INDIA’S MOST BELOVED GREAT EPIC – THE RAMAYANA
Srimad Ramayana is the very soul of India. The highest ideals of every Indian are enshrined and portrayed in this holy scripture. It is a complete guide to God-realization, the path to which lies in righteousness. Ramayana must be studied today, more than ever, by everyone. The ideals of man are beautifully portrayed in it.
The Ramayana of Valmiki is perhaps the most ancient and glorious epic in the world. It is known as the Adikavyam, the first poem. Ramayana aptly represents the geography of India, one which every region of India can connect. It is traditionally attributed to the authorship of the Sage Valmiki and dated from around 500 BCE to 100 BCE. Ramayana is one of the most important literary works of ancient India, it has greatly influenced art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
Story of Ramayana
There is an ancient city of Ayodhya on the banks of broad bosomed river Saryu in the Utter Pradesh State of India. There lived a king called Raghu, so powerful, that he was invited by even Indra of Swargaloka (heaven) to help him in his battles against the demons.
A scion descended from this king was Dasaratha, king of Ayodhya. Dasaratha had everything that nature could bestow, but he had no progeny. Therefore he performed a sacrifice and was given the essence of that sacrifice to be distributed among his queens. This was divided by Dasaratha in three parts for his three queens, Kausalya the eldest, Kaikeyi the second and Sumitra the youngest. It so happened that the last one ate double the share.
In course of time Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi to Bharata and Sumitra to Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Now, as it should be, these four brothers were thoroughly educated in all branches of learning.
Now, there was another king, called Janaka, and this king had a beautiful daughter named Sita. Sita was found in a field; she was a daughter of the Earth, and was born without parents. The word “Sita” in ancient Sanskrit means the furrow made by a plough. Sita, being the daughter of the Earth, was pure and immaculate. She was brought up by King Janaka.
There was an ancient Indian custom called Svayamvara, by which the princesses used to choose husbands. There were numbers of princes who aspired for the hand of Sita; the test demanded on this occasion was the breaking of a huge bow, called Haradhanu. All the princes put forth all their strength to accomplish this feat, but failed. Finally, Rama took the mighty bow in his hands and with easy grace broke it in twain.
Thus Sita selected Rama, the son of King Dasharatha for her husband, and they were wedded with great rejoicings. Then, Rama took his bride to his home, and his old father thought that the time was now come for him to retire and appoint Rama as Yuvaraja.
Everything was accordingly made ready for the ceremony, and the whole country was jubilant over the affair, when the younger queen Kaikeyi was reminded by one of her maidservants of two promises made to her by the king long ago. At one time she had pleased the king very much, and he offered to grant her two boons: “Ask any two things in my power and I will grant them to you,” said he, but she made no request then.
She had forgotten all about it; but the evil-minded maidservant Manthara in her employ began to work upon her jealousy with regard to Rama being installed on the throne, and insinuated to her how nice it would be for her if her own son had succeeded the king, until the queen was almost mad with jealousy.
Then the servant suggested to her to ask from the king the two promised boons: first boon Kaikeyi asked for was that Bharata and not Rama, should be made the king. Secondly, she asked for the banishment of Rama from the kingdom for 14 years.
The king, after painful reluctance, agreed to grant the first boon but could not bear the separation of Rama for such a long period. The queen, however stuck to her stand and Dasaratha kept his word.
But Rama came to the rescue and willingly offered to give up the throne and go into exile, so that his father might not be guilty of falsehood. So Rama went into exile for fourteen years, accompanied by his wife Sita and his devoted brother Lakshmana, who would on no account be parted from him.
Rama knew this cosmic plan. He knew that he was merely a cog in the wheel of the great universe. With this wisdom ingrained in him he was not elated when his father proposed his name as a king. Nor did he sink into the abyss of despondency when the next morning he was banished from the kingdom for 14 long years.
He accepted the command of his father gracefully and approached not only Kausalya, his own mother, but also Sumitra and, of course Kaikeyi who was the cause of all this disaster. It was, he felt, the cosmic will and he should accept its verdict cheerfully. Therefore Rama is always referred to as one of the best specimens of the human race who always respected the right cause.
When Rama discarded his royal robes, put on the mendicant’s attire and prepared himself for the forest. His wife Sita, herself the daughter of a great king, bred and brought up in luxury, sought the permission of her in-laws to accompany her husband. There was a lot of argument, but she convinced all that a wife’s place is always by they side of her husband in prosperity or in penury. Her arguments, according to Indian traditions, were incontrovertible. She was allowed to accompany Rama.
When Bharata who had been sent away to his maternal uncle, returned to Ayodhya and became aware of the developments. He reprimanded his mother. He went to Chitrakuta, where Rama with Sita and Lakshmana was staying, in order to bring back Lord Rama and enthrone him as king.
After great persuasion by Rama, taking it as a command of the Lord, Bharata agreed to rule the kingdom only as a representative of Lord Rama, his elder brother.
Agastya Muni informed Rama about the beautiful place called Paṃcavaṭī and told to stay there building a hermitage. There are number of Rishis whom Rama did meet in forest. Among all Rishis, Agasya is the most powerful. He gave some excellent divine weapons to Rama and Lakṣmaṇa.
The sister of Ravana named Surpanakha heard of the two princes and a lady living in the forest and had the easy curiosity of having a look at them. She was a treacherous woman and visited Panchavati in her best attire. Almost at first sight she fell in love with the handsome Rama and dared to woo him. Rama smiled and explained that he was accompanied by his wife. But the woman was adamant and when she started making advances, Lakshmana was enraged and chopped off her ears and nose.
She ran away bleeding and cursing, to her brothers Khara and Dushana, kings of two small principalities. She presented entirely a different story – that that the princes wanted to molest her and when she took a stand, the younger brother disfigured her. Both the brothers raided Panchavati and after a fierce battle both were slain by Rama.
As the story goes, after her brothers were killed, she went to Meghanatha and finally to Ravana, instigating them to avenge her dishonour. Ravana was a clever king and when he heard that the two brothers had been slain by Rama and Lakshmana, he could guess that they were no ordinary warriors. He therefore set a trap and sent a man Maricha, who could take any form, to go near Panchavati in the form of a golden deer, and beguile the brothers away.
The plan worked and when Sita saw the golden deer she asked her husband to get it for her, Rama saw the game and told Sita that it was only a ruse and that she should not pay any attention to it, but cosmic plan had its influence and Sita became restless and compelled Rama to bring the golden deer for her.
Rama instructed Lakshmana to look after Sita and started the chase. As planned, when Maricha was dying he shouted for Lakshmana. Sita suspected that Rama was in danger and insisted upon Lakshmana’s going to his help. Lakshmana tried to convince Sita that nothing untoward would happen to Rama and that it was all a trick to take him away from her. But a woman’s heart, she was harsh on Lakshmana and went to the extent of imputing motives to him, which compelled Lakshmana to go in search of his brother. Before departure, he drew a line on the ground with his bow and told Sita not to cross the line, come what may.
As soon as the two brothers had gone, a mendicant appeared to beg for alms. He noted the line and knew that if he crossed it he could be burnt to ashes. He therefore requested her to come out of the line, and as she did so, the mendicant who was none else but Ravana, took her away forcibly in his aerial car.
Ravana was a strange foe. He was well-read knowing all the Vedas and Sastras, unbeaten in argument and having great knowledge of various arts and sciences. Indian artists therefore show him as a person having the wisdom of ten wise men with ten heads. In spite of being so learned and wise, he committed the contemptible act of taking away forcibly another man’s wife.
Therefore the artists add a donkey’s head to the personality of Ravana demonstrating his folly. Ravana retained his propriety, however, in dealing with the captive Sita. She was put under the charge of dreadful demonesses who cajoled her, compelled her, threatened her to accept Ravana as her husband. Nothing availed, and Sita stood like a rock in her faithfulness and loyalty to Rama.
At the other camp, once Rama came to know that Ravana had taken away Sita, a search was launched to find the exact spot where she was confined. The job was performed by his great devotee, Hanuman, son of Vayu (wind God) who had acquired several Siddhis (miraculous powers) like assuming several forms ranging from the tiniest and the lightest to the largest and the heaviest.
Hanuman took the ring of Rama as a token to establish his identity and dropped the ring from a tree under which Sita was sitting. Sita was delighted to receive a message from Rama and gave an ornament in return as a token of her message to her Lord.
Vibhishana had joined the forces of Rama and with the help of king Sugreeva, a huge army was raised and a bridge laid across the sea to reach Lanka. Feverish preparations followed on both sides but before starting the war Rama sought the blessings of Lord Siva for his success.
The day of reckoning arrived and the great battle began between the forces of good and evil. There were many ups and downs in the battle. At one point Lakshmana was mortally wounded and there were less chances for his survival. But he was revived by the Sanjivini herb brought by Hanuman from the Himalayas.
Thousands of Vanaras of Rama’s Army were killed by Meghnatha, the son of Ravana, who at last was slain in the battle by Lakshmana. Ahiravana, another son of Ravana, who was in the Patal Loka took away Rama and Lakshmana through his Maya to be sacrificed at the altar of Devi. However, they were rescued by Hanuman, and Ahiravana was killed by Hanuman. Kumbhakarana, a great warrior and brother of Ravana, was also killed by Lord Rama on the battlefield.
At the end, Ravana fell dead on the ground. Sita was rescued and taken to Ayodhya in Pushpaka Vimana, an aerial car. They were received by the people of Ayodhya and brother Bharata who had ruled the country in his absence as a regent. Rama was crowned king amidst great rejoicings.
In the episode of Agni Pariksha, Sita Devi is the representation of ideal women. Rama was just playing the role of a human. He believed that Sita and he were one and both cannot be separated like the Sun and its light. At the end, Rama embraced Sita and told, he never doubted her but it was his duty to satisfy the minds of others and to retain respect as a King.
Message of Ramayana
First, there is no doubt that early Indians had an approach to history which was rather different from the present day attitude. The word for literature in India is Sahitya, i.e. which will help in the progress and welfare of mankind. While writing history, maybe they kept the objective of human welfare uppermost.
The Puranas and Itihasas; are in these true stories and narratives with a historic touch behind them which not only impress the reader but also expound the philosophical truths in such a lucid style that a sincere spiritual aspirant will get a spontaneous urge from within to live the ideals in his own life. Such is the power behind these ancient Epics, the Puranas and Itihasas, that they are commonly known as ‘Suhrid Samhitas’ meaning the friendly collection of philosophical scriptures.
Rama was virtuous and of manly strength. He was the Lord of the mind and the senses. Brave and valiant, He was yet gentle and modest. He was a sage in counsel, kind and sweet in speech, and most courteous and handsome in appearance. He was the master of all the divine weapons, and a great warrior. Ever devoted to the good and prosperity of his kingdom and his subjects, he was a defender of the weak and the protector of the righteous. Endowed with numerous wondrous powers of the mind, He was well versed in all sciences; military science as well as the science of the Self.
The chief and fundamental factors that go to make up the high standard of perfection in man are his moral and ethical sides. Unless one possesses an unquestionable character in respect of morality and conduct, he will never attain greatness or true perfection. There are established codes of morality and ethics in the Hindu Sastras which are based on the teachings of the Vedas, the immortal scriptures of the Hindu religion.
And without God’s grace, no individual and no society can progress. The supreme value of the universe is in its being a field of experience for its contents are necessary for the evolution towards the Eternal Being. The reality of the universe is God. All attempts and endeavors based on Adharma, on selfishness and individual independence, are doomed to failure at the iron hands of the Divine Law. The Ramayana most excellently portrays the victory of Dharma and the final defeat of Adharma.
The esoteric meaning of Ramayana
There is a spiritual interpretation of the story of Rama which would be found beneficial to the entire mankind. According to the esoteric explanation of the Ramayana, man himself is the battlefield where a constant war is going on between the good and evil propensities. Information about the external world is collected through the five sense organs. These perceptions are turned into impressions with the help of mental background, different in different individuals. On the basis of these impressions the individual acts through the five organs of action. It is by controlling the sense organs and disciplining the mind with the help of the intellect that man can take proper action
and lead a happy life. After continuous disciplining of the mind and the senses, ignorance is dispelled and one is able to discriminate between good and evil.
He who crosses this ocean of Moha (delusion) and destroys the Rakshasas,—Raga and Dvesha (likes and dislikes),—is a Yogin who is united with Santi or Peace, ever rests in Atman, and enjoys the eternal bliss. Sri Rama stands for the ‘Good’ (Sattva); Ravana for the ‘Evil’. Sri Rama and Ravana fought with each other. Eventually, Sri Rama became victorious. The positive always overcomes the negative. Good always overcomes evil.
— Om Tat Sat —
“Emotions are the ornaments of life. But we need to choose the emotions that bring out our higher side, not our lower side.”
Wisdom from the Ramayana