How strange! If that is what you’re thinking, then you’re at the right place. If not, but you are a Bengali or know Bengalis (which of course you do!), even then you’re at the right place.
To get the language itch out of the way, during the time of Shri Ram, my opinion is that he would’ve spoken in Sanskrit which is known as “Dev Bhasha” (loosely interpreted as “Language of the Immortal Beings”), if one considers his godly existence. If one considers him as the human incarnation of Lord Vishnu, then he would’ve probably spoken in Prakrit which is known as “Manhushya Bhasha” (loosely interpreted as “Language of the Mortals”). Either ways, he wouldn’t have spoken in Bengali (oh dear!), but thankfully, he would’ve neither spoken in Hindi, Bhojpuri, or Gujarati, to the relief of Garga Chatterjee and the unschooled followers of Bangla Pokkho, who are fighting people of their own land.
If the above remark is believed to be true by many Bengalis (I sincerely hope not!), I wonder why the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) collected soil and water from famous temples, pilgrimage sites and rivers all across the country including West Bengal, for the “bhoomi pujan” or “foundation ceremony” which was performed at the site of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on 5th August 2020. Among the various places included from West Bengal were, water from the confluence of Saraswati, Kunti and Hooghly rivers at the Triveni in Hooghly District as well as from the Hooghly River near the Iskcon Temple at Mayapur, not to forget soil from Dakshineshwar Temple on the eastern bank of the River Hooghly, or from the temple of Kapil Muni at Sagar Island in the Bay of Bengal, as well as from the famous Kalighat Temple in Kolkata. Ironically, the last temple mentioned is located near the poverty-stricken residence of the current Chief Minister of the State, who clamps random lockdowns everyweek, as part of the well-known “Trick the Virus” formula with which the State has been managing Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Ms. Banerjee’s colleague Bhaskar from the Trinamool Congress (as appeared in a debate on Calcutta News a few days before the Bhoomi Pujan), seemed to have joined others like Garga Chatterjee, to make sure that Bengal remembers it has nothing to do with a non-Bengali Ram since “ram patha” is a colloquial term used by Bengalis, to refer to brainless people. It is quite possible, that this hatred finds its roots in one of the most famous works of Bengali literature, by a poet known as Michael Madhusudan Dutta, in his work “Meghnad Badh Kavya”. In this literary work, Dutta described the demise of Meghnad, the son of Ravana, reversing the portrayal of the hero and the villain, and presenting the efforts of the “Rakshasa” clan’s resistance valiantly, in order to beat down the pompous advancement of Ram and Lakshman with their large “monkey army”. Without dwelling further into this piece of literature which almost certifies that Ram is an outsider to Bengalis, here is what Rabindranath Tagore had to say about it.
For those who cannot read Bengali, Tagore in the above piece had criticized the epic and expressed his disappointment that Ramayana failed to leave a mark in the hearts of Bengalis. He was so hurt by this, that he also wrote about it in the first issue of the “Bharati”, which was a journal started by his family in the Bengali language, containing progressive articles and analytical discussions on everything ranging from literature to politics. He didn’t quite stop at that. He went on to express his disappointment in another book of Bengali folklore, “Lokshahityo”, where he wrote how this vilifying of Ram is unfortunate for our country as a whole. He was dismayed that even in rural Bengal, Ram and Sita couldn’t find a place at least to the extent of Radha and Krishna if not more. The people of the land that many Bengalis of today refer to as “cowbelt”, was praised by Tagore as having more courage and a superior sense of devotion towards one’s duty, as compared to Bengalis, since they accepted Ram as the God incarnate, be it at work or at war.
Moving on from Rabindranath’s analysis of this unfortunate turn of events, let us now look at a few examples of how Ram is as integral in the lives of a religious Hindu in UP, as in the life of such a person living in Bengal. Let’s begin with Bengal’s most extravagant festival, the Durga Puja, which Bengalis have forgotten is intertwined with Ram. As per the Sri Ram Panchali, popularly known as Krittivasi Ramayan, written by Krittibas Ojha, the festival is celebrated in the month of Ashwin, which is an untimely awakening of the Devi, thus called “akal bodhan”. The “Basanti Durga Puja” which happens in spring, does not have the ritual of “bodhan” as it is not “akal”, meaning that is the normal time the Devi is worshipped. However, Bengalis celebrate “Sharadiya Durga Puja” in autumn, as per the narration in the above epic, where Ram invoked the Goddess due to contingencies of his battle against Ravana. Ram performed “akal bodhan” and woke her untimely from peaceful slumber, by beginning the puja on the 6th day (Shashti) of Ashwin and the Goddess appeared before him on the 8th day (Ashtami). At the meeting point between the day of Ashtami and Navami (9th day), she entered into Ram’s weapons and gave them strength to kill Ravana on the day of Dashami (10th day). Most Bengalis, even those who aren’t religious, will vouch for the fact that they offer “pushpanjali” at least on Ashtami if not on all other days of Durga Puja, and also reserve their favourite clothes for that day.
So Durga is Bengali, but Ram isn’t. Hence Durga Puja in Ashwin month is for Bengalis, but no Ram Navami please! Even Ramkrishna Parmahansa is Bengali, which he is, given that his origins are from Kamarpukur, yet the mortal being from whom he got part of his name, is ignored. It must not be forgotten that Ramkrishna was a religious leader and saint, and in one period of his life, he worshipped Ram with the frame of mind of Hanuman, that of the ideal devotee or “bhakt” of Ram. He whose name embodies two reincarnations of Vishnu, had also conveyed, “He who is Ram, he is Krishna, he is Ramkrishna”.
Ramkrishna was a priest of the Dakshineshwar Temple, one of the many religious sites from which soil was taken for the “bhoomi pujan”, as mentioned earlier. As interesting as his association with Ram was, of equal delight is the story of the temple of which he was the guardian, as appointed by Rani Rashmoni. It was she who had established the temple on the banks of the Ganga in North 24 Parganas. “Rani” or the “Queen” was what people fondly started calling her, because of her outstanding social work and philanthropic nature, which was the result of her spiritual attitude derived from Hinduism. She was a fierce nationalist, confronted the British many a time, and was also behind the setting up of many ghats for pilgrims as well as educational institutions, showing the modern day inhabitants that faith and education can co-exist without a need to snatch each other’s place in everyday life.
Religion however, isn’t something that cuts through to many modern Bengalis these days. They scorn at anything religious especially if related to the origins of this land, i.e. Hindus, and they claim to swear by the Constitution. Let me remind them, that the work of art by the artists of Shantiniketan under the guidance of Nandalal Bose (also a Bengali) for this revered document, did not fail to depict Ramayana for Part III which speaks about the fundamental rights of all citizens.
Sadly enough, it was antagonizing to see many Bengalis disassociating themselves with the historical event of our civilization, that happened on 5th August, merely on the basis of political narratives that have been constructed strategically, with divisive intentions. If Shri Ram really had nothing to do with Bengal, then none of the above would’ve been true. In a land as vast as ours, it is natural to have different deities that resonate with different communities and families, as much as it is natural to live without any association to any deity. It is true that in the average Hindu Bengali household, Laxmi and Saraswati are more popular names while Durga and Kali retain their positions of power. It is also true that Lord Ram appeared in Bengal’s religious scene with the advent of the Bhakti movement in the 15th and 16th centuries, mainly under the leadership of Mahaprabhu Chaitanya. He is the one who coined the iconic “Hare Krishna” chant which we must not forget, also includes “Hare Ram”, and all Bengali Hindus who don’t even worship him, will have that chanted for them during their final journey to the funeral pyre. So while it was my hope that they would not play spoilsport on such a historic day for our civilization, and for those living in Bengal, they would commemorate the day by watching the bhoomi pujan ceremony to make full use of their bi-weekly lockdown, many Bengalis spent the day rebuking their UP and Bihari counterparts, declaring their higher intellectual calibre yet moral bankruptcy. Some of the inflaming jokes and posts that many such “Bengali atheists” circulated on the day looked like the ones below.
Quite strangely, I had written this article to be published in another portal on the day of 5th August. When they published it and then shared it on their Facebook page, the following message was displayed. The same even happened when I individually wrote this on my profile. Consider this – the above posts and comments for which screenshots have been attached, were not considered to be abusive, yet this article was. I would be very grateful if anyone reading this post let me know in the comments section, as to what could’ve offended Facebook because I wrote this, and which word could’ve been deemed to be abusive.
Jai Shree Ram * Jai Siya Ram