Category Archives: Major Characters in the Ramayana

King Dasaratha

King Dasaratha is an important figure in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Dasaratha’s parents, Aja and Indumati have an unusual story; Indumati was a reborn apsara. Apsaras are beautiful nymphs produced during the creation of the Milky Ocean. They are unable to marry gods or demons, so they often visit Earth. Indumati faces rebirth due to a curse placed upon her by the sage, Trnabindu, however, he takes pity upon her and allows her to be born as the princess of Bhoja country. Trnabindu chose Aja to be Indumati’s husband as Aja was pronounced to be a man of the appropriate stature and wealth. Soon after Dasaratha’s birth, Indumati passes away and leaves Aja a widower (Devaky 141-143). Aja’s character is displayed in the manner in which he treats Indumati; he treats her with respect by acknowledging her mind as well as her beauty. Once Dasaratha matures and is able to act as king, Aja abandons an extravagant life and eventually passes away from a disease (Devaky 143). Some individuals say Aja was unable to perform his royal duties due to the sorrow he faced after Indumati’s death, and that he voluntarily starved himself in order to join her (Madan 190).

King Dasaratha of Kosala has three wives, all of whom are unable to conceive (Sivaraman 107). His first and oldest wife, Kausalya, has rights to the throne for her son unlike his second and third wives, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. The love King Dasaratha has for Kaikeyi is comparable to the love his father, Aja had for his mother, Indumati (Madan 191). King Dasaratha’s first two wives are unable to have children, so they are unable to provide a successor to the throne. King Dasaratha believes Kaikeyi is able to conceive and thus promises her father, Aswapati, that her son would be the kingdom’s next king. However, eventually all of King Dasaratha’s wives have sons and due to the seniority of Kausalya as first wife, her son is announced as King Dasaratha’s successor. When Kaikeyi learnt of King Dasaratha’s promise to her father, she asked King Dasaratha to grant her two boons (promises) she had earned when she saved his life.

King Dasaratha had been accompanied by Kaikeyi into battle in the Dandaka forest against Shumbar, the king of Vijayanta and the brother-in-law of a demon, Ravana. When Shumbar killed the chariot driver and broke a chariot wheel, Kaikeyi was forced to drive the chariot in order to save King Dasaratha’s life. When King Dasaratha granted Kaikeyi two boons in reward, she initially refused them until, at his persistence, she asked to save them for later (Mittal: 206-207).

As King Dasaratha was originally unable to have children, he reached out to the gods by performing an Asvamedha, the horse sacrifice, asking them to bestow a child upon him. Collectively, many gods pressured Lord Visnu into manifesting himself into the sons of King Dasaratha in order to defeat the demon, Ravana. However, there is a disagreement over how King Dasaratha received the potion that would ultimately lead to the birth of his sons. Some say Visnu himself presented the potion to King Dasaratha during the sacrifice (Sivaraman 107), while others argue that Agni, the god of fire, presented King Dasaratha with Caru, a sacrificial food (Madan 191). Despite the disagreement on how King Dasaratha gained this magical substance, all three of his wives received portions of it. Instructed to divide the potion between his wives; King Dasaratha gave half to Kausalya due to her seniority and the other half to Kaikeyi due to his fondness for her. Unfortunately, this did not leave any for Sumitra which caused Kausalya and Kaikeyi to each give her half of their portions. Since Sumitra technically received two servings, she bore two sons (Madan 191). Kausalya bore Rama, Sumitra bore twins, Laksmana, and Satrughna, and Kaikeyi bore Bharata.

The story of the Ramayana is heavily influenced by King Dasaratha and his relationships with Kaikeyi, Aswapati, and Rama. When Dasaratha must choose a successor, he chooses Rama but, Kaikeyi soon intervenes. She learns of Rama’s appointment through her maid who convinces her that Bharata should be heir to the throne. Rama happens to be Dasaratha’s favorite son, so it is difficult for her to convince him to change his decision. Kaikeyi is only able to secure Bharata’s position on the throne by reminding King Dasaratha of the two boons promised to her. Kaikeyi uses these boons to remove Rama from the kingdom by banishing him to exile for fourteen years, placing Bharata as successor to the kingdom. Upon hearing this request, Dasaratha becomes highly distraught, yet is unable to break his promise to Kaikeyi. When Rama learns about the exile, he goes to King Dasaratha and agrees to leave the kingdom in order to minimize the guilt his father feels. Despite Rama’s brother, Laksmana’s, and Kausalya’s pleas for him to stay in the kingdom, Rama declares that his dharma or highest duty, is to help his father. Rama informs his wife, Sita, of his departure and asks her to cooperate with Bharata and the rest of his family. Sita, however, believes that her duty as a pati-vrata, (devoted wife), is to follow Rama into the woods for the duration of his exile. Although Rama informs Sita of any and all possible dangers, she is persistent on accompanying him (Winternitz 3). Although Sita’s father, King Janaka of Videha, insisted that Rama compete for her hand in marriage, they were destined to be together. This is shown by Sita’s devotion to Rama despite the fact that they did not know each other before marriage.

Sita did not have a normal birth, as King Janaka had discovered her arising from the Earth while he plowed a field which led him to name her “Sita” which means “furrow”. In order to choose Sita’s husband, King Janaka held a contest containing one task, drawing a special bow designed for the gods. Although many men attempt to draw the bow, they all failed and Rama became the first man able to affect the bow’s structure, he broke it in half. This action made Rama worthy of Sita and led to a happy marriage between them until they both were obliged to leave the kingdom (Winternitz 2).

When Rama and Sita prepare for exile, Laksmana decides to join them and does not sway from this decision, despite his family pleading him to stay. A few nights after their departure, King Dasaratha is unable to sleep and recounts a curse placed upon him in his youth. This curse was placed by the father of a blind child who was mistakenly killed by Dasaratha during a hunting trip. It indicated the manner in which Dasaratha would die, namely, due to the grief of a lost son. A few days after Rama’s departure, this prophecy comes true and Dasaratha passes away. After his death, Bharata is offered the throne but he declines due to the value he places on tradition; Bharata believes Rama should be the next king as he was originally appointed by Dasaratha. Although Rama mourns his father’s death and performs a funeral for him, he refuses to return to the kingdom until he has completed the terms of his exile (Winternitz 4), eventually returning and becoming king (Winternitz 10).

King Dasaratha’s devotion to Kaikeyi ultimately leads to his own demise as well as many of the events in the Ramayana epic. Many scholars believe that Dasaratha’s love for Kaikeyi is relatable to Aja’s love for Indumati. Some refer to Kaikeyi as Dasaratha’s kama (sensory pleasure) (Madan 192). King Dasaratha was easily able to overlook any of Kaikeyi’s flaws and assumes that Kaikeyi’s anger is justified either by being provoked by someone or as a rouse in order to excite him. This love for Kaikeyi had the power to change the fate of the kingdom drastically, however, Bharata and Rama are able to prevent this from occurring. When Kaikeyi asks for her two boons, Dasaratha must grant them in accordance to the promise he made, as well as his love for her. Although Rama decides to leave the kingdom for his exile, Bharata defies his mother and willingly gives up the throne, recognizing that Rama’s seniority as well as superiority makes him a better choice for king (Madan 193-194). Dasaratha’s relationship with Aswapati plays a crucial role in Rama’s exile, because Dasaratha is unable to break his previous promise to Aswapati. If Dasaratha had been able to break this promise, Rama would not have left the kingdom, and a father would not have been separated from his son. This exile ends the close relationship between father and son, resulting in a copious amount of guilt for Dasaratha which coupled with his sorrow, eventually led to his death.

King Dasaratha’s respect for the actions of others, such as the bravery of Kaikeyi in the battle in the Dandaka forest, results in him having a verbal commitment to fulfill any request placed upon him. Those requests coupled with the admiration and love King Dasaratha has for both his wife, Kaikeyi, and his son, Rama, leads to the events in the Ramayana epic as well as his death.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING RECOMMENDATIONS

Devaky, E.S. (2006) “Major Female Characters of Kalidasa.” Feminist Readings in Kalidasa’s works. India: University of Calicut.

Madan, T. N. (1988) Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in Honor of Louis Dumont. India: Motilal Banarsidass.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Mittal, J.P (2006) History of Ancient India (a New Version): From 7300 Bb to 4250 Bc. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Raman, V. Varadaraja (1998) Balakanda: Ramayana as Literature and Cultural History. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan.

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. United States of America: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Sankalia, Hasmukhlal Dhirajlal (1982) The Ramayana in the Historical Perspective. Delhi: Macmillan.

Sivarama Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New Delhi: Motilal Banasidass.

Winternitz, Maurice (1927) A History of Indian Literature. New York: Russell & Russell.

 

Related Topics for Further Research:

Ramayana

Kaikeyi

Kausalya

Rama

Sita

Hanuman

Lord Visnu

Ashvamedha

Aja

Indumati

Lakshmana

Ravana

Apsaras

Sumitra

King Janaka

Aswapati

Satrughna

 

Noteworthy Websites for Further Research:

http://www.bl.uk/learning/cult/inside/gallery/4sons/foursons.html

http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j4/j4025.htmw

https://sites.google.com/site/thewomenofindia/home/introduction/kaikeyi-s-story

http://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/619/what-is-the-significance-of-ashwamedha-yagna

http://www.britannica.com/topic/ashvamedha

 

Article written by: Crystal Mulik (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kubera: God of Wealth

Kubera holds a variety of titles within Hinduism, most notably being the god of wealth and riches. He is also regarded as the god of fertility, a tutelary household spirit, the protector of sailors and god of the dead (Coulter and Turner 283). In the Satapatha Brahmana, he is the lord of thieves and criminals (Sutherland 63), and these are but a few different titles he possesses. Despite having various titles and responsibilities, he is often associated with having a lesser role in Hindu mythology in relation to other deities (Wilkins 388). However, this does not mean that Kubera does not have a rich history and importance within the mythological realm of the Hindu tradition. One of the main reasons that Kubera is not regarded as being a prominent deity is due, in part, to the lack of images and monuments dedicated to him. When he is depicted in images, which mostly come from the Himalayan regions, Kubera has a large potbelly and he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels when he squeezes it (Buswell). Another way he is depicted is as the guardian of the north and is portrayed as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch, holding a money bag or a pomegranate. He is also sometimes depicted riding on a man (Britannica), which makes him unique in relation to other gods, who usually are mounted on animals. Kubera is a lokapala or “world guardian” (Sutherland 65), deities who are usually illustrated as being mounted on animals such as elephants, whereas Kubera is described as being a naravahana or “one whose mount is a man”(Sutherland 67). Although Kubera is regarded as a god in Hindu mythology, he is also often depicted as a demon. The classification of Kubera being a demon, therefore, cause some discrepancies in his physical appearance, with some illustrations of him depicting a more hideous, monster-type of figure. In these portrayals, Kubera is described as being a pot-bellied, three-legged, one-eyed dwarf with eight snaggle-teeth (McLeish). He is also often illustrated as having ugly, black skin, again with a potbelly and is heavily jeweled, sits cross-legged and holds a purse (Coulter and Turner 283). Despite these more unsightly physical attributes associated with the demonic side of Kubera, many depictions of him offer a gentler, appealing visual of the god, illustrating him with gold coloured skin and studded with gems (McLeish), a visual representation of his role as the lord of wealth and prosperity.

Kubera’s lineage can be a bit confusing, as different sources and literature state different familial lines. In the Artharvaveda, Kubera is said to be the son of Vaisravana. In the Mahabharata, he is son of Vaisravana and Idavida, and brother of Visravas; this is further complicated by the Puranas, which states that Kubera was born to Visravas and Ilibila (Williams 190). He also has a half brother named Ravana, who is the notable demon in the Ramayana (Williams 190). Kubera also has a wife, named Hariti (Werner 51) and a daughter named Minaksi, who becomes one of Siva’s wives (Werner 73). He also had a son, named Nalakubera (Williams 219). In addition to his family, Kubera had a few close companions. Kubera is usually accompanied by two friends named Yaksa and Yaksi (Coulter and Turner 283). He is also associated socially with Charvi, Danava and Rambha (Coulter and Turner 282). According to most accounts, Kubera is said to reside in a palace in the country of Sri Lanka. However, Kubera does not live there permanently, as he is driven out of his palace and the country by his power hungry half-brother Ravana (Britannica). The relationship that Kubera and Ravana have with one another does not prove to be very hospitable and cooperative, as they are often depicted in feuds with each other. This hostile relationship ultimately causes Kubera to relocate to a residence on Mount Kailasa, which is also home to other deities, such as Siva (Britannica).

Kubera is most notably known as being the lord of riches and wealth, which includes the resources and elements that are contained within the earth (Williams 190-191). As the ruling god of wealth and riches, Kubera is responsible for possessing and distributing the wealth, as well as guarding the earth’s treasures (Kinsley 226). He is granted the power to move the earth’s riches from one place to another, and he often brought gems and precious metals near the surface during the rule of righteous kings and hid them during times of wickedness (Williams 190-191).  Kubera exercises this power over the elements when he sides with Rama in the war between Rama and Ravana, Kubera’s half-brother. Kubera decides to align himself with Rama, rather than be loyal to his brother, because Ravana dethrones and exiles Kubera from his palace in Sri Lanka (McLeish). Ravana does this in order to try and win himself a queen and kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, causing there to be a war between the two men (McLeish). Rama wages war on Ravana for the actions taken against Sita, and by the end of the feud, Rama is victorious (McLeish). Kubera, who remained loyal to Rama throughout the feud, is granted the responsibility of being the shepherd of all the precious stones in the world, as a reward for his assistance in the war against Ravana (McLeish). Kubera was, therefore, allowed to dictate over these stones and control their movements (McLeish), which meant he could determine who had access to them.

Among other roles and responsibilities that Kubera was attributed to was being the leader of the yaksas, creatures who dwell in the woods and forests and promote the growth of plants (Kinsley 226). It is understandable that Kubera would be well acquainted with the yaksas as they both have roles associated with prosperity, with the yaksas encouraging the growth of plans and Kubera being a symbol of richness. The yaksas are depicted as being sharp and cunning, with a benevolent earthly temperament, which Kubera is depicted as embodying (Sutherland 64). Kubera exudes this temperament most notably through his physical appearance, which includes a potbelly, a common Asian motif for good luck and more importantly, abundance (Sutherland 64). However, the yaksas also articulate a notion of ethical ambivalence, suggesting that they also possess a more corrupt, evil side (Sutherland 63). This can be associated with Kubera’s more unethical approaches that cause him to not only be classified as a god, but as a demon as well.

Within Hindu mythology, Kubera is depicted as being a rather unforgiving god. In one particular myth in the Padma Purana, Kubera is portrayed as being a devotionalist, who had an abundantly beautiful garden that contained flowers that are utilized in daily temple worship (Williams 153). Kubera had a hired gardener named Hemamali, who tended to the flowers everyday. One day, Hemamali took a trip to Manasasaras, the lake of the gods, and forgot that it was his duty to get the flowers to Kubera for worship. Kubera waited all day at the temple for Hemamali, but he did not show up, which caused Kubera to become very angry. Hemamali was summoned to Kubera’s palace, where he was punished for his absence by being cursed as a leper. To make things even worse, Hemamali was expelled from Kubera’s heaven, Alakapuri (Williams 153). This story illustrates some of Kubera’s less desirable personality traits, as he can be viewed as being an unforgiving and strict ruler. This can further demonstrate how he was often categorized as being a demon throughout different stories in Hindu mythology, as he could be a menacing and merciless god. However, Kubera has a benevolent and softer side to him as well that is revealed through his more noble actions. Through his protective guardianship and distribution of the earth’s secret resources, he is seen as a paternal, manipulatable figure (Sutherland 65). He is also regarded with holding the title of lokapalas, meaning he is a world guardian, as well as being a dikpalas, a guardian of the directions (Sutherland 65).

It is quite apparent that the Hindu god of wealth possesses many different traits and abilities. Kubera can be described as being a noble god, who possesses and distributes wealth and riches, protecting it from the less desirable, corrupt peoples of the world. However, he is regarded as having a more temperamental side showcasing a strict and menacing personality, which sometimes causes him to be depicted as a demon. Because of these dichotomies, it is difficult to fully comprehend what Kubera looked like physically, as he is depicted in many different forms. It is also unclear as to what his familial lineage looks like completely. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that Kubera was an important god in Hindu mythology.

 

References

Buswell, Robert E. Jr., and Donald S. Jr. Lopez (eds.) (2013) “Kubera”. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner (2000) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Kubera”. In Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

____(2016) “Kubera”. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Britannica Academic. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Werner, Karel (2005) Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Taylor and Francis E-Library.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Yaksas

Lokapalas

Ravana

Rama

Padma Purana

Mount Kailasa

Satapatha Brahmana

Artharvaveda

Mahabharata

Puranas

Dikpalas

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kubera

http://www.drikpanchang.com/hindu-gods/kubera/lord-kubera.html

http://www.srilakshmikuberatemple.org/history.html

http://hinduism.about.com/od/godsgoddesses/fl/Kuber-The-Lord -of-Riches.htm

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/k/kubera.html

http://www.india-forums.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=3420754

http://www.english-for-students.com/Feast-of-Kubera.html

 

Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content

 

Valmiki

Dichotomous legends surround the historical existence of the first poet (adikavi) Valmiki, the believed composer of the Hindu epic Ramayana, or first poem (adikavya) (Eliade 184).  On one hand, folk legend reports that “the sage was born […] of a high- caste brahmin family”, while on the other hand he is surmised to have been a “sinner transformed into a saint” (Eliade 184).  Valmiki’s biography has varying versions, and scholars speculate on which account may indeed be the real one (or perhaps a combination of both).  However, the poetic form, sloka, which is accredited to him, has since been found throughout Hindu and Buddhist liturgy and remains an existent and tangible piece of evidence left by whoever the “legendary sage” truly was (Eliade 184, “Valmiki” n.d.).

The earliest documented mention of the name ‘Valmiki’ is in the Taittiriya Pratisakhya of the Black Yajur Veda school (Leslie 80).  While the exact date of this manual is impossible to determine, as is much early Sanskrit liturgy, it is postulated to have been composed sometime after Panini, but before Patanjali, in the period between c. 350 and c. 150 BCE (Leslie 80-81).  That being said, the name “Valmiki” has not always been connected unequivocally to the poet-saint of the Ramayana (Leslie 80).  However, for purposes here, the focus of the remainder of this article will be centered on the sage-author and sage-character of the epic.

The obstacle for historians is not that of supporting Valmiki’s title of adikavi, but, that of discovering who he actually was amongst the surfeit of lore and myth surrounding the historical grammarian (Leslie 79).  “The historicity of Valmiki is somewhat uncertain because the traditions referring to him are late and unsupported by anything other than still later texts repeating, modifying, or elaborating on the stories” (Sil).  “According to a legend, Valmiki was a robber who one day met a hermit who transformed him to a virtuous being” (Das).  This alludes to the poet-saint figure’s narrative which begins with his escaping from a termite mound to which he is bound and found reciting Rama’s name.  Rsis refer to the metaphorically reborn pupil as Valmiki, whom the god Visnu decrees to be the author of the Ramayana (Leslie 152).  This account of Valmiki seems to concern the earlier portion of his life.  In the first book of the Ramayana, the character Valmiki is presented as a “gifted saint […] from a hermitage in the valley of the river Tamsa”, situated in the northern region of India in the Kaimur Range in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh respectively, several miles south of Ayodhyā in north central India (Sil, “Tamsa River” n.d.).  Within book one, the initial four chapters provide a description of Valmiki in some detail, and begin with presenting him as an ascetic and notably “…the most potent of munis or munipumgava” (Leslie 97).  The Sanskrit translation which is most often applied to Valmiki, varies and can mean “saint, sage, seer, ascetic, monk, devotee, hermit, and so on”. Munis often undertake a vow of silence (maunavrata), therefore rendering a perfect English equivalent nearly impossible (Leslie 80).  That Valmiki is earnestly betrothed to the practice of asceticism is an important and continuous motif in the character and persona of this figure in the Ramayana (Leslie 97).

The second chapter of the epic reveals that Valmiki is an articulate and persuasive speaker as well as a virtuous man who is intelligent and has attracted his own following of devoted men (Leslie 97).  He is described as a “great souled…dvija” or “twice-born rsi” which usually indicated someone of Brahmin status in the epics (Leslie 97).  The third and fourth chapters of the Ramayana follow suit describing Valmiki as “saintly” and “holy”, giving an overall persona of an extraordinary individual – “…muni, rsi, ascetic; high-minded, innately wise, trained in religious ritual, and learned in matters of dharma…worthy of the company of the Gods” (Leslie 99).  It is at this point in the Ramayana that this great and holy man is bestowed with the spiritual vision, attained through meditation and not recitation, of the poetic story of Prince Rama, told eloquently in the epic through some twenty-four thousand sloka verses (Leslie 99, “Ramayana” 2016).  The problem with these rich descriptions is of course the lack of information regarding Valmiki’s early life.

In contrast to the latter descriptions of Valmiki, the Adhyatma Ramayaṇa  (esoteric Ramayaṇa), an anonymous work in Sanskrit, probably written in the fifteenth century, describes a very different person in historical question, and perhaps provides us with a window into the earlier, lesser-known life of this figure (Sil).  This version finds a younger Valmiki who, although Brahmin in status, is a questionable character.  He associates with other dubious characters, and takes to a life of burglary and corruption, even amidst married and parental life (Sil).  This account seems to concern his early life.  Legend describes a young man by the name of Ratnakara, who after a life of corruption, realizes that his family will not be a part of his sins, and thereafter leaves to live as a hermit among hermits, learning the Vedas for redemption (Sil).  “Thereupon the penitent reprobate began chanting Rāma’s name oblivious of time; gradually his body was covered under an anthill (valmika)” (Sil).  Questions have been raised by scholars regarding the class of Valmiki, since his early life does not denote that of a typical Brahmin.  Julia Leslie examines the possibility that he may have been of the Sudra class, or even lower as a dalit, or untouchable, in her in depth analysis of Valmiki (25-35).  Since there is no definitive documentation about this, it is open to interpretation (Leslie 25-35).

Worth mentioning with regard to a proper biography of the great poet Valmiki, is his legacy, the poetic form sloka (Leslie 97-98, “Valmiki” n.d.).  The story from the Ramayana describes perfectly how this form came to be (Leslie 97-98).  Valmiki, so stirred with compassion at the death of an Indian Sarus crane by the hands of a tribal hunter (nisada) bluntly utters a curse (or lament) in the sloka form:

‘May you find no peace, Nisada, for all eternity – because you killed the male of this loving kraunca pair when he was intoxicated by desire!’ (Ram, 1.2.14)

So inspiring is that moment of poetic creation that Valmiki’s delighted disciple promptly commits the verse to memory (v. 18) (Leslie 97-98).  The god Brahma then comes to speak with this man who ‘knows what is right’, addressing Valmiki as “brahmin” and “best of rsis” (Leslie 97-98).  “Brahma is impressed by Valmiki’s eloquence […] and asks him to compose the story of Rama in the form of slokas” (Leslie 97-98).  Thus, the epic the Ramayana was composed (Leslie 97-98).

            Sloka has a distinct and specific form.  It means “sound,” “song of praise,” “praise,” or “stanza”, it is the chief verse form of the Sanskrit epics” (“sloka” 2016).  A fluid meter that works well with extemporization in poetic verse, sloka lays itself out in two-verse lines, consisting of sixteen syllables each (“sloka” 2016).  Accordingly, “the Ramayaṇa is arguably one of the finest works of Sanskrit poetry in respect of both contents and form” (Sil).

What is the significance of this mythical author and his epic the Ramayana? Valmiki’s classic is far reaching and has survived many ages, and “over the centuries, the story of Rama has spread across the world” (Leslie 118).  There are various versions of the Rama story cross-culturally, including “the Pali Dasaratha Jataka of the Buddhist tradition” which is probably derived from Valmiki’s Ramayana (Leslie 118).  Not only is Valmiki’s Ramayana syncretic in nature, it has been translated into numerous vernacular languages as well, including but not limited to Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, and Hindi (Leslie 160). The Ramayana is popular and timeless among Hindus, with its “themes of annyaya (injustice), darpa (arrogance), moha (infatuation), dharma (righteousness), and nyaya (justice) coinciding with the foundations of the Hindu worldview” (Sil).  The west was first exposed to Valmiki’s Ramayana in 1843, by an Italian named Gaspare Gorresio, with the provision of Charles Albert, King of Sardinia (Sil).

Mystery remains around the legendary author and sage Valmiki, the eminent author of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.  “All that the biographer can do is gather traditions which deal with Valmiki, sift them, and study the evolution of his life-story as it becomes revealed in them” (Bulke, via Leslie 79).  While the undoubted importance of the first poet (adikavi) of the Ramayana remains indisputable, we are only able to make biographical sense of this Hindu hero in the present through deduction in myth from the past (Bulke via Leslie 79).

 

REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING

Bulke, Camille (1958) “About Valmiki (Materials for the biography of Valmiki, author of the first Ramayana.” Journal of the Oriental Institute.  8(2):121-131. Baroda.

Das, Subhamoy (2015) “Maharshi Valmiki: The Great Sage & Author of The Ramayana.” hinduism.about.com. Accessed February 6, 2016. http://hinduism.about.com/od/gurussaintsofthepast/a/valmiki.htm

Das, Subhamoy (2014) “The Ramayana: India’s Most Loved Epic.” hinduism.about.com. Accessed February 26, 2016. http://hinduism.about.com/od/epics/a/ramayana.htm

Eliade, Mircea Ed. (1987) “Valmiki.” The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 15:184. NewYork: Macmillan.

Leslie, Julia (2003) Authority and Meaning in Indian Religions: Hinduism and the Case of Valmiki. Burlington: Ashgate Pub Ltd.

“Ramayana” (2016) In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://academic.eb.com.ezproxy.alu.talonline.ca/EBchecked/topic/490529/Ramayana

Sil, Narasingha P. (2004) “Valmiki.” Great Lives from History: The Ancient World, Prehistory 476 c.e. Editor: Salowey, Christina A. Hackensack: Salem. Accessed February 6, 2016. http://online.salempress.com.ezproxy.alu.talonline.ca

“Sloka” (2016) In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://academic.eb.com.ezproxy.alu.talonline.ca/EBchecked/topic/548917/sloka

“Tamsa River” (n.d) In Discovered India.com. Accessed February 20, 2016. Retrieved

http://www.discoveredindia.com/uttar-pradesh/attractions/rivers/tamsa-river.htm

“Valmiki” (n.d) In Wikipedia. Accessed February 20, 2016. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valmiki

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

muni pumgava

mauna vrata

Brahmin

adikavi

adikavya

sloka

The Ramayana

Taittiriya Pratisakhya

Black Yajur Veda School

The Mahabharata

Panini

Patanjali

The Puranas

annyaya (injustice)

darpa (arrogance)

moha (infatuation)

dharma (righteousness)

nyaya (justice)

Gaspare Gorresio

Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia

Dasaratha Jataka

Pali

Tamil

Malayalam

Bengali

Hindi

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://online.salempress.com.ezproxy.alu.talonline.ca

http://hinduism.about.com/od/epics/a/ramayana.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/gurussaintsofthepast/a/valmiki.htm

 

Article written by: Laura Gunn (Feb – April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Vibhisana


Vibhisana was one of the Raksasas [demons] and the brother of Ravana in the Hinduism epic the Ramayana. Vibhisana was the son of Visravas and Malini and was Ravana’s younger half brother. Ravana was the ten-headed demon king from the Hindu epic Ramayana. Vibhisana also had a half sister named Surpanakha who was the demoness who tried to seduce Rama in the epic Ramayana (Garret 707). Initially, Vibhisana followed his brother, Ravana. Vibhisana and his other half brother, Kumbhakarna, went to devote themselves to Dharma under the leadership of Ravana. They showed complete devotion, which earned them boons from Brahma (Garret 707). Vibhisana did this by eating withered leaves for a thousand years and by continuously engaging in religious practices. When Brahma came to the brothers to give them a boon, Vibhisana asked that his boon be that he always acted righteously. Brahma also granted Vibhisana immortality because of his great dedication (Scharf 259). Once the brothers had received their boons, they returned to their positions under the leadership of Ravana. Ravana took over leadership of Lanka from Kubera, the current ruler. In Lanka, Ravana attacked and killed demons and gods. These acts gave him the name Ravana meaning “he who makes others cry” (Parmeshwaranand 1360). They defeated Kubera enabling Ravana to become the leader of Lanka. Vibhisana stayed with his brother in Lanka and married Sarala, who was the daughter of Sailusa (Parmeshwaranand 1360).

While living in Lanka, Vibhisana and his brother had several altercations.  The first occurred when Ravana ordered Hanuman to be put to death because Hanuman said that Ravana could not be saved from Rama. Vibhisana told his brother not to kill Hanuman because he was an ambassador and they were to be protected. The next altercation was because Vibhisana did not seem to be able to understand what Ravana wanted. Ravana asked Vibhisana to go retrieve Sita. However, there was confusion over whether she was to be bathed. Vibhisana made her bathe, which was not correct. Sita returned with Vibhisana, Ravana became angry at both of them (Richman 209). The final altercation led to Vibhisana leaving Lanka because he wanted Ravana to give back Sita to her husband. This fight is further described in the epic Ramayana (Garret 707). This is the epic where Vibhisana was depicted although its main focus was on Rama.

The Ramayana began in a kingdom ruled by the king, Dasaratha. He had three wives, but had no children. He used a horse sacrifice [asvamedha] in order to have a son. From this ritual, all of his wives became pregnant. Kausalya, the most senior wife had a son named Rama, who would be the heir to the throne. When Rama is almost a man, a rsi came and insisted that Rama come with him to kill a demoness named Raksasi. Rama went with the rsi and successfully killed Raksasi. On their way back to the kingdom, they stopped at a svayamvara [the event where she chose her life partner] for a princess named Sita.  This was where Rama won her hand in marriage. The queen was happy that Rama was selected until her servant persuaded her into thinking Bharata should be king instead. The Queen used a boon given to her from Dasaratha. She asked that Rama be exiled for 14 years. Both Sita and Rama’s brother, Laksmana, went with him into exile.  One day in the forest, a demoness [Vibhisana’s half sister, Surpanakha] tried to seduce Rama, but he would not allow it because he was married to Sita. The demoness was so angry, she threatened Sita, which caused Laksmana to cut off her nose, ears, and breasts. The demoness wanted revenge, so she went to get help from the powerful ten-headed King Ravana, her half brother. Hearing of Sita’s beauty, Ravana decided to abduct Sita because he wanted her for himself (Rodrigues 218-227).

Vibhisana wanted Ravana to return Sita back to her husband. He did not want a war to occur between Rama and Ravana’s armies (Parmeshwaranand 1360).  His brother was extremely angry at Vibhisana for saying such outrageous things and kicked Vibhisana from his chair. Vibhisana was so upset that he left Lanka. Vibhisana’s mother tried to get Vibhisana to stay and take half of Lanka instead of leaving. Vibhisana’s mother, Malini, described the beauty of Lanka to him through song. The song goes “The god of wind sweeps the floor here in Lanka, the rain god sprinkles cow-dung water to keep it clean, the fire god himself cooks in our kitchen, three hundred thirty three million gods take shovels and crowbars and work for us as slaves” (Richman 131).  After Vibhisana left Lanka, he went to his brother Kevera’s court. Siva was there and told Vibhisana he should follow Rama and leave his brother, Ravana. Meanwhile, Rama had just realized Sita had been taken (Rodrigues 218-227). Vibhisana was on his way over to the desert to join Rama’s side. In order to get revenge on his brother, he told Rama all of Ravana’s military plans to ensure that Rama had the upper hand in battle (Garret 707). He tells Rama to go over to Lanka and capture Ravana’s ministers.  Vibhisana leads the troops through the southern entrance of Lanka. They attack the monkey troops and they kill Ravana’s ministers. During the combat, Vibhisana realizes that Rama and Laksmana are unconscious and he revives them using eye salve (Scharf  259). After Rama is revived, he kills Ravana. When Vibhisana sees that his brother is dead, he performs Ravana’s death rituals. Both sides had many casualties with almost every man from Ravana’s family dead or dying (Mittal 246). However, Rama’s armies won the war and took over Lanka. Rama gave Vibhisana Lanka and Vibhisana was crowned as king.

Vibhisana is still seen as the reason for the fall of Lanka (Parmeshwaranand 1361). Rama became the King of Ayodhya after he made Vibhisana king of Lanka. Vibhisana went on a trip to visit Rama at his kingdom, Ayodhya. On this trip, Vibhisana was given a golden chariot with the image of Raganatha on it. This image was to be worship back in Lanka. He was told that the image of Raganatha on the chariot should not touch the ground. However, on his journey back to Lanka, the image was too heavy and Vibhisana ended up having to put it down at Srirangam. After he put it down, he could not lift it back up. From then on the image faced south, instead of facing east, the way it should have (Rodrigues 360).

One day, while Vibhisana was king of Lanka, another battle took place. It began because Candragupta, who was a son of Ravana, abducted Vibhisana’s daughter-in-law.  Vibhisana went and told Rama about what had happened. Vibhisana, Rama, Laksmana, Sugriva, Hanuman, as well as their monkey allies, went to battle in the city of Sahasramukha over the abduction. The fighting lasted three days and ended in the death of all the Raksasas [demons] (Parmeshwaranand 1361).

In conclusion, at the beginning of his life Vibhisana was completely devoted to following under his brother, Ravana. He was so devoted that Brahma granted him boons. As the story progressed, Vibhisana eventually turned his back on his whole family. He betrayed his brother by leaving his leadership, and followed Rama instead. In order to get revenge on his brother, he gave away Ravana’s military secrets which led to the death of almost all of Ravana’s family including Ravana himself (Parmeshwaranand 1361). The most interesting fact about Vibhisana is that the boon he asked for was that he never mediate any unrighteousness and yet his actions didn’t seem very honorable. Perhaps the paradox of his boon was that his family’s actions were not honorable and therefore, Vibhisana could not join them.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMENDED READING

Dutt, Romesh (1910) The Ramayana and Mahabharta condensed into English verse. J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd.

Garret, John (1989) A Classic dictionary of India. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Mittal, J.P. (2006) History of Ancient India: From 7300 BC to 4250 BC. India: Atlantic Publishers.

Parmeshwaranand, Swami (2001) Encyclopedia Dictionary of Puranas, Volume 1. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Richman, Paul (1991) Many Ramayanas: the diversity of a narrative tradition in South Asia. California: University of California press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBOOK: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Scharf, Peter (2003) Ramopakhyana: the story of Rama in the Mahabharta. U.S and Canada: RoutledgeCurzon.

Turner, Patricia (2000) Dictionary of Ancient Deities. Oxford University Press.

Venkatesananda, Valmiki (1988) The concise Ramayana of Valmiki. New York: State University of New York Press.

RELATED RESEARCH TOPICS

Ashvamedh

Bharata

Brahma

Candragupta

Dasarath

Hanuman

Kausalya

Keveras

Kubera

Kumbhakarna

Laksmana

Lanka

Malini

Raganatha

Rama

Ramayana

Raksasi

Ravana

Sailusa

Sarala

Sita

Siva

Sugriva

Surpanakha

svayamvara

Visravas

RELATED WEBSITES

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Ashvamedha

http://hinduism.about.com/b/2009/08/02/what-is-a-swayamvar.htm

http://www.valmikiramayan.net/

http://www.hindunet.org/ramayana/discouse.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rama/index.htm

http://www.indiadivine.org

Article written by: Sarah Edmonds (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Rama

The Hindu epics are a source of entertainment and religious guidance. Today, Rama, the titular character of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, is seen as the ideal man, who follows dharma to rigid perfection. The Ramayana, one of the two great Hindu epics, continues to have great significance today, despite being originally composed approximately two thousand years ago. While there are thousands of variations of the epic across southern Asia, its original authorship is attributed to the sage Valmiki, who lived sometime between 200 BC and 200 AD. Rama, who is married to the ideal woman, Sita, is portrayed and celebrated today as enacting true dharma in his role as son, brother, husband and member of the ksatriya class. He is also recognized as the “incarnation of Visnu in his role as Supreme God” (Gonzalez-Reimann 203).

The Ramayana is an epic that contains over 20,000 verses. Within these verses are the adventures surrounding Rama, son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, and heir to its throne. Laksmana, Rama’s half-brother and inseparable companion accompanies the hero throughout his many adventures. Both Laksmana and Sita, Rama’s wife, accompany him into a fourteen-year exile to the forests, during which the trio meet with various sages, encounter and defeat demons, and learn the ways of a forest-dweller. Much of Rama’s tale centers on his rescue of Sita from Ravana, a ten headed raksasas. While Rama’s adventures within The Ramayana provide entertainment, it is his action and philosophical reasoning that provide Hindus with direction in regard to dharma.

Rama is portrayed as one who is the “embodiment of…infinite virtues” (Bhattacharji 32). He is the obedient son, ready to “give up the throne and go into exile to redeem his father’s pledge” (Bhattacharji 43). Rama displays great love and faith in his brothers, trusting that Bharata would adhere to duty, caring for his throne during his banishment, and eventually restoring him. Rama’s love for even his wife Sita “became subsidiary and insignificant in comparison with love for the brother” (Bhattacharji 36). Living as a forest-dweller, he killed demons to protect sages, for “as a prince he was obligated to exercise the protective function of the warrior class” (Goldman 34). Ruler of Ayodhya for 11,000 years after his banishment, Rama “was a true warrior hero with a strict code of heroism” (Bhattacharji 43).

Large Rama Statue, Bali

Rama’s fame for his goodness has led to an expectation among readers and followers that he is pure, and acts righteously in all circumstances. Supported and “reinforced by scholars who have…their own expectations” (Stewart et al. 244) of Rama, it is often the case that Rama is seen as a flat divinity, one that is non-complex: he is good, therefore he is dharmic. This however is not the case; Rama is complex, whether portrayed as man or as god incarnate, and strays from the righteous path from time to time. Rama’s slaying of the monkey king Vali from behind a tree “violated the fundamental law of combat by striking at the enemy from behind” (Bhattacharji 36). In killing from behind, undercover, and an individual whom Rama had had no personal conflict with, he sacrificed the ksatriya codes of honor to increase his chances of finding Sita.

Although Sita, as the ideal woman, follows her dharma and willingly stays at her husband’s side and places her complete faith, love and allegiance with him. Rama does not do his wife justice, frequently disregarding Sita’s love for him. He fails to protect her from physical harm and dishonor. Upon his rescue of her, his main goal, he reveals, was not to rescue his beloved wife, “but to ensure the piety of his… lineage” (Bhattacharji 40). Despite unshakeable proof of Sita’s chastity, Rama abandons and humiliates her three times, doubting her devotion to him.

During the rare times that Rama strays from the path of dharma, it is often for his own personal gain and image. Rama kills Vali to gain the help of the monkey king to find Sita, and avenge his tarnished image. He belittles Sita, viewing her as tainted, something that he can no longer enjoy. For his personal and family honor, he doubts her purity thrice, despite receiving ample proof and being reproached by the gods that she has stayed true to Rama alone. While scholars have discussed and critiqued Rama for his cowardly killing of Vali, and his frequent betrayal and abandonment of Sita, no explanation has truly been given that adequately explains these few transgressions from the dharmic path (Goldman 35-36). Despite these few flaws in his righteousness, Rama is still considered today as the example of the ideal man, the incarnate of the god Visnu.

Visnu is one of the most prominent gods in the Hindu tradition. Within Hinduism, Visnu has a tradition of returning to earth in varying incarnations or avatars to carry out or ameliorate dharmic situations. Rama, who, throughout the epic continuously acts dharmically, kills the demon Ravana near the end of the story. This, according to Gonzalez-Reimann, is the main reason for Rama’s assumed divinity within Valmiki’s Ramayana. Rama’s incarnation as “the great god Narayana…Visnu, Krsna and Prajapati” (Gonzalez-Reimann 208) creates an identity that is a “combination of man and god” (Gonzalez-Reimann 210). As an avatara of Visnu, Rama embodies the “protector of society and brahmanical dharma”(Gonzalez-Reimann 207). Because Rama is the representation of dharmic action, and because he is associated with the god Visnu in this way, like Visnu himself (who has a group of followers dedicated primarily to him), Rama today has an important role in some forms of Hindu worship.

Built into the very social structure of society, the Hindu practice of renunciation lays the path to knowing and awareness of the Self and moksa. The practice of devotionalism, or bhakti, can and does take many forms within Hinduism, varying from elaborate to simple offerings, or prayers. Devotionalism can be given to a single or multiple deities. Ram bhakti, which is a movement that was founded by Swami Ramananda in the 16th century, attempts to gain liberation from bondage by transferring “emotional attachments…to the spiritual realm”(Lamb 582). Of the numerous religious texts that have been written on the topic, none have been quite so influential as Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas. A revision of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, the text is immensely popular, and “has ultimately set the tenor for Ram bhakti…providing ideal examples for family and society relationships, for righteous action, and for selfless devotion” (Lamb 580). Followers of Ram bhakti show devotionalism through the chanting of prayers or repetition of Rama’s name. Ultimately, the relationship aspired to between devotees and the Divine is paralleled to the relationship of Rama and Hanuman; the relationship “is one of Ram[a] as lord and master” (Lamb 582).

The main character and hero of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, Rama is the righteous prince of Ayodhya, whom, accompanied by his brother and wife, has many adventures in both fictitious and actual places. Acting always in the right, Rama gives an example to modern followers of the correct way to follow dharma. Despite some of his actions being critiqued as unrighteous and morally wrong in today’s world, such actions were more or less seen as socially acceptable at the time of the epic’s composition, and Rama is still seen as the ideal man, in part due to his role as an incarnation of Visnu. Based on this fact, religious orders such as Ram bhakti have been fashioned after Rama’s example. Despite being created thousands of years ago, Rama still has relevance today, providing entertainment, rules of social etiquette, and religious prescriptions for people around the globe.

Bibliography and Related Readings

Bhattacharji, Sukumari. “A Revaluation of Valmiki’s ‘Rama.’” Social Scientist. 30.½ (2002), pp. 31-49.

Goldman, Robert P. The Ramayana Revisited. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gonzalez-Reimann, Luis. “The Divinity of Rama in the Ramayana of Valmiki.”Journal of Indian Philosophy. 34.1 (2006), pp. 203-220.

Lamb, Ramdas. “Devotion, Renunciation, and Rebirth in the Ramananda Sampraday.” Crosscurrents. Winter (2007), pp. 578-590.

Stewart, Tony K. and Dimock, Edward C. (2001) “Krttibasa’s Apophatic Critique of Rama’s Kingship.” Questioning Ramayanas. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Related Topics

Visnu

Avatara

Sita

Bhakti

Valmiki

Dharma

Ayodhya

Tulsidas

Swami

Ramananda

Sadhana

Ravana

Raksasas

Hanuman

Vali

Laksmana

Ksatriya

Vanaprastha

Lanka

Samnyasin

Related Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama

http://www.valmikiramayan.net/

http://www.cs.ucdavis.edu/~vemuri/classes/freshman/RamayanaSynopsis.htm

Written by Lara Ulrich (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ravana

To individuals who are familiar with the Hindu epic Ramayana, the name Ravana has come to mean the main antagonist of the epic, the demon king of Lanka who was manipulated into kidnapping Sita, the wife of Rama. In the epic Ravana is described as the mighty king of the Raksasas with ten heads, twenty arms, and copper-colored eyes, and bright teeth like the young moon (Valmiki, Vol 2: 94-95). He gained control of his kingdom by banishing his half-brother Kubera who was the rightful king. His kingdom was the Kingdom of Lanka, which was said to be at the southern tip of India and some believe that it may be the current state of Sri Lanka as Hanuman, the monkey god, is depicted jumping over a sea to reach the kingdom.

In terms of Ravana’s ancestry, he was a Brahmin by birth as he was born the Visrava, a Brahmin sage and Kaikesi, a Raksasa princess. It is believed that Sumali, Kaikesi’s father who was the king of the Daiteyas, wanted her to marry the most powerful man in the world and chose Visrava as he was the son of Rishi Pulastya, one of the six human sons of Brahma. Ravana also had quite a large number of brothers and sister, the most famous being Surpanakha, who manipulated him into kidnapping Sita because she was insulted by Laksmana and Rama; other siblings are listed as Kumbhkarna, the sleeping giant who was quite skilled at war, Vibhisana, the dharmic Raksasa who eventually helped Rama and older half-brother Kubera, the god of wealth. Even though it is said that Ravana had quite a large of number of queens and a great harem, his favorite queen was said to be Mandodari, a woman of great beauty and wisdom. Mandodari was a pious women who was always apologetic for the misdeeds of her husband. He was the father to several children; Trisiras and Indrajit, who were killed in the battle of Lanka, and Ravani, Aksa, Devantaka, Atikaya, and Narantaka. It is recorded that all of Ravana’s wives performed Sati after his death and died at his funeral pyre.

In terms of Ravana’s kingdom, Lanka was initially ruled by Sumali, Ravana’s maternal grandfather. The ruling was then taken over by Ravana’s half brother Kubera, also known as the god of wealth, who was given the kingdom as a prize because of the austerities he performed to Brahma. Ravana eventually took over the kingdom forcibly, however it is recorded that Lanka flourished under his rule and after Ravana’s defeat; the kingdom was then turned over to his dharmic brother Vibhisana. It is believed that Lanka is the current state of Sri Lanka as the island of Sri Lanka is at the southernmost tip of India. There is also remains of a land bridge that connected Sri Lanka and India, which is known as Rama’s Bridge to this day, and some consider this as proof that Sri Lanka is connected to the Ramayana.

Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India
Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India

In the Ramayana there are many references to Ravana’s wickedness and evilness. First of these can be seen as his defeat of his half-brother to gain control of Lanka. This was not done through normal means as he performed asceticism for Brahma, the god of creation, and a boon was granted to him for his perseverance (Pollock 509). Ravana in turn asked for the ability to defeat gods in battle and with this ability he was able to defeat his half-brother and win his kingdom. Ravana was also well known for forcing himself upon women and it is believed Kubera had cursed Ravana after such a conquest and that is why he was not able to force himself upon Sita. The greatest misdeed of Ravana in the Ramayana is the abduction of Sita who is seen as the image of righteousness. The abduction was caused by Surphanakha’s need for revenge because of Rama’s reaction after her proclamation of love as well as Laksmana cutting off her nose and ears as punishment for insulting Rama. Ravana in turn sent fourteen thousand Raksasas to Rama, Sita, and Laksmana’s dwellings yet they were all defeated. Ravana then decided to take matters further by flying to Rama’s dwellings and abducting Sita after distracting Rama and Laksmana (Kishore 1995: 69-71). As Sita was in captivity for approximately a year, during which time Ravana repeatedly tried make her his wife using many tactics; meanwhile, Rama had prepared an army of monkeys to rescue Sita. This lead to the Battle of Lanka in which the vast army of Raksasas were defeated by Rama’a army and Ravana was slaughtered by Rama himself. However, the demise of the demon king did not come easily, as Rama had to acquire extraordinary weapons in order to slaughter him, the reason for this pertains to Ravana’s boon granted by Brahma.

Even though Ravana is depicted mainly negatively in the Ramayana, there are also positive aspects of his embedded in the epic. He is shown as a great scholar who mastered the Vedas and the arts as well. He was knowledgeable in Brahmin skills as well as Ksastriya skills. Ravana was also a great ruler, which was seen by the prosperousness of Lanka during his reign. When Hanuman first visits Lanka, he was amazed the “splendid yellow-white palaces, like to a city stationed in the sky” (Valmiki, Sundarakandam: 15) He also was said to be a fair ruler and this was cemented by the loyalty of his subjects which is seen many times in the epic. Ravana was a firm devotee of the destructor god, Siva and this devotion seems to stem from his meeting with the god at Kailash. It is said that Ravana may have written a devotional hymn to Siva, the Siva Tandava Stotra. When analyzing the epic the battle of Lanka could be seen as the clash of the two great devotional sects, Saivism and Vaisnavism because of Ravana’s devotion to Siva and Rama being the incarnation of Visnu himself.

When discussing the great demon king, Ravana, one must always consider his positive and negative aspects. Even though he is depicted as evil and wicked in the epic and his effigies are burned even today where as Rama is seen as righteousness, one must realize that for all of Ravana’s negative aspects, positive aspects must be present as well.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Dowson, John (1879) A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature. London: Trübner

Kishore, B.R. (2005) Ramayana. Diamond Pocket Books

Pollock, Sheldon (1984) The Divine King in the Indian Epic. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Richman, Paula. (1991) Many Ramayanas: The diversity of a narrative tradition in South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rocher, Ludo (2006) The Ramayana Revisited. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Roy S.B. (1982) Mohenjodaro and the Lanka of Ravana: a new hypothesis. New Delhi: Institute of Chronology.

Valmiki. Dutt, M.N. trans., Arya, Ravi. Eds. – Ramayana (Volumes I,II,III,IV)I. New Delhi: Parimal Publications.

REFERENCED WEBSITES

Life and Character sketch of Ravana. http://www.indiaparenting.com/stories/krishna/rama15.shtml

RELATED TOPICS

Rama

Sita

Laksmana

The Ramayana

Hanuman

Valmiki

Dasaratha

Kaikeyi

Kingdom of Lanka

Ayodhya

Siva

Visnu

Laksmi

Visvamitra

Kusa

Lava

Bala Khanda

Ayodya Khanda

Aranya Kanda

Kiskindha Kanda

Sundara Kanda

Yudda Kanda

Uttara Kanda

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Religions/Avatars/Ravana.html

http://www.mythfolklore.net/india/encyclopedia/ravana.htm

http://www.answers.com/topic/ravana

http://www.bolokids.com/ramayana/11.htm

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/492219/Ravana

http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/vibheeshana/page4.htm

http://www.hindubooks.org/david_frawley/arjuna/ancestry_of_ravana/page1.htm

Written by Savini Suduweli Kondage (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Sita

Sita is the principal female character in the Ramayana, an Indian epic said to have been composed by the sage Valmiki. Her name means “furrow”, a reference to her birth story where her father found her in a field after ploughing. Rama, the hero of the story, won the right to marry Sita when he succeeded in stringing and breaking Siva’s bow. Sita accompanied Rama back to his home and, when Rama was banished to the forest instead of being crowned king, decided to go with him because it was her Dharmic duty to stay with her husband. Rama tried to persuade her to stay at the palace but she persisted and he gave in. They lived in the forest until Sita was captured by a demon king named Ravana. Rama and his brother Laksmana set out to rescue her while Ravana tried to seduce Sita. Rama and Laksmana eventually rescued Sita, with the help of an army of monkeys, but Rama doubted Sita’s purity, having lived with the demon for over a year. Sita endured a trial by fire and proved herself untouched by any but Rama. They went home and Rama became king, but the people did not believe Sita was loyal to their King, so he banished her to the forest. Sita met the sage Valmiki and, while staying with him, gave birth to Rama’s twin sons. At the end of the epic, Sita once again proved her purity and, instead of returning to Rama, was taken into the earth.

Sita’s origins have been the subject of scholarly study. In one version of the Ramayana, Sita is the rebirth of a woman named Vedavati, who had thrown herself into a fire to escape Ravana’s lust and swore revenge (Doniger 22). Many versions of the Ramayana hold Sita as being an incarnation of a goddess or a holy maiden (Singaravelu 239). In other stories, Sita is Ravana’s daughter who was abandoned, put in an urn or a lead box and buried in a field or set afloat on the ocean. Some of the stories also present Sita as being the natural daughter of King Janaka or King Dasaratha (Singaravelu 240).

Sita’s purity has also been the concern of scholars and writers. In the fifteenth century Adhyatmaramayana, the Sita that begs for the deer and is kidnapped by Ravana is not the real girl at all, but a shadow Sita, created by Sita on Rama’s orders to keep her safe. It is this Sita that is kidnapped, rescued and eventually disappears into the fire, upon which time the real woman rejoins her husband (Doniger 23). In this version, Sita’s purity is unquestionable because the genuine Sita never spent any time in Ravana’s home. There are also texts where the shadow Sita survives and goes on to live her own life (Doniger 25).

Sita is supposed to be the ideal woman for the ideal man, the embodiment of right thought and right action. Because Rama is the ideal man, many readers feel that there is something wrong with his treatment of his faithful and loving wife. Sita is forced to prove her chastity not once, but twice in a trial of fire, and when she is taken into the forest, it is by Laksmana, without an explanation from Rama (Hess 2-3). “[M]any devotional Ramayanas from the twelfth century on eliminate the episode of Sita’s abandonment.” and many fans of the Ramayana have expressed discomfort with these episodes when talking to Hess (Hess 3-4).

The word “furrow” not only refers to the act of plowing the earth, but also to the female reproductive organ (Peltier 85). Sita is a fertility goddess, intimately connected with nature, and Sakti, “the energy that inspires the hero Rama to action” (Dimmitt 210-211). Throughout the Ramayana, the plants and animals echo Sita’s moods, and nature is thrown into chaos when she leaves Ayodhya with Rama and Laksmana and again when she is kidnapped (Dimmitt 214). The forest delights Sita, “she is the one who prays to and propitiates the river deities and the holy fig tree. Dwelling places are chosen to please her. The flowers and trees delight her” (Peltier 80).

Sita, though, thought to be a perfect embodiment of womanhood, is not as submissive as we might suspect. “Sita’s first clear act of will” is to insist on going into the forest with Rama. She “is defining for herself just what a devoted wife is, choosing what she sees as the substance rather than just the form of marriage. She is also insisting on her own needs and feelings, her desire to be with Rama” (Peltier 79-80). Sita also demands that Rama capture or kill the golden deer, the demon Marica in disguise, for her. Sita is not reacting as a woman seeing something pretty that she must have, but as an Artemis figure, a goddess of the forest that has dominion over all things in her realm, so the creatures are hers and she has a right to treat them as she pleases (Peltier 84). The golden deer possesses her. “She is a woman enchanted by an image of herself.” Throughout the Ramayana, Sita is described as “doe-eyed” and “golden-skinned” and the “golden deer is an image of her beauty and her forest wildness” (Peltier 84). When Marica, dying, calls out for help in Rama’s voice and Laksmana, convinced that Rama would never be in trouble, refuses to go help him, Sita again has to assert her will. She pleads with Laksmana, accuses him of “having designs on her” and finally threatens to kill herself if Laksmana does not go to Rama’s rescue (Sutherland 75). After being rescued from Ravana, Rama rebukes her and asks her how he can take her back now that she has spent time in another man’s house. “Sita weeps bitterly, then wipes her face and gives a spirited speech. It includes a passionate rebuke of his cruelty and a rational analysis of where moral responsibility lies in the case of violence against women. Not mincing words, she says, “Why do you talk to me like that, oh hero, like a common man talking to an ordinary woman? … You, lion among men, by giving way to wrath and passing premature judgment on a woman, have acted like a worthless man.”” (Hess 6). In the final chapter of the Ramayana, when Rama comes to take Sita back with him, realizing she had bore him two sons, instead of meekly submitting, she chooses her own fate. “After suffering countless insults and rejections, Sita finally takes revenge on Rama in the most aggressive manner she knows. In carrying out her characteristic and oft repeated threat of self-immolation, she brings to a culmination her passive-aggressive response to Rama” (Sutherland 78). She chooses to return to the earth, instead of remaining with a man who has twice abandoned her.

Works Cited

Dimmitt, Cornelia (1982) “Sita: Fertility Goddess and Sakti.” The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India. Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series: 210-223.

Doniger, Wendy (1997) “Sita and Helen, Ahalya and Alcmena: A Comparative Study.” History of Religions 37, no 1: 21-49.

Hess, Linda (1999) “Rejecting Sita: Indian Responses to the Ideal Man’s Cruel Treatment of His Ideal Wife.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67, no.1 (March): 1-32.

Peltier, Mary Damon (1995) “Sita’s Story: In the Valmiki Ramayana.” Journal of Vaisnava Studies 4 :77-103.

Singaravelu, S. (1982) “Sita’s Birth and Parentage in the Rama Story.” Asian Folklore Studies 41, no 2: 235-243.

Sutherland, Sally J. (1989) “Sita and Draupadi: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109, no. 1: 63-79.

Related Terms

Ramayana

Rama

Hanuman

Laksmana

Ravana

Related Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sita – wikipedia article on Sita

http://www.sitayanam.com/ – Website dedicated to Sita

http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/ – online cartoon of the Ramayana focusing on Sita’s role.

http://www.sanatansociety.org/indian_epics_and_stories/ramayana.htm – a short text version of the Ramayana with some illustrations.

The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic, by Ramesh Menon- an accessible novelization of the Ramayana.

Written by Sara Kundrik (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Hanuman

Hanuman is one of the many deities of the Hindu tradition. He is regarded as the monkey-general of a mythic monkey kingdom, known as Kiskindha. In Hindu tradition, Hanuman is most commonly known for his role in the Ramayana [A Sanskrit epic featuring the characters of Rama, Sita, Hanuman, and Laksmana], in which he is a great ally to Rama and Laksmana [Rama is the central character of the Ramayana epic; Laksmana is his brother who accompanies Rama during his banishment from his kingdom]. The Ramayana describes how Hanuman was devoted to Rama and willingly set off to Lanka [Many people believe Lanka to be the location of today’s Sri Lanka] to search for Sita. Rama is unable to go himself; he had been expelled from the city for his 14 year exile. Earlier in the Ramayana, Rama had said that “[e]verywhere, even among the animals, can be found good creatures that follow the ways of righteousness, that are brave and provide a sure place of refuge” (Regier 995). This statement fits the description of Hanuman, for he is a loyal and virtuous being, and he is willing to endure the risk of crossing into Ravana’s land to save Sita. Hanuman does find Sita, but she refuses to return with him because of her loyalty to her husband. She is unwilling to touch another man, and believes that it is Rama’s duty (dharma) to save her himself (Regier 995).

Hanuman also demonstrates a few great powers that are useful in his role in the Ramayana epics. In the Sundarakanda [5th book of the Ramayana], Hanuman becomes a major character, with a talent for jumping extremely far distances. This is demonstrated in his jump between Mount Mahendra to Lanka’s Mount Trikuta His duality as a monkey-hero is demonstrated in this leap between the two territories and his search for Sita. Hanuman’s essential presence in the story is indicated by “the fact that the poet devotes nearly two hundred verses to the description of his jump” (Goldman 13). Hanuman further demonstrates his unique powers by his ability to change his size at will, for example during Hanuman’s leap to Lanka “he takes on a size that is said to be immeasurable. As he flies along, his shadow on the sea below is said to measure ten leagues in breadth and thirty in length” (Goldman 44).

Hanuman demonstrates that his moods are constantly changing. “[I]n some ways parallel to Hanuman’s vast and sudden changes in size are his sharp swings of mood throughout the first half of the Sundarakanda” (Goldman 47). Hanuman begins his journey to Lanka with lots of enthusiasm and optimism, but when faced with difficulties he “lapses into gloomy thought” (Goldman 47). After finding Sita, Hanuman decides to cause mayhem in Lanka. Ravana sends his forces after Hanuman, but all are unsuccessful in restraining the monkey. Ravana finally sends out his son, a powerful warrior, Indrajit, who soon realizes that he too is unable to kill Hanuman. However, he was able to acquire a “divine weapon of the god Brahma” which was able to impede any further destruction caused by Hanuman (Goldman 10). The Ramayana never directly says that Hanuman was immortal, but

“both accounts of his birth , one in the Kiskindhakanda and one in the Uttarakanda, indicate that his is to be no ordinary life span. In the former, Jambavan reports that Indra had conferred on him the great boon of being able to choose the moment of his death. In the latter Brahma foretells that he will be long-lived” (Goldman 54).

If it is then true that Hanuman is able to decide when he will die, this may account for Indrajit’s realization that even as a mighty warrior he will never be able to kill Hanuman. This demonstrates that Hanuman is not like the other monkeys in the monkey kingdom, although he has a beast-like quality when it comes to his rashness and spontaneity, like the other monkeys. He demonstrates his god-like quality with his powers, his personality, and his being the first to find Sita.

Hanuman (The monkey god Hanuman serves as a guardian deity and flanks a palace entrance in Bhaktapur, Nepal)
Hanuman (The monkey god Hanuman serves as a guardian deity and flanks a palace entrance in Bhaktapur, Nepal)

According to Goldman, Hanuman is presented in a “dual nature” (47). He is represented as a monkey with monkey instincts, but is also represented as a hero in the way that he is continually attempting to save someone. His continual changing in size emphasizes this duality. He can appear in a gigantic size, representing his heroic/divine qualities. Or he can shrink down to a size that is smaller than the average human. The dual-nature of Hanuman can be compared with Rama’s contrasting personality,

“[If] the liminal nature of the avatara and the particulars of its associated boon-motif account for the ambiguity of Rama’s nature as a god-man, then the same factors would appear to determine the ambivalent status of Hanuman as both god and beast.” (Goldman 47)

Hanuman’s behaviour, and his powers are the result of his parentage. He is the “mind-born” son of Vayu, the wind god, and Anjana. It is said that he can move with the swiftness of the wind as a result of his family line. In the Sundarakanda, it is said that his father helps him leap between the two kingdoms on his search for Sita (Goldman 41).

Although the Ramayana is the text through which Hanuman gained his popularity, it is not the only epic in which he has appeared. In the Mahabharata, in the Kadali forest Hanuman meets his half-brother Bhima; the two are both sons of the wind god, Vayu. The two met when Hanuman was sleeping over a path on which Bhima was travelling. Bhima requested that Hanuman move out of the way so that he could pass. Hanuman replied by asking Bhima to move his tail to one side. Bhima, though the strongest of the Pandava Brothers, could not budge Hanuman’s tail. Hanuman then introduce himself to Bhima in the form that he took while crossing the ocean to Lanka (Nagar 386).

Hanuman is a widely worshipped deity in India; “[h]is images are smeared with the sacred colour vermilion, to denote the estimation in which he is held, and the universal admiration of his devotion as a model faithful servant” (Monier-Williams 140). He is looked up to, and is admired for his faithfulness to Rama. He went to rescue Sita a woman that he had never met, nor seen before, without any thought for his own well-being. Located in Delhi is the Sri Hanuman Maharaj (Great Lord Hanuman) temple, a building made of white marble dedicated to Hanuman (Lutgendorf 311). “According to many Hindus, the popularity of Hanuman—who in narrative often expands his physical from—has itself been steadily expanding in recent decades. Certainly its iconic manifestations have been growing, as groups of prominent patrons vie with one another to erect larger and larger murtis of the great monkey in highly visible locations” (Lutgendorf 312). “He [Hanuman] exemplifies both ‘sakti and bhakti’—briefly ‘power’ and ‘devotion’” (Lutgendorf 315). For this reason he is widely admired, and well-liked.

Hanuman is also widely popular because of his deviant childhood. Hanuman’s childhood stories appeal to many people because of its human-like quality. As a child he ascends towards the ‘rising sun’ in an attempt to grasp it. However, the god Indra sees this as a threat and sends him plummeting back down, breaking Hanuman’s jaw; hanu means jaw, giving Hanuman his name. Hanuman’s father Vayu then threatens the entire cosmos. To make up for what happened to Hanuman, each deity grants him with a unique boon, giving him his particular powers that are useful in his adventures during adulthood (Lutgendorf 317).

Hanuman played a key role in the Ramayana and other stories featuring him. He is widely well known in Hinduism, and by many other people around the world. Hanuman’s incredible dedication is what makes him an ideal character to respect and support.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Lutgendorf, Philip. “Monkey in the Middle: The Status of Hanuman in Popular Hinduism.” Religion 27.4 (1997): 311-332.

Monier-Williams, Monier (2003) Hinduism and its Sources Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi.

Nagar, Shantilal (2004) Hanuman: Through the Ages Vol. 2. India: B.R. Publishing Corporation.

Regier, Willis G. “The Ramayana of Valmiki. Volume 4. Kiskindhakanda.” The John Hopkins University Press. 112.5 (December 1997): 994-998.

The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India (1999) Vol. V Sundarakanda. Trans. R. P. Goldman & Sally J. Sutherland-Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press:

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Rama

Ramayana

Laksmana

Sita

Ravana

Lanka

Sundarakanda

Indrajit

Kiskindhakanda

Uttarakanda

Avatara

Mahabharata

Bhima and the Pandava Brothers

Vayu, the wind god

Sri Hanuman Maharaj

Dharma

Mount Mahendra

Mount Trikuta

Jambavan Reports

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sanatansociety.org/indian_epics_and_stories/the_life_of_hanuman.htm

http://www.webonautics.com/mythology/hanuman.html

http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa052801a.htm

http://mywebpages.comcast.net/scottandrewh/hanuman.html

http://www.dalsabzi.com/Wisdom_Scrip/sankat_mochan_hanuman.htm

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/hanuman

http://hinduwebsite.com/hanuman.htm

Article written by Kristin Barry (March 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.