The Ram Janmabhoomi temple will be rebuilt; It will be grand and magnificent, testimony to the glory of our great God, Lord Ram. We will worship there. We will honour Him there. We will celebrate our culture there. But is that all that we must do? Is that all that we owe Lord Ram, one of the greatest that ever walked this earth? Let us think a bit on it.
It is indeed interesting that in all the versions that we have of our wonderful epic, the Ramayana, very little of the text is devoted to what Lord Ram is most famous for, i.e. Ram Rajya or the Rule of Ram. The story usually centres around the struggles of Lord Ram, usually up to the time when he comes back with Goddess Sita after defeating Raavan and rescuing her. Some of the philosophies that Lord Ram seemed to subscribe to (and would therefore implement in his rule), are discussed in texts such as the Yoga Vashishtha.
But in the main text of the Ramayana, it is largely his story up to the time he returns and becomes the King, and perhaps a quick summary of events thereafter in the Uttara Kand. Ram Rajya is not discussed in too much detail. Even the word Ramayana, literally means the Journey of Ram. But in the hearts and minds of practically all Indians to this day, the term Ram Rajya evokes powerful memories; like a talisman for our souls. It is the basis of our love and respect for Lord Ram. If you ask around in the country what is the best way to administer a kingdom, regardless of the religion, caste or linguistic background of the Indian being asked, practically all would say, Ram Rajya.
There can be various theories on why the term Ram Rajya is so viscerally felt among most Indians, many many millennia after Lord Ram, but yet, there is little discussion of it in the Ramayana. Perhaps governance discussions are boring, but battles and love-stories are made for epic tales! Few readers of the Mahabharat would list the governance lessons in Shanti Parva as among their favourite sections. Or maybe Indians of that era already knew of the contours of Ram Rajya and were interested in only listening to the journey of the great God who actually set it up.
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But another possible explanation appeals to me. Maybe each era has its own Ram Rajya. The Indians who lived in Lord Ram’s time experienced their own concept of Ram Rajya. And our ancestors decided that their descendants must make up their own minds on what Ram Rajya should be. Therefore, our tradition dictates that we must all think, ponder and debate, collectively, on what Ram Rajya can mean in today’s times.
Seen from this perspective, the various versions of Ramayana are an inspiration for what we can be; How a leader should or should not be; How a people should or should not be. And most importantly, what is the central thrust of what we, collectively, as a society, hope to achieve.
But a discussion on Ram Rajya can only happen when we are clear about who we are. And this decision, rightly or wrongly, is usually taken by the ruling elite; the class that comprises the top politicians, bureaucrats, judiciary, academia, media, corporates, artists, etc. This ruling elite in India, has, at least culturally, largely been the same for the last 150 years. They have been called Macaulayputras, the children of Macaulay, the cultural descendants of the thinker behind the British policies to create a class that was Indian in blood, but British in food, language and culture.
The idiom this class uses, the cultural memes they follow, the language they speak, are all, largely, an inheritance of the British Raj. That does not mean that they don’t love India. Of course they do. It just means that their method of expressing that love is different; they see themselves as reformers of a land that is pre-modern (some among them use the term “savage”). Once you understand this, you also understand how this class approaches everything Indian. And among the ancient Gods, the One that this class despised the most was Lord Ram; criticism of Him was almost fashionable among them.
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But as Francis Fukuyama suggests in his book, ‘Identity’, we are driven by our tribal identities. And another tribe is rising today to take over as the ruling elite. For want of a better term, let’s call them the Dhartiputras; The sons of the soil. Since the Dhartiputras are clearly the future, the conversation within this class is most important in India today. Like the Macaulayputras, this class too loves India. They are of course influenced by the dominant paradigm of the modern era: that of Western culture. But at the heart of it all, the idiom this class uses, the food they eat, the cultural memes they follow, are usually based on ancient Indian traditions. And it is no surprise that this class idolises Lord Ram. There is no unquestioning obedience however; in the traditional Indian way, there is no concept of blasphemy. So this class questions Lord Ram when they think they need to, for example on his treatment of Goddess Sita. But that does not take away from the deep and abiding respect they have for Lord Ram. Interestingly, despite that respect and worship, does this class learn from Lord Ram? We’ll come to that in a bit.
Now, the Dhartiputras have not taken over the elite space completely. Their journey has only just begun. And even ideologically, they are a work in progress. Not everything is thought through. Some among them, even today, feel a visceral dislike for the Macaulayputras and see them as “the enemy”. They waste too much energy fighting them. This is pointless. They should learn from the way Lord Ram treated others, even those who were “His enemies”. And what they should learn even more from Lord Ram is that the important conversation is not what you do to your enemies; it is what you do for your people.
What should this class do for its people, i.e. us, common Indians? What kind of society do we want? What are the Texts we should refer to? What is the Indian dream? What is our approach to science? What is our approach to Women’s rights? What is our approach to sexual and religious minorities? Do we believe in multiple laws based on group rights (as the Macaulayputras did) or do we believe in One law for all built on the foundation of individual rights and equality? What is the balance between economic growth and environmentalism? What is the balance between pacifism and resisting countries who do not wish us well? What is the balance between order & freedom? Do we believe in the concept of guilt for historical crimes? Do we believe in the concept of community guilt? What is our approach to education? To history? To the arts? To literature?
There is so much to be discussed. So much to be debated. And it must all happen in the public square. I try to discuss some of these questions in my interpretation of the Ramayana: the 5-book Ram Chandra Series. I’d love there to be more debate. Perhaps those debates can happen in the to-be-constructed Ram Janmabhoomi temple, in a spirit of investigation, mutual respect, and maturity. But more importantly, the debates should not be just talk. They must convert into karma. We must put those thoughts into action; the Dhartiputras, maybe, along with the Macaulayputras, can all work for the good of the common people. Perhaps, sometimes, with disagreement, but preferably without being disagreeable. For that is what Lord Ram would expect us to do. For that is the finest way to honour Him.
Rāmarājyavāsī tvam, procchrayasva te śiram
Nyāyārthaṁ yudhyasva, sarveṣu samaṁ cara
Paripālaya durbalam, viddhi dharmaṁ varam
Procchrayasva te śiram,
You live in Ram’s kingdom, hold your head high.
Fight for justice. Treat all as equal.
Protect the weak. Know that dharma is above all.
Hold your head high,
You live in the kingdom of Ram.
Amish Tripathi is a diplomat and author. He is presently the Director of the Nehru Centre, London. Views are personal.
This article was first published on ORF.
A very thought provoking article indeed. The dichotomy in India’s society is indeed more notable than many other cultures, and this is particularly true for the English medium layer in our society. Many times I have engaged in the argument with close friends about the negative impact of British Raj. The response has mostly pointed towards consequences if debauched monarchies had continued to rule the subcontinent. The unfortunate part of this journey is that we are still using what was handed to us, and NOT reformed to a large extent in a progressive manner, whether Dhartiputra way or Macaulayputra way. in fact we have regressed. For instance, now we have many viceroys (accountable to no one while living on lavish perks). The power distance is feudal, with common man shown their place lest they dare question those in authority (look at Yogi with his commandos walking besides him). Ram Rajya only in name; in reality it is mai-baap and jiski lathi uski bhains.
Hindu literature has no strength as Hindu history.
Extremely interesting and thought-provoking piece has been penned down by the author. We must have a national program which makes all Indians better rather than some Indians at the throat of other Indians.
Ruling elite in India was always the same Macaulayputra kind of terms are political and used to hoodwink subalterns and lumpens.
There was a serial called ‘Akhand Ramayan’ on Doordarshan ,which invariably used to put me to sleep. But this article is interesting , reading it some queries jumped to mind. For eg what were the geographical boundaries of Ramrajya? Or what would lord ram think about dalits ?Or what should erstwhile citizens of Ramrajya now settled in foreign shores like us and uk do?
Lord Ram would not have wanted his subjects to go to bed hungry, as many Indians still do.
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