Ramlila, Durgapuja and Hindi Movies

#1 Sep 28th, 2005, 12:29
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  • Paagla Dashu is offline
Once upon a time, there was an old king. He had three wives and four sons. One day he sent his eldest son away in exile, to make one of the wives happy. In the time-honored Indian tradition, the son did not make any fuss and quietly left the country with his wife and his devoted younger brother to live in the forest.

Life should have been simple in the forest. But as in any good bollywood film, there were bad people living in a nearby island. One day, the king of the bad guys kidnapped the prince’s wife. The prince and his brother were by then good friends with the local monkeys. Together they built a bridge over the troubled waters, fought a heroic battle against the bad guys, killed the main villain and rescued the queen. Good won over evil and they all lived happily ever after.

That is the story of Ramlila. The moral of the story? Life is black and white, one is either good or evil, good wins over evil in the end and everybody lives happily ever after.

Fast forward to the seventies. Modern versions of Ramlila are played in theatres across the country. They are called Hindi movies now.

An honest man is living a happy life in a small town with his wife and children. Enter the bad guys, who for one reason or another hate the honesty of the poor man and kill him. Mother runs with the children but loses them somewhere. One of the boys grows up, as the adopted child of a rich man while the other becomes a thief with a conscience. The mother normally carries bricks in a construction site and then mysteriously disappears for the rest of the film before reappearing on the scene fifteen minutes before the film ends. The rich brother normally becomes a police inspector and becomes obsessed with chasing his younger brother (only he does not know that they are brothers) but somehow during car chases and dancing with their girls both of them realize that they are on the side of the good. Then they unite together (helped by the mother who tells them what everybody else knew all along) and fight the bad guy (who is by now running an International Crime Syndicate from an exotic place) and kill him to take revenge.

Everybody knows who the good guys are. The bad guys are painfully obvious, as is the ending. Good wins over evil and everybody lives happily ever after.

Simple life. Simple philosophy. Simple principle.

Everything is either Black or White. Every person is either Good or Bad. Every idea is either Right or Wrong. Everyone is either with us or against us.

In the end, Good always wins. And everybody lives happily ever after.

What happens when the mindset of a billion people is conditioned by such a simple way of looking at life? Does life always work out that way? Are there clear winners and clear losers in life? Does everybody really live happily ever after?


Of course, life is not that simple. I wish it were. But it was not meant to be.

That is why Rama sends his wife away in exile under pressure from his people. That is why in some of the recent films the traditional bad guys do not look all that bad anymore. All of a sudden the bad guys also appear to be human beings with families and hopes and fears while the good guys do not look milk-white either.

What then the public is supposed to do? What are they supposed to believe in? All of a sudden, life as we knew it, is starting to look different. When we expect people to fight out differences between themselves and the battle ending with one of them emerging as winners, we are told to accept the idea that in fact nobody lost and nobody won.

What? How can that be? That’s almost cheating. We have not paid good money to get cable TV with 39 news channels, Internet connection that gives access to 157 web sites, 2137 discussion forums and 593 blogsites and then buy every newspaper to be told that nobody has been hanged. We want to see blood. We want to know who is right and who is wrong. We want to be assured that the bad guys have lost.

Surprisingly, the ancient Indian culture looked at life in a different way. Anyone who has been to Bali must have seen that the predominantly Hindu island is dotted with temples and at the door of every temple, there are statues of temple guardians. On special occasions (which seems to be every day somewhere in Bali), the priests wrap a special piece of cloth around the waist of the temple guardians and they wear it themselves as well. I was curious when I first saw this black and white checkered cloth everywhere, in every temple. When I asked what it was and the reason for the particular combination of black, white and gray checks (where the black and the white threads overlap each other), I learnt a fascinating aspect of ancient Hindu philosophy. The colour white represents the good and the colour black represents evil (simple – no points for guessing) and the colour gray represents the way of life. The way of life that accepts plurality as a fundamental reality, that recognizes that either good or evil cannot exist without the other and in fact most things in life are combinations of good and bad.

Let’s take another look at the Ramayana story. Sita (Rama’s wife) was the child of mother earth and she represented fertility. Ravana was in fact an attendant of Lord Vishnu (of whom Rama was one of the incarnations) who was given a punishment of ten lives on earth. Vishnu had told him, however, that every time he was born, Vishnu would also take birth (to share the pain and the experience) and help him to free himself from the life on earth. Ravana ruled Lanka, which was a city of Gold, but the land was barren.

Ravana kidnapped Sita. Not because he fancied her, but to bring fertility to Lanka. When Rama was fighting Ravana, he just could not kill him because Ravana had the blessing of immortality from Lord Brahma. So, Rama had to invoke Devi Durga in Ashwin (unusual time for the Devi’s worship – that’s why Durgapuja is also known as “Akaal Bodhan” – untimely worship). But Rama was a khsatriya and could not be the priest himself. He had to request Ravana, the only Brahmin in the area, to be the priest. Ravana agreed to be the priest, being a true Brahmin, even though he knew fully well that Rama was invoking the goddess to find out how to kill Ravana!

When and where did we forget the whole story? When did we lose a balanced perspective on life? What happened to people who are inheritors of this great philosophical heritage that they started to look at life simply in black or white?

It is time we started telling our children the full stories – both from the past and the present. It is time we started to teach our children that life is never black or white. It is time that we start to recognize shades of gray and the fact that it is the gray areas that are the strongest joints in the fabric of our society. It is time we learnt that maturity is learning to look at and appreciating both sides of a story.

Food for thought before I sign off:

“Life does not turn out the way it should. It does not turn out the way it should not, either.

Life turns out the way it does.”
(Tracy Goss in “The Last Word on Power”)
#2 Sep 28th, 2005, 14:08
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Originally Posted by Paagla Dashu .... That is the story of Ramlila. The moral of the story? Life is black and white, one is either good or evil, good wins over evil in the end and everybody lives happily ever after..... Food for thought before I sign off:

“Life does not turn out the way it should. It does not turn out the way it should not, either.

Life turns out the way it does.”
(Tracy Goss in “The Last Word on Power”)
pagla - you are great. you have given a wonderful insight into what epics are all about. people in the olden days had to be influenced in a language they understood and could readily grasp.

the tradition continues even today - that is why bollywood and tv channels survive.

youth of today know harry potter better than our own stories of thakur maar jhuli.
mooning over a moon journey

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