This article could also be called “The Mysteries of Normative Texts.” Who decides what’s normative? Who decide who’s normal? Who
benefits and who suffers from declarations of normality? In the inevitable flow of time and change, how do people manage both to cling to norms and to alter them?
Pardon me if I sound monolithic, but for 2,000 years the god-king Rama has been way in front of all contenders for the title of Official Ideal Man in Hindu India. In the opening lines of the Sanskrit poem that is fountainhead to all later Ramayana textual traditions, sage and soon-to-be First Poet Valmiki questions sage Narada: “Is there a man in the world today who is truly virtuous? Who is there who is mighty and yet knows both what is right and how to act upon it? Who always speaks the truth and holds firmly to his vows? Who exemplifies proper conduct and is benevolent to all creatures?
Who is learned, capable, and a pleasure to behold? Who is self-controlled, having subdued his anger? Who is both judicious and free from envy? Who, when his fury is aroused in battle, is feared even by the gods?" (Valmiki 1984:121) Narada replies: “The many virtues you have named are hard to find. Let me think a moment, sage, before I speak. Hear now of a man who has them all. His name is Rama . . .” Narada catalogs Rama’s chief virtues for the next twelve verses.
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