Saturday, 16 May 2015

Ramarajya in Valmiki, Tulsidas and Krittibas: A Comparative Study

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya 

The concept of Ramarajya (literally, the kingdom of rama), the all-found-land, or the land of heart's desire, is first projected at the end of Book 6 (Lankakanda, Book of War) of the Valmiki Ramayana [critical edition (Varoda: Oriental Institute) canto 116 verses 84-90, vulgate (Delhi: Parimal Publications edition) 128.99-106]. The passage runs as follows:
While Rama was ruling the kingdom, there were no widows to lament, nor there was any danger from wild animals, nor any fear born of diseases. 99
The world was bereft of thieves and robberies. No one felt worthless nor did old people perform obsequies concerning youngsters. 100
Every creature felt pleased. Every one was intent on virtue. Turning their eyes towards Rāma alone, creatures did not kill one another. 101
While Rama was ruling the kingdom, people survived for thousands of years, with thousands of their progeny, all free of illness and grief. 102
While Rama ruled the kingdom, the talks of the people centered round Rama, Rama and Rama. The world became Rama's world. 103
The trees there were bearing flowers and fruits regularly, without any injury by pests and insects. The clouds were raining in time and the wind was delightful to the touch. 104
All [Brahmins (the priest-class), Kshatriyas (the warrior-class), Vaisyas (the class of merchants and agriculturists), and Sudras (the servant-class)] were performing their own duties, satisfied with their own work and bereft of any greed. While Rama was ruling, the people were intent on virtue and lived without telling lies. 105
All the people were endowed with excellent characteristics. All were engaged in virtue. Rama was engaged in the kingship thus for one thousand years. 106
One of these verses (103) is considered by scholars to be a later addition. Hence it has been omitted in the critical edition, which has seven instead of eight verses in this passage (canto 116 verses 84-90). Otherwise this description of Ramarajya is encountered in all versions (with some minor verbal variations) current both in North and South India, from Kashmir to Kerala. This concept basically reflects the general will of the common people: to live in peace and harmony, enjoy long life without disease and sorrow, etc. Only one verse speaks of the desire for status quo ante of all varnas (castes), but does not glorify the Brahmins. Nor is there any declaration that the varna system and the division of labour it implies has been ordained by God or the Vedas, although such an idea may very well be implicit in the idea itself.

Strangely enough, in his paraphrase of this passage of the Valmiki Ramayana, Goswami Tulsidas (c. 1532 - 1623) differs from Valmiki by introducing the Vedas when he speaks of the varna duties. His description of Ramarajya is more elaborate and more orthodox in terms of the social system of the ideal kingdom. He says:
Under the rule of Rama there was none who suffered from affliction of any kind – whether of the body, or proceeding from divine or supernatural agencies or that caused by another living being. All men loved one another: each followed one’s prescribed duty, conformably to the precepts of the Vedas. Dharma with its four pillars (viz., truth, purity–both external and internal, compassion and charity) reigned everywhere throughout the world; no one even dreamt of sin. Men and women alike were devoted to Sri Rama’s worship and all were qualified for final beatitude. There was no premature death nor suffering of any kind; everyone was comely and sound of body. No one was destitute, afflicted or miserable; no one was stupid or devoid of auspicious marks. All were unaffectedly good, pious and virtuous; all were clever and accomplished–both men and women. Everyone recognized the merits of others and was learned and wise; nay, everyone acknowledged the services and benefits received from others and there was no guileful prudence. (Ramcaritamanasa Uttarakanda 20.1-4)
Listen, O king of the birds, (continues Kakabhusundi,) during Sri Rama’s reign there was not a creature in this world, animate or inanimate, that was liable to any of the sufferings attributable to time, past conduct, personal temperament and character. (Ramcaritamanasa Uttarakanda 21. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (often reprinted), pp.995-96)
Tulsidas did not follow the Valmiki Ramayana in every detail. Instead of that he added much of his own to show what he expected from an ideal, happy life. One plus point in Tulsidas is the reference to both men and women. The latter is never separately mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana passage. Tulsidas gives concession to popular beliefs and superstitions, as evidenced in the mention of bodily marks. Out of such beiefs a pseudo-science called Samudrika was created in India. It delineated on which bodily mark signifies good or bad fortune. This version of Indian physiognomy is credited to a mythical sage called Samudra.

Why does Tuilsidas bring in the Vedas which is not mentioned or even hinted at in the Valmiki Ramayana passage concerning Ramarajya? The introduction of Veda was by no means a universal practice resorted to by all medieval poets who paraphrased the Ramayana in the Indian vernaculars. Krittibas Ojha (sixteenth, or more probably, seventeenth century), who wrote a smaller version of Ramayana in Bangla, composed only eight lines (four couplets) at the last section of the Lankakanda ( as it is there in the Valmiki Ramayana and unlike Tulsidas who introduced Ramarajya at the beginning of the Uttarakanda) to describe the happy state of affairs. Krittibas says that the monkeys who stayed in Ayodhya used to wear dhoti (like fashionable Bengali Babus dressed in style). He does not speak of either the varnas following their vocations or of the Veda which assigns each varna its own duties. On the other hand, he confined himself to the absence of envy and sorrow in Rama’s kingdom (Kolikata: Deb Sahitya Kutir (often reprinted), p.496). The very brief description of Ramarajya in the Krittibasi Ramayana, however, may be a later addition, for the passage seems to have been interpolated in a section describing the fate of the vimana or the celestial chariot with wings called Pushpaka).

In all probability Tulsidas was trying to improve upon Valmiki by injecting more piety in the description of the ideal kingdom than was shown by ‘the first poet’ (adikavi), as Asvaghosha (100 CE) called Valmiki in the Buddhacharita (1.43). Valmiki could be content with the members of each varna performing its assigned duties, without bothering to state who has assigned them, whether god himself or the Veda. In the Gita Krishna declares, ‘According to the classification of action and qualities (guna-karma-vibhaga) the four castes are created by me’ (4.13). The Rigveda, however, speaks of a Purusha having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, whose mouth is the Brahmana, of both his arms was the Rajanya (Kshatriya) made, whose thighs became the Vaisya and from his feet the Sudra was produced (10.90.1, 12). Tulsidas, a learned man, brought in the Veda in order to emphasize the sanctity of the varna system as it is supported by the Veda itself. The position of the Veda, which only the first three varnas were eligible to study, was above all man-made laws and hence more imposing than any other authority. Tulsidas, apart from his devotion to Rama, proved himself to be a Veda-abiding person who would like to impart his veneration for the Veda to his listeners/readers as well. Krittibas Ojha was no less devoted to Rama, but he did not consider it necessary to refer to the holiness of the varna system, let alone the dignity of the Veda, at least in the context of Ramarajya.

Alternatively, the difference between Tulsidas and Krittibas may lie in the difference between the two regions they lived. The village Phulia (district Nadia, now in the state of West Bengal, india), where Krittibas was born and brought up, was far away from any dominance of Vedic practice; cultivation of Veda and performance of Vedic rites were largely unknown in Bengal. On the other hand, Tulsidas lived in the heartland of Vedism. Bengal was long known to be a land ‘rejected by the Pandavas (Pandava-varjita),’ meaning thereby that the so-called Aryan influence was less in Bengal than in other parts of India. Unencumbered by both the paths of Karma (performance of Vedic rituals) and Jnana (Knowledge), Krittibas could think of Bhakti (devotion) alone and leave both the four-varna system and the Veda out of his consideration.

Acknowledgements: Sourav Basak, Amitava Bhattacharyya, and Sunish Kumar Deb. The usual disclaimers apply.



Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.





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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Color Coding of Communal Politics

Ram Puniyani


As per the reports from Ahmadabad (12th April 2015) the uniform at Shahpur School, where most of the students are Hindus, is saffron and the color of uniform in Dani Limda school where almost all the students are Muslims, the color is green. This is absolutely shocking! One knew that the ghettoization of Muslims in Ahmadabad is probably the worst in the country but whether the things will go this far was unbelievable. The process of communalization which worsened after the 2002 Gujarat carnage is seeing a new low with incidents like this one.

Surely this is the most blatant expression of communalisation- segregation-ghettoisation physical and psychological, which the country as a whole and Gujarat in the most extreme form, is witnessing. While the communities do many times prefer to stay in the localities frequented by their likes, the situation in most of the north Indian metros and even to some extent in smaller towns also is very bad. The segregation of communities along religious lines has gone up to the frightening levels all through. In Ahmadabad, particularly post 2002 carnage the majority of nearly 12% of Muslim population has been forced to live in Juhapura and Shah Alam area, both predominantly Muslim areas. Irrespective of the socio-economic profile the Muslims are not permitted to buy houses in mixed localities. The banks don’t extend their credit card facilities in these areas and neither does eating outlets deliver pizzas etc. in these localities.


In India the phenomenon of ghettoisation of Muslim community has run parallel and as an aftermath of the communal violence. Once the violence occurs in a particular city that city is affected very severely and its fallout is seen in other cities as well. In the cities where major communal violence has been witnessed, this has been the invariable accompaniment. The cities like Mumbai, Bhagalpur, Jamshedpur, Muzzafarnagar in particular. In cities like Delhi also this phenomenon is clearly discernible to the extent that even the Muslim faculty members of JNU, the prestigious University with the tag of a liberal institution, also prefer to live in the Muslim majority areas. The builders in the major cities make it a point of not selling the housing units to the members of minority community. I know of a faculty member of the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai being denied the house on the ground of religion.

Talking of Mumbai, it is probably the most cosmopolitan city with high cultural diversity. In this city the famous film star and social activist Shabana Azmi was denied the house in a mixed locality and similar was the plight of another well known film star Emran Hashmi. There is a long chain of phenomenon leading to such situations where the religion becomes the central marker of one’s identity, overtaking the national identity, and so the right to access to housing of one’s choice is practically ruled out. These are unwritten rules which are part of social practices.

As far as ghettoization is concerned, currently we are faced with a debate featuring this phenomenon as talks are on to plan make separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir Valley. This plan is being opposed by different quarters as this will definitely lead to ghetto like situation for Pandits. The Kashmiriyat culture, the core point of Muslim-Hindu amity in the Valley has already been undermined due to the strife raging in the valley from last over two decades. On the top of that such a scheme of the Government will further enhance the divisive spirit in the state.

As such segregation of communities along caste/sect lines is a dominant feature in Pakistan as well, as the dominant political discourse has revolved around complex sectarian divides. The ghettoization of African Americans in United States goes back to the injustices done to these sections in America. Lately one hears a lot about the urban ghettoes in countries like where the immigrants from ex-colonies, not getting their due in the society subsist in the in the poorer areas.    

How do we deal with such a situation where the divisiveness created by communal politics is ruling the roost? On a visit to Singapore I saw the massive housing colonies in different residential clusters. I was told that within these housing complexes, there is an quota system of allotment of housing units in the same complex along ethnic lines. Different ethnic groups, Malays, Chinese and Tamils have been allotted certain percentage according to their proportion in the population. This does encourage different groups to interact with each other on various occasions and promotes amity between them. What do we do in the face of a situation where the schools are choosing uniforms according to the religion of the children, and how come the percentage of children is overwhelmingly Muslim or Hindu in particular areas? This is due to physical segregation and is contrary to the spirit of communal harmony and the values ingrained in the basics of Indian Constitution, the spirit of Fraternity. One has to counter the myths, biases and prejudices about the ‘other community’ as these stereotypes form the base of communal violence, which in turn paves the way for segregation and ghettoization which further leads to ‘cultural demarcation’, the way these two schools show. What type of future society we can envisage with such stereotypes entering into our education system. The physical and emotional divides which are coming up are detrimental to the unity of the nation as a whole.

The communal violence has brought to fore the religious identity without bring in the values of tolerance and acceptance for the ‘other’. I remember having watched V.Shantarams’ 1946 classic Padosi (neighbor) and leaving the theatre with moist eyes, wondering whether Hindus and Muslims can ever live like this again, whether the composite culture which India inherits has any chance of survival in the prevalent divisive political scenario!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A Class Utopia in the Rāmāyaṇa

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya


An imaginary land of heart's desire is known as utopia (literally, no-place, but actually meaning 'a happy place', eutopia) in Latin. Originally it is the title of a book written by Thomas More (1478-1535) in 1516. Uttarakuri was such a place in ancient India. This imaginary land was located beyond the Himalayas (for further details see Appendix A below and R. Bhattacharya, 2000, 2004). There were also wistful references to uchronia (literally, no-time, but actually meaning 'happy times'. euchronia) or the Golden Age (satya or krta yuga), which was expected to come back at the end of the Iron Age (kali yuga). A utopia generally reflects the general will of the toiling masses. The desire for all property to be held in common, absence of the institution of marriage,[1] eternal spring, and spontaneous generation of crops – these are some of the features that mark the utopias and uchronias all over the world, India not excepted.[2] What is common to all such utopias is an egalitarian tendency and a keen desire for social levelling, abolishing all caste and class distinctions and doing away with special privileges of the so-called aristocratic estates. Long before the slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity was raised during the French Revolution (1789), the desire for these three ideas found expression in the utopias and uchronias in the pre-capitalist societies, be it slavery, feudalism, or any other mode of production (such as the Asiatic mode of production mentioned by Karl Marx).[3] The desire was first mooted in the myths of different cultures (The Golden Age, Elysian Fields, Uttarakuru, etc.), and then in such specimens of wishful thinking as the rāmarājya, the kingdom of Rāma,  or the popular utopia in medieval England, the Land of Cokaygne (situated somewhere in Spain).[4]
 
Side by side with this kind of popular visions, there was another kind of utopia in the minds of the dominant classes, mainly the first three of the varṇas, but specially of the Brahmana (priest) and  the Kshatriya (warrior), the most privileged sections in ancient India. This is not a unique phenomenon in Indian literature, to be found in the epics and the Purāṇas. The history of utopian thinking in Europe has been traced back to Plato’s Republic (fourth century bc) which is a class utopia of this kind. Plato, like his Indian counterparts, Manu, Yājñavalkya and others, prioritizes the philosopher (the counterpart of Indian Brahmana), and shows total lack of regard for manual workers. Instead of being egalitarian in spirit Plato’s ideal state sets forth special privileges for the philosopher-ruler and arranges special training for them. Thus there is also a current of non- or rather anti-egalitarian utopias both in Europe and India. Recent studies on utopias (such as Rüsen and others (eds.), Thinking Utopia: Steps into Other Worlds, 2005) seem to be unaware of the Indian tradition, although Dorothy Ko has written an article, ‘Bodies in Utopia and Utopian Bodies in Imperial China’ in this volume (pp.89-103). We propose to show that this anti-egalitarian utopia is as much a tradition of India’s past as the egalitarian utopia of Uttarakuru first conceived in myths and then making its presence felt in Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain writings.

This kind of utopia as depicted at the end of the Book of War (Yuddhakāṇḍa), the sixth Book of the Rāmāyaṇa, Canto 116, is still known as rāmarājya, the kingdom of Rāma. It is noted for its overall prosperity, absence of diseases, etc.[5]:

While Rāma was ruling the kingdom, there were no widows to lament, nor was there any danger from wild animals, nor any fear born of diseases. 84 

The world was free from robbers. No one felt worthless, nor did old people perform obsequies of the youngster ones. 85 

Every creature felt pleased; everyone was intent on virtue. Turning their eyes towards Rāma alone, creatures did not kill one another. 86 

While Rāma was ruling the kingdom, people survived for thousands of years, with thousands of their progeny, all free from illness and grief. 87 

The trees there were bearing flowers and fruits regularly, without any injury by pests and insects. The clouds were raining in time and the wind was delightful to the touch. 88 

All [that is, Brahmins (the priest-class), Kṣatriyas (the warrior-class), Vaiśyas (the class of merchants and agriculturists), and Śūdras (the servant-class)] were performing their own duties, satisfied with their own work, and bereft of greed. While Rāma was ruling, the people were intent on virtue and lived without telling lies. 89 
All the people were endowed with excellent characteristics. All were engaged in virtue. Rama was engaged in the kingship thus for one thousand years. 90

na paryadevan vidhavā na ca vyālakṛtaṃ bhayam |
na vyādhijaṃ bhayaṃ vāpi rāme rājyaṃ praśāsati
||84
nirdasyur abhaval loko nānarthaḥ kaṃ cid aspṛśat
|
na ca sma vṛddhā bālānāṃ pretakāryāṇi kurvate
||85
sarvaṃ muditam evāsīt sarvo dharmaparo 'bhavat
|
rāmam evānupaśyanto nābhyahiṃsan parasparam
||86
āsan varṣasahasrāṇi tathā putrasahasriṇaḥ
|
nirāmayā viśokāś ca rāme rājyaṃ praśāsati
||87
nityapuṣpā nityaphalās taravaḥ skandhavistṛtāḥ
|
kālavarṣī ca parjanyaḥ sukhasparśaś ca mārutaḥ
||88
svakarmasu pravartante tuṣṭhāḥ svair eva karmabhiḥ
|
āsan prajā dharmaparā rāme śāsati nānṛtāḥ
||89
sarve lakṣaṇasaṃpannāḥ sarve dharmaparāyaṇāḥ
|
daśavarṣasahasrāṇi rāmo rājyam akārayat
||90

(Rāmāyaṇa. Crit. Ed. Yuddhakāṇḍa. 116.84-90.) 
Wishful thinking perhaps can go no further. It is truly the land of all-got, where everything is achievable and nothing is impossible. The distinction of class (varṇa) is of course rigidly maintained, but otherwise all is well. This too however is a class utopia. No wonder, therefore, that Gandhiji would call his ideal state rāmarājya, the kingdom of Rāma, in the twentieth century.[6] 

But even before Rāma came to the throne, the city of Ayodhyā itself is described in the Book of Childhood (Bālakāṇḍa) of the Rāmāyaṇa [7] as the embodiment of the desire of the Brāhmaṇas and the Kṣatriyas. The capital of Daśaratha is described as follows (in Goldman’s translation of the critically constituted text)[8]:

1-4. Dwelling in that city of Ayodhyā, King Daśaratha ruled the earth, just as powerful Manu once ruled the world. He knew the vedas and was lord and master of everything. Powerful and gifted with foresight, he was loved by the people of both town and countryside. That master chariot warrior of the Īkṣvākus performed sacrifices and was devoted to righteousness. He was renowned in the three worlds as a masterful man and a royal seer like one of the great seers. He was mighty and had slain his enemies, yet he had also conquered his senses and had many friends. In wealth and accumulated property, he was the equal of Śakra [Indra, the king of the gods] or Vaiśravaṇa [Kuvera, lord of wealth].
5. True to his vows and ever cultivating the three goals of life [dharma, religious merit, artha, wealth, kāma, desire], he ruled that splendid city as Indra rules Amarāvatī.
6. In that great city men were happy, righteous, and deeply learned. They were truthful and not covetous, for each man was content with his own property.
7. In that most excellent city there was no householder who did not have significant property, who had not accomplished his goals, or who was not possessed of cattle, horses, wealth, and grain.
8. Nowhere in Ayodhyā could one find a lecher, a miser, a cruel or unlearned man, or an agnostic [nāstika].[9]
9. All the men and women conducted themselves in accordance with righteousness and   were self-controlled and joyful. In disposition and conduct they were as pure as the great seers themselves.
10. No one lacked earrings, diadem, and necklace.  No one was deprived of pleasures. There was no one who was dirty or whose body lacked for ointments or perfume.
11. There was no one who had unclean food or was ungenerous. There was nobody who did not wear an armlet and a golden breast­plate. No one was lacking in either rings or self-control.
12. Nor was there in Ayodhyā a single brahman who did not kindle the sacred fires, sacrifice, and donate thousands in charity. Nor were there any who indulged in mixing of the social classes.
13. The brahmans had subdued their senses and were always de
ii
voted to their proper occupation. They were given over to charity and study and were restrained in accepting gifts.
14. There were no agnostics and no liars. There was none who was not deeply learned. None was envious, incompetent, or ignorant.
15. No one was unhappy, fickle, or troubled. In Ayodhyā, one could not find a man or a woman lacking in grace or beauty, or anyone who was not devoted to the king.
16. The men of all the social classes, of which the foremost, the brahmans, makes the fourth, worshiped both gods and guests. They were long-lived, practicing truth and righteousness.
17. The kshatriyas accepted the brahmans as their superiors, and the vaiśyas (agriculturists and traders) were subservient to the kshatriyas. The śūdras (manual workers), devoted to their proper duty, served the other three classes.
18. In short, the city was as well governed by that lord of the Ikṣāvākus as it had been long ago by the wise Manu, foremost of men.
19. Like a cave filled with lions, it was full of fiery warriors, skilled, unyielding, and accomplished in their art.
20. It was full of the finest horses, bred in the regions of Bāhlīka, Vanāyu, Kāmboja, and the great river, the equals of Hari's steed.
21. It was filled with exceedingly powerful rutting elephants, like mountains, born in the Vindhya hills and the Himalayas.
22-23. The city was always full of bull elephants, looking like mountains and always in rut; elephants of the bhadramandra, bhadramṛga, and mṛgamandra breeds, descended from the cosmic elephants Añjana and Vāmana. Indeed its name, Ayodhyā – the unassailable – was truly meaningful, even two leagues beyond its gates.
24. Thus did the lord of the earth, Śakra's equal, rule that auspicious and aptly named city crowded with thousands of men, resplendent with wonderful buildings, its gates fitted with firm bolts.

Before going into the details of this class utopia, it should be pointed out that this is not the only one of its kind found in Sanskrit literature. The earliest of such utopias is found in the boasting of Aśvapati, the king of Kekaya in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.11.5. While addressing a group of scholars who had come to him to discuss about the nature of the self (ātman), Aśvapati boasted: ‘There is no thief in my kingdom, nor misers, nor drunkards, nor neglecters of the household fire, nor ignorant people, nor adulterers much less adulteresses’ (Rajendralala Mitra’s translation. Emphasis added.). This is the ideal state conceived by Brahmanical law-givers like Manu.[10] The inclusion of Vedic daily rites to be observed betrays the same Brahmanical bias. Only the twice-born (dvija), that is the Brahmanas, the Kṣatriyas, and the Vaiśyas, were entitled to such rites, not the Śūdras, who were excluded from anything connected with the holy Vedas.

#

Now to a close study of some of the features of Ayodhyā at the time of Daśaratha. Special attention is to be paid to verses 6 and 7. Each human is said to be content with his own property and not coveting others’ wealth as the Īśa Upaniṣad  verse 1 advises: ‘Covet not the wealth of any one at all’[11] (Trans. R. E. Hume). Every householder is said to have ‘significant property’ and possessed cattle, horses, wealth and grain. In other words, there was no poor man in Ayodhyā. Wealth consisted of both agricultural products and domestic animals. Such a state, devoid of all handicrafts and craftsmen of whatever kind, is difficult to visualize. But this is a utopia of wealthy persons alone, a sans souci (without care). We are assured that everyone had ornaments like earrings, diadems, and necklaces, and no one was deprived of pleasure. Every (male) citizen used scents, and wore armlets and golden breast-plates, no one lacked rings (verses 10-11)
tasmin puravare hṛṣṭā dharmātmanā bahu śrutāḥ | 
narās tuṣṭādhanaiḥ svaiḥ svair alubdhāḥ satyavādinaḥ | | 
6nālpasaṃnicayaḥ kaścid āsīt tasmin purottame | 
kuṭumbī yo hy asiddhārtho 'gavāśvadhanadhānyavān ||7
 ---
nākuṇḍalī nāmukuṭī nāsragvī nālpabhogavān | 
nāmṛṣṭo nānuliptāṅgo nāsugandhaś ca vidyate ||10 
nāmṛṣṭabhojī nādātā nāpy anaṅgadaniṣkadhṛk | 
nāhastābharaṇo vāpi dṛśyate nāpy anātmavān ||11 
Another feature to be noted is that the description of this utopia is mostly male-oriented. There is only one reference to women of Ayodhyā in verse 9. But this is only to be expected in the male-dominated world of heroic poetry.

The picture portrayed is too good to be true. If every male citizen is so well dressed and all that, who perform the menial jobs? Apparently the question did not strike the author/s of this canto. 

This brings us to what is more significant, namely, the hierarchy of the castes. We are assured that the dominance of the twice-born (dvija) varṇas is rigidly maintained. All the four varṇas are there, but no member of any varṇa is a malcontent. ‘Nor were there any who indulged in mixing of the social classes(na ca nirvṛtta-saṃkaraḥ, verse 12). Even the śūdras, the last of the lot who, according to the religious law-books, were to be entrusted with menial jobs and had no right to study, not even listen to the Veda, are said to be ‘devoted to their proper duty, and serve the three other classes’ (verse 17) (kṣatraṃ brahmamukhaṃ cāsīd vaiśyāḥ kṣatram anuvratāḥ | śūdrāḥ svadharmaniratās trīn varṇān upacāriṇaḥ || 

We are told that every citizen, whatever may be his varṇa, was king-abiding (verse 15). Every Brahmaṇa knew his Vedas, did not ask overmuch as gifts or charity (dakṣiṇā); they were not only pious but also generous and gave as much in charity as they were restrained in accepting gifts (verse 13).

This may have an oblique reference to the greed of the Brahmanas who always asked more and more for performing rituals for the other three varṇas. Moreover, the state of satisfaction of the śūdras must have been an ideal expected of them, not a true description of their state of mind. The identity of the interest of the first two varṇas is stated sometimes covertly, but in most of the cases quite overtly.

The translation of varṇa as ‘class’ is not literal, but not inappropriate. In ancient India, as D. D. Kosambi observes: ‘Caste is class at a primitive level of production, a religious method of forming social consciousness in such a manner that the primary producer is deprived of his surplus with the minimum coercion.’[12] (Italics in the original)  

The next verse (18) summarizes the whole and exhibits that this Ayodhyā is Manu’s dream come true. The ideal state depicted in the Manusmṛti is based on the hierarchy of the varṇas; ungrudging acceptance of the duties allotted to each varṇa is the hallmark of the class utopia. It is a far cry from the egalitarianism found in popular utopias like Uttarakuru. But, as has been pointed out at the outset, Ayodhyā is a special kind of utopia, a class utopia, which privileges the first three varṇas. At the same time, it does not leave the śūdras out. They are there but as subservient to their ‘natural superiors’ and, we are assured, quite content with their lot. The author/s of this class utopia made their intention abundantly clear. 

This canto was not composed wholly by a mere poet (presumably a Brahmana), but by a man of the world. This aspect is brought out by verses 20-22. The poet was uncharacteristically well-informed about horses and elephants. This is somewhat surprising. But if we remember that this is not just a Brahmanical utopia but a Kṣatriya utopia as well, it may not appear to be something unforeseen.

To sum up then: the Ayodhyā of the Rāmāyaṇa as described in the Book of Childhood (Bālakāṇḍa) is utterly different from that of rāmarājya  described at the end of the Book of War (Yuddhakāṇḍa). It is the representation of a class utopia desired by the first two varṇas and found in all the recensions and versions of the Rāmāyaṇa, both northern and southern. The co-existence of two utopias – one belonging to the power elite and the other of a popular nature – is highly interesting but not unexpected. Given the thoroughly Brahmaṇical character of the epics, not of the Rāmāyaṇa alone but also of the Mahābhārata, the glorification of the Veda and the Brahmana in this class utopia (see verses 1, 12, 13 and 16) is a foregone conclusion.[13] Both the epics were redacted by the Bhārgava Brahmanas who, M. J. Schende says, ‘added a number of episodes and much didactic matter and magic or supernatural elements etc.’ [14] They tried their best to turn the Rāmāyaṇa as much as the Mahābhārata into a Encyclopedia Brahmanica. [15] They spared no pains to glorify the varṇa system which sponsored them.

This is not to say that there was no conflict between the first two varṇas.  As in the legend of Paraśurāma,[16] so in the legend of the feud between Viśvāmitra and Vasiṣṭha[17] we find the reflection of the Kṣatriya-Brahmana conflict. There is the same kind of over-compensation expressed in the glorification of Brahmanahood at the end of the Viśvāmitra -Vasiṣṭha conflict. In the Brahmanical utopia in the Rāmāyaṇa, we find the Brahmana standing at the top of the hierarchy with the Kṣatriyas and others paying obeisance to him. However, the exaltation of the Kṣatriya is no less prominent than that of the Brāhmaṇa in this class utopia (verses 3, 4, 23).
  

Appendix A

Uttarakuru

Uttarakuru is often found represented in Brahmanical and Buddhist literature as the (E)utopia of ancient India. The legend of a happy land free from exploitation, class-division, and aggression was first mentioned in the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa (around 1000 bce). D. D. Kosambi has described the legend as follows:
A northern branch of the Kurus, the Uttara-kurus, retained a legendary reputation, supposedly living near Mount Meru in a paradise on earth, where all men were born kind, leaved a pure life; where no land was brought under the plough, men lived on wild rice from untilled soil, and did not ride chariots. The chariot had by then become the prerogative of a wealthy and armed ruling class, hence a symbol of class division. The same Uttara-kurus are mentioned in AB [Aitareya Brāhmaṇa]. 8.14 as having a special consecration for their kings, in their land beyond the Himālaya; in AB. 8.23, their utopia appears as a place of the gods unconquerable by any mortal. The distance from legend or myth to reality, never very great in India, was small at the period and for the sources. When compared with other paradisaic legends the grain of fact seems to be the tradition of a free, happy, peaceful, tribal life with neither agriculture nor aggression. (1956/1975 p.125)
References to a land in the northern-most limit of India are found in the Rāmāyaṇa, Kiṣkiṇdhākāṇḍa, the Book of Kiskindha, crit. ed. Cantos 39 and parts of 40-41 and 42, vulgate, 42;  Mbh, Sabhāparvan, crit. ed. Canto 25, vulgate, Canto 28, Bhīṣmaparvan, crit. ed. Canto 8, vulgate 7, Anuśāsanaparvan, crit. ed. Canto 105, vulgate Canto 112; Matsyapurāṇa (vulgate ed.), Canto 163; Āṭānāṭiyasutta (Dīgha Nikāya  Part 3); Bodhicaryāvatāra 10.17; Netti-pakaraṇa 11. Uttarkuru is just a place name in Jain works. There are references to Uttarakuru in the Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, Canto 1; Vayupurāṇa, Canto 45; Matsyapurāṇa, Canto 113 (all vulgate).

However, the accounts of the features of this land are not all alike. The legend in fact combines within it several motifs and themes that must have emerged at different times and at different stages in India. What is to be noted is that Uttarakuru continued to be cherished as the land of heart’s desire through the ages. Though inaccessible to poor mortals it was believed to be a land that actually existed somewhere in Northern India. Varāhamihira (sixth century ce) situates it inside India along with a kingdom exclusively to women (Strīrājya) in his Bṛhat Saṃhitā (14.6).

Appendix B

What is meant by ‘Vulgate’?

Vulgate means ‘the received or normalized text of any work. Originally applied to the Latin version to the Bible prepared by Jerome late in the fourth century a. d.; and by transference applied to the popular or commonly known and accepted form of a text, as opposed to the critical text or edition (Latin vulgata)’ (Katre, p.98). For further information, see <http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/NonBiblical.html>.
Such editions, with or without commentaries, have been and are still being reprinted and translated into modern Indian and European languages. Even the summarized versions of the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata are based on vulgate.  

Appendix C

The meaning of nāstika

I would urge readers to pay attention to the word ‘agnostic’ which has been employed to render nāstika in Bālakāṇḍa, verses 8 and 14:

kāmī vā na kadaryo vā nṛśaṃsaḥ puruṣaḥ kva cit
draṣṭuṃ śakyam ayodhyāyāṃ nāvidvān na ca nāstikaḥ |8

na nāstiko nānṛtako na kaś cid abahuśrutaḥ
nāsūyako na cāśakto nāvidvān vidyate tadā ||14

Goldman, the translator, has given the original Sanskrit word in his note. He mentions two commentators, who explained the word nāstika as ‘one who does not believe in the existence of the next world’ (p.290). This is indeed the original meaning of the word. There is no denying that nāstika has many meanings, and in certain contexts it is problematic to decide which meaning would be the appropriate one.[18] But ‘agnostic’ is a different proposition altogether. Agnosticism is a purely Western concept, suggesting indecision or at least postponement of any definite decision. In India such a middle-of-the-road position is, to the best of my knowledge, not to be met with, either in life or in literature. One is either an āstika, literally signifying an affirmativist, or to borrow a term from Bertolt Brecht, jasager (one who says yes), or a nāstika, negativist, or neinsager (one who says no).[19] No Sanskrit dictionary I have so far been able to consult records the meaning of nāstika as agnostic.


Works Cited

‘Āṭānāṭiya-sutta’, Dīghanikāya. Part 3. Ed. Jagadish Kashyap. Patna: Pali Publication Board (Bihar Government), 1958.
Bhattacharya, R. (2013a) Development of Materialism in India: the Pre-Cārvākas and the Cārvākas, Esercizi Filosofici 8, 2013, pp. 1-12. (2013a). ISSN 1970-0164 Link: http://www2.units.it/eserfilo/art813/bhattacharya813.pdf
Bhattacharya, R. (E)utopia and (E)uchronia in Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-carita, Sambodhi, Vol. 27, 2004, pp. 37-49.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. (2009/2011). Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentina, 2009; London: Anthem Press, 2011.
Bhattacharya, R. Uttarakuru: The (E)utopia of Ancient India, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research, Vol. 81, 2000, pp.191-201.
Brecht, Bertolt. Der Jasager und Der Neinsager, in Gesammelte Werke, Band 2, Stücke 2. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967.
Buddhaghosa. The Sumaṅgala-Vilāsinī. Vols. 1-3. Ed. Mahesh Tiwary. Nalanda: Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, 1974-76.
Chāndogya Upaniṣad. Ed. and trans. Rajendralala Mitra. Bibliotheca Indica. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1862.
Chāndogya Upaniṣad (text). See EPU.
Cohen, Jack (trans.). Pre-capitalist Economic Formations. New York: International Publishers, 1965, with an introduction by Eric Hobsbawm.
Devi, Manjula. Vedic Practices in the Society of the Rāmāyaṇa Age. Journal of the Asiatic Society (Kolkata), 52:3, 2010, pp.1-10.
EPU Eighteen Principal Upaniṣads  (1958). Eds. V. P. Limaye and R. D. Vadekar. Poona: Vaidika Samsodhana Mandala.
Hardy, F. Hinduism, in U. King (ed.), Turning Points in Religious Studies. Essays in honour of Geoffrey Parrinder. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990, 145-55.
Īśa Upaniṣad (text). See EPU.
Katre, S. M. Introduction to Indian Textual Criticism. Bombay: Karnatak Publishing House, 1941.
Kosambi, D. D. Stages of Indian History, in ISCUS [Indo-Soviet Cultural Society]: Journal of the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society, 1:1, January 1954. Reprinted in The Oxford India Kosambi: Combined Methods in Indology and Other Writings, ed. Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Kosambi, D.D. Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline (1965).  New Delhi: Vikas, 1972.
Mahābhārata, The. Critically ed. by V.S. Sukthankar and others. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1933-66.
Manusmṛti with commentaries by Medhātithi and others .  Ed. J. H. Dave. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1972-84.
Marx, Karl. Grundrisse. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973.
Marx-Engels. Pre-Capitalist Socio-Economic Formations: A collection. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975.
Mbh Mahābhāratam (vulgate edition) with Nīlakaṇṭha’s commentary, Bhāratabhāvadīpa. Ed. Pancanana Tarkaratna. Kalikata: Vangabasi, 1832 Śaka.
Morton, A. L. The English Utopia. Berlin: Seven Seas Publishers, 1968 (first published 1952).
Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki. 2 vols. Ed. Shastri Shrinivas Katti Mudholkara. Delhi: Parimal Publications, 1983. (vulgate)
Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, The. Critically edited by G.H. Bhatt and others. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1960-75.
The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol.I: Bālakāṇḍa. Trans. Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Rüsen, Jörm and others (eds.). Thinking Utopia: Steps into Other Worlds. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005.
Squarcini, Federico. Pāṣaṇḍin, vaitaṇḍika, vedanindaka and nāstika. On criticism, dissenters and polemics and the South Asian struggle for the semiotic primacy of veridiction. Orientalia Suecana. LX. 2011, pp. 101-15.
Sukthankar, V. S. Epic Studies vi: The Bhṛgus and the Bharata: A Text-Historical Study, in Critical Studies in the Mahābhārata. Bombay: Karnataka Publishing House, 1944, pp.278-337.

Acknowledgements: Amitava Bhattacharyya, Sourav Basak. The usual disclaimers apply.


[1] As told in the Buddhist Pali canonical text, Āṭānāṭiya-sutta (Dīgha Nikāya  Part 3): a-mamā a-pariggahā. The first word is explained by Buddhaghosa, a commentator, as ‘bereft of mineness regarding clothes, ornaments, drinks, food etc.’, and the second as absence of marriage and the same non-acquisitive attitude towards women in general: not only that men have no such feeling as ‘this is my wife’, they are free from lust as such (Part 3 p.398).
[2] Even Duṣyanta’s kingdom is described in the same vein:  it is marked by spontaneous fertility of crops. Mahābhārata, Ādiparvan, critical edition (hereafter crit. ed.) canto 62 verses 6, 8; vulgate (see Appendix B below) 68.6, 8. However, varṇāśrama orthodoxy goes hand in hand with the absence of thieves, famine, and disease in that kingdom too. 
[3]  See Cohen (trans.) and Hobsbawm’s Introduction. See also Marx-Engels 1975, pp.84-136. The source of both is Marx’s Grundrisse.  
[4] For details of such popular utopias conceived in England, see Morton 1952/1965.
[5] Rāmāyaṇa  Book 6, crit. ed., canto 116 verses 84-90, vulgate 6.128.99-106. There is an additional verse (103) in vulgate:
While Rāma ruled the kingdom, the talks of the people centered round Rāma, Rāma and Rāma. The world became Rāma's world.
Since it is not found in all recensions and versions, it has been omitted in the constituted text of crit. ed.
[6] Gandhi’s rāmarājya, like Plato’s Republic, is an out-and-out class utopia. It is not at all egalitarian in spirit. The caste hierarchy remains unaltered and the rich are entrusted with the task of acting as trustees of the poor! The rāmarājya in the Rāmāyaṇa too speaks of ‘all (being) engaged in their respective duties and satisfied with their works’, svakarmasu pravartante tuṣṭhāḥ svair eva karmabhiḥ (crit. ed. 6.116.verse 89ab; vulgate 6.128.105).
[7] Bālakāṇḍa, crit. ed. canto 6 verses 1-24, vulgate 6.1-28 (6.1-29 in the Eastern (Gauḍiya) and North-west recensions). The four additional verses found in the vulgate do not find place in the critically constituted text. There are some variant readings in the vulgate texts too.
[8] In vulgate 1.6.1-28, there are several lines and quarter verses (pādas) that have been omitted in the crit. ed. as they are proved by manuscript evidence to be later additions. Hence, instead of 28 verses, the crit. ed. has 23 only.
[9] Here and in verse 14 Goldman has translated nāstika as ‘agnostic’, which in my opinion is inappropriate in the Indian context. See Appendix C below.
[10] Manu and all law-givers in fact act as custodian of status quo ante; they provide what the powers that be would desire the society to be like. F. Hardy has observed:
Naively it has been assumed that what the dharmashastras lay down as rules corresponds to actual life. In fact, it is no more than an ideal, a blueprint for a perfect society. […] From this follows that a considerable amount of religious life has been going on that is not as such described in the books on the Vedic dharma. No doubt these books, along with the belief in the Vedas etc., played a far wider role as prestigious norms and ideals than such a hypothetical calculation reveals. But they prescribe, not describe. Once it is realized that things need not actually be what they are supposed to be, according to some normative interpretations, it becomes possible to look at them in their own right and not write them off as ‘unorthodox distortion’ or ‘sectarian development’ when acknowledging their existence at all. (Qtd. in Squarcini, p.102)
One point however needs to be noted: these dharmaśāstras became the source books of the British-made Hindu Law.

[11] This sentence could also be translated as ‘Do not covet, (for) whose is wealth?’ The absence of punctuation marks in Sanskrit (as in Hebrew) other than one stroke (|) and a couple of strokes (||) to denote ending, makes such an alternative translation possible.
[12] Kosambi, 1954/2009, p.59. In a later work Kosambi reiterated the same formulation more succinctly: Caste is class on a primitive level of production’’ (1965, p.50. Italics in the original).
[13] See Manjula Devi 1-10. The essay is based on the vulgate but records most of the references to Vedic practices, including those current among the demons (rākṣasas), mentioned in the Rāmāyaṇa. The Bhārgava redactors in their zeal for Brahmanizing and Vedifying a war song had made even the demons of Laṅkā as much Veda-folowing and ritual-minded as the upper-class citizens of Ayodhyā!
[14] M. J. Schende 1943, qtd. in Rāmāyaṇa, crit. ed., Uttarakāṇḍa, Introduction, p.52 n2. Umakant Premakant Shah, the editor of this kāṇḍa, believes, following V. S. Sukthankar, that ‘the period of composition of the Rāmāyaṇa falls within the interval which separates Bhārata (of 24000 stanzas) and the Mahābhārata (100000 stanzas),’ and is certainly older than Patañjali’s Mahābhāṣya  (Introduction pp. 52-53).
[15] ‘One can, however, easily convince oneself that the diaskeuasts who boldly conceived the colossal idea of converting the popular Epic of the Bhāratas into the Encyclopedia Brahmanica… were probably not entirely without their preference and prejudices….’ Sukthankar, p.331.
[16] Sukthankar pp.279ff, particularly p.330 n4. The story of Paraśurāma annihilating the Kṣatriyas 3 X 7 times, Sukthankar observes, ‘is known to us only from the account of the event from Brahmiṇ sources. This myth – the dream of the Bhṛgus – is the sublimation of that intolerable inferiority feeling which had been repressed, but which was clamouring for expression.’ Earlier Sukthankar also said: ‘There is only one explanation of the childish exaggeration and this repeated mention on the annihilation of the Kṣatriyas by the Bhārgava Rāma a deep analysis of the motives underlying this (phenomenon) would suggest that these fabrications are only a form of “over-compensation”, and endeavour to make the Bhṛgus feel important and “worth-while”, after the disastrous blow to their ego-ideals. It is the psychological revenge of the Bhṛgus who were all but exterminated by the Kṣatriyas.’ (p.330 n1)
[17] The Rāmāyaṇa, crit. ed., Book 1, canto 1, verses 50-54; vulgate 1.51-55. The story is also told more briefly in the Mahābhārata, crit. ed., Book 1 canto 175 and vulgate 1.175. There is another story of the enmity between Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra in the Mahābhārata, crit. ed., Book 9 canto 41; vulgate 9.42.
[18] See R. Bhattacharya (2009/2011), pp.227-31 and R. Bhattacharya 2013a pp.3-5.
[19] See Brecht, Der Jasager und Der Neinsager.

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