Thursday, May 1, 2014

Defending Rama

In my previous post, the book review of Rise of the Sun Prince, I had mentioned that the purpose of the writing of Ramayana was to demonstrate the life of an ideal man (Purushothama). It is meant to educate and inspire people to lead a perfect life. Each incident in the Epic showcases one or a combination of good qualities Rama uses to overcome obstacles. He never ever deviates from the path of righteousness and observes his dharma, whatever it is at the moment.

That is, till he returns back from Lanka with his wife Sita and assume the mantle of the King of Ayodhya. This is where the official canon ends and what a beautiful story it is till then! Our heart fills with respect and awe for the hero who chose to tread the path of righteousness in spite of the chance that even a deviation from it anywhere would have given him more comfort and quick victory against odds. 

But then we come to know that the story is far from over. We learn that Valmiki has written an Uthara Kanda and in that, after a mere one year of living together with his wife, Rama decide to abandon her in forest, even after knowing that she is pregnant. That, after hearing a rumor about her from the mouth of an illiterate drunkard..! Even when Sita had proved herself pure by doing the test of fire in Lanka, before uniting with him!

This sudden transformation of Rama, who was portrayed as an incarnation of all virtues in human form, was a riddle for generations. Several theories have been put forward by pundits in this regard. Some of them even tried to prove that Uthara Kanda was not written by Valmiki and was an added epilogue by some poet centuries after Ramayana was written. This twist in tale has caused a much serious dent in Rama’s repertoire. Several factions condemn Rama for being insensitive and for residing in an ivory tower.

I used to think about the purpose of adding a seemingly black spot on a character that was supposed to be an unblemished model. But I feel now, after reading that book and reflecting on Ramayana once again after years, there may be one answer for this riddle. If we go through the epic, from Bala Kanda to Yuddha Kanda, as I mentioned before, we will find many instances of self-less acts by Rama. He travels with Viswamithra into the forest, killing demons that disturb the fellow- saints. His devotion to his father causes him fourteen years of existence in jungle. His love to his wife makes him cross an ocean and fight the most powerful man with the vastest of military power, with help from just some monkeys. He gives shelter to Vibheeshana who is also a demon.

These are all great deeds, but ultimately they are all based on personal motives- respect to father, love to the wife, and kindness to an enemy. The scope of these acts are limited, but these are all the built up to a final sacrifice that is far more valuable to the world. After doing puthra dharma, sishya dharma, bhrathru dharma and bhartru dharma, he is ready to perform Raja Dharma, duty of a king.

Rama Rajya is a common phrase denoting a nation that is prosperous in every aspect- peace, wealth, health and culture. It shows that as a king, Rama was extremely successful. It is told that he knew each of his country’s citizens personally, like his family. As a king, he wanted his people to be as good as him. Once when he hears that some of his people have doubt on his personal life, instantly he takes decision to abandon her. It was a bad and unjust decision as far as Sita is concerned, but to his countrymen, it demonstrated that he kept them more than anything, even his family and his life. As a leader, Rama has done the supreme sacrifice, his raja dharma. He had to pay the price with extreme grief for this.

In modern times, when the norms are to put the near and dear- son, daughter and in laws before everything- nation or world or ecology, Rama’s abandoning of his family for his citizens may sound ridiculous and atrocious. But I feel Valmiki was trying to demonstrate the extend of spotlessness the people in public life should possess.

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