“Dwelling in the forest of Dandaka with Rama of immeasurable vigor, I, His lawful wife, was taken away by the evil Rakshasa Ravana.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.30)
vasato daṇḍaka araṇye tasya aham amita ojasaḥ ||
rakṣasā apahṛtā bhāryā rāvaṇena durātmanā |
We’ve likely heard the term “mahatma” before. It literally means a great soul, and as a title it has been kindly bestowed upon important personalities. The more a person is detached from their own personal sense gratification, the greater we think they are. The greatest soul is one who knows that all other living entities are souls and should be viewed as such. The worst soul, on the other hand, is only concerned with their own wellbeing while living in a body that is temporary. They will go to any length to satisfy their urges that never cease. This makes them a duratma, a label which Sita Devi accurately affixes to the Rakshasa named Ravana.
Who is good and who is bad? On the Vedic holiday of Dussehra, we’re told to remember the strength of good and how it triumphs over evil. The origin of the annual occasion is the slaying of the aforementioned Ravana. Rama was the good one. He was the great soul and also a knower of the soul, or self. “Viditamana” is the term used to describe such a person, and it applies to Rama’s father Dasharatha as well.
Rama is also a knower of distinctions, visheshajna. To know the self is very difficult. Hours of meditation alone doesn’t yield this understanding. Jumping from one type of sense gratification to another doesn’t do the trick, either. Knowledge of the self has to first be heard from a higher authority and then realized through practice under the guidance of such authority.
tad viddhi praṇipātena“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
To know distinctions means to know differences. Rama needed this since He was a fighter. He had to tell who was good and who was evil. He had to decipher the mode of attack of the enemy also. A tiger attacks in a different way than a snake. The Rakshasas in Lanka were incredibly tricky. Using black magic, they could appear at one second and then disappear the next.
Rama was good and He eventually defeated Ravana, who was bad. Rama is the very definition of good since He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God can appear anywhere He so chooses. He can be a warrior prince and His fighting ability can be unmatched. Sita Devi says that His vigor is immeasurable, amita-ojasah.
Correspondingly, Ravana is the very definition of evil. He is of the Rakshasa species, particularly known for eating humans. Even without consulting Vedic literature, we already acknowledge that someone who eats human flesh is low. But Ravana was a duratma for another reason: his antagonism towards God.
He showed just how strongly against the godly principles he was when he took away Sita from the Dandaka forest. She was residing there with her husband Rama. She was the lawful wife of Rama, bharya. She and her husband were not bothering anyone. They were not exploiting anyone or causing harm. They were in the dense forest, with little in their possession.
If someone steals something that rightfully belongs to us, we don’t think too highly of them. There should be respect for property. Sita was lawfully married to Rama and in spirit she could never love anyone else. Ravana did not respect this, and so he was a duratma.
We derive the true definition of good and evil from this example. Another applicable word in Sanskrit is asura. The corresponding term is sura. A sura respects God, His family, His relationships, and His property. The asura is completely the opposite. Ravana was an asura in qualities, which he showed countless times.
The goodness of God always wins out, and so we got the occasion of Dussehra. Without respect for the Supreme Lord, every living entity will automatically fall into the behavior of the asura. The duratma doesn’t respect anyone’s property, and so they sink even further. The true mahatmas, like Sita’s father Janaka, are always conscious of the Supreme Lord. They look to serve Him at every moment, and they never forget that He is the true definition of good.
Sita Devi is the goddess of fortune, which means that she can bestow so many gifts. Her benedictions are extensions of her, and since she is Rama’s wife, whatever she gives is meant to be used in service to Him. Hanuman follows this attitude as well, and so he is on the side of good perpetually. The evil try to take Sita for themselves, and they suffer as a result. Though they achieve apparent victories of temporary significance here and there, they lose in the end.
Mahatma the spirit soul to know,
Duratma for body’s pleasure to go.
The first automatically good,
The other evil understood.
Like Rama, the self always knowing,
And Ravana, rules of propriety forgoing.
Since behavior of theirs rooted in sin,
Duratmas against God never to win.