In Defense of Rama


So one more Dasara comes and goes. Somehow Dasara and Diwali both have been associated with God Rama. In my childhood however I was taught by mother that both were associated with the mother Goddess. Navaratri to honor the victory of Goddess Durga over a demon. Diwali to honor the Earth Goddess for killing her own son when he turned evil. I don’t know how Ram got associated with both these festivals. I associate Rama more with Rama Navami. But anyways, somehow the association seems to have happened. Based on this association, this Dasara I observed a popular trend of Rama bashing on social networks. Ram has been favorite God during my childhood days. So I thought I should present his defense against the allegations being hurled at him.

First let us set the ground rules. Our epics clearly state that Rama was not aware of his divinity. So he should be treated as a human with human failings and the analysis should be only from the point of view of a person occupying the office of king. The second aspect to be kept in mind is the laws and social conventions of the time. I have my own theory of why such laws and conventions were natural steps in the evolution from the jungle ape to the current civilized urban man or woman. But I will keep that for another post. Also note I am referring to social conventions and laws in the same breath. This is because there was no detailed constitution and Indian Penal Code at that time. So laws and social conventions were kind of mutable. Given the conditions at that time, I would like to analyze whether Rama did the best he could have or not.

The two main accusations against Rama were his treatment of Sita and his use of deceit to defeat Vali. Both these instances involve questionable behavior on the part of Rama. But I want to plead that it was unavoidable. They were what one calls a situation of an ethical dilemma. Ethical dilemma is defined as a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another. When everything is in black and white and the right choice is obvious, one needs no leaders. True leaders are needed in order to make an optimal choice between the devil and the deep sea. That is why one often finds a question about handling of ethical dilemmas in interviews for corporate leadership roles as well. Here I would like to present the choices Rama faced and how the decision he made was the best possible in my opinion.

First consider the case of Vali. The situation is this: Injustice had been done to Sugreeva the brother of Vali and Rama has promised to help him seek justice. After giving the promise, Rama discovers that Vali is aided by magic that makes him invincible in direct combat. So Rama is presented with three choices:-

a. Go back on his promise to Sugreeva and let the injustice remain.

b. Fight Vali in direct combat and be defeated and killed.

c. Defeat and kill Vali by deceit violating the laws of fair combat.

Promises were highly valued at that time and it was considered a grave sin to break a promise. Also it was against the code of a warrior to not fight against injustice. So the first choice was not an option. The second option was impractical and suicidal. It would just have served to maintain Rama’s honor but would have served none. Sugreeva would still have not got justice, Sita would continue to languish in Ravana’s captivity and the kingdom would have lost a prospective king. So there remained only the third option of breaking the laws of fair combat, the least of the three evils.

Now let us consider the more important accusation of injustice to Sita. At that time, the sacredness of marriage as an institution had to be upheld and the onus fell on the woman to do so by maintaining her chastity. So any unchaste act by a woman was frowned upon and considered to undermine the institution of marriage. This might be considered unfair in the current context. But let us accept that was how it was in the time of Rama. It was clearly not Rama who established this convention. So here Rama is faced with a situation where circumstantial evidence suggests Sita has been unchaste. As an individual he might have been willing to trust in her character or even willing to accept her even if she had indeed been violated. But as a king in the role of judge, he had to keep personal feelings aside and go objectively by evidence at hand. In the role of king as the role model for society, he had to lead the way in adherence to the law and social conventions.

Since no earthly evidence could be produced to say with certainty that through the entire one year, Ravana had not had an opportunity to violate Sita’s chastity, the divine test of the fire was invoked. But to a common man, who did not have direct interaction with God on a day today basis, imagine how this would have seemed. How does it seem to us when our politicians talk of taking the test of truth at a temple when accused of corruption? Wouldn't it seem like the ruler is resorting to some charlatanry to veil his chicanery. That is what Rama discovered from the conversation between the washer man and his wife. He found that the citizens were not entirely convinced by the test of fire and felt Rama was just using powers as king to protect his loved ones.

So now Rama had two choices:-

a. Set a precedent of the king misusing his powers to flout law and let the rule of law be undermined.

b. Let injustice be done to himself and his dear one

So clearly given the choice, Rama chose to put the interests of the state above his own. Clearly it is mentioned throughout Ramayana, how separation from Sita deeply hurt him. But still he chose to take this painful decision in the greater interest of the state. As a sensitive human with human emotions, he just could not bear to break this terrible news of his tough choice to his beloved. So he had Lakshmana lead her away to a jungle hamlet secretly.

So in my opinion what Rama represents is the ideal of putting one’s duty towards the society at large above personal interests. Rama is Plato’s ideal of the philosopher king, a person who reluctantly takes upon himself the painful duty of king. Kingship is not supposed to be something to be enjoyed. It is a sacrifice a person makes of his personal interests for the greater good of the society. All the rich accommodation, clothes and honor he receives are just frills of the job to lighten his heavy burden. This is probably difficult to understand in the current age where every little position of power is seen as a means to self-aggrandizement.

73 comments:

Subhorup Dasgupta said...

Wow. Right from the start of the post, I was subconsciously referencing what you said in the very last lines. Perhaps much of the intellectual antagonism towards Rama stems from the corrupted image we have developed of the ruler/king. There is no doubt that in order to glorify the epic Rama, it was necessary to neglect the positive in his rival. But what I like about the entire telling of the tale is that Rama is undeniably human in his choices. If we can see the same thing in the present situation and realize that it is not the system that is at fault but the humanness of the people who make up that system, solutions will be easier to work towards. Lovely post, TF.

dvirada said...

Read the whole post with rapt attention and thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved your perspective about both the allegations.

It is also said that Lord Rama slept on the bare floor and lived a life of an austere (except that he wore royal robes because a king had to be appropriately clothed in the court) when Goddess Seeta was in the forest. Such was the epitome of his love and devotion towards his beloved wife.

And apart from celebrating Dusshera and Diwali to commemorate the victory of Goddess Durga it is also associated with Lord Rama because on Dusshera Lord Rama killed Ravana and Diwali is associated with celebration of Lord Rama's return to Ayodhya after spending 14 years in the forest and the residents of Ayodhya celebrated his home coming by lighting lamps.

The Fool said...

Agree, Subhorup. All our prophets and Gods were humans who had exceptional qualities that caused them to be venerated and religions to be built around them. Then people used other aspects of the god/prophet's life to justify their own weaknesses and wickedness. Those opposed to the wicked/weak people then seek to demonize the God/prophet ignoring the qualities that made then what they were in the first place.

akanksha said...

Somehow I am not convinced by the your points. We're talking here about someone who is called 'maryada purushottam'. How could he have successfully carried on his duty as a king by showering his own wife with injustice?

What about the people of his kingdom who believed in the fire test? Non acceptance of Sita even after her innocence was proved doesn't convey to them that even Rama did not trust the test or Sita but trusts a random washerman?

The Fool said...

Good to see you back here again, dvirada. I somehow felt though you would be here the moment you saw 'Rama'.Yeah. But somehow my mother used to often stress the Goddess aspect of these two festivals. Guess both are festivals with multiple significance.

The Fool said...

@Akansha - That is the whole concept of ethical dilemma. A leader does not always face choice between a good and evil which is easy. The choices is often between two evils and he has to choose the lesser evil. Kings went in disguise to listen to people to see how people perceive their rule. The fire test and all might have convinced the Brahmans and Kshatriyas but such things were not accessible to the common man. So common man would perceive it as a king misusing his power for his own benefit. So injustice had to be done to his wife to prevent the institution of the king from being undermined.

The Fool said...

The king would have to use much more demanding standards for himself than he expected of the public. When Sita married Ram, it was not a marriage of individuals but also into the institution of the queen which demanded sacrifice and being under constant public scrutiny. So even there is an iota of doubt, the king and queen should to be considered guilty. The benefit of doubt should only be for the common man. Unfortunately today it is the other way round.

Rickie said...

Great analytical post. My only submission - wouldn't Rama have made a better King had he helped change the decadent value system towards women that was prevalent at the time? Injustice is punishing an innocent of a crime he/she did not commit...it couldn't have been okay for a King to subject one of his own 'subjects' (this one happened to be his Queen, no less) to mere allegations.
Since mythological stories continue to get embellished over generations, perhaps this point will be covered in the Ramayana that people read a 100 years from now.

Phoenixritu said...

My only problem with Rama is that he is too rigid and morally uptight - which is also understandable if you consider that this prince was exiled by his aging father on behest of his youngest wife who was about the same age as Rama.

Besides the tale of Ramayana has changed so much ... and perhaps the characters have been hardened so much in the retelling that they seem like cardboard stereotypes

The Fool said...

@Rickie - From your experience in the corporate world, you will know how difficult change management is. Though kings theoretically had infinite power, they can not change value systems at the stroke of a brush. It would be a long drawn process where they have to get the buy in from the public. Otherwise they would seem arbitrary.

And lot of people in those times did not consider their wife and children as distinct from themselves. The post also belonged to the entire family and not the individual. So Rama rather chose to take injustice upon his own family rather than be seen as opportunistic. The other option he could have chosen would have been to step down. But stepping down is an option when one sees kingship as privilege. But when it is seen as a sacrifice of one's and one's family's personal life, one can not take back the sacrifice one has made like VP Singh taking back the lands he had given to the Boodan movement.

The Fool said...

@phoenixritu - He might have seemed too rigid considered in current context where leaders are supposed to balance personal life and public life. But this is actually not working out as seen by scandals emerging about political and corporate leaders.

But viewed in context of say Plato's definition of philosopher king, a leader has to be an example for his people. He should be one viewed as someone who puts people's interest above his own. Then only people will trust him to take the decisions on his behalf. To earn the trust one needs to be that rigid and morally uptight. Because all decisions by leaders will not go in everyone's favor. So unless leaders is morally uptight, it is easy for disadvantage parties to accuse the leader of vested interests and attempts to foster rebellion.

C. Suresh said...

Ah! Reminds me of my own guest post for Alka Narula - though I concentrated only on the Sita part.

akanksha said...

But injustice, just to prove a point to someone who probably would have done the same thing to his wife ? :(

The Fool said...

Yeah. Had read that. You had covered the aspect of Rama as a person and tried to bring out his humane side. I wanted to focusing more on Rama as a leader and the tough choices one has to face as a leader.

The Fool said...

It was not to prove a point. The idea was to maintain public trust that the king used not just the same yardstick but a stricter yardstick when it came to himself and his family. Rama's stroll in disguise was an official dipstick of public opinion and he realized as long as Sita remains queen, public would feel king and queen take greater privileges for themselves. So he either had to send Sita away or himself go away. Even after 14 years, everyone made it clear that he was the most competent person for the post. So he could not abdicate. So only other options was to send Sita away.

The Fool said...

I think it is difficult to understand the concept of a leader as a role model in today's world where someone who uses his position to obtain sexual favors from his interns, is considered one of the greatest world leaders. Today society it much more individualistic with clear segregation of public, professional and private life. That was not the case in those times.

Diwakar Narayan said...

There are things which I don't agree to, from this post. At first, I thought of putting my take in a comment; but after reading all the comments, I think a post is necessary. Should be able to put it by this evening.

The Fool said...

Sure Diwakar. Will check it out. I generally avoid opinion based posts, because though they generate lot of comments, I have hardly ever seen anything productive emerge from discussions. Usually at the end of every arguments both parties stick to their guns. In cases where arguments happen in person, the one with more forceful personality wins by bulldozing his way through. But this was one of those occasions where an opinion so strongly express itself ahead of so many other posts already in the backlog.

umashankar said...

TF, first you downscale Rama, then you upscale him -not that I am complaining. I do agree with you about Bali, but beg to defer about Sita. Even if she was rendered unchaste, it was probably beyond her powers. And even if Rama ws just a king, he needed to establish better practices rather than cement the deplorable trend.

Rachna said...

I don't agree with your premises either. A king is supposed to set precedents. A king is not supposed to do injustice no matter what the circumstances. Besides these are mythological stories that must not be confused with facts.

The Fool said...

Well, umashankar - you should understand the difference between a king and a rebel. A king's primary responsibility is to uphold the existing laws even if there are things he does not agree with. He can not go arbitrarily hacking away at the laws for his convective. If he violates the law for good, the next ruler might use the precedent to violate the law for evil and the rule of law may collapse.

The Fool said...

@Rachna - In practical situations injustice is unavoidable at times. Everybody would have done some kind of injustice at some time or the other. That is where I bring in concept of ethical dilemma. Here the precedent would have been more of violating convention for convenience than the precedent related to women's rights. Because as demonstrated he continued to love his wife. So he had everything to gain by breaking convention. But that would have dealt a hard blow to the rule of law.

And mythological stories are based on value systems of the time in which they were written. They are usually artistic representation of real events in history or fiction written in such a way to mimic fiction. In both cases there has to be consistency with facts of the times.

The Fool said...

Also umashankar - one more point. There is no way to ascertain whether she was rendered unchaste willingly or unwillingly. Rama trusts his wife. We know Sita is Goddess and we know fully story of what happened in Ravana's people. But for the people of the country, she is just the king's wife who has been in another king's captivity for 14 years. How were they to know whether she yielded to the other king's charm or not. And common man does not have day to day interactions with God. So for all they know all this trial by fire might have been some trick royals were playing to hoodwink the general public to escape the adultery laws that were applicable to common man.

Rajrupa Gupta said...

:) I found both Diwakar's and TF's argument in defence of Rama very funny! Rama played safe like a true politician and not a great leader. To remain popular or in power he showed selfishness and performed an injustice which has no measure. A great leader is capable of moulding public opinion and can adhere to what he believes is right. It takes only a shrewd politician with lots of self interest to play a game where only votes matter even if it involved low morale and unethical actions.

For that matter our Hindu literature is so full of deceit and cons and injustice - it in itself teaches us if you pet high moral values, success is never going to come your way!

Stan Szczesny said...

Great Post! I'm reminded of Kshatriya caste obligations here, like Arjuna's sacrifice of his personal relationships to his Kshatriya duties, as explained to him by Krishna. The loss of their wives by Yudhisthira and Nala also have similar motifs, although they brought it upon themselves. Also, Dushyanta's unwillingness to accept the pregnant Sakuntala without the lost ring of recognition. This last raises questions about the strange rite of marriage Dushyanta invoked that allowed kings to marry extra wives in secret without ceremony. The need of the people for legitimacy and purity in royal blood lines seems compromised by this custom.

The Fool said...

Rajrupa, in my opinion you have a too simplistic and naive in your assessment of leadership probably based on movies where hero gives a stupid speech and the whole crowd comes with him. In reality, if you have a position of leadership, you would see how difficult it is to get a team of 10 people reporting in office to get round to a radically different view point. Change is actually a very slow process and takes years to get people around. And I find no basis for you comparison of Rama's actions with politicians. All the low morale, unethical whatever was part of the system that had evolved and not created by Rama. And it would have been extremely irresponsible for a hero to destroy the entire system for a few things that were bad in the system. That only your Sunny Deol can do.

The Fool said...

Thanks, Stan. Good to see you here after so long. I have still not got deep into the motives of Yudishtra or Dushyanta - So possibly may not be in a position to defend them. Only Rama I have thought deeply and strongly believe he always took the best course of action which his position as a leader of men allowed him.

Rajrupa Gupta said...

I dont know TF... there are too many examples of great leaders in World history who were able to mould public toward their belief...if movies are larger than life... so is this literature! But the history is not! Public opinion is nothing but repeating the same belief and habit until it becomes retrogressive. I believe it's more imp for a great leader to develop an essential technique - psychology of public persuasion to bring in the much needed change. If system had low morale, unethical practices, it would have been great if Rama had at least tried to change the perspective of his people. That's what a hero does!

The Fool said...

About world leaders moulding public, we need to discuss specific examples. It is possible the public was already ready for the change and leader was able to give final change. If you read Tolstoy, he suggests that even leaders like Hitler and Napoleon are just leaders who rode strong public sentiment and not ones who set the tone. So we need to discuss specific cases of which world leader moulded what.

And Rama did make a statement. He sacrificed the interests of his wife and clearly separation from his wife caused him suffering. He showed the public what his personal opinion was by using golden statues of Sita for all ceremonies rather than marry again. And Sita gave a resounding slap to the public by choosing to be swallowed by the earth in the end. But it would not have been reasonable for a new king to do something that was against established norms especially when it resulted in gain for himself. Leadership is not what it is romanticized to be unless you are corrupt. Its a painful sticky business of negotiations and change management where at every point public will be looking to pounce on you.

Rajrupa Gupta said...

We must understand that Rama did not need to lead a massive mass movement and only required to do a social reform - a subtle change in the regressive mentality of people of Ayodhya.

I will give examples of people closer to home who rode against popular beliefs in order to establish what was right.

1. Raja Ram Mohan Roy - The person who preached against the popular ritual of burning women alive along with their dead husbands. He played a key role to abolish Sati.

2. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar - The person who worked relentlessly to start the widow re-marriage

3. Swami Vivekananda - Who was able to make a stout following just by delivering "speech"

4. Rabindranath Tagore - Who still holds a very important place in every Bengali's heart. And almost all of their behavioral traits have roots somewhere in the pages of Rabindra Literature.

They all manipulated public sentiments without having to fight.Rama needed to do the same.

Given the terrible trait of how people draw inspiration from these literature rather than our real life heroes even today, it would have been better to have shown Rama as a righteous leader than just a mere ruler who was greedy of power and could not let go of his throne and rode strong on public pity by keeping a golden statue of Sita beside him - a type of gimmick so common these days. To stir public sentiments by glorifying one's suffering - thus strengthening their positions in their heart.

The whole purpose of Rams's incarnation was to uphold Dharma for promoting the welfare of the world. And dont we all know that there is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved? To me the whole purpose of his incarnation was to kill Ravana who was starting to become a threat to the Gods and make it look a righteous act.

I am not here to argue against anyone's personal belief. It is just my personal opinion that I expressed.

The Fool said...

@Rajrupa - Thanks for giving the examples. If you look at the list again and think you will realize you are comparing apples and oranges. You have the answer in your comment itself. All the people you have mentioned dedicated their life to run mass movements for a specific cause and did that as a full time job. They did not have a country to run. Running a country has much more things that reforms - you need to ensure all officers are doing their jobs, the roads are laid, everyone is having food, shelter and clothing, there is no unemployment, there is no robbery, no rebellion, keep enemy kingdoms at bay.

Can you see the difference? It is very easy to be good at Anna Hazare's job. But extremely difficult to be a good at Manmohan Singh's job. It is easy to trust Anna Hazare because it is black and white that he is fighting for a specific cause. Whoever likes the cause can join and fight. But a Manmohan Singh takes decisions on behalf of people that will impact their lives. So people want someone who is competent, lives by their value systems and who they feel will put their interests above his and his family's. He has to take everyone on board and can not just gather a rag tag band behind him and fight.

And don't think a king could do arbitrarily what he liked. That is true only in theory. Though there were no elections, public had other resources like court intrigues, covert support to rebels and brigands or to enemy kings or whole public rising in open rebelling. If you recall from history, India's first war of independence was fought not on a serious issue but the emotive issue of cartridges having grease from pigs and cows which is something very small compared to other atrocities commited by the British.

He clearly went by people's will but indicated to people but personally he did not agree with them by his gestures. No one keeps golden statues of an adulteress in their home. I think you are obsessed by the corrupt leadership concept in the current world. When one is corrupt, power is attractive. When one is not corrupt, power is just a pain in the ass. And if Rama was so power hungry, he could have easily chosen to not abide by his father's promise to his wife. There is also a whole chapter called Yoga Vasishta which mentions how even before the issue of the promise was known, Rama sought to give up his claim over the throne and lead a peaceful life of study and contemplation. Vasihsta convinces him otherwise.

And see I never invoked the concept of belief or brought any theological arguments in the whole thing. And let us not differentiate between fiction and reality. As a fiction writer yourself, you know you have to make it believable. You can't just write any bullshit and get away. Only thing is I want the man - fiction or real to be understood in right context and the right message to be drawn from his life. Just because some male chauvinists draw wrong message from his life, it does not make him evil. The right message is that of putting one's duty above one's personal feelings.

If you want to find fault, just search the net. You will find hundreds of articles defaming the very reformers you have mentioned. But one needs to understand what someone great and imbibe the good in them instead of misinterpreting their actions to justify you own weakness/wickedness or finding faults with them and pushing them down and the ideals they stood for along with them.

jaish_vats said...

As a woman and as any woman would agree, its tough to accept Rama's decision to send Sita away no matter what explanations are given TF :) A brilliant write up!

The Fool said...

Thanks Jayashree. You summarized it nicely with a finality. Guess some issues have a strong emotional appeal for some people. That is why I usually avoid intellectual analysis type of topics . Though it gives some intellectual kick, it does not serve any purpose and changes no one's opinion. Frankly I am not even interested in changing anyone's opinions on any issues. But then some topics just trigger in me an impulse to share my views at times seeing newspaper articles or other blogger's views.

Diwakar Narayan said...

Excuse me TF for writing this comment on your blog. And since Rajrupa has already found my post funny, I could not simply call his comments funnier. There was one sentence which I found very illogical in his comment:

it would have been better to have shown Rama as a righteous leader than just a mere ruler who was greedy of power and could not let go of his throne and rode strong on public pity by keeping a golden statue of Sita beside him

You have already answered the first one, so let me answer the second one.

Rajrupa - Are you a Hindu? Have you seen any religious ceremonies being performed? If not, let me tell you - in any religious ceremony, the husband and wife has to sit together. Even in the famous 'Kanyadan' system in Hindu marriage, the parents both have to sit together. If anyone of them has died, someone else with a wife has to practice that ritual. Now, since Rama had to perform 'Ashwamegh Yagya' puja, he needed his wife. Since Sita was not with him and was not dead either, he had to get a statue of her. That's what explains it here. It was never an intention to gain public sympathy.

I have answers to your other questions too but as you have already defended yourself by calling these comments your personal belief, I don't find it worthy to give any further explanation.

Nirvana said...

TF, I read the post and loved your take on it. But I am a little inclined to agree with Rickie.... a king should not dole out injustice to anyone - even if it is his wife. In the process Ram probably was the first one to allow injustice happen to women in the name of 'chastity'.... Yes, he had a good in mind - that of being a just ruler. But that good was chosen as a prerogative of a greater good - the good of justice - not just to one woman, but to womankind as a whole. Just my opinion.

Rajrupa Gupta said...

:) Thanks for the long explanation TF..after reading it Rama stood out as a good administrator to me but not a good leader!

By "putting his duty above his personal feelings" he also drove home a massage - leaving wives unceremoniously without any proof of her disloyalty is not a crime.

I used to go to a women's home when I stayed in Pune - there were many such women whose husbands had left them. When asked why don't they do anything about it, they used to say even Sita maiyan was left by her husband. This was the inevitable fate when you are a woman!

Also maybe the influence of having read the Meghnad Badh Kabya very early in my life, I never quite saw eye to eye with Rama's motivations.

Jay Singh said...

Well, this is my first time around here. And, you've done a commendable job again, I must say. The methodical approach of dissecting the issue is quite cutting-edge and appropriate. Are you related to MBA or the management sciences by any chance? :p
So, it seems, Rama was quintessentially just like Neo, albeit a few costume changes and a few awesomely cool action sequences. Both of them were faced with choices throughout their lives. Cause and effect governed their logic.
This was a refreshing read. Waiting for your next write-up :)

Regards

Jay
http://road-to-sanitarium.blogspot.in/

The Fool said...

Weel, Rajrupa. Depends on the definition of leader. Today we are not having people who can administer India and the world well.

The basic point is of putting duty before self and family. If instead of wife, if the incident had involved son , it would have conveyed the point. The idea was that laws are applied more strictly to king and his family than anyone else. The normal people at least get benefit of doubt when evidence is inconclusive. But not the royals. But since this involved wife and it involved adultery which turns out to be not a gender neutral crime in society view, the whole attention shifted to women's rights than the idea of the ideal man applying stricter standards of law for himself and his family.

But clearly Rama's action are no reason for a general guy in today's world to randomly abandon his wife. Today we have segregation of public, professional and personal life and there is no reason for anyone to take public opinion into account in the matter of relationship with one's wife. In the case of women you might have seen mostly it would have been case of abandonment for not receiving dowry or the man finding a more beautiful woman or general jealousy. This had nothing whatsoever to do with Rama or Sita.

The Fool said...

Thanks Jay. I do happen to be in a management field. Guess you got my intent.

The Fool said...

@Nirvana - Thanks. But you are mixing the crux of the ethical conflict. In positions of power often situations come where choice is between two evils.

I don't see any evidence to suggest Rama was the first one to do any such injustice. It was the general practice of those times. Parashurama's dad asked him to kill his mother for the same reason. Sage Gautama had transformed his wife Ahalya into stone for the same reason. In medieval Europe, men used to make women wear chastity belts. Guess I don't need to say about Islam.

So clearly there was a crime of adultery being tried with evidence inconclusive. And we had the case of person being judge in his own family's case - a case of conflict of interest. If he had decided in Sita's favor, it would have set no precedent on justice to women. It would have only set a precedent of king showing favoritism to family members.

Sabyasachi Patra | Tales from Wild India said...

People who attack Rama do so because they read the Ramayana or view it from today's context. The characters of Rama, Ravana, Vali etc live in different societies and have different rules governing them. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita belonged to a society with one set of rules. When Rama is in his society he followed those rules.

When Suparnakha wanted to marry Rama and was rejected, her first reaction was to attack and kill Sita. She was right as that is the rule of the Jungle. In the jungle the fittest get to mate. Since Sita would not get into a contest and run away leaving her husband, Surpanaka was right according to the rules of her society to try and kill Sita. Now, Lakshmana followed the rules of his society and protected Sita and cut of the tip of Suparnaka's ears and breasts to teach her a lesson. She then went and complained infront of Ravana.

Ravana then decided to take Sita by deceit. Rama followed the golden deer and was taken away from Sita. Then when Sita forced Lakshmana to go and search for Rama, Lakshmana drew lines known as Lakshmana rekha and asked Sita not to cross that. So within the Lakshmana Rekha was the organised society where the rules of Ayodhya applied. Outside the Lakshmana rekha was the law of the jungle. Ravana came in disguise and didn't cross the lakshamana rekha. We hear the dumb down version that Ravana could not cross the magical Lakshmana rekha. That is a version for people to understand without much of complexity.

Ravana didn't cross the Lakshmana rekha because he knew that within the rekha the rules of organised society or Rama's society is aplicable. Outside the line is the jungle and its rule of might is right holds good. The moment Sita crossed that line, Ravana took her because the code of civil society is not applicable in the jungle. Sita in the jungle was there to be taken by anyone who is powerful. So Ravana abducted her.

Rama knew the rules very well. So when Sugriva met him he followed the rules of Sugriva's society (rule of the jungle) and killed Vali by deceit. By following the rule of the jungle in killing Vali, Rama did not do wrong because he applied the rule of the jungle on its inhabitat. Had he killed Vali by deceit when Vali and Sugriva were fighting in Ayodhya, then it would have been a crime, as the place of jurisdication and its laws apply.

Vali had taken Sugriva's wife, as that was the rule of the jungle. However, Sugriva after coming in contact with Rama adopted some of the principles of Rama's society. Sugriva adopted Vali's son as the Yuvaraj or heir to the throne. However, Sugriva took Vali's wife as his, as per the prevailing rules of the jungle.

To elaborate this further, when Hanuman went to Lanka as Rama's messenger, Vibhishana didn't want any harm to be done to Hanuman as per the norms of Rama's society of not harming the messenger. However, others wanted to follow the rule of the jungle and hence tied Hanuman and put fire on the tip of his tail. Hanuman then followed the law of jungle and burnt Lanka. So he too was right in his behaviour.

Agni pariksha of Sita was not seen by people in Ayodhya. Rama was a ruler who was not despotic. He used to take the views and opinions of society and rule. So when it was found that Ayodhya didn't accept Sita as "pure" according to the prevailing norms of the society, Rama with a heavy heart had asked Sita to demonstrate her purity before the people. Sita rightly declined, as she had done it once. Rama had not even spared Lakshmana in his zeal to enforce the rule of law.

Debates often remain inconclusive as each person argues based on his frame of reference. The moment you step aside and view the issue from another angle, there will be light.

The Fool said...

That was a really comprehensive explanation. The concept of jurisdiction makes lot of sense. Does Ramayana really talk of all these jurisdiction and laws? I have mostly been exposed to toned down version of the text. Is there some good English version covering all these aspects?

DS said...

Do we really need to question the wisdom of someone we pray to as God?
I certainly dont think so.
And before pointing fingers, I would like to ask, how many would leave the comforts of their house even for say a day just so that some promise given by your father is fulfilled?

The Fool said...

Well, DS - That is a very fanatic attitude. It would not be right to say just because someone is God and it is said so and so in religious books, we should not question. Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest defenders of Hindu religion questioned everything. What is important is to question with an open mind and not just throw accusations and then close the eyes and ears and refuse to see or listen when people offer valid justifications.

Zephyr said...

Wow, that was one post which I would never have wanted to miss! Loved the post and the discussion that followed it. Your rationale of treating him as a leader who had no choice but to adhere to the laws of the land sounds plausible. But I liked your reply to Jaish the best. And please do give in to the impulses to write on such topics. It is really enlightening. Sabyasachi's comment was perhaps the most logical and balanced one and put the entire epic in its proper perspective.

It is easy to condemn our epics, religious text and all, because they are considered just that -- myths and flawed ones at that. And when it touches gender issues, things get incendiary, no less. As pointed out in one of your replies, if some unscrupulous males use the example of Rama to abandon their wives, it is not the fault of the character but THEIR characters.

I would also like to read a commentary of Ramayana from the perspective that Sabyasachi has given.

Rachna said...

I agree that the stories reflect the ethics prevalent at that time. But problems arise when women are expected to toe the same line thousands of years later by quoting from these. Epics and religious books are misquoted and hijacked by religious pundits and even common men to enforce mores and a code of life that suits them. Besides, do you think that children will have the understanding to realize the context if their parents do not encourage them to question fables? Will these stories not influence their psyches as behavior of "Gods?" Also, Ram is not God; he was considered to be an avatar and so were others. Why do we in Hinduism create Gods out of mythological stories? I liked your analysis and your patient approach to comments that were argumentative given the subject.

sibi said...

Excellent attempt for giving an objective critique. Epics are written in a particular historical and cultural context. Some of the stories carry excellent message for good living for anyone at any point of time. It is true that there are inconsistencies. But one could derive valuable wisdom from some of the incidents narrated in the epics. I appreciate your innovative analysis.

Rachna said...

That was a really insightful comment, Sabyasachi!

The Fool said...

Thanks, Rachna. I have my own theories on how the God concept emerges but that probably will generate even more controversy and get me beaten up by both the rationalists as well as the religious.

I am in favor of questioning everything. But only problem with discussions I have found only very few people come with an open mind to expand their minds through discussion. It is mostly about winning arguments and getting their point across.

And manipulative people misinterpret everything to serve their own end. So we can not blame the epics and religious books for that.

The Fool said...

Thanks Sibi. Glad you appreciated my attempt of trying to see things objectively rather than emotionally or sentimentally.

The Fool said...

Thanks zephyr. Guess this is one my rare posts that the comments are richer in content than the post itself. Maybe now and then I will try and write on such topics now and then, though arguments upset my basic nature of seeking harmony.

DS said...

If we question the actions of even our Gods then whom do we trust??

The Fool said...

Well, DS. If you have that kind of deep faith it is a personal thing and it is up to you. But other people do have the right to question anything and everything.

Rachna said...

I agree totally. Most of us are rigid in our thinking when it comes to topics like matters of faith. I find myself hitting the same wall and wonder if it is worth the effort and heartache to write about contentious topics. You definitely did a great job approaching the topic and comments :).

Amit Alampally said...

Excellent take on what's a very complex question. I fully agree that in Ramayana Rama portrayed a human and all the limitations that come with it.

It would have been very easy for Valmiki to side step these what were "controversial" decisions by Rama and just present a very "clean" image. But, the epic chooses not to, and instead presents the dilemmas and the apparent "failing" of Rama.

Also, Rama couldn't have changed the justice system towards women by starting with Sita that wouldn't fly as "genuine" / credible.

Amit Alampally said...

@Rajrupa - you should have asked two questions - What ethical dilemma was your husband facing that he had to "leave" and second, is he as tormented as you are, having left you. If not, the comparison to Sita is unjustifiable.

The Fool said...

Thanks Amit. Glad to see that you agree with my point of view.

Shilpa Nair said...

Hey there TF! I was one of those select few to bash up Rama on FB. Hahahaha!
I grew up with kids whose parents 'deitified' him to the extent of plastering his photos across their puja room and offering ablutions, and making me, if I ever visted their houses during Ram-Navmi or Dussehra, sing aloud 'Shri Ram' bhajans. Since I veer more towards non-deitification, this always irked me. My mother exp-lained to me that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were two epics - in my kid-language just two story books and that I had as much right to worship Alice from Alice in Wonderland as Rama from Ramayana.
She also explained to me how Hanuman uses very vulgar and coarse language seeing the Lankan women, while flying over Lanka with his friends, yet we completely ignore this scene and instead worship the good part of Hanuman. Similarly Ravana was as good as Ram.....therefore if I looked at Ravana's 'good', I would be able to see Rama's 'bad' and therefore both are equals in my viewpoint, with 'good' and 'bad' sides to them.

Shilpa Nair said...

However as a woman, I have never been able to accept the part where he 'disposes of' Sita by 'deceit'....and that is where, for me, the whole admiration 'thing' unravels and I start picking out faults in Rama. maybe if I accepted that Ram 'lived' in a society that was completely different from ours and also in a certain way, more organized, I should be able to reduce my Ram-bashing a little...

On a tangent, I have just come back to ur site after a long gap and I am very impressed with the content that u are now drawing. Your above post clearly specifies the 'problems' of a leader of those times and how gut-wrenching it must have been for him to choose between Sita and Karma, my personal view notwithstanding.

The Fool said...

Good to see you back here, Shilpa. I think probably you were one of those who inspired me to write this post.

Well - You mom was right in a way. I can write at length on my views on Gods, idols, rituals and religion. But I am not inclined to veer my blog in that direction.

And I would not agree with you equal view points. You may find lot of good qualities in Hitler and bad qualities in Churchill and Roosevelt. But does that make Hitler equal to the other two?

Overall I try to argue Rama always made the best decisions given the circumstances. Same can not be said of all of Ravana's decisions given his circumstances. It is possible for people to take Rama's actions out of context and use it to justify their own evil acts. But once you start taking things out of context, you can even say bible is full of pornography. I think some lawyer in some novel does that by presenting some lines from bible out of context. So it is not Rama's fault but of those manipulators. The truly devoted ones are more likely to take a more holistic view of Rama as a person.

Regarding Hanuman, good and bad are subjective. It depends on the society you are part of. So we don't know about the morality that prevailed in the vanar society. So the standards of human society of current times can not be applied to monkey men of ancient times.

The Fool said...

As Jaishree pointed out earlier, it is an emotional issue for women. I understand. They think immediately in terms of their husbands acting the way Rama did. This is of course not right because today we don't have too many jobs in the current age hat are done in a spirit of sacrifice and require certain behaviors on the personal front as well for reasons of state.

The ideal philosopher ruler as defined by Plato and defined in our Hindu scriptures is supposedly one such jobs.We don't have philosopher kings in the current age. We rather live in a age where if our leaders just don't loot us, we are willing to raise a toast to him/her.

As far as the deceit goes, it was a human thing like judges breaking the pen after writing a death sentence. So it was more of an emotional thing for him facing her with the tough decision.

I am glad you are back. But I am not too keen to continue writing on these lines. I am more comfortable with my fiction and nostalgia. Argumentative posts are all too dry.

lIl hIgH said...

A really well written defense. Loved your point of view. I am writing this comment to state my differences with your defense and put my point of view across. I also want to add a disclaimer that I love our epics for the comprehensive nature and the ability to put shades of grey in each character it has brought up. I think that alone has enabled this debate and different viewpoints to analyse the characters in the epic. Below is my point of view.

I would want to start with Vali. You have started with Injustice had been done to Sugriva. I would want to start with a little background as it will help my case. By all accounts Vali was pious vanara king. Vali and Sugriva were amicable until a huge misunderstanding arose between them. Sugriva faction wants us to believe it as a simple mis-understanding while Vali faction would have us believe it as a ploy of Sugriva to usurp power. Both have valid points and so we cant support any here. A king who had went to fight the enemy of the kingdom was blocked in a cave without even making sure of his defeat. While the other point of view would want us to believe is the weaker brother was so terrified by the demon he didnt find it necessary to make it 100% sure of his brothers death before taking over his brother's kingdom. As this is in the intentions of the individuals we can never be sure of who is correct. But looking at the facts it looks like Sugriva was more in a hurry and wrong in his actions, but Vali too was angered carried away by emotions. So it is wrong to start with injustice had been done to Sugriva. As I can very well say here justice had been done in that case and the kingdom was happy and prosperous, so the case was closed. Also the jurisdiction didnt allow Rama to intervene or be the judge :).

But Rama being a king was good at foreign policies, he knew if he went to Vali for help, he could easily be turned away as Vali had nothing to gain from the alliance. But Sugriva had lot to gain and would stoop to any levels for the kingdom as we had seen earlier. He would not mind stooping to the level of getting his brother killed treachorously for the kingdom and wealth. I am saying this because we can see character flaws in Sugriva ahead in the story too. Once he got the kingdom he spent his time carousing and seemed to forget his pledge to help Rama. Rama's brother, Lakshmana, was about to destroy the monkey kingdom and kill Sugriva. It was only after the diplomatic intervention of Tara that Lakshmana was pacified. Then through Tara's efforts Sugriva and Rama were reconciled.

So I would want to make my point of view very clear here that it was a tactical decision by Rama more than justice/injustice thingy. Its like Americans getting involved in the wars world over for their gains. There is no justice involved there though they try to potray that they were involved in the just war.

Hence I would wanna say your argument (a) is invalid which suggests there was some injustice that needed rectification. Between (b) and (c), I would say (c) was the best option. Winners can justify their act in millions of way, but choosing (b) you wouldnt survive to make the justifications. It was an intelligent choice. We all know the justifications given, one of them was since he was a monkey king the laws of war doesnt apply to him as laws of war are for humans and above, jungle law etc etc. Winners can give million such justifications and they have a right to, cos they actually are the winners.

lIl hIgH said...

In conclusion Rama took side of a weaker self indulgent opponent to overthrow a pious king for the sole reason of accomplishing his mission. I am ok with it and in a way I support it. Every king, ruler should have the liberty to draw his foregin policies based on the gains of their own over others. But the problem is when we try to portray these policies in a moral righteous manner. Winners can always justify their act. They have always found a way to tag them along with morality and this case is also not a surprise. To think of it, Vali was more honorable and righteous and lacked tactical mindset which Rama had. When Sugriva called Vali for the fight, Vali's brilliant wife Tara warned Vali about the lord Rama angle, but Vali was forthright and replied to her even if his own son Angad called for fight he would fight him. Thats lacking tact and following principle and getting dead :D.

For your other point on Sita, there has been enough discussion in the comments. I dont have much to add. But just wanted to give an example of Abe Lincoln. He was a leader of a country and took the painful decision of a civil war to transform injustice to justice. He could have easily gone with the flow, how Rama did. But he broke the convention. So however difficult the decision might have been and it might have put him as a selfish king in his contemporary times. It might have tarnished his name among his people at that time. But he should have accepted that poison to uplift the society instead of going with the flow and worrying about his good name.

Disclaimer : I am just writing the above as a point of view. Also one of the many reasons that I love our epics is because of the character flaws. Any fiction could have wrote a perfect character as a hero, but even the greatest hero does have some character flaws and thats what makes them humane and loveable, so in the same way Rama too has. There are many layers to our epics. The first level of morality is to suffice the non-thinkers. There is deeper meaning where shades of grey come in where we cant make out what is right, what is wrong and these difficult questions blend in and make our epics truely great. So we shouldnt think of the base morality here to judge but should strive to dive deeper into the complexities handled beautifully as stories in our epics .

Sorry if you feel this as spam. Liked your post and it kicked on the above thoughts :)

The Fool said...

Thanks for you comment. You paying me back in my own coin? Your arguments are quite strong indeed.My view is Sugriva blocked the cave to prevent the Rakshasha from emerging and attacking the kingdom. And being the second in line for the throne, he took over the throne - after all a kingdom needs a king. Though Sugriva had character flaws, there is nothing to suggest that he intentionally betrayed his brother. So Vali should have given him the benefit of doubt going by evidence at hand and should have been more liberal in his punishment.

The Fool said...

Abraham Lincoln had no personal stake in abolishing of slavery. Every ruler has hundreds of causes to take up - he can not pick one that seems convenient for his personal preferences. Rama would have set an example like Henry 8 by doing like that. It would have seems arbitrary and would have undermined the rule of law. Abraham Lincoln on the other hand won the election on the plank of improving the plight of slaves and he did what he promised. So there is no comparison.

And you can not ask one leader to fight for every possible cause. When Anna Hazare fights against corruption people ask why does he not fight for women's causes, dalit causes, minority causes etc. etc. That is stupid. One man is not going to fight against all the evils in the world and create heaven on earth. Even the reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidhyasagar, Ram Mohan Roy and Vivekananda did not fight against British rule. Because their priorities were different, can someone whose priority was independence call them unpatriotic?

lIl hIgH said...

I wouldn't touch on your second para as I agree with it and nowhere I tried to say he should be an all problem solver. I was only talking about the problem at hand.
For your first para answer which directly concerns my argument, I agree we cant compare Lincoln with the situation Rama was in; for Lincoln it was not as personal and hence the name tarnishing wouldnt have been involved in his case. But for Rama, there was name tarnishing, falling from public's eyes, being named selfish was involved, maybe eventually losing people's trust and crown and becoming a nobody. He was in a very very tough situation. But he very well knew Sita was chaste and punishing her is unjustifiable. So here he was split between guarding his principle and following truth, hence losing people's trust, tarnishing his name, fall from public eye and maybe eventually losing the crown and losing a place in history, becoming a nobody. The other choice was doing a self sacrifice and retaining all of the above. Here people might defer from me, but I would say self sacrifice was an easier choice to be made and maybe a right choice too. But everyone's definition of hero is personal to them and can be different.

The Fool said...

As we agree one person can't solve every problem, probably the position of women in Indian society might not have been the foremost issue on his agenda. For instance slavery was not on George Washington's agenda. Does it take away anything from his greatness. Every leader can chose which issues he will address and do that well. Isn't it wrong to prioritize an issue earlier not high on priority over others just because the leader is personally affected?

And in some ways even in case of Lincoln I can very well say he sacrificed the lives of so many innocents by pushing an idea before its time had come to attain a name in history. He would not have expected to be assassinated. So he sat in safety and made history while people went out there and killed each other. How would his decision have seemed from the point of view of the families of union and confederate soldiers killed in battle?

And your hypothesis is based on the assumption that Rama sought the crown and a place in history. But the fact that Rama had renounced the throne twice - once before marriage and once after marriage seems to indicate he did not desire for the throne but took it upon himself as a forced duty. So it was a compromise between interests of the queen (who has also accepted responsibility for public good by choosing to become queen) and the rule of law needed for the good of the society, the queen's interests had to be sacrificed. Unlike King Henry 8 who changed laws for his personal gratification.

lIl hIgH said...

I am talking only of the problem at hand which Rama faced and I am not talking of different agendas nor I am trying to judge Rama's greatness nor arguing on the position of women at his time. I am not even saying Rama had to address the issue socially. I am just talking about principles. Following what is truth and being just at whatever cost versus following the popular reasoning with less risk. Also I would not touch upon your second para as I am ardent supporter of Lincoln and I think for just and moral ideas none needs to wait for time. It needs to be pushed and we are in such prosperous times because one or the other great men pushed ideas before its time and made the idea a social norm else its easy to fall into moral decay .

I just wanted to clarify my hypothesis is not at all based on Rama's love for crown, but crown was just a thing I added at the last. But my assumption is based on the things like name tarnishing, falling from public's eyes, being named selfish, maybe eventually losing people's trust. When Rama was leaving to the forest, the whole Ayodhya came till the edge of the forest. That was the kind of love and trust Rama invoked among people. Losing that is not an easy thing. It is easy to compromise on principle, justice and do a self sacrifice than losing all the above things which you have gained from the society together is what I meant.

Also this argument can never be conclusive is what I understand and thats the beauty of our epics is what I feel. My appologies if you felt I occupied too much of your blog space.

The Fool said...

Well - problem at hand should be dealt based on current laws. You can not change laws just for your own convenience. That will undermine the entire rule of law and lead to chaos. Law works by evidence and not by truth. And circumstantial evidence that common man was privy to showed Sita to be guilty.

And regarding Abraham Lincoln, your notions are romantic. But let us consider practically what would have happened if Lincoln had pushed the idea a little earlier when even more people had been against the idea. He would have lost the war and left a weakened America that would have been in no position to stand up to Germany and thanks to Lincoln, we would be living in a Nazi world today.

The point I am making is that a leader has to be responsible and balance practicality with principles.. There is no hard and fast rule or algorithm regarding right and wrong for a leader. If leadership had been so straightforward, it would have been outsourced to a call center and subsequently automated and given to a decision making machine.

I appreciate your contribution. I am sure this is one post where people will enjoy the comments more than the original post. I usually do not do such posts. I am mostly into harmless stuff such as fiction and nostalgia as you may be aware of.

Harikrishna said...

Hooo! Spent more time on comments rather on post.. Each comment part would have made a separate post! I will also fight in defense of Rama (He had done his duty perfectly as the King - one well enough explanation) but this post is at rest and so I don't want to re-kindle it.. Excellent arguments and nice analysis... You write your analysis post as good as your fictions...

The Fool said...

Yeah. This is one post that invited much more interesting content in the comments section. Glad you liked my analysis.

Harish said...

You can find a thorough defence of Sri Rama's actions in the Ramayana here.

http://www.docstoc.com/docs/78041026/In-Defence-of-Sri-Rama

C.S.Ramalakshmi said...

Rama killed vali because vali was a learned man like Ravana.Ram says,I wont spare a learned man following laws of the jungle,since he knows what is right and wrong.
Ram was a quintessential statesman:
1)He knew to guage the enemy's weakenesses and strength.Ravana was humbled and bundled off To Lanka by vali.Ravana pitifully knelt before Vali to spare him, and be friends with him.Vali says,why did you not come to me.I would have just intimidated Ravana to restore your wife back to you?But Ram did not want to take help from king with the tainted reputation of abducting a brother's wife.Then,he cannot have moral authority to establish social values.Fidelity is a social compulsion, not a choice as some people seem to think.Look at Aids all over the world.It starts with one single act of infidelity.Who knows, what the transgresser and the transgressed have their personal history?That is how AIDS spreads.Marriage is the convention of any decent and civilised society to safeguard against AIDS.Ram not only vanquished vali, but made Angada, the son of Vali as king.He brought in Raguvamsa principle of Primogeniture to Kishkinda.He tells Sugriva,you were unjustly driven away by Vali, and your wife Ruma was abducted by Vali, and both these wrongs have been avenged.But Angada is the rightful prince, as he is the son of the elder brother,Vali.(He could not enthrone any of Ravana's sons, bevause all were dead on the battle field, and next of kin was only Vibhishana , who was advised by Rama also to conduct Ravana's funeral rites.
2)Coming back to vali,Vali could accumulate half of any adversary's strength in open combat.As a born warrior, he could not deplete his own human resource by combatting Vali, one to one,since he was anticipating the big battle with Ravana.
3)And why deny the fact that as a king, he could choose his political alliances?He chose Sugriva over Vali, as the former would be more pliable.In contrast, vali would dictate his terms to him.Ram did not want to play second fiddle.That is why he is hailed as Hero of Heroes of all times.
4)When the Tree Demon Kabandha bahu said, go and meet sugriva, he also said, birds of a feather flock together, and since he(Sugriva) is also a banished prince and has lost his wife to another, he would understand your predicament even better.It really turned out to be an alliance of equals.That was convenient.Ram had his strong points of personal heroism, learning in war-planning and strategy and Sugiva supplied him with the army of all armies, the one and only vanara Sena.
Jai Ram

Post a Comment

Kind words of appreciation/feedback

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces