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Ramayana and Political Imagination in India

Sheldon Pollock
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 52, No. 2 (May, 1993), pp. 261-297
DOI: 10.2307/2059648
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2059648
Page Count: 37
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Ramayana and Political Imagination in India
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Abstract

In this issue we have a special emphasis on South Asia. Starting from headlines about the present-day struggle in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya over a sixteenth-century Muslim mosque that militant Hindus assert must be returned to their control as the temple commemorating the birth of the Hindu god Rama, Sheldon Pollock asks when the Ramayana first took on a political character. His answer is that until the twelfth century, the hero of the epic, Rama, had little political significance. Instead, Rama's cult blossomed only when Hindu kings found in the Ramayana's story of the contest between Rama and the demonized figure of evil, Ravana, a parallel for their own struggle against Turkic political power. Pollock believes the Rama cult grew during the twelfth century in direct response to the equation of Rama and Hindu kings as the protectors of the purity of the Hindu polity against foreigners. He also suggests that Karl Marx's insight that revolutionaries often "anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battles cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history" can help us understand the potential for violence that lies within present-day Hindu invocation of the primacy of Rama.

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