Updated: Jan 28, 2019
The inception of this post lies in a post-lunch debate with my friends at office. I was surprised to see everyone gang up against me, unequivocally lambaste Ram and all the while shower adulations on Krishna. So, here is my rebuttal (of sorts).
A couple of caveats - I treat both these gentlemen as historical figures and not celestial beings. Also, I derive my arguments from the most popular or prevalent versions of their respective mythological (more correctly, itihaas) texts and not conspiracy theories.
Krishna is, without doubt, the poster boy of the Hindu pantheon. A mischievous child, a charismatic youngster and later, a shrewd statesman, Krishna has managed to endear to one and all.
As a toddler, he was the cuddly maakhan-chor. An adept flautist in his youth, he had members(16,108 to be exact) of the fairer sex swooning over him. Such was his charisma, Gopis would sneak out of their houses to enjoy a dance with him all through the night! The Almighty Lord reciprocated their adoration by covertly stealing their clothes when they went for a dip in the Yamuna, thereby freeing these ladies from their vice of shame.
In a stark contrast to the boisterous personality of Krishna, Ram is milder, reserved and introvert growing up.
Without so much as a blink of an eye, the dutiful son, accepts the perilous exile to uphold his father's reputation. Ram, even after his father’s death decides not to return to Ayodhya until the completion of his term.
Young Kanha and Radha were madly, fervently in love; eternal, mushy, #couplegoals kind of love. But, they could not/did not marry each other. Thus proving the Indian mentality - you may be the master of the universe, but when your parents ask you to marry someone of their choice, you obey them.
Radha got hitched to a commoner - a milkman, while Krishna lived in his lavish palace along with his eight, beautiful consorts chief amongst whom were Rukmini and Satyabhama. Radha kaise na jaley?
Ram was a one-woman-man all his life, unlike Krishna and many others. A loyal and devoted lover, for Sita he burnt down entire Lanka. Ram, loved and respected his wife beyond compare. He would fetch things at a moment’s notice at a whim of Sita (which ultimately leads to her abduction). This is how Valmiki describes Ram's anguish on finding Sita missing.
"And he who ardently wanted to see Sita, such a Ram, on seeing an emptied locale and cottage, wept over, over and again. Though he searched effortfully for his Sita he did not get her, and as his anguish is reddening his eyes, the appearance of that glorious one seems to be that of a madman."
Sounds very human-like, doesn't it? That's because he is human. Valmiki has said this more than once through Ram's words - 'aatmaanam aham maanusam manye' (I for myself, am just a human).
The ever-so-humble Krishna, on the other hand, boasts - "I'm the beginning, and the end, and all that lies in between."
He goes on to say the oft-quoted phrase -
"Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirva bhavathi bharatha........"
(Whenever there is a decline in Dharma, for the protection of the pious and establishing virtue, I manifest myself in every age).
Dripping with irony, Krishna's proclamation is nothing but laughable since soon after he dishes out a disturbing advice to his mates - "Casting aside virtue, ye sons of Pandu, adopt now some contrivance for gaining the victory."
Bhishma Pitamah, the grand old man of the Kurus, was much loved and revered by both warring sides of battle. The rightful heir to the Kingdom, he had selflessly renounced the throne and vowed lifelong celibacy just to see his father happy.
Arjun slaughters the grandfather deceitfully by breaking a cardinal rule of war.
This chilling feat smacks of irony since the noble Bhishma himself was meticulously observing another rule of the war at that time - by not striking the effeminate Shikhandi. Who else but Arjun's cunning charioteer could have conceived this ghastly act? I am reminded of Lady Macbeth, who instigates her husband to perform regicide, but chickens out at the prospect of getting her own hands dirty.
Dronacharya, the royal Guru, loved Arjun more than his own son Ashwatthama.
The Pandavas kill an elephant who shares the same name as their Guru's son and ask Yudhishthira to break the news of 'Ashwatthama's' demise. The heartbroken father falls to his knees, only to have his head severed apart. I choke up, picturing this gut wrenching sequence. Arjun is profusely weeping on seeing his teacher butchered by treachery of the highest order. Yudhishthira, who would not lie 'even for the sake of the sovereignty of the three worlds', has now fallen in his own eyes. And Krishna, with a smug smile upon his face, realises he has inched towards victory.
Karna the tragic hero and Duryodhana the anti hero of Mahabharata are the next victims of Krishna's guile.
Arjun realises the futility of a deceitful war against his own elders, brothers and teachers, prompting him to say that 'it is better to beg for scraps of food than to eat meals smeared with blood.'
Krishna then devotes the next ‘700 fratricidal verses’ of Mahabharata to persuade Arjuna to fight, which forms the Bhagavad Gita.
He extolls the virtue of kshatriya dharma, Arjuna's caste duty to fight in war, in lieu of his sadharana dharma or duty towards his conscience. Arjun is lured in with the promise of paradise ("If you are killed, you win heaven; if you triumph, you enjoy the earth"), which reminds me of another lucrative offer of 72 virgins made by a recent ideology.
Krishna stole, lied, cheated. He was spiteful, conniving and manipulative.
But much like how boys can get away with their shenanigans, the dictum- 'Gods will be Gods' applies to Kanha.
Ram was the paragon of virtues - dutiful, valiant, stoic, selfless. So much so that he earned the moniker maryaada purushottam.
But, was Ram really the best amongst all men? Was he without his share of blemishes?
He shot Vali from behind a tree which was undoubtedly an act of cowardice and dishonesty, and quite unbecoming of him.
He subjected Sita to agni-pareeksha and later banished his pregnant wife just to quell the mushrooming rumours in his kingdom.
Ram just like the titular character from the movie 'Newton', is obsessed with regulations and follows Dharma to a T, which can be exasperating at times (praan jaaye par vachan na jaaye). He holds himself to very high standards and is bogged down by the weight of all the expectations he has brought upon himself. To everyone else he is homo perfectus , but only with his Sita can he be what he really is. It is therefore perturbing to see him choose, with a heavy heart, his duty as a king over his duty as a husband. Indeed, it is lonely at the top. No one knows it better than Ram.
Ram is a tragic hero. But, he chooses to be gracious even in defeat. He is forced into an exile. His wife is snatched from him. He traverses the length of the country and wages a war to win her back (only to lose her again). He wins Lanka but does not annex it, handing it over to Vibhishana. His countrymen make a mockery out of his marriage and what does he do? - give up the one thing he held close to his heart. It is no surprise then that mischievous Fate does not deem it fit to have Ram's mandir in Ayodhya today.
Sometimes, a single moment speaks volumes about a man's character. The episode that defines Ram is that of him tasting the half-eaten berries of the tribal woman Shabri. Of course, it is now common to see Indian politicians emulating this feat by feasting at the houses of Dalits, but Ram was the original trendsetter.
For Krishna, the end justifies the means. Saam, daam, dand, bhed - achieve your goals by hook or crook. History will ultimately be kind to him, since it is written by the victors.
To Ram, the game ceases to exist, the moment you do not play by the rules. He would rather lose honourably than win dishonestly. As Valmiki says in Yuddha Kanda - "A superior being does not render evil for evil."
Epic poems deserve poetic justice. Mahabharata and Ramayana are not without them.
After the great war, Krishna's clan of Yadavs drink liquor, indulge in merry-making and end up killing each other. The city of Dwarka is swallowed up by the sea. A sleeping Krishna is mistaken to be a deer and is shot dead by a hunter's arrow. Well, I guess that's one way to go.
In contrast, Ram's return to Ayodhya is marked by his coronation, followed by decades of utopian rule or ram rajya, before he voluntarily gives up his life in the Sarayu river.
Indian mythology is a shade of grey. Krishna, much like his name, lies at the dark end of this spectrum. Ram, I like to believe, is a tad right of white.
Krishna, the almighty God incarnate, stoops down to the ugliness of man.
Ram, born a mortal man, through his deeds transcended into the divinity.
Hare Ram, Hare Krishna!