Literature must be getting a little tired of history. Our propensity to drop ‘historic’ into every second sentence of prose or conversation has made a powerful word fragile. For ancient Greeks, Clio, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (or memory) was the muse of history, but her patronage extended only to famous or celebrated individuals.
A better metaphor is Janus, the Roman deity astride the gates of both Europe and Asia. Geography, however, limits the allegorical interpretations of Janus: his two faces look at both the end and the beginning, the past and the future. A historic event is not significant because of sensation, but because it signals both closure and continuity.
It is in this sense that the Pran Pratishtha of the temple to Lord Ram at Ayodhya on January 22 is historic. After many lifetimes of conflict, numerous decades of fractious dispute and interminable court battles through the difficult demands of process, there is reason to believe that a wounded psyche has been healed, and hope that the two new places of worship will evolve into symbols of reconciliation. It will take time, but not as much as pessimists think. This is the bend in the river of time which will ease the floods of passion that have caused so much destruction.
For me, the high point of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oratory on January 22 was his message that this was a moment of not only vijay but also vinay. Humility saves victory from becoming oppressive. Monarchs, diseased by mankind’s genetic weakness, never understand this; for them, victory is synonymous with pride.
The Ayodhya temple honours divinity; its consequences must reflect sacred virtues, the highest being peace among men in the world created by God. (I use men specifically, not as a generic substitute for the human race; history is also witness to the fact that women rarely, if ever, start wars.)
Ram Rajya ideal rule
Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest Ram bhakt of modern India, was a votary of Ram Rajya as the ideal rule for a rejuvenated and independent India. For him Ram Rajya was the liberation of the deprived from poverty, of the oppressed from harsh gender and caste injustice, and of the nation from the merciless inequity of foreign rule. Gandhi, more familiar as Bapu to his beloved people, hated the very thought of religious conversion, for he accepted the discursive dimensions of faith as practised in a multi-religious world. He called himself a ‘Hindu of Hindus’, a devotee of Sanatan Hinduism to the core of his being.
In 1931 Gandhi laid down the principles for a Constitution of independent India at the Karachi session of Congress, with Sardar Patel as president. Chief among them was freedom for every faith. Bapu’s daily prayer meetings echoed with a fervent adoration defined in simple lines: Ishwar Allah tero naam, Sab ko sanmati de Bhagwan. There cannot be a more important prayer for contentious times; may the Lord give us all better understanding.
There will be surprise in many quarters at this verse from the much-lauded Urdu poet and philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal, who died in April 1938 but has been adopted as poet laureate for opaque reasons by Pakistan, proclaimed in March 1940 and born, with the British as midwife, in August 1947: Hai Ram ke wajood pey Hindostan ko naaz, Ahle nazar samajhtey hain isko imam-e-Hind. (Hindustan is proud of the existence of Ram; Those with understanding consider him a religious icon of Hind).
A passing thought
Given the visible fervour sweeping through the people with the consecration of the Ayodhya temple: Will Ram Navmi, which celebrates the birth of the seventh avatar of Vishnu on the ninth day of the bright half of the lunar cycle of Chaitra, now be complemented by Ramjanami on January 22?