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Ramayana

The Epic of Ramayana deals with the story of Sri Rama, a king who gives up the throne due to a promise extracted from his father by his stepmother. He goes into exile to the forest for a period of 14 years and his wife and brother follow him there. He kills demons on the way until Ravana, a demon king, abducts Sri Rama’s wife. Sita, and holds her prisoner in his palace.

Sri Rama wages a war against Ravana with the help of monkeys and frees his wife. They return to Ayodhya after their exile where they are crowned and reign over Ayodhya (their Kingdom). He later sends his wife Sita into exile to the forest again as his subjects suspected Sita’s fidelity and character during her captivity.

Taken literally, the story deals with how a man should conduct himself and fulfill his duty towards his parents, wife, brothers and in this case, since he was a king, toward the subjects of his kingdom. It is also a story of the triumph of good over evil. Symbolically it is something else. Sri Rama denotes true knowledge (Gyan). Sita denotes devotion (Bhakti). In the Ramayana they show how un­happy they are when they are separated. Similarly spiritual knowledge without devotion is incomplete just as devotion is without spiritual knowledge.

Ravana denotes evil and his ten hands are the ten vices that beset humanity. When Sita is taken by Ravana and kept a prisoner in Asoka Vatika, she was very unhappy.

Asoka Vatika or Mayapuri denotes the life of error (Maya), which we lead. So, symbolically, when devotion is corroded by vice, it would lead to the loss of peace of mind.

To restore the happiness that is inherent in devo­tion, faith (vishwas) would be required and that comes in the form of Hanuman (the Monkey God) who brings Rama’s ring to Sita to remind her that Rama is also unhappy without her and would soon come to rescue her.

A war later ensures between the monkeys(sense organs) and Ravana(vices) and Rama (Knowledge) with the help of Hanuman(Vishwas) restores Sita (Bhakti) to her rightful place-that of a queen.

Thus we see that these epics, besides having sym­bolic value, make very interesting reading. Also they give us a very clear picture of the way of life during that period. It also expounds profound truths, which are true to any age because man essentially is always the same despite a changing environment.

One clear example in the Ramayana is when Sita sees a golden deer and insists that her husband get it for her. Sri Rama realises that the deer cannot bring added happiness to their contented life; if at all it will bring sorrow and so dissuades Sita from her whim.

However, Sita insists and Rama reluctantly leaves her to go after the deer. The deer turns out to be a demon in disguise who tricks even Lakshmana (Rama’s brother) to leave Sita alone by shouting, in Rama’s voice for help.

Before leaving to help Rama, Lakshmana draws a Line round the cottage and cautions Sita not to step out of the line at any cost. However, when Sita is left alone, Ravana (the demon king), disguising himself as an ascetic, comes to ask for alms to Sita’s cottage.

Sita commits the second mistake by stepping out of the line drawn around the cottage by Lakshmana. Ravana assumes his real form and abducts Sita and carries her to his Kingdom.

From this extract from the Ramayana we have two important lessons to learn.

One is that we ought to be content with what we possess. Running after a Golden deer is symbolic of our running after material wealth and power whose true image is actually that of a demon, which ultimately brings about our own ruin and destruction.

The other lesson that we learn is that as long as we do not trespass our limits we are safe. Nothing is harmful as long as it is done within our bounds. The minute we trespass them, the highest power on earth cannot help us.

This is obvious from the facts that in spite of having wanted the deer, if Sita had remained within the line drawn round the cottage, all would have been well. She would not have been carried away by Ravana, and Rama and Lakshmana would have returned safely to the cottage.

From the above I am reminded of a little verse

Gaj dhan, gay dhan, Kaaj dhan
aur ratan dhan khaan
Jab miley santosh dhan
Sab dhan dhool saman.

This means that the greatest of wealth, be it cattle, jewels or kingdoms can never hold a candle to the wealth of contentment.

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