Nothing prepares you for Ayodhya.
Not even when you go there bearing in mind such lofty slokas as
अयोध्या मथुरा माया काशी कान्ची अवन्तिकापुरी द्वारावती
चैव सप्तैता मोक्षदायिका: ॥
Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya, Kashi, Kanchi, Avantika, and Dwaravati. These seven sacred cities are the bestowers of Moksha ||
Not even when you have known since childhood that this sacred geography is where Sri Ramachandra was born and spent his childhood. Not even when this is embedded in your cultural DNA. Not even when you know that the antiquity of Ayodhya is pretty much the same as that of Sanatana Dharma. Not even when you’re thrilled, recalling the beautiful Vedic verse,
अश्टाचक्रा नवद्वारा देवानाम् पुरायोध्या ।
तस्याम् हिरण्यय: कोश: स्वर्गो लोको ज्योतिषावृत: ॥
Ayodhya is that abode of the Gods that has eight ‘Chakras’ (wheels) and nine portals (doors). It has a golden sheath (vessel), which amounts to a heaven full of luminosity.
Not even when you know that Ayodhya is one of the perennial, life-giving lung spaces of Hindus. Not even when you know that Sarayu is not merely a river but a Tirtha sanctified by the long line of the kings of the Ikshvaku dynasty who bathed therein. I can go on but the gist should be obvious by now.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
A Civilisational and Cultural Reclamation
I celebrated perhaps the best ever Deepavali in my life so far.
On the sacred Ghats of the Sarayu Tirtha.
On 6th November.
The date falling on exactly a month before the epochal anniversary of the cultural and civilizational reclamation process that started in 1992. Witnessing the resplendent extravaganza as more than three hundred thousand lamps were lit in unison, the expansive radiance rekindling in me the words of Dasharatha who describes Sri Ramachandra as one who “shines like the moon together with the Pushya star” and “as the sun shines by his rays, Rama shines by his qualities that are peaceful, enchanting and delightful to men.”
That was the Ayodhya Dipotsava of 2018 offered not just to Sri Ramachandra but to the entire spiritual culture that gave birth to him. It is truly the Dipotsava offered by Hindus to themselves.
It was a reclamation of an infinitely profounder sort. Right there, within the space of a few minutes, things like “civilizational memory” and “cultural inheritance” revealed their meaning and essence in a different light—literally. With it dawned the exact power of what we call Itihasa and Purana. When you witness that I did—and almost the entire Ayodhya did—you will revisit your notions of uncritically branding the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as mythology. If it is indeed mythology, what was celebrated at Ayodhya on that day is lived (and living) mythology if there is such a thing. And you will go mute at the genius of a culture and the never-ending list of Rishis, Gurus, saints and savants who conceived it, perpetuated it, and died for its preservation.
With it, your contempt and disgust will automatically multiply when you also recall what the scores of Hindu historians, scholars, intellectuals, writers, filmmakers and pen-pushers eventually did to Ayodhya: branded it as a geography of shame on the world map. Which is precisely the reason they despise the current Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with such undisguised, aggressive vehemence. Since the day he took office, he has made no secret of the fact that he intends to undo every single destruction that they have wreaked upon the soul and psyche of the Hindus. And he has mostly acted upon his promise.
The Ayodhya Dipotsava that began in 2017 is simply another brick in the aforementioned reclamation effort. As also Yogi Adityanath restoring the name back to Prayagraj and that of Faizabad back to Ayodhya.
The entire Dipotsava was truly stunning in the flawless manner in which it was managed and executed right up to the grand finale. Akin to military precision. With an army of volunteers of all hues, mostly students. One can only imagine the kind of backbreaking effort that goes behind arranging the earthen lamps in neat rows and elegant formations on the steps of the Ghats and at strategic enclosures all along the Sarayu Nadi: three hundred thousand of them. And then the troupes that performed a very moving tableau of the Ramayana. One can only speculate as to the sort of patience, preparation and coordination needed to pull this off successfully in one go.
We also need to extend our cultural gratitude to Dr. Manoj Dixit, Vice Chancellor of Avadh University at Lucknow who conceived, oversaw and executed this grand event.
Let’s look at this from another perspective.
It is one thing to organize something on this scale and it is entirely another to draw thousands upon thousands of people to volunteer, participate, and sit patiently throughout, till the very end. They were actually disappointed that the celebration didn’t go on throughout the night. I met scores of people who came from various corners of Bharatavarsha just to attend this: a son who brought his aged mother from Tuticorin, an old couple from Assam, all manner of folks from Andhra, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Kerala…The reason is fundamental: they were not merely participants but devotees.
It is here that the Hindu genius for organization precisely lies. The same principle that operates in the Kumbh Mela, the Godavari Pushakara, the annual yatras to Sabarimala, Vaishno Devi, Pandharpur, etc operated in the Ayodhya Dipotsava, which is just two years old. That’s the cultural unity and continuity of Bharata operating right there in front of your eyes. A thoroughly rooted leader like Yogi Adityanath understands this fundamental, cultural fact intuitively and doesn’t look to Harvard to take lessons in organization, and “crowd management” and such other sophisticated-sounding nothings.
In other words, Yogi Adityanath knows that it is shared culture, values, customs, and beliefs that brings people together. This same principle also worked behind him inviting the South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-Sook to Ayodhya exactly on the occasion of Deepavali. Here’s a snippet from a good piece covering the occasion:
What is most significant is that the First Lady commemorated the rich legacy and lineage of Heo Hwang-ok of the Karak dynasty — whose original name is believed to have been Suriratna — by laying the foundation stone to expand a monument dedicated to the ancient queen, in Ayodhya… Kim Jung-sook certainly made a strong and graceful statement by donning a sari at the festivities… Indian Princess Heo Hwang-ok (Korean name) from the Kingdom of Ayuta came to Korea about 2,000 years ago and later became the Queen of Korea’s ancient Gaya Kingdom.”
Needless, Ayuta is a corruption of the word, “Ayodhya,” which literally means, [a place of] no conflict. This also underscores the well-known historical fact that it was Hindu culture and offshoots of it that spread throughout Asia—and other parts of the world—which looked up to Bharatavarsha for inspiration, guidance, and wisdom. And as a corollary shows the exact nature of damage that Abrahamic imperial cults have inflicted on the continent—the violence and genocides apart, they brutally severed transnational relationships and exchanges based largely on culture, knowledge and spirituality. And so, when nations like South Korea realize that there are leaders like Yogi Adityanath who are truly rooted in and are proud of their culture, they respond in kind. And South Korea also has its own share of the same kind of problems that accompany the very first Christian missionary who sets foot on a non-Abrahamic soil.
While the vibrant and spectacular Ayodhya Dipotsava does represent another stride in the generational journey towards the aforementioned cultural reclamation, there are other aspects that one observes. For example, how the Ghats were almost spotlessly clean. Or what lessons that the city itself teaches. Or reminds you of.
Beginning with this piece, I try and jot down some of these observations in the essays that follow.