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Culture and the Chant

Bengali culture has not dropped on earth all of a sudden. It is a continuation of a complex process of thoughts, ideas and unceasing strides in the unfolding of mental life. This culture is not an isolated feature but an integral part of national culture transcending the geographical precincts and entering the supranational domain of concord and amity.

Shyamal Krishna Basu | Kolkata |

Of late a bitter controversy has erupted and an acrimonious bickering has ensued over uttering Jai Sri Ram as a form of greeting a newly acquainted person. It has been observed by some people of vast erudition and widest reputation that utterance and propagation of this kind of address are not a part of Bengali culture. Rather, this is anathema to the Bengali ethos. What is culture? A revered monk of the Ramakrishna order has summed up the reply. The most important determinant of culture, he said, is the direction of its mental life, the question it asks of experience and the answer it receives.

Indian culture is conceptually spiritual because the most admired hero of Indians has been and is the man of God. A culture is worldly if worldly success is what its most admired hero represents. In the words of Dr S Radhakrishnan, ‘The ideal man of India is not the magnanimous man of Greece or the valiant Knight of medieval Europe, but the free man of spirit who has attained insight into the universal source by rigid discipline and practice of disinterested virtues, who has freed himself from the prejudices of his time and place.

It is India’s pride that she has clung to this ideal and produced in every generation and in every part of the country from the time of the Risis of the Upanishads and Buddha to Sri Ramakrishna, men who strove successfully to realise the idea. The great sages of the Upanishad were concerned with man in his depth, hence the guiding dictum is, ‘man know the self’. Thus the thought of culture, animated or bruised, is centred around man, be it in Bengal or elsewhere and determines his direction of mental life, his attitude to and predilections for the events and developments in the social panorama.

As a matter of fact, in spite of the sledge-hammer blows of modern civilisation including the achievements in the field of technology in its multiple facets, affecting the cravings and behavioural pattern of modern-day people, religion is directly or indirectly still the principal chord of culture, its mainspring and major prop. While evaluating this culture, it is apposite to aver that history is replete with instances where it has been noticed that some intellectual giants have proved to the spiritual pygmies.

The use of irreverent words and expressions such as Adikhyeta in a Bengali vernacular (13 July, page 4) about Rama, the adored hero of Indian culture betokens an appalling unawareness of the socio-religious development culminating in the highest esteem of Rama as divine Incarnation in Treta yuga as per the time-schedule of the Puranas. One does not require to be a prodigy to learn what the most ordinary people know that Incarnation of Rama and that of Krishna in Mahabharata are heroes of the epics which appeared long after the Vedas and the Upanishads.

The worship of Saguna Brahma has been initially propounded by Risi Shandilya, Bhaktimarga germinating from the Sloka of the Chhandogya Upanishad uttered by Risi Shandilya. The worship of the Gods (avatars) thereafter happened in the age of epics. Thus Rama is a hero of the Ramayana. As stated by the great scholar Maurice Winternitz, the Ramayana is truly a popular epic just like the Mahabharata because it has become the property of Indian folks. Since more than 2000 years the poem of Rama has remained alive in India and it continues to live in all strata and classes of people.

He further stated that Rama was made an incarnation of God Vishnu. Against this observation if one is surprised how Rama was given the ‘Status of Dharmika’, we have nothing to say but be dismayed. Regarding the remarks, it is felt that such an attitude indicates a cynical anipathy towards matters spiritual under the debasing impact of crass materialism. ‘Rama’ is regarded as a mantra and also a miniscule part of a hymn to the God Almighty. The song, Hare Krishna Hare Rama is believed to be a prayer for happiness and fulfilment.

This is inextricably woven in the social fabric not to be uprooted by the iconoclastic disdain of a section of the intelligentsia. The name Rama is widely invoked, uttered and practised as Japa both by common people and saints. As general people in touch with reality are aware, singing the glories of Rama in concert on a particular day is a monthly feature in Ramkrishna Mission. It is also common knowledge that Ramnavami is observed with ostentation in many parts of rural Bengal and many urban localities as well. Rendition of a portion of the Ramayana is still a part of the final stage of the post-death ritual, a decidedly religious ceremony.

Hence the half-baked contention that there was hardly any spiritual connection with Rama is totally unfounded and a glaring travesty of truth. Raghupati Ragava Raja Ram is a moving song gushing forth from the core of the Bengali heart as well. Ramakrishna Parmahansa established in his practical life the sacred dictum of the Rishis, Ekam Sat,Vipra Bahuda Badanti with the message that all religions are true and iterated the profoundest truth Jata Mat Tata Path, reminiscent of the sublime rumblings of the Gira: “Ye Yatha mam Prapadyante Tamstathaiva bhajamyaham Mama vartmanuuvartante manusyah Partha Sarvasah”

In response to the glib assumption that in Bengal Rama is not popular, it has been pointed out that none else but Sri Ramakrishna worshiped Ramlala, the balok (child) Ram and kept him in the cradle of his bosom with devotion, caress of love and parental affection. To establish the truth of the basic sameness of all religions he had been to the mosque, prayed to Allah the prophet. Sarbam Khallidam Brahma. Brahman is spirit, omnipresent, immanent and transcendent, corporal and incorporeal. The Ramayats, Vaidantics, Sufis and Sadhakas of other religions congregated at the feet of Ramakrishna to pay obeisance to the doctrine of monism ~ universal oneness and the resultant toleration and acceptance of all religions as truth.

This is Bengali culture in the socio-religious terrain of the country. This culture has not dropped on earth all of a sudden. It is a continuation of a complex process of thoughts, ideas and unceasing strides in the unfolding of mental life. This culture is not an isolated feature but an integral part of national culture transcending the geographical precincts and entering the supranational domain of concord and amity. It is necessary to mention in this context that some misguided people in their unenlightened enthusiasm and pugnacious bigotry have on many occasions assaulted people of other religious denominations. This has emerged as the underbelly of society.

This is the pernicious act of the devil, of criminals who should be subjected to rigorous punishment and stringent social ostracism. These types of miscreants are found in all countries; they need to be treated firmly to free the society from the depredations of dubious characters. Let the epilogue be a ringing symphony of truth contained in the couplet. Ram Rahim Eki Hai / Ek Krishna Karim.

(The writer is a retired IAS officer)