Ayodhya Bhumi Pujan

On August 5, 2020, the foundation stone of a grand temple proposed to be built in honor of Lord Ram’s birthplace in the city of Ayodhya shall be laid. The path to this has been laborious and occasionally violent, leading to sectarian riots between two warring factions — Hindus and Muslims — both of whom claimed their right to worship at this site.

A mosque named Babri Masjid, ordered to be built by Mughal Emperor Babur, stood at the site for centuries resulting in animosity between Muslims and Hindus. The latter believe that the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, a revered God for Hindus. Archaeological findings suggested the presence of a temple which preceded the time period when a mosque was ordered to be constructed.

Late last year, the Supreme Court of India ended a long legal chapter spanning decades and awarded the title to the disputed premises in favor of Hindus. A separate article I wrote back then in Firstpost explains the judgment at length, dispelling many myths floating around the court’s legal reasoning.

The unanimous verdict handed down by the Supreme Court and the events set in motion to commence construction are culminating into a bhumi pujan ceremony (a prayer for the land on which something is sought to be built) in less than a week which has resulted in exuberance and excitement among millions of Hindus.

In many quarters, however, undertones of belligerence and vengeance accompany the exuberance. The feeling is sought to be justified on the ground that karsevaks (a word for volunteers who offered their services for the religious cause of the temple) and their families suffered a tremendous amount of humiliation as well as death in some cases.

Indeed, a recent gruesome incident was when a train compartment consisting of karsevaks, their spouses and children chanting Jaya Sri Ram (Victory to Lord Rama) was set to fire in Godhra back in 2002 which, in turn, provoked statewide riots in Gujarat between Hindus and Muslims.

August 5, 2020 is, undoubtedly, a victorious day. It is also a day which gives closure to millions of karsevaks who dedicated their lives to reclaiming what hundreds of millions believe is the birthplace of a revered God. It is a victory for the Hindu civilization. The celebration must be grand. Images of Lord Ram and 3D portraits of the temple beaming in Times Square on August 5 will be a proud moment for the movement.

The key question, though, is — what is the tone and nature of that victory as we should absorb it today?

Hinduism has two historical epics. Ramayana narrates the life of Lord Ram, especially his eventual return to Ayodhya after a fourteen-year exile, a metaphor which many invoke to reference the construction of a temple in the city of Ayodhya in the north-Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.

The other historical epic — the Mahabharata — is predominantly about a war between two groups of cousins which makes the victorious group, in particular, ponder over the philosophy of life. The answer to the key question lies in the last segment of that epic titled Svarga-Arohanika Parva (Book of the Ascent to Heaven).

After a prolonged battle in which one group — the Pandavas — defeat the other group — the Kauravas — and rule the kingdom, the last of the Pandavas — Yudhisthira — starts arriving in heaven having reached the end of his life on earth.

Upon his arrival in heaven, Yudhishthira is upset to find ‘sinners’ there and the ‘good and virtuous’, including his Pandava brothers, in what resembles hell. Furious, he asks the Gods why that is the case and a debate ensues.

The Gods ask him the reason for his anger — that even after defeating the Kauravas, taking the kingdom, ruling it for decades, why he has not given up his anger and hatred. If he hasn’t cleansed himself of vengeance and grudge within him, what, one wonders, has he actually given up that makes him deserve an entry in heaven?

It is only when Yudhishthira realizes that, although he achieved ‘victory’ over adversaries and external factors — vijaya — he hadn’t achieved victory over the raw, basest instincts of anger, vengeance and hatred within himself — jaya.

When we see victory in the narrow terms of vijaya, we necessarily focus on the fact that someone lost, and, as a corollary, who lost. We drown ourselves in egotistic gloating, vengeance and belligerence. We hold a measuring tape to assess what the victor won and what the loser lost.

When, however, we make ourselves capable of seeing victory in the wider, more encompassing terms of jaya, we draw vital lessons about our own character and our true selves in order to then be able to fulfill our role as the victor towards the society as a whole, with dharma (loosely translated as righteousness) as a guide. It is this self-realization which makes us deserving victors.

It is only after the Gods are convinced that Yudhishthira has won his Self and understood victory in its truest sense do they reveal that the hell they’d created where he saw his brothers and other righteous warriors was only an illusion.

Indeed, in the protracted battle between Hindus and Muslims over the disputed premises in Ayodhya, one side — the Muslims — lost.

Important as it is to cherish this moment when beliefs held by millions of devotees around the world attained judicial validation, it is equally important to bear in mind the tone surrounding this moment.

Ever wondered why we say Jai Hind (Victory to India) when greeting each other? By saying so, we aren’t hoping that other nations perish and India alone emerges victorious or survives. Otherwise, we would say Vijaya Hind.

This is also why we hail Sri Ram Himself with the word Jai (and not Vijayi Sri Ram).

As India welcomes Lord Ram back to His rightful place on August 5, 2020, the Mahabharata offers us an important lesson, one that is vital to bear in mind in order to set in motion a process of healing and reconciliation.

P.S. — It has been widely asserted that another name of the epic Mahabharata (or a significant part of it) is Jaya.
(This article was first published in Medium and can be read here. )
Kartikeya Tanna