Understanding Rama and Ramayana

Understanding Rama and Ramayana

by  Shruti Bakshi

Mangal bhavan amangal hari

Dravahu su Dasharath ajar vihari

He who is the home of auspiciousness and destroyer of inauspiciousness,

Open your heart to me, the one who lived/played in Dashrath’s (Rama’s father) front-yard

It is impossible to understand Indian culture without understanding Lord Rama. It is as if he holds up the entire infrastructure of Indian culture, the underlying foundation supporting all mental and social constructs that have since sprouted on this land. Just the word Rama is so intrinsically connected with the consciousness of the Indian people, whether it is the  traditional greetings of “Ram Ram”, prayerful utterances of “Jai Sri Ram” or funeral chantings of “Ram Naam Satya Hai” (the name Rama is the Truth). Whether it is Tulsidas’s sublime devotional poem, the Ramacharitrmanas (16th century) or Mahatma Gandhi’s simple constant inspiration: “Raghupati Raghav Raja Raam, Patit Paavan Sita Raam” devotion to Rama has been an unbroken strain uniting and uplifting hearts and minds for centuries.

The seventh avataar (incarnation of God or full embodiment of the Divine) of Vishnu (the Sustainer of the Universe) was born in Ayodhya (in present day Uttar Pradesh) around 7,000 years ago (no exact date has been concluded). The avataars of Vishnu depict the evolution of consciousness on Earth (also aligning with Darwin’s theory of evolution): the 1st avataar: Matsya (fish), 2nd: Kurma (tortoise); 3rd: Varaha (boar); 4th: Narasimha (half-lion, half-human); 5th: Vimana (dwarf); 6th: Parasurama (violent man); 7th: Rama (incarnation of gentleness and virtue); 8th: Krishna (incarnation of love); 9th: Buddha (meditative man). The 10th avataar Kalki is supposed to be mystical and descend in our consciousness rather than in physical form on Earth.

Rama was born on the ninth day of the Chaitra month and his birthday is celebrated as Ram Navami across India. He embodies the highest ideals of virtue (Maryada Puroshottam). He was the ideal King, son, husband and brother, upholding righteousness and setting the highest example of right living. To this day, we talk of ‘Ram Rajya’ as the ideal state of governance and the ideal society.

As Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev describes, Rama’s life is a lesson in maintaining equanimity against all odds. Though Rama was an avataar, his life was not all rainbows and roses. In fact he met with a series of tragedies – more so than most humans encounter in their lives. When he came of age to inherit the throne from his father, his step-mother had him exiled to the forest along with his new bride, for 14 years. While in the forest, his wife Sita gets abducted by the evil king Ravana of Sri Lanka. Rama has to journey all the way from northern India to Sri Lanka and fight a war to rescue his wife. When he returns to his kingdom, other events take place that require him to send a pregnant Sita into the forest never to live with the love of his life again and never to see his children born and grow up. Later in his life, he unknowingly encounters his own children in the forest and is almost about to kill them when their identity is revealed to him at the final moment. All these events would seem too much misfortune for the average person! Yet, despite all the challenges of his life, Rama never lost his cool or became despondent. He maintained his equanimity, gentleness and kindness no matter what. And that is why he is worshipped. Not because he won a war, not because he came with a special certificate from heaven but because his life was the evidence of the Divine nature, of divinity in action.

Inner Meaning of Rama and Ramayana

Rama was a descendant of Raghu, a famous king of the Solar dynasty (Suryavanshi). Rama’s association with the Sun is not only in the physical sense but also subtler. Rama represents the inner sun, the light of the soul or pure consciousness. Since ancient times, the sun has been said to represent the pure Self (Atman) while the moon represents the mind which lives only in the reflected light and radiance of the Self.

In the epic Ramayana (the story of Rama’s life), Lord Rama rescues his wife Sita who has been kidnapped by the evil king Ravana. He is aided by his ardent devotee Hanuman.

The story is a powerful and poignant tale of love and devotion that has set fire to millions of hearts over the centuries. At a deeper level, the story can also be seen to depict the pure consciousness (Rama, God, the Supreme), rescuing the conditioned consciousness (Sita) that is held hostage by the mind and senses (10 headed Raavana depicting the 5 sense organs and the 5 organs of action). The guru (Hanuman) finds the deluded consciousness and wins its trust by proving its association with the pure consciousness (Hanuman showing Sita Rama’s ring and singing praises of Rama). The guru helps rescue the conditioned jiva (soul) and return it to its unity with the pure Self.

Rama Janmabhoomi in our hearts

It may be shocking for foreigners to know that the physical birthplace of Lord Rama in Ayodhya is currently inaccessible. The ancient temple there was razed and a mosque built over it during the Muslim occupation of India and there has been a long-standing legal dispute over whether the temple can be restored or not. It is ironical to celebrate Rama Navmi, the birthday of Rama, in such a scenario.

What is even more surprising is that despite Lord Rama being perhaps the most important figure for Hindus for many millennia, there has never been a widespread violent revolution by them to reclaim the birthplace of Lord Rama. If one were to imagine comparable injustices in other faiths such as a mosque built over Jesus’s birthplace at Bethlehem or a church built over the Kaaba in Mecca, one immediately  cringes to think of the inevitable violence that would ensue. Yet, Hindus have largely peacefully gone about their devotion to Lord Rama. Why? Mainly because Rama lives in our hearts.

It is of course important that we stand for what’s right and continue to work hard to resolve the Ayodhya situation so that we may restore the holiness of Rama’s birthplace. But at the same time we musn’t forget that Rama’s existence is beyond the physical. His most important birthplace is in our hearts and minds. And that is a Rama janmabhoomi (birthplace) that no-one else can destroy.

See also: In the Name of Rama (Chanting Ram Naam)
and Who is Krishna


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