Book Review: Is Sri Rama a modern deity? – Rohit Srivastava

Idea Journalist“Delhi University historian Meenakshi Jain has given a robust reply to those who question the historicity of Rama as deity, and provided ample historical proof of Ayodhya as the city of Sri Rama. Activists may question the memory of a civilisation with superficial and politically motivated arguments, but Rama & Ayodhya has demolished their case.” – Rohit  Srivastava

Jawed Naqvi“Before Mr L. K. Advani converted an Indian icon into a Hindu deity as he flexed his nationalist muscles astride a makeshift chariot, he was on his way to the destruction of an unused 16th century mosque in Ayodhya to reclaim the mythical glory of his Mother India.”

Thus wrote Jawed Naqvi, India correspondent of Dawn, Pakistan, in an article on humour in religious discourse. The Indian icon in question is Sri Rama, most popular incarnation of Vishnu and most beloved deity for at least two millennia.

Naqvi would have us believe Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ made Sri Rama a deity. He cannot see the hollowness of his own claim, for if Rama in his own view was already an Indian icon (a symbol of reverence and devotion), it follows He is already a deity, a Deva.

Naqvi like others is in the business of negating and mocking the civilisational memory associated with Sri Rama, and believes his minority status confers upon him the privilege to do so with impunity. Yet he would not dare satisfy non-monotheistic curiosity on a fundamental confusion of Abrahamic dogma – did the patriarch Abraham offer his son Ismail in sacrifice to god or his son Isaac? Christians and Muslims both accept the historicity of the event and both agree only one child was offered. Which one?

Over the past two decades, leftists have indulged in high voltage propaganda that Rama was not a deity before Tulsidas wrote Ramacharitra Manas in the 16th century. The purpose, of course, is to discredit the movement for reclamation of His birthplace. For if there is no proof of Rama and his Ayodhya, the movement falls into disrepute.

Rama & Ayodhya by Meenakshi JainDelhi University historian Meenakshi Jain has given a robust reply to those who question the historicity of Rama as deity, and provided ample historical proof of Ayodhya as the city of Sri Rama. Activists may question the memory of a civilisation with superficial and politically motivated arguments, but Rama & Ayodhya has demolished their case.

Jain leaves no stone unturned in collating all historical and literary evidence relating to Sri Rama. She has covered a very vast corpus of literature from the 8th century onwards. The Pratihara dynasty which ruled west and central India from the 9th to the 13th century claimed descent from Lakshman, younger brother of Rama, and considered themselves defenders of India from mleccha (barbarian) invaders, and were proud of their victory over them. For four centuries they gave an intrepid fight to invaders.

The book covers the popularity of Sri Rama in antiquity in three long chapters, citing evidence from literature, sculpture and epigraphy. The author has compiled her evidence state-wise to conclusively prove Sri Rama’s pan-national popularity throughout antiquity. The question of His becoming a deity only after the publication of Ramacharitra Manas in the era of the Mughal emperor Akbar, has been answered with ample evidence to discourage the most arrogant leftist historian from repeating old lies again.

Some notable references include Varahamihira’s Brhatsamhita (sixth century AD) which formulates rules for making images of Rama. The Rama story finds mention in three early Buddhist texts, Dasharatha Kathanam (first-second century AD), Anamakam Jatakam and Dasharatha Jataka. The great poet-dramatist, Bhavabhuti, a native of Vidarbha, wrote two dramas based on the Ramayan – the Mahaviracharita and the Uttararamacharity (eighth century); and the latter contained the earliest verbatim quotations of verses from the Ramayan, according to Jacobi.

Sri RamaA Gupta period stone panel from Mathura shows Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa, a scene from the Uttara Kanda. A Gupta period brick temple at Bhitargaon, Kanpur (fifth century AD) has several terracotta panels, one of which depicts Rama and Lakshman seated and engaged in conversation. M. Zaheer, in his book on the Bhitargaon temple, mentions two terracotta reliefs showing scenes from the Ramayana: one a woman offering alms to a giant man, clearly Ravana in disguise; while the other depicts a seated Rama and Sita.

The Hindu intelligentsia invoked Rama to rally the fighting spirit of the people. The Rama cult was promoted by Madhavacharya Anandatirtha (variously placed between AD 1199-1278 and 1238-1317). He devoted seven chapters to the Ramayana story in the Mahabharat Tatparya Nirnaya and brought an image of the “world-conquering” Digvijaya Rama to the south. Similarly, Narahari Tirtha, probably the same as Narasimha, is recorded in a Telugu epigraph dated AD 1293, as having set up the image of Rama, Sita and Lakshman in the Vaishnava temple near Chicacole, Ganjam district.

The Vayu Purana and the Uttara Kanda mentioned two Kosalas, with Shravasti the capital of Uttara Kosala and Kausavati of Dakshin Kosala or Mahakosala. The two Kosalas were once believed to have been under the suzerainty of Rama, who installed his son Lava in North Kosala and Kusa in South Kosala.

The book is additionally important for the detailed analysis of the Allahabad High Court ruling on Babri Masjid case, wherein the motives and scholarship of many of our famed historians are hilariously exposed during the court proceedings. It shows how an exclusive club of historians (leftists, of course) have been making false claims of expertise to perpetuate their own agendas, to the detriment of true scholarship. This helps us understand why history has been taught so poorly in our schools and universities—the professors have been taking liberties with truth. No wonder a nation with such a rich history has some of the dullest history departments!

Allahabad High CourtThe Allahabad High Court noted the links between the academics representing the Sunni Central Waqf Board. Suvira Jaiswal, former Professor of JNU, told the court, “I have not read Babarnama…. It is correct to say that I am giving statement on oath regarding Babri Mosque without any probe and not on the basis of my knowledge, rather I am giving the statement on the basis of my opinion…. Whatever (information) I gained with respect to disputed site, was on the basis of newspaper or what the others told, i.e., from the report of historians. By historians’ report I mean Historians Report to Nation.”

Satyawati College lecturer S.C. Mishra intoned, “Prithvi Raj Chauhan was king of Ghazni; he (Muhammad Ghori) was king of its adjoining area….  I have heard of Jaziya tax…. At present I fail to recollect when and for what purpose it was levied. I do not remember that the Jaziya was levied only on Hindus….”

Little wonder the Court observed, “he accepts of being expert in epigraphy but … neither he knows Arabic nor Persian nor Latin, therefore he had no occasion to understand the language in which the alleged inscription was written…. The slipshod and casual manner in which he made inquiry about inscription is further interesting.”

The Ayodhya debate reveals a disturbing aspect of the personality of pre-eminent historian Irfan Habib—he has not hesitated to cast serious aspersions on the integrity of academicians and institutions in disagreement with his views. This book challenges such lord chaplains of Indian history. — The Pioneer, 9 June 2013

» Rama & Ayodhya by Meenakshi Jain, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2013, Pages: xxii+346, Price: Rs 695, ISBN 13: 9788173054518

» Rohit Srivastava is a senior journalist.