In the Ayodhyakāṇḍa, we see that Rama knew his subjects well and cared about them. He would often meet them and learn of their joys and sorrows. If they were happy, he laughed with them and if they were sad, he wept with them. If Rama didn’t see someone on a given day, he would feel that he missed seeing such-and-such a person and the one who didn’t see Rama would feel that he missed the sight of Rama! Such was the mutual affection between Rama and his subjects. In sum, it was rare that Rama didn’t meet his subjects; if he failed to do so, it was only accidental!
That Rama treated the whole of Ayodhya as his family is made amply clear by the episode where he donates everything that he owns before leaving for his fourteen-year exile. He gives well-chosen gifts to people. He is donating everything that he has, but even that he undertakes in a loving manner, giving specific gifts to people who value that object. He remembers the likes and dislikes of his subjects; such a thing is possible only when he has genuine concern for them all. The family-consciousness of Rama was not merely in feeling but also in action. No wonder the whole of Ayodhya was plunged into sorrow when Rama leaves the city. Valmiki says that “Not a soul rejoiced finding lost wealth or obtaining riches in great quantity. Mothers who had a male child for the first time too did not rejoice.”
नष्टं दृष्ट्वा नाभ्यनन्दन्
विपुलं वा धनागमम् ।
पुत्रं प्रथमजं लब्ध्वा
जननी नाभ्यनन्दत ॥
When a member of a family becomes superlative in a certain way, it is but natural for the rest of the family members to feel low in comparison. This feeling of inferiority tends to keep them away from the superior person. Rama takes care to hide his superiority so that people around him don’t feel uncomfortable. That is his greatness! In fact, there is a beautiful instance in Kalidasa’s Raghuvaṃśam that illustrates this trait of Rama. When Rama returns to Ayodhya on the puṣpakavimāna and meets Kaikeyi, he tells her, “O mother, it is because of your two boons that Father retained his honour. He had promised your father, the king of Kekaya, that your son would be installed on the throne after his time. Having forgotten all about it, he wanted to crown me king. Your timely boons reminded him about his promise and I was saved from being labelled the son of a person who went back on his word!” Rama knew that Kaikeyi would be filled with remorse and shame after what she had done and to avoid that, he speaks these illuminating words.
Rama’s moral uprightness was such that it influenced everyone around him. When Shatrughna learns that it was Manthara who was the real cause behind Kaikeyi demanding the two boons of Dasharatha, he drags her by her hair and wishes to kill her. “She is the cause for the downfall of our family!” he screams. The poet even describes Manthara as one who looked like a she-monkey tied with ropes as she was wearing thick ornaments and fancy robes that barely suited her. (Ayodhyakāṇḍa 78.7) Bharata stops him. “Don’t kill her, Shatrughna! If Rama finds out that we are responsible for the killing of a woman, he might not speak with us. He may not even turn his face towards us. If that wasn’t the case, why do you think I have spared my mother? If not for our brother, I would have killed her!” (Ayodhyakāṇḍa 78.21-22) The epic goes to the extent of saying that even the subjects of Ayodhya adhered to ahiṃsā taking Rama as the example.
Rama is obviously overwhelmed when Hanuman returns victorious from Lanka carrying Sita’s message and her crest-jewel, after carefully observing all the military arrangements of Ravana, destroying a significant portion of the main city in a fire, and giving a warning to the demonic ruler of the island nation – all this in a single day. At that point, Rama tells Hanuman, “What a skilful and capable person you are! To such a helpful soul, I must do something in return. But if I do or give something, you will have the trouble of accepting a favour. Instead, I will just carry the load of the debt I owe to you my friend.” (See the first sarga of Yuddhakāṇḍa) For a person like Rama who hates any sort of obligation, this is such a loaded statement to make.
To run a family successfully, one needs awareness of one’s own defects as well as the defects of the others in the family. But it is not about calling out the shortcomings in others or finding fault with them. It is about being aware of them. Rama knew about the pitfalls in others as well as in himself. He knew his limitations. And in spite of such self-dignity and composure, Rama was a person who spoke with a smile, spoke little, spoke first, and smiled before he spoke. (See Ayodhyakāṇḍa 1.10-31)
Rama was also acutely sentient about the capabilities of people around him. In conference with Sugriva, he plans in great detail the movement of the monkey troops to the different directions in their quest to find Sita. He identifies all the monkey-chieftains who will lead the search battalions and marks out the areas they will have to cover. And yet, he gives his ring only to Hanuman. He knows that if at all anyone can find Sita, it is Hanuman – irrespective of the direction he is assigned. He could have given a love-letter or something else to the others, but he doesn’t. He knows their limitations. And yet, he doesn’t look down upon them or make them feel that they are worthless. He gives the ring to Hanuman in such a way that nobody feels awkward. Angada didn’t come to Rama and ask him why the ring wasn’t given to him. Everyone accepted—albeit unconsciously—Rama’s wisdom in giving the ring to Hanuman alone. Thus, it is not merely that Hanuman had the skill but it is also about the manner in which Rama recognized this skill. This astuteness is essential not just to run a family but also to run a country.
Customs and rituals that are a part of a family for generations are important for the togetherness of the family. As much as one might have a problem with ritualism, simple acts of offering worship to a deity or celebrating a festival brings family members together and creates opportunities for strengthening the bonds. Rama was one who sincerely followed all these customs and practices. Even when he built a hut in the forest, he performed all the rituals associated with building a new home – vāstoṣpati homa and grihapraveśa. Before getting on Guha’s boat, the poet says that he recited the naukārohaṇa-mantra. If the parents don’t follow any rituals, how will the children cultivate them? After all, rituals are a means for realizing the higher philosophy. Realization of the truth will not happen in a void. It needs a starting point, which is ritual. This aspect too was taken care of by Rama in the best possible manner.
Rama was ready to praise his family members when they did something good. He appreciated them, applauded them. When upon his instruction Lakshmana builds a hut made from leaves, he is so delighted. He tells Lakshmana, “Oh, you have built this exquisitely. You have made me forget that I am without a father. If one has a brother like you, what else can one wish for?” (See Araṇyakāṇḍa 15.27-29) In Bhasa’s Pratimānāṭaka, Rama tells Bharata, “All that glory and fame that I have earned over so many years by being obedient to my father’s words, you have taken it away from me in such a short time by your brotherly affection, love, and respect when you asked for my sandals! You are greater than me!” It is so important to acknowledge the good qualities of loved ones without taking them for granted – and that was Rama! Even his conversations with Sita are so full of love and affection.
Rama is also careful not to poke his nose into another’s family. When the dispute between Vali and Sugriva breaks out, he doesn’t pester Sugriva for the ugly details. He realizes that Sugriva is a noble person and that he should take his side; but at the same time, Rama never speaks ill of Vali. When Vali and Sugriva fight and Rama is waiting to kill Vali, he fails to recognize the difference between the two brothers, thus unable to shoot an arrow. Sugriva gets thrashed and comes back, angered at Rama’s inaction. Without getting perturbed or pained, Rama plainly states that he didn’t know the difference between the two and then suggests the use of a garland. And even when killing Vali was inevitable, he tried to put together the rest of the family. This is the reason why neither Tara nor Angada felt that Rama had erred; they embraced him, they were on his side. He became friends with a family whose head he had killed! Of course, initially Tara shouts at Rama but soon realizes that he did the right thing and finds solace. When Angada fails to find Sita after a great deal of searching, he decides to end his life rather than face Sugriva empty-handed. At that point, he has a thought that just like Sugriva killed his father, this might be a ploy to kill him as well. But this was just a passing thought. It never really bothered him beyond that. In fact, Angada was the one who went to Lanka as the peace emissary. At that point, Ravana tells him, “Your father Vali and I were friends. Why do you want to take sides with that sly Rama who killed your father by cunning and that wicked Sugriva who was responsible for his death? Come and join me!” Angada responds, “No, they are good people. My father made a mistake. I’m warning you – don’t make the same mistake!”
When Vibhishana crosses over to Rama’s side, then Sugriva doubts the intentions of Vibhishana and advises Rama to shun him. And Lakshmana tells Rama that Sugriva, who himself betrayed his brother is speaking thus. Rama then says, “Not always do brothers live together, free of fear and filled with joy. Thus there is always a divide between them. Listening to the tumultuous sounds of battle, he might have got afraid. We can indeed accept Vibhishana! My dear Sugriva, not all brothers are like Bharata, nor all sons like me nor all friends like you!”
न भविष्यन्ति सङ्गताः ।
ततोऽस्य भयमागतम् ॥
इति भेदं गमिष्यन्ति
तस्मात्प्रोप्तो विभीषणः ।
न सर्वे भ्रातरस्तात
भवन्ति भरतोपमाः ॥
मद्विधा नो पितुः पुत्राः
सुहृदो वा भवद्विधाः…
Later on, he tells Sugriva, “Why Vibhishana, even if Ravana himself comes to me seeking refuge, I shall grant it to him.” (Yuddhakāṇḍa 18.33-35) Such was Rama’s magnanimity.
At the end of the first day’s battle, when Ravana had lost everything and stood empty-handed without armour or chariot or weapon, Rama tells him to go back home and get rest before coming back to fight the next morning. And just because Vibhishana is on his side, he doesn’t try to create a divide between the brothers by crooked means. Upon seeing the brotherly love between Vibhishana and Kumbhakarna, he doesn’t feel an iota of anger or suspicion. When Vibhishana confronts Kumbhakarna on the battlefield and asks him to desist from fighting alongside Ravana, he says, “I have to fight with my elder brother for that is my duty. But when we are on the battlefield, I will destroy everything that I see without a second thought. Therefore, stay away from me, Vibhishana. You are the one who will have to perform the last rites for all of us. You are the only one who’s doing what is right!” (See Yuddhakāṇḍa 67.147-55) Vibhishana is so sad upon hearing this that he goes to a side and stands still, holding his mace, with a bowed head and tear-filled eyes. At this, Rama doesn’t find fault with Vibhishana. He understands brotherly love and also the vagaries of those situations when differences arise within a family.
Rama has upheld family values in such a fine way, in an all-encompassing manner. This is the reason our tradition never visualized Rama merely as an individual with a fierce bow and a quiver full of arrows. He was not just a raw warrior, he was a cultured soldier. Thus he is always Pattabhirama, the central figure in the group photo with Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Bharata, and others.
Our country has always held family as sacred, and at times, gave undue importance to it at the cost of national values. However, in today’s day and age, even that is disintegrating. It becomes all the more important to engage with the great epic and understand the mind of Rama.
The common feature we see in Shiva, Rama, and Krishna is that they are all selfless, wise, friendly, and courageous. Due to this inherent uprightness, every thought, every word, and every deed of these great deities are noble. Even when faced with troubles, Rama quietly seeks to solve the problem. He never wants to create a scene. He silently works and finds peace amidst all the clamour of the world through his uprightness and amicability.
To be continued.
This serialized article has been translated by Hari Ravikumar from the author’s Kannada lecture held at the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, Bangalore in 2009. All verse references from the Rāmāyaṇa are from Vidvan Ranganatha Sharma’s Kannada translation of the epic in eight volumes (published by the Ramayana Prakashana Samiti, Bangalore).