It has been a couple of weeks since my grandmother passed away amid the chants of “Ram naam satya hai” which still reverberate in all the corners of our house. This slogan, bearing the name of Ram, which is considered unholy on other occasions, is sung aloud when a person dies. I wonder, who is it sung for? The person who died and has apparently lost their hearing abilities, or the wailing family members who would possibly get back to their daily routine after shedding a handful of tears in the name of their loved ones? The name ‘Ram’ is not just a medium for this untimely spiritual awakening at the time of death, but also takes different forms when placed in different contexts. For some, it’s a name which they never want to forget and therefore have their doorbell tunes and ringtones carry it. And for others, it is that terrifying midnight clamour they never want to hear. History is proof of the mass killing of many people in the name of Ram by those who didn’t even know what the name stood for. The sullen mother who couldn’t even allow herself to cry out loud for her dead child would despise the holy name with all her heart; the regretful brother who couldn’t reach on time to save his sister from the unruly wolves, would choose to kill himself rather than chanting the holy name which became the reason for her sister’s death.
The name, which has been used both as an excuse for mass killing and as a convenient means to get rid of one’s malignity if sung aloud at the dawn of one’s life, doesn’t really appear to be as holy as is popularly preached. It appears to be one of those portentous and morbid idioms which are usually abandoned during happy events and occasions.
Kabir Das, the renowned poet who wrote verses on syncretism and the insignificance of the material world, also takes the name of Ram repeatedly. But neither does he use it to evoke spirituality, nor does he use it as a means to provoke communal tensions. The name Ram doesn’t haunt you when it is read in the verses of Kabir. It eases our conscience and brings peace to us without preaching any didactic note. He says that neither of the groups mentioned above understands the real meaning of the holy name Ram. In one of his dohe, he says, “Hindu kahat, Raam humara, musalman rehmaana. Aapas mei dou lare Marat hain, maram na koi jaana.” This means that we unknowingly divide the name as per our desires and perceive it in the wrong light, without even understanding the essence of it.
He repeatedly asks us to abandon the various material things which implicitly divide us into different sections, and tells us to concentrate on the centrality of the spiritual energy which governs both the outer as well as the inner universe. If a picture of Ram, as described by Kabir, is drawn on a paper, we probably won’t find him holding the bow and arrows in hand with fierce eyes poised to attack but we would just find a quiet and calm being, perhaps asking us to look within.
The name Ram apparently breaks the popular Shakespearean quote – “What’s in a name?” into disjointed pieces, and holds a gigantic tale within. We can perhaps rephrase it and say – “What’s in a name? Well, everything!”