A novel that gives an insider’s perspective on the workings of karma.
By Dolly Koghar
Rukmini and the Turning of Time: The Dawn of an Era is not simply another book that is rehashing what we already know about Rukmini as the princess of Vidarbha, the daughter of King Bhishmaka and the sister of Rukmi, who had arranged her marriage without her consent to the King of Chedi, Shishupala. We’ve all already heard about how Lord Krishna then descended on the marriage, killed the would-be groom in front of the attendees, and carried Rukmini off on his carriage to become his first consort.
However, Dena Merriam’s account is unparalleled because it is neither a fictitious adaption nor a learned analysis, but a crystal-clear, detailed journey into her seven past lifetimes that she was able to tap into through dedicated meditation. It’s to her credit that she weaves a continual thread through all those reincarnations, without tangling or jumbling the details; from the first of her three births as a performing dance artist, in which she commenced her spiritual learning at the feet of Sita Ma, the daughter of Raja Janak and wife of Shri Ram; to her most recent birth, again as a dancer, under the loving guidance of Rukmini Mata herself.
Dena’s exemplary writing is captivating, as she paints a vivid image of each of her past births, as well as the events and characters that were mish-mashed into those seven lives. Dena does what only she can do, and that is to take us back into the past reincarnations of the characters we assumed we knew so well. In doing so, she lifts the fog off the complicated and confusing theory of karma, and it emerges as the underlying raison d’être of the universe, the causation of every event, minute or world-changing. She connects karma to every act, whether unnoticeable or earth-shattering, of every living creature, from the humble worm to those on the world stage. Kal, a Sanskrit word for time, doesn’t forget; no one is exempt from reaping the consequences of their past actions, whether they are from a million years or a million lifetimes past.
Karma is why Ravana abducted Sita, and it was their collective karmas being played out when Arjuna led his Pandava brothers to wage the unprecedented Kurukshetra War against his own cousins, the Kauravas, and killed them along with the much-respected and loved guru, Dronacharya. Their previous, intertwined karmas compelled Kunti to command her five sons to share Draupadi, whose karma, in turn, had her spend a lifetime longing for someone other than her five husbands, none of whom she loved.
Throughout the book, Dena continues to shine the floodlights of truth on the characters and events in the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, giving special attention to the roles of Sita and Rukmini, whom the scribes had relegated to the unlit corners as docile and sacrificing women, while their husbands, Shri Ram and Lord Krishna, hogged the spotlight. In fact, Dena places the two right in the middle of the stage as the ying to their partners’ yang. They were Narayani, the female half of the cosmic emanation of the god Narayan, the preserver of dharma and righteousness; and in as much as it was necessary for Narayan to take on human incarnations as Ram and then again as Krishna during the Ramayana and Mahabharata eras, Sita Maand Rukmini Mata were as crucial, if not more so, than their eternal spouses.
Dena expands our horizons and reveals that something much bigger, with far more significance than the tumultuous events that were unfolding to the physical eye, was taking place in the cosmos during those epochs. After an incalculable lapse, the eternal wheel of time, the Kalachakra, was once again gyrating; the endless cycle of the four yugas (world age) was rotating into its next phase. This shift involved tremendous evolutionary changes, not only in the physical universe, but the thought process and consciousness of mankind also metamorphosed for either better or worse, depending upon the particular yuga.
Dena’s memory of the first of her seven lives was when the Satya Yuga was at its tail end, and the Dvapara Yuga was fast approaching. This is when she met Shri Ram and Sita Ma, who came to earth to steer people from the golden age of enlightenment, when all was good and pure, into an age when human buddhi, or intellect, would distance itself from the cosmic truth and the divinity within themselves. As a couple, they set an ideal example in duty, family life, justice, and truth, and introduced laws and rules on how to create a harmonious society so that individuals could maintain the autonomy to pursue their personal spiritual growth; the ultimate goal of human existence.
Dena then takes us to the end of Ram’s Dvapara Yuga, when once again the gods incarnated as Krishna and Rukmini, but this time around, their approach had to be different from that of Ram and Sita, since humanity and the cosmic cycle was moving into the darkest phase of the four yugas, Kali Yuga, the era in which we now live. To combat the ignorance and evil that are the hallmarks of this era, Krishna uttered the guiding gem that is the Gita, but more than anything, he taught love. The epitome of that love was none other than Radha; her love was an utter absolution of self, and for her nothing existed outside or beyond her isht, Krishna. It is to that devotion that Krishna played his flute, and it is the hypnotic power of that love that rendered Radha tohelplessly perform the Ras leela. Her love was a pure prayer, a silent meditation, and it is what makes Radha divine, and thousands of years later, people still chant Radha-Krishna, and not Krishna-Radha.
It resonated with me that while Radha played the role of devotee, Rukmini Mata was silently and tirelessly upholding the spirit of humankind and lovingly guiding them through their daily grind of karma. She nursed, coddled, and wiped the tears of the sick, the lonely, and the woe-ridden, and held the hands of the dying during the Kurukshetra War, that culminated in death and destruction unmatched till date. She was the priestess that gave the common man his spiritual lessons, uplifting him to look beyond his body and its needs, joys, and sufferings, and to turn inwards towards his personal spiritual growth, which would eventually lead to an unbridled and eternal freedom. Moksha!
Every sentence and line of the book by Dena Merriam are an adulation and gratitude towards Sita Ma and Rukmini Mata for having guided her through her very many lives till she finally reached the pinnacle of her spiritual growth, which she shares with the world in this book. The profoundly smooth transitions of each of her births to death, only to be reborn again, took away the sting and abject fear of death from me, and the book is worthy of not only a single reading, but to be re-read many times over to grasp the enormity of our precious human existence, and our potential to become gods.