Was Sri Ram Casteist?

Was Sri Ram Casteist?

‘Hi VR! There has been a group on social media claiming that Sri Ram was casteist and that he killed some bloke called Shambuka just because he was from a lower caste and was studying the Veda. Is that true? Was Sri Ram a casteist?’ asked Maanav in a concerned tone. ‘Well, Maanav, I cannot tell you whether or not he was casteist but I can tell you the facts from the Ramayana, you can draw your own conclusions from it.’ ‘That’s cool VR. Tell me about this Shambuka.’

‘The story of Shambuka appears in the Uttar-kaand of Ramayan. A brahmin comes wailing to Sri Ram’s court carrying the corpse of his young son. He says that the untimely death of a subject can only take place if there is adharma happening in the kingdom and being the King, it is Sri Ram’s responsibility to stop such things. Sri Ram immediately calls upon the council of advisors. Rishi Narada then explains that there is an evil-minded person born as a Shudra who is performing austerities that he is not supposed to. The death of Brahmana’s son was due to that. However, if Sri Ram can put an end to this, then the child will come back to life. Sri Ram asked Lakshmana to preserve the boy’s corpse in certain oils and fragrances to prevent it from decaying and rushed to find this person.

After searching all over his kingdom he finally finds out this person who is performing severe austerities. Sri Ram introduces himself and asks him for his introduction. The man calls himself Shambuka and says that he is indeed a shudra. He also says that he is performing these austerities with the intention of reaching heaven in his physical body and that he wishes to conquer the kingdom of Gods. Sri Ram immediately draws his sword and kills him. The young boy is brought back to life. This is the story of Shambuka as it appears in Valmiki Ramayana.’

‘Well, so the part of Sri Ram killing him just because he is a Shudra is correct?’, asked a shocked Maanav. ‘Not exactly. Sri Ram did not kill him simply because he was a Shudra but because he was performing austerities that were bringing harm to his subjects. Also, the desire to reach heaven in physical form is an improper one and the austerities for the same bring disastrous results. Shambuka had been warned not to engage in these yet he was doing so. Even Sri Ram’s ancestor Trishanku, who was an illustrious king, was not granted the boon to go to heaven in his physical form.’ ‘So, you mean it was for his wrong action that he was killed and not just for his varna?’ ‘He was performing things that he was not qualified to do and for the wrong reasons. Hence, he was punished. If an unqualified person decided to build a nuclear reactor to start a war with another country, what would the government do?’ asked VR. ‘Oh! when you put it that way, it makes sense. But the caste factor still bothers me! Maybe all this was an excuse to simply put a person of a lower varna down?’

“In Ramayana, Guha, Shabari, and even Valmiki himself belonged to the Shudra varna. Sri Ram embraced Guha as his brother, treated Shabari with great love, and Valmiki Rishi as a Guru. In all these cases, Sri Ram did not discriminate against any of them due to their varna. Ravana himself belonged to an illustrious kula but was killed by Raama when he became adharmic.’

‘Hmm, you make some compelling points, VR. I think people are so used to seeing bias in everything that they start seeing it in things where none exist. Thanks a lot, VR for the clarifications.’

‘Happy to be of use, Maanav. Until we meet again, thank you for using Ramayana Reboot!’

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Chinmaya Udghosh