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Leela: An Exhibition on the Ramayana Tradition

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Item Code: UBE552
Author: Molly Kaushal
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Centre For The Arts
Language: English
Edition: 2022
ISBN: 9789391045425
Pages: 152 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details 12.00 X 8.50 inch
Weight 890 gm
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Book Description

Ramayana is considered to be the epic of all epics. It arose out of deep compassion of poet Valmiki, the adi kavi; and his quest for an ideal man, perfect in all respects. Who else but Maryada Purushottam Shri Rama could be the hero of an epic that aspired to depict the most ideal; and the most ethical of the values the human race strives for? He is the ideal son, ideal brother, ideal husband and ideal king. However, story of Shri Ramachandra is not only about an ideal man. He is the supreme divine principle, a synthesis of both saguna and nirguna Brahman. It was the Adhyatma Ramayana. first, and then Ramcharitmanas that underlined this aspect of Shri Rama. Tulsidas' bhakti kavya, the Ramcharitmanas, written in the Awadhi dialect made the story of Shri Rama accessible to all strata of the society. Tulsidas' text, however served not only the religious and spiritual aspirations of the Indian people but became a motivating force to look for an ideal society based on values of justice, equality and freedom. Ramcharitmanas presented a vision for an ideal and just society; an ideal political system to aspire for. It laid the foundations for the concept of ideal rule the Ramrajya. Ramcharitmanas became an ideal text for the Indian nationalists to mobilize. the masses against the colonial rule. The concept of Swaraj was envisioned as Ramrajya, which became the cry of the masses under the yoke of an alien rule. The imagery of Bharat Mata in shackles reminded people of Sitaji's captivity by Ravana.

The story of Shri Rama spread far and wide; adopted, adapted and made own by communities cutting across boundaries of caste, religion, race and regions. Bhakti saints spread the Rama story far and wide. The country's physical landscape came to be defined in terms of sacred locations, Shri Rama and other characters of the epic journeyed through. Rama's van gaman provided a basis for turning local geographies into socio-cultural and religious landscapes. Ramayana characters became sons, daughters, sons in-law and nephews of village communities; passionately loved, revered and remembered. Apart from the well-known story of the Ramayana, the folk created new songs, entire cycles of sanskar geet, sung at birth, marriage and death ceremonies; legends, ballads and their own versions of the epic. Rama's name was the only truth to be known, to be told and heard Mahatma Gandhi who was deeply influenced by Ramcharitmanas described the name of Rama as the highest truth and the saviour "Though my reason and heart long ago realized the highest attribute and name of God as Truth, recognize Truth by the name of Rama. In the darkest hour of my trial, that one name has saved me and is still saving me" and further " To me... Rama, described as the Lord of Sita, son of Dasharatha, is all powerful essence, whose name, inscribed in the heart, removes all suffering- mental, moral and physical"

Ramayana not only serves as the perennial source of spiritual and religious discourse in the subcontinent but also impacted the growth of literature and artistic creativity in the most meaningful way. Not just the oral and the written literary heritage, sculptural art, music, dance, drama and painting, but all forms of creativity, arts and crafts came under the sway of Ramayana theme. Regional Ramayanas began to enrich the already vast canvas of Ramayana literature: Kamba Ramayana in Tamil, Adhyatma Ramayana in Malayalam, Madhava Kandali's Ramayana in Assamese, Krittibasa's Ramayana in Bangla, Ekanatha's Ramayana in Marathi, Torve Ramayana in Kannada, Biswanath Khuntia's Vichitra Ramayana in Odia are just a few examples of this rich heritage in regional languages.


Lila in Indian thought is seen as an act of creative playfulness of the Supreme Brahman who indulges in it without any motive or desire. The word lila is therefore often translated as divine sport or play. The term lila is also associated with the descent of the Supreme Brahman on earth as an avatar, out of compassion for his devotees. He descends whenever and wherever his devotees are tormented by evil and demonic forces, and when dharma is on decline and adharma on increase, as stated by Shri Krishna in the Gita. Goswami Tulsidas in his Ramcharitmanas repeats the same sentiment:

Whenever dharma is on decline and evil and demonic forces rise Manifesting Himself in different forms, the Lord rids devotees of their pain.

In the Vaishnava Bhakti tradition, lila is also associated with another aspect that of lila-anukarana and lila-smarana, which means to remember the Lord by constantly repeating the name and deeds of the lila-vibhuti or the avatar-purusha. This also includes enacting or staging of lila-charita of the Lord. It is no ordinary remembrance but amounts to complete emotional identification with the beloved Lord. Witnessing the lila of the Lord being staged can also lead to a heightened state of spiritual ecstasy, where the devotee experiences the actual presence of the Lord, obtains a direct vision of him, unhindered and unveiled. Here the performance transcends to become a presence. Lila-anukarana, lila-smarana and lila-darshana open the door to the experiencing of divine bliss. In this heightened state of spiritual ecstasy the potentiality to attain salokya (entering the abode of God), samipya (attaining nearness to God), sarupya (attaining likeness of God), and sayujya (attaining unity with God) is always present. Rasa- anubhuti (aesthetic experience) and brahmasvada (tasting the Supreme bliss) are used in the context of the experience that a devotee goes through while absorbed in lila-smarana and lila-anukarana. The former is understood to be temporary as the viewer after experiencing the bliss (ananda) returns to the world of names and forms whereas the latter experience transcends all dualities to experience the transcendent. The mystical experience is real and a permanent state and that is the difference between the two states.

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