In the quest for Rama

V.A.K. Ranga Rao

In the quest for Rama
Malladi Ramakrishna Sastri pointed out the path and Arudra whipped me along, with corrections, suggestions, and yes, admonitions. Many other men too, authorities in their fields, led me up to a higher storey. If women of such stature took me to be an intellectual dwarf and were kind, that was vatsalyam (fondness), the men were impressed by my curiosity and honest admission of ignorance, that was karunyam (compassion).

All I knew about the Ramayana when young was through stories in school texts and the films I saw in Telugu and two in Hindi—Prakash Pictures’ engaging Ram Rajya (Bharatanatyam Kamala is seen as a child dancing in this) and enthralling Bharat Milap. Incidentally the former was the first film to be dubbed into Tamil from Hindi (by AVM). Tulsidas’s Sriramachandra kripalu bhajamana as a chorus is the title music in Ram Rajya and in Tamil it is Arunachala Kavi’s Enakkunnirupadam from the Ramanatakam (sung by D.K. Pattammal).

A serious interest was ignited by the series of ballets (nritya natakam) staged under the aegis of Kalakshetra by Rukmini Devi. I reviewed some of them for the Indian Express. In this, the help of Bhagavatula Seetarama Sarma was considerable. On the Kalakshetra staff, he was a treasure trove of music, dance and Sanskrit and was my Golden Fleece. The extent of my Sanskrit knowledge was limited to Meghairmeduramambaram, the first sloka in Geeta Govindam. Despite this, Sarma patiently explained the slokas. Out of the twenty or so I imbibed from him, I found Na ham janami kundale most memorable and poignant. While being abducted by Ravana, Seeta ties up some of her jewellery in a bundle (not all, as her tiara—choodamani—is with her to be given to Hanuman in Asokavana) and drops it while over Rishyamuka. Sugreeva shows them to Rama and asks whether he can identify them. Rama tells Lakshmana, “My eyes are blurred with tears. Can you say if they are Seeta’s?” His reply: “I know not her earrings or armbands but I do recognise her anklets, made familiar by my daily namaskaram to her feet”… read more