Book Review: Ramayana Revisited, An epic through a legal prism by Anil Maheshwari and Vipul Maheshwari

Anil Maheshwari  Sir and Vipul Maheshwari Sir write an excellent book where they seek to interpret Ramayana subjecting the events, characters and their actions in the framework of modern jurisprudence i.e. with reference to precepts of law as we understand today. However, during this interpretation the soul and spirit of the epic is kept intact.

My main takeaways;

1. While concepts like natural justice, Roman Jurisprudence, Common Law, Rule of Law, Social Contract etc. are all touted as modern concepts and of western origin, it should be noted that many religious usages, customs, traditions of India carried the essence of these laws if not their legalese. For example, In the Ramayana the king has an obligation to uphold Dharma. He is responsible for the welfare of his subjects. In case he fails to protect his subjects, he should be ‘executed like a wild dog.’ This provides evidence to the fact that theories like ‘social contract’ was a part of the custom/traditions of ancient India.

2. While we might think of jurisprudence as a modern concept, we need to understand that all societies since time immemorial had developed rules, usages, customs, traditions etc to regulate human activity. Thus law as a concept is evolutionary and continues to grow and refine itself to fulfill the the needs of the changing society. Laws in their evolution are not informed only by ‘rationality’ and ‘logic’ but also myths, practices and customs. Even today’s formal laws have many fictions such as juristic personality of corporations.

3. Though the book reinterprets Ramayana through modern juridical concepts like IPC, it also clearly brings out the relationship that exists between modern laws and the ancient Indian tradition of Dharma. Dharm is the highest ideal of human life and provides the foundation on which the Indian civilizational ethos rests. In India, jurisprudence is fundamentally designed to further the concept of Dharma. No wonder the ध्येयवाक्य of the Supreme Court of India is, “यतो धर्मः ततो जयः” (“जहाँ धर्म है वहाँ जय (जीत) है”. The Hindi translation of the word secular in the Preamble of India has been written as ‘पंथनिरपेक्ष’ and not धर्मनिरपेक्ष as many people erroneously point out. Indian as a civilizational state cannot be ‘Dharm-nirpeksh’. Unlike the Abrahamic religious traditions, in the Indian Sanatani concept, the word ‘dharm’ does not mean religion. In fact there is no corresponding word for religion in either Sanskrit or Hindi. The word “dharm’ rooted in ‘dhri’ (based upon) is defined as “धार्यते इति धर्म:” (अर्थात जो धारण किया जाये वह धर्म हैं). It is the basis of all things, including human actions.The Manusmriti defines Dharma as, “धृति: क्षमा दमोअस्तेयं शोचं इन्द्रिय निग्रह:
धीर्विद्या सत्यमक्रोधो दशकं धर्म लक्षणं”
which means (धृति (धैर्य), क्षमा (दूसरों के द्वारा किये गये अपराध को माफ कर देना, क्षमाशील होना), दम (अपनी वासनाओं पर नियन्त्रण करना), अस्तेय (चोरी न करना), शौच (अन्तरङ्ग और बाह्य शुचिता), इन्द्रिय निग्रहः (इन्द्रियों को वश मे रखना), धी (बुद्धिमत्ता का प्रयोग), विद्या (अधिक से अधिक ज्ञान की पिपासा), सत्य (मन वचन कर्म से सत्य का पालन) और अक्रोध (क्रोध न करना) ; ये दस धर्म के लक्षण हैं।). At other place it defines Dharma as, “आचार:परमो धर्म” (सदाचार परम धर्म हैं).

The book was basically nostalgia redux for me. Its simplistic and easy to read writing style took me back to my childhood days, where our elders recounted these stories in the same simplistic style to us. The references to various provisions of IPC, deposition by the characters of Ramayana and by ‘defense’ lawyers were icing in the cake.
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