Ramayana a fight between animal and divine: Devdutt Pattanaik

October 23rd, 2008 - 12:48 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) What is the essence of the epic “Ramayana”? The fight between the animal and divine in man, said author Devdutt Pattanaik, the author of “The Book of Ram” launched in the capital Wednesday. “Ram is divine, while Ravana, the symbol of ‘matsyanyaya’ or the Piscean law of the water in which the big fish has the right to eat the small fish, is the animal. The tussle is to overpower the ‘animal’ in man and embrace divinity,” Pattanaik told IANS in an interview.

Mumbai-based Pattanaik, a doctor by training, a marketing consultant by profession and a mythologist by passion, has interpreted the character of the epic’s protagonist, god-king Ram, in context of the modern socio-cultural and religious mosaic.

Ram, says Pattanaik, is “eka-vachani” (man who keeps his word), “eka-vani” (man of one word) and the man who hits the bull’s eye with his first arrow.

He is also “eka-patni”, a husband who is devoted to his single wife and is “maryada purushottam”, the supreme holder of social values, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, who establishes order in worldly life.

“Ram, in a nutshell, is a king who is worshipped as a god, because he placed service before the self. He valued the law more than his desires, which in itself is very difficult to do, by sacrificing his wife Sita to the bowels of the earth to appease his subject,” Pattanaik said.

Pattanaik in his book explores the relevance of Ram by examining him in various roles - Dasharatha’s son, Lakshman’s brother, Vishwamitra’s student, Sita’s husband, Ravana’s enemy, Hanuman’s master, Ayodhya’s king, Vishnu’s reincarnation, Valmiki’s inspiration, Ramayana’s protagonist and Hindutva’s icon.

Ram, feels Pattanaik, does not have to perform miracles to qualify as a deity. “He has been deemed sacred by people for more than 2,000 years. On what basis do we judge that he is not a god? Do we know what god is? We surrender to a culture which calls him god - a culture that has been around for a long time,” Pattanaik said.

Pattanaik, who teaches youngsters at the Future Group to have faith in “Indianness and heritage” as the chief belief officer, offers an interesting insight into the character of Ravana.

“Ravana is often confused with evil. But in some Hindu school of thought, the concept of evil does not exist. Ravana represents the law of the jungle - where might is right.

“Humans have the ability to say no to the law of the jungle - and the human journey from the animal to the divine is the gradual rejection of the law of the jungle. Ravana is the animal because he tries to take Sita by force because he is stronger. That is what one must conquer,” Pattanaik said.

Put in the contemporary political perspective, it explains the ideology of the “isms”. “The intention of any ‘ism’ is where you are coming from - domination or affection? If there is no affection in a political system then it becomes ‘my way is your way’. We want to control lives, thoughts and actions.

“But Ram’s actions are based on affection. He willingly gives away his kingdom to his brothers. In the same vein, Ram as a king must be affectionate towards his people and Ram, as the husband, must show affection for his wife.

“These two roles are in conflict - which one will win? People don’t want the queen and Ram eventually succumbs to popular will,” Pattanaik explained.

Would Pattanaik like to rewrite the epics with new endings. Suppose Ram and Sita lived happily ever after, along with the people of Ayodhya? “No way, I would still write the same book that was written 5,000 years ago. It is not a fairy-tale. Ramayana is a sacred epic that raises complex moral and ethical questions.

“It tries to answer the unanswerable question - should you choose your wife over people if you are a king or vote for the world. It deals with the concept of dharmasankat (crisis of faith),” says Pattanaik.

The book, published by Penguin India, is divided into 11 chapters which trace king Ram’s journey as his father Dasharatha’s son to the 21st century Hindutva icon.

Pattanaik is interpreting “Mahabharata” in the contemporary context. “It is a broad canvas and I hope to see it in print next year,” he said.

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