Writ Divine

An Addendum To Rama And The Bow Of Shiva

Part of the series Ramayaṇa

L. Rhodes

Not long after I tweeted a link to my previous post, a response came back from a mutual Twitter follower, Shivam Bhatt, suggesting that I could use a little more context on the episode. I'll be the first to admit as much, and Shivam is certainly the person to fill me in, so I was glad to have it. As a pandit, he is an indefatigable font of information about Hinduism (as well as Magic: The Gathering), and while I wouldn't dream of abusing his generosity by pestering him with my questions in advance, it's nice to have his guidance whenever he's willing to give it.

In the thread that ensued, Shivam gave me a quick explication of the significance of the Bow of Shiva. The broad point is this:

The point you make, of the social order being broken and remade, is partly true, but not the way you say. In essence, the bow here represents the indigenous religious traditions of Shiva worship being demoted in the face of Vishnu's traditions.

— Shivam Bhatt (@elektrotal) October 3, 2019

Once he said it, that historiographical interpretation became perfectly clear to me. Shivam also helped me piece it together that part of the reason the tension between Vaishnava and Shaiva was less than apparent to me is that much of the context has been elided from Egenes and Reddy's rendition of the text. The encounter with Parshurama has been totally omitted from the end of the Bala Kanda, and along with it, the story of the contest between Vishnu and Shiva. Gone, too, is the restoration of Vishnu's own bow to Rama as his avatar. The organizing premise of Vaishnava — that Vishnu sometimes incarnates as religious heroes to cosmological effect — remains clear, but without those elements, it is less clear that Rāma is the vehicle by which Vishnu is meant to displace Shiva as the focal point of worship.

Why have Egenes and Reddy omitted those parts? One possibility I raised with Shivam is that they had simply decided that the interrelations between devas in the Hindu pantheon would be too confusing for a casual Western audience. I've also run across some scholarship which suggests that there have been emendations to the text. That's a topic to which I intend to return in a later post, but I bring it up now just to not the possibility that Egenes and Reddy have removed passages they suppose to be later additions, seeking an approximation of the original text. Finally, as I suggested to Shivam, ideological reasons often hide behind differences of translation in religious texts. Maybe Egenes and Reddy simply wanted to downplay the poem's assertion that Rāma represents a victory over Shaiva.