Let me acknowledge at the start itself that you may be disappointed if you are looking for a controversial and provocative article. To find where Ram Temple is, we need to first understand what a temple (a Hindu one in this context) is and who (what) Ram is.
What is a temple?
In the context of Hinduism, which I grew up with, my interpretation of a temple is that it is a symbolic representation of the journey within oneself to experience truth or god. There are many temples and many gods in Hinduism and my interpretation of this is that each person has her own truth and she needs to find her own truth without blindly accepting another's truth as hers. The great Indian philosopher J Krishnamurti said it beautifully: "Truth is a pathless land." All these journeys connect to one ultimate truth.
In my hometown Madurai, we have Sri Meenakshi Amman temple, one of the greatest temples in the world. The temple is designed in such a way that a devotee has to go through several rituals before he can get a darshan of Meenakshi, the main deity. There are four entrances to the temple — North Tower, West Tower, East Tower and South Tower. Again, this is beautiful because there is no one way to enter the spiritual realm, which in this context is the sprawling temple complex. Once you enter the temple premises, the first step is to clean your feet in the Golden Tank inside the temple premises. This is to symbolise the need to keep ourselves pure as we pursue this inner journey. Then, people circle around the Vibudhi Vinayagar (a statue of elephant god Ganesh who is immersed in vibudhi or sacred ash) and pour vibudhi on the statue to remind themselves that everything in nature is impermanent.
Charlie Chaplin said it beautifully: "Nothing is permanent in this wide world, not even our troubles." One wears vibudhi to remind oneself that the body is impermanent (after death, we are cremated and what is left is ash): non-attachment to the body and bodily pleasures, and developing equanimity, are key qualities to succeed in this journey.
Ram is the compassionate and divine self that we can find within ourselves and our body is the temple complex that holds it.
After pouring vibudhi on the Vinayagar, the devotee goes inside the shrine, entering the level just before the inner sanctum where there are sculptures of various elements of nature (sun, moon, planets, stars, animals, fish, birds, various saints, gods representing knowledge, wealth, sex etc). It symbolises everything one experiences in life. Finally, the devotee enters the inner sanctum of the shrine to witness "Meenakshi." Sometimes, it may be an easy darshan and sometimes it may be a long wait which also symbolises the time it takes to find your own truth. The entrance of the inner sanctum is guarded by armed demons and creatures like snakes. The inner sanctum of the shrine represents the space within oneself where we can find the divine self. It is the space where the real "I" exists and these creatures are metaphorical illustrations to help us understand that we need to guard against sensual desires and delusions.
The temple is a visual depiction of our body and our search within. Saraha said it perfectly: "I have not seen another shrine blissful than my own body." Our body is the temple to find our truth and the ultimate truth.
Who is Ram?
The Ramayana is one of my favourite stories and the interpretation of the epic by Rajaji is a special book. My connection to Sri Lanka and my experience in Ramar Tirtham in Rameshwaram witnessing floating rocks make me believe in the Ramayana.
Last week, I randomly chanced upon a song "Pal Pal hai Bhari" from the movie Swades. I watched Swades 14 times in Cinemax Theatre in Sion, Mumbai in 2004 and then countless times on DVD. The song that I watched on YouTube had English subtitles and the interpretation given for Ram was so, so beautiful.
Here is the interpretation of "Where is Ram?" in the song —
Ram is in compassion, and in peace; Ram is in harmony and in progress; Ram is not only in a devotee but also in an enemy's mind; Forsake all sins Ravan, Ram is in your heart; Ram is in your heart, Ram is in my heart; Ram is in every house and every courtyard; One who removes Ravan from his heart will find Ram there...
This is probably the most beautiful interpretation on Ram that I have ever read and interestingly, this song was written by Javed Akhtar, composed by AR Rahman and acted by Shah Rukh Khan.
Allegorically, Ravan could be sins, sensuous desires, lust and any other delusions that are creating an inner battle. The one who is able to remove these desires and delusions can see Ram within.
Each one of us is a walking Ram temple that is taken over by Ravan... we need to conquer the Ravan to see Ram in this body temple.
Ram is the compassionate and divine self that we can find within ourselves and our body is the temple complex that holds it. Each one of us is a walking Ram temple that is taken over by Ravan... we need to conquer the Ravan to see Ram in this body temple.
There is still Ravan inside me in the form of lust, sensuous desires and I am sure I will conquer him to see Ram within myself. I have initiated the process and I wish the same for you.
Indian culture is rich with metaphors, analogies and allegories. Instead of trying to get our own interpretation and our own truth about any subject, we fall for narratives that are aimed to stop people from thinking. Indian culture is rooted in pluralism and the millions of Hindu gods illustrate this truth about our culture. Find the Ram within you and in other people, also so that you can really start using the word Namaste, which means "I honour the space in which we both are one."