Believers of the non-believing kind argue that because they don’t know of a certain event, place or person, it doesn’t exist. But could that really be the final word on a subject as sensitive as the existence of Lord Rama?
By Manjulaa Shirodkar
Let me begin by sharing a little story. There is a small grocery store run by one Guptaji about two lanes away from my house. To get to it one must get out of the main gate of my place, turn left, walk about 400-500 metres down the lane, take a left again on a bigger road, walk another 200 metres odd to find his mini shop on the left. Now, clearly it isn’t visible from where I live but it exists. But a friend who came for an overnighter when told of the existence of this shop, denied it saying she didn’t see it when coming in – so it couldn’t be there! Believers of the non-believing kind argue that because they don’t know of a certain event, place or person, it doesn’t exist. But FACT is that Guptaji runs his tiny store and that it is for real.
The debate settled once the shop was seen. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Guptaji revealed that before he shifted his business here, he had purchased it from another and that too is a fact though we don’t ‘see’ any immediate proof of it. Am sure the proof exists in terms of a sale deed and other documents but mostly I am willing to take Guptaji’s word for it. My friend once again doubts his claim, but that is easily resolved once the papers are shown to her and that settles it – once more. Now she chooses to question the veracity of the papers too… and so on… continuing to disbelieve for the sake of disbelief till it leaves us all exhausted. I leave the story here… but you get the drift, don’t you?
So there was another debate raging for five centuries which was resolved by the Supreme Court of my land in July 2019 and one knows that the SC took every possible piece of evidence (since law doesn’t recognize emotional and sentimental connect), heard all the contesting parties before giving its verdict and so the matter should have found its closure. But no, an old debate was resurrected post the Shilanyas (or laying of the foundation stone ceremony in Ayodhya last August) about whether Lord Ram ever existed! Now that we are past the dispute of the land, its about the very existence of the deity who presides there!
This question has been answered several times over by scholars, historians, scientists, archeo-astronomers, economist-authors and Indologists and with proof but the doubters continue to doubt, dismiss and be downright rude. And I am left defending or on the defensive for my faith in my own history and civilization that has survived several millennia! And btw and fyi, they call me a bigot.
Our ancient Indian texts like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are records of Indian history. And like all substantive works (and as apart from distorted versions of the more recent kind) these epics are repositories of knowledge not just of their times, but also provide information on Philosophy, Dharma, Science, Technology, Religion and Society besides a lot else. One cannot be dismissive of these as mere mythology simply because the doubters’ ‘scientific temperament’ has blurred vision! If you were more receptive to newer thought why would you not accept the evidence being offered?
Why would you choose to ignore multiple astronomical references in the Ramayana which help us gauge the timeline of the incidents that took place at the time. Particularly the one written by Valmiki – considered the original Ramayana which “offers close to 600 astronomical references in the text” according to archaeoastronomer Nilesh Oak who holds BS & MS in Chemical Engineering and Executive MBA. He is also interested in Astronomy, Archaeology, Geology, Genetics, Quantum Mechanics, Economics, Ancient narratives and Philosophy and has authored works on both Mahabharata and the Ramayana and is invited across the world to speak on the subject.
Taking just one instance Valmiki Ramayana mentions Rama’s exact date and time of birth. He was born on the Navami tithi of Shukla Paksha of Chaitra masa (9th day of the increasing phase of the moon in the lunar month of Chaitra). At that time, the nakshatra was Punarvasu, and Sun, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus were in Aries, Capricorn, Libra, Cancer and Pisces respectively. Lagna was Cancer and Jupiter & Moon were shining together — Ramayana 1.18.8,9.
The Ramayana and Mahabharata contain accurate descriptions of astronomical events with reference to which these epics can be dated.
Author and Indologist Stephen Knapp who has studied major Vedic texts for over 40 years and travelled the length and breadth of the country and visited almost all the spiritual sites in India in one of his articles, Lord Rama: Fact or Fiction clearly states, “When it comes to the Ramayana and the history of Lord Rama, there have been numerous authors who have accepted the Ramayana as a history of ancient events. For example, the first Governor General of India, Sri Rajaji, wrote on the Ramayana and called it a history, as also did the English Indologist Sir William Jones. Various other western authors have made a study of the culture and history of the Ramayana, such as Philip Lutgendorf in his book Rama’s Story in Shiva’s City, California University; Joe Burkhalter Flueckiger and Laurie Sears in The Boundaries of Traditional Ramayana and Mahabharata Performances in South and Southeast Asia, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; W. L. Smith on Ramayan Traditions in Eastern India, University of Stockholm, and others.
There are also numerous places that are indicated as the locations where various events happened in reference to the pastimes of Lord Rama and Sita. Thus, they are accepted as historical sites. I have personally visited many of these places, such as Ramesvaram, Nasik, Hampi, and others where there are particular locations and sites that are related to the events that took place in the life and adventures of Lord Rama. Many people accept these sites as the locations for the events described in the Ramayana. So how can this be unless there are not some reality behind it?”
In the same article, historian Nandita Krishnan also mentions that, “to doubt the existence of Rama is to doubt all literature. There is little archaeological or epigraphic evidence for either Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed, who are known only from the Bible and Koran respectively. Does it mean they did not exist? If Rama performs miracles such as liberating Ahalya, the Biblical story of Jesus walking on water or the Koranic tale of Mohammed flying to heaven on a horse are equally miraculous. Such stories reinforce divinity.
She also describes in summary what areas the events of Lord Rama’s life took place. She explains: “The Ramayana is geographically very correct. Every site on Rama’s route is still identifiable and has continuing traditions or temples to commemorate Rama’s visit. Around 1000 BC or earlier, no writer had the means to travel around the country inventing a story, fitting it into local folklore and building temples for greater credibility.
In 1975 the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) unearthed fourteen pillar bases of kasauti stone with Hindu motifs near the mosque at Ayodhya; reports of the excavations are available with the ASI. Rama was born in Ayodhya and married in Mithila, now in Nepal. Not far from Mithila is Sitamarhi, where Sita was found in a furrow, still revered as the Janaki kund constructed by her father Janaka. Rama and Sita left Mithila for Ayodhya via Lumbini. In 249 BC, Ashoka erected a pillar in Lumbini with an inscription referring to the visits by both Rama and Buddha to Lumbini. Ashoka was much nearer in time to Rama and would be well aware of his facts.”
Oak follows the Logic of Scientific Method to explain his findings and in a talk as late as March 2020, he mentions that “Einstein states: It is the theory of that describes what we can observe.” He employs the following method. There is a Theory; then Evidence; then Objective Testability; then Logical Inference and finally Background Knowledge. This is put into a triangulate of Exploration, Prediction and Tarkshashtra to establish his claim. And so, “We have a chronology and context of history and civilization,” he says.
An article in The Pioneer dated 15 June 2015 by Kumar Chellapan quotes Prof V R Rao an anthropologist from Delhi University, “Studies confirmed that characters mentioned by Valmiki in Ramayana are real life characters. King Dasaratha, Rama and others were not fictional characters.” The same article also details that tribes like Bhils, Gonds and Kols… are true descendents of characters featured in the Ramayana.” The article refers to genetic studies conducted over three years and undertaken by Dr Gyaneshwar Chaubey a very reputed genetic scientist of the Estonian Biocentre in Estonia alongwith his team drawn from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, IIT Kharagpur and Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas.
Sanjeev Sanyal, the Economist and author of several authoritative books in a talk ‘How Much of Indian History is Really true?’ held in January 2016 at the Press Club of India stated, “People writing epics are writing in the context of their times and places. Just like modern fiction writers are writing about places they know about and very often, through those writings you can tell what the social context was.”
For those who assert that there is no consensus on the dates and timelines of the spiritual texts and that experts constantly argue and shift their stance, must remember that any evidence is dynamic and ever evolving. Says Sanyal, “Evidence is being continuously updated through study of climate science, archeological findings, finding of new texts, genetics and so many other sources.”
Let’s face it, if we cannot even agree on an event that took place last week, there is very little chance that everyone will be on the same page with regard to events which took place several millennia ago! And ‘that is okay’ we say.. Now you try saying it.
Also, neither will evidence be available in black and white to scientists who have been tracking the same only for a few decades… Besides, do not discount that your knowledge about a text or an ancient incident could be based on hearsay and not authentic research done personally, so “you may have a right to your opinion but you do not have a right to your facts” as Sanyal says, “When writing history stick to evidence. But nobody today is bothering to look at the evidence.”
Science is only a means to prove what faith already knows but those with ‘scientific temperament’ have little patience with hard facts. So Guptaji’s store is up and running just fine irrespective of what you may or not ‘believe’.
Read the original location also – just as a link.
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Manjulaa Shirodkar (nee Negi) is an established film critic and author, having worked in leading national publications. She is also a Film Selection Committee member for various film festivals.