Gained in translation: In the shadow of Ayodhya

Khalid Alvi
Interestingly, this poem was composed decades before Ayodhya was embroiled in controversy. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

The first depiction of Ayodhya’s social life is in the ‘Uttar-Kand’ of Tulsidas’s epic Kavitawali. The poet says: “Dhoot kaho Awdhoot kaho, Rajpoot kaho, Julha kaho koi/ Tulsi sarnaam ghulam hai Ram ko, jako ruchey so kahey kachhu oyu/ Maang key khebo, Mseet ko soyibo, Lebo ko ek na Debey koi doi (Call me a cunning person or a saint, an upper caste Thakur or an outcast weaver/ One can give me any sobriquet but I regale in Ram’s servitude/ I ask for alms and sleep in the mosque, I neither take anything from anybody nor do I give).”

Ayodhya was always a religious centre, but after Nawab Sadat Ali Khan laid the foundation of the Awadh dynasty in 1722, his court in Faizabad became a centre of cultural mingling. People started celebrating the festivals of all religions. Nawab Naseeruddin Haider appointed Lala Ram Prashad and Maharaja Mewaram as his ministers because they were from Ayodhya. An Urdu poet describes the beauty of Ayodhya: “Hazaaron deviyon ko yahan ki paryon ney pachhada hai/ Nahin Ajodhya, ye Raja Inder ka akhada hai (Thousands of women of virtue have made the fairies bite dust here, it’s not just Ayodhya it’s Raja Indra’s assembly).”

Altaf Husain Haali, a close associate and biographer of Ghalib, has described Ram endearingly as “Hubb-e Watan”. “Paoon uthta tha us ka ban ki taraf/ Aur khinchta tha dil watan ki taraf/ Guzrey ghurbat mein is qadar mah-o-saal/ Par na bhoola Ayodhya ka khayal/ Teer ik dil mein aa key lagta tha/ Aati thi jab Ayodhya ki hawa (Though he was heading to the woods, his heart was in his homeland. He spent many years in alien lands but couldn’t forget Ayodhya, whenever he sensed the aroma of Ayodhya’s zephyr, it pierced his heart).”

Kumar Pashi’s Ayodhya Main Aa Raha Hoon (Ayodhya, I am approaching you) is known for personifying the town.

Pashi shares his longing for the city, which seems to share the poet’s torment.

“Ayodhya aa raha hoon main/ Main teri kokh sey janma/teri godi ka pala hoon/ Teri sadyon purani sanwali mitti sey khela hoon/ Mujhey maloom hai tu mujh sey roothi hai/ Magar ab door tujhsey reh nahi sakta/ Paraye desh mein guzri hai jo mujh par/ Zara sar to utha aur dekh/ Ke kitni door sey tujh ko mananey aa raha hoon main/ Tujhey terey hi kuchch qissey sunaney aa raha hoon main/ Wo khud sey bhi kabhi main keh nahi sakta (Ayodhya, I am approaching you, I have taken birth from your womb, played in the lap of your centuries-old soil, I know you have grown despondent, be sure I can’t be away from you. I can’t even recall what I have endured in the strange land. Look here, I am coming to tell you your own stories, which I can’t tell to even myself).”

Interestingly, this poem was composed decades before Ayodhya was embroiled in controversy.

Kaifi Azmi’s Doosra Banbas may not have the lyrical charm of Pashi’s poem. But it does convey the message of exile.

“Ram banbas sey jab laut key ghar mein aaye/ Yaad jungal bahut aaya jo nagar mein aaye/ Raqs e deewangi aangan mein jo dekha hoga/ Chhey December ko Shri Ram ney socha hoga/ Itney deewaney kahan sey mere ghar mein aaye (When Ram returned from exile, he would have missed the woods very much. Seeing the dreadfully violent dance at his home, he would have thought on December 6, where did so many insane people come from to my home)?”

“Ram yeh kehtey huey apney dwarey sey uthhey/ Rajdhani ki faza raas nahi aayi mujhey/ Chhey December ko mila doosra banbas mujhey (Ram got up from his pedestal and said that Ayodhya’s milieu didn’t suit him. On December 6, he said, he had been exiled a second time).”

In Aaliya’s Ayodhya kho Gaya, the protagonist has a picture of Ayodhya on his wall. One day he finds that Ayodhya has disappeared from the picture and an unruly crowd with weapons has taken its place. The protagonist, a saint, cries and thinks that the God is angry at him. Suddenly, Ram appears and tells the saint that he was not angry with him but sad at the disappearance of Ayodhya. Both then go in search of Ayodhya.

Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag Ka Darya has several references to Ayodhya as well as to Kapilvastu, Prayaag and Gaya. Even the minor characters tell the story of Ayodhya and Raja Dasharath. Beneath thick layers of philosophy lies Hyder’s thesis that religion is influenced by its milieu. She cites a piece of Islamic poetry which talks of Sita as the ideal woman, also mentions Ram and a sacred place called Ayodhya. An important character, Champa, who appears several times in the novel, mentions the tragedy of Hanumangarhi, where Wajid Ali Shah ordered that Muslim clerics be fired upon in order to save a temple.

Intezar Hussain is famous for citing Jatakas and Hindu mythology in his stories. He does not refer much to Ayodhya but describes Ramayana as the real story of Hindus. The novella Sita-haran has one of the few references to Ayodhya. “Ayodhya is more dearer to me than Baikunth,” Ram says in the novella.

Kunwar Narain’s Ayodhya 1992 captures the despondency of the times. “Is sey bada kya ho sakta hai/ Hey Ram, jiwan ek katu yatarth hai/ Aur tum ek Mahakavya (What can be bigger than this? Oh Ram, life is a bitter truth, and you just an epic).”

Khalid Alvi is an Urdu writer and a literary historian