SPOTLIGHT

Ram Lalla and the infantilisation of Hinduism

Published : Jan 22, 2024 17:43 IST - 7 MINS READ

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers prayers before the idol of Ram Lalla during the consecration rituals at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers prayers before the idol of Ram Lalla during the consecration rituals at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22. | Photo Credit: PTI

There is no evidence of Ram Lalla in Hindu mythology. It was created by the RSS and VHP to wage a war against Muslims for real or imagined injustices.

The deity of Ram Lalla has been consecrated in the sanctum sanctorum of the incomplete Ram temple in Ayodhya, which is still under construction on the land usurped judicially after the illegal demolition of the Babri Masjid. This was made possible because the Supreme Court accepted the ownership of Ram Lalla over the land on which the Babri Masjid stood.

One of my acquaintances, a serious Ram devotee, told me that he has been worshipping Ram all his life but that he has never encountered any godly entity named Ram Lalla. Who then is the one whose statues are consecrated?

Who is Ram Lalla Virajman?

The guardians and friends of Ram Lalla, the perpetual minor, laid claim to the entire land that once belonged to the Babri Masjid. These “guardians” of the minor Ram turned out to be affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The present patron of Ram Lalla is Champat Rai, who has been an office-bearer of the VHP and is at present the general secretary of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra. Before his guardians claimed that the land belonged to Ram Lalla, it was the Nirmohi Akhara that had presented a claim of ownership on its own behalf. The figure of Ram Lalla entered the case very late in the day.

It has now been declared and accepted that the owner of the land is Ram Lalla Virajman, but curiously there is no mention of such a persona in the tradition of Ram lore and legend except in the modern narrative forged by the VHP. How then was this claim accepted? Was it not clear to the court that under the guise of Ram Lalla, it was the VHP that was taking ownership of the land?

Also Read | An apostate’s articulation: What the grand show of the Ram mandir inauguration seeks to conceal

Before the court gave ownership of the land to Ram Lalla, should it not have asked how old the history of Ram Lalla is? Is it as old as the Babri Masjid? Who is Ram Lalla? And why is there no evidence of Ram Lalla in the long “Ram Bhakti” tradition?

The court said that despite the Babri Masjid being a mosque, the Muslim community had not been able to give evidence of prayers being offered there from the time the mosque was built until 1856-57, when the civil administration stepped in after a series of violent incidents. The site was also partitioned at the time. But if the mosque was not used for prayers, what did it function as for 500 years? Did the court need the signatures of worshippers down the years?

The top court knew it was asking an absurd question, but it did not matter because the court was trying to find an argument to oust Muslims from a site that was under their possession, as the court itself accepted, from 1856-57 to 1949, when the government declared it a disturbed site and locked the gates. Since there was ample evidence of Muslims owning the land, the court decided instead to ask the Muslims, “Yes, there was a mosque, but were you offering namaz there?”

Highlights
  • The Supreme Court may have accepted the ownership of “Ram Lalla Virajman” over the land on which the Babri Masjid stood, but there is no mention of such a persona in the tradition of Ram lore and legend.
  • Even in Ayodhya, which has many temples devoted to Ram, both residents and devotees who visit regularly say that the child form of Ram has never been worshipped anywhere earlier.
  • Ram Lalla was invented for a political purpose by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to lay claim to the Babri Masjid and wage a war against Muslims for imaginary or real historical injustices.

‘Ram Bhakti’ tradition

When the court wanted proof of namaz being offered in the mosque, it would have been appropriate for it to have asked, at the very least, for proof of the existence of Ram Lalla Virajman in the Ram Bhakti tradition.

There is no evidence of Ram Lalla in Hindu mythology because there is no tradition of worshipping the child form of Ram among Hindus. In the texts of Tulsidas, the most important of which is the Ramcharitmanas, the child form of Ram is mentioned only incidentally. You also find a reference to it in Tulsi’s Kavitavali. Compare this with the tradition of Bal Krishna or Ladoo Gopal, the form of Krishna loved and worshipped commonly across households.

In Ayodhya, both residents and devotees who visit regularly say that the child Ram is not worshipped anywhere in the town even though Ayodhya has very many temples, big and small, devoted to Ram. Neither is there any evidence of devotional songs about Ram Lalla being prevalent or popular among Hindus.

Tulsi’s “Thumak Chalath Ramachandra” is a rare verse devoted to the infant Ram, popularised as a bhajan by Anup Jalota in the 1990s, but here, too, he is not referred to as Ram Lalla. Ram is called Ram Lala only in “Ram Lala Nahchhu”, a small poem by Tulsidas. This Lala is not a child but a blushing bridegroom; Ram’s bride, Sita, is called Lali, in a tradition known to those familiar with the Hindi, Awadhi, or Braj poetic tradition. Here is how Ram Lala is mentioned:

Gavahim saba ranivasa dehim prabhu gari ho

Rama lala sakucahim dekhi mahatari ho

hilimili karata savamga sabha rasa keli ho

na’uni mana harasai sugandhana meli ho

Dulaha kai mahatari dékhi mana harasai ho

kotinha dinheu dana megha janu baradhai ho

Rama lala kara nahachü atisukha gaiya ho

jehi gaye siddhi hoi parama nidhi paiya ho

In the Bhakti movement’s tradition and scholarship, Ram does not exist in the form of Ram Lalla. The invention of Ram Lalla is thus entirely the legend-making work of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its affiliate, the VHP. It is in only the last 40 or 45 years that religious Hindus, who consider antiquity the proof of the strength and depth of any tradition, have begun to accept Ram Lalla and believe that it is ancient lore.

The Supreme Court did not feel the need to test a belief built through a political campaign spanning a mere 40-45 years that has fed the public with modern images of a minor Ram. The court declared that it did not have any way to test the faith of a community and hence would not try to do so. Is that why it gave legal status to Ram Lalla?

Faith over fact

Did the court not find it necessary to study when and why a form of Ram was created that is not mentioned anywhere in the Hindu tradition? The court did not read the texts or folk tales related to the god Ram, but chose anyway to recognise the existence of Ram Lalla.

Also Read | Editor’s Note: Ram temple and the politicisation of faith

One of the five judges on the bench wrote an addendum, anonymous like the judgment, in which the Hindu faith was cited as the basis for the legal decision. The addendum said that long before the construction of the mosque there existed a Hindu belief that Ram was born exactly on the spot where the Babri Masjid existed.

But even in this addendum, which is replete with quotes from religious texts, no proof is given of the tradition of worshipping Ram Lalla. That is probably because there was no evidence to give. Ram Lalla was invented for a political purpose, as a cover for those who wanted to lay claim to a mosque and to wage a war against Muslims for imaginary or real historical injustices.

Tulsidas uses the adjectives deendayala (the friend of the weak), kripala (the compassionate one), and kausalya hitkari (the one who thrilled Kausalya by being born her son) to describe his beloved Ram. Yet, it is the RSS and the BJP who have taken on the role of guardian of the god Ram and the protector of his interests. They have invented the new form of Ram Lalla. They have the audacity to present themselves as leading the child Ram to his birthplace. Hindus need to ask if they have completely handed themselves over to the RSS and forgotten the real Ram of their spiritual imagination. 

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University and writes literary and cultural criticism. His latest book is Muktibodh Ki Lalten.

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