CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury has triggered a massive controversy with his recent comments on the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. At an event in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, Yechury said, “Ramayana and Mahabharata are also filled with instances of violence and battles. Being a pracharak (RSS functionaries), you narrate the epics but still claim Hindus can’t be violent? What is the logic behind saying that there’s a religion which engages in violence and we Hindus don’t.”
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) May 3, 2019
First things first, to reduce the vast complexity of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana to a mere exhibition of violence is only a reflection of the extremely myopic understanding of the texts the Communist appears to have. Secondly, to view the violence in the epics in isolation is to miss the point of it all entirely.
The Ramayana, in stark contrast to the Mahabharata, is a simple story of Good versus Evil. On one hand, we have Shri Rama, the embodiment of morality, Maryada Purushottam, and on the other, we have Ravana, the embodiment of evil. Rama’s beloved Sita was taken away from him and he embarked upon a Dharmayuddha to be reunited with her. Of course, there are numerous other facets to the story and Ravana had various motivations for his actions, however, it is not the place to go further into the intricacies of the matter. The gist of the matter, however, is the fact Rama did not embark upon a war of his own making. His hand was forced and he did what an ideal husband, an ideal son and an ideal King is meant to do. However, one thing was certain, even if Sita Mata was not kidnapped by Ravana, Rama would still go to war against the Rakshasas. For the protection of his Kingdom and its people and to ensure the victory of Dharma over Adharma.
The Mahabharata, on the other hand, is a lot more complicated. The characters in the Epic, as virtuous as they may be, pale in comparison to Rama, apart from Shri Krishna of course and Yudhishtira to a certain extent. While the principal characters in the Ramayana were the embodiment of virtue, those in the Mahabharata were far away from it, again with the notable exception of Prabhu Krishna. Thus, the epic provides valuable insight into human nature itself.
One thing that the Mahabharata does have in common with the Ramayana is that the war was not of the heroes’ making. It was a choice that was made for them when Draupadi’s honour was infringed upon. Every other folly of the Kauravas could be ignored but compromising the dignity of Draupadi was a step too far and there was no going back from there. Everything that happened afterwards was merely an inevitability from that moment onward. Shri Krishna did attempt, in what eventually turned out to be a futile endeavor, to prevent the war when he asked the Kauravas for five villages for the Pandavas. But it is difficult to assume how even that could have brokered lasting peace between the two factions as Duryodhana considered the sons of Pandava to be an existential threat.
Without delving deeper, we can safely say that in Mahabharata, just as in Ramayana, war ensued because principles of Dharma were violated and Adharma reigned supreme in the land. The most significant part of the Mahabharata, which critics of Hinduism consider to be its most problematic aspect and see as justification for violence, is the Bhagavad Gita where Shri Krishna urges Arjuna to go to war. In his discourse, of which Arjuna was the sole recipient, Krishna exhorts the Pandava to go to War as it was his Dharmic duty and Dharma demanded that he wage war against the very people he loved so dearly as they had chosen to side with the forces of Adharma. Of course, no one in the Epic apart from Shri Krishna was perfect but it fell upon them to ensure that Dharma prevailed upon the forces of Adharma.
Thus, the overarching narrative of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana is that when Dharma is threatened, war becomes imperative. Of course, then it becomes of paramount importance to understand what Dharma means and how it is different from ‘religious war’.
First and foremost, Dharma is not religion and therefore, Dharmayuddha is not a religious war. Dharma is not mere diktats of Gods, it is the eternal law of the universe under which the cosmos functions. It is the ‘Natural Law’. Therefore, Dharmayuddha, unlike religious war, is not waged over someone’s private beliefs but actions which are gross violations of basic morality and which go against the natural law of the cosmos themselves. It is important to remember that Rama did not go to war against Ravana because he disagreed with Ravana’s personal beliefs and the Pandavas did not go to war because the Kauravas’ actions were not consistent with that of the sons of Pandava. The wars occurred because the respective antagonists in the Epics violated the natural order of things.
Thus, while religious wars are fought over private religious beliefs on individuals, Dharmayuddha is waged over violations of the Natural Law. It is important to note that the Kauravas and the Pandavas shared the exact same religious beliefs and worshipped the same Gods. Ravana himself was a devotee of Bholenath. Shri Krishna urged Arjuna to crush the Kauravas knowing fully well that it will lead to innumerable deaths because Kauravas violated the Natural Law by denying the Pandavas their birthright and dishonouring Draupadi. It is completely different from religious wars where adherents are urged to wage war because a particular god is jealous that he is not the only one being worshipped.
As for whether violence is a solution, only the utterly naive and fools believe it is not. Our entire justice system is based on the premise of punishment and reformation which is again predicated on the use of force. Law and Order in any society are maintained by the threat of violence. And in our heart of hearts, all of us know that violence under certain circumstances is perfectly justified. That is why we have the Death Penalty as punishment for certain crimes. And the Police and the Army are authorized to engage in violence to ensure certain outcomes. More personally, an overwhelming majority of us would agree that rapists ought to be castrated and tortured and put to death without batting an eyelid. There are certain other violent crimes for which an overwhelming majority of us would agree that such violent punishment is perfectly justified.
For Yechury to equate Dharmayuddha with religious war only demonstrates the poor understanding of our Sacred Texts that Communists have. Of course, Hindus can be violent but that point can be made without dragging the Mahabharata and the Ramayana through the mud. That he chose to do so only exposes his ignorance and utter lack of respect for the Hindu Faith.