Ramayana as a panorama of psychological analysis

Highlights

Ramayana as a panorama of psychological analysis. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with their mega-canvas of story and maze of characters and situations, are a researcher’s delight for they promise a perennial cornucopia of perceptions, dimensions and possibilities.

In ‘Ramayana: A Timeless Odyssey in Psychology,’ Dr K Aruna Vyas has identified and analysed the psychological insights through an epitomised narration of the story in an engaging manner.

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, with their mega-canvas of story and maze of characters and situations, are a researcher’s delight for they promise a perennial cornucopia of perceptions, dimensions and possibilities. The inexhaustible interest in them is due to their universality of human nature and emotions. The construction of these epic poems has thus a psychological foundation.

In the hands of a great creative artist, the portrayal is always natural and psychologically justifiable. While the general rung of readers tend to focus on the action part and its thrill, keen readers and scholars take pains to read between the lines to identify the psychological elements that determine the personal and interpersonal behaviour. It demands an appreciable level of knowledge of psychology and its theories to probe the mental substrata of the characters. Fulfilling this prerequisite, the writer, Aruna Vyas, has undertaken the study – ‘Ramayana: A Timeless Odyssey in Psychology’. She has identified and analysed the psychological insights not in fragments but through an epitomised narration of the story, in an engaging manner.

The characters in Valmiki’s Ramayana “are not stereotyped but exhibit verve and enthusiasm. They are thinking individuals... Valmiki does not portray his characters in all white or total black. His characters are sometimes grey... Valmiki creates Rama as a human being and as a man of flesh and blood, but endowed with divine virtues...” The aspiration and perseverance of man to evolve into a flawless and noble soul synchronises with the Indian ethos of placing virtue at a premium as against vice, which is why Swami Vivekananda says man is potentially divine, and Aurobindo talks of the concept of superman.

The Ramayana expresses “human sentiments in human language” and “Even where the agency is supernatural the dialogue is level with life,” to borrow Dr Johnson’s words vis-a-vis Shakespeare. In fact, the very opening of the Ramayana is embedded in a psychological setting, explicates Aruna. She proves that psychological sapience is not something new to India. Long before Western psychology was born, sage Bharata, “Our own great indigenous psychologist and psychoanalyst, classified emotions systematically and designated them in his Natya Sastra.”

Distraught with the consternating devastation of Lanka by a mere monkey (Hanuman), Ravana seeks the ‘scientific’ counsel of his lieutenants, though his innate craving is for their unqualified eulogy of him. When Vibhishana, unlike the other demon leaders, advises him against war by returning Sita to Rama; the demon king, overtaken by his hubris, megalomania and narcissism, rubbishes and alienates his own brother. Ravana’s attitude and reaction are in line with the nature of autocrats who attract only toadies. This is in sharp contrast to how Dasaratha, intending to crown Rama as prince regent, scrupulously takes recourse to hierarchical and wider consultations in a democratic and objective manner. The way Manthara manages to influence and instigate an essentially good natured Kaikeyi uncovers her crafty psychology of sniffing at and manipulating the subtle palace politics.

The way Hanuman, on his reconnaissance mission, behaves and speaks, conflagrates Lanka on an avoidable provocation, and finally resorts to a cool and self-chastising introspection is a great study in psychology, bringing into relief his qualities of head and heart as well as his basic instinct of simian caprice.

Ahalya’s willing surrender to the amorous advances of Indra betrays the “mental proclivities, concealed under the layers of the mind” which “come to the fore when provoked by powerful circumstances.” In addition to this momentary weakness of lust, Aruna traces the various forms of love stalking the story – ethereal and permanent (as between Rama & Sita), libidinous (as between Dasaratha & Kaikeyi), animal love (as displayed by Vali and Sugriva), smother love (as of Dasaratha toward Rama), demonic (Surpanakha’s for Rama, and Ravana’s for Sita), the last one being criminalization of love in modern terminology.

How excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures blunts one’s commitment to duty is exemplified by the conduct of Sugriva who, after becoming king on Vali’s elimination by Rama, forgets his word about finding Sita. The mood of Sugriva who has long been dispossessed of royal comforts is psychologically logical. It is only after Lakshmana gets furious that Sugriva deputes his army chiefs and commands them to bring the tidings of Sita within a stipulated time, the element of time being a managerial factor.

The way the sages feel very pleased by presenting simple gifts like a pitcher and tree-bark to Lava and Kusa on listening to their ballad stems from their mental makeup due to their austere living and dwelling in the forest. The minute care that the royal priest Vasishtha takes of the hospitality extendable to various levels of guests at Dasaratha’s Aswa medha ritual by monitoring the attendants is an objective lesson in social psychology.

And what Viswamitra teaches Rama and Lakshmana in the “deep jungle infested with demons and wild animals” is nothing but “a mental health insurance” in the shape of “fear tolerance” and “frustration tolerance” against life’s lurking hazards, in the parlance of modern psychology.

Apart from looking at the epic on the touchstone of psychology, the writer draws appropriate parallels and contrasts with the characters and situations in the Western classics and literature.

Aruna deserves a personal tribute. When two decades ago while at the prime of his career her husband was killed (like the male of the loving curlew pair in Ramayana), she overcame the trauma by sheer grit and devotion. Already a master of English literature, she braved the adversity by doing her PG and PhD in Sanskrit literature and also by authoring six published books. A product of her academic objectivity and divine devoutness, this illumining book testifies to her competence and multi-disciplined erudition.

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