Ram, Ravana and Hanuman

Recently West Bengal witne-ssed a unique spectacle. On April 6, the Sangh Parivar organised countless armed processions in order to observe the Ram Navami festival, a festival that had so long been alien to the tradition of Bengal. The display of weapons on such a scale was patently meant to show the might of the Sangh Parivar. Amusingly enough, the TMC supporters and activists organised Hanuman Puja in various places; worship of Hanuman is also alien to the Bengali cultural tradition. At Mamata Banerjee's instruction, the police have lodged cases against Dilip Ghosh, a BJP leader, and some Sangh Parivar activists. It may be pointed out that in Bengal, there is no Hindu festival where processions are held with weapons. In this sense, the Sangh Parivar has introduced a novelty. Mamata Banerjee; however, at a public rally, likened the Sangh Parivar with Ravana, and reiterated the desire to kill this demon. It is interesting to see that spokesmen of each of the two warring sides have shown that they are not less loyal to Rama. This Rama cult, although not altogether alien to Bengal, is not prominent in the Bengali cultural heritage. One typical example is the place enjoyed by the Meghnadbadh Kavya, written by Michael Madhusudan Datta, in Bengal's literary history. Madhusudan Datta is acknowledged as the greatest poet of Bengal of the pre-Tagore period. In this poetic work, written in blank verse, he exalted Ravana and somewhat denigrated Rama. He somewhere wrote that he hated Rama and his rabble, and went to state that Ravana elevated his imagination. In course of time, this poetic creation, considered a literary epic, became extremely popular, successfully withstanding all adverse criticisms. Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, the extraordinary scholar and social reformer, and later Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu revivalist, quickly appreciated Michael's genius. Vivekananda (1863-1902), one year before his death told one of his disciples,"He was a wonderful genius to be born in your country. Such a poetic work as Meghnadbadh has no parallel in Bengali language. Even in the whole of Europe, such a poetic creation is now difficult to find". Vivekananda went to praise Datta's portrayal of Ravana as great hero (Swami-Sisya Sambad, Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9th volume, pp 131-132). The declining habit on the part of the Bengalis to read books has recently somewhat lessened the circulation of Bengal's great poets, including Madhusudan Datta, there can be no denying that Meghnadbadh has acquired immortality as a literary epic.

A pertinent question is: how will the organisers and patrons of Ram Navami processions, who are self-proclaimed devotees of Vivekananda, look upon Meghnadbadh? The lady who has issued the call to kill Ravana may be asked the same question.


Vol. 49, No.42, April 23 - 29, 2017