This is another topic that came up during this year’s Rāma Navami celebrations. Śyāmasundara Prabhu got the ball rolling and then Nandanandana Prabhu responded a week later. It doesn’t take a genius to realize they are talking about two mutually exclusive locations of Lanka, what should we do? Who should we believe?
First of all, they are not accusing each other of ignorance and they are not engaging in a war of words. Nandanandana Prabhu diplomatically stated that there are people who hold different beliefs and that was it. Śyāmasundara Prabhu, who wrote the first article, chose not to respond. He made his point and left it as it is, without provoking unnecessary debate that could lead to vaiṣṇava aparadhas. It’s nice that our senior devotees are so mature about it but it still doesn’t tell us which one of them is right.
Could they both be right? It’s not an unthinkable outcome when we run into dilemmas like this. The Earth is clearly a globe, for example, and it is used as a globe in Vedic astronomical books but it is also appears to be flat if we go strictly by Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Both views are probably correct simultaneously and it’s only a matter of perspective and conditioning. To us the Earth looks like a globe but to sages like Śukadeva Gosvāmī it looks flat. How is that possible we don’t know but we don’t have Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s vision either.
I’m not sure this solution could be possible in case of Lanka. Maybe in different yuga cycles the place changes but otherwise I don’t see how two views can be reconciled. It is more likely that one of the prabhus is wrong, we just have to learn to deal with it without making offenses.
Śyāmasundara’s article begins with a very appropriate quote from Cāṇakya Paṇḍita:
A brahmana sees through the sastras.
A king sees through his spies.
A cow sees through its nose. (to detect eatables)
And an ordinary man sees through his eyes.
It is applicable in so many debates, though it probably won’t convince our opponents. It should give us the confidence in our own faith, however. We should see through the words of guru and shouldn’t worry if other people see things differently. We can’t blame them for that and we can’t make them agree with us if they do not surrender themselves to guru and Kṛṣṇa, in many cases it would simply not be possible to come to an agreement if we use two different sources of knowledge.
This is also where two opposing views on the location of Lanka diverge. On one hand we have quotes from Rāmayana and other scriptures describing Rāma līlā, on the other hand we have some fifty real life locations claiming to be where this līlā actually happened.
This is where we have to go either with śāstra or with people’s claims. I haven’t read the whole article, it mentions too many places, but the only other proof that these are actual Rāma līlā locations is apparently weird phenomena like color of the land being different from surroundings. That is not much, considering that Lord Rāmacandra appeared more than a million years ago and so we should have huge layers of earth covering the original burnt spots. It’s just what happens with all the vegetation growing up and dying, with leaves covering the ground and so on.
It’s not enough to say that because this patch of land has darker soil than surroundings then it must be the place torched by Hanumān, or a red patch of land must the location of a battle and so it’s red because of all the spilled blood. From a million years ago. I’m not saying it’s impossible for blood to keep the earth red for so long and until we know the exact reason any explanation should be considered as a possibility but it would still be under “ordinary man sees through his eyes”. It’s not a very reliable evidence.
Then there’s this sentence: “Incredibly, the names of places have come down to modern times unchanged.” I’m sorry to say, but this means absolutely nothing. People might have given these names to places only a few hundred years ago, it doesn’t mean they persisted for a million years. Lord Caitanya’s birth place was completely forgotten in four hundred years, that’s more in line with people’s abilities to preserve history than to believe that there’s a million year old civilization still residing in Sri Lanka. Śyamasundara Prabhu also has given a link to a wikipedia article on the use of the name Lanka there – it’s not that old at all.
I’ve seen people inventing history for the sake of tourism with my own eyes, the urge and the desire for tourist dollars is too tempting to resist. It is true now and it could have been true a few hundred years ago, though probably more for reasons of vanity rather than riches. The sad fact is that if you build a temple you need some sacred connection to attract people. It could be a tooth of Buddha, a footprint of Matsya, or sandals of Lord Rāma Himself, anything would do.
I’m afraid this is true for many locations in Vṛndāvana and Navadvīpa, too. We can’t see transcendental reality behind ordinary geographical features so we take it on faith – this is where Kṛṣṇa did this, this is where Rādhā did that, this is where Lord Caitanya planted that famous mango tree and so on. In some cases geographical features fit with descriptions in śāstra but look at how Govardhana has changed since then, what are the chances that two hills in a dana-keli pastime haven’t shrunk, too?
Maybe all this business of tying locations from līlā to physical objects is futile to begin with. What difference does it make anyway? Are we going to consider some spots in the dhama as more sacred than others? From our position every speck of dust is transcendental enough, who are we to make any further distinctions?
Finally, if we look with the eyes of the śāstra then real Lanka must be somewhere out in the ocean, south of India and right on the equator. The underwater geography checks out, too – there is a mountain ridge extending from India to that location and it could have been the bridge that monkeys built. After a million years it’s probably all we can hope for in terms of actual ruins.
And if we go to Sri Lanka and refuse to honor what they claim to be locations from Rāma līlā – what good will come out of that? None whatsoever. Just as with Vṛndāvana the real transcendental location should be revealed in our heart, it’s already there in the name but we a locked out of it for now. It doesn’t really matter where we physically are, the obstacles to seeing the real place are within.
We should just keep chanting and it will all be revealed in due time, though probably not in the way we hope to see it now.