A temple’s image on Times Square billboard & it’s importance for Hindu nationalists
Now that the model of the temple that is going to be built in India in the honor of Hindu God Ram has been shown on the iconic Times Square billboard in New York, Ram has gone global. How much does the world know about Ram? More important is the question why specifically Ram when there are 33 million Gods in India. Let me try to fill in some information here. Why me? Because I was a district level prize winner of a quiz competition based on Ramayan, the epic that narrates the story of Ram when I was in high school.
According to what Hindus believe, Ram was the most honest and illustrious King there ever was. He willfully abdicates his rightful inheritance to the throne of his kingdom for his younger step brother at the insistence of his step mother and goes on exile for 14 years into the forest as per his father’s wish, searches relentlessly for the most powerful demonic king who kidnaps his wife, slays him and returns victoriously back to his home with his wife. He was the most ideal son, brother, husband, warrior and king everyone aspired to have.
But why Ram? As a comparison, Krishna is a far more popular warrior king than Ram. Colorful personality, as mighty a warrior as Ram and probably more astute and resourceful than Ram. Both fought and slayed demons and demon kings and ruled their respective kingdoms wisely. Then why Ram and not Krishna?
When Ram was banished to the forest for 14 years, his wife Sita was not explicitly told to accompany him. But she goes, nevertheless, as his dutiful wife. Ram’s brother Lakshman who accompanied him into exile chopped off the breasts and nose of a demoness who tried to seduce him. After rescuing Sita from the demon king Ravan who kidnapped her, Ram asked her to walk through fire to prove her “purity” for him. A woman by the name of Ahalya who was cursed to become a stone regains her form when Ram puts his foot on her.
Sita wasn’t banished with Ram into exile but being his “dutiful” wife, she had no choice. Lakshman disfigured the demoness because she expressed her sexual desire for him. Even as a prisoner, Sita had lived in the house of another man so by walking through fire, she had to prove that she had not become physically or emotionally connected to Ravan. Ahalya’s curse got redeemed when a virtuous man touched her with his feet. What do these tell us?
In a single word, patriarchy. Glorification of the male through subjugation of the female. The extreme form of it was the custom of sati, where women were forced to jump into the funeral pyre of their husbands. A wife may do it as an act of love for her husband but being forced to do as a societal custom is another thing just like Sita had no choice but to accompany Ram into the forest. A woman expressing her sexual desire is blasphemy and had to be punished accordingly and immediately.
This form of patriarchy is what the proponents of Hindutva want to reimpose on Hindu society. This is why they have little to no tolerance for free thinking women. This is why they want Hindu women to cover themselves completely when stepping out just like how it is required to wear burqa in Islam. Free thinking women were considered as witches and burnt alive on stakes by the Vatican in the Dark Ages. Lilith and not Eve was apparently the first woman created by God but she turned out to be a free thinking open minded woman. So in Judaism, she was demonized and has been described as the first demoness on Earth. No religion is different when it comes to persecution of women. What is different with Hinduism is that Hindus worship Goddesses in temples on one side and abuse the women in their houses in every possible way on the other.
There are supposedly 300 versions of Ramayan in existence. The one Hindus follow in India was written clearly to glorify male virtuosity and keep women under the hegemony of men, both of which are exemplified clearly in the story of Ahalya where she had to be touched by Ram’s feet to become a woman again. This version of Ramayan was written either for a patriarchal society prevalent at the time of it’s writing or to create a patriarchal society that would prevail through time in the name of Ram.
Building a temple in Ram’s name is a symbolic act for the conversion of Hindu society back into its patriarchal form. A temple in Ayodhya does not prove that the place was where Ram’s city used to exist. If I name my house as Ayodhya, it doesn’t mean Ram was born in my house. His city was supposedly the greatest during his time but no ruins of a city has been dug out from Ayodhya yet which means no ancient city ever existed at Ayodhya. Even if the ruins of an ancient city is found, how would we know it was indeed the city of Ram?
Ram was a mighty warrior and an embodiment of virtuosity whom we can look up to but why worship him? Because he is said to be the incarnation of Vishnu, the second of the Hindu Trinity of Gods. It could be possible because if we are intelligent beings doing space travel there could also be beings in the Universe who can travel and take the form of any being on any planet. But that’s not the reason why Ram and Krishna are revered. They both had the ability to connect with Shiva and get his blessings.
In the Trinity of Hindu Gods, Shiva is the one who destroys the Universe and everything within it. But he destroys in such a way that life can be started again. This is why he is depicted with a third eye that spews fire when it opens and holding the river Ganga in his hair bun. Fire is the only natural element that can destroy without polluting itself. Reminiscent of the recent bush fire in Australia, rain after fire is what restarts life. Shiva is a metaphor for this phenomenon. Someone in control of two natural elements and with the ability to destroy and restart life has to be the most powerful being in the Universe. Prayers of mere mortals will never reach such a mighty one. Ram and Krishna are conduits for Hindus to pray to Shiva, for better times in our lives after the bad ones.
I am not a non-believer. Ram and Krishna most probably did exist because there can be no smoke without fire. My problem is with how their stories and lives have been twisted and mangled by some among us through time to impose their rules on the rest of us. There are Gods in all ancient civilizations. But present day Greeks do not worship Zeus and build temples for him. Present day Scandinavians do not worship Odin and Thor and build temples for them. Then why are Hindus possessed with reclaiming the supposed lost glory of Ram’s time by building a temple for him? Why chant in Ram’s and not in Krishna’s name? Proponents of Hindutva will never be able to answer. This is why Hindutva is not Hinduism.
What I am curious about is, in the Ramayan, Ram is mentioned as someone whose hands extends beyond his knees. Do the Hindutva ideologists have any clue about this? Will they build Ram’s idol in his original representation or as a human?
Time to dumb down our collective intelligence and conscience and witness the building of a temple while a large population of Hindus suffer in poverty and terrible living conditions.