The story of Lord Rama has inspired millions over the centuries. It is said that the first Ramayana, as the epic is called, was written by sage Valmiki in Sanskrit, much before the incidents occurred. Valmiki was a contemporary of Rama and when Sita, his consort, was exiled by King Rama. She stayed at the Ashram of sage Valmiki. The latest recension was done by Sant Tulsidas in Avadhi, the language of the masses, in the 15th century.
In the present interpretation of the epic the main actors of the drama are personified by various attributes common to the human race. This interpretation could, therefore, command universal appeal. This is called Adhyatma or spiritual Ramayana which explains the esotericism in the great epic.
Till very recently, none in India bothered to verify the veracity of the story. It was not their concern to investigate the actual happenings in history—when Rama lived and ruled or the places he occupied during his fourteen years’ period of banishment by his father. To Indians it was the grain that mattered and not the chaff.
The modern period is the age of reason, not of faith—faith in tradition, in the past, in epics, in authority, in parents, even in oneself. For everything the modern generation clamours for proof, authenticity and verification. In the case of past events there can be circumstantial evidence, historical support, archaeological proof and literary or even astronomical occurrences to support dates and incidents. The Ramayana, i.e. the history of Lord Rama, in the light of the temper of times, has also been subjected to detailed scrutiny. Historians have been busy locating various places where certain events of his life took place.
Some are of the view that Lord Rama never went beyond the Vindhyas and the entire episode occurred in northern India. Lanka of the Ramayana is said to be somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. Mandu is pinpointed as the city where Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, lived. The demon king Ravana is also said to have been living nearabout. As evidences are cited a huge brick-mound known even today as Ravana Kursi or the seat of Ravana, a musical instrument played with a bow on strings popular in the region is called Ravana-hattha. Panchavati is supposed to be situated near Nasik and authentically shown round to visitors as the place where Sita lived with her husband and his brother Lakshmana for a part of the banishment period.
The historians contradict these views and quote literary events in the Valmiki Ramayana to prove that Lanka did lie across the seas and Rama offered prayers to Siva before launching the construction of the oversea stone-bridge. At Rameshwaram there is a temple with the idol of Lord Siva who was worshipped by the royal couple before they mounted an attack on Lanka. Since Rama’s spouse Sita was in the custody of Ravana and the worship could not be performed without the wife being by his side, it is said that Ravana agreed to send Sita for a short while so that the worship could be performed according to the rites laid down in the scriptures.
There are historians who contradict all this since, obviously, it looks strange and incredible. According to them, there was no Rama, Sita, Ravana, the battle, the banishment and a victory of Rama over his rival Ravana. They say that the entire story is a tale told by elders from generation to generation assuming the shape of history over the years. The story, like any other fiction, has been so much ingrained in the race-unconscious that by constant repetition over a few thousand years, people have started believing that it is a part of history which is far from the truth.
Be that as it may, we will not enter into an argument whether the story of Lord Rama is a historical fact or otherwise. We would prefer to stick to the grain and start with the assumption that the story is basically true. It has inspired millions of Indians all over the country to follow the right path. It continues to inspire millions today, and will continue to do so in future.
Many epics have been written about the life and activities of Lord Rama. There are hundreds of them written in the North, South, East and West of the country. Among these about 36 are considered to be important. One of them, the Adhyatma Ramayana, gives a symbolic interpretation of the various characters and events of Ramayana. Since such an interpretation could be of universal significance, we would concentrate here in giving a brief outline of the symbolism. Before we do that it would be better to be acquainted with the generally accepted story of Lord Rama.
There Was A King
There is an ancient city of Ayodhya on the banks of broad-bosomed river Saryu in the Utter Pradesh State of India. There lived a king called Raghu, so powerful, that he was invited by even Indra of Swargaloka to help him in his battles against the demons. Swargaloka is heaven, but interpreted these days as a land lying somewhere in the North amidst the hoary heights of the Himalayas and Indra, according to this reading, must have been a powerful king enjoying all the luxuries of life but constantly threatened by some other kings who were equally affluent and brave. The arts and sciences of that age are not well-known now. The elixir of youth, the devas—Indra was their lord—had discovered is treated now as a myth. Their adversaries, the Asuras or demons, were anxious to get hold of the prescription of the elixir.
In war there are descriptions of many weapons which could cause fire like modern Napalm bomb, or whirlwind and a storm which are not known today. There were mnemonic formulae which were recited to invoke supernatural powers to help one party to harm the other. These formulae called mantras are also mostly on way out and have not been preserved in the original form. There are descriptions of aerial cars, horse-driven golden chariots and palaces of gold and silver.
A scion descended from this king was Dasaratha, king of Ayodhya. Dasaratha had everything that nature could bestow, but he had no progeny. Therefore he performed a sacrifice and was given the essence of that sacrifice to be distributed among his queens. This was divided by Dasaratha in three parts for his three queens, Kausalya the eldest, Kaikeyi the second and Sumitra the youngest. It so happened that the last one ate double the share. In course of time Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi to Bharata and Sumitra to Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Among the queens, Kaikeyi who came from the Kingdom of Kekaya (supposed to be the area near the Caucasus mountains by moderns) was the most beautiful and well versed in the art of war. She often accompanied the king to battle and once when the king’s chariot was disabled due to a broken axle, Kaikeyi put her arm in the wheel to support the chariot so that the King could fight undisturbed. When the king discovered the kind of courage and determination displayed by her, he was very pleased and offered to grant her two boons. It is also said in some Ramayanas that the king of Caucasus had agreed to marry his daughter on the condition that the son born of her would be the crown-prince. Years rolled on and one day when Dasaratha discovered that his hair was turning grey, he decided to enthrone his eldest son, Rama, as the king. Rama was very obedient, loyal and handsome, dear to all the three mothers and the public of Ayodhya. The declaration was greeted with joy, but Manthara, the maidservant of Kaikeyi, became a fly in the ointment and she reminded the queen, of the king’s promise that her son would be enthroned as king. Kaikeyi became wild with rage and dismissed her insinuations with contempt, but persistent persuasion of the cunning Manthara had the desired effect.
When the king visited her in the evening, she expressed her desire to reclaim the boons to which the king agreed. The first boon Kaikeyi asked for was that Bharata and not Rama, should be made the king. Secondly, she asked for the banishment of Rama from the kingdom for 14 years. The king, after painful reluctance, agreed to grant the first boon but could not bear the separation of Rama for such a long period. The queen, however stuck to her stand and Dasaratha kept his word. When Rama left for the forest, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana also insisted upon accompanying him. After their separation the king died of a broken heart.
When Bharata who had been sent away to his maternal uncle, returned to Ayodhya and became aware of the developments. He reprimanded his mother. He went to Chitrakuta, where Rama with Sita and Lakshmana was staying, in order to bring back Lord Rama and enthrone him as king. After great persuasion by Rama, taking it as a command of the Lord, he agreed to rule the kingdom only as a representative of Lord Rama, his elder brother.
Events in this universe do not occur in isolation or individually. Incidents are inter-related and interdependent. There is a flux in the totality of events and the whole drama is played on a cosmic plane. Can a wave in the ocean claim to ride on the crest on its own or a whiff of wind blow independently of the atmosphere?
You must have watched an army of ants going about their way in a disciplined manner as busy-bodies. To be sure, if they had better brains they would feel being engaged in an enormous task, marching in a row, contacting each other while moving, constantly engaged in a great task. What do we humans feel about their work without rest? Perhaps we laugh in our sleeves at their activity. So, are busy innumerable insects, birds and beasts exciting in us no more than a passing attention.
So are millions of men, each engaged in his own task, governing a country, undertaking construction, increasing production, serving the people and their own family. Each one thinks he is engaged in a mighty endeavour. Suppose there was a better race of beings before whom we are no more than mere ants, how would they view our ponderous plans and untiring efforts in implementing them? But most men regard themselves as a class by themselves, superior to the entire creation, plants, insects, animals and beasts.
If there is a cosmic plan and we are all like waves in an ocean, there is hardly anything that we really can do on our own. In the ocean each wave impelled behind propels forward in rhythmic motion. So in the atmosphere winds rise, go to the area of low pressure, rush out again, moving in a continuous motion, urged on by the whiffs behind and whiffs forward.
We all go about our activities under the mistaken notion that we all act individually and independently taking the credit for achievements and blaming the failures on others. Nothing happens in this universe independently of other happenings. There is a continuous motion sometimes rhythmic and at others not so rhythmic. It is all a part of the cosmic plan and we are all mere waves rising and falling without any will of our own in this grand drama.
Rama knew this cosmic plan. He knew that he was merely a cog in the wheel of the great universe. Or, to view him as an incarnation of Vishnu, he was well aware of the meaning behind the play of the cosmos, of which he was the great central pivot. With this wisdom ingrained in him he was not elated when his father proposed his name as a king. Nor did he sink into the abyss of despondency when the next morning he was banished from the kingdom for 14 long years.
He accepted the command of his father gracefully and approached not only Kausalya, his own mother, but also Sumitra and, of course Kaikeyi who was the cause of all this disaster. It was, he felt, the cosmic will and he should accept its verdict cheerfully. Therefore Rama is always referred to as one of the best specimens of the human race who always respected the right cause—Maryadapurushottama Rama.
When he discarded his royal robes, put on the mendicant’s attire and prepared himself for the forest. His wife Sita, herself the daughter of a great king, bred and brought up in luxury, sought the permission of her in-laws to accompany her husband. There was a lot of argument, but she convinced all that a wife’s place is always by they side of her husband—in prosperity or in penury. Her arguments, according to Indian traditions, were incontrovertible. She was allowed to accompany Rama.
But Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, who had his young wife Urmila, did not allow the couple to go alone into the inhospitable forest infested with wild beasts and wilder tribals. A fire-brand and rather aggressive, he had his way and formed one of the trio who finally left their luxurious life and loveable surroundings for the hardships of the forest. Whereas Sita had the satisfaction of accompanying her husband and being by his side, Urmila, Lakshmana’s wife denied herself even that privilege and pleasure and stayed back to serve her in-laws.
Ideal Human Relationships
Ramayana is an epic which delineates with remarkable clarity and the precision of a surgeon’s knife, how to conduct human relationships of all types. To my mind it appears to be an authentic interpretation in sociology, a comprehensive directory of human relations. There is no end to this variety of relations between man and man, man and woman and it may be surprising that the ideal behaviour of almost every human relationship has been depicted in this epic. To name a few: the relationship between father and son as represented by Dasaratha and Rama; son and stepmother—Rama and Kaikeyi; husband and wife—Lakshmana and Urmila; king and his subjects—Rama and inhabitants of Ayodhya; brother and brother—Rama, Bharata and Lakshmana; married man and a wanton—Lakshmana and Surpanakha; God and devotee—Rama and Sugreeva; king and his army—Rama and the Vanaras; master and servant—Rama and Hanuman; sworn enemies—Rama and Ravana; ideal husband and wife relationship—Rama and Sita. For every human situation, for every intricate relationship, there is an answer in the Ramayana and it is an ideal answer worthy of emulation in all countries, by all people, at all times.
To continue the story, Rama had been sent to the forest as an actor as it turned out to be—to fulfil a grand design and the troubles started very soon in Panchavati in Dandakaranya where they stayed. The sister of Ravana named Surpanakha heard of the two princes and a lady living in the forest and had the easy curiosity of having a look at them. She was a treacherous woman and visited Panchavati in her best attire.
Almost at first sight she fell in love with the handsome Rama and dared to woo him. Rama smiled and explained that he was accompanied by his wife and, in a lighter vein, suggested that she should approach his younger brother Lakshmana who was much fairer and equally handsome. Lakshmana lacked the sobriety and sanguinity of his elder brother. He also said that he was a married man and that she should leave him alone. But the woman was equally adamant and when she started making advances, Lakshmana was enraged and chopped off her ears and nose. She ran away bleeding and cursing, to her brothers Khara and Dushana, kings of two small principalities. She presented entirely a different story—that that the princes wanted to molest her and when she took a stand, the younger brother disfigured her. Both the brothers raided Panchavati and after a fierce battle both were slain. Thus, right from the beginning the stage was set for something more ominous to occur which ultimately led to the wholesale slaughter of the demonic elements along with their king of kings, Ravana.
As the story goes, after her brothers were killed, she went to Meghanatha and finally to Ravana, instigating them to avenge her dishonour. Ravana was a clever king and when he heard that the two brothers had been slain by Rama and Lakshmana, he could guess that they were no ordinary warriors. He therefore set a trap and sent a man Maricha, who could take any form, to go near Panchavati in the form of a golden deer, and beguile the brothers away. The plan worked and when Sita saw the golden deer she asked her husband to get it for her, Rama saw the game and told Sita that it was only a ruse and that she should not pay any attention to it, but cosmic plan had its influence and Sita became restless and compelled Rama to bring the golden deer for her.
Rama instructed Lakshmana to look after Sita and started the chase. As planned, when Maricha was dying he shouted for Lakshmana. Sita suspected that Rama was in danger and insisted upon Lakshmana’s going to his help. Lakshmana tried to convince Sita that nothing untoward would happen to Rama and that it was all a trick to take him away from her. But a woman’s heart, she was harsh on Lakshmana and went to the extent of imputing motives to him, which compelled Lakshmana to go in search of his brother. Before departure, he drew a line on the ground with his bow and told Sita not to cross the line, come what may. As soon as the two brothers had gone, a mendicant appeared to beg for alms. He noted the line and knew that if he crossed it he could be burnt to ashes. He therefore requested her to come out of the line, and as she did so, the mendicant who was none else but Ravana, took her away forcibly in his aerial car.
The Plot Thickens
While being abducted, Sita flapped her limbs like a caged bird, shrieked and shouted but there was none to come to her rescue. On the way she left a trail by dropping her ornaments. When Ravana was intercepted by Jatayu, a devotee of Rama, who put up a fight, the latter eventually lost the battle and fell down. Ravana thereafter reached his capital without any disturbance and confined Sita to a garden in his palace, called Ashoka-Vatika.
Rama returned to find Panchavati without its soul, its life, its Sita. He suspected foul play and went round asking for the whereabouts of Sita from birds and beasts, plants and trees, wailing and weeping like an ordinary man. Rama is never projected as the Supreme Lord of the universe who knew the past, the present and the future, but as a mere mortal, although as an ideal man. While looking for Sita the trail of ornaments led the two brothers to Jatayu who told them all about the abduction of Sita by Ravana and then he breathed his last on Rama’s lap.
Ravana was a strange foe. He was well-read knowing all the Vedas and Sastras, unbeaten in argument and having great knowledge of various arts and sciences. Indian artists therefore show him as a person having the wisdom of ten wise men—with ten heads. In spite of being so learned and wise, he committed the contemptible act of taking away forcibly another man’s wife. Therefore the artists add a donkey’s head to the personality of Ravana demonstrating his folly. Ravana retained his propriety, however, in dealing with the captive Sita. She was put under the charge of dreadful demonesses who cajoled her, compelled her, threatened her to accept Ravana as her husband. Nothing availed, and Sita stood like a rock in her faithfulness and loyalty to Rama. Credit must be given to the mighty king Ravana who on his frequent visits to Sita in Ashoka Vatika always, awaited her acceptance and never for once touched her person.
At the other camp, once Rama came to know that Ravana had taken away Sita, a search was launched to find the exact spot where she was confined. The job was performed by his great devotee, Hanuman, son of Vayu (wind God) who had acquired several Siddhis (miraculous powers) like assuming several forms ranging from the tiniest and the lightest to the largest and the heaviest. He took the ring of Rama as a token to establish his identity and dropped the ring from a tree under which Sita was sitting. Sita was delighted to receive a message from Rama and gave an ornament in return as a token of her message to her Lord.
Before returning, Hanuman was caught by the henchmen of Ravana who tried to burn him alive but Hanuman assumed a huge form and in turn caused enormous damage to Lanka. When Ravana’s brother Vibhishana advised Ravana to return the captive, Ravana disgracefully turned him out of the court. Thus Vibhishana surrendered to Lord Rama and became his devotee for ever.
Rama did not take any precipitate action. An emissary, Angada, son of Bali, was sent to the court of Ravana asking for the return of Sita to avoid bloodshed. Angada was told by Ravana that he would prefer a fight to avenge the dishonour done to his sister than to patch up by returning Sita.
Vibhishana had joined the forces of Rama and with the help of king Sugreeva, a huge army was raised and a bridge laid across the sea to reach Lanka. Feverish preparations followed on both sides but before starting the war Rama sought the blessings of Lord Siva for his success. Hanuman was asked to bring the idol of Lord Siva from a particular holy place but the Brahmins said that the Yajna could not be performed by Lord Rama unless his wife was by his side. A message was sent to Ravana to spare Sita for a short while so that worship could be performed according to the scriptural rites. There lies the greatness of the foe who agreed to send Sita temporarily and equally the magnanimity of Rama who duly returned her after the Lord had been worshipped.
There are instances after instances which point to the ideal character of not only Lord Rama but of many individuals, especially the main actors who participated in this drama. It is difficult to decide who excels whom. Even a tribal woman who wanted to entertain Rama by offering him plums, tasted each to ensure that only the sweet ones were eaten by the Lord, although it is refuted by some scholars giving a different meaning as Lord Rama is considered Maryada Purushottama. Friends, foes, brothers, devotees and others all leave an indelible impression upon the mind of the reader and tender ideal advice about one’s duty in a variety of human situations. In fact almost all conceivable situations have been covered and without being didactic, the advise dawns upon the person through a concrete example.
I leave it to scholars to conduct research and find out the veracity of various incidents, persons and places. The grain is to see how a particular individual acted in a given situation, and draw lessons therefrom. As Longfellow sang:
Lives of great men all remind us.
We can make our lives sublime.
The day of reckoning arrived and the great battle began between the forces of good and evil. There were many ups and downs in the battle. At one point Lakshmana was mortally wounded and there were less chances for his survival. But he was revived by the Sanjivini herb brought by Hanuman from the Himalayas. Thousands of Vanaras of Rama’s Army were killed by Meghnatha, the son of Ravana, who at last was slain in the battle by Lakshmana. Ahiravana, another son of Ravana, who was in the Patal Loka took away Rama and Lakshmana through his Maya to be sacrificed at the altar of Devi. However, they were rescued by Hanuman, and Ahiravana was killed by Hanuman. Kumbhakarana, a great warrior and brother of Ravana, was also killed by Lord Rama on the battlefield.
Ravana was a bitter foe and a man of miracles. It is said that he could assume many forms and bodies. Rama was hard put to finish him off. Eventually, his brother Vibhishana let out the secret that Rama should shoot an arrow at his navel which contained the elixir of his life and unless the elixir was drained off Ravana would not die.
At last the end came and Ravana fell dead on the ground. Sita was rescued and taken to Ayodhya in Pushpaka Vimana, an aerial car. They were received by the people of Ayodhya and brother Bharata who had ruled the country in his absence as a regent. Rama was crowned king amidst great rejoicings.
In World Literature
Before we go over to explain the esotericism of the Ramayana, let me say a few words about the prevailing criticism about the veracity of various events mentioned in the epic.
First, there is no doubt that early Indians had an approach to history which was rather different from the present day attitude. The word for literature in India is Sahitya, i.e. which will help in the progress and welfare of mankind. While writing history, maybe they kept the objective of human welfare uppermost.
Secondly there may have been some intermingling of history and mythology. Although mythology is said to be based on what C.G. Jung has called the ‘race-unconscious’ and therefore projects the innate inhibited aspirations of a race; they did not draw any definite line of demarcation between mythology and history. It is, therefore, possible that either some events were exaggerated or new material interpolated which cannot pass the portals of history as is understood today.
Thirdly, some recent trends in Western thought had a great influence on the thinking of the world, particularly on India which was a colony of the British for almost two centuries. In this trend, the most important influence in recent times has been of Herbert Spencer who formulated the theory of evolution much before Charles Darwin and Wallace. Spencer’s evolution has a wider sweep and covers all physical and biological phenomena. According to him, the world is evolving from worse to better. Conversely, as we go back in time, the civilisation would have been worse and worse. As such, the state of affairs in India at present should be definitely better than they were a few hundred or a few thousand years ago. Therefore it is just not possible that the people of ancient India—or for that matter, of any country—could be more prosperous, more intelligent and more advanced than at present. This philosophy cuts at the root of all ancient civilisations and treats the facts of ancient world as fiction. India’s philosophy, on the other hand has an exactly opposite approach than the evolutionary progressivism of Spencer. According to it, the world is going from bad to worse—not necessarily in the material sense but in moral essence. The cycle of the universe begins with Satyayuga the age of truth, benevolence and moral rectitude, but gradually degenerates into Treta, Dwapara and the age of Kali, during which moral values gradually go down. After the worst comes to pass and only little morality is left in the world, one cycle of creation is completed and the whole world is dissolved into nothingness, rising again with Satyayuga.
This approach is nothing unusual to India. There are references in the literature of other countries which speak of high civilisation in the past for which scientific explanations have yet to be formulated. There are two courses open to us, either to reject them as fantasies or to undertake research on modern lines to evaluate their truth.
Let me refer to the Babylonian Etana epic deciphered from clay-tablet library of the Assyrian king, Assurbanipal (669-662 BC). The actual origin of the epic is unknown but parts of it are included in the much older epic of Gilgamesh written in the Akkadian language.
The Sumerians began to write down their past in 2300 B.C. Just as Enkidu, the hero of the epic of Gilgamesh was carried up above the Earth by a god, Etana also floats high in the air. Here are the essential passages as quoted by Erich Von Daniken in his “In Search of Ancient Gods”. The passages from the Etana epic say:
The Eagle said to him, to Etana:
‘My friend, I will carry thee to heaven—Anus,
Look at the sea at the side of the world mountain!
The Land there looks like a mountain,
The sea has become like water course ....’
When he had carried him aloft a little longer,
The eagle said to him, to Etana:
‘Look my friend, how the land has changed.
The earth looks like a plantation of trees...’
Daniken comments, “I am firmly convinced that ‘gods’ in mythology can only be a synonym for space travellers, for lack of a more accurate name for flying phenomena.” Daniken gives many photographs from ancient scriptures found in different parts of the world which appear to be not only strange but bizarre as they do not conform to anything the like of which we know today. He quotes from a translation of Enoch published in Thubingjm in 1900.
It is said in chapter 14 of the Book of Enoch:
“They bore me up into the heavens. I entered and walked until I came to a building of crystal stones and surrounded by tongues of fire, and it began to strike terror into me. I went into the tongues of fire and came to a large house built of crystal stones. The walls of that house were like unto a floor paved with crystal stones and its floor was of crystal. Its roof was like the paths of the stars and lightning, with fiery cherubs in between. A sea of fire was round its walls, and its doors burnt with fire.”
It is said in chapter 15.
“And when I heard the voice of the most high: Fear thou not, Enoch, the righteous man and scribe of righteousness—go thou and speak to the guardians of heaven who have sent thee in order to intercede for them.”
According to Daniken there is little doubt that a ferry ship took Enoch from earth to the command module which was orbiting around the earth. “The gleaming metal hull of the spaceship seemed to him to be built of crystal stones. Through a heat-rejecting fortified roof he could see the stars and meteorites and also observe the flashes from the steering jets of small spaceships.”
There are references of strange happenings in Mayan literature and stone reliefs. One Mayan legend says that there was a civilisation in full boom 10,000 years ago, although archaeologists question this early dating in their meagre ‘revelations’. It has however been proved that Mayan cities were not destroyed by wars or natural catastrophes, they were simply abandoned by their inhabitants. The Maya disappeared without a trace. Why did they leave their magnificent cities which were built to last with massive blocks of stones? Only three Maya manuscripts, the so-called Codices, were spared in the burning of the books.
Maya calendar was of an incredibly high calibre starting in the year 3117 B.C. South American experts claim that the mysterious year has no connection with the actual history of Maya, having only a pure symbolic value like the Jewish phrase ‘since the creation of the world’. The Maya calendar operates with cycles of years that were only supposed to have repeated themselves over 374,000 years—so similar to the four yugas of India.
If we follow the Aztec calendar, the present age is ripe for the destruction of the earth by an earthquake. During construction work in Mexico in 1700, a round stone disc 3 feet thick and 12 feet in diameter was found. A bass relief of faces, arrows and circles were carved on the stone. It was discovered that these motifs were data for the secret Aztec calendar. But Aztecs, it is said, took over the essential parts of the calendar from their forefathers, the Mayas.
We should, therefore, not be surprised when we hear of Vimanas or the aerial cars, in the epic of Ramayana. These should have been the flying machines, navigated at great heights with the aid of quicksilver with a great propulsive wind. These Vimanas could cover vast distances and travel forward, upward and downwards—a maneuverability which may be envied even today. Here is a quotation from the translation of Ramayana by M.N. Dutt done in 1801:
‘At Rama’s behest the magnificent chariot rose upto a mountain of cloud with a tremendous din...’
We cannot help noticing that not only a flying machine is mentioned, but the chronicler talks of a tremendous din. Here is another passage from the Mahabharata:
“Bhima flew with his Vimana on an enormous ray which was as brilliant as the sun, and made a noise like the thunder of a storm.”
If it is all imaginary and mythological, then even imagination needs something to start it off, says Daniken. “How can the chronicler give description that presupposes at least some idea of rockets and the knowledge that such a vehicle could ride on a ray and cause a terrifying thunder?” he asks. In another ancient treatise, a clear distinction is drawn between chariots that fly and those that cannot.
The first book of the Mahabharata reveals the intimate story of the unmarried Kunti, who not only received a visit from the Sun-god but also had a son by him who is supposed to have been as radiant as the Sun himself. As Kunti was afraid of falling into disgrace she laid her child in a basket and put it in a river. Adhiratha, a worthy man of the Suta caste, found the basket and the child and he brought up the infant. It is indeed a story so remarkably like the story of Moses.
Like Gilgamesh, Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata, undertakes a long journey in order to see the gods and ask for weapons. There are numerical data in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which are so precise that one gets the impression that they were written from first-hand knowledge.
Be that as it may, at this point of time it is difficult for us to state with certainty how far the events described in the Ramayana are factually correct and to what extent there is a mixture of mythology. We thought it appropriate to invite the attention of the readers to the literature and art-work in other parts of the world which speak of events on similar lines. These at least do indicate that in the ancient world things might have not always been worse.
Esotericism of Ramayana
There is a spiritual interpretation of the story of Rama which would be found beneficial to the entire mankind. According to the esoteric explanation of the Ramayana, man himself is the battlefield where a constant war is going on between the good and evil propensities. Information about the external world is collected through the five sense organs. These perceptions are turned into impressions with the help of mental background, different in different individuals. On the basis of these impressions the individual acts through the five organs of action. It is by controlling the sense organs and disciplining the mind with the help of the intellect that man can take proper action and lead a happy life. After continuous disciplining of the mind and the senses, ignorance is dispelled and one is able to discriminate between good and evil.
A person who is able to command his ten senses is called Dasaratha. Among his wives, Kausalya can be said to be an embodiment of Devotion, Kaikeyi of Attachment and Sumitra of Detachment. Similarly, Rama represents Wisdom, Bharata Discrimination, Lakshmana Renunciation and Shatrughna Thought. The knowledge contained in the Vedas is personified in sage Vashishtha who first teaches and trains the four princes—Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. It is only when wisdom, discrimination, renunciation and asceticism are combined that universal brotherhood or Vishwamitra emerges who imparts further training and help to Rama and Lakshmana to conquer evil forces like Tataka (Anger-lust combined), Maricha and Subahu (Temptation). After that sage Vishwamitra takes them to Mithila, the kingdom of Raja Janaka, to participate in Swayamvara, the, marriage function of his daughter Sita. On their way to Mithila, Rama revives Ahalya who had turned into stone i.e. without feeling and sensation, due to a curse which fell on her, and is again brought back to her full sensibilities.
There the contest was that whosoever lifts the bow of Siva, Sita will be married to him. Many princes and kings competed for the hand of Sita but they were not able even to move the great bow and were therefore disappointed. This bow, according to our allegory stands for pride and Sita is an embodiment of Devotion. Now unless a man is able to rise above pride, he cannot attain devotion. Parasurama is a devotee of the Lord and stands for Ego. He was enraged not only as the great bow was lifted but broken into two. Whereas Rama tried to assuage the feelings of Parasurama with sweet words, Lakshmana, his brother almost challenged the great sage for unnecessarily interfering in the internal affairs of king Janaka.
As an embodiment of wisdom and being the eldest amongst the princes, Rama is rightly chosen by his father to be crowned as king, but on account of the intervention of Kaikeyi, he is compelled to banish Rama from the kingdom for 14 years. Thus Rama, Sita and Lakshmana left for the forest and minister Sumanta (i.e. Sukarma—good actions) accompanied them but wisdom (Rama) compelled him to go back to Ayodhya.
The trio (Wisdom—devotion—renunciation) proceeded further. The meeting of wisdom (Rama) with skillful Nishada helped the trio to cross the Tamsa river (river of Brahma-Vidya) on the boat of pure sankalpa and then accompanied with Nishad, the trio reached ‘Triveni’ the conjunction of three rivers (Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati) which symbolically represent Ida, Pingla and Sushumana. On the bank of Triveni they had the darshan of Pranav (i.e. Bharadwaja) and afterwards of Valmiki Rishi (Discipline) who advised them (wisdom-devotion—renunciation) to stay at Chitrakut, the place of reasoning and understanding, for sometime.
When Bharata returned to Ayodhya from his maternal uncle’s place, he is able to discriminate and see the injustice of the whole episode. But he fails to dissuade Rama from following the orders of his father as well as of Kaikeyi. Rama does not leave the kingdom alone and is accompanied by Renunciation (Lakshmana) and Devotion (Sita). Then the trio left Chitrakut also. On the way they met the great sages Atri (Truth), and Anasuya, wife of Atri, an embodiment of loyalty and faithfulness.
The trio of Wisdom, Devotion and Renunciation occupy Panchavati—literally an abode standing for an embodiment of the five sense organs. There Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana and an embodiment of Desire, approaches Rama and Lakshmana for the satisfaction of her lust. But neither Wisdom nor Renunciation are attracted or lured by Desire who is not only turned away but also disfigured by Lakshmana. Surpanakha approached her brothers Khara and Dushana, who stand for Pride and Evil. But in a battle royal they are not able to measure swords with Wisdom and Renunciation. Whosoever makes use of wisdom before taking any action—and if that wisdom is tempered with renunciation—pride and evil cannot stand before the combination, and automatically disappears.
Then we reach the climax of the story where Ravana or Dasanana, literally a person with ten heads, decides to avenge the dishonour done to his sister. Having analysed that the ascetic princes are no ordinary individuals and have withstood not only Pride and Evil but also Desire, Dasanana decides to organise an attack with the help of Deceit, in the form of Maricha. Maricha or Deceit could assume a variety of forms and hence he was used by Ravana as a ploy to appear before Sita as a golden deer so that she might be attracted towards him.
It is said that at this juncture, in order to save Sita—a Princess who had been brought up in luxury—She was concealed by Rama with the help of Fire and in her place an illusion of Sita was created by him. It was this illusory Sita who fell for the golden deer and asked her husband to bring it for her. Rama, through his wisdom saw the game but on account of Sita’s persistence and to play his part in the cosmic drama gave the deer a chase.
The deer enticed him away from Panchavati and as he was dying, he cried Lakshmana as if it was Rama himself crying for his help. The illusory Sita heard the cry and asked Lakshmana to rush to Rama’s help. Lakshmana tried to assure Sita that no calamity could befall the wise and brave Rama but she insisted and even insinuated motives to Lakshmana who had to leave to find out facts. When Sita was alone, Ravana approached Panchavati as a hermit, begging for alms and took her away forcibly. He was intercepted by Jatayu, an embodiment of peace, who lives for others, but who was fatally wounded.
Since Rama is depicted in the Ramayana as an ordinary but an ideal man, finding Sita missing, he begins to lament and cry for help as any husband would do. Finally he runs into Jatayu who tells him the truth. Several efforts are made to dissuade Ravana from evil path and to make him return Sita, but nothing avails of. Finally, Rama strikes friendship with Sugreeva, who is personified action, which has lost power and strength on account of the defeat inflicted upon him by his brother Bali, literally a very brave man. Sugreeva introduces Rama to Hanuman who stands for absolute renunciation, who is sent to find out the exact whereabouts of Sita. On the way, the water-spirits—Surasa, Simhika and Lankini—standing for three attributes of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, which pervade the universe—try to hinder the progress of Hanuman. He rises above all the three attributes and it is only after he masters all of them that he reaches Lanka and finds out Sita in the forest of Ashoka trees. After delivering the message of Rama to her, he creates havoc in the city and lets himself be caught by Meghanatha so that he is produced in the court of Ravana.
There he speaks of the valour and virtues of Rama and tries to dissuade Ravana from evil ways. Ravana’s brother Vibhishana also tries to give good advice to the king and asks him to return Sita so that bloodshed may be avoided. But the king strikes at Vibhishana and turns him out of the court, who then joins the forces of Rama. Even the entreaties of Mandodari, his queen, do not prevail upon the king. Wisdom (Rama) also sends another emissary, Angada, to persuade Ravana to give up his evil ways. But Attachment and Desire, as personified in Ravana are determined to have their way and finally a battle royal ensues.
Ravana had all the evil forces like Greed, Deceit and others on his side but they were all destroyed by Rama, causing consternation in Ravana. But his Desire in the form of his son Meghanatha, consoled him and succeeded in striking at Renunciation (Lakshmana) sending him to sleep for a short while, but Good Actions in the form of the medicine-man Sukhena came to the help of Renunciation and revived him with the help of the Sanjivini herb, i.e. determined good action. Even Kumbhakarana standing for pride, could not stand before wisdom and was killed. Finally Desire and Attachment (Ravana) were completely annihilated by Wisdom and when illusory Sita came to Rama, Wisdom declared that he had no place for Maya and sent her back to fire.
Bharata had been ruling Ayodhya with great discrimination and once the period of 14 years was over, Wisdom, Renunciation along with Devotion, Absolute Renunciation, Bravery and other attributes returned to Ayodhya, to establish the reign of righteousness—Ramaraj.
Fact or Fiction
Throughout the great epic of the Ramayana, the Adi-kavi, Sage Valmiki, the foremost poet and the first author of the Ramayana represents Lord Rama as an avatara of God. But at several places in the same work, the great sage alludes to Rama, merely his human character, with human limitations. Yet he has unfolded the manifold excellences of Sri Rama’s wonderful character, the various aspect of his life that one should dwell upon. Rama, from his very boyhood prepared himself and his companions for the unique part they had to play in the Divine Drama. Sometimes the sage heightened his character, and often glorified him in this cosmic play.
In all the Ramayanas, so far I have gone through, the life of Rama has been painted as of a great heroic personality, a virtuous person a man of ideals and principles, possessing exemplary character and fine conduct, righteousness, serene, brave, bold yet gentle and a king who took great care of his subjects and their views; and in some places as a Superman with Divine Attributes. The story of Lord Rama is even now prevalent in several South East countries especially in the islands of Java, Sumatra and Bali of Indonesia—of course in different versions and with variations.
In India, the term ‘pre-historical age’ was invented by modern historians during the British rule, declaring the Ramayana at best as a myth. Whereas the reality is something else, and the facts differ. Even the myth which floats in a country, forms the real backbone of theology. Saint Goswami Tulsidas is a man of history and his views and ways cannot so easily be discarded by saying that he talks of ‘pre-history’. He never attempted to write or compose Shri Ramcharitmanas till the age of 78 or 87. Tulsidas, after having the darshan of Hanuman at Chitrakut and inspired by him, starts composing the Hindi Mahakavya, famous as Shri Ramcharitmanas from Tuesday, the 30th March, 1574 A.D. in Ayodhya, the holy abode and capital of Lord Rama during his incarnation. He held Lord Rama to be one with Lord Vishnu and at a place as an incarnation of Parabrahma.
Humanity, especially Indians, should be grateful to Sant Tulsidas, who raised the historical Rama to the highest Divine status in order to share his realisation with one and all, for the benefit of millions in India in particular, and of humanity in general. It is not merely an imaginative fiction but something divine based on facts and his own experience. If one takes care to study the holy Ramcharitmanas with devotion and faith, he is sure to reap the same fruit.
The advent of an Avatara, the incarnation of God upon the earth planet, is a law of nature. In fact, it is the descent of God for the ascent of the Divine Ray of the Cosmic Mind or the Cosmic Prana, the Life Force, and the One Ruler of the Universe, Iswara. There is a very firm and faithful declaration that whenever righteousness decays and unrighteousness prevails wildly, God incarnates Himself to vindicate the superiority of righteousness. For Sant Tulsidas ‘Rama’ was his “Lord” of the heart, the deity—an incarnation of the Supreme Being. Hence his Manas has influenced the hearts and the thoughts of a whole people, not those alone who have been able to read his work but those unlettered millions of our countrymen who have always been there, even during the earlier days of our culture.
Apart from the Ramayana of Sant Tulsidas there are several other works of the saints of Bengal, South India and Maharashtra. The holy book of Samarth Guru Ramdassji Maharaj has its own place who has retold the story of Lord Rama after having his darshan.
On the completion of the Navratri Puja, Hindus celebrate Sri Vijaya Dasami, which is mostly called Dussehra in Uttar Pradesh, and is preceded by “Ramalila” for ten days and even in villages of Uttar Pradesh. And it ends with the burning of the gigantic effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarana, and Meghanatha. You will wonder to observe that the entire countryside bursts into life and activity with Ramalila fairs and plays held and performed at thousands of places, even after Dussehra, for many days. These Ramalilas continue with joy and glory.
This is an occasion for the people to express their regard, respect, love and reverence for Lord Rama by presenting dramas and pantomime shows depicting scenes from the great Ramayana. I at least, do not feel happy to see in these days that the holy and inspiring Ramayana is often misrepresented, misinterpreted and the occasion is misused by some people for insinuating non-religious or even irreligious motives behind the nobler intention of the celebrations.
The inspiring and illuminating story of Lord Rama in several recensions is known the world over and is a part of life in every Hindu home in India. It is a vast ocean, very deep, and it is not possible for this humble sevak to discuss the sacred story in a little book like this. I have, therefore, touched upon some of the points and spots of the huge volume. My heart flows out to the modern man, whose scepticism about Ramayana is understandable due to the impact of science and distance of centuries between Lord Rama and us. No wonder, Einstien the greatest scientist of our times had recorded the life of Gandhiji in these words: “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one in flesh and blood ever walked on the earth.”
Before wisdom is able to achieve its goal of self-realisation it has to pass through tedious tests posed by Satanic forces. Remember the evil dose of Mara when the Buddha was bent upon achieving self-realisation under the Bodhi tree. So was the case with Jesus on the mount. Hence it is necessary to look into the Ramayana as to what it teaches. Apart from the lessons which we can derive from the instances and characters of the persons, there is much more in the Ramayana which we can call as direct teaching, constituting the most impressive portion of the Ramayana, well-known as the Rama Gita—the upadesa given at different places to different people, at different times. Revered Gurudev Shri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has referred specifically about this illuminating portion of Rama Gita in his book titled Essence of Ramayana. The following extracts are reproduced from the same book like a few dew drops from the sky for the benefit of the readers:
“Thereupon Rama imparted to Lakshmana that knowledge which is declared by the Vedas for the eradication of ignorance. The aspirant should first perform in a disinterested manner without caring for fruits all those duties which are enjoined upon by one’s own caste and order, and purify his mind. He should acquire the necessary qualifications or the four means of Salvation viz. Viveka (discrimination between the real and the unreal), Vairagya (dispassion), Shad sampat or the sixfold virtues viz., Shama (control of the mind) Dama (control of the senses), Uparati (cessation from worldly work), Titiksha (power of endurance), Sraddha (faith), Samadhana (one-pointedness of mind) and Mumukshutwa (burning desire for liberation).
All actions lead to rebirths. Man does good and bad actions (dharma and adharma) and reaps the fruits of his actions viz., pleasure and pain. Karma produces body and from body arises work. In this way the course of worldly life (samsara) revolves like a wheel without an end.
The root-cause of it is ignorance (avidya or ajnana). Removal of ignorance is the only means for destroying this course of worldly life. Knowledge alone is capable of annihilating this ignorance. Action (Karma) cannot destroy it, because it is born of ignorance and is not its contrary or opposite.
Let the wise man, therefore abandon all work. There can be no combination of Knowledge and Work because knowledge is opposed to work.
As long as there is the notion of ‘I’, in the body and the like, due to the influence of Maya, so long one is bound by the injunction of the Vedas for work. Let the wise man sublimate or eliminate the whole of it through the doctrine of ‘neti, neti’ (nor this, nor this) and abandon all works, knowing the Highest Brahman or the Eternal.
When ignorance is destroyed by knowledge it cannot produce actions which lead to further births. When ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge which is pure and non-dual, how shall it again arise?
It is only the intellect of one who superimposes the Self (Atman) upon the non-self (Anatma) that entertains the idea of sin in the non-performance of action. The intellect of the sage has no such idea. Therefore, the wise should renounce action which is enjoined as obligatory. It is meant only for those, whose minds are attached to the fruit of action.
When the limiting adjuncts, viz., the pot and walls of the room are broken, the ether in the pot and in the room becomes identical with the universal ether. When the body-pot is broken by the dawn of knowledge, the individual soul becomes one with Supreme Self.
The crystal appears to be red when it is placed near a red flower. Even so this Atman appears to be of the form of the five sheaths because of its proximity to them. When one meditates on the saying of the Upanishads, “Asangoyam Purusha—this Purusha is unattached”—then he realises that the Atman is unattached, unborn and without a second.
This Atman is neither an actor nor a thinker. All these are due to the action of the mind and the Prana. Verily He is unattached. Dhyativa Lolayativa—He appears as if meditating, as if moving.
The conditions of the intellect (Buddhi) are threefold viz., waking, dream and deep sleep. They are due to its associations with the Gunas of satva (goodness), rajas (activity) and tamas (inertia). They are not the true conditions of the Supreme Self, because one of them is absent when the other is present. Therefore, they are all unreal. They cannot certainly be of the nature of the Supreme Self which is unity and bliss itself.
The Atman never dies nor is born. It is not subject to increase or decrease. It is never new, never old. It is beyond all additions to its greatness. It is of the nature of bliss, self-luminous, all-pervading and one without a second. It is illimitable and undecaying.
To the Yogi who has practised samadhi, who has completely withdrawn all his senses from their objects, who has conquered all enemies such as desire, anger, greed, delusion, fear and inertia, who has vanquished the lower self, who has subdued by his Bhakti, the Lord of six attributes says to such a yogi I reveal Myself.
Thus contemplating on his own Self day and night, let the sage abide free from all bonds till his Prarabdha Karma which gave him this present body is exhausted. He is absorbed in Me on the dissolution of his body.
Even though the sage lives in the world for the exhaustion of his karma he fully realises that the world is false like the appearance of snake in the rope, of silver in the mother-of-pearl, of water in the mirage or the appearance of two moons in the sky or the turning of the quarters through the defect of sight.
So long as one does not behold all as My own Self, let him practise devotion, let him be ever devoted to My worship. I do abide forever in the heart of him who has intense faith and devotion to me.
My dear Lakshmana! This essence of all the Vedas, this great mystery has been declared by me unto thee. The sage who contemplates upon it, is freed from his load of impurities that very moment.
My beloved brother, all this visible world is nothing but Maya. Withdraw the mind from it. Purify it through meditation on Me alone. Do thou be happy, free from all sorrow and full of bliss.
He who meditates on Me with pure mind, thinking of Me as above all attributes or thinks of Me as possessed of the attributes of Omniscience, becomes my own Self. He purifies all the three worlds by the dust of my feet, just as the Sun purifies the world by his light.
This wisdom which is the essence of all the Vedas, has been thus sung by Me whose glory all the Vedantins proclaim. He who reads it with devotion and faith in his preceptor and practises it attains the final emancipation. He attains to my own form if he has faith in My teachings.”
The above Immortal Teachings of Lord Rama, itself show that he was an incarnation of the Supreme Being, and not an ordinary man or a king alone. His holy Epic, the Gospel Divine, is narrated by so many sacred souls. This is the story of a struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, sura and asura hidden within us. The Epic struggle consists of controlling the senses and rising above tendencies like desires, indulgence, and evils like anger, jealousy, hatred etc., so that with the help of discrimination, knowledge may be converted into wisdom and human life may become worth living.
May the blessings of Sri Rama be upon all.
Hari Om Tat Sat!
OM SANTI, SANTI SANTI!