“Rama’s obedience to his father Dasratha was the ‘slavery'”: Sheldon Pollock – and an “Answer to this Allegation” by an Indian

By: Surya K (Allegation by Sheldon Pollock) and an answer by: Sai Krishna

First the allegation – distortion – in Ramayana by Sheldon Pollock:

Interpreting “Rama’s obedience to his father King Dasaratha”

As the “slavery, just like slaves in ancient Rome”

Sheldon Pollock’s version:

Source book is:

“Ramayana of Valmiki (Vol. 2) Ayodhyakana – An Epic of Ancient India” by Sheldon I. Pollock

Excerpts from Pages 20-22:

For Rama represents a comprehensive model of behavior, enacting in particular two roles that encompass communal life in its totality. After Rama’s banishment Kaushalya exclaims to Dasaratha:If only Rama could have lived at home though it meant begging in the city streets!  You had the freedom to grant such a boon, which at the worst had made my son a slave. (38.4)

The verse directs our attention to an important aspect of Rama’s status: his absolute heteronomy.

The status of junior members of the Indian household was, historically, not very dissimilar to that of slaves (as was the case in ancient Rome), both with respect to the father and, again, hierarchically among themselves.

The image of Rama’s bondage is enhanced by the fact that he is obliged to pay a debt that devolves upon him with the death of his father.

More generally, like the slave, Rama is “not his own master, he is subordinate to others and go where he wishes,” as an early Buddhist text defines the condition of slavery.

On this level of signification, where Rama’s position is one of unqualified subservience to the will of his master, the relations that has come to characterize the social formation can be understood.

As Lakshmana and Bharata submit to Rama (“I am your servant,” says Lakshmana to Rama 20.35;  “I am your slave,” says Bharata 97.12), and as Rama himself submits and suffers (“the King [my] master is exercising his authority … over me,” 21.17), so all the orders of society are to recognize and observe the strict boundaries of hierarchical existence.

This is not something that the poet is content merely to suggest.

It is explicitly enunciated: “as I myself have shown you,” Rama tells the people of Ayodhya, explaining the example he is setting, “you must obey your master’s order” (40.9).

Rama’s behavior is a paradigm to which all subordinates must conform.

Where his status might seem to be different is in his apparent freedom to choose to obey: But this freedom is illusory, conjured by the poet only to dismiss it; it is precisely such freedom that Rama himself denies: “it is not within my power to defy my father’s bidding” (18.26); “I cannot defy my father’s injunction” (18.35).

He acts, in fact, as if he had no choice, without deliberation, “without questioning my father’s word” (16.37).

His obedience as unreflective action holds as much interest for the poet as its justification – indeed more, for the latter is consistently minimized.

On another socially symbolic level, where Rama’s filial relationship with the king is brought into prominence, the relations obtaining in the political organization at large are grasped.

According to the paternalistic formulation of the text, the people are the prajah, the “children” of the king.  The institutionalization of dependency and loyalty would appear to be a major precondition for the centralization of power; a basic problem, especially in the period of consolidation, is how to incorporate and manage the more traditional local allegiances.

The mediating expression of a higher yet recognizable unity, the broadly integrating and richly allusive image of the state as family and the king as father would do this effectively – perhaps even more effectively than the ascription of divine status to the king (which, as shall see in Book Three, likewise plays a significant role in the ideology of the poem).

For the king comes to represent a superior kinship bond, drawing on and incorporating the symbolic power of those that had previously been dominant.

The deeper resonances of “father” in the following verses would have been perceptible to any Indian audience “on the streets and highways of Ayodhya”.

There is no greater act of righteousness than this: obedience to one’s father and doing as he bids. (16.48). It is this that is my duty on earth, and I cannot shirk it. Besides, no one who does his father’s bidding ever comes to grief. (18.31). As long as Kakutstha lives, my father and lord of the world, he must be shown obedience, for that is the eternal way of righteousness. (21.10). Both you and I must do as father bids.

He is king, husband, foremost guru, lord, and master of us all. (21.13). My father keeps to the path of righteousness and truth, and I wish to act just as he instructs me.  This is the eternal way of righteousness. (27.30).

Thus the ideological dimension of the Ayodhyakanda comprises two principal components.

Actual relations of subordination, on the one hand, and the identification of “state” and more localized political interests, on the other, can no longer be recognized as having a determinate and historical character; the one is now in every sense natural and inevitable; the other, an inextricably genetic bond.

Social subordination and political domination now become “the eternal way of righteousness” and the ultimate horizon of possibility for human life.

They thus acquire a heightened value, which in turn promotes their continued reproduction.

Reply to Sheldon Pollock by Sai Krishna

And, now, an answer to this intentional distortion:
I have not read Pollock’s version, but read Ramayana in Telugu and Sanskrit. 
Pollock’s interpretation of Ayodhya Kanda fails when one reads the same sarga he discusses fully.
Dasaratha orders Rama to kill him and take over the kingdom as the rightful heir to the Kosala kingdom.
Rama, refuses , obviously and reasons splendidly with Dasaratha that it is his duty to keep his father’s honor and he cannot do anything that nullifies Dasaratha’s promise to Kaikeyi. 
Yes Rama disobeys Dasaratha for the greater upholding of Dharma.
In the same Ayodhya Kanda, last sarga, Rama once again instructs Sumantha , the minister of Ayodhya who is charioting Rama, Lakshmana and Sita to the banks of Ganga to ignore Dasaratha’s pleas to stop. He explicitly tells Sumantha to tell Dasaratha once he is back in Ayodhya that he could not be heard in the cacophony around. 
Once again Rama places the greater Dharma above obeying the king and his father.
Pollock ignores this part: “I cannot but fulfill my father’s promise
in letter and spirit”
It is not his father’s command, but his fathers promise to his mother that he wants to uphold.
From here:
eternal way of righteousness”

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Santanu Dey
    Feb 07, 2016 @ 15:19:24

    God knows when or if at all a time will come when the true history of our Indian civilization will be under the control of nationalistic Indians (not Indian Sepoys/sickularists). That will be the day we would have won our true independence – August 15, 1947 was just a change of guard from the colonialists to their agents who have ravaged India and its prestige for almost 60 out of the last nearly 70 years. Hope and pray those guys never get the power back to rule over our fortune and play with our future.



  2. Trackback: Pollock’s dirty tactics – Dharma Consciousness

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