Abitter controversy has erupted and acrimonious bickering has ensued over the use of Jai Sri Ram as a form of greeting a person. It has been observed by some people with considerable erudition and reputation that utterance and propagation of this kind of address are not a part of Bengal culture. They are rather an anathema to the Bengali ethos. A critical question survives ~ What is culture? A revered monk of the Sri 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 the people 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 fast 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 Ramakrishna, men who strove successfully to realize the ideas.’

The great sages of the Upanishad were concerned with man in his depth, hence the guiding dictum is, ‘man know thyself ’. Thus the thought of culture, animated or bruised, is centred around man, be it in Bengal or elsewhere and this 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 civilization including the phenomenal achievements in the field of technology in its multiple facets, affecting the cravings and behavioural pattern of the 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 is noticed, that some intellectual giants show little concern for the implicit dictates of religion in their craze for scientific objectivity to arrive at truth. During this discourse, the use of irreverent words and expression such as Adikhyeta 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 was taken recourse to 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 Indians folks. For more than 2000 years, the poem of Rama continue to influence all strata and classes of Indians.the folk. He further stated that Rama was made into an incarnation of God Vishnu.

Against this observation by none but Winternitz, 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 indifference towards things spiritual because of intrinsically materialistic orientation of mind. 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 fulfillment. This is inextricably woven in the social fabric and is 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” by common people and saints alike. 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 profoundly religious ceremony. Hence the contention that there was hardly any spiritual connection with Rama seems unfounded and a travesty of truth. Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram is a stirring song that emanates from the inmost recess of the heart of a Bengalee as well.

Ramakrishna Paramahansa established in practical life the sacred dictum of the Rishi, Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahuda Badanti with the message that all religions are true and iterated the profoundest truth ~ Jata Mat Tata Path ~ that is reminiscent of the sublime text of the Gita: Ye Yatha mam Prapadyante Tamstathaiva bhajamyaham Mama vartmanuvartante manusyah Partha Sarvasah. In response to the glib assumption that in Bengal, Rama is not popular, it has been pointed out by none else but Sri Ramakrishna who worshiped Ramlala balok (child) Ram and kept him in the cradle of his bosom with devotion, love and parental affection. To establish the truth of the basic sameness of all religions he visited a mosque and prayed to Allah the prophet.

Sarbam Khallidam Brahma as a Brahman is spirit, omnipresent, immanent and transcendent, corporal and incorporeal. The Ramayats, Vaidantics, Sufis and Sadhakas of other religions congregated at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna to pay obeisance to the doctrine of monism ~ universal oneness and the 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 out of the blue clean sky all of a sudden. It is the continuation of a complex process of thoughts, ideas and relentless strides in the unfolding of mental life. This culture is not an isolated factor, 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 out of pugnacious bigotry assault people of other religious sects, which are very much a part of the social whole. This is the pernicious act of the devil, of criminals who should be subjected to rigorous punishment and stringent social ostracism. These types of evil-doers are found in all countries all over the world and require to be treated firmly to free society from the depredations of blackened souls. 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)