Right and Wrong

The story of Ramayanaramayan

Sunoji suno, Sunoji suno
Hear the epic story of Rama and Sita
Rama, Baratha, Lakshmana and Shatrugana
Were the sons of Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra
The three wives of Ayodhya’s King Dasaratha

Heroic Rama was valour personified
Brave and gallant even as a child
He went and battled in the forests wild
With Sage Viswamitra and killed demons vile

King Janaka’s beloved daughter Seeta
The darling beautiful princess of Mithila
Had to choose a husband by a Swayamvara
So Rama was brought there by Sage Viswamitra

Rama bent and broke the bow of Lord Siva
Defeating many a valiant Raja
And won the hand of beautiful Seeta
And brought her back as Princess of Ayodhya

Rama was named heir apparent
To the throne of Ayodhya by Dasaratha, his parent
But, Kaikeyi demanded two boons from the old King
Her son Baratha was to be made Ayodhya’s King

Rama was banished to the forests for years fourteen
His father died of a broken heart grieving
Seeta, brother Lakshmana did Rama accompany
And Baratha, ruled Ayodhya as a Regent temporary

Panchavati was a forest so delightful
Rama, Lakshmana lived an exiled life peaceful
Until Ravana, the invincible Rakshasa, Lankan King
Cast his eyes and kidnapped Seeta with cunning

Sorrowful Rama searched the jungle and valley
Helped by the monkey army of Sugreeva and Vali
Valiant Hanuman crossed with a leap the sea
To discover in the Lankan Ashokavana, Seeta in misery

A bridge was built across the ocean
The armies clashed, Kumbakarna was woken
Ravana lost all his sons, kith and kin
Rama killed Ravana and rescued Seeta from her prison

They flew back to Ayodhya on the Pushpak Vimanam
Greeted with oil lamps and joy by all citizens
Thus came to an end Lord Vishnu’s avataram
The sixth, as Rama, Maryada Purushottam

This was a poem that I wrote some years ago for children to perform. It gives the story of the great Indian epic Ramayana in brief.

The story of Ramayana was first versified by Sage Valmiki and recited by the twin sons of Seeta who was estranged and abandoned by her husband King Rama of Ayodhya. This story of Rama, Seeta and the ten-headed demon King of Lanka, Ravana has impacted Indian thought, culture, traditions, societal values, religious customs and practices. It has been written, re-written, reinterpreted and tweaked over the centuries by writers, poets, dramatists, performing artists and storytellers. There are over 350 official Ramayana’s apart from hundreds of folk tales.

The sacred Ramayana is full of lessons for leading a Dharmic life. The Ramayana embodies various values that are important for a human being. In the characters and situations of the Ramayana, both the great epic writers, Valmiki and Kamban have illustrated the human predicament and how it can be resolved. Right and wrong are featured in this epic through various characters, situations and predicaments.

I am going to talk about some situations in the epic when the fine line between right and wrong is blurred and open to subjective interpretations.

manthra-kaikeyi-the-ramayana-boons-indian-mythology-storyThe hand maiden of Queen Kaikeyi, Mantara does not like the young boy Rama. One version says that this maid, a hunchback, was mocked at by the lad Rama for being slow in her movements. The more logical version says that just before the proclamation of Rama as Crown Prince, Mantara goads her queen to ask for the two boons promised to Kaikeyi by King Dasaratha (Rama’s father) on the battlefield. The boons are that her step-son Rama should go away to the forests for 14 years and that Kaikeyi’s son, Baratha should be given the throne. Mantara does this deed out of her own love and loyalty to her queen whom she has brought up from childhood. Kaikeyi’s volteface from an adoring step-mom of Rama to a vituperative shrew is sudden and shocking.

Was Kaikeyi wrong or right in her demands? Yes, Rama was the first born. King Dasaratha had promised her father that her son would rule Ayodhya and Kosala? The king;s blinding love for Rama and the fact that Rama was admired and loved by all and was suited to be king turns the decision in the first born’s favour. Kaikeyi was guarding her own son’s rights and at the same time her own position as Queen Mother that may have been compromised if Rama came to the throne. Here the individual’s desires and the need of the nation for the best man to rule come into conflict. The situation demanded that the King’s promises be kept or his veracity would have undermined his choice, Rama’s position as Crown Prince and then ruler of the nation.

In the forests Rama takes up the cause of the sages and destroys the demons who are troubling the hermitages. panchavatiRama’s own wife Seeta, a Princess who gave up her comforts and luxurious life to be with her husband through his exile, asks him why he is killing the Rakshasas. When the demons had not in any way harmed Rama, was he right in destroying them. Rama replies that it his duty to protect the weak and helpless community living in the hermitages. He says that his action is right for that is his dharma as a Kshatriya! The question of right versus wrong is also subjectively solved in this situation.

surpanakha_22664Surpanaka, the demoness, sister of Ravana comes across Rama, Seeta and Lakshmana (Rama’ brother) living peacefully in the idyllic surroundings of the forest. She is instantly attracted to the handsome Rama. He playfully redirects her interest to his brother Lakshmana and both toy with her feelings. When she attacks Seeta thinking her to be the cause of the men rejecting her advances, Lakshmana in a rage disfigures Surpanaka by cutting off her nose and breasts. Attacking a woman was considered to be a heinous attack. Yet, two women, albeit demonesses, are attacked by Rama (Thadaka is killed earlier by Rama) and Lakshmana. The question of right and wrong is blurred here again!

Seeta is attracted by the false golden deergolden deer that runs away and Rama chases it to bring it back alive or dead. He feels that Seeta has never asked him for anything and has happily followed him into exile and adjusted and adapted to the hardy life in a forest. To fulfil her wish he runs behind the deer knowing full well that it is a mirage. Lakshmana is left to guard Seeta but when she hears the desperate cry of help in her husband’s voice—cleverly imitated by the magician Mareecha in the guise of the golden deer—she asks Lakshmana to go to his rescue. When he refuses saying that it is a trick to isolate her, she loses her equanimity and accuses Lakshmana of having evil intentions towards her. Like Kaikeyi, this sudden switch in character and behaviour of a woman who has till now been the epitome of patience, motherly nature and kindness is difficult to accept. Was she right or wrong in jumping to conclusions? She does repent and says that her plight in the Ashoka Vanam in Lanka, where she is incarcerated after being kidnapped by Ravana, is entirely due to her momentary lapse of judgement.

The one event in the Ramayana that squarely places the question of right and wrong in the forum is Rama killing Vali while hiding behind a tree.

Valis deathThis is totally an un-Kshatriya act but is again explained off as a justification of any means is good to achieve a good end!

The agni pariksha or trial by fire of Seeta to prove her chastity after the war is over and she is released from captivity is a question that haunts every woman through the ages. agnipariksha_smRight or wrong, King or husband, man or woman—the moral dilemma of this situation is still being argued out in many a platform.

Finally, Rama is deified as Maryada Purushottam…the ideal man who lived by his principles, by his moral standards imposed on him as a King, a ruler, a protector of the weak and helpless. His loyalty and allegiance was to his father, his clan and then his people. All other relationships and loyalties came second or not at all when these loyalties were challenged.

Lord Hanuman, the monkey god and greatest devotee in Indian religion, thought and life beliefs, is the only blameless and true character in the Ramayana.

The story happened at a different time, a different yuga that was ruled by different value systems and social norms. To judge actions that took place then in a modern context is not practical or feasible. So let us enjoy the story for its different values, appreciate its poetry, characters, magical wonder and its timeless qualities. The story still enthrals and interests audiences!

SadguruSadhguru Jaggi Vasudev tells us a story to illustrate that there is no right and wrong in life. The beauty of existence lies in doing what is appropriate, rather than relying on morals and ethics.

Sadhguru: There is a beautiful story. The two wives of Vishnu, Laxmi, the goddess of fortune, and Alaxmi, the goddess of misfortune – both of them believed they were the most beautiful. So, on a certain day, they came and asked Vishnu, “Which one of us is the most beautiful?” 

Vishnu said to Laxmi, “When you are coming, you are the most beautiful.” And he told Alaxmi, “When you are going, you are the most beautiful.” 

Fortune is coming, misfortune is going – aren’t they most beautiful? 

That’s a smart answer, but what is the correct answer? Who is really beautiful? 

It is not just about a woman’s beauty, about anything in the existence, there is no correct answer. There is only an appropriate answer. This is an appropriate answer. Life is not about correctness, life is about appropriateness. So then what is the correct thing to do? There is no correct thing to do. What is the appropriate thing to do is the question. Only then you will be able to receive life. If you do correct things, you will make an utter idiot of yourself. If one starts looking for correctness of life, you become barren and empty. Life is essentially in its appropriateness. If you are looking for correctness, you may become a good person. 

If you bring your own silly sense of order to life, you will completely miss the magnificent order of the existence. 

People who believe they are good have morals, values and ethics. They hang on to this right and wrong, this morality and value systems because they give them a false sense of superiority. People who believe they are good are always looking down at the world. It is a sure way to miss the world. Even the most beautiful woman will not look very beautiful when you look from the top. Because you are continuously looking down, everything looks ugly and black – unless they are bald and shiny. Good people are everywhere. They have their values, they have their principles, they are very ethical, but they could live here for years being completely untouched by what is happening here. It doesn’t matter what you do, they remain untouched in their goodness. They live with the hope that good people go to heaven. 

All you are trying to do with your morality and values is to simplify life and find some order in a place where you are not able to figure out what is the beginning, what is the end. The life process seems to be so chaotic and unbearable for you that you are trying to bring some silly sense of order by establishing your own principles, your own morality, your own ethics. If you bring your own silly sense of order to life, you will completely miss the magnificent order of the existence. There is no need to be orderly. Existence is in perfect order.

This was a topic suggested for the LBC posts due last Friday. Was I wrong in not being on time…..or am I right in posting a blog, albeit late!! Check out the other bloggers who write on Friday or thereabouts on one topic AshokgaelikaaLin, Maxi,http://rummuser.com, Pravin,  Shackman and The Old Fossil.

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About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest is acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays.
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4 Responses to Right and Wrong

  1. rummuser says:

    Late but very appropriate!

    Like

  2. tskraghu says:

    Food for thought, nice.

    Many acharyas have plausible explanations for those Ramayana incidents.

    Like

    • padmum says:

      Yes!! I have been following all the explanations. This was an exercise to highlight the grey areas between arbitrary right and wrong. I have always said that any predicament in our lives can be understood and even solved by dipping into the Ramayana and Mahabaratha…these two are touchstones for leading a meaningful life. Thanks so much for regularly commenting on my posts. Bless you!

      Like

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