THE VALUE SYSTEM ENSHRINED IN RAMAYANA
The ancient sages have proclaimed that life is a pilgrimage towards salvation (liberation from the cycle of births and deaths). They have prescribed two paths to achieve this liberation (Moksha).
1. Jnanamarga (the path of knowledge or contemplation)
2. Karmamarga (the path of worshipful action)
Jnanamarga is more suited to a recluse, who has renounced this world and all worldly attachments. For a common house holder, Karmamarga is more suitable and appropriate. In the Karmamarga the four Purusharthas (Goals) have been specified. These are; Dharma (Ethical value) Artha (wealth or possession), Kama (instinctual desire) and Moksha (Salvation or Liberation) Ramayana is the epic that deals with the Karmamarga.
No other epic has attracted such attention of Indians as Ramayana. The Sage, Valmiki has covered the life story of Sri Rama, who lived in the Tretayuga (the second of the four Yugas). In order to fulfil the promise given by his father, King Dasharadha to his Second wife Kaikeyi, Rama went into exile in the forest for fourteen years, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana.
During this period Rama destroyed those who acted contrary to what was right and lawful and established Dharma (righteousness). In the end he killed the demon king Ravana, and returned to Ayodhya, to take up the responsibility as the king. Thus the Epic Ramayana is the chronicle of Rama’s journey across India from North to South.
Though, at the first sight, Ramayana may appear to be a story that can be enjoyed even by the common man, it also teaches the reader how to lead a noble life. When Rama and his brothers stood for righteous and selfless action (the basic principles of Karmamarga), Ravana and his followers chose the path of Artha (possession) and Kama (satisfaction of desires) eschewing the path of Dharma. Thus Ramayana teaches that those who pursue the path of acquiring possession and wealth, and satisfying their carnal desires, will meet with the same fate as Ravana. Though Ravana possessed ten heads and twenty hands he could not hold against current created in the path of Karma Marga. However strong (twenty hands) and intelligent (ten heads) one may be, it is imperative that one has to follow the path of righteousness. This is the message (lesson) that emerges from Ramayana.
Dharma is the bed-rock on which Indian Philosophical thinking in firmly fixed. The Bharatiya (Indian), philosophy teaches that the path of Dharma is available to all and through this path they can attain salvation. It is the distracting views on the both sides of this path that attracts one to go after wealth and carnal desires. The most important part in Ramayana is that actions in pursuit of wealth or to satisfy desires should not be against the tenets of Dharma.
Dharma has many interpretation (1) it is a path to attain salvation (2) it defines what is right and what is wrong (action). (3) Protecting Dharma is the basic duty and responsibility of one and all. Therefore in the sphere of one’s actions, one should do only what is right and avoid all wrong actions. Man reaps what he sows. One who sows goodness reaps goodness. One who sows hatred reaps hatred. The supreme principle that Ramayana upholds is simple “Sow Dharma and reap Dharma”
Ahalya, the wife of sage Gauthama, was seduced by Devendra. She went astray from the path of Dharma by falling into a temporary infatuation for another man. The Rishi cursed her, and she was turned into a stone. After hundreds of years Rama restored her to her natural form, when he stepped on the stone. Thus she was purified by Rama, an Avatar of Vishnu.
Shoorpanakha was intoxicated by her infatuation for Rama and made advances to him. This was repelled by Rama and later Lakshmana. When she went to kill Sita, Lakshmana disfigured her by cutting off her nose and ears. Thus she lost her facial and feminine beauty.
Ravana carried off the Pushpaka Vimana (a divine aerial car which was given to Kubera asa boon by Lord Brahma). This was an act against Dharma (Adharma). The abduction of Sita was another one. Thus his wrong deeds caused his destruction eventually. Even today, people like Ravana, kidnap women. Their sinful acts result in loss of wealth, health, respect and even untimely death.
To end up in a miserable existence full of sorrow, it is not necessary to be fully involved in action in pursuit of wealth or to satisfy one’s desires. Even though, Sita had to lead a difficult life in the forest, she was not unhappy. But in a weak moment, her mind went in the wrong direction, to posses the golden deer. This was a sensual desire. From that incident, Sita had to suffer sorrow in her whole life. Even in the case of Ahalya, it was her indiscrete act that resulted in her misery. All these stories teaches us that one need not go too far to make one’s life sorrowful, if one goes after acquiring possession satisfying one’s unwanted desires.
The story of the golden deer shows us how a person falls into the web of infatuation. Today, while we go out, we can see many things along the way that trigger our desire; - the sweets that kept in the confectionary, new clothes displayed in textile showrooms, electronic goods like TV, Computers and so on. A common man’s life is always swayed to posses whatever catches his fancy. The desire for wordily objects can lead a person to a sorrowful life, as evident from the story of the golden deer. Therefore Sages have shown objects of possession and desires as distracting sights on both sides on the path of Dharma. It means you cannot avoid them but only see them. But it should not generate a particular attachment towards objects or persons. On seeing these, the trend of thought goes like this: - This looks good; why not I possess it. If a person cannot get what he want by fare means, thinks about other dubious means to get what he longs to possess. Thus caught in the web of desire for objects of enjoyment, man falls into the abyss of self destruction.
One of the principles advocated in Ramayana is that the wife should be like a shadow to her husband. Therefore, the house holder (man) moves along the path of Dharma towards salvation jointly with his wife. That is why the wife is often referred to as Sahadharmini (Companion in the observations of Dharma).
At the same time, Ramayana also brings out clearly, the tribulations that king Dasharadha had to undergo, due to his polygamous life. Rama’s principle was-‘one man, one-wife’. In the case of Dasharadha he took three wives when he could not get a progeny. Later, he got four sons, through his three wives. Finally when the time came for coronation of the eldest as the crown prince, everything went awry. The coronation did not take place. But that was not all. Rama, Sita and Lakshmana had to go into exile in the forest for fourteen years. King Dasharadha died consumed by the sorrow of these events. Had Dasharadha only one wife, perhaps, he may not have met with such a painful end.
The killing of the demoness Tataka should be viewed in the context of advice given by elders when the children leave home to stay away for the first time. One should not go in the wrong path like Tataka, who was symbol of sex (Kamaroopini). Such people won’t live long. They meet with immature death, loss of wealth, health and honour. This was the story of Tataka. Why did King Dasharadha allow such a demoness to roam free creating havoc in the province of Ayodhya. Was it because the king was not aware of his duty towards his subjects?
There is an opinion prevalent in some quarters that though Ravana abducted Sita, and kept her captive, he did not harass or molest her, because he was a good person. In a sense, it is true. Compared to Ravanas in modern Kaliyuga, Ravana of Tretayuga, stands head above others in his behaviour towards women. But Ravana had also limitations. He was a king. What will his subjects think if he brings home another man’s wife and treats her cruelly? Further, his brothers Vibheeshana , Kumbhakarna and the demon Malyavan told Ravana that what he was doing was wrong. At the same time Sita warned him that he cannot get her alive to be his wife. Under these circumstances, Ravana had no option but to wait for the opportunity for a change in Sita’s mind.
Many may hold the opinion that some of the descriptions in Ramayana, like Sita was got from a furrow (ploughed field), that Ravana had ten heads and twenty hands, and that Hanuman could fly carrying a huge hillock with medicinal herbs from the Himalayas, are figments of imagination. These are just exaggeration with poetic liberty. But, above all, there are many hidden messages behind these descriptions or events. Valmiki describes Ravana as an example to show that even if a person with enormous physical strength and intelligence, goes astray from the path of Dharma in search of carnal pleasures, he gets destroyed by his sinful actions.
Hanuman was a confirmed celibate (Nitya Brahmachari) and bestowed with eternal youth. Valmiki has brought out the super human powers attainable through celibacy through the story of Hanuman.
Even the story of origin from the furrow also conveys some truth. In the scriptures wife is considered as the field (Kshetram). It is an age old Indian concept. Man ploughs the field, sows seed, and harvests the produce. The story of Janaka getting a girl child from the furrow is to bring out the universal truth in a veiled form. Thinkers understand these, and enjoy reading the epic. The concept of Mother Earth contains certain facts. When a child is in the mother’s womb, it gets food, water and nourishment from the mother. After birth, whatever food the child requires is provided by the Earth. Thus the Earth is not only Mother to Sita but to all living things, and is called as Mother Earth.
There is a widespread criticism that it was not fair for Rama to kill Vali, by shooting him hiding. In the Tretayuga there was an accepted convention that the younger brother’s wife should be seen as one’s own daughter. But Vali coveted his brother’s wife. In Rama’s view this was an act against Dharma,and so Vali deserved death. Rama and Sugreeva, Vali’s brother, had entered into an alliance and thus become soul mates. One has to treat a friend’s enemy as one’s enemy. In Kaliyuga , the treachery of manipulating one’s friend’s enemy to kill one’s friend is not uncommon. But this practice was not prevalent in Treteyuga. Therefore, as Sugriva’s close friend, to kill Vali, was the duty of Rama. Rama could not kill Vali in an open combat, because Vali wore a divine garland given by Indra which made him invincible. If Rama killed Vali in a face-to-face combat, it would have been an insult to Indra.
In Uttara Ramayana (the later part or section of Ramayana), the killing of Sambuka is another debatable issue. On the complaint made by a Brahmin to Rama that the penance performed by a Sudra (Lower caste) sage was responsible for the death of the Brahmin’s son, Rama killed Sambuka. This story is diametrically opposite to the principles of Karma, which Ramayana upholds all the time. This principle is mentioned in Ayodhya Khandam (Valmikiasrama prevesanam)-ie, The chapter on Ayodhya, and in section-Entry into the hermitage of Valmiki-
“The fruits of one’s daily actions are consumed by the doer and no one else. Whatever Karma (action-good and bad), one does continuously; one has no choice, but to suffer to consequences”
Based on this principle of Karma, the death of the Brahmin’s son is the result of his own sinful actions, in this birth or in earlier births. The Brahmin also suffers the sorrow caused by the death of his son, due to his own wrong action. To interpret this in any other way is against the principles enshrined in the Ramayana. Therefore it appears that the episode of Sambuka’s killing has been included by same one who is ignorant of the principles of Karma.
The banishment of Sita to the hermitage of Valmiki, as described in the Uttara Ramayana, is also a subject open to criticism and debate. In this context, we have to view Rama as a king who upholds Rajadharma, beyond his attachments to his possessions or love for his wife. The principles of Dharma prevalent in Tretayuga may not be acceptable to people in Kaliyuga. Since the concept of Dharma changes with time, one cannot decry what Rama did and brand it as an act of cruelty. The reader has just to understand that Rama followed principles of Tretayuga as dictated by his conscience.
Another noble message in Ramayana is related to Sat-Sang (Company of holy and virtues people). It was the good fortune of the highway robber Ratnakara that he accidently met the Seven Sages (Sapta rishis), which transformed him into Sage Valmiki. Similarly, when Rama and Lakshmana spend a few days with Rishi Vishwamitra, they could learn many invaluable and sacred mantras, obtain divine weapons, enter into marriage alliances and attain fame. Ahalya and others were released from their curses, due to contact with Rama. Those who were slain by Rama attained salvation. All these incidents enhance our belief in the value of keeping company of virtuous peoples or coming in contact with them, for whatever means, good or bad.
The role of Ramayana in teaching Indians the tenets of Dharma and transforming them into Dharmic (righteous) souls is immeasurable and invaluable. Years of foreign rule, looting of our treasures, slaughter of people, rape and molestation of women did not destroy the will of the Indians, because of their hold on the principles and values enshrined in the great epic, Ramayana. During the struggle for India’s independence, Mahatma Gandhi revived the concept of Ramarajya (a nation that stands for Dharma) and preached the divine mantra on Rama