Lord Rama Anantatma & Anantaroopa: He who is the Infinite Soul & who has infinite forms

This article is a letter, the fourth of a series, addressed to Lord Rama. The author engages in a conversation with the Lord, discussing His infinite essence and what it means to the author to embrace the diversity of His stories and worshipping traditions.
Image: An ancient mural with a scene from the Ramakien at Wat Phra Kaew Temple, Thailand. (Shutterstock)

Dear Ram,

Lord, I have always been curious about the reasons behind people’s deep connection to Your story and the diverse ways in which communities worship You. Why are you central to the imagination of this land? I hope you won’t feel betrayed by my introspection. I want to explore Your place in our collective imagination as a community.

Confining You within a singular perspective would overlook the vastness of this land and its culture. Your story reflects countless communities’ experiences, beliefs, and aspirations.

Reflecting on Hanuman’s Bhakti, I question whether his pure and pristine devotion surpasses all human acts depicted in Your story as Maryada Purushottam. Examining various communities’ beliefs tells me that the “Idea of Ram” (I mean you, Lord Ram) and its ideals are more significant than your singular story. The image of You in the consciousness of communities has no bounds. If You are Anantatma (infinite soul), You are also Anantaroopa (have infinite forms).

जो रमता नहीं, वह राम नहीं। टिकना तो मौत है।

The essay “बहता पानी निर्मला” by सच्चिदानंद वात्स्यायन ‘अज्ञेय’ concludes with the statement,जो रमता नहीं, वह राम नहीं।.

During a conversation with our school Hindi teacher, Lal Bahadur Singh, affectionately known as Singh-sir, my fellow comrade raised an intriguing query about Ram mentioned in our reading material. Specifically, he sought clarification on whether this Ram resembled the Maryada Purushottam Ram seen in the popular television series during our formative years. In response, Singh-sir expressed a peaceful dissent, suggesting that the two Ram figures were distinct entities. With infinite patience and meticulousness, in a characteristic pedantic way, he spoke about the idea of Ram in Indian consciousness.

“According to Surdas, Ram represented the physical form of Sagun Ram Prince of Ayodhya while Kabir’s Ram is a spiritual entity transcending physical boundaries and manifesting as Nirgun. However in the essay the word ‘Ram’ symbolises ‘parivartan,’ meaning change or metamorphosis. The essayist Agay’s worldview is described as ‘Ramta Ram’, emphasising the importance of wandering and exploring new experiences. The author concludes that embracing change and exploring new paths embody the divine essence while remaining stagnant risks spiritual demise.”

Limiting the interpretation of Ram to a singular idea undermines the vastness and richness of collective memory and culture. Ram’s essence is interwoven with mythology, folklore, literature, and spiritual wisdom, permeating the collective consciousness. Instead of restricting Ram to one interpretation, we should embrace the plurality of his existence. Allowing the idea of “Ram” to thrive in the boundless realm of human imagination and philosophical exploration.

AK Ramanujam was a celebrated poet, scholar, linguist, philologist, folklorist, translator, and playwright who believed that Lord Ram could not be limited to one interpretation. He argued that Ram is a complex and multifaceted character with various aspects.

In a famous couplet written by Allama Muhammad Iqbal, a prominent philosopher, poet, and politician from the Indian subcontinent. This couplet is from his Urdu poetry collection  Bang-e-Dara.

है राम के वुजूद पे हिन्दोस्ताँ को नाज़

अहले-नज़र समझते हैं इसको इमाम-ए-हिन्द। 

India is proud of Rama’s very name

To the discerning, he is Imam-e-Hind

In this couplet, Iqbal honours the You as a revered figure in the Hindu faith in India. He recognises India’s pride in its spiritual and cultural heritage associated with You. Poet Iqbal refers to those with insight and understanding as “ahle-nazar” and highlights their recognition of You, Lord Ram as India’s spiritual and symbolic leader. Using the term “Imam-e-Hind,” ( which means “Spiritual Leader of India.”), Iqbal conveys Your position of reverence and leadership in the Indian context.

Mappila Ramayanam is a captivating folk song tradition of the Malabari Muslims or Mappilas in Kerala, India. Originating in the 16th century, these songs tell the story of Ramayana in a way adapted to the local culture and language. This showcases the syncretic nature of Kerala’s traditions. Passed orally through generations, Mappila Ramayanam is an excellent example of the harmonious coexistence of Islam and Hinduism. The songs contain Islamic influences that praise Allah, Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic teachings and even criticise idolatry while promoting values of justice, mercy, and compassion. This unique fusion of Islamic and Hindu elements creates a rich and enchanting musical experience.

In Mappila, Ramayanam’s performances are a sight to behold! One will witness a lively group of male singers accompanied by traditional drums and instruments. What makes it even more enchanting is how characters from Your story (Ramayana) are humorously portrayed, bringing a lighthearted perspective to the story. These performances are a hit at weddings, special events, and among tourists, immersing them into the rich culture of the Mappilas. Moreover, it’s a perfect way to bridge the gap between different faiths and gain a unique insight into the vibrant tapestry of Kerala’s cultural heritage. In this tradition, you are called Lama, and Ravana is addressed as Lavana; in this tradition, You are even addressed as Sultan ( which in Arabic means Monarch).

Your story ( Ramayana) is called “Paumachariya” or “Padmacharitrasa” in Jainism and is believed to be written by the poet Vimalasuri. Unlike other versions, the Jain adaptation highlights non-violence, righteousness, and the principles of Jain ethics. Interestingly, it is your brother Lakshmana who kills the demon king Ravana in the Jain version, rather thanYou, as You are deemed to be an enlightened individual who would never partake in violence, in line with the principle of non-violence (ahimsa) in Jainism. Moreover, Ravana is depicted more humanely in this version and is not portrayed as entirely malevolent.

Similarly, in Buddhism, the Your story is can be read in “Dasaratha Jataka” and is considered one of the Jataka tales, which recount the previous lives of the Buddha. The Buddhist version of the You incorporates Tathagat’s  teachings and moral lessons, emphasising the importance of compassion, detachment, and the practice of the Buddhist path towards enlightenment. Additionally, in the Buddhist version of the Ramayana, there is a significant departure from the traditional narrative. This version portrays You and Sita as siblings rather than husband and wife. Perhaps The Buddhist belief influences this alteration in celibacy and renunciation, emphasising detachment from worldly relationships and desires.

Lord Rama,

Do you see ( I know you do!! ),  that Your story (Ramayana) is a significant source of spiritual guidance and inspiration that reinforces the teachings and principles of Jainism ,Buddhism and even Islam? It provides narratives that demonstrate virtues like selflessness, perseverance, and self-discipline. Additionally, it serves as a medium for artistic creativity and cultural expression within these traditions. Jain ,Buddhist and Muslim communities have passed down their interpretations of  Your epic through storytelling, poetry, music, dance, and visual arts, contributing to the diversity and richness of their cultural heritage.

Every time your story is retold (Anantaroopa), it gains a new and distinct element that reflects the values and beliefs of the community. This helps them feel a sense of ownership over your story and adds to its richness and tradition.

I realised that even our household of three had three Rams. My mother sees You as Sagun Ram (has a form), embodying the qualities of Maryada Purushottam, who guides her to be mindful of her responsibilities towards herself, her family, her relatives, and society. Those who know her would know Maryada is responsibility and dignity

Lord Ram, You are detached and stoic for Akka. Despite losing the kingdom and the hardship of Vanwas, You never complained. Embracing love, You accept Sabri’s berries after she tastes them to ensure they’re sweet.

In contrast, my understanding of Ram is Nirgun ( formless) was discovered through poetry, love, travel, and interactions with inspiring people.

My quest is not for a singular truth but an attempt to comprehend Your infinite essence, Anantatma. As a finite being, I acknowledge the limitations of this pursuit. Your Immortal story as told in the tradition of one community, to Your divine presence in the other, I wish to wander like a traveller exploring the vast landscapes of knowledge and spirituality.

नक़्शे में मैं अब भी देखता हूँ। वास्तव में जितनी यात्राएँ स्थूल पैरों से करता हूँ, उससे ज्यादा कल्पना के चरणों से करता हूँ। लोग कहते हैं कि मैंने अपने जीवन का कुछ नहीं बनाया, मगर मैं बहुत प्रसन्न हूँ, और किसी से ईर्ष्या नहीं करता। आप भी अगर इतने ख़ुश हों तो ठीक-तो शायद आप पहले से मेरा नुस्खा जानते हैं-नहीं तो मेरी आपको सलाह है,”जनाब, अपना बोरिया-बिस्तर समेटिए और ज़रा चलते-फिरते नज़र आइए।” यह आपका अपमान नहीं है, एक जीवन दर्शन का निचोड़ है। ‘रमता राम’ इसी लिए कहते हैं कि जो रमता नहीं, वह राम नहीं। टिकना तो मौत है।

हीरानंद सच्चिदानंद वात्स्यायन ‘अज्ञेय’

Exploring, Yours,


The author is a financial professional with a master’s degree in economics; also interested strongly interested in the arts, academia, and social issues related to development and human rights.


Also Read:

To Lord Ram, we must talk spirituality and politics

To Lord Ram, I write again for Hope

To Lord Ram, a letter of remorse and resolve



Related Articles