Text by Sona Bahadur and Mamta Badkar
Published: Volume 16, Issue 11, November, 2008
Being Ram couldn’t be easy. Loathed by feminists, appropriated by politicians, and the only Hindu deity to be worshipped as a king, he remains enigmatic in his complexity. The latest in his series on the Hindu pantheon, Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Book of Ram focuses on Ram in his myriad roles as king, son and husband. He is at once Eka-vachani, the king who never goes back on his word; Eka-bani, an archer who always strikes on target and Eka-patni, who is eternally and absolutely devoted to a single wife. He is maryada purushottam, the upholder of social values. And as the seventh avatar of Vishnu, he establishes order in worldly life. The interplay of the deity’s various conflicting roles and relationships forms the essence of this engaging tome.
Excerpts from an interview with Devdutt Pattanaik:
What makes the book relevant to contemporary life?
The Ramayan celebrates all that is noble in man’s life. Nobility is eternally relevant. We have all tried to be good and righteous sometimes – how can we be good and righteous all the time? Often we get seduced by cynicism, faithlessness, mediocrity…Ramayan helps us get back on track.
How do you see Ram? What’s your personal take on him?
To me, Ram carries the burden of leadership. He is not allowed to be a person – he has to be a king for his people. That demands sacrifices. And he does so stoically making him at once tragic and reverential. He is a model – one we admire but fear to emulate.
Feminists don’t think the world of Ram. How do you see him as a husband?
Every political ideology needs a villain. Often villains are constructed through careful choice of arguments and careful selection of stories. Feminists have done the same with Ram, focusing on his abandonment of Sita. What is overlooked is that here is a husband who was eternally faithful to his wife, who under pressure from his people abandoned his queen but refused to remarry.