The Ramayana of Valmiki

Rama is virtually a perfect man in that he is a god reincarnate, the god Visnu who preserves dharma. This does not make him any less interesting. He undergoes his own trials and through his choices we gain a better picture of what his dharma is. I was surprised with how his response to his banishment, which was “promptly and without the least sign of the slightest displeasure’ (729), was so very different then what was seen in Greek literature, where this betrayal and injustice would be met with resistance and self-righteousness. Although at first frustrating to me as a reader (it was difficult for me to dissociate their meekness from weakness (752)), I was nonetheless fascinated with Rama’s persistence towards his dharma and how the culture perceives duty more important than justice.

There was a point where Rama struggled to continue following his dharma. When he could not find Sita, he broke down under the injustice that the powers that govern did not protect Sita from possible death. Rama proclaimed, “we adhere to dharma, but dharma could not protect Sita…we are full of self-control, compassion and devoted to the welfare of all beings: yet these virtues have become as good as vices in us now. I shall set aside these virtues and the universe shall witness my supreme glory which will bring about the destruction of all creatures including the demons’ (752). Laksmana beseeched him not to go against his nature, and that as king he could not punish all creatures for the actions of one.

It is this emotional breakdown into grief was mirrored by his mother, Queen Kausalya. As a mother, she wants to follow her son who is all she truly cares for. She declares that his leaving will be her death. Rama reminds her of her dharma (as Laksmana reminded him). As a woman, her duty is to serve her husband, and to abandon him would mean abandoning her dharma. Both Rama and Kausalya had to discipline their feelings in order to comply with their dharma. This is consistent with the Hindu religious belief that everyone has their own dharma that they must adhere to defined by their class. I found this interesting in that based on their role, their dharmas may conflict. Rama tried to convince Sita that she should stay back because it is his duty to make sure she is safe and cared for, but her duty tells her that she must follow and be with him.

2 thoughts on “The Ramayana of Valmiki

  1. emrickrachel

    That passage where Rama is distraught over Sita being taken was confusing to me. I think it proves my lack of understanding on the concept of dharma. I did not understand why Rama was mad with dharma. I was under the impression that dharma was a place of self discovery, but when he is mad at It for not protecting Sita, it means that it can intervene in human situations. This makes it an interactive thing rather than something that can only be sought out.

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  2. sehoyos Post author

    I may be interpreting it wrong, but I thought of it this way. They have been complying with dharma, which is supposed to lead you to transcend karma and suffering that come from existential conditions. His breakdown was in essence, why do bad things happen to good people. He was doing everything right, but was still suffering one thing after the other. I don’t think he was necessarily angry at dharma as an entity, but angry at the gods who did nothing to stop Sita being eaten, which is why he threatened to destroy them along with demons and all creatures.

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