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01 February, 2017

The Ramayana

      THE RAMAYANA is a great epic of the Hindus.  The epical narrative with its many stories, anecdotes and incidents explains how man has fallen from his supreme state of peace and bliss to his limited existence of sorrow and misery and how he regains his original glory.

       As the story goes, King Dasaratha lied in Ayodhya with his his three queens Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi.  They lived a life of peace and contentment.

Dasaratha means one who has controlled his tenses

     Dasaratha means a man who has controlled his ten senses.  The three wives represent the three mental qualities, the [1] sattvika, [2] rajasika and [3] tamasika gunas.  To a self-controlled man the three gunas are at his service.  In a contrast a man who has no control over his senses is victimised by his own gunas.  Lord Rama was born into such a house of self-control, peace and contentment.  Sita was married to Rama.  Both Rama and Sita lived happily in Dasaratha's palace in Ayodhya.  with all the royal comforts and amenities of the palace at her disposal.  Sita was ever content and happy.  

       As days passed by, King Dasaratha decided to retire leaving his kingdom to his eldest son Rama to Rule.  The coronation day was fixed.  All the Ayodhya was reveling in ecstasy.  Just on the eve of the coronation Kaikeyi, the step mother of Rama, demanded the two boons that Dasaratha had given to her. Firstly, that Rama be sent away at the jungle for fourteen years.  Secondly, that her son, Bharata, be crowned king instead of Rama. Consequently, Rama left Ayodhya followed by Sita and Lakshmana.  In the jungle Sita remained devoted to her Lord Rama.  She continued to live with the sense of contentment and happiness which she enjoyed in the palace at Ayodhya.

Rama represent Atman & Sita represent individual, jivatma

       The significance of this portion of the story is that man is very happy and contended as long as he is attuned to the inner Self.  All the sorrows of man are caused by his preoccupation with the external world. Rama represents the Atman, the supreme Self and Sita the ego, the individual.  

       As long as Sita's attention was on Rama she was ever blissful be it in the luxuries of the palace or the exigencies of the jungle.  Similarly, if man's attention and interest are upon the inner Self and not the enchantment of the world, he would remain ever peaceful and happy whether he is placed in a state of prosperity or penury.

GOLDEN DEER represent the fascinating sense objects

       One day Sita saw a beautiful golden deer in the jungle.  She was enchanted.  She desired to possess it.  She pleaded with Rama to capture it for her.  Lakshmana warned her that the beautiful deer was a raksasa demon in disguise.  Sita turned a deaf ear.  She insisted on having it.  Rama yielded and went after the animal.  The deer was in fact a raksasa.  It led Rama far away from their hut.  Rama shot it with his arrow. The deer fell and as it was dying it shouted the names of Lakshmana and Sita, as if to indicate that Rama was in trouble.  Sita heard the cry and bade Lakshmana rush to the scene to help his brother.  Lakshmana again warned that it was a trick being played on them by raksasa but Sita would not heed the words of Lakshmana.  Lakshmana therefore had to leave her alone in the hut and go.  As Lakshmana disappeared into the jungle a mendicant with a begging bowl appeared before Sita.  That mendicant was Ravana, the ten-headed raksasa in disguise.  Ravana carried Sita away to Lanka.  

Ravana, the ten headed raksasa.

       The meaning of this portion is simple.  Man is contented and happy as long as his attention and concentration are upon his real Self.  The moment he looks out extrovertedly at the sense-objects of the world he develops a desire.  The golden deer represent the fascinating sense-objects like colour and form for the eyes, sound for the ears, taste for the tongue and smell for the nose and touch for the skin.  The joys derived from the sense objects are transient, fleeting.  They swiftly pass away like the deer.  And yet man falls a prey to their golden enchantment and becomes a slave to his own sense organs -- the five organs of perception and the five organs of action.  He becomes a captive of the ten-headed Ravana as it were.

Ravana is meeting Sita at Ashokavana.
Hanuman is seen at the top of the tree.

       In Lanka, Sita refused to enter the golden palace of Ravana.  She chose to stay in the garden of Asoka trees called the Asokavana.  There she remained, away from Ravana.  Sita was tempted with gifts.  She was harassed with threat but she would not deviate from her unswerving devotion for her Lord Rama.  

HANUMAN represent faith and strength in spiritual person 

Rama hugging Hanuman

       As days passed by, her devotion and dedication to Rama were rewarded by the appearance of Hanuman, the messenger of Rama.  Hanuman gave Sita a ring as the token from Rama.  Sita was overjoyed and thereafter gained supreme confidence in her reunion with Rama.  With the renewed faith and confidence she continued to contemplate upon her Lord until Rama came and liberated her.

      This part of the Ramayana symbolises the ways and means of liberation for mankind from his abject slavery to his sense organs, to his sovereign state of Godhood.  Sita's refusal to enter Ravana's golden palace and her choice to remain in the Asokavana signifies the first step that man has to take to rise from his fallen state.  Having fallen a prey to the enchantment of the senses, man ought not to indulge indiscriminately in sense gratification.  He must first withdraw himself from such indulgence and perform tapas austerity as Sita did.  Tapas is an intelligent conservation and utilisation of energies towards higher pursuits inlife i.e., conserving energies which are dissipated in sensual indulgences and directing such conserved energy to the goal of Self-realisation.  When a man practices this he gains a relative peace and contentment whcih is symbolised by Sita remainign in the Asokavana.  
       Soka in Sanskrit means grief, askoka means non-grief.  With his consistent efforts towards self-control and contemplation upon the higher truth, he gains faith and confidence in is spiritual pursuits.  This is symbolised by Rama's ring that Hanuman gives to Sita, which gives her the assurance of Rama's arrival. Hanuman represent that strength and faith born in a spiritual man.

LANKA represent material splendour

       After his meeting with Sita, Hanuman set fire to the whole of Lanka.  He left behind a blazing red city to warn Ravana of the might and glory of Rama.  Lanka represents material splendour.  The burning of Lanka indicates that material splendour has no value to one who is spiritually evolved.  As man advances spiritually the sense -objects of the world no longer allure him.  They lose their power of enchantment.  They are burnt as it were.  

Three brothers -- Vibhisana, Ravana and Kumbhakarna


      Vibhisana, the younger brother of Ravana, pleaded with Ravana to give up his vicious deeds and return Sita to Rama.  Ravana was far too proud and lustful to heed his brother's advice.  The three brothers -- Vibhisana, Ravana and Kumbhakarna -- in fact represent respectively the three  gunas, the mental qualities of human beings, [1] sattvic, [2] rajasic and [3] tamas.  


Vibhisana - sattvic, Ravana - rajasic & Kumbhakarna - tamasic

      Sattva is the pure and noble quality of the mind. Rajas is passion and agitation.  Tamas is dullness and inertia.  Vibhishana was ever-poised and pure in nature.  Ravana was always riddled with passionate desires and agitations.  Kumbhakarna was known for his inertia.  He would sleep for months together at a stretch.  Vibhisana's appeal to Ravana represent the sattvika nature in man directing his passionate nature to the right channels.  But rarely indeed does man heed the inner appeal of his sattvika nature.  Ravana thus rejected Vibhishna's advice and prepared himself and his army for facing Rama in battle.  Consequently Vibhisana left Lanka and surrendered to Rama.

       On the other side, Rama and Lakshmana with the help of Sugriva and his monkeys forces prepared themselves to cross the ocean to conquer Ravana and release Sita from her captivity.  The metaphysical explanation of these events is based on the fundamental relationship between a monkey and a thought.  

Monkey forces represent human mind

Building Rama Sethu Bridge to Lanka

       A 'monkey' and 'thought' are identical in some respects.  The monkey forces represent the human mind.  A monkey, like human thought, has two distinct qualities referred to as asthira and cancala.  Both these terms means unstable.  

asthira - not being firm & cancala - it cannot remain in one place

      Sthira means being firm at one place.  Asthira is not being firm i.e., moving from one place to another.  Cancala being firm i.e., movement of the body while it is stationery in one place.  A monkey is asthira in the sense that it cannot remain in one place.  It keeps jumping about all the time.  That is the nature of the monkey.  Even if it is tied up in one place a monkey keeps fidgeting all the time indicating its cancala nature.  The human mind has these two qualities as well.  It keeps on jumping from one thought to another thought.  When it is given a fixed point of contemplation even then it slips into other thoughts.

Valli and Sugriva

Rama and monkey chiefs

      These monkeys were under the suzerainty of Valli (the lust king) who usurped the kingdom of his brother Sugriva (the virtuous king).  Rama destroyed Valli and made Sugriva the king of the monkey forces.  This is the first step that Rama had to take to win back Sita, to destroy evil and substitute virtue in its place.  The mind at present is under the governance of lust and greed.  In order to gain one's spiritual nature, the initial step to be taken is to divert the mind from lust and greed to self control and sacrifice.  A mind so prepared must surrender itself to the Supreme and put forth all its efforts to attain liberation.  When man makes a concerted effort with consistency of purpose, help is showered from all sides. The occasion of delusion, the sea of likes and dislikes is crossed over.   The ego with  ten sense organs (Rama) is destroyed.  The individual regains his lost Self.  Sita unites once again with Rama.

Sita going through fire 

Fire Test for Sita

       The battle was won and Sita was brought before Rama.  She passed through the test of purity by literally going through fire.  She emerged unscathed.  Rama accepted her whole-heartedly.  After the union, Rama and Sita ruled over Ayodhya.  It was a glorious reign - Ramarajya.  

       This last portion signifies that an individual must be cleansed of all his vasanas, desires before the dawn of Realisation.  When this is accomplished man gains the ultimate realisation of the Self.  He lives a life of absolute peace and bliss.

Source: Excerpts from the book on "Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals" wirtten by Swamiji Parthasarathy