VALUES OF THE RAMAYANA by Phillip Hedayatnia The Ramayana has so mingled with the collective conscience of Indian society that, to this day, the ideas and values contained within it continue to influence the lives of Hindus everywhere. The Ramayana pictures the whole gamut of life of an individual; it fills in the blanks for what actions and paths are right in life by providing role-models for the main roles in Hindu society, shows the intricate relationship between Dharma, Artha, and Kama, and defines how one can achieve Moksha, with an emphasis on obeying dharma pushed by Rama’s rightful actions. The epic also provides examples of individuals obeying and disobeying their dharma, and the results of those actions. An interesting lens for analysis from which we can analyze the Ramayana, however, is exactly which values were pushed by Valmiki through his writings, and which were thought to be most important. Valmiki’s main goal through the Ramayana was to reinforce the social principles established by the Sanadhana Dharma (eternal law) of hinduism, and display good and bad examples regarding family and friendship, social and political justice, temptation, and the power of divinity. It is clear from the Ramayana that there are certain Hindu social principles to govern relations between family and friends, with a strong focus on the values of respecting your elders, friendship, brotherly love, and monogamy. Holding love and respect for your parents is a tenet which circumscribes the epic, as epitomized in how Rama gives up fourteen years of his life to live in exile, to keep his father's word, out of love and respect. Similarly, Dasaratha loves his child so deeply that when Rama leaves for the forest, Dasaratha breathes his last breath. This is also found in Rama’s holding of Dasaratha’s words in honor despite the fate that has been decreed; Rama has every right to question his fate of being banished from his city, but he did not, rather putting emotions aside. According to scholar C.V. Rajan, “He was not really duty-bound to honor his father’s unjust promises... For him, ‘honoring his father’s words’ was one of the highest dharmas.” True friendship also plays a large role in Rama’s successful campaign against Ravana, which he accomplishes by befriending King Sugreeva with a mutual promise of help: Rama would defeat Vali, and the two would work to retrieve Sita. Valmiki also eludes to the importance of
brotherly love, and how it is one of the most important social values. When Rama leaves for the forest on his exile, Lakshmana too insists on leaving the luxuries of the palace to live beside his beloved elder brother for 14 years. Also, when Soorpanaka is insulted by Lakshmana, she complains to her brother Kara, who rushes to avenge her without question. It is even her brother Ravana's aid which sets the wheels turning for the grand battle between Rama and Ravana, good and evil, into motion. The final family and friendship-related value mentioned in the Ramayana is the social importance of monogamy. During the time the Ramayana was written, according to C.V. Rajan, “Polygamy was quite prevalent and it was quite an acceptable social norm for kings to marry many women.” Rama’s own father Dasaratha has three wives himself, and has his own concubines at his palace at the epic’s beginning. However, Rama does not - he stays staunchly loyal to his only wife Sita. By doing this, he sets an example for future generations of men to be closer to Rama’s status, they must not wed many and love few. On the subject of justice, the Ramayana eludes to three main values: not accepting unjust rewards, fighting atrocities against women, and adherence to truth. In the case of Bharatha, the combination of brotherly love and justice leads him to represent the value of not accepting unjust rewards, by his strong reluctance to take the throne that rightfully belongs to his elder brother Rama. To calm him, Rama tells Bharatha: “Beauty may leave the moon, Himavaan may become bereft of snow, the ocean may transgress its shores but I will never violate the promise given by my father.” [Valmiki, 2.112.18] Moved, Bharatha places Rama's slippers on the throne and rules Ayodhya in Rama’s name, a gesture of both love and respect through belief in what is right and just. Likewise, the bird Jatayu encapsulates the Hindu value in fighting atrocities against women, when he notices Ravana abducting Sita forcefully and fights valiantly to obstruct Ravana and release Sita, warning Ravana: “One should lift only such weight as will not exhaust one beyond a limit. One should eat only such food as will easily digest. Who will engage himself in such action as will get him neither dharma nor reputation nor lasting fame and which will only result in physical exhaustion?” [Valmiki, 3.50.19] Jatayu ends his life nobly, even expressing mercy to Ravana and giving him warning of what was to come. The final value of justice is the importance of adherence to truth and the need to honor one’s word, which can be examined in the relationship between Dasarartha, Kaikeyi,
and Bharatha. King Dasaratha had granted Kaikayi two boons when she had saved his life on the battlefield. Now, many years later, Kaikeyi demands that her boons be granted to her and implies that Dasaratha should keep his promise as otherwise he will be guilty of transgressing dharma: “Those who have knowledge of dharma say that truth is the highest dharma.” [Valmiki, 2.14.3] Her first desire is that Rama should be sent to the forest for fourteen years, and the second, that Bharatha be crowned King. Dasaratha is naturally heartbroken at the prospect of having to send his son into exile for fourteen years, and pleads with Rama not to leave. However, Rama is determined that his father's promise should not be broken, despite even his brother Bharatha’s pleading - Rama stays firm to his values, all the while. Temptation is also a major player in the plot of the Ramayana, as we can see by various illfortuned decisions in the Ramayana, first with Kaikeyi and then with Sita. As scholar C.V. Rajan describes: “Kaikeyi, an essentially good natured woman, meekly allowed her very loyal maid servant Mandara to brainwash her into demanding these two atrocious boons from Dasaratha. Though she was not enthusiastic in the beginning, she gradually allowed Mandara's venomous words to poison her mind. Did she gain anything finally by asking these boons? No. She lost her beloved husband Dasaratha who died very soon, on account of the shock and the pain of separation from his beloved son Rama. Bharata, Kaikeyi's son, for whom she obtained the very kingdom, reprimanded her for her atrocious act and he never ever took charge of the kingdom as a King.” Of course, Rama responds coolly, Rama’s response even providing contrast between his and Kaikeyi’s actions, good and bad. Lakshmana urges Rama to fight for his rights: “One who is haughty, who does not know whether what he does is right or wrong and who has taken to the wrong path is to be disciplined even if he is a guru [Dasaratha], parent or an elder in age or learning.” [Valmiki, 2.11.13] However, Rama never heeds his counsel; he chooses instead to adhere to his dharma, valuing that over conceding to his temper. Sita, on the other hand, provides an example of what happens when one places too much value on their Artha, and the spiritual futility of getting swayed by dubious attractions, pressuring Rama to acquire a golden deer in the forest for no reason other than its beauty. This, as a result, paves the way for her getting separated from Rama. The lessons here are that,
firstly, what is beneath the surface does matter, and secondly, that rampant acceptance of temptation can lead to irresponsible choices, decisions or actions in this life which have eﬀects in this life and the next. The final major value of the Ramayana is the power of divinity, both that it transcends all barriers of caste and creed and how kings must adhere to higher standards than commoners. Throughout the book, there are many examples of people loved by Rama or who love Rama, regardless of caste and creed, in a cosmic mutual agreement which works to an advantage for both parties. The lowly fisherman Guha, fully devoted to Rama, helps Rama, Lakshmana and Sita cross the river Ganges in a boat, and is thus accepted as a brother by the King Rama. Sabari, an old hunter woman of very low caste, swore devotion to Rama upon hearing of his greatness, and when Rama happened to visit Sabari’s hut while searching for Sita, Rama treated Sabari in a very courteous manner and showered her with glory. These mutual exchanges show that if one adheres to the right philosophies, they will receive rewards. Finally, there is the need for the highest standards in a King, shown in the Ramayana by Rama’s actions. After Rama destroys Ravana and frees Sita, Rama forces her to jump into a holy fire to prove her chastity, despite her pleading: “To be under the control of another is to be condemned; it is the worst thing that can befall a person. Love and aﬀection is possible only when a person is being seen and is not out of sight in a far away place.” [Valmiki, 5.26.41] While her chastity is proven, at the very end of the epic, Rama is forced to split from Sita once again because one of his subjects has taken ill of Rama accepting Sita due to her stay in Lanka with Rama for months. While this pained Rama much, his responsibilities of King were more important than all else, so he was forced to split. The main purpose of The Ramayana is to provide a “guidebook” to guide Hindus through life so they can be perfectly aligned with their dharma to achieve moksha, by providing them with relatable characters who make the right choices. This process of role-modelling and its impacts on Hindu culture and society make The Ramayana such an important epic even today. It is clear that Valmiki’s main goal through the Ramayana was to reinforce the social principles established by the Sanadhana Dharma (eternal law) of hinduism, and establish guidelines for family and friendship, social and political justice, temptation, and the power of divinity - and by the Ramayana’s relevance today, it seems he has succeeded.
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