Published in Speaking Tree on April 10, 2011.
One day, Ram was informed that it was time for him to die. He had no problem with that. He understood that creatures who take birth have to experience death. “Let Yama come to me. It is time for me to return to my heavenly abode, Vaikuntha,” he said. But Yama dared not enter Ayodhya. Yama, the god of death, was afraid of Hanuman who guarded the gates of Ram’s palace and was clear no one would take Ram away from him.
To allow Yama’s entry, it was necessary to distract Hanuman. So Ram dropped his ring into a crack in the palace floor and requested Hanuman to fetch it. Hanuman reduced himself to the size of a beetle and entered the crack only to discover that it was no crack but the entrance to a tunnel that led to Nag-lok, the land of serpents. Hanuman met Vasuki, king of serpents, there and informed him of his mission.
Vasuki took Hanuman to the centre of Nag-lok where stood a mountain of rings! “There you will surely find Ram’s ring,” said Vasuki. Hanuman wondered how he would do that. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. But to his delight, the first ring that he picked up was Ram’s ring. To his astonishment, even the second ring he picked up was Ram’s ring. In fact all the rings that made up the mountain of rings were Ram’s ring. “What is the meaning of this?” he wondered
Vasuki smiled and said, “This world we live in goes through cycles of life and death. Each life cycle of the world is called a kalp. Each kalp is composed of four yugs or quarters. In the second quarter or Tret yug, Ram takes birth in Ayodhya. Then one day his ring falls from earth into the subterranean realm of serpents through a tunnel. A monkey follows it and Ram up there dies. So it has been for hundreds of thousands of kalpas. All these rings testify to that fact. The mountain keeps growing as more rings fall. There is enough space for the rings of the future Ram.”
Hanuman realized that his entry into Nag-lok and his encounter with this mountain of rings was no accident. It was Ram’s way of telling him that he could not stop death from coming. Ram would die. The world would die. But like all things Ram would be reborn each time the world is reborn. So it would be forever.
This cyclical view of life is the essence of Indian thought. This was destroyed by the British and their linear view of life was adopted by everyone, including India’s political parties. That is why everyone wants to locate Ram in history and geography, and fight over dates and addresses.
For the Hindu mind, Ram is timeless and universal and so cannot be fettered to period or place. That is why the day of his birth is celebrated every year as spring gives way to summer. Every year he comes, every year he goes. But everyone has faith that he will keep coming back.