The King and the People: Ram Rajya
Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
I have heard reference being made to the term Ram Rajya several times, but it is only recently that I have got to know exactly where the concept is evoked in the Ramayana – which is the chronicle of the life of Rama Bhagavan, an avatar of Vishnu who ruled as a legendary King of ancient India. This happened when I was attending a Ram katha (session of chanting the Ramayana by devotees of Rama Bhagavan) at Triolet, which lasts nine evenings.
Chanting of the Ramayana can be done in many ways, but the most common ones are Akhand Ramayana, when the whole of the Ramayana is recited over a period of 24 hours by teams that relay each other, and chanting one of the seven sections of the Ramayana either over a period of nine days or in a single session of several hours. It’s an experience that one wishes would never end…
It was the last section, Uttarkanda, that was selected. The return of Rama with Sita to Ayodhya, after his victory over the ruler of Lanka, Ravana, is celebrated, and he goes on to be installed as the legitimate king who then reigns over his subjects in such a manner that everybody follows a code of righteous living and all are happy, with their essential needs met.
Peace and harmony prevail, and the King, in addition to holding court, walks amongst his peoples. He is not afraid to hear unpleasant things or criticisms being made. In fact, he even asks a friend of his, Bhadra, to let him know what he hears, admonishing him, ‘don’t be circumspect. Tell me, truthfully, what’s said about me. Only when I know the truth can I improve myself by pursuing what’s good and avoiding what’s harmful. You have nothing to fear. I give you my word. But I must have the truth.’
That is how P. Lal, Professor of English at Xavier’s College in Kolkata, had transcreated these few lines from Valmiki’s Ramayana, and they resonated very well, triggering my interest to go to the source and delve into it. And thus my participation in the satsang conducted by Jairaj Tacuri, who is also a trustee of the Ramayana Centre.
It is from Doha and Chaupai 20 onwards that the characteristics of Ram Rajya begin to be described, and are found scattered in several of the ensuing Dohas and Chaupais, which total 130 in all. Doha 20 reads as follows:
Baranasrama nija nija dharama nirata beda patha loga
Calahi sada pavahi sukhahi nahi bhaya soka na roga
and means: Devoted to duty according to their status and stage of life, the people trod the path of the Vedas and enjoyed happiness. They knew no fear, nor sorrow nor disease.
What is the path of the Vedas? It is following the teachings contained therein. The Vedas are the foundational sourcebook of Hinduism or, rather Vedanta. Vedanta is a composite word made up of the Sanskrit vid, meaning to know, and anta, meaning the end. From vid comes veda meaning knowledge. There are four Vedas, the end-portions of which are the ‘philosophical’ conclusions, and together they constitute the Vedanta, which is also considered as the supreme means to the knowledge of the Inner self or ‘I’, known too by the term Higher Self as opposed to the Lower or External self (the physical body). The ‘I’ is, indeed, our true nature, our Truth and our fundamental Reality.
Following the path of the Vedas means basing one’s life on its teachings, which are:
- About knowledge of Atman and Brahman – the eternal Truth that I am not the perishable body (with which in our ignorance we always identify ourselves) but the Atman (the ‘I’) which is neither born nor dies, but which is eternal and identical with Brahman whence we arise and resolve into;
- About birth and death – what happens before and after; about creation as a whole;
- How to live in harmony with all created things, both living and non-living.
If the Truth of me is that I am eternal, then where is the place for sorrow, or fear? Even disease can be warded off if one follows a sane way of living — this is far from being utopian, because we do say in medicine today that it is possible to age well, meaning to remain free of disease in old age provided one is careful about how one handles one’s life: we are even using the expression ‘to die in good health,’ paradoxical as this may sound! Wellness and well-being are the latest fads of the medical and health ‘industry,’ but as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun, and in the time of Rama Bhagavan these were considered commonplace.
‘In the whole of Sri Rama’s dominions there was none who suffered from affliction of any kind, whether of the body, or proceeding from external agencies or that caused by another living being. All human beings loved one another, each following their prescribed duty and conforming to the precepts of the Vedas. Dharma (righteous living) with its four pillars – truth, purity, compassion and charity – reigned everywhere, and no one even dreamt of sin. Everyone was comely and sound of body. No one was destitute, afflicted or miserable. All were unaffectedly good, pious and virtuous; all were clever and accomplished – both men and women. Everyone recognised the merits of others and was learned and wise; nay, everyone acknowledged the services and benefits received from others.’
‘Trees in the forest blossomed and bore fruit throughout the year… Birds sang and beasts moved fearlessly about in the woods in distinct herds… The air breathed cool, soft and fragrant… The earth was ever clothed with crops… Every river carried in it excellent water – cool, transparent and pleasant to the taste… Ponds were all thick with lotuses and every quarter was clear and bright.’
Sounds like too good to be true – except that this is narrated as being indeed the case, and is the state after which we are yearning nowadays as we pursue research and try to devise ways to make us live healthily in a cleaner, sustainable environment.
In Chaupai 42 we read that the King said to his people: “If I say anything which is wrong, brethren, be not afraid to correct me.’ And so on throughout the Uttarkanda are found such pearls of honesty, frankness and wisdom which emanated from the King and were meant to guide the people in their daily lives and in their interactions with their leaders and the King himself. Who would not want to live in such a Ram Rajya? Can we re-create such a polity?
In fact, Rama Rajya as a concept was first projected by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji announced that Ram Rajya would be brought once Independence arrived. When he was asked about the ideal State, he talked about Ram Rajya. By using the Ram Rajya slogan, Gandhiji implied an ideal Rajya where values of justice, equality, idealism, renunciation and sacrifice are practised.
Rama Rajya, according to many scholars, means that the state (Rajya) is the sole legitimate agency wielding power (force), which imposes limits upon its exercise of power, either for the greater happiness of the people, or to evade a greater tyranny that could be caused by moral outrage or self-righteousness. Is there any country that doesn’t want peace, prosperity and tranquility?
Some time ago, when India’s Law and Justice Minister Dr M Veerappa Moily, who is also an eminent poet, writer, and thinker was awarded the Bharatiya Jnanpith’s prestigious 21st Moortidevi Award for his outstanding five-volume magnum opus ‘Shri Ramayana Mahanveshanam,’ he said in his acceptance speech that what present day India has to learn from the Ramayana is to build a nation out of many voices, many cultures and many peoples.
To quote Mr Moily, ‘At the heart of the epic there are three distinct cultures: the Lankan culture of acquisition, pleasure and power; the Ayodhya culture of artistic and academic progress and the culture of Kiskindha… mostly tribal and backward in terms of development in the modern sense. Initially, there is friction among these three cultures. However, when Vibhishana the Rakshasa King and Hanuman the Vaanara noble become allies of Rama the King of Ayodhya, all the three cultures come together and fuse into one great culture — the culture of Rama Rajya.’
‘Unless the rulers and administrators experience the pain and suffering of the poorest and weakest, they cannot be good in their jobs,’ he summed up.
Bhagavan Rama the King did not believe in shooting the messenger – and this is not an option for any ruler in the modern world, especially in these times when we must make the most judicious use of our scarce resources, financial and environmental. What is needed instead is to develop the necessary breadth and depth of our understanding of the concept of Rama Rajya, and of the core messages of the Uttarkanda and do our utmost to put as many of them as possible into practice. Hard work and perseverance no doubt, but in the end if we genuinely want a true Rama Rajya, there is no other way. Who would dispute that?