It is that time of the year again. If any other period comes close to my most favoured monsoon, then it has to be this transitioning time when short piercing rays of the sun lose their edge and morph into slanting beams, when tree tops bask in that faint golden radiance a little longer, when slight nip in the early morning air makes one fall in love with that hot cup of tea over again, when a whiff of roasted peanuts fills one with nostalgia of carefree bygone times, when streaming light through thin fog appears like divine guiding illumination and when everything in nature turns to wear a mysterious misty cloak. Palpable festivities and religious fervour adorn the days and nights further. Faint chants of Ramayana verses, street enactments of Ramlila, recitals of Durga Stuti, dhak (dhol beats) emanating from Puja pandaals and the temple bells add to the charm of the revelry.
During navratris, non-stop recitation (अखंड पाठ - Akhand paath) of Ramayana in temples and at homes is very common which I like immensely and I think my special love for it goes long back. At home my mother used to recite it very melodiously with different rhythms for दोहा (doha), चौपाई (chaupai), छंद (chhand) and सोरठा (sortha) from तुलसीकृत रामायण (Tulsikrit Ramayana). She used to get special invites to recite sections from Ramayana whenever anyone organised the akhand paath at home in the neighbourhood. I accompanied her in some of those settings and the different tunes used to mesmerise me always, though I could not understand much of the meaning at that time. I remember, at home, she often quoted many verses from Ramayana very effortlessly and explained the meaning to us, in support of her views/suggestions or some teachings. Now when I look back, I feel she derived some sort of strength and guidance from the written words and that was evident in her ever increasing calmness and composure inspite of having to face her share of hardships all through the life. Some of her most quoted ones are still very fresh in my mind and I think I do quote some inadvertently (though my memory holds a very small fraction of what she knew) to my kids now.
I read रामचरितमानस - Ramcharitmanas (Gita press) for the first time when I was just over 12 years. It was during the summer vacation when I decided that I would read it cover to cover in those stipulated 60 days. I did reach the Lanka Kaand but never till the last page. But somehow I liked everything associated with that morning ritual that I followed during those days - gathering some jasmine flowers from the backyard, offering the fragrant pristine white flowers to the idols, laying the mat to sit on, putting down a low stool to place the big book on , opening the bookmarked page and reading 10-12 pages every day.
From time to time this epic and its characters kept influencing and impacting me but what made me fall in love with the epic poem was the language part of it - the rhyming couplets, meticulously chosen words of chaupai - quartrain (syllable count 16/16, counted with a value of 1 in case of ह्रस्व (Hrasva) - short sounding letter and 2 in case of दीर्घ (Dirgha) - long sounding letter) and the unique way of reading sortha. For instance, the following sortha :
राम सरूप तुम्हार बचन अगोचर बुद्धिपर
अबिगत अकथ अपार नेति नेति नित निगम कह
भावार्थ : हे राम! आपका स्वरूप वाणी के अगोचर, बुद्धि से परे, अव्यक्त, अकथनीय और अपार है। वेद निरंतर उसका ‘नेति-नेति’ कहकर वर्णन करते हैं |
(O Ram! your character is beyond words and sight. It is indescribable, and inexplicable. Even Vedas explain it by saying 'this is not it, this is not it’)
is read as:
बचन अगोचर बुद्धिपर राम सरूप तुम्हार
नेति नेति नित निगम कह अबिगत अकथ अपार
And when the sortha is recited in tune, it rhymes so beautifully that one is completely overtaken by awe.
As I started understanding the meaning of the verses, they appealed to me even more. Quite irregularly but I kept reading a few pages of the religious book from time to time. There are various dialogues (संवाद - samvaad), emotions, feelings and situations which are so beautifully expressed that they almost always stay in my mind. Quoting just a few which I deeply feel attached to -
a) Episode of Kevat (the boatman who takes the trio across the river)
सुनी केवट के बैन प्रेम लपेटे अटपटे
बिहसे करुनाऐन चितइ जानकी लखन तन
b) Blessings of Goddess Parvati to Sita before her marriage
सुनु सिय सत्य असीस हमारी
पूजिहि मन कामना तुम्हारी
c) Hanuman’s unflinching devotion and commitment
राम काज कीन्हें बिनु मोहि कहाँ बिश्राम
d) Ecstasy one feels on understanding the meaning of how the world is just the manifestation of one’s own inner feelings
जिन्ह कें रही भावना जैसी | प्रभु मूरति तिन्ह देखी तैसी |
Tulsi Ramayana ends on a happy note, with establishment of Ram-rajya in Ayodhya. Uttar Ramayana narrates the controversial and much criticised section of abandonment of Sita. While my logical and questioning mind could never make peace with that event, yet it never altered my reverence for the poetic saga.
Interestingly, I did not know that one can fall in love with one particular thing more than one time until I experienced it myself after reading Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita which presented the epic tale in a slightly different light. It not only redefined the devout equation between Ram and Sita but also presented the age old story with a logical perspective and wonderful reasoning. Here quoting a couple of excerpts from Devdutt’s Sita:
a) Most people seek to be the sun around which the world revolves. Very few are willing to be the moon, allowing others to be the sun, despite having full knowledge that they can outshine everyone else. Ram’s brothers served him to uphold the integrity of the royal clan. Sita was bound by wifely obligations but only Hanuman did so out of pure love. That is why Ram held him closest.
b) Sita watched Lakshman’s nostrils flare. She felt his embarrassment and his rage. She wanted to reach out and reassure him, but she restrained herself.
'You feel your Ram has abandoned his Sita, don’t you?’, she asked gently.
'But he has not. He cannot.
He is God - he abandons no one.
And I am Goddess - I cannot be abandoned by anyone.’
A mystified Lakshman returned to Ayodhya, while Sita smiled in the forest.
And then one day I discovered Manas ke Moti (God bless the soul who gifted this set of 4 books to me) and it was time for me to get enchanted by this poetic saga once again. One needs to read it to experience the divine pleasure of beautiful annotations and nuances of the well known story. The books are compilations of Swami Subodhananda’s discourses, focused on different characters and contexts.
While composing this newsletter, I am fully aware that I have neither the knowledge nor the wisdom to comment on either Ramayana or its interpretations but what my eyes saw while reading, what my mind understood and what my being assimilated, I wish my hands and my heart to revel in that pleasure too as I put my experiences in words. And thus my fondness and devotion for Ramayana continues.