This work briefly examines the antiquity of the Rama Katha and spread of the Rama cult over the Indian subcontinent in the context of claims of Left academics on its late popularity. Its main focus is the conflict at Ayodhya over the Ramjanmabhumi temple allegedly destroyed by the Mughal Emperor, Babar, in 1528. It examines the accounts of foreign travelers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and eighteenth centuries, and British administrator-scholars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which testify to Ayodhya’s continuing importance as a pilgrimage centre associated with Rama’s birthplace. The extended litigation over the Ramajanmabhumi/ Babri Masjid in colonial times further attests to the persistence of the claims to the Janmabhumi.
From the late 1980s, Left historians have been in the forefront of the campaign against the Rama temple. They have argued that Rama worship was an eighteenth nineteenth century phenomenon and the present day Ayodhya acquired its standing and identity only in the fifth century AD, during the rule of the imperial Guptas. According to Left academics, the identification of the Ramjanmabhumi in Ayodha was a matter of faith, not of historical evidence. They also rejected any possibility of the Babri Masjid being built on the site of the Janmabhumi temple.
Excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) proved the inaccuracy of these assertions. And finally, the judgment of the Allahabad High Court (Lucknow Bench) marked adecisive moment in the dispute over the Janmabhumi. The writings of Life academics, the findings of the ASI, the extended arguments in the Allahabad High Court and its eventual verdict-all from the subject of this study.
Meenakshi Jain is former Fellow, Nehru Memorial museum and Library and currently Associate Professor in History at Gargi College, University of Delhi. Her recent publications include Parallel Pathways; Essays on Hindu-Muslim Relation (1707-1857) and The India they saw: Foreign Accounts of India from the 8th to mid-19th Century (3 vols). She is the co-author of the Rajah Moonje Pact: Documents on a Forgotten Chapter of Indian History.
One day, the sage Valmiki, who practiced great austerities, asked the celestial seer Narada, Tell me, great one, who is the most virtuous man in the world of humans? Who is the most honorable, dutiful, gracious and resolute? Who is the most courteous; the most dedicated to the welfare of all beings, the most learned, the most patient and handsome? Who is the man with the greatest soul, the one who has conquered anger, who is intelligent and free of envy? Who is this man, whose anger frightens even the gods?
I am sure you know such a man and I am curious to hear about him from you.
Narada was delighted with Valmiki's question and replied, "There are few men with all the qualities that you have described. But there is one man, 0 sage, who has all these virtues. Listen and I will tell you about him." And Narada proceeded to tell Valmiki of the brave and illustrious Rama, born into the clan of Ikshvaku. He said,
The story of Rama is edifying and bestows merit. Anyone who reads it is freed of all sins. The man who reads the Ramayana will be honored along with his sons, grandsons and companions when he dies and goes to heaven. The Brahmin who reads this tale will become eloquent, the Kshatriya will become a king, the Vaishya's trade will prosper and even the Shudra will flourish in his own caste.
Valmiki and his disciples honored and praised Narada after he had finished his story. Soon thereafter, while bathing on the banks of the river Tarnasa, not far from the Ganga, Valmiki came upon two sweet-voiced krauncha birds making love. A hunter shot the male bird, which fell to the ground dead. Valmiki was so moved by the piteous cries of his mate that a shloka (a metre in grief) burst from his lips. Lord Brahma then appeared before Valmiki and gently said,
Your mind did not create this shloka metre. I produced this eloquence in you. 0 best of sages, use this new metre to recite the tale of Rama, the most righteous, the most virtuous and the wisest man in all the worlds, as you heard it told by Narada.
Ramayana Embodiment of Family and Public Life
Valmiki recited the story of Rama, perfect man, ideal son and brother, and rightful and righteous king. Though the chronicle of a martial hero, issues of conduct were central to Valmiki's composition (Brockington 1998: 465). Through Rama's earthly journey, Valmiki attempted to define the standards of family and public life. The Ramayana, in fact, became "a manual of morals" to instruct a people and acquired the stature of "a national code" (Khan 1983: 9-10). It epitomized the aspirations of Indian society: ariha, Kama and, most importantly, dharma.
Valmiki "objectified" the moral ideal through the lives of his notable characters (Khan 1983: 7). Rama was "best of upholders of dharma" (Ramo dharmabhrtam varah), Bharata "a man of brotherly love" (Bharato bhratrvatsalah), Lakshmana was "marked with goodness" (Laksmanah subhalaksanah) in serving his elder brother, while Sita was "like the daughter of the gods" (Sita surasutopama) owing to her fidelity to her husband (Pollock 1986: 50). Rama was the exemplar in human relationships. The ideal son, he readily accepted his father's order of exile in an extraordinary demonstration of filial obedience. Rama said on that occasion, "And righteousness is this... submission to one's mother and father. This is the eternal way of righteousness" (Goldman 1984: 42; 27.29-30).2 Lakshmana's contention that the old king had been swayed by the wiles of a woman and that exile must be resisted was rebuffed. Articulating a new ethical dimension, Rama asked, "How, after all, could a son kill his father, whatever the extremity, or a brother his brother, Saumitri, his very own breath of life?"
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