fishermen in coastal Karnataka and third novel Kotta reflects the agony and anguish of the most ignored community called-Koragas. In his fourth novel Tembare, now available in Hindi as Dhol, Moily depicts the experiences of one of the most neglected community called Pambada.Moily’s writings indicate that he has done vast fieldwork and his books are an important source for the researchers in the area of anthropology, folklore and sociology.He has now completed his ambitious project Shriramayana Mahanveshanam. An epic, that comprises 43, 295 lines and is a new addition to the Ramayana tradition. The epic is an example of deathless literature.The number of Ramayanas and the range of their influence in south and southeast Asia over the past 2500 years are amazing. As we all know, along with Valmiki’s Ramayana, there are thousands of other tellings of the story of Rama in India, southeast Asia, and beyond. These tellings does not belong to any moment of history as they have their own history, which lies embedded in the many versions that were woven around the theme at different times and places. Not only do diverse Ramayana exist; but each text of Ramayana also reflects the social location and ideology of those to whom they belong. . Even so, most studies of this epic have concentrated on a single telling: Valmiki’s Ramayana. In recent days, few scholars and politicians are pressurizing the country to accept Valmiki Ramayana as the only Ramayana and definitely, it will have many negative effects for Indian culture. The homogenization of any narrative tradition results in cultural loss, other tellings of the Ramayana might be irretrievably submerged or marginalized. In India many authors and performers have produced, and many patrons have supported, diverse tellings of the Ramayana in numerous media. Various texts of Ramayana have created an exceptional tradition of their own as pluralistic epistemologies, suggesting categories such as gender, caste, religion, region, sect, form and language. These multiple texts are not only interconnected with each other, but also protect the rights of such categories over their knowledge systems. Furthermore, representations, be they scripto-centric (writing traditions), phono-centric (oral traditions) or body-centric (performing traditions), tend to become in-group activities meant for the exclusive consumption of the categorical groups who are rightful owners of such knowledge systems. At the same time, though different groups share a pluralistic epistemology, which enables them to understand and appreciate each other’s epistemology, their group-specific rights over knowledge, remain protected through multiple representations, implying monopolistic controls. It was through such cultural transactions that medieval India was able to sustain its pluralistic knowledge systems intact and alive. Like many other textual traditions of India, Ramayana too is sectarian in nature and has multiple representational traditions. There are several versions of Ramayana in textual, oral and performing traditions and belong to sectarian traditions like Brahmanical Hinduism, Jainism, folk, tribal etc. It’s no wonder that even as early as the fourteenth century Kannada poet, Gadugina Naranappa popularly known as Kumaravyasa uttered: “The cosmic serpent, which upholds the earth groaning under the burden of Ramayana poets.”During 20th century, many have recreated Ramayana. The latest to follow the tradition is Dr. Veerappa Moily. For him Ramayana is a ‘maha anveshanam’ - a great exploration or quest. The main objective of the author of this work is to explore the ‘Ramatattva’ or the true principles of the Rama story, from a secular and modern perspective. Though he closely follows the path of Valmiki, he introduces many new characters and incidents, and re-interprets many familiar incidents from the point of view of modern sensibility drawing freely from Jaina and folk traditions. The Ahalya, Shurpanakha and Sita’s ordeal of fire are the best examples of such re-interpretations. The character of Lakshmana is also completely redefined. His deep love and sufferings with his wife Urmila was also most poetic and touching in the epic. The contemporary relevance has made this epic really unique. The epic upholds the values of secular, multi-cultured and egalitarian modern India. The issues of laborers and manual workers, (see Rama’s meeting with sage named-Sharabhanga) alcoholism (see: Rama and Sita’s experience at Dandakaranya), Importance of education (Sugreeva’s administrative reformation at Kishkinda), were all dealt with seriously in the epic.

Sugreeva, the monkey king declares: This new policy of education is in all respects progressive to Kishkinda kingdom, all men and women have a right to get education, when we have a cluster of Agastya’s disciples amidst us why should we lead the life of animals, uneducated? While good education is available in nearby Lanka for all irrespective of sex, should Kishkinda continues to live fallen into the dense of ignorance and superstition? ( 3:96:16) Hence the poet removes the borders of past and the present.

Broadly speaking, Moily’s Ramayana is an intense search for equality in a democratic setup. The epic’s search for equality is not monolithic, but has various dimensions such as search for social equality, economic equality, political equality and gender equality.

Further, Moily’s search for social equality is manifested in a number of ways like the rich and the poor, landowners and landless laborers, capitalists and workers, educated and uneducated, employed and unemployed, men and women, modern and backward. The author attempts to discuss this reconciliation process in India to provide social and legal equality to the citizens.

The team of scholars who have rendered it in English have done a wonderful job by bringing a Kannada epic for non Kannada speakers. (ANI

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