Editor’s Note: This article may contain content that some religious people might consider sensitive, but it is NOT a deliberate attempt to offend or provoke any religious group or individual. Rather, the article employs reason and satire to critically examine a very influential aspect of Indian culture, and to redefine our moral imperatives in relation to rational narratives.
Ramayana, the Hindu epic that chronicles the adventures of its highly revered protagonist Lord Rama, is considered among the holiest of scriptures and relics of the Hindu religion. So much is the reverence for it among the masses of India and followers of Hinduism abroad that it would not be amiss to rate it as a Holy Cow – nay, the Holiest Cow – of Hindu scriptures.
Since it is a relic of religion, and given its hallowed reputation, the task of examining it is fraught with most of the dangers that usually accompany blasphemy and apostasy. Because of the intervention of faith, or rather the triumph of faith over reason in religious matters, most religious relics acquire a ring or halo of legitimacy and truth in public discussions.
While the Ramayana is a highly acclaimed epic, its popularity and reverence may have little to do with its literary excellence or about how it conveyed the sentiments of its age. Its popularity and cult-like following is to a great extent the consequence of tradition, acceptance of authority, cultural fascination for extreme idealism and, very importantly, the brute force of religious evangelism.
All this reverential halo and reputation around the Ramayana distracts most people from realizing the sheer absurdity of most parts of its mythology. In all the enthusiasm of worship and devotional fervor, many of its narrative and ideological inconsistencies and contradictions are never critically examined and responded to.
It is left to the lot of few stray critics to carry the cross of questioning the discordant elements of fantasy in which these epics and scriptures abound. Rather than employing the conventional method of re-examining the Ramayana through critical discourse, we attempt here the device of parody and humor to lay bare the many oddities and loose ends that this epic is replete with.
With this background we launch into what may be termed a ‘Ramayanic Absurdity quiz’, where, apart from poking fun at the frailties of Ramayana’s narrative using logic and reason, we also raise questions that will hopefully stimulate critical re-examination of the epic and its ideology.
As in any subjective exercise, there are no absolutely right or wrong answers, only choices that debunk absurdities the best. In many cases, multiple choices may apply.
Format: The quiz takes selected narration passages of Ramayana’s Balakand section from a Hinduism website source and then raises quizzical questions on them. Where required the quiz is punctuated by skeptical clarifications and comments.
Narrative 1: The two chief priests of King Dasaratha’s court, who advised him on the matters pertaining to religion and religious rites and rituals were Vasishta and vamadeva.
Question 1: The Chief priest Vamadeva was the incarnation of which Hindu god? The choices are:
- Kamadeva, the God of Love.
- Namadeva, the God of names from whom many of us Hindus get their long, prolix and unpronounceable names.
- Hamadeva, the God of hamming who makes many of the Gurus and Swamis go hamming on and on about Ramayana and other epics.
- Devaa-re-Devaa, the God of oops! (Which is what this exclamation in Marathi roughly means).
- Vyasadeva, whose name sounds like a God, but who is yet not a God of the Puranic Pantheon, and who could not write the Ramayana because Valmiki beat him in the race.
- None, which is not possible because nobody has any business to be in a Puranic epic, unless she or he is an incarnation of some god or the other.
Narrative 2: As the Ramayana mentions, Vasistha, who is Brahma Rishi, was also one of the chief priests of King Dasaratha’s court.
Question 2: Why did Vasistha take up the job of a Chief Priest in King Dasaratha’s court? The choices are:
- Vasistha was proving to be tough competition for Brihaspati, the mentor of Devas, and was dispatched to earth by Brihaspati’s curse.
- Vasistha believed in the values of multi-tasking, such as taking an additional part-time job, and also realized that a Kingdom’s chief priest earns way more than a Brahma Rishi.
- In one of the severe recessions in Brahma-loka, his Celestial cow Nandini (Cub of Kamadhenu) lost her magical powers to materialize things and later on went missing, which left him high and dry without any worldly possessions or even milk to subsist on.
- Vasistha did not like the constant supervision of him by Brihaspati and the audit of his yogic and spiritual powers by Narad Muni in the Brahma-loka.
- He was distracted by the frequent visits of the Apsaras of Indra’s court, having a tough time resisting the urge to flirt with them, and fed up of dealing with his wife’s nagging suspicions, taunts and cold glares.
Narrative 3 : Dasaratha was such a great king , but he was not at all happy. He had no son to make him happy.
Question 3: Why was King Dasaratha craving for the birth of a son? The choices are:
- He was a misogynist and could not stand women other than his wives, even when he had 3 of them.
- He was a horrible male chauvinist, and true to that nature, he craved for a son.
- He dreaded the prospect of giving obscene amounts of dowry in marriage if he happened to have a daughter born to him.
- He worried that if he had a daughter she might end up as the 10th wife of some obscure King, or worse, as a mistress of some Asura or Yaksha.
Narrative 4 : King Dasaratha held a yagna to materialize his craving desire for a male progeny.
Question 4 : What is the name of this Yagna? Choices are
- Putrakama Yagna.
- Kamasutra Yagna, which is a recital of the verses of Kamasutra with voyeuristic devotion.
- Ashwamedha Yagna, in which a horse is let loose to roam around a kingdom or even a country, and where everybody except the horse is sumptuously fed, and where nobody cares if the horse is dead or lost in the end. Usually the hapless horse ends up as a provocation for royal warfare or as meat on the royal palate.
- Patkar Medha Yagna, which is along the lines of Ashwamedha yagna, but is much more environmentally friendly, following the principles laid down by the environmental activist Medha Patkar.
- Brahmasutra Yagna, in which verses from the Brahmanas and the Dharma Sutras are mixed in a heady cocktail that few will ever understand, but yet is very beneficial for the welfare of mankind.
Narrative 5 : When the Ahwamedha yaga of King Dasaratha was going on, the Devas led by Indra went to Brahma the creator. They complained to him about the troubles and harassment done by Ravana.
Question 5: In what ways was Ravana harassing Indra and his devas? The choices are:
- Ravana and his asuras were gate-crashing the booze-parties of Indra and Devas and stealing the som-ras and other exotic drinking spirits.
- Ravana with the help of his demoniac hordes was, with frequent invasions of Swarg-loka, seizing and relocating the heavenly distilleries to Lanka, and spiriting away Apsaras for entertainment in Lanka
- Ravana’s asuras were frequently eve-teasing Apsaras of the Deva-Loka, with Ravana himself having a two-timing affair with Urvashi and Menaka, and with these damsels falling for Ravana’s dark handsome looks and his manly bushy moustache, making the clean-shaven chocolate-boy Indra go red in the face.
- With his frequent plunders of the Swarga-Loka’s ill-deserved riches and wealth, Ravana was enriching his kingdom of Lanka and delivering prosperity and good life to his people.
Narrative 6 : Brahma listened to them and said , Yes, Ravana cannot be killed by any devas, or danavas or gandharvas, or yaksha, or any rakshasas. However because of his arrogance he forgot to get immunity to be killed by a man. And that his how he will be killed said , Brahma.
Question 6: What does this reveal about Brahma and Ravana and the wisdom of the gods?. The choices are:
- Brahma, usually the dim-wit god who is generous with the grant of boons to any and every Asura under the sun is smart enough to hide the fine print of the conditions and exclusions of his boons.
- Ravana is not an intelligent consumer of the boons and does not insist on proper disclosures from Brahma and does not read any fine prints
- All it should have taken the supposedly almighty Vishnu was to send his Sudarshan chakra spinning towards Ravana and sever his head. But then God is not supposed to make things easy, and how else could the suffering of a yawn-a-thon of an epic like Ramayana be inflicted on an already suffering humanity?
- Vishnu, the Lord of Lords had an attack of amnesia and forgot that he was none of the devas, or danavas or gandharvas, or yaksha, or rakshasas himself. But this memory blunder of Vishnu proved to be very costly and a resulted in a tragic ordeal for people like Lakshmana and his wife and the hapless Sita whose kidnapping could have been totally averted.
Narrative 7: While they were talking thus, Lord Narayana came there with his shankha , chakra ,he was seated on Garuda. Brahma requested to him to be born as a son to the king Dasaratha and also told that four sons will be born to the king. He requested Lord Narayana let all the four sons be the Amsas of you. Your avatara will be of immense help to the mankind and also for us.
Skeptical wisecrack : So Vishnu was born as Rama, his Sudarshan Chakra was born as Lakshmana, the conch was reborn as Bharata and his mace took birth as Shatrugn. In all this re-birthing privilege rigmarole, Vishnu’s wedding ring to Lakshmi felt left out and started sulking. Vishnu pacified it by promising that it to be reborn as a wedding ring in the Janaka’s queen’s jewelry collection and till such time to adorn his couch, Seshanaag as its nose-ring. But even more upset than that was Vishnu’s chauffeur, the mighty Garuda miffed at being excluded threatened to go on a strike or defect to Shiva’s camp.
Question 7: How did Vishnu pacify Garuda? The choices are:
- Gave him the responsibility and privilege of house-keeping of Vaikunth, keeping an eye on Sheshanaag, plumbing the Ocean of Milk and ensuring that their abode does not become history in the sea-bed of the Milky Ocean.
- Choice of re-birth as the infant, toddler and child Rama’s favorite toys, teethers and rattles.
- Be reborn as King Dasaratha’s wheel-chair and other mobility devices in his ripe old age.
- Take birth as Sita’s pet doe, which will be her playmate during her forest honeymoon exile, and which the fickle Sita will ignore for the gold-plated deer of the illusory kind.
- Being born as the unfortunate king of Vultures, Jatayu, and get the privilege of moksha after being brutally hacked by Ravana on this way back from the kidnapping of Sita.
Narrative 8: Lord Narayana listened to the words of Brahma, and said that I have decided to be born in the world of men and I will destroy Ravana and his entire clan . After killing him, I will rule the world for 11,000 yrs.
Question 8: The only problem here is Sri Narayana did not specify which world he would be ruling for 11,000 yrs. Surely it cannot be our world. Let us make some ‘informed’ guesses. The choices are:
- He is still ruling over the Rahu-Ketu planet, because it is a planet that exists only in the Vedic or Puranic planetary system.
- He is still the unquestioned ruler and king of the Ikshvaku or Raghuvanshi solar system, which could very well be halfway between Satan’s infernal Hell and Viswamitra’s Trishanku Swarga.
- He could still be ruling over the deluded minds and hearts of Rama-bhaktas, hindutva crazies conscripted by Bajrang Sena, Bajrang Dal, and Ramayana hang-over addicts and hangers-on of all the saffron and white stripes.
Narrative 9: To assist me in this avatara, he told the devas that they will also be born in the world of men as Monkeys as Ravana had forgotten to ask for immunity of death from monkeys.
Question 9: Lets see what caused Ravana to make such a critical omission. The choices are:
- In his hurry to take the boons and get going with them, Ravana forget to add riders to his boon from Brahma, especially in the light of the ape’s ancestral connection with humanity.
- Ravana was an animal lover and probably had a suicidal wish to die at the hands of a bunch of apes and be re-born as a monkey himself in his next birth.
- Even though he knew he might meet with death at the hands of the monkeys, he could not resist the lure of the opportunity of setting fire to a monkey’s tail, a dream of his that was fulfilled when he caught Hanuman in the act of infiltrating his kingdom
- To reduce unemployment in the Deva-loka and put the idling and begging Devas to work, Vishnu though it best to dispatch these wastrels to do some monkeying in Kishkinda and beyond.
Narrative 10: The Putrakama yaga came to an end . From the fire came a divine form. The divine form held in his hands a bowl with a silver covering.
Question 10: Who was this mysterious divine being? The choices are:
- Dhanvantari, the celestial vintner and vendor of the heavenly spirits like Soma-ras, from which modern French wines have evolved, Home-ras, that dual-purpose spirit used in Homes, and Homas and Foam-ras, from which modern carbonated beverages have evolved. He is also a holder for a non-expiring patent on the nectar of immortality called amrit.
- Gunvantari, who is a close cousin of Dhanvantari and is the dispenser of the Gunas of Prakriti, which is at the heart of vedic wisdom. Curiously, most Hindus are unaware of this very crucial celestial being who holds the aces of the Gunas up his sleeve.
- Grinvantari, who is the father-in-law of Gunvantari and is so called as he is known to keep grinning from ear to ear, amused at the folly of many misguided millions falling for the nonsense contained in many religious scriptures.
- Phonevantari, the celestial communications demi-god, who holds the hot-lines to ‘Moksha’, ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Self-Realization’ cosmic connections. He has six hands and two legs. On five hands, he holds a land-phone, a cell-phone, I-phone, Video-Cam and an I-Pad, and the sixth hand is stretched out to receive commissions and donations.
Narrative 11: Sage Vishvamitra told the king about the Yaga he was performing and the troubles he has to suffer from the rakshasas who could take any form any time. I cannot curse them because there is no place for anger when I am doing this yaga.
Question 11: Why were the Rakshasas troubling Sage Vishvamitra and his Yaga (Yagna)? The choices are:
- The asuras were bored, and having nothing else to do in their life, loved to kill their time by ransacking Vishwamitra’s hermitage and dousing his beloved Yagna fires.
- As their target of vandalism, the Rakshasas could not find any other place in the whole wide world and Bharat (India), than the hermitage of Sage Vishvamitra in some obscure wilderness of a forest.
- The Rakshasas had their eye on the plants for opium and cocaine that Sage Vishvamitra was surreptitiously growing in the nurseries of his hermitage under the camouflage of desert cactus and herbal plants. And the Rakshasas got wind of the fact that the real purpose of the Yagna was to materialize a magical electric fence around the opium and cocaine bushes.
- Rakshasas who were peacefully living in an adjacent forest had their picnics disturbed by the high-decibel mantras of Vishvamitra’s yagnas as well as made to suffer from eye-burn and health disorders caused by the smoke and pollution of the Yagna fires.
Narrative 12: When they reached the southern bank of the river Sarayu, sage Vishvamitra told Rama to take water in his palms and he taught him the mantras Bala and Prabala. They are the daughters of Brahmaji, the creator. You will never feel tired nor hunger will trouble you nor thirst will trouble you.
Question 12: What do these mantras signify about Vishvamitra and Brahma or about this epic for that matter?. The choices are
- Vishwamitra was either very lazy or very stingy, or maybe both, as he did not want to make, carry or purchase any food for this disciples during this long journey to his Yagna, and decided to pass this buck onto the nonsensical mantras of Bala and Prabala.
- If the conches and maces of Vishnu can take birth as princes, why may the daughters of a prolific creator like Brahma not transform themselves into Solarian or breatherian mantras to fill the breaths and stomachs of Vishnu’s avatars.
- Vishwamitra was one of the foremost pioneers of Solarian or breatherian scams that are re-appearing in the current age. He concocted some weird mantras to palm off to his trusting disciples as placebos for hunger and thirst.
- Use of Bala and Prabala mantra smoke-screen were Vishwamitra’s contingency plan to deal with food shortage during the journey and also in the event of any plunder of his hermitage by the Asuras.
Narrative 13: The yaga proceeded with out any trouble for the first five days. But on the sixth day all of the sudden there was a lot of commotion . Rama and Lakshmana knew that these are the works of the rakshasas. Rama took up the astra by the name manavastra and aimed it at the rakshasa by the name Marichi. The astra struck marichi and threw him about hundred yojanas in to the sea but it did not kill him .
Question 13: What do these signify about the Rakshasa strategy, weaponry or about this epic for that matter?. The choices are:
- Rakshasas are as superstitious as sages or Gods, only their superstition seems to work in reverse. So they probably chose the 6th day of the yagna, being inauspicious enough to thwart it.
- Rakshasas obviously saw no point in spoiling the yagna in its infancy. They wanted Vishwamitra and his sagely hordes to go hoarse in their throat with their screeching mantra chants, burn enough midnight yagna oil and get their lips tantalizingly close enough before snatching away their cup of achievement.
- Mythical astras or weapons seem to follow the rules of fantasy more than technology. Since we don’t know of a danavastra, the weapon may as well be manavastra, which seems more a circus catapult or trampoline that throws its victims a hundred yojanas away, than an arrow of any effective use.
Narrative 14: King Janaka narrated as to how the bow came to be with him , and he also spoke about his daughter Sita, who was found as a beautiful child from the mother earth, when he was preparing the earth for doing a yaga. That is why she is named Sita, and whoever is able to lift the bow, Sita will be their bride.
Skeptical wisecrack: Though Janaka does not specify, we can infer that he is referring to the Shiva Danush. If you are inclined to trust Puranic babel, the bow apparently passed from Shiva to Parashurama and then to King Janaka. Then again let’s not question why a nemesis of Kshatriyas like Parashurama would give the bow to a Kshatriya like Janaka whether as a gift or for safe-keeping. One is also apt to wonder that Janaka’s season of gifts did not end with the bow, with Sita also ending up as his gift from Mother Earth.
Question 14: Why did Parashurama give the bow to Janaka, and why did Janaka use it for Sita Svyamvar? The choices are:
- After Shiva took a fancy for his trishul, his other mrityunjaya-mantra powered yantras and weapons like bows, arrows, quivers, spears, daggers, sling-shots and swords started gathering dust and rust, turning Shiva-loka into a junkyard of rapidly corroding metal. Already having turned blue in his throat, Shiva did not want to hazard the risk of swallowing the rust and choking on it, and thought it best to palm off the heaviest Shiva Danush to Parashurama who was anyway too groggy-eyed and dazed after a 1000 year penance to notice Shiva’s trickery.
- By the time Parashurama realized the con-job of Shiva, he had carried the bow too far and too long and it was high time for his next 1000 year penance. After dusting all the rust and crap of the bow, and from his shoulders and hands, and fearing ferric poisoning from any further contact, he thought it best to entrust the bow to King Janaka for safe-keeping since he was the only King ready to promise a chromium-plating of the bow.
- Around the time of Sita’s impending marriage King Janaka got the news that Parashurama had been rudely awakened from his 1000 year penance by snowstorms, hailstorms and landslides in his Himalayan forest abode, and just missed having his throat slit by his own axe that was voilently swirling in the winds, was rushing to Mithila to save his life and reclaim his bow. To get around the promise and expense of chromium-plating the bow, King Janaka put up the rusting bow as a sacrificial lamb for Sita Svyamvar in the hope that the very act of stringing the bow would break it into two.
- King Janaka was eager to get rid of the bow since carrying around and maintaining this heavyweight bow was proving to be a big drain on the royal treasury.