Apart from being Lord, Ram was a righteous, honourable, supreme and perfect human, who was the harbinger of a secular state. If this is the message that students can imbibe from the Ramayana, the great epic might become the gospel of unity and brotherhood in our country, says OSWALD PEREIRA
As we celebrate Valmiki Jayanti today, to commemorate the memory of Maharishi Valmiki, revered as Ādi Kavi, the first poet, author of the world’s first epic poem, Ramayana, the question pops up again ― how relevant is the great spiritual and literary masterpiece to teaching in schools?
I would give it a resounding yes, but with an equally emphatic rider ― teach Ramayana in schools, but without giving it any religious denomination or colour. The entire Ramayana consisting of 24,000 shlokas or verses and seven cantos (kandas) cannot be taught in schools. But its basic teachings, the essence, can be explained to students, emphasising that at the time events in the Ramayana happened, some 7,000 years ago, no formal religion existed.
Therefore, giving the Ramayana a religious colour would be doing a great injustice to its basic teaching ― that no matter how powerful evil is, it will always be defeated by good. Ram defeated the most knowledgeable and powerful person in history, Ravana, thanks to the Lord’s prized possessions ― a noble heart and good human values.
Maharishi Valmiki himself was an embodiment of the great virtues of a self-realised sage.
According to one legend, Rishi Valmiki was believed to be a highway dacoit in his early life. In the course of his misadventures, he tried to rob the seven sages or Saptarishi, who took pity on him and gave him a mantra to meditate upon so that he could mend his ways. He got so engrossed in his recitation of the mantra that anthills came up around his body, but Valmiki remained oblivious of their existence. When the sages returned and heard the sound of the mantra coming from the anthill, they blessed him and said, “Since you have achieved great Siddhi seated within a Valmīka (an anthill), you will become well-known in the world as Valmiki.”
The other teachings of the Ramayana include family unity to overcome any difficulty in life; loyalty to parents; deep commitment to dharma or duty; choosing the path of righteousness; humility no matter how powerful you are; treating everyone equally irrespective of riches, or whether a person is younger or older; always be in good company; all that glitters is not gold; forgiveness is greater than revenge; the universal teachings of the value of love and compassion. Above all, Ram is best known as Maryada Purushottam.
Maryada Purushottam is a Sanskrit phrase in which “Maryada” translates to “honour and righteousness”, and “Purushottam” translates to “the supreme man”. The phrase when combined refers to “the man who is supreme in honour”. It also means the best man who practised righteousness until he perfected it.
To my mind, there couldn’t have been a greater sage than Valmiki to pen the Ramayana, which I believe has lessons that will appeal to young minds, who are looking for values to emulate as they grow up into responsible citizens.
The lessons or teachings in the Ramayana are timeless, universal, apolitical ― and most importantly, owe no allegiance to caste, creed, class, religion and culture.
Apart from being Lord, Ram was a righteous, honourable, supreme and perfect human, who was the harbinger of a secular state. If this is the message that students can imbibe from the Ramayana, the great epic might become the gospel of unity and brotherhood in our country ― making Maharishi Valmiki feel that penning the Ramayana was a job well done.
Oswald Pereira, a senior journalist, has also written eight books, including The Newsroom Mafia, Chaddi Buddies, The Krishna-Christ Connexion, How to Create Miracles in Our Daily Life and Crime Patrol: The Most Thrilling Stories. Oswald is a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, and practises Kriya Yoga.
Pics Courtesy: Wikipedia
Featured Image: Sage Narada at Valmiki’s hermitage