Suicide of Rama by Arun Kolatkar – Summary and Analysis

Suicide of Rama

About the Poet: Arun Kolatkar, one of India’s greatest modern poets, lived from 1931 to 2004. He began writing in both Marathi and English in 1955 and published in magazines and anthologies, but did not publish a collection of poems until he was 44 years old. Jejuri, his first book of poetry, was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1976. Bhijki Vahi, his third Marathi book, got a Sahitya Akademi Award in 2004. Jejuri is both an epic poem and a sequence that celebrates life in the Indian city (and pilgrimage site) of the same name in the Maharashtra state. It was later published in the United States in the NYRB Classics series, with an introduction by Amit Chaudhuri, and an edited version was published by The Guardian in 2006.

Always afraid to share his work, Kolatkar waited until 2004, when he knew he was dying from cancer, before releasing two more collections: Kala Ghoda Poems (a portrayal of all life happening on his favourite street, Kala Ghoda), and Sarpa Satra. The Boatride and Other Poems (2008), edited by his friend, poet and critic Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, contained previously uncollected English poems as well as translations of his Marathi poems.

Introduction: The poem “Suicide of Rama” is about Rama’s death or you can say disappearance and was written by Arun Kolatkar. As we all know, Hinduism believes that Rama is the seventh incarnation of God Vishnu. In the Ramayana, he tells the epic story of Rama in Ayodhya defeating Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, and rescuing his wife Sita from him. When Rama returned to Ayodhya from exile for 14 years, all the people were very happy, and Hindus celebrate that day as Diwali. It is said that disappearance of Sri Ram from earth happened when he entered voluntarily into the Sarayu River and went to his abode vaikunta. This divine event is described as the death of Lord Rama. As per the poem, Rama kills himself and flows from the eyes of Valmiki to a normal person after this incident.

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Summary of the Poem

The poem “Suicide of Rama” is about Rama’s death or disappearance and was written by Arun Kolatkar. Arun Kolatkar authored poems both in English and Marathi. He first wrote “Suicide of Rama” in Marathi and then translated it into English himself. 

The first few lines allude to the ‘winding verses of Valmiki’s Ramayana. The verses are compared to a flight of stairs that gave birth to the hero Rama. Then, as per the poem, Rama kills himself, falling from the heroic heights that Valmiki bestowed upon him. (However, most of the Hindu Scriptures write that Rama did not die but voluntarily jumped into the Saraya River and went to his abode Vaikunta). It’s as though the epic has shrugged him off. The epic of Valmiki has been dubbed “turreted,” implying that the epic is a great palace. It further claims Rama lived in a palace and jumped into the river from one of the palace’s windows. The poet claims that not only is the epic Ramayana grand, like a palace, but it has also created the great image of Rama the hero by contrasting the epic with Rama’s palace.

However, when Rama commits suicide, he is reduced to the status of a common mortal. In the fourth line, the word “ledge” reinforces the palace metaphor. It is the ledge, physically a window ledge, from which Rama jumped into the Saryu and, symbolically in the Rama legend, from which Rama falls when he commits suicide.

The word “crescent” in the next four lines represents the curved path Rama’s body travelled when he jumped into the river. Rama’s fables (legendary tales) are thought to be the rope that kept him stable at a high moment in his life as a hero. The poet describes the process by which heroes are produced. When we transform a human into a heavenly creature, it is the same as wrapping an ordinary person of flesh and blood (a skeleton) with the aura of a superhuman being (that is, clouding him with folklore). When Rama committed suicide, he descended from the lofty heights of Valmiki’s poetic imagination to the level of a common mortal. Suicide is an admission of defeat, and the poet seems to imply that a defeated man cannot be an epic hero. The poem contrasts two representations of Rama: one of the Ramayana hero, perfect and everlasting in the public imagination, and the other of an ordinary man who commits suicide.

In mythology, Rama’s picture of a great hero and king is seen transforming into soap, which would eventually disappear into the river. The word “arse” implies that the great hero has now been reduced to a corpse floating in the river like a “gourd.” Thus, in death, the hero is far away from the legendary creeper (‘sap’) who once bore him high. 

The final lines express a universal reality. The only thing the man leaves behind is his legend. He will die, but his magnificent deeds will be remembered long after he is gone. It’s like one wave confirming that there was another before it. This is nature’s cycle; death always comes afterlife. The river of change transports his body to the salty sea. This is the final judgement of time (represented here as the sea), at which point all existence, no matter how distinguished, must come to an end.

The poem’s artistic tension is based on the conflict between two conceptions of Rama: one of an epic hero who is an eternal part of the public imagination and the other of a mortal who dies as he jumps into the river. His leap into the river and drowning represents his transformation from a legend to a mortal being. As per the poem, after death, he becomes a part of the phenomenal world of the elements. The river represents the physical world, which is bound by natural laws that state that everything born must die. In other words, Rama’s suicide, as per the poem, shows that he has left the domain of cultural imagination and entered the reality of everyday life.

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The poem is unique. You will notice that there are no capital letters or punctuation marks in the poem. If you read the poems of the American poet E.E. Cummings (1894–1962), you will notice that he too does not use capital letters or punctuation marks. But can we offer another explanation for it? We all know that proper nouns are written with a capital letter, therefore “valmiki” and “rama” should have been spelt with capital letters. Can we say that Kolatkar does not write these names with capital letters because he wants to suggest that death makes everyone equal and takes away a person’s individuality? Note that in the third stanza, Kolatkar compares Rama’s body to a gourd drifting in the river, suggesting that after death there is no difference between the body of Rama and that of a nameless gourd. Similarly, we can say that the absence of punctuation marks tries to recapture in verse the unrestricted flow of the river Saryu, in which Rama was drowned.

In this poem, the river is the key metaphor. It represents the principle of change. This image of the river contrasts with that of the solidly standing royal palace, which reflects the Rama mythology immutably imprinted on our minds.

Note: This post is submitted by an anonymous writer. The views expressed in this post does not belong to Smart English Notes.