Indeed, heroism draws human adoration & admiration more than anything else. It can inspire an entire generation or perhaps several generations altogether. When we talk about the Indian historical context, it is full of instances wherein heroes & heroines have accomplished great feats that were impossibly difficult & incredibly different. Well, here is about the Indian super-epic Ramayana, the story surrounding the God-incarnate Lord Rama, his life, mission, vision and activities. Ramayana is a super-heroic story, wherein idealism has refused to be bogged down by hard & cruel reality & adversities and where goodness has eventually triumphed not just physically but also mentally & universally.
It is said that Ramayana resides in the hearts and minds of countless Hindus and even people practising other religions. The super-moral acts of various heroes & heroines in the Holy Ramayana continue to invite and inspire numerous people across India and the world. Indeed, Ramayana is rightly described as the culmination & aggregation of human morality which led to the establishment of a societal structure that was suffused with love, dutifulness and righteousness. The Holy Ramayana broadly concludes with the establishment of Ram Rajya, an ideal state of highly flawless, glorious, lofty human social existence.
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Ramayana Epic Or The Ramayan Katha
As per the story of Ramayana, Dasharatha is the King of Ayodhya and has three wives and four sons, Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. Rama, the eldest, is the ideal and perfect son, who grows up with his brothers. When he reached the marriageable age, he married Sita, the princess of a nearby kingdom called Mithila (now in Bihar (India) and Nepal). However, Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi resents Rama being the crown prince. She calls up a debt that Dasharatha owes her and asks for Rama to be exiled for 14 years and her son Bharata be made crown prince instead.
Dasharatha is devastated but has no choice and Rama prepares to leave for exile. Sita and Lakshmana will not leave Rama and follow him into the forest. When they are in the forest, a female rakshasi (demoness), Surphanaka, becomes enamoured of Rama and is wounded by Lakshmana while trying to kill Sita. She runs to her brother Khara and asks him to avenge her injury. But, the armies of Khara are defeated by Rama and Lakshmana, and only one member of their entire army survives. This survivor runs away to the island kingdom of Lanka and pleads with Surphanaka’s brother, the strong king Ravana to avenge them. Ravana knows about Sita’s beauty and he decides to kidnap her. Using tricks & magic, he lures Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita and abducts her, takes her away to Lanka.
Rama and Lakshmana look far and wide searching for Sita but they do not get success. Finally, they meet a band of vanaras or monkey-men who pledge to help him. A very prominent warrior of the vanaras, Hanuman, becomes Rama’s strongest devotee. The vanaras search for traces of Sita and come to know that she has been taken to Lanka. Hanuman goes to Lanka and confirms that she has been imprisoned there. He meets Sita and tells her of Rama’s whereabouts, assuring that they will be back to rescue her. Before coming back to the Indian mainland, Hanuman sets fire to the whole city of Lanka.
Rama, Lakshmana and the vanar army build a large bridge from the tip of India to Lanka. They travel to Lanka, where a pitched battle takes place between the two armies. Ravana is eventually killed by Rama, and Sita is freed. They return to Ayodhya, where Bharata returns the crown to Rama.
Valmiki Ramayana & Tulsidas Ramayana
There are two major versions of the Holy Ramayana, namely Valmiki Ramayana, written by sage Valmiki and Ramcharit Manas, written in medieval India by the scholarly saint Tulsidas. Here is the comparison between the two Ramayanas, similarities & differences between the two versions of Ramayana. Here are the points:
- Valmiki is written in chaste (and ancient) Sanskrit, the classical language of Hinduism and the lingua franca of (early) Aryans. On the other hand, Ramcharitmanas is written in Awadhi, a dialect of Hindi, which was spoken by the common masses in the Awadh region of Northern India, the region where Sant Tulsidas lived.
Both of them revere and adore Lord Rama as the most important personality on Earth.
Both of them largely share the same track of the life of Lord Rama, the events and mission of his life.
lmiki Ramayana is very large & diverse. It consists of around 4.80 lakh words. Ramcharitmanas is comparatively shorter. It consists of around 1.20 lakh words only.
- Valmiki Ramayana broadly presents Lord Rama as a superhero. There is comparatively less focus on Lord Rama and other characters and more focus on nature and surroundings. On the other contrary, Ramcharitmanas projects Lord Rama as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu or even the incarnation of the Supreme God. Ramcharitmanas eulogizes Lord Rama and other characters, in a much more intense & comprehensive manner.
- Ramcharitmanas Ramayana was written to help common people as they could not understand the complex Sanskrit of Valmiki Ramayana. So, Ramcharitmans strived to make God more accessible and popular. Thus, we can say while Valmiki Ramayana represented tradition, Ramcharitmanas was about change.
- Valmiki Ramayana was written during the times of Lord Rama himself. On the contrary, Tulsidas wrote Ramcharitmanas in the 15th Century AD using various sources (including Valmiki Ramayana) and his own insight into the story of Rama as he was blessed by the Lord. Thus, Ramcharitmanas does not include certain parts which are given in Valmiki Ramayana.
- It is said that Ramcharitmanas is like a bible for millions and millions of Hindus (especially in North India). As for Valmiki Ramayana, it is used more for scholarly and religious-academic pursuits.
- Both of them revere and adore Lord Rama as the most important personality on Earth.
- Both of them largely share the same track of the life of Lord Rama, the events and mission of his life.
Ramayana – A Monumental Epic Of Morality & Idealism
Ramayana transcends the boundaries of mine and thine. It is the story of idealism and morality. And this idealism is not dry or mechanical at all. It flows naturally and spontaneously from the characters of this epic. The heroic Rama gives up his right to become the king of Ayodhya in less than a second because his father Dashrath wants him to spend 14 years in the forest. Dashrath tells this to his son very painfully as he is bound by a promise that he has made to one of his wives (Queen Kaikeyi), the stepmother of Rama.
The beauty of Ramayana lies in Rama accepting the words of his father instantaneously. The message of Ramayana becomes even stronger when Rama completely declines to consider his stepmother Kaikeyi responsible for the predicament. He states to his brother Bharat (the real son of Kaikeyi) that the human mind moves in various ways and says nothing against his stepmother. Besides, when Rama returns to Ayodhya after spending 14 years in the forest (which includes the phase when he kills the unrighteous & evil demon king, Ravana who had also abducted Rama’s wife Sita), he first meets Kaikeyi, consoles her and asks her not to feel guilty for making him go to the forests.
Rama’s war against Ravana-led Lanka also forms an important part of the story. In fact, it was the chief purpose of his incarnation. Ravana represents the realm of evil. As per the tradition, in those days evil was not so pervasive. It was mainly concentrated in Lanka. So, destroying Ravana’s influence meant destroying evil in the world. Besides, Ram was not interested in annexing Lanka. He killed & removed Ravana and made Ravana’s brother Vibhishana, who was a noble soul, the king of Lanka. Thus, he was only & only interested in vanquishing evil and establishing goodness as the societal system. When Rama returns to Ayodhya after killing Ravana, his mother asks him, “Did you kill Ravana?”. To this Rama replies, “I did not kill the formidable king of Lanka. It was his “I” (ego) that killed him”.
The ideals of Lord Rama reached new heights when he had to abandon his most loved Sita as per the duties & responsibilities of an ideal king. A washerwoman tells Rama that her husband abandoned her because she had stayed in some other men’s house for a few days. The washerwoman says then why is Sita with Rama when Sita too had lived in Ravana’s dwelling for several months. So, as an ideal King Ram could never have separate rules for himself and his subjects. Thus, he gives up his most loved Sita (for whom he had even waged a war against Ravana) in accordance with the rules of Raj Dharma.
Rama’s morality and idealism culminate in the establishment of Ram Rajya in Ayodhya, an ideal state of human existence. Ram Rajya is defined as follows – “It is an ideal society where all humans love each other and everyone follows his/her duty and where everybody fulfils his/her responsibilities. It is a state of existence, where no disease, no calamity, no human-made or natural problems disrupt humankind and where nobody dies at an unripe age and where everybody lives an enriching, fulfilling life.
Ram, Sita & Hanuman In Ramayana
Ramayana is full of experience, richness, idealism, the desire to uphold idealism at all costs, positivity, commitment, devotion and the magnanimous glory of divination & divinity. Among its various characters, perhaps Ram, Sita and Hanuman stand out as the tallest. Let us see each one of them:
Rama – Divinity incarnate, thoroughly moral, comprehensively idealistic, Rama sets a brilliant example for every human being. Popularly referred to as Maryada Purushottam (The personification of the ideal man), Rama fully fulfils all his responsibilities as an ideal son, ideal brother, ideal husband, ideal king and at the same time the ideal citizen. He forfeits his wife Sita, who is the most precious to him, to meet the requirements of the ideal citizen king. Indeed, Rama makes the mundane miraculous as he is fervently good and moral in every step and every moment. Rama shines bright in the celestial canvas of human faith and commitment.
Sita – The wife and consort of Lord Rama, Sita sets an example not just for the womankind but also for the larger humankind. She is very congenial and accommodating. Just like her husband, she is the ideal life partner and gives up her royal life instantaneously and joins him as soon as Rama is asked to spend 14 years in forest exile. Rama is incomplete without Sita and Sita is incomplete without Rama. Indeed, the war against Ravana is to get back the abducted Sita. When Rama painfully abandons Sita, it is because his commitment as a social citizen is taller than his focus as an ideal husband. Sita accepts the decision coolly, which shows her immense patience.
Hanuman – Hanuman is the ideal devotee and follower of Lord Rama. He can not imagine himself without Lord Rama. And not just that, during Rama’s war against Ravana, Hanuman is Rama’s most effective lieutenant. In fact, he is highly instrumental in Rama’s victory over Ravana. There are two occasions where Rama and Lakshmana are saved from a defeat or a very difficult calamity. One when he rescues Rama and Lakshman from the captivity of Ahiravana and the other when he brings Sanjeevni Booti for Lakshman, which saves his life. Indeed, it is rightly said in a famous Hindi bhajan, which broadly translates as – “Rama is indispensable for the world and Hanuman is indispensable for Rama”.
Ramayana’s Implication For The Modern World
Ramayana is as relevant today as it was at any other time. This super-epic tells us the virtues of being good, moral, perseverant, committed, focused, idealistic, fervent & happy. It is said that Rama accepted his exile with a smile. It only points to profound morality and an unfathomable understanding of life & living. If we say, Ramayana is not applicable today, I think we are presuming too much too early. Ramayana works on the games of life and human minds, it outdoes all the sufferings with a strong sense of morality. These games and rules do not change with time.
The holy Ramayana appeals strongly to the moral mind. It tells us how we can live happily despite all the challenges, troubles and difficulties. It re-establishes and reaffirms the fact that happiness is above suffering, and happiness can be only practised by pursuing a strong sense of humanity and morality. Indeed, the importance of Ramayana is beyond all narrow confines of time and space.