CREDOS : Lord Ram — II

Shoba Narayan

For instance, on more than one occasion, Ram bows to public pressure and feels compelled to question his wife’s chastity. After rescuing his wife, Sita, from Lanka, where she is being kept captive, Ram questions her chastity on the battlefield before his monkey-army. Sita had lived in the clutches of a lustful demon-king for so long, says Ram. Was she still pure of thought and deed? Stung by the accusation, Sita jumps into the fire as answer. The fire-god Agni returns Sita to Ram, saying that she was so pure that nobody, not even fire, could touch her. Ram later apologises to Sita, saying that he had never doubted her chastity but felt compelled to demonstrate it to the world. On a second occasion, after Ram’s return from the forest and coronation as king of Ayodhya, Ram overhears one of his subjects questioning Sita’s virtue, given that she was held captive by a demon-king. Bowing once again to public opinion, Ram banishes Sita from his kingdom. A pained Sita goes to live in the ashram of sage Valmiki (author of the Ramayana) and gives birth to twin sons, Luv and Kush. It is only later, after the twins grow up, that the family is reunited.

Upon re-reading the Ramayana, I realised that Ram too was balancing many constituencies his subjects, his family, his conscience. His moral struggles mirrored the conflicts that many of us face today choosing between duty and obligation, between people’s perceptions and reality, between being a good husband and a good king. The festival of Sri Ram Navami, however, doesn’t dwell on Ram’s conflicts or struggles. It is, like most Indian holidays, a joyous occasion for celebration and the culmination of nine days of festivals and fasts. —