I have with me a downloaded PDF version of Wendy Doniger’s “ The Hindus-an Alternative History”, The research and fifty years of intensive labour that went into the making of this book amazes me. All that I read in the media are some furious criticism against the book. Criticism is anybody’s right. But to ask for the book’s withdrawal I call stupid. I would never have heard of the book nor bothered to download it except for its withdrawal and pulping by a cowardly publisher – surely turned cowardly in the recent times. I will here discuss only some aspects of the fanatical and ferocious, not judicious, criticism of the book.
One of the reasons, apart from some of its contents, for the Hindu fundamentalist rage, I understand, is that the cover page shows Krishna fondling breasts of two Gopis. This picture is a copy of an ancient painting from Odisha, presumably done with Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda in mind. It takes some wild imagination to see any fondling there. The hand seen over a woman’s bust is that of another busty woman. Krishna, who is not averse to such fondling in Gita Govinda, stands at a safe distance in this print, as in the original. However, the critics ought to read Gita Govinda of Jaidev to understand the spiritualism of sensuality in Hindu literature. Gita Govinda, or Ashtapadi, is sung aloud as hymns in many temples of India. Frescoes and carvings on Khajuraho or Konark are arguments worn out by time. Ever heard or understood the meaning of explicit Pooram songs sung with gusto every year in the precincts of Kodungalloor temple in Adi Shankara’s part of India? Ever read and understood the meaning of the verses of Saundarya Lahari supposed to be penned by abstinent Adi Shankara himself?
Another reason for the scream for banning is that Doniger mentions some stanzas of Valmiki, the original author of Ramayana, that the “Hindu” critics haven’t heard of. To “hear of” the contents of an epic, one got to read it. I will here just present a few stanzas from original Valmiki Ramayan. Those who “heard of” Laxman Rekha, I might warn, had only heard a lie. Since Valmiki is the original progenitor of the epic, if he doesn’t mention a line of barrier supposedly drawn by Laxman, it hadn’t been drawn by Laxman. There is no Laxman Rekha in Valmiki Ramayana. Throw an egg at me, but that is the truth.
The scene here is when Ravana had arrived at the cottage of Sita after Ram had gone to hunt the golden deer and Sita chased out Laxman with a few choice suggestions about the latter’s intentions. The words attributed to Sita by Valmiki might sound pedestrian, but Valmiki portrays a woman who probably had a trace of suspicion at the lonely Laxman’s desire, or perhaps she chose those words to force Laxman to go out and look for her husband. An appreciative, not necessarily pious, reading of Ramayan shows you the psychological, technical and literary skills of the ancient writer.
In Sarga 3 named Aranya Kanda (Epidoseds in the Forest), Ravana arrives at the Ashram, disguised as a hermit, immediately after Laxman leaves. Sita, believing Ravana to be a sage, offers him a seat and extends hospitality.
I am giving here the translation not by any Hindu-hating white man or woman, but by late Desiraju Hanumantharao, famous Theatre personality of Andhra and scholar who took active part in digitizing the Hindu Puranas and has translated quite a few of them. Although my knowledge of Sanskrit is somewhat rusty for want of regular use, having checked out a number of reference books, I can vouchsafe that every word of translation has been judiciously chosen by the author. The “Thunder thighs” of Sita is accurately translated as elephantine thighs, and, I believe, the words “Unnatha Mukhau” meaning rising faces (of your breasts) has been correctly interpreted as nipples by Mr. Rao.
Please also note at the end of this recital what forest produce Sita expects Rama to bring home for dinner
tayaa paruSam uktaH tu kupito raaghava anujaH |
sa vikaa.nkSan bhR^isham raamam pratasthe na ciraat iva ||
Raghava’s younger brother Lakshmana is very much infuriated at Seetha who spoke to him rudely, as such he journeyed towards Rama at once as though he is yearning to see Rama immediately, albeit his heart wanted him to stand guard to Seetha. [3-46-1]
tadaa aasaadya dashagriivaH kSipram a.ntaram aasthitaH |
abhicakraama vaidehiim parivraajaka ruupa dhR^ik || 3-46-2
Quickly taking hold of intervallic time then the ten-headed Ravana approached Vaidehi adopting an aspect of a sanyaasi, a meandering Brahman friar. [3-46-2]
raamasya tu a.ntaram prepsuH dashagriivaH tat a.ntare || 3-46-8
upatasthe ca vaidehiim bhikSu ruupeNa raavaNaH |
In the meanwhile the Decahedron demon Ravana, who is all the while waiting for some lapse of Rama, neared Vaidehi in the getup of a sanyaasi. [3-46-8b, 9a]
atiSThat prekSya vaidehiim raama patniim yashasviniim |
Like a wellspring shrouded by grass, enshrouded in a decent getup of a Brahman friar, in a trice Ravana leeringly stood before of Vaidehi, the admirable wife of Rama. [3-46-10b, 11a]
tiSTan sa.mprekshya ca tadaa patniim raamasya raavaNa || 3-46-11
shubhaam rucira danta oSThiim puurNa candra nibha aananaam |
aasiinaam parNashaalaayaam baaSpa shoka abhipiiDitaam || 3-46-12
sa taam padma palaasha akSiim piita kausheya vaasiniim |
abhyagacChata vaidehiim hR^iSTa cetaa nishaa caraH || 3-46-13
While standing before her then Ravana eyed at the auspicious wife of Rama, whose lips and teeth are fine, visage is shiny like a full moon, and who is presently tortured by her tearful lamentation and sitting in the straw-cottage, and he approached that lotus-petal eyed Vaidehi who is dressed in ochry silks, as that night-walker is gladdened at his heart for her solitude. [3-46-11b, 12,13]
dR^iSTvaa kaama shara aaviddho brahma ghoSam udiirayan |
abraviit prashritam vaakyam rahite raakSasa adhipaH || 3-46-14
He who is hit by the arrows of Love-god that king of demons Ravana, on seeing Seetha entered resonating the resonances of Vedic-hymns as precursory in seeking alms, and spoke these well-mannered sentences to her who is in solitariness. [3-46-14]
taam uttamaam trilokaanaam padma hiinaam iva shriyam |
vibhraajamaanaam vapuSaa raavaNaH prashashamsa ha || 3-46-15
Ravana really acclaimed her who is an excellent one in all the three worlds, beaming forth with the beauty of her body, and who is like Goddess Lakshmi but for Divine-lotus as Her settle, for Seetha is devoid of her settling, namely Rama. [3-46-15]
kaa tvam kaa.ncana varNa aabhe piita kausheya vaasini |
kamalaanaam shubhaam maalaam padminii iva ca bibhratii || 3-46-16
“Glittering like the glitter of gold, silkened in ochry silks, you are like a lotus-tendril garlanded with divine lotuses as your ensemble, who are you?” Thus Ravanan started addressing Seetha [3-46-16]
hriiH shriiH kiirtiH shubhaa lakSmiiH apsaraa vaa shubha aanane |
bhuutir vaa tvam varaaarohe ratir vaa svaira caariNii || 3-46-17
“Oh, rosy faced one, are you the personified numen of Respect, Renown or Resplendence, or the Felicitous Lakshmi herself, or oh, curvaceous one, are you a nymphal Apsara, or the numen of Benefactress, or a self-motivated woman, or Rati Devi, the consort of Manmatha, the Love God. [3-46-17]
samaaH shikhariNaH snigdhaaH paaNDuraa dashanaaH tava |
vishaale vimale netre raktaante kR^iSNa taarake || 3-46-18
“Your teeth are evenly, smooth and their tips are like jasmine buds, and your whitish broad eyes are spotless, reddish at ends, and pupils are black. [3-46-18]
vishaalam jaghanam piinam uuruu kari kara upamau |
etau upacitau vR^ittau sa.mhatau sa.mpragalbhitau || 3-46-19
piina unnata mukhau kaantau snigdha taala phala upamau |
maNi praveka aabharaNau rucirau te payo dharau || 3-46-20
“Your hips are beamy, thighs burly akin to elephant’s trunks, and these two breasts of yours that are ornamented with best jewellery are rotund, rubbing and bumping each other, and they are swinging up and up, their nipples are brawny and jutting out, and they are smoothish like palm-fruits, thus they are covetable for they are beautiful. [3-46-19, 20]
caaru smite caaru dati caaru netre vilaasini |
mano harasi me raame nadii kuulam iva a.mbhasaa || 3-46-21
karaantamita madhyaa asi sukeshii sa.mhata stanii |
“Oh, allurer, your smile is alluring, teeth are alluring, and your eyes allure, oh, beauty, your waist is palmful, your hair velvety, your breasts are jostling, and you rob my soul as a spate robs riverbank. [3-46-21, 22a]
na eva devii na gandhar.hvii na yakSii na ca ki.mnarii || 3-46-22
na evam ruupaa mayaa naarii dR^iSTa puurvaa mahii tale |
“I have not hitherto seen any earthly female with this kind of features on the face of earth; or, a goddess – no; a gandharva female – no; yaksha female – no; kinnaraa female – no, none whosoever! [3-46-22b, 23a]
ruupam agryam ca lokeSu saukumaaryam vayaH ca te || 3-46-23
iha vaasaH ca kaa.ntaare cittam unmathayanti me |
“I marvel why an excellent one in all the three worlds by her features, more so, fragile and youthful as yourself should be living here in the thick of forest. [3-46-23b, 24, 25a]
saa pratikraama bhadram te na tvam vastum iha ar.hhasi || 3-46-24
raakSasaanaam ayam vaaso ghoraaNaam kaama ruupiNaam |
.Such as you are you go back, let safety betide you, as you are unsuited to live in here, for this forest is the dwelling for ghastly demons who by their wish will be changing their guise. [3-46-24b, 25a]
Obviously, Sita lived in a culture far superior to that of our current fanatics whose concept of culture is borrowed from the Victorian practices of Britain. She was not offended or abashed by the compliments that Ravana, whom she still believed to be a sage, paid her. Not even when Ravana praised the beauty of her tapering but thick thighs, her breasts, and nipples. She explained how she happened to be in the forest, who her husband, brother-in-law were and how they happened to be away. Then, as hospitable as a good hostess could under the circumstances, she said:
samaashvasa muhuurtam tu shakyam vastum iha tvayaa || 3-47-22
aagamiSyati me bhartaa vanyam aadaaya puSkalam |
ruruun godhaan varaahaan ca hatvaa aadaaya amiSaan bahu || 3-47-23
“Be comfortable for a moment, here it is possible for you to make a sojourn, and soon my husband will be coming on taking plentiful forest produce, and on killing stags, mongooses, wild boars he fetches meat, aplenty. [3-47-22b, 23]
Forget Ramlila, or Ramanand Sagar’s plastic-and-polyester film serial which are full of lies. After all, Valmiki’s is the original story; all the rest are cut-and-pasted versions appropriate for culture of veils and denials that came after Islamic invasion and got worsened even further by nineteenth century Victorian morals where European women wore props inside their clothes to conceal the shape of their buttocks, and dresses that started from their necks and reached down to their ankles.
To read the beautiful original in English, I suggest www.valmikiramayan.net, from which I have borrowed Mr. Rao’s translation.