Delving Deeper Into The Ramayana
The month of October presents us with numerous opportunities to get back in touch with the wondrous mythological & literary heritage of ours. These roots, from which we collectively sprout, are conveniently forgotten in the mad race of life. We, at Shiv Nadar School, realise this, and hence emphasise on the fact that we all should find some time to reflect on these great stories from our past, also because they contain time-defying messages for our present and future.
Of the two great epics written in the land now known as India, Ramayana is understood as the book of ideals. The month of October, this year, celebrates not one, not two, but three festivals which invoke the characters and incidents from this famous composition, written and rewritten at numerous times during the passage of time. The versions of Ramayana, in fact, had grown so large in number, that people exclaimed that the entire earth will drown under their collective weight someday!
We thought, rather than telling you about the proverbial war of good versus evil, let us take you through some of the lesser known aspects of the epic.
- Ravana was a great scholar!
Yes, the same Ravana, reviled as a demon, was a learned son of a Brahman named Vishravas, and had knowledge of all the Vedas. Ravana believed greatly in the power of astrology and had also authored an astrological treatise called Ravanasamhita. This great worshipper of Shiva is worshipped himself as a deity in a temple at Kanpur. Of Ravana’s ten heads, nine symbolised evil, but one symbolised faith and wisdom – it is because of this one head that Lord Rama felt sad upon killing him. Rama instructed Lakshmana to bow before the fallen Asura King, and ask him for the gift of knowledge. This tells us volumes about how we all can gain wisdom by moving away from shallow perceptions of good and evil.
- Rama – Not the ultimate incarnation of Vishnu
Rama is known by all of us as the ideal son, ideal brother, ideal husband, ideal father, and ideal King. He has been worshipped by generations of unquestioning devotees. He is hailed as Maryada-Purushottam – the upholder of all rules and conduct of the society. However, it is not him, but Krishna, who is hailed as the Purnavtaar – the complete incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna is known as Leela-Purushottam. He is the Supreme Being Himself, He Who revealed the Bhagwat-Geeta. Rama followed rules, but Krishna made rules follow Him. What is significant to note here is that both these incarnations lived a life full of human experiences – they made mistake and suffered in consequence of those mistakes.
- Sita’s Kitchen
Upon being abducted and taken to Lanka, Sita lead a solitary life; but because of her warm and affectionate nature, and her sharp mind, she came to be adored by all Lanka-wasis. Sita had inherited exemplary cooking skills from her mother, and these were put to use during the war at Lanka. When rakshasa warriors came home tired, their wives and mothers doled out food to them made upon the advice of Sita. So delicious was this food that the warriors kept asking for more and forgot all about the war! A well fed man is not violent by nature, and when Ravana heard of it, he ordered his warriors to be starved. Thus they came marching back to the battle-field, hungry to devour oncoming Vanara army. The lesson here? Eat well, live well.
- Rama had a sister
Not many know about this, but the first born child of King Dasharatha was a girl named Shanta. She was born of the eldest Queen, Kaushalya. Dasharatha, not satisfied, went searching for a woman who could bear him a male heir, and ended up marrying Kaikeyi and Sumitra. None of them, however, could bear him a child, and hence a great Havana was conducted, the gifts of which were the four brothers – Rama, Bharata and the twins – Lakshama and Shatrughna. Shanta, meanwhile, married a tapasvi and was forgotten for a greater part of the text.
- Valmiki – Dacoit turned Rishi
Rishi Valmiki is credited for having authored the earliest known version of Ramayana. We all know that Valmiki was previously a dacoit named Ratnakar, who was transformed upon his meeting with Narada, the Divine Sage. Most of us, however, do not know that Valmiki is called ‘Aadi-Kavi’, the first poet. It was he who invented the Shloka. The first shloka was uttered from his lips in a state of emotional turmoil as he saw a Krauncha bird crying over the death of his mate who was struck by a hunter’s arrow. The first ever Shloka, thus, was uttered as a curse to that insensitive hunter.
There is a narrative of Ramayana which we all know, in which Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are banished to the woods, and they return 14 years later after defeating and killing Ravana. However, the text contains numerous stories, each with something unique to tell us about the human condition. Curiosity to explore and urge to inquire – ride on these two motivations the next time you read the Ramayana, and you will see the book reveal many hidden messages to you, applicable to the contemporary existence. Do also share with us some stories which you found interesting!