Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rama and Ravana

[Rama shooting arrows]“Hearing of the killing in Janasthana and the killing of Khara and Dushana, unable to tolerate the offense Ravana took away Sita by deceiving Rama using the illusion of the form of a deer.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.10)

jana sthāna vadham śrutvā hatau ca khara dūṣaṇau |
tataḥ tu amarṣa apahṛtā jānakī rāvaṇena tu ||
vañcayitvā vane rāmaṃ mṛgarūpeṇa māyayā |

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In the Ramayana the qualities of the various characters are quite apparent. It’s no secret who the good guys are. It’s very easy to spot the bad guys as well. From two factors at play, however, things can get distorted. One is the passage of time, where others develop their own misconceptions from not having actually read the work, but rather relying on information from second and third hand sources who are often unreliable. The second factor is the jealousy of the conditioned living entity which caused their descent into the ocean of birth and death in the first place. Envious of the position of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, some purposefully misinterpret the great work known as the Ramayana, looking to give Rama a bad name while propping up His staunchest opponents. Shri Hanuman, an authority on such matters having impeccable credentials, here removes all doubts as to which of the Ramayana’s characters are valorous and which are worthy of shame.

[Hanuman]The distorted view goes something like this:

“Rama was bad and Ravana was good. I know that Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, tries to tell you otherwise. He wants you to believe that Rama is God, and he makes Ravana out to be the archetypal enemy of the Lord, someone who goes against the laws of the Divine. Yet Ravana wasn’t so bad, if you think about it. He defended his sister when she was needlessly attacked in the Dandaka forest. Ravana took Rama’s wife in revenge, but then he never laid a hand on her. When the time came, Ravana fought Rama himself, whilst Rama used monkeys to do His fighting for Him. Ravana was a good brother, whereas Rama eventually left Sita to live by herself. So I’d rather be like Ravana than Rama.”

The less intelligent will buy such nonsense, but when armed with any knowledge of the facts, this presentation falls flat on its face. In the verse preceding the one referenced above from the Ramayana, Hanuman praises Shri Rama in a way that cannot be replicated by any other person. Brevity is the soul of wit, as Shakespeare says, and in a few lines Hanuman gave so much valid information about Rama.

Hanuman said that Rama killed many valiant Rakshasas in the massive forest. Rama did this while hunting, as if for sport. And the Rakshasas could assume any shape they desired. This means that Rama was honorable. He was chivalrous in the fight. Rama only used a bow and arrow set. He did not hide who He was. He did not run away from the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy always changed their shape, using this ability as a strategic advantage. The forest was vast also, which means that the enemy had plenty of room to maneuver. Rama was walking on foot. Only God could pull off the feat described by Hanuman.

[Lord Rama]In this verse, Hanuman is equally as brilliant in his description. This time he describes Ravana, the leader of the Rakshasas who could change their shapes at will. Previously Hanuman described how Rama left home voluntarily. This was at the command of His father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Rama had done nothing wrong, but in family business sometimes there are major disagreements. For no reason, brothers quarrel with one another over trivial matters such as not being officially invited to an important occasion or not visiting often enough. Rama was blameless, and yet He tolerated an unfair punishment without any issue.

Hanuman says that Ravana was unable to tolerate the offense of Rama killing his men. Actually, there was no offense committed. Rama was minding His own business. He was living peacefully with His wife Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana. It was Ravana’s sister who had first bothered them. She tried to attack Sita and so Lakshmana defended her. In response, Ravana sent 14,000 of his fighters to attack the harmless trio. When called to action, Rama stepped up and defended Himself and His family. He singlehandedly defeated all 14,000 fighters, including Ravana’s two best men, Khara and Dushana.

“One's inability to tolerate an offense committed by another is called amarsha, and one's inability to tolerate the opulence of another is called jealousy. Jealousy and amarsha are both caused by intolerance.” (The Nectar of Devotion, 31)

[The Nectar of Devotion]The word used here by Hanuman is amarsha, which means the inability to tolerate. This term is unflattering in this context and it contrasts nicely with Rama’s extreme tolerance. Ravana had no reason to be upset at Rama, for the Lord was merely defending Himself. But Ravana couldn’t tolerate it; he had to take revenge. In his anger, he took Sita away from Rama. Upon hearing only this you would think that Ravana defeated Rama, that he fought valiantly.

Hanuman clears up any confusion by describing how Ravana took Sita. Ravana employed deception. Whereas Rama fought in the open against foes who could assume any shape they desired, Ravana assumed the guise of a brahmana to approach Sita. Also, he created the illusion of a deer, which then lured Rama and Lakshmana away from the scene. In short, Ravana acted like a coward, not a hero.

[Lord Rama]Words like these coming from Hanuman were never heard in Lanka; no one dared speak the truth. For this reason his words were significant. Hanuman uttered them to Sita, who was still in Lanka against her will. By Hanuman’s descriptions, she would know that he was a friend, not a cheater like the king of Lanka and his people. In reaching out to Sita, Hanuman also correctly explained the positions of both Rama and Ravana.

In Closing:

Speculations about Ramayana you can make,

But truth from Hanuman I’ll take.


Authority like him not another to find,

Truthful, courageous, and of intelligent mind.


In great forest like hero Rama to act,

And Ravana like coward in revenge to exact.


Time and ignorance true meaning to distort,

Therefore the wise to words of Hanuman resort.