The Ramleela Celebration Told by Pundit Ravi Maraj

Pundit Ravi Maraj

The Ramleela celebration really has its genesis taken straight out from the Holy Scripture, the Ramayana. It is set in an age called Treta Yuga. Of course, in Hinduism… in the Hindu traditions we have four ages. We have the Satya Age which is the Golden Age, we have the Dwapara, we have Treta Yuga and we have Kali Yuga, in that order.

First of all, the author of the Ramayana where the Kathak comes from is not really a story or a fable but in the Hindu tradition we call it a Kathak. It is the life story of the main player Shri Ram. It is set in Treta Yuga and it is written by the first poet called Valmiki. Valmiki is referred to as Adi Kavi, the first Poet, and the text is the Valmiki Ramayana and is referred to as Adi Kavya, or the first poem. So based upon that we must have a little bit of the history of Valmiki; a little history of Valmiki we will be able to better comprehend the text itself and the author itself.

Valmiki in his early part of his life was a robber, a highwayman, a Dacoit as you would call it in the vernacular of Hindi language. He was living a very negative form of life. He used to rob people on the wayside and so on and he fell into [bad] company. One day, some sages were passing through the forested region and he decided that he wanted also to rob these sages. So this encounter with the sages, he had a dialogue, a communication with them and they asked him, “Why is it that you are living this negative form of life? Why don’t you get some legitimate form of occupation?” But actually, what he was doing was his livelihood because he had a wife and children and he was actually utilizing that sort of negative way of life to support his family. So they asked him, “Well listen, you are living a negative life, you are doing it for your wife and your children. Why don’t you go back to them and ask them if they are willing to share in your transgressions, your sins that you are committing?” So he went back and he inquired with them, he asked them and he got the answer, a very negative response from them and from that moment Valmiki – his name was Ruksha at that time – turned his life around. He went back to the sages and he fell at the feet of the sages asking for mercy and guidance and they taught him and then they invited him to chant the name of Ram.

The name of Ram according to the scriptures is a sanctifying one, it is a purifying one, it is one which transforms a person, and when you do it with intense devotion and Mukti it becomes a purifying one. So after many, many years of chanting that name Ra-Aa-Ma, Rama, and when we analyze the name Rama what do we get? We get three syllables: Ra Aa and Ma. Ra is the sun, it refers to the Sun God. When you invoke the Sun God what you are doing is you are asking the Sun God to give you that energy, that spiritual energy. So he got the spiritual energy from the Sun God. The Aa, Agni… in the Hindu tradition the Aa referrs to Agi the God of Fire. Fire represents purity. So when he chanted the Rama with the Aa in it, the fire now came and burned away all those negative… Tamasic qualities we call it. And what are those Tamasic qualities I am referring to? The pride that you have, the jealousy, the lustful nature, the envy, the hatred, the sinful nature, the sinful sort of life that he was living. And then there is the Ma syllable which refers to the Moon God Chandrama, which when you chant the Rama and you include the Ma it gives you a tranquil, soothing, rational mind. So when he started to chant that name over and over a transformation took over him and the same sages came back many, many years after and they found that he was sitting in that same lotus position chanting the name until an anthill grew over him and shrubs and so on. And at that time now, when they heard the name of Ram, they realized it was the same highwayman who they had inculcated into chanting the name and they lifted him out of the anthill and they re-christened him Valmiki. So he was the person who wrote the Ramayana where the story or the kata of the Ramleela originated.

So we have the story. We have the kata where he wrote it and the setting is in Treta Yuga. Treta Yuga is where we had a lot of demon-like people who were coming out now and were actually in the society and they were causing problems. They were creating problems for the righteous people who were living a righteous way of life. They were creating problems for the saints and the sages and so on and with that terror and terrorism that was taking place all the saints and the sages decided to have a meeting.

They met in a particular common ground and they started to work out what they can do in order to be relieved of this situation, so they started to give suggestions. One of them said, “Well let us go to Bramha the Creator himself and ask him to help.”

So they did go to Bramha the Creator himself and they found him in his abode and they asked him, “What can we do? We are getting these problems with these rakshas demons who are terrorizing us and having taxes on us and disrupting our sacrifices and so on. We cannot meditate… they are demanding so much leaving us in a terrible situation?” So the Creator said, “Listen, I cannot assist you all. You all go to Lord Shiva,” and Lord Shiva is you know… the one who disintegrates the Universe.

So they went to Lord Shiva and he was residing in his abode. All the Gods had their special abodes so he resides in the Kailash Parbat Mountains high up in the Himalayas. And so they went to him and he also said, “Listen, I am not able, I am not the correct person to be able to rectify this situation. You all have to go to Maha Vishnu.” Vishnu is the sustainer and preserver of the Universe.

So they started to pray and when they started to pray the congregation prayer, that energy which vibrated out of the heavenly regions, they heard a voice and that voice was saying, “Fear not oh sages that I will manifest myself in the home of the king, King Dashrath (there was a king living in Ayodhya with his three queens [b]Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi), that[/b] I will manifest as fours sons in order to relieve you of your distress and your problems.”

And so the kata unfolded itself that Dashrath who was ruling in Ayodhya, which was situated on the banks of the very fertile Sarayu River, he was there but he had no sons. So he consulted his Guru and the Guru advised him that he should go and get the prescribed Rishi (a Rishi who was living in the Dhandaka Forest) called Shringi Rishi to perform a special Puja; a special Yagya called a Putreshti Yagya, to get his sons – the begot sons.

So they got the Rishi to perform the Yagya and out of the fire came three bowls of Kheer called sweet rice. He distributed the three bowls of sweet rice to the queens and after some time, nine months and so on the queens became pregnant and the four sons were born.

Kaushalya, one of the queens, she had Ram who was the God himself; Kaikeyi had the son called Bharata, and Sumitra the third queen had Shatrughna and Laxman. So there is the setting now of the kata itself that the play is going to be based upon… the king with his four sons.

Early in the play now what happens, what transpired? The king was getting old, feeble and so on and he decided that he wanted to transfer the crown to one of his sons, and he consulted his Guru and his Ministers and so on. And he called this big congregation and he was ready to announce that he was ready to crown the king Ram as the king. But at that time, there was this maid servant of one of the queens called Manthara. She, because of her close association with one of the queens called Kaikeyi decided that she is going to change the whole position of what was going to take place and influence her queen Kaikeyi to ask the king that instead of the crowning of Ram as the king that her queen Kaikeyi’s son Bharata should be crowned.

So she influenced the queen Kaikeyi to ask for two boons, two wishes that the king had promised her a long time ago when he went to fight a demon called Sambara in the southern region and she nursed him back. She took the reins of the chariot and so on and she nursed the king back to recovery and so on and at that particular time he promised her two wishes and she at that time said, “At the opportune time I will ask you.”

So her mind being distorted and influenced by her maid servant Manthara, she decided to ask for those two wishes and what were those two wishes? That instead of Kaushalya’s son Ram who was favored to be crowned the king, that her son Bharata should be crowned the king and the favored king should go into exile for fourteen long years in the Dhandaka forest.

So the wishes had to be carried out because the king was of a particular lineage and it is said in the scriptures that whenever he gave his word he had to carry out the word, there was no doubt about it. In his tradition, all the kings in this tradition they were very righteous upright kings – when they gave their word they had to stand by their word and the Guru reminded him of it. There are in particular, two lines in the scriptures which says… I will sing it for you (sings it in Hindi). It simply means that whenever you give your word you have to uplift your word; you have to uphold your word. So the Guru reminded the king, “Listen, you cannot go back on your word. You promised her the two wishes. Now she is asking and demanding it. There is no way that you will be able to get out of it, you have to.” So the king now had to call his son Ram and indicate to him, “Listen, this is what the situation is, Bharata will be crowned the king, and you have to go.”

So Shri Ram had to go into the forest. Preparations were made. He went into the forest accompanied by his wife Sita who made also a petition to him that her place is with him rather than in the palace. And there was no way, when she got married she made those vows for better or for worse, and she decided that she was going to spend those fourteen years in the forest. In fact, she said that the forest life will become the palace life that she was residing in. And then the brother of Ram, Laxman, decided that he will also accompany him into the forest because he was going to take care of him; he was going to be at his side. Whatever needs he has he will be able to assist him in providing for those needs, so he went into the forested region.

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