On one occasion Gandhiji and I were talking about a girl very dear to both of us. I said: "How did she get all these ideas and phrases of love without having read any of present-day love stories?"
Gandhiji said in answer: "But has she not read the Ramayana? Is the Ramayana not a love story too?" This struck me as profound. Then we turned to other matters.
Dasaratha's troubles began with love. Then the love of Rama and Sita is the theme and substance of Ayodhya Kanda.
In love that is not opposed to dharma, we find a manifestation of God. So was it affirmed by Sri Krishna when he explained his manifold being to Arjuna. The Ramayana has, for its twin theme, love that is opposed to dharma also. The Ramayana is undoubtedly a great love story.
Those who regard the Ramayana as an allegory interpret Sita as the individual soul and Rama as the Supreme Being. God seeks and pursues the human soul till He secures it. He is eager to save us. It is enough if we just do not obstruct or resist.
There are also other interpretations and applications of the Ramayana. Sita, the female counterpart of the Supreme Being, is the embodiment of compassion and grace. Compassion is the Supreme Mother and she is enthroned in the heart of the Lord. When she casts her merciful glance on us, we reach the feet of God.
Parvati's function in relation to Siva and Lakshmi's in relation to Hari are both identical, and are just variations of the same creed of dependence on God's grace. God as Father and God as Mother are not distinct. If the Lord were to be parted from compassion, our plight would be just that of Ravana who separated Sita from Rama. The quality of the Lord's compassion can be understood from the experience of true human love.
Many meanings can be read in the Ramayana and its beauty appreciated in many ways as from a real diamond many glorious colors emanate. Seventeen months ago I began writing these weekly chapters not without fear and trembling. This week I close it full of thankfulness for the health of body and peace of mind that enabled me to complete this humble service. Learned men will no doubt find many faults in what I have written. But they must be glad also that it has done some good.
A word to the children who read these chapters. I have told the story of the Prince of Ayodhya mainly for your sake. Grown up people may read Valmiki and Kamban. Those who know how to sing can render with joy the sweet songs on Rama given to us by Tyagaraja. But this story that I have told can be read direct by you, children, without anyone's help.
You should look upon Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman like your own fathers and elder brothers who are by your side ever eager to help you. Grow to be like Bharata, Lakshmana and Hanuman, good and brave souls, full of love and strength.
Mothers too, I know, have been reading this story with joy. This has been a great encouragement to me. They can understand why I have told the story in simple words and short sentences for the sake of our children. Everything we do, we do for the sake of our children, do we not? Only women can realise and relive the experiences and feelings of Sita.
The story of Sita as told by Valmiki and Kamban can be fully appreciated only by women. Only they can fully appreciate the courage of Jatayu and the prowess of Hanuman. Sita's sorrows have not ended with the Ramayana. They go on, still, in the lives of our women.
In the Rama avatar, Rama did not know that he was God incarnate. Krishna knew that he was an avatar and acted accordingly. We should read the two stories with this difference in mind. The despair and grief that the man Rama experienced, Krishna never knew. When he sucked at the demon-woman's breast or was bound with a rope and thrashed for mischief, he cared not nor grieved. Standing weaponless in the battlefield, he led the warrior to destroy the wicked. In every episode of Krishna we see the difference between the two avatars.
I have followed the story of the Prince of Ayodhya as told by Valmiki. There was a legend current among people, I think even before Valmiki's time, that after recovering Sita, for fear of scandal, Rama sent her away to live in the forest.
This pathetic episode must have sprung from the sorrow-laden imagination of our women. It has taken shape as the Uttara Kanda of Ramayana. Although there is beauty in the Uttara Kanda, I must say my heart rebels against it. Valmiki had disposed of this old legend through the fire ordeal in the battlefield. Even that ordeal does not seem to me as consistent with Rama's character. It is painful to read it.
As the prince returned from Mithila he met Parasurama. I have heard it said that with that meeting Parasurama's avatar came to an end. Likewise, it should be held, I think, that Rama's avatar came to an end with the slaying of Ravana. After that battle, Rama remained only as a King of the Ikshvaku race.
On this theory, Rama's treatment of Sita after the battle and in the Uttara Kanda can be explained simply as the behavior of a king in accordance with the customs of the times.
But, how can we comment on a work composed thousands of years ago and coming down to us in palm-leaf manuscripts subject to corruption? If, even after the fire-ordeal in the Yuddha Kanda, it is said in the Uttara Kanda that Sita was sent to the forest, we may take it that it mirrors the voiceless and endless suffering of our women folk.
Sorrow and joy are both alike the play of God. God himself took with him his divine spouse, the embodiment of his own supreme compassion, into the world of men and women, and enacted with her a great drama of joy and sorrow in the Ramayana.
Rain falling from the heaven flows into the rivers and flows down to join the sea. Again from the sea the water is sucked up by the sun and rises to the sky, whence it descends again as rain and flows down as rivers. Even so, feelings and values rise from the people and, touching the poet's heart, are transformed into a poem which, in turn, enlightens and inspires the people.
Thus in every land the poets and their people continuously reinforce each other. The tenderness and purity and the untold sufferings of women took shape as the Uttara Ramayana. Like an unflickering lamp, it throws light on the quality of their hearts. Whether the epics and songs of a nation spring from the faith and ideas of the common folk, or whether a nation's faith and ideas are produced by its literature is a question which one is free to answer as one likes.
Does a plant spring from the seed or does seed issue from the plant? Was the bird or the egg the first cause? Did clouds rise from the sea or was the sea filled by the waters from the sky? All such inquiries take us to the feet of God transcending speech and thought.
One other point, in describing how Ravana carried off Sita, Kamban differs from Valmiki. In Kamban's Ramayana, Ravana does not seize and carry Sita as Valmiki describes; without touching her he lifts her with the earth on which she stands. Kamban's version is followed by most popular expositors because this version is less painful to our feelings.
It is no sin or shame to an innocent woman if a villain behaves like a brute. Yet, mistakenly, we in this country look on the violence of a brute as causing a blemish to the woman's purity. It is in deference to this wrong feeling that Kamban departed from Valmiki here.
For the same reason, Tulasidas relates that the Sita seized and carried off by Ravana was not the real Sita at all but a palpable image of hers left behind by the real Sita. Thus the story is told in all North India. During the fire ordeal, it is the maya-Sita that disappears and the real Sita springs again and returns from the flames.
It was perhaps presumptuous on my part to have begun the task, but it was a joy to retell the Ramayana. Now, when it is over, I feel like one awaking from a dream of joy. When the prince left the city, he felt no sorrow. It was only when he lost Sita that he knew grief. So with me too.
When I had to step down from high office and heavy responsibility, I did not feel at a loss or wonder what to do next. But now, when I have come to the end of the tale of the Prince of Ayodhya, the void is like that of a shrine without a God. Let no one look upon work as a burden. Good work is the secret that keeps life going. While one should not hanker after results, life without work would be unendurable.