Analysis of Ramayan

Valmiki opens his conversation with the sage Narada by expressing his eagerness to know who among his contemporaries was considered the embodiment of all virtues. The list of qualities was exhaustive, including valor, truthfulness, self-control, firm adherence to vows and a desire to secure the welfare of all creatures. In reply, Narada gives him an account of Ram. Valmiki with his yogic powers sees the life of Ram, Lakshman, Sita and others unfold before him.2

'Ideal Man' and everyone else subordinate. Many argue that if indeed God took shape among us, as one of us, he did so for the purpose of giving us instructions on how to live, how to prepare our role in life. I think the epic is to be read with a view to benefit ourselves. It is only an ideal. In retelling the story, I hope we see that the main characters played their parts like human beings, in circumstances that assail and confront human beings at every turn. And, from an advaitic point of view, are we all not avatars trying to realize our true nature?

 In reading Ramayan closely, I realized that Ram was not a man in whom there was all knowledge, all propriety, all virtue from the very beginning, unfailing till the very end. We see him as a young boy being educated by Vishwamitra, as a grown man who struggled, who was tempted, who had his weaknesses, who suffered and had human emotions. His greatness was in overcoming and surpassing the weaknesses. Ram's character portrayed the passion for righteousness, high honor and dharma.

 The players had their moods. When Ram found out he was not to be king, he returned to his quarters, the poet says, “controlling his unhappiness within his heart,” which means there was unhappiness. He had merely conquered it. Sita saw his inner struggle, his human side.

When the poet describes the love between Ram and Sita, he uses highly poetical and suggestive language. He says, “They read each other's thoughts readily; in fact these told each other what they wanted. The tongue and the lips did not play any part nor perhaps did the eyes; heart spoke to heart. Hridaya and hridaya commingled. The desire of each other was known to the other. It is difficult to say who loved whom the more.”3

 Sita was outspoken and got her way with both Ram and Lakshman. Ram was persuaded to take her to the forest only when she said, “What did my father think of you when he accepted you as his son-in-law? You are not enough of a man. You appear to be a man outside, but you are really a woman inside. Do you, like an ordinary actor, want to hand me over to another? I have not ever thought of a second person. I must accompany you.” So Ram relented and said, “I do not long even for heaven if gained through your affliction. I did not know your full intention till now.”


In their marriage, Sita was not oppressed. And, there was no sphere of life in which Sita did not give counsel. For example:
(a) Once, Sita warned him not fight the rakshasas unprovoked.
(b) When she set her heart on the deer, Ram went to get it to please her even though Lakshman warned him not to.
(c) She forced Lakshman to go and help Ram who she thought was hurt.

 We see Sita was well aware of her beauty, or shall we say her sexuality? Sita implied that Lakshman may have wrong intentions towards her, hence he did not want to go and help Ram. She left Lakshman with no choice but to go. She even threatened to kill herself. She later repented her angry words and gave a true and glowing picture of Lakshman to Hanuman in the gardens of Lanka. Well, Sita knew what to say to get her way, but she did it without the melodrama of conflict. Is this not a lesson for us to learn? 

Ram was a disciplinarian. The very soul of obedience. He told Lakshman not to leave Sita alone. Lakshman was caught between disobeying his brother and seeing Sita kill herself. He chose the former. Ram censured Lakshman thus, “A woman is soft. Sita loves me so much, she will do anything to get her way. I am her very life. But you ought not to have come away. You should have stayed and protected her.” For Ram, duty was above all. The poet put all three in a desperate situation where they all reach the limits of their endurance. 

Sita followed traditions. Ravan came to Sita in the guise of a mendicant. She was doing her duty in serving him. She was an intelligent woman. When Ravan kidnapped her, she had the presence of mind to throw her jewels to the monkeys. She repeatedly warned Ravan of his danger. She knew her husband, as a kshatriya, would avenge this act. And, she herself forgave the rakshas, after Ravan's death.

Ram was grief-stricken without Sita. The poet describes in great detail Ram's anguish, thereby demonstrating the depth of Ram's feelings and his longing for his beloved wife. He could not imagine how she would survive. He asks the trees, the birds, the deer, the forest inhabitants where Sita was. He is angry at the gods for allowing her disappearance. Lakshman consoles him and seeks to inspire him with courage. He advises him to not grieve like any other common man. 

Ram's character reflected many common qualities of human nature. The most striking proof is at the end of Yuddha Kanda where just after the battle Sita is summoned to his presence. Then he gives expression to sentiments that shock everyone. Sita did not come back to the warm bosom of a loving husband from whom she had been separated for a long time, but to an angry man who berated her. He knew she was untouched but he saw her surrounded by temptations. Ravan's harem was full of beautiful women he had taken. Ravan also had considerable wealth and knew how to seduce women. And Ravan himself was portrayed as a strong character.

Perhaps Ram swayed between positive and negative feelings. And, no one murmured a word of protest. Did no one approve? Yet, to his enemies, Ram had said no man shall seek his protection in vain. When it came to his beautiful wife who was coveted by others, Ram was suspicious. He portrayed sinister thoughts, yet had tears in his eyes. He had instructed that Sita be well dressed and met her in public for the first time. Sita asked him why he was behaving like a common man when neither he nor she was a commoner. He later said that his actions were for Sita's public acceptance. An interesting point to note: Ram freed Ahalya from her curse for adultery, yet he was so harsh with his wife. 

Was this an example of a rift in a marriage? Here was a man for whom honor and keeping his word was everything. Maybe he felt betrayed. He had given up everything for his honor, to keep his word, but his own wife, an extension of him, was not able to keep her word. Maybe he was jealous of Ravan and wondered if Sita could have had second thoughts about Ram. A fragile ego when it came to his beautiful wife? And maybe, once she was free from captivity, his anger and jealousy came out. Sita went through the agni parikshay as she understood Ram's struggle. She loved him and knew the demands of the kshatriya honor.

 And Ram was trying to do the right thing. Was he trying to show how a common man would have behaved and how to be above it? Ram and Sita did reconcile and return to Ayodhya for the coronation. Their love for each other was again expressed and Sita, after fourteen years of exile, finally became pregnant. 

When Lakshman left her in the forest in this condition, as commanded by Ram, he said, “Do not consider yourself guilty in any way. Ram has commanded me to leave you near the hermitage of Valmiki on the pretext of satisfying your desire in your present condition.” When Sita asked him to look at her pregnant state, he said he would not look at her. He said Ram had been suspicious of her once and could be suspicious again. Sita's message addressed to the king (not her husband) was to conduct himself in a righteous manner befitting a king. She advised him to bear himself 'in a manner through which the ill-report among citizens is proved wrong'.

In doing his duty, Ram, as king, listened to the counsel of his people. A prajapati, as directed by the shastras, is required to take action based on the praja's directives. Shastras promote the welfare of the community; for the good of a family, one member can be sacrificed, for the good of the village, one family, for the good of the country, one village.

Ram himself was in a difficult situation. In some ways, whatever he did would have displeased someone or the other. Was his primary duty to his kingdom or to his wife? His was an internal struggle between the king and the husband. Had he left with Sita, he would have been branded 'bibi ka gulam' and the kshatriya honor defiled.

Though physically not with Sita, mentally Ram tried to keep her company. Though in the palace while performing the duties of a king, he lived like Sita in the hermitage -- slept on the floor, ate simple food, and did not take another wife. We see Sita was at peace with herself; Ram, the husband, was not in terms with his actions towards his wife. Sita's golden image consecrated all ceremonies.

Ram, as an 'Ideal Man', shows us how to live in the world and yet be above it. We see whatever was dear to Ram, whoever he was attached to, he had to let go -- his father whom he had to leave behind and could never meet again when he went to the forest; his beloved wife whom he sacrificed for the good of his kingdom; he even had to allow the death of his brother Lakshman, whom he loved above all. Even Sita acknowledged the depth of that relationship.

 A woman, at that time, did not have an individual identity (as we define it today) and was integrally part of her husband. By separating from her, Ram was separated from a part of himself, his beloved wife. Only that which really belongs to us can we authoritatively give away. We do a disservice to our heritage by imposing today's standards of women's rights without understanding our scriptures contextually. Sita accepted the separation -- the non-legal divorce. She faced the challenge of bringing up the children. And, she brought them up in a balanced manner.

In our society today, increasingly we see separation, divorce and single parenthood. Ramayan dealt with those issues. Sita was a single mother, unofficially divorced. Though unhappy with the separation from her husband, she taught her children to respect their father. She did not teach them hate and vengeance. No one could say her children came from broken homes or that they were affected by that fact in any way. Ram did not attempt to have their custody so he could bring them up in a manner befitting their social obligations. He knew that in the hermitage Sita would ensure they were raised to be future kings. In our society, we see men and women fighting with each other and using their children as weapons. Is there not a lesson here for modern society to learn? 

Reading Ramayan, I felt that Sita did not see herself as a victim. If she had, she would have gone back to face Ram and demanded her equal rights, as perhaps Draupadi would have done. Sita was not a docile character, though she was an unhappy person. For her, it was the loss of a husband who had loved and cherished her once. She understood the struggle between the king and her husband and rose above the situation. Once Luv and Kush were accepted by the praja and by Ram as the future heirs, she did not have to prove herself publicly. So she ended her story. Her role as a mother and a wife was completed.

Ramayan is a story of the struggle to overcome difficulties and the tough choices the characters made in keeping with dharma, the socially accepted ideals of that time. Perhaps all time?