Many Ramayanas: Preserving Cultural Diversity.

Long, long, ago, I had read a feminist play, whose name I do not remember, that was based on Valmiki Ramayana’s passage when Sita meets Rama upon the death of Ravana and end of the war. Rama explains to her his reason for conducting the war against Ravana and declares that Sita is of no longer any use to his life. Subsequently, I tried to get that passage in translation, but failed until now. Today looking at the Ramayana Project website,, I unexpectedly found what I had sought for long.
Canto CXVII of book VI of Ramayana is where Valmiki describes Sita’s disgrace.
He saw her trembling by his side,
And looked upon her face and cried:
‘Lady, at length my task is done,
And thou, the prize of war, art won,
This arm my glory has retrieved,
And all that man might do achieved;
The insulting foe in battle slain
And cleared mine honour from its stain.
This day has made my name renowned
And with success my labour crowned.
Lord of myself, the oath I swore
Is binding on my soul no more.
If from my home my queen was reft,
This arm has well avenged the theft,
And in the field has wiped away
The blot that on mine honour lay.
The bridge that spans the foaming flood,
The city red with giants’ blood;
The hosts by King Sugríva led
Who wisely counselled, fought and bled;
Vibhíshan’s love, our guide and stay–
All these are crowned with fruit to-day.
But, lady,’twas not love for thee
That led mine army o’er the sea.
‘Twas not for thee our blood was shed,
Or Lanká filled with giant dead.
No fond affection for my wife
Inspired me in the hour of strife.
I battled to avenge the cause
Of honour and insulted laws.
My love is fled, for on thy fame
Lies the dark blot of sin and shame;
And thou art hateful as the light
That flashes on the injured sight.
The world is all before thee: flee:
Go where thou wilt, but not with me.
How should my home receive again
A mistress soiled with deathless stain?
How should I brook the foul disgrace,
Scorned by my friends and all my race?
For Rávan bore thee through the sky,
And fixed on thine his evil eye.
About thy waist his arms he threw,
Close to his breast his captive drew,
And kept thee, vassal of his power,
An inmate of his ladies’ bower.’

In the very next canto, Sita gives a befitting reply to Rama.
Struck down with overwhelming shame
She shrank within her trembling frame.
Each word of Ráma’s like a dart
Had pierced the lady to the heart;
And from her sweet eyes unrestrained
The torrent of her sorrows, rained.
Her weeping eyes at length she dried,
And thus mid choking sobs replied:
‘Canst thou, a high-born prince, dismiss
A hign-born dame with speech like this?
Such words befit the meanest hind,
Not princely birth and generous mind,
By all my virtuous life I swear
I am not what thy words declare.
If some are faithless, wilt thou find
No love and truth in womankind?
Doubt others if thou wilt, but own
The truth which all my life has shown.
If, when the giant seized his prey,
Within his hated arms I lay,
And felt the grasp I dreaded, blame
Fate and the robber, not thy dame.
What could a helpless woman do?
My heart was mine and still was true,
Why when Hanúmán sent by thee
Sought Lanká’s town across the sea,
Couldst thou not give, O lord of men,
Thy sentence of rejection then?
Then in the presence of the chief
Death, ready death, had brought relief,
Nor had I nursed in woe and pain
This lingering life, alas in vain.
Then hadst thou shunned the fruitless strife
Nor jeopardied thy noble life,
But spared thy friends and bold allies
Their vain and weary enterprise.
Is all forgotten, all? my birth,
Named Janak’s child, from fostering earth?
That day of triumph when a maid
My trembling hand in thine I laid?
My meek obedience to thy will,
My faithful love through joy and ill,
That never failed at duty’s call–
O King, is all forgotten, all?’
To Lakshman then she turned and spoke
While sobs and sighs her utterance broke:
‘Sumitrá’s son, a pile prepare,
‘My refuge in my dark despair.
I will not live to bear this weight
Of shame, forlorn and desolate.
The kindled fire my woes shall end
And be my best and surest friend.’
His mournful eyes the hero raised
And wistfully on Ráma gazed,
In whose stern look no ruth was seen,
No mercy for the weeping queen.
No chieftain dared to meet those eyes,
To pray, to question or advise.
The word was passed, the wood was piled
And fain to die stood Janak’s child.
She slowly paced around her lord.
The Gods with reverent act adored,
Then raising suppliant hands the dame
Frayed humbly to the Lord of Flame;
‘As this fond heart by virtue swayed
From Raghu’s son has never strayed,
So, universal witness, Fire
Protect my body on the pyre,
As Raghu’s son has idly laid
This charge on Sítá, hear and aid.’
She ceased: and fearless to the last
Within the flame’s wild fury passed.
Then rose a piercing cry from all
Dames, children, men, who saw her fall
Adorned with gems and gay attire
Beneath the fury of the fire.

An essay by A K Ramanujan, Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation, was part of a study for bachelors degree course  at Delhi University. That essay did not sit well with those who want to foster exclusively their unitary vision of *Hindu Religion*, which apes the mould of Semitic religions. They raked up a controversy. A panel was constituted to recommend if the essay should stay in the curriculum or not. Verdict ousted the essay. Similarly, Bombay University bowed to the threat from Bal Thackeray’s grandson, Aditya, and removed a book of Rohington Mistry, which allegedly had uncharitable references to Shivsena, from the syllabus. The fundamentalist tool for control is the same no matter their origins- remove all traces of diversity so that the only body of knowledge which survives is their’s. Ramayana Project attempts to preserve that diversity and prevent cultural destitution.
……..Then the King of Spirits asked, “Who are you?”
“Hanuman? Why have you come here?”
“Rama’s ring fell into a hole. I’ve come to fetch it.”
The king looked around and showed him a platter. On it were thousands of rings. They were all Rama’s rings. The king brought the platter to Hanuman, set it down, and said, “Pick out your Rama’s ring and take it.”
They were all exactly the same. “I don’t know which one it is,” said Hanuman, shaking his head.
The King of Spirits said, “There have been as many Ramas as there are rings on this platter. When you return to earth, you will not find Rama. This incarnation of Rama is now over. Whenever an incarnation of Rama is about to be over, his ring falls down. I collect them and keep them. Now you can go.”
So Hanuman left.
Ramanujan cites an interesting anecdotal story, It’s no wonder that even as long ago as the fourteenth century, Kumaravyasa, a Kannada poet, chose to write a Mahabharata , because he heard the cosmic serpent which upholds the earth groaning under the burden of Ramayana poets ( tinikidanuphanirayaramayanadakavigalabharadali).
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