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`Rama cult arose in the South'

Special Correspondent

Historian traces the origins of the cult to the Vaishnavite saints, Alwars

FEROKE (KOZHIKODE): Historical evidences are aplenty to show that the Rama cult took birth and evolved in the south, the `Dravida' country, and later got assimilated into the religious psyche of the North, says Suvira Jaiswal, historian. There are also inscriptional evidences to dismiss the attempt to link the rise of the cult of Rama to `Muslim' invasion of India in the 12th-13th centuries, she says.

In her S. C. Misra Memorial Lecture titled `The Making of a Hegemonic Tradition: The Cult of Rama Dasarathi' delivered at the ongoing 67th Session of the Indian History Congress, Professor Jaiswal said that it was possible to trace the gradual emergence of a full-fledged Rama cult in the Dravida country. The Vaishnavite saints of the south, Alwars sang in praise of the local cult-spots as sanctified by the presence of their favourite deities. This gave scope for the identification of various places as scenes of events associated with the characters of Ramayana and celebration of the existing temples as that of Rama.

Clear evidence of the setting up of shrines for the Rama incarnation of Vishnu was available from the 10th century onwards in the Chola and Pandya kingdoms, which had been the locale of Alwar activities, she said.

Sacred Ayodhya

Interestingly, the Rama temples were called `sacred Ayodhya,' lending credence to the view that the concept of Ayodhya of Rama was originally mythical, having little to do with modern Ayodhya . ``It reminds one of the famous saying Tulasidas, Avadhu tahaan jahaan Raama nivaasu, meaning ``wherever Rama resides, that is Ayodhya.''

Worshippers of Siva

Although the Chola kings were worshippers of Siva and constructed magnificent Siva temples, several of them assumed titles suggestive of their identification with Rama. For instance, Aditya Chola (AD 871-907), who claimed to have built several Siva temples on the banks of the Cauvery, assumed the title `Kodandarama.' His son Paranthaka I called himself Samgraama Raghavam, i.e; Rama in battle.

The devise of using religious myths and symbols for the glorification of contemporary rulers had a long history in the brahminical tradition and was not exclusive to Ramology.

A thorough weaving of the brahminical philosophy and social ethics into the story of Rama was to be found in the Adhyatma Ramayana, a work assigned to the 14th or early 15th century.

Social message

Professor Jaiswal said a close connection of the Rama cult with the brahminical social order and its implications were often underplayed by stressing upon its so-called liberating potential, as it opened the path of `bhakti' to all irrespective of caste and gender.

But the entire range of religious literature on Rama-bhakti in the `saguna' stream has a very clear social message: God is universally accessible and grants salvation to all those who worship him with devotion, but he does not allow any violation of caste rules and disrespect to brahmans, regardless of their qualifications.

Respect for caste hierarchy and its rules despite the irrelevance of caste status in the pursuit of liberation had been the essential feature of Vaishnavism from its first exposition in the Bhagavad Gita, Professor Jaiswal said.

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