August 15, 2020 will be an epochal Independence Day because a 500-year-old dispute regarding the Ram Mandir and Babri Masjid stands resolved.
August 5, the day of the Ram Mandir Bhoomi Puja was celebrated by many as the revival of Sanatan Dharma, and denounced by many as the destruction of secular society.
As we commence our 74th year of Independence, it is time now to transcend the debate. It’s a great achievement that this 500-year-old dispute has been resolved and all parties have accepted the Supreme Court verdict of November 2019 based on the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India that a Ram Lalla temple did indeed exist prior to the Babri Masjid. The Sunni Waqf Board has also very graciously accepted the five acres of land for the construction of the Mosque in Dhannipur, which was granted per the directives of the Supreme Court.
Neither will this article address the politics of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and the destruction of the Masjid. A worthwhile perspective is to look ahead and focus on what Shri Ram represents, and how we can benefit by inculcating some of these values as a nation and as a people, because these are not values that are antithetical to the principles of secularism and democracy. On the contrary, they can only strengthen these ideals.
Many people dismiss Shri Ram as a fictional hero in Indian Mythology, an impractical idealist. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but be that as it may, let’s understand what Shri Ram symbolises and what the vision of the epic Ramayana is.
For practicing Hindus, he is God (Bhagwan) manifesting in a human avatar. He is the 7th avatar of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver. The Ramayana saga is believed to have occurred around the 5th century BC in the Treta Yuga, millennia before there was any organised world religion. The Hindu way of thinking and rituals may have existed but it wasn’t a formally packaged religion. Therefore Shri Ram is more than a Hindu God. He is a responsible ruler, an upholder of righteousness and an embodiment of oneness and love as he is portrayed in the great epic.
The main guiding principle behind Shri Ram’s actions and the value he cherished most was dharma. At the core, dharma means duty and righteousness. Swami Dayananda explains, “Common sense ethics or ethical guidelines which we exercise when we make a choice is known as dharma. It is the rules we adopt based on how we ourselves want to be treated.” Swami Tejomayananda of the Chinmaya Mission says, “Dharma is that which integrates and creates harmony within us and in the outside world.” It is those rules, which uphold a positive order.
Shri Ram had a firm adherence to duty, as a son—on the eve of his coronation he went into exile in the jungle so as to honour his father Raja Dashrath’s boon to his wife Kaikeyi; as a husband—he remained faithful to Sita even in her absence; towards his friends and subjects and even towards his enemies. He did not harbour hatred even for his greatest enemy Raavan who had kidnapped his wife driven by lust and greed. A great example of his ethics was that before waging war with Raavan, he sent prince Angad (son of the Vanar King Vali) as an envoy from his army, to give Raavan a fair chance to return Sita and opt out of battle. Ram kept even the welfare of his enemies in mind. After Raavan was slain, he insisted that Vibhishan, Raavan’s brother who was Shri Ram’s devotee, perform his last rites with dignity. Shri Ram stands for forgiveness and compassion and the need to have higher values and goals in life. As the vedic saying goes, “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for everything.”
Shri Ram also symbolises equanimity and the ability to face problems in life with grace. In all his 14 years of exile, there was never an attitude of self-pity or being a victim. He was God in a human form and also suffered many misfortunes as every mortal. But despite the extreme hardship, he didn’t compromise on his values.
In contrast, the rakshasas such as Raavan symbolise selfishness, self -indulgence and manipulation. The ego dominates their actions and they operate from fear and insecurity. What the kar sevaks did in 1992 by demolishing the Babri Masjid was not in keeping with Shri Ram’s values. Neither was the communal riots and blood shed that followed nor the blatant politicizing of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue for electoral gains. These acts go against the spirit of Ram Rajya, which is not about politics, it is about putting the country before oneself.
Ram is also an embodiment of empathy and oneness. We see that in the Ramayana when he visits the hut of the tribal hermit woman Shabri, who was considered an outcast and shunned by the other Rishis. He embraces her and accepts her offering of half bitten berries with love. After all she had bitten into each of them only so that she could determine which were the sweetest berries to offer.
If the building of this temple in Ayodhya signifies that going forward we will usher in a new era of tolerance, where we embrace people of all castes, colour and creed like Shri Ram did, the hateful and agonizing past will be exorcised.
It doesn’t behove us to be resentful of the Ram Lalla Mandir in the name of secularism. The word Ayodhya means ‘land of no conflict’ (yodh means conflict). It is said when Ram, Sita and Laxman returned after exile, happiness and harmony returned to Ayodhya. It is heartening to note that Iqbal Ansari, the son of the main litigant of the title suit participated in the bhoomi pooja and affirmed that Hindus and Muslims have always coexisted peacefully.
As a gesture of love, tolerance and oneness, it would be a befitting offering to Ram Bhagwan, if some of the large-hearted Hindus donating generously towards the construction of the mandir, were to donate money to the trust set up by the Sunni Waqf Board for the building of the new mosque. After all the word Ram itself means, “the pure light of consciousness within me”. What better way to pay tribute on this historical occasion.
Anushka Jagtiani is a former TV Journalist, MSc in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics, music composer and keen student of Vedanta.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.