Shri Ram has influenced the Indian civilization for millennia. We had a peep at just the impact of his name in Shri Ram naama – its impact on the ethos of India. But of late we hear more about Shri Ram in a negative connotation from self styled critics of Shri Ram, folks who have never opened the Ramayana, conversion machines without a brain or conscience, break-India forces and even foreign scholars who have never practiced Sanatana Dharma to realize its values. To add to the mix, we have Hindu-phobic media megaphones and politicians of the lowest order who either create more lies or stories about Shri Ram for their petty perceived gains.
To counter all this, one can merely open Valmiki Ramayana, where Valmiki is a mere contemporary scribe of actual events. Some foreign critics have mischievously misinterpreted that the case of the Itihasa was to promote some sections of the society. Nothing can be more absurd, but the one with a twisted mind can only look so far. Let us see Shri Ram through the eyes of the opponents who faced him and try to gain some precious insight. In the first part we will see only the male opponents and in the second one we will look at it from a female perspective.
Shri Ram – as seen by male opponents
Viraadha was a formidable rakhsasa who intended to carry away Sita as his wife, and holds Shri Ram and Lakshmana menacingly. As they chop his hands to escape and cause a lot of damage, they are still unable to kill him. Shri Ram instructs Lakshmana to bury this cannibal. Hearing their names, the rakshasa realizes his blunder as he was not aware of the identity of the trio. He recalls why he is in this accursed form and Shri Ram’s act of killing the body was his release from a curse. He not only instructs Shri Ram to seek out Rishi Sharabhanga’s advice and gives them the directions, he also desires safety in their journey ahead. This indicates he is quite aware of the divine mission. The predominant attitude of Viraadha is that of gratitude –
तव प्रसादान् मुक्तो अहम् अभिशापात् सु दारुणात् || ३–४–१९
Tava prasadan muktyo aham abhishapaat su daarunaat
Kabandha was another rakshasa, who tried to capture Shri Ram-Lakshmana, after Sita’s abduction, for food. The vice grip even demoralizes the ever high-spirited Lakshmana and makes Shri Ram wonder about the sway of time on all beings. It is only after the Raghavas chop Kabandha’s hands that he wishes to know their identity. This leads to a mutual introduction and the backstory of Kabandha, who requests them to finish the process of his termination by burning him in a huge fire. Kabandha, true to his words, upon being burnt assumes a divine form and gives them complete instructions to seek out Sugriva, who can be their aide to find the missing Mythili.
Both Viradha and Kabandha, flesh eating rakshasas, get back to their true selves; they get free from their curse when they come in contact with Rama. They also provide valuable guidance to Shri Ram with his onward journey. One may be in deepest tamas, yet when they come into the contact of the UNIVERSAL SELF, DIVINE NATURE, it can help them out of tamas into their real forms, provided there is an intense longing, as exhibited by these two. Though living at the lowest level, their hearts were set on the way out.
Akampana, a spy of Ravana whose prime area of focus was Janasthana, has an ironical situation when he faced Shri Ram, indirectly. His name literally means one who does not shiver. After receiving abhaya (protection) from Ravana, he proceeds to give us two pictures of Shri Ram – one of his physical and another of his capabilities. As per Akampana’s description Shri Ram is a youth, built like a lion (a hint to remind Narasimha) with mighty shoulders, long limbs, black in complexion, renowned hero of fame with unmatched might and valor. (Interesting use of the word श्रीमान् indicating a connection with Vishnu and Sri)
पुत्रो दशरथः ते सिंह संहननो युवा | रामो नाम महास्कंधो वृत्त आयत महाभुजः || ३–३१–१०
श्यामः पृथुयशाः श्रीमान् अतुल्य बल विक्रमः | हतः तेन जनस्थाने खरः च सह दूषणः || ३–३१–११
putro dasharathah te sinh sanhanano yuva | ramo nama mahaskando vritta aayat mahabhujaha||
shyama prithuyasha shreeman athulya bala vikrama| hatah tena janastana khara ca saha dhushana||
Ravana’s disbelief and query makes Akampana give more descriptions of Shri Ram as very resplendent, the best of archers among the best, endowed with many divine missiles, divine qualities and one who conducts even warfare according to the highest dharma (some versions give as purandarasamo yudhi, implying fights equal to Indra)
रामो नाम महातेजाः श्रेष्टः सर्व धनुष्मताम् | दिव्य अस्त्र गुण संपन्नः परंधर्म गतो युधि || ३–३१–१५
Ramo Nama Mahateja shreshta Sarv Dhanushamatam | Divya astra guna sampanna paramdharma gatho yudhi ||
He adds, when infuriated, Shri Ram, the highly renowned, is invincible and can stall the flow of an overflowing, rushing river with arrows.
असाध्यः कुपितो रामो विक्रमेण महायशाः | आप गायाः तु पूर्णाया वेगम् परिहरेत् शरैः || ३–३१–२३
Asadhya kupitho ramo vikramena mahayasha | aapa gaaya tu poornayo vegama pariharet sharau
Having witnessed Shri Ram’s exploits, Akampana says that he can collapse firmament along with the stars and planets or elevate the earth if it were to collapse. Shri Ram in his opinion can regulate even the wind and oceans, thereby hinting that there is no escape in an island. He says that Ravana with all his supporters together will be no match to Shri Ram in a war, even with devas on Ravana’s side.
Akampana is the first one to appeal to Ravana’s lust to defeat Shri Ram, he must abduct Sita, an idea Shoorpanaka echoes shortly thereafter. Akamapana’s tamas may be the same level, but he is devoid of a desire to either realize his true nature or rise above, unlike Viradha or Kabandha. As a witness of Shri Ram’s singlehanded decimation of Khara-Dhushana’s and their army of 14000 strong rakshasas in one and half muhurtas (Roughly 72 minutes), Akampana can maximum comprehend the physical features and a slice of Shri Ram’s prowess. Modern day Akampanas, may not exhibit the gory side of his tamas, yet do not comprehend more than few aspects of Rama.
Vaali, the brother of Sugriva, was killed by Shri Ram and we saw in great detail on the subtle dharma behind his vada. Despite Tara’s repeated pleas not to confront Sugriva and the prior warning of Shri Ram’s pact with him, Vaali ignored only to perish. But he engages in a lengthy conversation with Rama. He accuses him of various faults, but gets a befitting response from Rama. Shri Ram’s words soothe and elevate Vaali who concludes न दोषम् राघवे दध्यौ धर्मे अधिगत निश्चयः (na dosham raghave dadyo dharma adhigata nishchaya), implying Shri Ram has most certainly not violated any limits of dharma. He deems Shri Ram is the best among men – नरश्रेष्ठ and apologizes profusely for accusing Shri Ram of violating dharma.
Vaali realizes the true self of Shri Ram and we can realize this in the following sloka:
त्वम् हि दृष्टार्थ तत्त्वज्ञः प्रजानाम् च हिते रतः | कार्य कारण सिद्धौ च प्रसन्ना बुद्धिः अव्यया || ४–१८–४७
Tvam hi drshtartha tatvajna prajanam ca hite rata | karya karana siddhau prasanna buddhi avyaya
Vaali expounds that Shri Ram is the real knowledge of all means and recourses, namely Purushartha – dharma artha kama Moksha and that his actions are based on having a complete understanding of cause and effect. In fact, he thanks Shri Ram for killing him, as this was a release from making new papa and also it is a paapavimochana, a way out of his sins. His faith in Shri Ram’s probity is such that he seeks Shri Ram’s protection for his son, Angada and his wife, Tara. He pleads him to treat Angada on par with Sugriva with compassion and to tolerate his childishness. He requests Shri Ram to ensure no ill-treatment occurs to Tara on account of his harsh behavior to Sugriva. Vaali gives elaborate instructions to Sugriva to fulfill Shri Ram’s mission and Angada to remain obedient to Sugriva.
Vaali can be seen to represent Rajas. Typical to this guna, he remains deaf to Tara’s deep insights and also cannot reconcile with Sugriva. He accuses Shri Ram on a litany of charges. Yet on account of the brief association with Shri Ram and also as the Rajas gets calmer due to Shri Ram baana, his Sattva is able to comprehend Shri Ram’s points clearly. He is not only able to realize his faults, but also see a glimpse of Shri Ram’s greatness. There holds our key to realizing the greatness of Shri Ram – work on minimizing Rajo-Tamas and increase our Sattva.
Mareecha, a rakshasa who has been spared by Shri Ram twice already is being approached by Ravana to assist in Sita’s kidnapping through deceit. Akampana’s report makes Ravana convinced not to go frontally against Rama. Mareecha asks him not to go after Shri Ram or Sita and strongly condemns the advisors who prompt the destruction of Lanka.
Shoorpanaka puts a spin on the incidents by playing to Ravana’s infamous lusting side that without Sita, his life will remain incomplete, besides lying that it was for Ravana’s sake that she had to undergo the humiliation. Again, Ravana visits Mareecha, who was living like an ascetic, to aid him with his expertise in trickery.
Mareecha gives him a detailed picture of his deep understanding of Shri Ram, whom he deems as powerful as Mahendra and Varuna (महेन्द्र वरुण उपमम्). He warns that an angry Shri Ram will make the world devoid of rakshasas (अपि रामो न संक्रुद्धः कुर्यात् लोकम् अराक्षसम्). He demolishes Ravana’s perception that Shri Ram got banished and could not even have the courage to resist his expulsion, extolling his virtues of strongly abiding in dharma.
Mareecha, on account of his little tapas is able to get a real deep insight into Shri Ram, as he is continuously meditating upon HIM with fear. Perhaps, the best insight on Shri Ram is provided by Mareecha as:
रामो विग्रहवान् धर्मः साधुः सत्य पराक्रमः | राजा सर्वस्य लोकस्य देवानाम् इव वासवः ||
Ramo vigrahvan dharma sadhu satya parakram| rajah sarvasya lokasya devanam iva vasavah||
Shri Ram is the very embodiment of all dharma in the universe, very good person, very valorous. The choice of the word sadhu implies all the multidimensional qualities associated with it are found in Rama. He also claims that he is like the Indra of all the lokas, implying he is more powerful than Indra.
Mareecha recalled his two prior encounters with Rama. In Dandakavana, to aid Vishwamitra Rishi, Shri Ram throws back Mareecha, a hundred yojanas by a single arrow, when he ignored the prowess of a boy less than twelve years. He noted that if an untrained Shri Ram, prior to acquiring divyastras can be so potent, imagine what could happen if he was enraged He could not understand why he alone was spared in that encounter, when all his cohorts and brother were eliminated with such an ease.
A few years later, when Mareecha took a heinous form of animal and cannibalized and terrorized the rishis of dandakavana, he was confronted by three arrows of Rama. Two of his aides perished, but he noted that even Shri Ram baana did not attack him as he was retreating in fear. Since that incident, Mareecha said he is living a life of a hermit, more out of fear than desire. He perceives Shri Ram by the thousands and reflected in all beings of the forest, due to his fear.
अपि राम सहस्राणि भीतः पश्यामि रावण | राम भूतम् इदम् सर्वम् अरण्यम् प्रतिभाति मे || ४–३९–१६
Api Shri Ram sahasrani beeta pashyami ravana | Shri Ram butam idam sarvam aranya pratibati me
Mareecha confesses that Shri Ram is even in his dreams. Just the syllable Ra is making him scared wondering if the next syllable is ma. Even the words like ratna, ratha create so much fear as do any words that begin with ra.
र कार अदीनि नामानि राम त्रस्तस्य रवण | रत्नानि च रथाः च एव वित्रासम् जनयन्ति मे || ४–३९–१८
Ra kaara adeeni naamani Shri Ram trastasya ravana | ratnani ca ratha ca eva vitrasama janyanti me
He strongly advises Ravana to understand that Khara-Dhushana and Shoorpanaka got their retributions for their actions and not to pursue any vengeful thoughts against Rama. He declares that Shri Ram is exceptionally resplendent (on account of his actions and intensity), powerful, strong and can make the world rid of all rakshasas. Despite all the elevated thoughts shared, Ravana’s resolve to meet his death only grew stronger. Mareecha thought it was better to die at the hands of Shri Ram than Ravana, who was hurtling to his own death.
Mareecha is a great example of what happens when little Sattva mixes with a lot of Tamas. There is extreme fear perceiving the SUPREME SELF as its actions are perceived only through the lens of fear and not dharma. Mareecha’s living as a sannyasi did make him more perceptible to the qualities of Shri Ram, yet the Tamas kept him grounded in fear. Unless we transform this Tamas into subtler Sattva, we too face the same predicament.
Vibhishana, the youngest brother rooted in dharma, tried his best to appeal dharma and reasoning in the minds of the boastful rakshasas, in vain. One may recall Shoorpanaka’s introduction of herself to Shri Ram, where she almost complaints to him that Vibhishana, her brother, established in dharma, has no trace of rakshasa in his behavior ( विभीषणः तु धर्मात्मा न तु राक्षस चेष्टितः|). Vibhishana used their language of fear to make them realize that they are no match for Shri Ram baana. He declares that neither Ravana or Trisheera nor Nikumbha (Kumbhakarna’s son) or Indrajit (Ravana’s son) can match Shri Ram in the battle.
न रावणो नाइबलस्त्रीशीर्षो | न कुम्भकर्णस्य सुतो निकुभः |
न चेन्द्रजिद्दाशरथिम् प्रसोढुम् | त्वम् वा रणे शक्रसमम् समर्थः || ६–१४–१५
na raavaNo naaibalastriishiirSho | na kumbhakarNasya suto nikubhaH |
na cendrajiddaasharathim prasoDhum | tvam vaa raNe shakrasamam samarthaH ||
When Ravana proceeds in his stubbornness, Vibhishana’s intentions to remain rooted to dharma cleaves him from his own brother and surrenders to the lotus feet of Rama. One must note that he had even renounced his own wife and sons to serve Rama. One can gauge Vibhishana’s depth in perceiving Shri Ram when he seeks refuge not as a traitor switching sides, but drawn to the Supreme SELF due to his gunas. He declares that he has sought refuge in Shri Ram, the sole refuge for all living beings (भवन्तम् सर्व भूतानाम् शरण्यम् शरणम् गतः |)
Vibhishana, though on the opposing side, due to his highly sattvic nature is able to remain fixated on dharma, and hence, he is able to perceive Shri Ram without seeking any favors (unlike Sugriva). It is Shri Ram who chose to confer Lordship over Lanka and a status of brother, due to his actions. Sattvic thoughts must be enacted for them to fructify, or else they have no value.
Malyavan, the elder brother of Ravana’s maternal grandfather, Sumali, gives extensive advice to Ravana, to make peace with Shri Ram, to return Sita, before the war. In return Ravana abuses him. Being an erstwhile King well versed in scriptures and being a reasonable voice of intellect and dharma, he shares his perception of Shri Ram – as Vishnu in human form. (विष्णुम् मन्यामहे रामम् मानुषम् देहम् आस्थितम् |)
Malyavan, again gives proof that Sattva can give us a better identity of Rama. Sattva will not allow any negative confrontation with Shri Ram, as the perception is beyond the physical.
Gunas decide how we perceive Rama
We have walked through the different characters in Ramayana and how they perceived. Even if one happens to be in an opposing situation, our gunas determine whether our perception of the Supreme SELF as a mere awesome, powerful force or something that is all pervading and can transform us like in the case of Vibhishana.
Today’s critics filled with Tamas may reach conclusions akin to Akampana or Ravana and even abuse Rama. But we have two responsibilities to:
a) Increase our sattva, so that we can have a better understanding of Rama
b) Act like Vibhishana, to not only abandon the Adharmic side, but also join the Dharmic forces and contribute our might
Failing to do both will only make us wallow in deep Tamas with no hope for spiritual emancipation or progress. Even if our progress is almost imperceptible, as our Sattva increases, our buddhi becomes sharper to stay rooted in dharma. Then alone we can realize रामो विग्रहवान् धर्मः.
ॐ तत् सत्