Ramcharitmanas- a new way to intrepret

Sudheendra Kulkarni, an IITian in an article ‘Ramcharitmanas and Hindu reform’ in Sunday Express’ has some interesting thing to say about the need of certain changes even in Holy Scriptures, if it serves certain purpose.

The following lines from Tulsi Ramayana: “Dhola gawanra sudra pasu naari, sakala taadan ke adhikari” (A drum, a rustic, a sudra, a beast and a woman – all these deserve to be beaten.) “Is this what Tulsidas says?” I said to myself in anger. “What kind of religion is this that denies dignity and justice to fellow human beings?” However, my subsequent reading of, and about, Tulsidas had convinced me that these lines were grossly misunderstood.

Since the lines appear in Sundarkand, I was eager to hear what Pathak (Guruji Ashwinikumar Pathak, brother of Harin Pathak, a BJP MP from Gujarat and famous for interpretations of Ramcharitmans) had to say about this most controversial aspect of Ramacharitmanas. Rather than evading it, he dealt with it elaborately by making three points. Firstly, the meaning imputed to the contentious lines is totally out of tune with the divine philosophy permeating Tulsidas’s Ramayana – that of God’s boundless love for all His creation, without distinction. Secondly, he emphasized that the word ‘taadan’, in the context in which it appears, means the very opposite of its popular meaning – namely, soft and careful treatment. But his third point was most important. “Ramcharitmanas was written in a different age. If some lines in it sound hurtful to any section of our society today, what’s wrong in simply changing them? Therefore, I have replaced the word ‘taadan’ with ‘laalan’ (loving treatment).”

Here was an exemplary case of textual revision of an important work in Hinduism. By rendering Valmiki’s Ramayana from Sanskrit in the language of the common man in his time, Tulsidas enshrined the epic in the hearts of millions of Hindus in the Hindi heartland. Gandhiji, for whom Ramanama was his “refuge in the darkest hour”, has written: “I derive the greatest consolation from my reading of the Tulsidas’s Ramayana. It takes a foremost place in the spiritual literature of the world.”

Yet, Gandhiji it was who said that even scriptures can, and should, be reinterpreted if they are found wanting. In the context of a debate on the Holy Quran, he wrote: “Every aspect of every religion has, in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for universal assent. Error can claim no exemption even if it can be supported by the scriptures of the world.” (Young India, Feb 26, 1925) Therefore, the Mahatma would have been happy at the revision that has now been introduced in his favourite book.

I myself feel like deleting many words, particularly when Tulsidasji keeps on revering vipra (Brahmins). But I feel it will be unjustified to change the words in the text. It is for the people who misrepresent Tulsidas to be more flexible. They must not think of changing the contents of the books written hundreds and thousands years ago. Instead, they must take the good things from them and discard that are irrelevant in present situations. Words and sentences must not be used to malign our saints. We must understand the right meaning and context.

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