Sunday, September 13, 2020

Week 4: Reading B / Ramayana

I'm carrying on reading Devdutt Pattanaik's Ramayana essays at his website, looking for stories beyond Valmiki's Ramayana that I might use.

Fake news: Was Sita the first victim? This is mostly about Valmiki, but the Uttara Kanda, which is controversial and rejected by some. I thought this moon symbolism was intriguing: "Though he belongs to the Suryavansh lineage, the solar dynasty, his name contains the word, Chandra or moon, to remind one — as per one folk tale – how his nobility gets eclipsed by the moon in the way he treats Sita." In Rama's defense, Pattanaik notes: "Ram never remarries! Although he is a king and is obliged to marry to perform royal rituals and produce royal heirs. This does indicate his absolute commitment for Sita." Hence, the famous "double" that he uses for Sita, the golden statue: "By placing next to him Sita’s golden image, gold being the symbol of purity, he establishes to the world that she is chaste in mind and spirit and, as far as he is concerned, she is pure."

Brahmins who rejected Ram. This is about Rama's brahma-hatya, the killing of a brahmin when he killed Ravana: "Ram had to do penance to wash away the stigma of brahma-hatya-paap before he sat on the throne of Ayodhya. Many pilgrim spots in India, such as Rameshwaram in the south and Rishikesh in the North, are associated with the penance of Ram." But some Ayodhya brahmins still rejected him and because Sarayupaareen brahmins, brahmins living on the other side of the Sarayu River... or else they are there as punishment for refusing to participate in the rituals that would cleanse Rama. Pattanaik points out that Rama is not alone: "God repeatedly kills brahmins: Ram kills Ravana, Krishna oversees the killing of Drona, Shiva beheads Daksha and Brahma." This is when those brahmins do not live up to their sacred duty; their caste is not enough. This comment about Shiva is fascinating: "Shiva is cleansed of brahma-hatya-paap in Kashi, which is why Kashi is such a popular pilgrim spot, but he remains a defiant god, choosing crematoriums to the sacrificial halls of brahmins."

Lustful Intentions. This also focuses on Valmiki's Ramayana, but a controversial moment, when Sita accuses Lakshmana of wanting to get rid of Rama so that he could have her. Commentators have used this to blame Sita, showing it as an example of her being irrational and thus to blame for her abduction: "One can’t help but wonder if this is the poet’s attempt to make her, rather than any oversight on the part of the brothers, responsible for her abduction. If only she had some faith in Laxman… If only she had not let her anxiety churn out such vile accusations…" Later, when they find the jewelry, Lakshmana insists that he recognizes only the anklets not the earrings, because he always looked down and saw only her feet, never her face. The story later goes to extremes to emphasize Sita's chastity: "A pure woman, a chaste woman, a woman who desires no one else but her husband is known as a Sati in the Hindu mythological world. This Sati is supposed to have magical powers, which includes her ability to withstand the heat of fire." Was Rama joking or serious when he said Shurpanakha should try Lakshmana? I never thought about that! And check out this great Mandodari legend: "Ravan’s wife, Mandodari, is considered a Sati, a holy woman, who remained chaste despite her demon-husband’s many shortcomings. In one folk version of the epic, one of Ravan’s chaste wife (Mandodari?) does looks upon Hanuman and as a result Ravan is no longer protected by the power of her chastity. This enables Ram to kill Ravan." And I need to find a citation for this legend of Draupadi and the fire (is it in the MB?): "Then of course there is Draupadi who is shared between the five Pandav brothers and not wanting to making anyone jealous goes to each brother one year at a time, passing through fire to ‘purify’ herself when the one year is over so she is a ‘virgin’ for the next husband." And I need to use this Punjabi folktale later for the Mahabharata book: "In Punjab there is a folktale that the Pandav brothers were expected to leave their footwear outside Draupadi’s bedchamber to indicate their presence inside. Once a dog stole Yudhishtira’s footwear and Arjun entered the bedroom embarrassing his wife and his brother. A furious Draupadi cursed the dog that henceforth he would copulate it public and be shamed before the world." ... this is a really useful essay; I need to bookmark this one to share with the class. Here is Devdutt's artwork for it showing Sita and Lakshmana:

Lakshman’s wife goes to sleep. Of course the Urmila-Nidra is a story I have to include! He includes a South Indian versions where Lakshmana must immediately go to sleep when they all return to Ayodhya so that Urmila can awaken. Here is Devdutt's art again:

This was Ravan too.  More about brahma-hatya: "on the hills of Rishikesh or in the temple of Rameshwaram, one hears the tale of how Ram atoned for the sin of killing Ravan." I never thought about it like this, but Ravana was Rama's guru: "Ram smiled, placed his bow on the ground and walked to where Ravan lay. Lakshman watched in astonishment as his divine brother knelt at Ravan’s feet. With palms joined, with extreme humility, Ram said, “Lord of Lanka, you abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now, you are no more my enemy. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world.”" (The story goes on at the article.) Even Valmiki notes Ravana's devotion to Shiva, and other legends develop it further: Rudra-Stotra, Rudra-Veena, Ravana carrying Kailash. Devdutt claims that Valmiki emphasizes this devotion only to further elaborate Ravana's hypocrisy and failure to live up to his potential: "Deluded, he gives only lip-service to Shiva. This pretender is therefore killed by Ram, who like Shiva, is another form of God."

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