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Musings on sita's agni-pravEsam#3

From: sudarshan (lucasfie_at_md2.vsnl.net.in)
Date: Sat Nov 14 1998 - 09:21:15 PST

Dear Sri.S.H.Krishna and other members (who are following this "thread"),

In the last post we briefly discussed how the lessons of
"sanAtana-dharmA"--- the eternal verities of rightful living and conduct
--- are imparted by the Vedas through 3 principal modes
viz."prabhu-sammita", "suhrd-sammita" and "kAnta-sammita".

The episode of Sita's "agni-pravEsam", the most thought- and emotion-
provoking of all others in the Ramayana, would fall in the category of
"suhrd-sammita". It is, in truth, if you examine it carefully, pure Vedic
decree. But it is couched not in the stern and imposing idiom so typical of
"dharma-sAstra" (prabhu-sammita) nor in the bewitching cadences of
religious or devotional poetry (kAnta-sammita) but in the "friendly",
easy-going (suhrd) narrative discourse of lofty Vedic theme .... a special
genre of religious instruction known popularly as "itihAsa-kAlapshepam".

         yad-vedAt prabhu-sammitAdadhigatam sabda-pramAnAcchiram
           yacchArtha-pravanAt-purAna-vacha-nAdishtam suhrd-sammitAd
         kAntAsammitayA yayA sarasatAmApAdya-kAvyAsriyA
           kartavyE kukutuki budho viracitas-tasyai sprhAm kurmahE

                     Stanza 8 -- "pratAparudriyam"

The substance of the verse above is what I attempted to briefly describe in
the last post.
                       
                     ***********   ***********  ********** 

Manifold and magnificent are Vedic "dharma-sUkshmA-s"--- the finer nuances
of 'sanAtana-dharmA' --- which lie embedded in the dramatic episodes of
Srimad Ramayana.

Over the ages many great souls and "AchAryAs" have delved deeply into the
story of this epic non pareil and discovered the unmistakable, if sometimes
esoteric ('rahasya') connections between its dramatic content and its
underlying Vedic leitmotif. 

For instance, the Masters tell us it is no mere coincidence that the
"gAyatri-mantrA", the Mother of all Vedic revelation, is 24
syllabled......and the Ramayana too comrprises 24,000 shlOkA-s! The Truth
which lies in "sUkshumA" (atomic or soulful) form in the "gAyatri" is the
same One which assumes "stUla" (gross or corporeal) form in the vast
narrative sweep of the Ramayana. The same Truth that is gained on attaining
deep spiritual insight ("mantra-dhrista") into the aphoristic "gAyatri" may
be obtained too, it is said, through intuitive grasp and understanding of
the principal themes, plot, characterisation and the majestic ebb and flow
of denouments in this epic of many splendours.

The principal "AchAryA-s" of the Vedantic school ---- Sankara, Ramanuja and
MadhvA --- all thought it fit to write "bhAshyA-s" (detailed commentaries)
on Vedic aphorism and epigram contained in the "brahma-sutrAs". Today their
respective "bhAshyA-s" represent three discrete and distinctive dimensions
of the One Truth said to be contained in Vedic "pramANam". We all also know
that each "bhAshya" emphasizes and focuses on one set of aspects, at the
expense of yet others, possessed by "brahm-ic" Reality . Their respective
"darsanA-s" (philosophical premises and perspectives) as we know them today
do not entirely agree with each other; and in some instances, we know, the
"AchAryA-s" held irreconciliable positions too. 

These same differing "AchAryA-s" were unanimously agreed amongst themselves
that the Ramayana was indeed an expanded avatar of the one and same entity:
the "Veda-purushA". It is interesting in this context therefore to note
that none of them wrote "bhAshyA-s" or commentaries on the Ramayana ---
which acknowledgedly was nothing but the "itihAsic" format of the very same
"vedic-sutrA-s" too. 
 
Now isn't it surprising therefore that the same "AchAryA-s" who came up, in
their respective "bhAshyam-s", with differing perspectives on Truth
embodied in Vedic aphorism should however have had found no cause or
occasion to air or formulate any sort of major difference, in approach or
interpretation, with regard to the Vedic themes latent in the Ramayana ?
There is, as we all know, such a thing as the 'advaitic' or "dvaitic'
viewpoint of the "brahma-sutrA"; there is also such thing as Sankara's or
Ramanuja's viewpoint of the Gita passages. But unless you go looking for it
in Vedic literature with a pedagogic nit-pick, you will find there is
really no such thing as an "advaitic" or "visishtAdvaitic" version of the
Ramayana! 

Herein thus lies the supreme value of the Srimad Ramayana : it is the
"friendly" sotto-voce of the Vedas. (It is, after all, "suhrd-sammita"!).
Differences and debate may arise in the understanding of the difficult
"sutrA" or "smriti" passages of the Vedas but none occur when it comes to
understanding an episode in the Ramayana like even the controversial
"sitA's agni-pravEsam". The Ramayana is cyrstal-clear in its enunciation of
all-transcendent Vedic values and principles.There is constancy and harmony
in its "dhArmic" prescriptions. There is thus no need for a "bhashyam" to
throw
further light on its intent or content, express or otherwise..... except
perhaps for the "bhAshyam" of one's own individual reverence and affection
that will have to be brought to bear upon and in the course of its
painstaking study.

This much then is hence very clear: A text like even the Lord's
"bhagavath-gitA" warrants the wringing effort of "bhAshya" from the great
"AchAryA-s". But the Ramayana needs no such exertion.It is self-evident
Vedic truth. And perhaps that's in part because the Gita contains merely
the Lord's preaching. The Ramayana, on the other hand, is a faithful record
of the Lord's example! There may be latitude available in variously
interpreting the Lord's words on the subject of "sanAtana-dharmA"; but it
is impossible to take similar liberty with what is a record of His actual
deeds of "dharmA". And when "actions speak more loudly than words", where
is the need for a Sankara or a Ramanuja or a Madhva to lend "bhAshyam-ic"
amplification? Or so it seems to me.

"bhAshyakArar" Sri.Ramanuja spent a whole year at the feet of his maternal
uncle, the most venerable Sri.Tirumala Nambi, doing Srimad Ramayana
"kAlapshepam". From those sessions he learnt, it is said, the Vedic
distillations of 18 great "dharma-sUkshmA-s". Sri.Tirumalai nambi however
wrote no "bhashyA" thereon.

With the sole exception of the "kAlapshepam" accounts of Sri.Tirumalai
Nambi handed down to us, to the best of my knowledge, there is no other
comparable work in our religious or literary tradition where the pure Vedic
flavour ("nigama-parimalam") of the Ramayana has been commentated upon.  

             ********                *********               **********

Having said so much above, we must now proceed to do the following:

Instead of asking ourselves,"Did Rama do right by Sita?", as you
Sri.S.H.Krishnan have done, we must ask instead:
 
(A) "In the dramatic situation of "sita's agni-pravesam", what did Rama and
Sita do which may be said to illustrate or be consisent with the tenets of
Vedic "dharmA" ?

Instead of asking "Why Sita was driven to immolate herself in the killing
fields of Lanka?" we must instead re-phrase the question as :

(B) "What is the Vedic truth which Sita-pirAtti sought to affirm through
her "agni-pravesam" ?

We will continue in the next post.

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,
sudarshan