How 'Ramayana Month' Has Become CPM's Unlikely Tool in Ideological War Against BJP-RSS in Kerala

On Wednesday, the media and political circles were abuzz with the news of Communist Party of India (Marxist) conducting various programmes for the month, which was being seen as a breakaway from its own secular credentials.

Thiruvananthapuram: The significance of Karkidakam, the last month of the Malayalam calendar when monsoon enters its final phase in Kerala, has changed over the years. While the pattern of rain has certainly changed, the nature of rituals also seems to be altering in accordance with the political milieu of national cultures.

Years ago, ‘Karkidaka masam’ was known as a time when people prayed to Gods to prevent nature’s fury as the season is marked by heavy rains. Since many Keralites read Ramayana during this time and follow other religious rituals to cope with “difficult times”, the month also began to be known as ‘Ramayana masam’.

“The period represents a time when there is heavy rain and people read the Ramayana to build self-confidence during the difficult times. It is not always possible to complete the entire book, so mostly ‘Sundarakandam,’ the fifth book is read,” academic M G Shashibhooshan had once told a leading newspaper of southern India.

But over the years, and especially after Bharatiya Janta Party’s landmark victory in 2014 Lok Sabha election, politics started playing over ‘Karkidaka masam’ and Ramayana recitation as well. And now, every party seems to be cashing on the sentiments of the masses.

On Wednesday, the media and political circles were abuzz with the news of Communist Party of India (Marxist) conducting various programmes for the month, which was being seen as a breakaway from its own secular credentials.

It was said that Samskritha Sangham, an organisation formed by the CPM cadres in the state, is going to conduct Ramayana seminars across the state, but won’t “directly” be a part of the event. However, the state convener of the Sangham told that the initiative is to “counter fascist forces’ false propaganda” and does not include Ramayana “recitation” as interpreted by a section of media.

“As a party, CPM has no role in this. Samskritha Sangham is our initiative to counter the false propaganda in the name of Ramayana by the fascist forces. Constituted a year ago by a group of academics and historians based on their love for Sanskrit, it is a secular and progressive forum. Moreover, there won't be any Ramayana recitation as a section of media interpret,” said T Thilakaraj, state convener of Samskritha Sangham.

He further said that there will be three-hour seminars in all districts from July 15 to August 15, and eminent speakers, who have done thorough research, will address the gatherings and will interpret Ramayana in a “historical perspective to a secular audience”.

“The month-long lecture series plans to introduce the ‘real’ Rama and the ‘real’ Ramayana to the public,” Thilakaraj added.

The seminars will present various views of Ramayana, and according to the organisers, will keep a safe distance from “hurting sentiments of devotees”.

Though, the party is presenting a cold shoulder to the initiative in public, State Committee member Dr V Sivadasan is closely associated with it and it is learnt that he has been assigned by the party to coordinate the activities.

“Samskritha Sangham is an independent body and it has nothing to do with CPI(M). The group consists of sanskrit scholars, retired professors, teachers and their main objective is to counter the false propaganda by RSS with various facts according to mythology," Sivadasan said.

CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, too, termed the reports of the party observing Ramayana month as ‘baseless’.

“RSS has been misusing the Karkidakam month as the month of Ramayan for racial discrimination and political demands. In order to counter this, Sanskrit scholars and teachers also have the opportunity to show these wrong moves using Hindu mythology and they organises various programs in this regard,” he alleged.

“It has nothing to do with CPI(M) as it is an independent organisation. It is understood that the campaign by the organisation is not just Ramayana recitation but various other programs during the Karkidakam month. Some media are trying to make this program a campaign against CPI(M),” Balakrishnan said in a statement.

According to senior CPM leader NN Krishnadas, the party supports the initiative as Ramayan is being used as a religious tool.

“Ramayan is not a religious scripture. It’s a literary creation and it needs to be seen as one. With the influx of BJP and RSS, they are using the book as a religious tool. That is wrong. They are using a literary creation as a tool to fuel their communal agenda. We are against that. RSS organizes many readings of Ramayan,” he said.

“We support all those institutions that project the book as a literary creation and nothing else. For example, local libraries will have talks on the book showcasing the book as a literary marvel. While the party has nothing to do with it in terms of organizing it, we support the cause,” Krishnadas added.

Writer and critique K Sachidanandan has given a word of caution to CPM by advising it to present Ramayan as a secular Epic and not as a religious text. “Ramayan is not the legacy of RSS only. It doesn't belong to the Hindus even. It is a world epic shared by the Muslims, Jains and Hindus. However, if you (CPM) intend a mere mimicry of the Hindutva forces, shame on you!,” the poet posted on his FB page.

(with inputs from Aishwarya Kumar)