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The Rise of the Religious Significance of Rama (An Old & Rare Book)

Item Code: NAQ740
Author: Frank Whaling
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1980
ISBN: 9788120831049
Pages: 414
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 600 gm
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Book Description

It is a pleasure to recommend Dr Whaling's book on Rama, both because it is so well done and because the subject is interesting and important. As long ago as 1810 the famous Baptist missionary William Carey published a translation of the Rama-yana in English, showing that it was internationally significant while remaining a favourite text of Hindu religious life. In modern times the story of Rama is taught in Indian schools as history and morality, while millions of people revere Rama and Sita as models of love, fidelity and chastity. There is none of the eroticism of the tales of Krspa here and while Rama is hardly the divine Lover he is the Lord of devotion in many texts. Sita is less deified than her husband and for this reason her name may be given to Christian girls, though she also may be an avatara. She had some independence, as Dr Whaling suggests, and when her purity was again questioned she said, in effect, `I'm going home to mother,' whereupon the earth swallowed her up. But we recall that her very name meant 'furrow' and she was a daughter and manifestation of mother earth. When Rama's turn to die came he walked into a river to the sound of heavenly music, like Bunyan's pilgrims, 'and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side' where he returned to the glory of Visnu of whom he was the avatara.

Rama has been somewhat overshadowed by Krsna, in some parts of India and in export to the West. The worship of Krsna virtually began with the deservedly famous and much-translated Bhagavad-Gita, though there he was a noble and almost Rama-like figure. In later devotion Krsna was credited with many wives, paramours and erotic adventures, and worshipped often with ecstatic if not mad devotions. It is the great virtue of Dr Whaling's book that he brings out clearly the central importance of Rama for many Hindus, as well as in other religious movements like those of the followers of Kabir and Nanak. Rama is both man and God, an example of moral life for ordinary people, and an ideal king from whom modern rulers could learn much. This book is not only an academic study but, in accordance with the spirit of Rama-worship, there is also a religious purpose.

At the end Dr Whaling compares Christ with Rama, to whom he is much closer than to Krsna. Then he sketches some of the problems in the relations of these religious figures and their attendant movements. The religions of the world are in closer contact today than ever before, and Hinduism is expounded in the West and Christianity is in the East. Dr Whaling suggests, with impartiality, how these religions may understand each other and appreciate each other's apprehensions of the divine. In this, as in the whole of his outstanding and original study of Rama, Dr Whaling has produced a work of great importance which deserves a wide publie.


In his Introduction to this book Frank Whaling complains that scholars have neglected Rama for Krsna. The complaint needs some qualification. The prejudices of European scholars of the last century ran rather in the opposite direction; and in modern times Indians at Baroda and elsewhere are doing much to illuminate the sources of the Rama tradition. But with so much said, it remains true that Rama is neglected by modern students of comparative religion, especially in the west, and that this neglect is unjustifiable on two counts.

To begin with the obvious: the figure of Rama has played an immense role in Indian religion. Rama is the centre of a house-hold each member of which has furnished an ideal for Indian ethics and moral philosophy: Kausalya the good mother, Sita the true wife, Laksmana the faithful brother, Hanuman the trusty friend. In this family of ideals Rama rises as ideality itself, exhibiting his virtues as son, husband, brother and king. Thus there came to attach to him a reverence, an awe, that lifted him above humanity. It is as a god that Rama passed from India to the islands of Indonesia and the continental lands of southeast Asia. In the spread of Hinduism Rama played a greater role than Krsna. And in his Indian homeland his role was such that if we in the west would understand Indian religion, or Indian culture as a whole, we must try to grasp what Rama meant to his worshippers.

The second point that I would make is one that may surprise some readers. Dr Whaling, however, has seen it clearly and I believe that his sight of it formed the first stimulus to the work which now lies before you. The Rama tradition shows religious attitudes closer to the traditional attitudes of European religion than will be found elsewhere throughout the time and space of Indian culture.

I can hear the western religionist objecting. Is it not Rama's foreignness that has caused our recent neglect? The story of Rama is inextricably tied to traditional Indian notions of dharma, that is, to the norms and ideals of action of a patriarchal caste society that was differently constituted from western societies even of the past and that holds almost nothing in common with our society of the present. On the other hand, Krsna is not bound in a social context. His revelations of love may be unpredictable, even whimsical, but their appeal is not affected by the particular dharma under which one happens to live.

It takes patience and an open sensibility to dispose of this objection. The best answer will be to read Dr Whaling's book. Here I shall point to one element only, because it seems singularly important to me, which Ramite religion shares with the traditional religion of Europe. I refer to the religious use of grief. What I intend is a special sort of grief, an empathy combined with an intense admiration, with awe, and also accompanied by an unreasoning faith in ultimate deliverance. But rather than try to describe the nature of this religious attitude let me quote one of the many laments in Valmiki's Ramayana. The specific flavour will be more impressive, I think, than general descriptions. I quote from the Book of Ayodhyd the passage where the people of the city gaze at Rama and his wife and brother as they prepare to go into exile (Baroda edition 2.30.1-21):

And now Rama and Laksmana, after they had given much wealth to the brahmins, went with Sita to take leave of their father. The weapons that they bore and that Sita had garlanded shone bright and were hard to look upon. Then the richer citizens mounted to the top stories and rooftops of their houses and palaces and gazed down with sadness. The streets below were so filled with common folk that carriages could not move upon them. So they mounted and gazed at Rama sadly from above. And seeing Rama walking on foot without the royal parasol, all the people were filled with grief and they cried out:

"He whom a fourfold army used to accompany is accompanied now only by Sita and Laksmana. He who knew lord-ship, who had every luxury, from his respect for dharma wishes not to make his father's word false. And Sita, whom the very spirits of the air dared not look upon, the common folk now gaze on as she walks upon the highway. Rain and sun and cold will darken that complexion that was used to cosmetics and powder of red sandalwood. Some evil spirit must have entered Dasaratha to speak through his mouth, for surely the king cannot banish his own dear son. Even a worthless son one does not banish; how much less one who has conquered us all by his virtues. All the virtues beautify the noble Rama: kindliness, compassion. Learning, good conduct, self-control, calm."

So the people are crushed by this calamity, like the fish of a river that dries up in summer. The whole world is pained by the pain of the prince, like the flowers and fruits of a tree that has been struck at the root.

"Let us go quickly, like Laksmana, with our wives and families. Let us follow after Rama wherever he goes. Leaving our gardens and fields and houses, let us follow Rama the good, sharing his fortune for good or bad. And let the queen Kaikeyi be mistress of our dwellings empty of treasure, their court-yards unswept, with all wealth and money gone and precious things removed. Covered with dust we will leave them, abandoned by the gods. The forest will be a city if Rama is there and the city left by us will become a forest. Serpents will leave their holes. Wild beasts will leave the mountains. They will come to the city we have left and will leave the forest that we go to." Rama heard these words cried out by the people, but having heard them, he did not alter his purpose. There are many passages in Valmiki like the one I have quoted. He is especially fond of the pathetic contrast. A string of them occurs at Rama's first meeting with Hanuman after the abduction of Sita. Hanuman asks, "For what reason have you come to this remote, wild forest?" and at a sign from Rama, Laksmana answers. I abbreviate his speech (4.4.6 ff.):

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