Welcome to an enlightening conversation with the esteemed author Jaiprakash Agrawal, as we dive into the profound world of Hindu mythology and spirituality. In his latest book, “The Tulsidas Ramayana: Lessons from Hindu Mythology,” Mr. Agrawal takes us on a mesmerizing journey through the life and teachings of Sri Ram, one of the most revered figures in Hindu culture. Through this engaging interview, we will unravel the esoteric wisdom hidden within the Ramayana, offering insights into the principles of righteousness, dharma, and the pursuit of a peaceful and happy life.
1. What inspired you to delve into the Ramayana and write this book?
Answer: I have listened Tulsidas Ramayana several times in religious congregations. I have also seen many times Ramlila on stage. I am very much fascinated by the life and journey of Lord Ram and particularly Tulsidas mastery over verses in The Ramayana. The Ramayana is a sacred epic that portrays Hindu cultures and traditions and characters in The Ramayana shows us right path of livelihood and conduct in our daily life. I am a spiritual man and at the age of seventy, I thought to write my interpretations of The Tulsidas Ramayana so that people of all ages understand their roles in life and live righteously. I think that the unique perspective in this book is esoteric meaning of characterization of Ram and others in Tulsidas Ramayana. Ram is a sacred name which means divine energy or consciousness. The soul is indestructible and Ram is pure soul. Such souls come into this world to annihilate disorders in life which are pre-dominant in demon Ravan with ten heads. Desires particularly lust are destroyed by pure soul like Ram. Sita is born from earth, again a feminine energy without which Ram or male part is non-existent. The worldly desires come in the form of golden deer and lead us to distraction from God. There are several instances in The Ramayana which are narrated esoterically.
2. Tulsidas’s Ramayana is a revered classic. How did you approach the challenge of interpreting and presenting its teachings for a contemporary audience?
Answer: No doubt, The Tulsidas Ramayana is a revered classic. In your life, at some age, you are inclined towards spiritualism. Tell me, who would not be fascinated by the characters of Ramayana? Why is this epic so popular? Why is Ramlila enacted during Dussehra and people flock to see the Ramlila since a long time? The lessons from story are very much relevant for a contemporary audience particularly now as youth are engrossed in western cultures and forget their Hindu traditions. I felt the need to tell the story of Ramayana in such a way that it touches our lives and removes our confusion in day-to-day life. We are riddled with so many problems in life but do not know how to face the problems and come out of it. The Ramayana is the answer at the first instance to avoid all problems and even if these come, they can be easily tackled and overcome. The Ramayana is for all, irrespective of any religion, caste or creed. Its about our life, a human life, our roles in life and betterment of life. It’s a spiritual journey about soul and its purposeful journey in this mortal world.
3. Could you share a particular incident or aspect of Sri Ram’s journey that resonates strongly with you and that you believe holds special relevance for today’s readers?
Answer: Sure, this is the core concept of The Ramayana. The Ramayana is the description of Ram’s journey from birth to his departure to heavenly abode. Ram is the main protagonist in this classic epic but he carries along with him other characters such as his younger brothers Lakshman and Bharat, wife Sita, devotees Hanuman and Vibhishan and of course villain Ravan. The whole story revolves around Ram as he performs multi-faceted roles during his magnificent journey. Its very difficult to highlight any of his act that does not resonate with me and hold special relevance for today’s readers. His acts are magnificent. But if you ask, I may elucidate some of the acts which influence most and relevant to today’s readers. Ram’s obedience to his father and sacrifice of throne of Ayodhya teach us to be obedient to our parents and ready to sacrifice our selfish ends to fulfil our parents wish. The second aspect of Ram’s character is his true friendship irrespective of caste and class of his friend. Take for example, Guh the boatman, Sugreev the monkey king and demon Vibhishan, the brother of Ravan. His love and respect towards his friends irrespective of caste, class and status are exemplary. He is called Maryada Purushottam. Why? Because he is chaste and his character is unquestionable. He is devoted to his wife and politely refuses a proposal of marriage by demon queen Surpnakha. Character building should be our main motto in present age and we must follow monogamy in our life. Lust should not be our way of life
4. The concept of dharma is central to the Ramayana. How do you envision readers incorporating the lessons of dharma into their modern lives?
Answer: This is very relevant question and it needs thorough explanation. Dharma is essence of four pursuits of life as per Hindu conception. The rest three are wealth, desires, and liberation. The rest three revolve around Dharma which literally means righteousness. People are confused about what is right and what is wrong? What can be more relevant than portrayal of Ram’s conduct during his journey as glaring examples of dharma or righteousness? Righteousness is obedience to parents, sacrifice of self-interests over parents wish, love and respect towards your brothers, dedication towards your wife, respect towards women, true friendship, fearlessness, skill of negotiation, defeating disorders in life and many more. These all are deliberated in my book in detail along with each of Ram’s conduct as he performs different roles. He is an ideal disciple, son, brother, husband, friend, warrior, king. He dominates in every role. That is why he is called Maryada Purushottam.
5. The book discusses the secrets of a happy and peaceful life. Could you elaborate on some of these secrets and how readers might integrate them into their daily routines?
Answer: Why do we consider The Ramayana as a sacred epic? Why do we worship Ram and call him Maryada Purushottam? Why had made Ramanan Sagar’s Ramayana most loved serial in TV history? Why do we flock to see Ramlila during Dussehra? These questions answer your questions. We all want a peaceful and happy life but we do not know how to get it. In absence of this secret of knowledge to be peaceful and happy, we act against our true nature. Then we become restless and unhappy. Then, we blame God for this and visit so called holy places to alleviate our sufferings but suffer more. The Ramayana tells us the secret of peaceful and happy life. Compare the life of Ram and Ravan. Ram was in forest and living in nature with saints and discussing spiritual matters. He had no wealth, ate herbs and fruits and lived a simple life. Still, he was happy and peaceful. He had a dharmic purpose in life to weed out disorders from society. On the other hand, Ravan lived in golden palace, enjoyed comforts, captivated all angels but he was not peaceful and happy. Because Ram followed dharma in all his conduct while Ravan despite of all knowledge acted against dharma and so was fearful of Ram. He lost everything for which he was only responsible.
6. Given the diversity of readers’ cultural and religious backgrounds, how do you think your book contributes to a broader appreciation and understanding of the Ramayana’s universal themes?
Answer: The world in general and India in particular comprises diversity of cultures and religions but if you think deeply, a common thread has tied to all these cultures and religions. They are conception of one God as divine energy, universal brotherhood and spreading love and peace. Swami Vivekananda propounded a theory of universal brotherhood when he addressed World Religious Conference in Chicago in 1893 by uttering ‘My dear brothers and sisters of America.’ This is the vision of Hindu philosophy and that is what ‘The Ramayana’ teaches. The Ramayana is so popular that over three hundred versions are available especially in South Asian countries such as Burma, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China. The Ramayana is available in twenty-two languages. The Ramayana is popular because it spreads the Hindu philosophy of religious tolerance, universal love, and peace irrespective of class, creed, caste, and religion. Today, its importance has increased many times in view of universal threat of racial and religious intolerance and natural disaster due to environmental degradation. The Ramayana tells us about Ram’s victory over Ravana which implies victory of good over evil. The Ramayana tells, ‘Become Ram, not Ravana’ The king is supposed to take care of his subjects even sacrificing his own interests. Today, even we call ‘Ram Rajya’ an ideal state.
7. Can you share any future projects you have in mind? Are there other aspects of Hindu mythology or spiritual teachings you would like to explore in your writing?
Answer: Yes, I am working and researching on great Hindu epic, ‘Mad Bhagwatam.’ It is said that listening Mad Bhagwatam frees you from all sins and liberates you. King Parikshit was cursed by a sage that he would die within a week by snake bite. He was liberated by listening Mad Bhagwatam narrated by great sage Shukdeva. Mad Bhagwatam narrates incarnations of Lord Vishnu from time to time to establish dharma or righteousness and annihilate adharma or wickedness. The famous stanza in Gita indicates this. Among all incarnations, Lord Ram is central figure of The Ramayana and Lord Sri Krishna is central figure of Mad Bhagwatam. I would deal with Lord Shri Krishna Leela in part I and Mahabharata in part II. Lord Krishna’s character is different from Lord Ram. Ram focussed on his duty as a king and warrior while Sri Krishna advocated love, sacrifice, and devotion to divine as means of liberation from this worldly ocean. The Krishna Leela is very complex and often misunderstood. I would like to elaborate esoteric meaning of Lord Shri Krishna Leela and clear misunderstanding about His Leela. Mahabharat is our story and not that simple as ‘The Ramayana.’ It has got very complex narratives, a comparison between right and wrong and appropriate decision making. I hope, my book on Mad Bhagwatam in two parts, about Lord Shri Krishna and Mahabharata would open a new meaning to Shri Krishna’s Leela’s and definition of righteousness and appropriate decision making.
As we conclude this illuminating discussion with Jaiprakash Agrawal, we’ve had the privilege of exploring the depths of Hindu mythology and spirituality through the lens of his latest book, “The Tulsidas Ramayana: Lessons from Hindu Mythology.” We’ve delved into the timeless teachings of Sri Ram, Maryada Purushottam, and discovered how these lessons are as relevant today as they were in ancient times. We hope that this interview has piqued your interest in Mr. Agrawal’s work and that you embark on your own journey to uncover the secrets of a happy and peaceful life through the wisdom of Sri Ram and the Ramayana. Thank you for joining us on this enlightening expedition into the heart of Hindu mythology.