From Iqbal to Gandhi, Rediscovering What Rama Means for Indians

In the Indian subcontinent, when one talks about the triumph of truth over falsehood, the story of Lord Rāma’s war in Lanka and that of Imam Husain in Karbala (Iraq) have always been a part of folklore.

Sri Ram Pattabhishekam. Oleograph by Raja Ravi Varma

Diwali, the festival that celebrates the return to Ayodhya of Lord Rama after 14 years of exile in the forest, is a good time to recall Allama Iqbal’s short poem titled ‘Ram’. Consisting of six couplets, the poem is part of his work, Bāng-e-Darā (The Call of the Marching Bell). From Iqbal in a Sufi guise it is a very special tribute to Lord Rāma:

लबरेज़ है शराब-ए-हक़ीक़त से जाम-ए-हिन्द
सब फ़लसफ़ी हैं ख़ित्ता-ए-मग़रिब के राम-ए-हिन्द।

Labrez hai sharāb-e-haqīqat se jām-e-hind
sab falsafī haiñ ḳhitta-e-maġhrib ke rām-e-hind

The cup of India is full to the brim with the wine of Truth
All the philosophers of the Western world have acknowledged India

यह हिन्दीयों के फ़िक्र-ए-फ़लक रस का है असर
रिफ़अत में आसमाँ से भी ऊँचा है बाम-ए-हिन्द।

ye hindiyoñ kī fikr-e-falak-ras kā hai asar
rif’at meñ āsmāñ se bhī ūñchā hai bām-e-hind

It is owing to the refined thinking of Indians
That India’s stature is even higher than the sky

इस देस में हुए हैं हज़ारों मलकसरिश्त
मशहूर जिनके दम से है दुनिया में नाम-ए-हिन्द।

is des meiñ hue haiñ hazāroñ malak-sarisht
mashhūr jinke dam se hai duniyā meiñ nām-e-hind

This country has seen many people of an angelic disposition
Who have made the name of India recognisable in the world

है राम के वुजूद पे हिन्दोस्ताँ को नाज़
अहले-नज़र समझते हैं इसको इमाम-ए-हिन्द।

hai rām ke vajūd pe hindostāñ ko nāz
ahle-nazar samajhte haiñ is ko imām-e-hind

India is proud of Rama’s very name
To the discerning he is Imam-e-Hind

ऐजाज़ इस चिराग़-ए-हिदायत का है यही
रोशन तर-अज़-सहर है ज़माने में शाम-ए-हिन्द।

ejaaz is charāġh-e-hidāyat kā hai yahī
raushan-tar-az-sahar hai zamāne meiñ shām-e-hind

Such is the miracle of the light of righteousness
That the Indian evening is brighter than the morning elsewhere in the world

तलवार का धनी था, शुजाअत में फ़र्द था
पाकीज़गी में, जोश-ए-मुहब्बत में फ़र्द था।

talvār kā dhanī thā shujāat meiñ fard thā
pākīzgī meiñ josh-e-mohabbat meiñ fard thā

Accomplished in sword-play, unparalleled in bravery
Matchless in purity and spirit of love

To the Sufi, eternality is haqīqat,or reality – it is the ultimate station of a Sufi wayfarer in the path of God where he visualises his Lord. Iqbal sees India’s cup brimming with the ‘eternal wine’ of truth that philosophers of the West had also partaken of in their insatiable quest. In the second line of the first couplet, rām-e-hind means follower or admirer of India – in Persian the word rām has a meaning similar to a follower or admirer. For Iqbal, India is a land of sages, seers, scholars and intellectuals; he is appreciative of  the Indian mind’s search for eternality, knowledge and wisdom. This is what, according to Iqbal, had made India’s intellectual traditions soar higher than the heavens.

Allama Iqbal

In the poem’s second couplet, Allama Iqbal uses the term hindi (i.e. dwellers of Hind or India) for Indians, unlike some motivated politicians, who owing to their illogical reasoning, call them ‘Hindu’. Allama Iqbal in his Qaumi Tarana emphasises the same: Hindi Hain Ham, Watan Hai, Hindustan Hamara (Indians we are, India is our land).
In his anthologies, Iqbal composed poems on Guru Nanak, Swami Ram Tirth, Lord Buddha, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti an
waja Nizamuddin Auliya, etc. He saw them as exemplars of piety, wisdom, syncretism, love, compassion and peace, due to whose words and deeds India’s name has been shining in the world for so long. And, more than anyone, it is the name of LordRāma that is worth mentioning. Says Iqbal, India is proud of the very name ofRāma in whom the discerning see the ‘spiritual master’ of India.

Lord Rāma exemplifies to the people of India the spirituality enshrined in Hindu scriptures and it is for that reason India is proud of Rāma, writes Iqbal. He sees in Rāma the guiding light which makes the Indian evening more luminous than the mornings elsewhere in the world – he is a warrior of truth with an unequalled dexterity in fighting  falsehood; purest of the pure, with unmatched depths of love and compassion. This is how Allama Iqbal sees  Rāma.

In the Indian subcontinent, when one talks about the triumph of  truth over falsehood, the story of Lord Rāma’s war in Lanka and that of Imam Husain in Karbala (Iraq) have always been a part of folklore. Be it the Ramlila performance or Muharram processions and majālis (mass gatherings), they reaffirm the belief of people that truth always triumphs – also that truth is always a call for peace and harmony.

If by way of traditional greeting the Muslim says as-salām-o-alaikum (may you be in peace and tranquility), the Hindu says Rām-Rām, which essentially communicates the sentiments of peace, compassion and blessing. However, Gandhi went one step further to argue that merely saying Rām-Rām would not serve the purpose of a sanatani — that ‘God’s grace shall descend on those who do His will and wait upon Him, not on those who simply mutter Rām-Rām’ (Young India, April 8, 1926).

But from the late 1980s, even the everyday uttering of Ram-Ram has given way to the political watchword of Jai Shri Ram, something Gandhi would never have accepted. He had given himself up to the spiritual essence that was the kernel of Ram-Ram, or Ram nam. How could he, who believed in a direct relationship with his lord thus, countenance Jai Shri Ram! Gandhi’s direct relationship with Rama, the epitome of truth, informed his views on Hinduism. He believed, ‘…Hinduism does not consist in eating and not eating. Its kernel consists in right conduct, in correct observance of truth and non-violence. Many a man eating meat, but observing the cardinal virtues of compassion and truth, and living in the fear of God, is a better Hindu than a hypocrite who abstains from meat.’ (Young India, April 8, 1926).

When Gandhi fell to the assassin’s bullets with the words, ‘Hey Rām’ (Oh Lord Rām!) on his lips, it was as if he was in communion with his lord, seeking only one thing – peace and compassion. It was that very LordRāma that Allama Iqbal invoked in his poem.

Muhammad Naved Ashrafi is a doctoralfellow at the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. He tweets at @NavedAshrafi.

Join The Discussion