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Rama

This article is about the incarnation of Vishnu. For other uses, see Rama (disambiguation) and Ramachandra (disambiguation). It has been suggested that Raghava Ramabe mergedinto this article or section. (Discuss) Rama
Lord Rama (center) with wife Sita, brother Lakshmana(with fan) and devotee, Hanuman(far left). Devanagari राम Affiliation Avatarof VishnuAbode AyodhyaWeapon The BowKodanda Consort SitaSiblings Bharat, Laxman, ShatrughnaThis box: view • talk • edit

Rama (IAST: rāma, Devanāgarī: राम, Thai: Phra Ram, Lao: Phra Lam) or Ramachandra was a legendary king of Ayodhya in ancient India. In Hinduism,[1] he is considered to be an avatar of Vishnu[2] and a lila-avatara as described in the Bhagavata Purana.[3]

Rama is one of the most popular figures and deities in Vaishnavism and Vaishnava religious scriptures in South and Southeast Asia.[4] The majority of details concerning Rama come from the Ramayana, one of the two great epics of India.[5] Born as the eldest son of Kaushalya and Dasharatha, king of Ayodhya, Rama is referred to within Hinduism as Maryada Purushottama,[6] literally the Perfect Man or Lord of Restrictions.[7] Rama is the husband of Sita, who Hindus consider to be an Avatar of Lakshmi and the embodiment of perfect womanhood.[6][8]

Rama's life and journey is one of perfect adherence to dharma despite harsh tests of life and time. For the sake of his father's honour, Rama abandons his claim to Kosala's throne to serve an exile of fourteen years in the forest.[9] His wife, Sita and brother, Lakshmana being unable to live without Rama decide to join him, and all three spend the fourteen years in exile together. This leads to the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana, the Rakshasa monarch of Lanka. After a long and arduous search that tests his personal strength and virtue, Rama fights a colossal war against Ravana's armies. In a war of powerful and magical beings, greatly destructive weaponry and battles, Rama slays Ravana in battle and liberates his wife. Having completed his exile, Rama returns to be crowned King in Ayodhya (the capital of his Kingdom) and eventually becomes Emperor of the World,[9] after which he reigns for eleven thousand years - an era of perfect happiness, peace, prosperity and justice known as Rama Rajya.

Rama's courage in searching for Sita and fighting a terrible war to rescue his wife and their honour is complemented by Sita's absolute devotion to her husband's love, and perfect chastity despite being Ravana's captive. Rama's younger brothers, namely Lakshmana, Shatrughna and Bharata strongly complement his piety, virtue and strength,[9] and they are believed by many to belong to the Mariyada Purshottama and the Seventh Avatara, mainly embodied by Rama. Rama's piety and virtue attract powerful and devoted allies such as Hanuman and the Vanaras of Kishkindha, with whose help he rescues Sita.[9] The legend of Rama is deeply influential and popular in the societies of the Indian subcontinent and across South East Asia. Rama is revered for his unending compassion,[10] courage and devotion to religious values and duty.

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Rāmá in the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda is an adjective meaning "dark, black", or a noun meaning "darkness", e.g. RV 10.3.3 (trans. Griffith):

10.3.3cd Agni, far-spreading with conspicuous lustre, hath compassed Night [Rama] with whitely shining garments.

Rama made up of 'Ra' + 'ama' which means light coming from within.

As a personal name it appears in RV 10.93.14:

10.93.14ab This to Duhsima Prthavana have I sung, to Vena, Rama, to the nobles , and the King.

The feminine form of the adjective, rāmīˊ is an epitheton of the night (Ratri), as is kṛṣṇīˊ, the feminine of kṛṣṇa, viz. "the dark one; the black one". Mayrhofer (1996) suggests a derivation from PIE (H)reh1-mo-, cognate to OHG rāmac "dirty".

Two Ramas are mentioned in the Vedas, with the patronymics Mārgaveya and Aupatasvini; another Rama with the patronymic Jāmadagnya is the supposed author of a Rigvedic hymn. According to Monier-Williams, three Ramas were celebrated in post-Vedic times,

  1. Rāma-chandra ("Rama-moon"), son of Dasaratha, believed to have descended from Raghu[citation needed]. (The Rama of this article).
  2. Parashu-rāma ("Rama of the Battle-axe"), the Sixth Avatara of Vishnu, sometimes also referred to as Jāmadagnya, or as Bhārgava Rāma (descended from Bhrigu), a "Chiranjeevi" or Immortal.
  3. Bala-rāma ("the strong Rama"), also called Halāyudha (Wielder of the Plough in Battle), the older brother and close companion of Krishna, the Eighth Avatara of Vishnu.

In the Vishnu sahasranama, Rama is the 394th name of Vishnu. In the interpretation of Adi Sankara's commentary, translated by Swami Tapasyananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, Rama has two meanings: the supreme Brahman who is the eternally blissful spiritual Self in whom yogis delight or the One (i.e., Vishnu) who out of his own will assumed the enchanting form of Rama, the son of Dasaratha.

Literary sources

The primary source of the life and journey of Rama is the epic Ramayana as composed by the Rishi Valmiki. However, other scriptures in Sanskrit reflect the life of Ramayana. For example, the Vishnu Purana also recounts Rama as Vishnu's seventh avatara and in the Vayu Purana, a Rama is mentioned among the seven Rishis of the 8th Manvantara. Additionally, the tales of Rama are reverently spoken of in the later epic, the Mahabharata. Another important shortened version of the epic in Sanskrit is the Aadhyaatma Ramayana.

The epic had many versions across India's regions. For example, vernacular versions of the Ramayana which include the life, deeds and divine philosophies of Rama are elaborated in the epic poem Kambaramayanam by the 12th century poet, Kamban in Tamil and Ramacharitamanasa, a Hindi version of the Ramayana by the 16th century Saint Tulsidas. Other vernacular versions also exist in most major Indian languages. Contemporary versions of the Ramayana include Sri Ramayana Darshanam by Kuvempu in Kannada and Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu by Viswanatha Satyanarayana in Telugu, both of which have been awarded the Jnanpith Award. The epic has transformed across the diverse regions of India, which boast their own unique languages and cultural traditions.[11]

The essential tale of Rama has also spread across South East Asia, and evolved into unique renditions of the epic - incorporating local history, folktales, religious values as well as unique features from the languages and literary discourse. The Kakawin Ramayana of Java, Indonesia, the Ramakavaca of Bali, Hikayat Seri Rama of Malaysia, Maradia Lawana of the Philippines, Ramakien of Thailand (which calls him Phra Ram) are great works with many unique characteristics and differences in accounts and portrayals of the legend of Rama. The legends of Rama are witnessed in elaborate illustration at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok. The national epic of Myanmar, Yama Zatdaw is essentially the Burmese Ramayana, where Rama is named Yama. In the Reamker of Cambodia, Rama is known as Preah Ream. In the Pra Lak Pra Lam of Laos, Buddha is regarded as an incarnation of Rama.

Avatara

The Ramayana speaks of how the Goddess Earth, Bhumidevi, came to the Lord Creator, Brahma begging to be rescued from evil kings who were plundering her resources and destroying life through bloody wars and evil conduct. The Devas also came to Brahma fearful of the rule of Ravana, the ten-headed rakshasa emperor of Lanka. Ravana had overpowered the Devas and now ruled the heavens, the earth and the netherworlds. Although a powerful and noble monarch, he was also arrogant, destructive and a patron of evil doers. He had boons that gave him immense strength and was invulnerable to all living and celestial beings, except man and animals.[12]

Brahma, Bhumidevi and the Devas worshipped Vishnu, the Preserver, for deliverance from Ravana's tyrannical rule. Vishnu promised to kill Ravana by incarnating as a man - the eldest son of Kosala's king Dasaratha.[13] His eternal consort, Lakshmi took birth as Sita and was found by king Janaka of Mithila while he was ploughing a field. Vishnu's eternal companion, the Ananta Sesha is said to have incarnated as Lakshmana to stay at his Lord's side on earth. Throughout his life, no one, except himself and a few select sages (among which are included Vasishta, Sharabhanga, Agastya and Vishwamitra) know of his destiny. Rama is continually revered by the many sages he encounters through his life, but only the most learned and exalted know of his true identity. At the end of the war between Rama and Ravana, just as Sita passes her Agni pariskha, Lord Brahma, Indra and the Devas, the celestial sages and Lord Shiva appear out of the sky. They affirm Sita's purity and ask him to end this terrible test. Thanking the Avatara for delivering the universe from the grips of evil, they reveal Rama's divine identity upon the culmination of his mission.[14]

Prince of Ayodhya

King Dasaratha performs a putrakameṣṭi yajña, a sacrifice to obtain offspring by pleasing the gods. He gives the sacred, sacrificial nectar to his three wives according to their seniority: Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. On the night of the ninth day after Amavasya, under the asterism of Punarvasu and the cardinal sign of the Crab, Rama was born in the city of Ayodhya, which is the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kosala. The city and the area are located in the central region of the modern state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Rama was the prince of the Suryavamsha (Sun Dynasty) House of Ikshvaku, descendant of great monarchs like Ikshvaku, Raghu and Bhagiratha. He is the eldest brother to Bharata, son of Kaikeyi, and the twin sons of Sumitra, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Rama is dark-complexioned, mainly bluish - a symbol of divinity.[15]

The Ramayana describes the relationship between the brothers as intensely loving and devotional, although Rama and Lakshmana share a special, inseparable bond, while Bharata is especially close to Shatrughna. The four brothers enjoy an undiscriminating love from Dasaratha and his three queens, but Dasaratha's main affections are affixed upon Rama. Rama and his brothers are trained by Rishi Vasishta in the Vedas, religion, philosophy and the sciences. They are described as taller than the tallest men of modern times, possessive of exceptional acumen and prowess in the military sciences and arts.[16]

Initiation of the Avatara

Rama breaking the bow, Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906)

Sage Vishwamitra takes the two princes, Rama and Lakshmana, to the Swayamvara ceremony for Sita. The challenge is to string the bow of Shiva, and shoot an arrow with it. This task is considered impossible for any ordinary king or living being, as this is the personal weapon of Shiva, more powerful, holy and of divine creation than conceivable. While attempting to string the bow, Rama breaks it into two. This feat of unbelievable strength, to have broken the bow of Shiva, spreads his fame across the worlds and seals his marriage to Sita.[17]

After Rama weds Sita and the entire royal family and the Ayodhya army begin their journey back, the great rishi Parashurama Bhargava appears before them, having descended from his mountainous hermitage. Parashurama is an extremely powerful rishi, responsible for killing all of the world's warriors and kings 21 times. He was the sixth Avatara of Vishnu, and finds it unbelievable that anybody could break the bow of Shiva. Considering himself to still be the most powerful warrior-rishi on earth, he brings with them the bow of Vishnu, and intends to challenge Rama to prove his strength by stringing it, and then fighting a battle with him to prove superiority.[18] Although the entire Ayodhya army is forestalled by his mystical power, Rama is himself angered. He respectfully bows to Parashurama, and within a twinkling of an eyelid snatches the bow of Vishnu, strings it, places an arrow and points it straight at the challenger's heart. Rama asks Parashurama what he will give as a target to the arrow in return for his life? At this point, Parashurama feels himself devoid of the tremendous mystical energy he possessed for so long. He realizes that Rama is Vishnu incarnate, his successor and definitely his superior. He accepts Rama's superiority, devotes his tapasya to him, pays homage to Rama and promises to return to his hermitage and leave the world of men.[19]

Rama then fired the arrow up into the sky with Vishnu's bow, performing a feat true to his Supreme, divine nature with his natural weapon. His overpowering of Parashurama and using the supreme weapon with incredible ease and perfection dazzle the spectators and his relatives, but no one save Parashurama and Vasishta associate this with his true identity. It is said that the Rama's arrow is still flying across space, across time and across all of the universe. The day it will return to earth, it is said, it will bring the end of the world. Others say that the flying arrow destroys all evil on earth to uphold dharma and righteousness.[20]

Another version

Another version of the story is, that Sage Vishvamitra along with Prince Rama and Lakshmana attended the Swayamvara of Princess Sita. To find the best match for his daughter Sita, King Janaka held a test in which the successful contestant was able to lift the bow of Lord Shiva and string it, would be able to wed Sita. However, none of the Kings were able to achieve this task, and disappointed, King Janaka pours out his dilemma and misery. Upon hearing this Lakshmana is enraged and offended that King Janaka did not offer Rama the same test. Upon the invitation of King Janaka, Lord Rama proceeded to the bow of Lord Shiva. Paying reverence to the bow, Rama was able lift the bow, string it and in the same process broke the bow in two. This event sent a loud thundering sound throughout the whole planet and the noise reached the ears of Parasurama who was at that time meditating and knew that the sound made was the bow of Lord Shiva's being broken. When Parasurama arrived at the court of King Janaka, he confronted the prince and issued a challenge. This led to a confrontation between Lakshmana and Parusurama, who's rage was increasing at Lakshmana's impetuous backtalk. However, Lord Rama without any physical confrontation was able to pacify Parasurama. After calming down Parasurama realised that Rama was Lord Vishnu Incarnate and granted Lord Rama all the weapons he had obtained from his tapas.

Dharma of exile

King Dasaratha announces to Ayodhya that he plans to crown Rama, his eldest child the Yuvaraja (crown prince). While the news is welcomed by everyone in the kingdom, the mind of queen Kaikeyi is poisoned by her wicked maid-servant, Manthara. Kaikeyi, who is initially pleased for Rama, is made to fear for the safety and future of her son Bharata. Fearing that Rama would ignore or possibly victimize his youngest brother for the sake of power, Kaikeyi demands that Dasaratha banish Rama to a forest exile for fourteen years, and that Bharata be crowned in Rama's place. She had been granted two boons by the king when she had saved his life a long time ago, and the queen now used them to serve her purpose.[21] The king's court and the people are outraged at this turn of events. Dasaratha loved and cherished Rama dearly, and was in personal turmoil. Completely estranged now from his younger wife, he abhors the prospect of separation from Rama. But Rama realizes that the king must not break a solemn promise at any time, and neither should a son disobey his father's command. Sita joins her husband in exile despite his discouraging her, as it is her duty and out of love for Rama that she must be at his side at all times. His younger brother Lakshmana also immediately decides to join Rama rather than remain in the city.[22]

As he leaves for exile, the people of Ayodhya are deeply saddened and angered at Dasaratha and Kaikeyi. Dasaratha's heart is broken and he collapses and dies by the next day, unable to bear the agony of separation from Rama. Despite the reasoning of Vasishtha and the pleas of his brothers, Rama refuses to return. Although horrified at the news of his father's death, Rama finds it impossible that he should break his dead father's word. Rama does not bear any anger towards Kaikeyi, believing firmly in the power of destiny.[23] According to the explanation of the classic, this exile actually presents Rama the opportunity to confront Ravana and his evil empire.

Rama and Sita

A modern depiction of Sita and Rama

Rama and Sita are the protagonists in one of the most famous love stories of all time. Described as being deeply in love, Sita and Rama are theologically understood as avatars of Lakshmi and Vishnu respectively. When Rama is banished from the kingdom, he attempts to convince Sita not to join him in a potentially dangerous and certainly arduous existence in the jungle, but Sita rejects this. When Rama orders her in his capacity as husband, Sita rejects it, asserting that it was an essential duty of a wife to be at her husband's side come good or ill.[24] Rama in turn is assiduously protective and caring for Sita throughout the exile.

When Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, both Sita and Rama undergo great personal hardships during their separation. Sita protects her chastity assiduously, and survives over a year in captivity on the strength of her love and attention to religious values and duty. She is completely unfettered in her resolve despite Ravana's courting, cajoling and threats. Meanwhile Rama, not knowing who had kidnapped Sita or where was she taken, often succumbs to despair and tears, denouncing himself for failing to defend her and agonizing over her safety and pain. Sita knows that it is in Rama's destiny to fight to rescue her (she refuses to be rescued thus by Hanuman, who discovers her), but is deeply anxious for his safety and fearful of Ravana's power.

Agni pariksha

After Rama slays Ravana and wins the war, Sita wants to come before him in the state which over a year's imprisonment had reduced her to, Rama arranges for Sita to be bathed and given beautiful garments before they are re-united. But even as Sita comes before him in great excitement and happiness, Rama does not look at her, staring fixedly at the ground. He tells her that he had fought the war only to avenge the dishonour that Ravana had inflicted on Rama, and now Sita was free to go where she pleased. At this sudden turn of events, all the vanaras, rakshasas, Sugriva, Hanuman and Lakshmana are deeply shocked.[25]


Sita begs Lakshmana to build her a pyre upon which she could end her life, as she could not live without Rama. At this point, Lakshmana is angered at Rama for the first time in his life, but following Rama's nod, he builds a pyre for Sita. At the great shock and sorrow of the watchers, Sita walks into the flames. But to their greater shock and wonder, she is completely unharmed. Instead, she glows radiantly from the centre of the pyre. Immediately Rama runs to Sita and embraces her. He had never doubted her purity for a second, but, as he explains to a dazzled Sita, the people of the world would not have accepted or honoured her as a queen or a woman if she had not passed this Agni pariksha before the eyes of millions, where Agni would destroy the impure and sinful, but not touch the pure and innocent.[26]

Another version of this, used in Ramanand Sagar's RAMAYAN, was that Rama had known Sita was going to be abducted by Ravana ahead of time. So, he entrusted her to Agni Dev, or the God of Fire. Rama did this so that he, who in reality was Vishnu, could kill Ravana. Sita, in turn, left behind a "shadow", or twin-like version of herself behind. The "shadow" Sita had been abducted by Ravana. Therefore, the lila of Agni Pariksha was to retrieve the genuine Sita from the temporary care of Agni Dev. Rama explains this to Lakshmana before the so-called "Pariksha" is done. This version has also been written in the Ram Charit Manas.

Sita's banishment

In the Uttara Kanda, Rama banishes his wife Sita, even as she is pregnant, asking Lakshmana to deliver her safely to Rishi Valmiki's ashram. He does so when it is reported to him that some subjects of his in Ayodhya believe that Sita is unchaste due to her long captivity in Ravana's city. The Agni pariksha fails to convince these few critics, but Rama, by his understanding of the dharma of a king, decides to banish Sita. Rama adhered strictly to his duty both as a king and a husband. These conflicted when society thought that Sita was unfit to become queen. But Rama had to send away Sita since his duty of king came first. A legend by Rishi Agastya in the epic states that Vishnu in a previous age had been cursed by a rishi, whose wife had been killed by Vishnu for sheltering his enemies escaping from battle. The Rishi condemns Vishnu to be denied for a long age, the companionship of his soul mate, just as Vishnu, by an inadvertent display of anger, had deprived the rishi of his loving wife. Thus Rama, Vishnu's incarnation, must live the rest of his life without Sita.[27]

Maryada Purushottama

As a person, Rama personifies the characteristics of an ideal person (purushottama) who is to be emulated. He had within him all the desirable virtues that any individual would seek to aspire, and he fulfils all his moral obligations (maryada). Rama's purity and piety in his intentions and actions inspires affection and devotion for him from a variety of characters from different backgrounds. For example, he gave up his rightful claim to the throne, and agreed to go into exile for fourteen years, to fulfill the vow that his father had given to Kaikeyi, one of King Dashratha's wives. This is in spite of the fact that Kaikeyi's son, Bharat, begged him to return back to Ayodhya and said that he did not want to rule in place of Rama. But Rama considered his dharma as a son above that of his own birthright and his life's ambition. For such supreme sacrifices, and many other qualities, Shri Rama is considered a maryada purushottam. Some of his ideals are as follows:

1. At the time when it was normal for kings to have more than one wife, Rama gave ideal of having a single wife. After Sita was banished, he was doing penance with a gold statue of Sita. In Balakanda of Valmiki Ramayana it is written that Rama and Sita resided in each others heart.

2. Rama always followed his promise at any cost. In fact, he went to forest to make his father's promise to Kaikeyi true. There are many examples of Rama's promises which he kept. Most important are the promise to sages to save their lives from Rakshasas, getting back Sugreeva's kingdom, making Vibhishana the king of Lanka.

3. Excellent friend: Rama had very touching relations with his friends irrespective of their status. Some of his friends are Nishad-raj Guh, King of Nishaads (a caste whose profession was hunting the birds), Sugreeva (the Vanar king) and Vibhishana a Rakshasa.

Rama and non-violence

Rama is always shown with a bow (called Kodanda) on his shoulder. As per Valmiki Ramayana, Sita once enquired as to why her Lord, Rama always carried a bow with him. Sita was upset with Rama's promise to sages that he offer protection while they performed their sacrificial rituals and therefore petitioned Rama that 'We are in the forest and we should live life of sages so why wield this weapon?'. Sita then narrated a story about an ancient sage who became violent simply by having a weapon in his possession (in this case a sword). Rama smiled and promised to Sita that he would never attack anybody unless the other person provokes him to do so, a promise that he kept throughout his life. In fact he had always given two chances to his enemies Tataka, Maarich, Vali and even Ravana. He even offered a peace treaty to Ravana before starting the war. Angada took his peace message to Ravana which was declined.

Companions

Even as Rama is the ideal conception of manhood, he is often aided and complemented in different situations by the characteristics by those who accompany him. They serve Rama devotedly, at great personal risk and sacrifice.

Bharata and Lakshmana

Absent when Rama is exiled, upon his return Bharata is appalled to learn of the events. And even though Kaikeyi had done all this for his benefit, Bharata is angered at the suggestion that he should take Ayodhya's throne. Denouncing his mother, Bharata proclaims to the city that he would go to the forest to fetch Rama back, and would serve out his term of exile himself. Although initially resentful and suspicious, the people of Ayodhya hail Bharata's selfless nature and courageous act. Despite his fervent pleas to return, Rama asserts that he must stay in the forest to keep his father's word. He orders Bharata to perform his duty as king of Ayodhya, especially important after Dasaratha's death, and orders Shatrughna to support and serve him. Returning saddened to the city, Bharata refuses to wear the crown or sit on the throne. Instead, he places the slippers of Rama that he had taken back with him on the throne, and rules Ayodhya assiduously keeping Rama's beliefs and values in mind. When Rama finally returns, Bharata runs personally to welcome him back.

Bharata is hailed for his devotion to his elder brother and dharma, distinguished from Lakshmana as he is left on his own for fourteen years. But he unfailingly denies self-interest throughout this time, ruling the kingdom only in Rama's image.[28] Vasishtha proclaims that no one had better learnt dharma than Bharata,[29] and for this piety he forms an essential part of the conception of perfect manhood, of the Seventh Avatara of Vishnu. Shatrughna's role to Bharata is akin to that of Lakshmana to Rama. Believed to be one-quarter of Vishnu incarnated, or as the incarnation of his eternal companion, Ananta Sesha, Lakshmana is always at Rama's side.[30] Although unconstrained by Dasaratha's promise to Kaikeyi, Lakshmana resists Rama's arguments and accompanies him and Sita into the forest. During the years of exile, Lakshmana constantly serves Rama and Sita - building huts, standing guard and finding new routes. When Sita is kidnapped, Rama blazes with his divine power and in his immense rage, expresses the desire to destroy all creation. Lakshmana prays and pleads for Rama to calm himself, and despite the shock of the moment and the promise of travails to come, begin an arduous but systematic search for Sita. During times when the search is proving fruitless and Rama fears for Sita, and expresses despair in his grief and loneliness, Lakshmana encourages him, providing hope and solace.

When Rama in his despair fears that Sugriva has forgotten his promise to help him trace Sita, Lakshmana goes to Kishkindha where he reminds the complacent monarch of his promise to help. But Lakshmana also threatens Sugriva with destruction with his own divine, personal power, unable to tolerate the scene where Sugriva is enjoying material and sensual pleasures while Rama suffers alone. In the war, Lakshmana is uniquely responsible for slaying Indrajit, the invincible son of Ravana who had humiliated Indra and the Devas, and outwitted the brothers and the Vanaras on several occasions. Rishi Agastya later points out that this victory was the turning point of the conflict. Rama is often overcome with emotion and deep affection for Lakshmana, acknowledging how important and crucial Lakshmana's love and support was for him. He also trusts Lakshmana to carry out difficult orders - Lakshmana was asked to take Sita to the ashrama of Valmiki, where she was to spend her exile. Lakshmana's deep love for Rama, his unconditional service and sacrifice, as well as qualities of practical judgment and clear-headedness make him Rama's superior in certain situations and perspectives. Lakshmana symbolizes a man's duty to his family, brothers and friends, and forms an essential part of the conception of ideal manhood, that Rama primarily embodies.

Jatayu, Hanuman and Vibheeshana

When Rama and Lakshmana begin the desperate search to discover where Sita had been taken. After traversing a distance in many directions, they come across the magical eagle Jatayu, who is dying. They discover from Jatayu that a rakshasa was flying away with a crying, struggling Sita towards the south. Jatayu had flown to the rescue of Sita, but owing to his age and the rakshasa's power, had been defeated. With this, Jatayu dies in Rama's arms. Rama is overcome with love and affection for the bird which sacrificed its own life for Sita, and the rage of his death returns to him in the climactic battle with Ravana.

Rama's only allies in the struggle to find Sita are the Vanaras of Kishkindha. Finding a terrified Sugriva being hunted by his own brother, king Vali, Rama promises to kill Vali and free Sugriva of the terror and the unjust charge of plotting to murder Vali. The two swear everlasting friendship over sacred fire. Rama's natural piety and compassion, his sense of justice and duty, as well as his courage despite great personal suffering after Sita's kidnapping inspire devotion from the Vanaras and Sugriva, but especially Hanuman, Sugriva's minister. Devoted to Rama, Hanuman exerts himself greatly over the search for Sita. He is the first to discover that Sita was taken to Lanka, and volunteers to use his divine gifts in a dangerous reconnaissance of Lanka, where he is to verify Sita's presence. Hanuman hands Rama's ring to Sita, as a mark of Rama's love and his imminent intention of rescuing her. Though captured, he candidly delivers Rama's message to Ravana to immediately release Sita, and when his tail is burned, he flees and sets Lanka on fire. When Lakshmana is struck down and near death and Rama overcome with love and concern for his brother, Hanuman flies to the Himalayas on the urgent mission to fetch the sanjeevani medicinal herbs, bringing the entire mountain to Lanka so that no time is lost in saving Lakshmana.[31] The Vanaras fight the rakshasas, completely devoted to Rama's cause. They angrily dismiss Ravana's efforts to create divisions by suggesting that Rama considered them, monkeys, as mere animals. At the end of the war, Rama worships Brahma, who restores life to the millions of fallen Vanaras.[32]

Before the onset of war, rakshasa prince Vibheeshana, Ravana's youngest brother comes to join Rama. Although he loves his brother and Lanka, he fails in repeated efforts to make Ravana follow religious values and return Sita. Vibheeshana believes that Ravana's arrogance and callousness will cause the destruction of Lanka, which is a gross violation of a king's duty, and that Ravana's actions have only propagated evil. Vibheeshana refuses to defend the evil of Ravana's ways and inspired by Rama's compassion and piety, leaves Lanka to join the Vanara Army.[33] His knowledge of rakshasa ways and Ravana's mind help Rama and the Vanaras overcome black magic and mystical weapons. At the end of the war, Rama crowns Vibheeshana as the king of Lanka. Vibheeshana, and to a greater extent Hanuman, embody the perfect devotee in the wider conception of perfect manhood.

Rama in war

The epic story of Ramayana was adopted by several cultures across Asia. Shown here is a Thai historic artwork depicting the battle which took place between Rama and Ravana.

When Rama is sixteen years old, he and his brother Lakshmana are taken by Vishwamitra to the forests, with the purpose of killing rakshasas who are wrecking the tapasya and sacrifices of brahmins. Rama and Lakshmana are taught the advanced military arts and given the knowledge of all celestial weapons by Vishwamitra. Rama proceeds to slay Thatakhi, a cursed demoness. When asked to slay the yaksha demon, Rama demurs, considering it sinful to kill a woman. But Vishwamitra explains that evil has no gender. The killing of Taraka liberates the yaksha soul who was cursed for a sin, and had to adopt a rakshasi's body. It restores the purity of the sacrifices of the brahmins who live nearby, and protects the animals who live in the forest, and travelers. The main purpose of Vishwamitra's exursion is to conduct his yagna without interruption from two evil demons, Maricha and Subahu. Rama and Lakshmana guard the sacrifice, and when the two demons appear, Rama shoots an arrow that carries Maricha across the lands and into the ocean, but does not kill him. Rama and his brother then proceed to kill Subahu and accompanying demons. Rama explains to Lakshmana that leaving Maricha alive was an act of compassion, but the others did not heed the point and chose to attack.[34] During the forest exile, sages plead for protection and help against evil rakshasas who spoil their sacrifices and religious activities and terrorize them. Many rakshasas had even killed and eaten sages and innocent people. At Janasthana, Rama uses his exceptional prowess to single-handedly kill over fourteen thousand demon hordes led by the powerful Khara, who is a cousin of Ravana.

Sagara

Raja Ravi Varma Painting - 'Rama Conquers Varuna'

Faced with the dilemma of how to cross the ocean, Rama performs a penance tapasya, fasting and meditating in perfect dhyana for three days and three nights to sagara, the Lord of Oceans. The ocean god does not respond out of arrogance , and Rama on the fourth morning,pointed the brahmastra towards the ocean . The Vanaras are dazzled and fearful at witnessing the enraged Rama demolish the oceans, and Lakshmana prays to calm Rama's mind. Just as Rama invokes the brahmastra, considered the most powerful weapon capable of destroying all creation, Saagara arises out of the oceans. He bows to Rama, and begs for pardon. Since lord Rama had to use the weapon , he suggests Rama re-direct the weapon at a demonic race that lives in the heart of the ocean. Rama's arrows destroys the demons, and establishes a purer, liberated environment there. Saagara promises that he would keep the oceans still for all of Rama's army to pass, and Nala constructs a bridge (Rama's Bridge) across to Lanka. Rama justifies his angry assault on the oceans as he followed the correct process of petitioning and worshipping Saagara, but obtaining the result by force for the greater good.[35]

In another version of the story, Lord Rama redirected his missile to the barren Island, and as a result huge volcanic eruption resulted. This volcano is the one which is found till today at the southern part of Indian peninsula .

Facing Ravana

Ravana, Hindu Demon King of Lanka

Rama asserts his dedication to dharma when he undertakes to offer Ravana a final chance to make peace, despite his heinous actions and patronage of evil, by immediately returning Sita and apologizing to both Rama and Sita, but Ravana refuses. In the war, Rama slays the most powerful rakshasa commanders, including Prahasta, Atikaya and with Ravana's brother, Kumbhakarna along with hundreds of thousands of rakshasa soldiers. He outfights Ravana in their first battle, destroying his chariot and weapons, and severely injuring him, but due to this, he allows him to live and return to fight another day. But as a human being, Rama also proves vulnerable on occasion to his enemies. He is put to a deep sleep with Lakshmana by the nagapoosas of Indrajit, but they recover when Hanuman obtains the magical medicine according to Vibheesana's advice.

In the grand finale of the battle, Rama engages Ravana, who through the devastation of losing his sons, his brothers and friends and millions of his warriors, arouses his awesome and magical powers and makes full use of the boons of Siva and Brahma, and the magical knowledge of warfare possessed by the greatest of rakshasas. Rama and Ravana compete fiercely, inflicting severe injuries on one another with the most powerful weapons that could destroy the universe. After a long and arduous battle, Rama successfully decapitates Ravana's central head, but an ugly head, symbolic of all of Ravana's evil powers arises in its place. After another long battle, Rama decapitates it, only to find another growing in its place. This cycle continues, and as darkness approaches, Ravana's magical powers increase in force. Vibheeshana, seeing this then tells Rama something vital. Ravana had obtained amrita, the nectar of immortality, from the gods. Though he could not consume it, he nevertheless stored a vessel of it in his stomach. This amrit was causing his heads to regenerate as soon as they were cut off. Upon the advice of Agastya, Rama worships Lord Aditya, the Sun, with the famous Aditya Hridayam prayer and then invokes the most powerful weapon, the Brahmastra. Rama fires the great arrow that enters Ravana's chest/stomach and destroys the store of amrit, killing him finally.[36] Following Ravana's death, Rama is immediately compassionate. After investing Vibheeshana as the next king of Lanka, he asks the new king and the surviving rakshasas to properly cremate their dead king, who he acknowledges was a great being worthy of respect and admiration, despite his patronage of evil.[37]

Rama Rajya

The end of the war coincides with the end of Rama's tenure of exile. Flying home on the Pushpaka Vimana, Rama returns to a joyous Ayodhya. His mothers, brothers and the people joyously welcome him. Kaikeyi is repentant of her deeds, and Rama forgives her. The next day, Rama is invested as the King of Ayodhya, and Emperor of the World. Although he first asks Lakshmana to become the yuvaraja, upon the advice of Lakshmana he invests the position to Bharata, who has had fourteen years of experience as the ruler of Ayodhya. Rama performs the holy Ashwamedha sacrifice, purifying and establishing religion across earth.[38]

Beyond the Ramayana, the eleven thousand years of Rama's rule over the earth represent to millions of modern Indians a time and age when God as a man ruled the world. There was perfect justice and freedom, peace and prosperity. There are no natural disasters, diseases, ailments or ill-fortune of any nature for any living being. There are no sins committed in the world by any of his people. Always attentive and accessible to his people, Rama is worshipped and hailed by all - the very symbol of moksha, the ultimate goal and destination of all life, and the best example of perfect character and human conduct, inspiring human beings for countless succeeding ages.

Rama like other Indian kings went undercover every night to hear the pleas of his subjects and have a common man's perspective of his rule. During Rama's tenure as King, the people apparently had no locks on their doors as they feared no burglaries or other such misfortunes.

Rama and the world

Deities of Sri Sri Sita (far right), Rama (center), Lakshmana (far left) and Hanuman (below seated) at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Hare Krishna temple in Watford England

Be it as a manifestation of God or simply as a legendary hero of myths and folktales, Rama is an immensely revered and inspirational figure to people across the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, as well as increasingly across Western civilization, where the Hindu epics and values are gaining recognition and popularity. In Jainism, Rama is enumerated among the nine white Balas. He is revered in Sikhism,(in the Guru Granth Sahib)[citation needed]

Rama is a great hero to the adherents of Agama Hindu Dharma and to the Muslims who practice Abangan, a syncretic form of Islam and Hinduism, in Indonesia. He is revered by the people of Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, who otherwise adhere to different forms of Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. The Rama Leela is performed across South East Asia in numerous local languages and the story has been the subject of art, architecture, music, folk dance and sculpture. The ancient city of Ayutthaya stands in Thailand, as the tribute of an ancient Thai kingdom to the great legend. Many ancient and medieval era kings of South East Asia have adopted Rama as their name.

A Buddhist version of the tale is found in the Jataka stories, in the Dasharatha Jataka (Jataka Atthakatha 461) in the Pali vernacular. Here Rama is represented as a former life of the Buddha as a Bodhisatva and supreme Dharma King of great wisdom. In the Buddhist tale, he is the king of Varanasi and not Ayodhya, which is traditionally the capital of Kosala.

Festivals of Lord Rama

Rama's day and time of birth, as well as marriage to Sita are celebrated by Hindus across the world as Rama Navami. It falls on the ninth day of a Hindu lunar year, or Chaitra Masa Suklapaksha Navami. This day is observed as the marriage day of Rama and Sita as well as the birthday of Rama. People normally perform Kalyanotsavam (marriage celebration) for small statues of Rama and Sita in their houses and at the end of the day the idols are taken in a procession on the streets. This day also marks the end of nine day utsavam called Vasanthothsavam (Festival of Spring), that starts with Ugadi. Some highlights of this day are:

  1. Kalyanam (Ceremonial wedding performed by temple priests) at Bhadrachalam on the banks of the river Godavari in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh.
  2. Panakam, a sweet drink prepared on this day with jaggery and pepper.
  3. Procession of idols in the evening that is accompanied with play of water and colours.
  4. For the occasion, Hindus are supposed to fast (or restrict themselves to a specific diet).
  5. Temples are decorated and readings of the Ramayana take place. Along with Rama, people also pray to Sita, Lakshmana and Hanumana.

The occasion of victory over Ravana and the rakshasas is celebrated as the 10-day Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra. The Ram Leela is publicly performed in many villages, towns and cities in India. Rama's return to Ayodhya and his coronation are celebrated as Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights. The latter two are the most important and popular festivals in India and for Hindus across the world. In Malaysia, Diwali is known as Hari Deepavali, and is celebrated during the seventh month of the Hindu solar calendar. It is a federal public holiday. In many respects it resembles the traditions followed in the Indian subcontinent. In Nepal, Diwali is known as Tihar and celebrated during the October/November period. Here, though the festival is celebrated for five days, the traditions vary from those followed in India. On the first day, cows are worshipped and given offerings. On the second day, dogs are revered and offered special food. On the third day, celebrations follow the same pattern as in India, with lights and lamps and much social activity. On the fourth day Yama, the Lord of Death, is worshipped and appeased. On the fifth and final day, brothers sisters meet and exchange pleasantries. In Trinidad and Tobago, Diwali is marked as a special occasion and celebrated with a lot of fanfare. It is observed as a national holiday in this part of the world and some ministers of the Government also take part in the celebrations publicly.

Inspiration

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian spiritual and political leader was deeply inspired by Rama's strict adherence of satya (truth) and dharma despite hardship and personal travails. Gandhi was encouraged by Rama's example when he faced personal crises and crucial difficulties. A chapter in his autobiography is titled the same: Nirbal ke Bal Ram (Rama is the strength for the weak). When Gandhi was shot three times in the chest on January 30, 1948, his dying words were He Ram, He Ram. On religious occasions, Hindus often chant the name of Rama to express their devotion to God and invoke the holy. Ram Naam Japo (Chant the name of Rama) is a popular bhajan, devotional song and a meditative mantra. In the ceremony of cremating the dead, Hindus often chant Ram Nam Satya Hai (Rama's name is Truth).

Notes

  1. ^ Gupta, S.M. (1993). Vishnu and His Incarnations. South Asia Books. 
  2. ^ Ganguly, S. (2003). "The Crisis of Indian Secularism". Journal of Democracy 14 (4): 11-25. 
  3. ^ Drutakarma Dasa, (ICJ Vol 2, No 2 December 1994). "Puranic Time and the Archaeological Record". 
  4. ^ Dimock Jr, E.C. (1963). "Doctrine and Practice among the Vaisnavas of Bengal". History of Religions 3 (1): 106-127. 
  5. ^ Rosen, S. (1994). Vaisnavism: Contemporary Scholars Discuss the Gaudiya Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.. 
  6. ^ a b Hess, L. (2001). "Rejecting Sita: Indian Responses to the Ideal Man's Cruel Treatment of His Ideal Wife*". Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67 (1): 1-32. 
  7. ^ Van Der Veer, P. (1989). "The Power of Detachment: Disciplines of Body and Mind in the Ramanandi Order". American Ethnologist 16 (3): 458-470. 
  8. ^ Kanungo, H.. "The Distinct Speciality of Lord Jagannath". ORISSA REVIEW. 
  9. ^ a b c d Griffith, R.T.H. (1963). The Ramayan of Valmiki. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office. 
  10. ^ Goswami, S.D. (2001). Vaisnava Compassion. La Crosse, Florida: GN Press. 
  11. ^ Regional Ramayanas
  12. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 10-11
  13. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 10-11
  14. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 496-500
  15. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 12-13
  16. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 14
  17. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 50
  18. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 57
  19. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 59
  20. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 59
  21. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 77
  22. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 91
  23. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 87-88
  24. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 91
  25. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 494-96
  26. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 496-98
  27. ^ D. Pattanaik, Indian Mythology, pp. 111
  28. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 132
  29. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 130
  30. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 656
  31. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 447
  32. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 499
  33. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 369-72
  34. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 29
  35. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 376-81
  36. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 482-84
  37. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 488-89
  38. ^ R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 645

References

External links

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