Treatment of Shaivait & Vaishnavait Faith in Ramcharitmanas

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Treatment of Shaivait and Vaishnavait Faith by Tulsidas in Ramcharitmanas

by – Dr. Chintan Jayvant Arya, Vol. III, Issue.XXXI, August 2017


Tulsidās’ reputation as a poet-saint can be estimated with his masterpiece Rāmcharitmānas a systematized endeavour to reform the medieval Indian Society in the name of religion. The epic has been translated into many Indian and non–Indian languages and is sung with the same zeal even today. The work is a treatise on the utopian society and governance that deals with the general socio-political and religious issues that are still the same. May be its universality can be held responsible for its popularity. The treatise bears the path to the utopian society, the ideal state on the basis of equalitarian mode of living. As a master technician, Tulsidās also emphasizes on the duty that needs to be performed by an individual in the society. As an analyst, he enlists all the vices that had clutched the society of the time and then one by one gives the remedial solutions. Above all, he transformed the image of God, unlike the one that had been projected by the earlier upper Sanskritized class of the society. Tulsidās discusses a number of things that were pivotal factors in the matrix of medieval socio-political and religious scenario that need to be introspected.

KEY WORDS: Shávāit, Shākta, Sanskritized class, Transformed image of God Váshnavāit, utopian state, Vedic religion.


            The traditional Vedic faith was later diverted into Sháiva and Váishnava faith. Shākta worship also emerged afterwards. However, the deities were hardly worshipped individually. Mostly they reside with the idols of Shiva, Vishnu in the temples. Due to these clear cut divisions, there were different sects that came into the existence and they had their individual philosophy to offer. With this, there was a tremendous increase in the ceremonialism in the path of worship. Gradually this Sháiva and Váishnava faith overshadowed the policy that gave birth to the polarization of society. Many battles took place between Sháiva and Váishnava kings. As a result, it darkened the mist around the common man’s understanding of religion. This confusion of which God to be worshipped, and which one is the correct image of God often moved their faith. In addition to this, rigid caste bias that was labelled to an individual by birth worsens the scenario. Vices like untouchability and inferior status of women widely prevailed. This was the time when Buddhism and Jáinism emerged on the canon and people got the substitute in them as they were very liberal and equalitarian in tone. People tend to move towards them. Moreover, the virtue of non-violence also attracted the medieval society that was fed up of constant clashes of states and bloody political upheavals.

The Plot

            Like an expert craftsman, Tulsidās’ construction of plot is done in such a way that it unifies the two ancient myths of Shiva and Vishnu. The title itself is suggestive of the tale of Rām that is told by Shiva to Parvati. It is the story of the character of Rāma that was first set in the mind of Shiva, and then Shiva told it to Pārvati. Tulsidās was a visionary who knew that establishing the supremacy of either of Shiva or Vishnu might lead to contrast, which he never wanted. Such contradiction may have interrupted him to achieve his goal that was the reformation of medieval Indian society. This was the reason he depicted Shiva and Vishnu as counterfoil of each other. The epic is divided into seven sections that are called काण्ड i.e. अयोध्याकाण्ड, अरण्यकाण्ड, किष्किन्धाकाण्ड, सुंदरकाण्ड, लंकाकाण्ड, उत्तरकाण्ड (लवकुशकाण्ड). It is interesting to note that all these sections begin with praise of Lord Shiva. Tulsidās equally hails both Shiva and Vishnu in the Shlokas and Mantras. In the story, Shiva tells that those who ignore Rām and worship Shiva cannot achieve salvation and finally goes to hell called रौरव. Similarly, those who worship Rām and ignore Shiva cannot achieve salvation. The entire tale of Rām is depicted by Shiva, and that determines the importance of this issue.

Rām and Shiva as Sagun and Nirgun

            In the Vedic Brahminic Religion, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu as the preserver force, while Shiva is the destructor. Shakti is always depicted as the counter part of them. In Rāmcharitmānas there are plenty of references where we find Rām as an incarnation of Vishnu worship Shiva. One such example is depicted when Sitā and Rām meet in the temple garden of Shiva. Similar is the depiction when Rām worships Shivlinga known as Rāmeshwar before going to Lankā. Even there is a depiction of different sub plots i.e. Kākbhusandi that depicts somewhat similar issue. Tulsidās indicated a midway that Rām and Shiva are one and the same and worshipping of any of them makes no difference at all in the path of worship and salvation.

Tulsidās goes one step further and removes the mist that had darkened the understanding of philosophies of Sagun and Nirgun. He emphasizes that absolute Brahma is one that takes form in order to satisfy the cravings of His devotee. God is bound by the guileless love of devotee. Hence, in one way he intermingles the issue of form and the formless God and insists the midway of ultimately worshipping the formless through the worship of the formed God.

Rāma, Shiva, and Pārvati

            The best ever metaphor in Rāmcharitmānas that has been presented through Shiva-Pārvati, and Rāma, Shiva preaches the eternal knowledge of Rāma that is, in fact, the form of formless almighty, symbolizes the role of a Guru. As a guide of spiritual pilgrimage, Shiva enlightens Pārvati and vaporizes her ignorance. It also should be noted that in mythology, Shiva is known as the eternal Guru. Similarly, Pārvati is represented as the devotee or disciple that is groping into darkness of ignorance, and Lord Rāma here is the Brahma. In a way, it is the elaborate discussion of the relation of individual soul guided by the spiritual guide with the absolute Brahma by Tulsidās. The ignorance of Pārvati is, in fact, the ignorance of any layman, and Tulsidās tried to emphasize the fact that ignorance for Brahma can only be removed with the benevolence of true Guru like Shiva. Through Shiva, Tulsidās has answered the question that why the formless took the human form of Rāma. All dilemmas of Pārvati represent the common doubts and questions that haunted the people of medieval society.

Hanumān and Rāma

            Considering the post-Vedic theory of incarnation, Rāma is known as the incarnation of Vishnu, while Hanumān as an incarnation of Shiva. These traditional myths also united the myths of Vishnu and Shiva. Tulsidās intensified this spirit in Rāmcharitmānas. The only intention of Tulsidās was to stabilize the faith of people that was shattered due to polytheism. Tulsidās realized the fact that establishment of one supreme god was the demand of time. In Rāmcharitmānas, Tulsidās repeatedly sang the praise of Rāma Bhakti in order to clear the dilemma of people, as too many gods and goddesses had distracted their faith. However, Tulsidās knew that Rāma was known as an incarnation of Vishnu and mere praising of Rāma might cause prejudices in the rigid followers of Sháivism. As a master therapist, he kept this in mind all the time and tried to equalize their status wherever he found the opportunity to do so. This affected the medieval faith a lot and harnessed the polarization of Sanātan faith that had taken place between Sháivism and Váishnavism.


            There won’t be an exaggeration to call Rāmcharitmānas a multidimensional treatise on social reform. As discussed, the work aims at reforming the vices that had taken place in the medieval society. It also aims at simplifying and elaborating the philosophies that were out of the reach for the non-Sanskritized class. It is intentionally written in the vernacular, in order to remove the sway of the Sanskritized class on them. The utilizing the religious myths made it more acceptable at the same time unquestionable. Often there are attempts that try to resolve the conflicts that had divided Vedic Brāhminic religion in to fragments. Sháiva and Váishnava conflict had controversial philosophies to offer. Tulsidās took this issue on priority and successfully resolved it. While reading Rāmcharitmānas one can find that Tulsidās has successfully equalized the importance of Shiva and Vishnu. In fact, he has endeavoured to depict them as counterpart of each other. This naturally eliminated the question of supremacy that had confused the understanding of common man of medieval Indian Society. At the same time it can be defined as the biggest contribution by Tulsidās as his efforts indicated a novel path of worship and also depicted the transformed image of God, unlike the one that was presented by the earlier Sanskritized class of society. This transformation laid foundation of uniformed and unified religion with main emphasis on the guileless heart and internal speculation on the path of devotion. Subsequently he librated the medieval religion from clutches of tiresome ceremonialism that had made it mystical for the common man of society.

List of references:

Goswami, Tulsidās. Ramcharit Manas.ed. and Trans. R.C.Prasad.1st ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.,2009.

Thapar, Romila. The Penguin History of Early India, From the Origins to 1300.First ed. Noida:Penguin Books India, 2003.

Bahadur, S.P. Ramcharitmanasa. First ed. Vol.1. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2008.

Introduction to the author:

Dr. Chintan Jayvant Arya is an assistant professor of English at HJD Institute of Technical Education and Research. He has written papers for different research journals.


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