Wednesday August 22, 2018

Vivaha Panchami: Celebrating Rama’s marriage to Sita

Vivaha Panchami

By Nithin Sridhar

Vivaha i.e. marriage is a sacred bond, a commitment between two people who take a vow to pursue their desires, dreams, and duties together. And Hinduism, which has always upheld Grihasta ashrama (the stage of marriage) as one of the most important stages in society, cherishes this beautiful bond by celebrating every year the ‘Vivaha’ of Lord Rama and Devi Sita.

Every year the festival, which is named as ‘Vivaha Panchami, is observed on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of Margashirsha month. This year the day has fallen on December 16, i.e. today.

Lord Rama is called as ‘Dharma Murti (the symbol of righteousness/duty) by Maharishi Valmiki in Ramayana. The Hindu tradition has always looked up to Rama as an epitome of the best in humans- as a King, as a son, as a brother, and of course as a Husband.

But, in modern times, Rama’s treatment of Sita has been seriously questioned and severely criticized by many liberals, feminists, and even common Hindus. In view of such criticism, the celebration of Rama’s marriage to Sita as ‘Vivaha Panchami’ may appear as incorrect or without any meaning, or downright misogynist to many people.

Thus, it becomes very vital to examine the life of Rama and his relationship with Sita especially in the context of Rama’s actions that have been criticized.

There is nothing wrong per se in questioning and criticizing, but an analysis of the past, especially the judgment of morality of characters from the past should never be done by imposing current notions of morality on the past. Such, impositions of our own pre-conceived notions without taking into account the essence and worldview of the scriptures which speak about a particular incident will almost always result into distortions.

The criticism of Rama’s treatment of Sita is on two counts: One, after the slaying of Ravana, Rama did not go straight away to meet Sita. He, instead, made her prove her purity by ‘Agni Pariksha’ (trial by fire). Two, Rama abandoned a pregnant Sita in the forest because some of his subjects raised questions about her character.

These two actions of Rama have been used to portray Rama as a bad husband and a misogynist. Further, Sita is portrayed as a submissive woman who is forced to follow her husband’s whims and fancies. But it is conveniently ignored that Rama went to war with Ravana for saving Sita and that Rama never married again even after sending Sita to the forest. In fact, he conducted Yajna’s with an idol of Sita beside him.

Also Read: Marriage is a commitment, not contract

Let us, for a moment, forget that Rama was an avatara of Lord Vishnu. As far as Valmiki Ramayana is concerned, Rama perceives himself just as a Man. But, the Ramayana tells that he was such a man whose every action was taken after examining all available paths and the righteousness of each path. He tried to stick to his duties even in the most difficult situation despite enormous sufferings he had to face.

Now, coming to the episode of Agni-Pariksha, a careful reading of Valmiki Ramayana shows that it was Sita, who said she would enter the fire and not Rama (Yuddha Khanda 116.18-19). Though, Rama did not stop it and, in fact, allowed it to happen, it is wrong to say that he specifically asked her to enter the fire.

In any case, the question to be asked is, why did Rama allow Sita to enter fire? Does it show that Rama doubted her character?

In answer to the second question, Rama himself has given a clear ‘No’. In Yuddha Khanda 118.13-20, Rama explicitly stated that he knew that Sita is without blemish and no one can violate her. He has repeated this statement that he never doubted Sita again and again.

But, he adds, as if in answer to the first question, that Sita was allowed to go through Agni-Pariksha because otherwise people would have questioned her character as well as his decision to accept her. He further adds that she deserved to be proven innocent and without faults in front of the whole world.

Thus, his actions were not only guided by the fact that he was about to become a King and Kings do not have the privilege of ‘privacy’ and have a duty to be morally unquestionable, but also by his desire to show to the world that his wife is innocent and hence, no person should ever raise a finger against her. Rama was simply trying to do his duty as a husband as well as his duty as a future King. The episode can serve as the best example of nuanced and deep love which do not always become obvious.

The fact that after the Agni-Pariksha, when Sita heard Rama’s explanations, instead of refusing to go back to Rama, she was happily united with him, establishes beyond doubt that Sita did not view Rama’s actions as misogynist, instead she clearly understood the compulsions and subtle love that made Rama act the way he did. Rama, in fact, calls Sita as being non-different from him, the way sunlight is non-different from the Sun which again goes to show his deep commitment and love for Sita.

Another issue raised regarding the Agni-Pariksha episode is that it portrays Sita as meek and submissive to her husband. Sita was no doubt a dedicated wife, but she was by no means meek or submissive. This is clearly brought forward in the chapter 117 of the same section, where Sita criticizes Rama’s behavior towards her. She boldly calls out the wrong treatment being meted out to her, though she was without fault. Sita was so self-confident and assertive that she decided to enter the fire to prove her innocence.

Now coming to the episode when Rama abandoned Sita when some people in his kingdom raised doubts over her chastity. The episode is a fine example of what is called as ‘Dharma-sankata, wherein a person sees himself in a situation where various duties clashes and no path is completely right.

Rama could have simply ignored the citizens’ questions about Sita’s chastity and his acceptance of her as his wife. But then the rumors would have spread like fire and defamed Sita. Further, many people would have misused it to justify their own acts of cheating and adultery. As a husband, Rama could not allow his wife to be defamed like that and as a king, he could not allow adultery to be accepted as a virtue especially by wrongly quoting Rama-Sita as an example.

Rama could have punished all those people who questioned their queen’s character, but then he would be called as an oppressor who oppressed his people! Rama loved his citizens, he never wanted to cause suffering to them on his account. So, he obviously did not choose it.

Rama could have simply abandoned his Kingdom and went away with Sita to the forest. But then it would have meant that he abandoned his own children because a King is like a father to his subjects. A King’s duty towards his citizens always comes before other duties just as a father’s duties towards his sons and daughters comes before other duties. Would Sita, who was well versed in Vedas and Dharma, have approved of such abandonment of duty by Rama for her sake? It is highly unlikely.

Rama could have called Sita and asked her to take another Agni-Pariksha. But, this would have been an insult to his wife, whom he loved dearly. So, instead of taking any of the above-mentioned options wherein he would have either abandoned his duty as King, or caused insult to Sita, he took the path which caused him, and Sita, enormous personal suffering, but it neither insulted Sita nor caused abandonment of his Kingly duties.

Thus, Rama’s act of leaving Sita near Valmiki’s hermitage was not an act of misogyny. It was an act of supreme sacrifice, wherein he chose to suffer from pangs of separation from Sita and subjected Sita- his better half to such a suffering as well. The love and bond between Rama and Sita remained intact despite their separation. This is clearly established by the fact that Rama never married another woman and he kept a golden statue of Sita with him and Sita never taught her children to hate their father.

The relationship between Rama and Sita should not be perceived in black and white. Life is not black and white. Their life, just as ours in today’s society, had many complications and difficult situations. Rama took the decision he perceived as the best among the various options available to him at that time. He was always united with Sita in his heart and Sita with Rama.

This unity in the hearts and minds despite physical separation or innumerable challenges and obstacles posed by life is the ultimate ideal of ‘Vivaha’ and this is what should be remembered and celebrated by everyone, especially the couples during ‘Vivaha Panchami’.


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Hinduism Should Not be Viewed Through the Narrow Prism of Marxism

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies

Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male.

By Salil Gewali

“A little knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance”. And far more dangerous is when that little knowledge is spread in the society being propelled by the fuel of “prejudices”.  This write-up is with reference to a number of articles by a certain class of writers published in the mainstream media. Those articles are intended to rake up the issues in order to push the sacred temple of “Sabarimala” of Kerala or Shani Shingnapur and the culture associated with it, into the mire of controversy. Tarnishing the image of Hinduism is the main goal. Not unexpectedly, some stories even proclaim that in India “women” are thus demonized and their menstruation is abhorred.

Having gone through some of them I immediately contacted a number of top scholars in Kerala for hands-on verification — whether “women” are being despised so heartlessly or not. Since one of my books is translated into their language I did that with all ease. Not a single scholar (women included) informed me suggesting that they, or temple management of Sabarimala, have ever “despised women”, or hated “menstruation”.  I rather got an earful for asking such absurd questions.  They instantly reiterated referring to Hindu scriptures which teach all and one to look upon women as “Motherly figures”. One scholar remarks, “this confrontation has actually been orchestrated by the politicians with the help of certain forces which want to demean our culture”.  I heaved a sigh of relief!

Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male. But some vested interests with an ulterior motive have been distorting the true history/legends of India and also merrily belittling or shrugging off the literary treasure troves of the country. It was first done by the British in order to divide and rule Indians, in which they were very successful. And later, the legacy has been faithfully and aggressively carried forward by the Indian intellectuals influenced by certain thinkers and writers of the West and their culture.

Representational image.

Well, the seers of ancient India not only knew as information but they “fully realized” that everything, in and out, is pervaded by “Brahman” (Almighty). The modern science too has arrived at the “same conclusion”. The father of Quantum Mechanics — Erwin Schrodinger has scientifically discussed this fact in his world-famous book – “What is Life?”.  All knowledge associated with the ONENESS of Universe and the “Unity in Diversity” is systematically enshrined in 108 Upanishads.  They expounded with a force that “Purusha” (male) and “Pratriki” (female) both combine themselves to put forth the infinite COSMIC CREATION. One without other is like the fire without the heat. They are mutually complementary, inter-dependent and inter-related. The “discrimination” of any kind, not just “against women”, but even against the tiny “insects” and “plants” are considered irreligious. I would also request such biased scholars to read between the lines from the literature authored by Sri Aurobindo and Vivekananda who just quote from them to gloss over the footprint of their agendas. One wonders when they will learn to shake off the baggage of prejudices against while getting down to study the literature of the home country.

Now about the legend Ayyappa of Sabarimala in brief. The story which is long and interestingly too drawn-out, says —  Lord Ayyappa, who was born out of Lord Shiva and the feminine energy of Lord Vishnu, had exceptional power. His birth on earth was in order to kill a female demon– Mahishi. After having been killed the demoness, the curse against her ends. She again takes birth, this time the Goddess incarnate. This is laws of karma works. When she grew up she approached Lord Ayyappa for the marriage. But Ayyappa, who was practicing celibacy, denied. But, he consoles her saying that he will only marry her when no “first timer” will visit his temple for blessings. However, Lord Ayyappa asks her to reside just near to his temple. Later, in her memory, the devotee constructed a temple known as Malikapurathamma just adjacent to the temple of Ayyappa.

Since Lord Ayyappa, who was known for his celibacy, and had promised to marry Malikapurathamma, it has become a sort of a tradition among women not to visit the temple.  It should not be  misunderstood that it is apparently as a mark of showing respect to both Lord Ayyappa and Goddess Malikapurathamma.

Representational image.

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies (five sheaths mentioned in Upanishads). The areas of study are very vast. They caution that a woman during her monthly cycle should abstain from the religious public rituals, but can perform the personal spiritual practice. In fact, contrary to the modern tradition and practice, the seers didn’t “limit themselves” to the personal and public hygiene alone, but they went further, and so taken the “spiritual aspect” into consideration. Of course, lot many such dos and don’ts are beyond the understanding of we mundane people with limited five senses and “scattered mind”. It is too absurd who interpret that it is a practice of “untouchability”. A medical doctor will never allow you to enter into ICU unless you are well washed. Is not everything there meticulously sterilized?  Do you say that the hospital is practicing “untouchability”? I don’t think any mother will allow her children to enter the kitchen and take food immediately after the latrine without washing hands and feet.

Going by such biased articles in the mainstream media intended to denigrate the culture and heritage of the country; and also literary books (who unfortunately receive “Sahitya Akademi” and “Padma Shree” awards), I fervently wish that one should have the deeper knowledge of the subjects. Here the crucial prerequisite is that they must first unlearn false history and start to learn the true history without being weighed down by the prejudices.  Moreover, the cosmic ocean of the Indian wisdom is so deep, even it has described many “inconceivable” laws and principles which are seemingly out-of-box and discriminatory. I humbly suggest not to selectively pick up a few odds and use them to demean this vast culture of knowledge. The Vedanta should not be view through the narrow prism of Karl Marx and LeninEven their favorite master Fredrick Hegel (front ranking philosopher of the west) cheerfully confessed the depth of ancient wisdom, –  “It strikes everyone in beginning to form an acquaintance with the treasures of Indian literature, that a land so rich in intellectual products and those of the “profoundest” order of thought”. How I wish that a dagger not be wielded by an untrained person or else it will be disastrous!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.