Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Reign of Law in the Ramayana

V. Narayanan

The Reign of Law in the Ramayana1


(Asst. Editor, The Tamil Lexicon, Madras)

I love to think of the Ramayana as an elaboration of the Vedas,2 and more particularly of a passage in the Taittiriya Sakha which claims my special allegiance. The eleventh anuvaka or section of the Taittiriya Upanishad says:

"Say what is true. Do your duty. Do not neglect the study of the Veda. After having brought to your teacher his proper reward, do not cut off the line of children. Do not swerve from the truth. Do not swerve from duty.......Let your mother be to you like unto a god. Let your father be to you like unto a god. Let your teacher be to you like unto a god…….Whatever actions are blameless, those should be regarded, not others. Whatever good works have been performed by us, those should be observed by you, not other things……If there should be any doubt in your mind with regard to any sacred act or with regard to conduct,–in that case, conduct yourself as Brahmanas who possess good judgment conduct themselves therein, whether they be appointed or not, as long as they are not too severe, but devoted to Duty. And with regard to things that have been spoken against, as Brahmanas do who possess good judgment conduct themselves therein, whether they be appointed or not, as long as they are not too severe, but devoted to Duty, so conduct yourself. This is the rule. This is the teaching. This is the true purport of the Veda. This is the command. Thus should you observe. Thus should this be observed."

The primary injunction is this Anuvaka is ‘Dharmam chara’–‘Do your Duty’. The other injunctions group themselves as subsidiaries of this main injunction. Thus, Satyam vada‘speak the Truth’–is only an aspect, though an important one, of Dharmam chara. Similarly the injunction, "Do not cut off the line of children" and the set of injunctions about considering one’s mother, father and preceptor as gods.

What is Dharma? Occasions and situations often arise when there is an apparent conflict of Dharmas or courses of conduct? How is one to act then?

The Anuvaka answers: Dharma is what characterises the actions of Dharmic or Dharma-kama people. And there will be no conflict of Dharma, if you have as your guide to conduct, the actions and reactions of the lovers of Dharma in similar occasions or situations. And the depiction of various situations of apparent conflict of Dharma, together with an elucidation of the actions of the Dharmatmas and Dharma-kamas, of righteous-souled people and lovers of righteousness. in those situations–this is the most noteworthy feature of the Ramayana.

I shall confine myself to a few remarks on the special injunctions in the above Anuvaka of the Upanishad before considering in general about Dharma or the Law.

The meaning of ‘Sat yam vada’ does not stop with "Speak the truth" or "Speak the truth always; never tell a lie." It goes further: "Never let your words, spoken once, become untrue; keep your word at any cost. Do not try to wriggle out of it. Do not stick to the letter and kill the spirit. Do not interpret your words in such a manner as is convenient to you, if that interpretation is not absolutely the right interpretation. Give your words as wide a meaning as the hearer would give and fulfill them in all their details; those who hear your words do not know of your ‘mental reservations’ and it is not being truthful, if you disappoint them. The injunction is elaborated in all these ways and with all these and other ramifications in the lives of Dasaratha and of Rama. Particularly important in this connection are (1) the conduct of Dasaratha when Kaikeyi presses for her boons, and (2) the conduct of Rama after he had promised succour to the hermits of the Dandaka forest.

The next special injunction is: "Do not cut off the line of children." An immortality is achieved by the continuance of one’s lineage. The thread of lineage, praja-tantu, must not be snapped in the middle. The son that is born to a person is his own self. Therefore it is that Dasaratha is struck with grief by the denial of a son to him. "That Dharmajna (knower of the Law) who was so full of glories and who was a great soul and who longed intensely for sons, had no son to continue his lineage" so says the Ramayana,3 And what did the, Dharmatma do? He remembered the injunction of Prajapati when he created the human beings and the sacrifices to gods. Prajapati said: 4 "With this (i.e., sacrifice) shall ye cherish the gods and the gods shall cherish you, Thus cherishing one another, ye will obtain the highest good."

And he decided on the performance of the Asva-medha sacrifice. He informed sage Vashishta and others who encouraged him in the idea of Haya-medha Sacrifice, They say: "O King! you shall certainly have the sons that you desire, as you have got this Dharmika idea for the sake of obtaining sons."5 Four sons are, accordingly, born; and Dasaratha attains immortality. It is as if Dasaratha had taken one form as Rama and the three other forms as Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna to attend on Rama. Lakshmana who attends to the wants of Rama when He goes to the forest, builds at Panchavati, on the banks of the Godavari river, a very lovely hermitage for Rama and Sita; and thereupon Rama says: "Lakshmana, my father, the Dharmatma is, by having you as his son, not dead; for you know the Dharma and can enter into the minds of others and are for ever grateful." 6

Similarly, when the sage Bharadwaja meets Bharata on his return from Chitrakuta with Sri Rama’s sandals as his crown, he says to Bharata:

He is not dead: we mourn in vain:
Thy blessed father lives again
Whose noble son we thus behold
Like Virtue’s self in human mould."

"Your father, the long-armed Dasaratha is immortal, who has such a son as you, knowing and loving the Law (Dharma)." 7 And the Sages, assembled on the Chitrakuta hill to hear Rama and Bharata converse, conclude:

"He is blessed whose two sons are thus experts in the Law and have their strength rooted in the Law; we who listened to their conversation love them both alike." 8

It is the realisation of this fundamental truth of Immortality through continuance of lineage that prompted Dasaratha to contemplate the marriage of his sons when they had completed their course of education in the Vedas and the Vedangas and were on the threshold of manhood.

"Then, that Dharmatma King Dasaratha thought of their marriage and discussed it with his preceptors and his kindred." 9

The basic idea behind the institution of marriage is thus seen to be Immortalisation through continuance of lineage. Hence arise the duties of parents as regards the marriage of their children; and the duties of children in submitting to the choice of their parents or in obtaining their parents’ approval to their choice.

In the last canto of the Balakanda, 10 it is said that Sita was dear to Rama as she was his father’s choice. In the Kusanabha episode, the daughters of that king say:

"Our father is our master; he is our supreme God. He to whom he gives us as brides becomes our husband." 11

Sita tells Anasuya that Rama paused for his father’s approval before accepting the gift of Sita from Janaka‘s hands:

"When I was thus given away (by my father) Raghava did not accept the gift immediately, as He did not know the wishes of His father, the Lord of Ayodhya," 12

I shall now pass on to the third set of injunctions: "Consider your mother as God; consider your father as God; consider your teacher as God." I take these three injunctions together because Rama does so in the Ramayana.13 Says Rama: "Who will go beyond his mother, father and preceptor who are within his reach, and by what means will he propitiate God who is not within his reach?"

God is intangible. By what ways can we please Him, it is not possible for us to know. But our parents and our preceptors,–we know them; their overflowing love towards us places them in our hands. Whatever we may do unto them, they are bound to take as causing them pleasure. Then, why not make them our gods? The Vedas, in the above Anuvaka especially, authorise us to do so.

Having a plurality of gods often leads to conflict. Who is the highest among these gods, to whose wishes we must subordinate everything else? The answer of the Ramayana is clear. The father is the Highest God.

Mother Kausalya claims from Rama equal, if not superior allegiance, apparently because the mother is first mentioned in the above Upanishadic passage. She says to Rama, when he came to take leave of her and go to the forest: "Just as the King is worthy of your respect, even so, to a greater degree I am worthy of your respect. I do not give you permission; you must not go hence to the forest." 14

But note Rama’s answer–an answer which was full of Dharma and which came from a Dharmatma:

"And the Dharmatma Rama spake these words full of Dharma: ‘I have no power to transgress my father’s words. I beg of you with bowed head, I desire to go to the forest.’"

And note the genteel rebuke in this verse: "This is the Eternal Law–the Sanatana Dharma–by you, by me, by Sita, by Lakshmana and by Sumitra, must be obeyed the words of my father."

Father, thus, gets precedence over mother, because he is mother’s god.

Next, the preceptor Vashishta claims precedence from Rama over Dasaratha; he, Vashishta, is not only Rama’s preceptor but the preceptor of his father and god, Dasaratha.

"To one born on this earth, there are three elders–the preceptor, father and mother. Father begets him; but the preceptor gives him wisdom. Hence he is Guru, superior." 15

But Rama demurs to this proposition, though his answer is characteristically inoffensive: "In return for what the mother and the father do always for their son, what can be done as a recompense for what the mother and the father did."

I shall now pass on to the main theme–‘Do your Duty.’ The Ramayana is one continuous paean in praise of the sovereignty of the Law. The epic is full of trying situations; and depictions abound, of the conduct of the several Dharmatmas, Dharmajnas and Dharmaratas in those situations.

At the outset, we are told that the poet himself is a Dharmatma.

"In that Dharmatma of a sage arose Pity." 16

He sees, as in the hollow of his hand, the events of the epic, by the power of Dharma:

"And the smiles and the speeches and the movements and the actions–all this, he saw exactly as it happened, by the strength of Dharma (or by Dharma-virya.)" 17

His poem is full of Dharma.18 And the audience at its first recital consisted of Dharma-vatsalas.19 We will now deal with the main characters of his Epic. First, Dasaratha: he is stated at the outset to be a Dharmarata. 20 The Devas request Vishnu to be born as the four sons of that Dharma-jna. 21

When Dasaratha proposes to crown Rama as Yuvaraja, his people rejoice and they bless him the Dharmatma thus: "May that Dharmatma, the blameless King Dasaratha, live long, by whose favour we shall soon see Rama crowned."22 When, later, he is oppressed by the insistence of his Queen Kaikeyi, he is not willing to break his word and swerve from Dharma. He says to Sumantra who sees him in bed early next morning: "I feel bound by the bands of Dharma; and my mind is in confusion. I desire to see the (Dharmika) Law-abiding Rama, my dear and eldest son."23 So, when Rama comes to his mother Kausalya to inform her of the averted coronation, she, unaware of what had transpired overnight, states in the normal manner in what proves to be a supreme stroke of irony: "Rama, see your father the King who keeps true to his word. Today the Dharmatma is about to crown you as Yuvaraja."24

And this is how Bharata, unaware of what had transpired during his absence from Ayodhya, inquires of his mother Kaikeyi when she has informed him only of his father’s death:

"That Dharma-vid, that Dharma-nitya who is strong, in keeping his promises and who always sticks to truth–that noble king my father–what were his last words?" 25

It is only thereafter, he learns, at what cost Dasaratha has been "a Knower of the Law, one who is constantly rooted in the Law, true to his word and fixed in his purpose."

Then, Kausalya and Sumitra. Bharata enquires of the messengers from Ayodhya about "that noble Queen who is Dharma-nirata, Dharma-jna and Dharma-darsini, Kausalya, the mother of Rama the wise." 26 Such is Queen Kausalya’s reputation. Sumitra’s firm stand on ‘the Law’ is revealed in her words of comfort to Kausalya, "Rama is rooted in Dharma; he does not therefore deserve to grieve over" 27 as well as in her words of advice to her son Lakshmana.28 We may next consider Bharata and Lakshmana.

Dasaratha speaks of Bharata to Rama as "a Dharmatma who follows his elder brother" 29; and he says to Kaikeyi:

"Without Rama, Bharata will not remain in the kingdom; I consider him as stronger and more firmly rooted in Dharma than even Rama." 30

When Rama consoles Kausalya on the eve of his departure to the forest, he refers to Bharata in these words:

"And the Dharmatma Bharata bears love towards all living things. He will certainly attend on you; for he always takes delight in Dharma." 31

When Rama is challenged by the dying monkey-chief Vali to defend his conduct, he starts by stating that the love of the Law dominates the character of Bharata32 who rules over all the land.

Of Lakshmana, Rama is equally emphatic. He even tells Lakshmana to his face–"You are very affectionate, brave and always delighted with Dharma, firmly taking your stand on the ways of the good. You are dear as Life and have control over your senses; you are both my brother and my friend." 33

We may next consider Vibhishana and Sugriva.

Says Surpanakha at the outset, "But Vibhishana is a Dharmatma, and not a Rakshasa in his actions." 34

When the spy Suka points him out to Ravana, among the besiegers of the city of Lanka, he describes him in these words: "Single-handed he can, by his prowess, destroy Lanka; for, in him Law is firmly rooted; and he does not swerve from the Law." 35

When Vibhishana is accused by Indrajit of perfidy, he replies: "I do not delight in cruelty; I do not delight in a-dharma; can a brother of evil propensities drive away his own brother?"36 Our first introduction to Sugriva is in these words: "Not far from there is seen the Rishyamuka hill, wherein dwells the Dharmatma Sugriva, the son of the Sun."

Lastly, we come to Sita and Rama. When Sita appeals to Rama, not to go drawn sword in hand into the forest, she says: "You are truth-loving and great, brother of Lakshmana; in you are established Truth and Law (Dharma) and everything besides."37 Similarly when Lakshmana dispatches the fatal arrow at Indrajit he does so with this invocation: "If Rama, the son of Dasaratha is a Dharmatma and a truth lover, unequalled in valour, O arrow, kill this son of Ravana." 38

Sita is his ideal consort, Saha-dharmacharini. She tells Anasuya, the ideal of wifely devotion: "I too know this, that the husband of a woman is her master and superior"39 and she follows that statement up with a fond wish that Rama were not the Dharmatma that he was, for her to prove the depth of her wifely devotion.40

And when her wish takes form, as it were, in the following utterance of Rama: "I have no affection for you; you may go hence wherever you like,"41 she proves her innocence by jumping into the fire with this invocation on her lips: "As my heart has never deviated from Raghava, therefore may the all-knowing Fire protect me on every side. As I have not by deed, thought or word swerved from Raghava who knows the entire Dharma, so may Fire protect me." 42

So, Rama is a Sarvadharma-jna. As Narada says at the outset, "He is a Dharmajna; and he is the protector of Dharma." 43

The audience at the Palace Hall praised Rama in these words, when Dasaratha proposed to anoint him as Yuvaraja: "Rama is the ideal good man; he is engrossed in Truth and in the Law. The Law and Prosperity were born of Rama."44 His support of Dharma is well known. Hence Kausalya prays, "May that Dharma which you protect, protect you in its turn."45 When pressed by Kaikeyi not to tarry in Ayodhya, he says: "Know me to be the equal of the Rishis attached only to the pure and Perfect Law."46

When Sita implores him to take her with him to the forest, she uses this as an argument: "That which is dear to you; for whose sake you vex yourself so much; to that Dharma be subservient always and take me to the forest." 47 To which he replies that his Duty to his father pre-dominates.48 "Other-wise," says Rama, "I would not go to the forest and expose you to all the perils of a forest life." Again, he says to Lakshmana: "Afraid of A-dharma and of the other world, I do not crown myself today." 49

Hanuman is sure that as Rama is a Dharmatma, Fire will not touch his wife.50 "His Dharmiljnatva or ‘knowledge of the Law’ is well known" says Sita to Ravana,51 even before he makes the famous declaration, "If a person comes to me even once for help and says ‘I am yours’, I give that person protection from all living things,–this is my vow." This declaration does not in consequence come to Sugriva and others who hear it as a surprise. For, Sugriva says: "Where is the wonder, O Knower of the Law who is the ruler of the world anxious to make everybody happy, if you speak words of mercy, being powerful and established in the right path." 52

What is Dharma?

There is a common belief that when there are alternative courses of action and one does not know which of them is the correct course, one must choose the most arduous and difficult path as the right path. This idea is mentioned in the Ramayana, only to be refuted. Bharata says to Rama: "But if you think of doing that Duty which requires pain and exertion, by protecting the four castes as king, obtain that pain." 53 The right view is that klesa or suffering is not the badge of Dharma, though, as Lakshmana points out in another place, the only excuse for suffering is when Dharma necessitates it.54

What, then, is Dharma?

To this general question, the Ramayana gives a general answer: The antaratma or the conscience is the guide, as Rama says to Vali.55 But to us who came after the Ramayana, there is another and a more tangible answer: "Rama is Dharma Incarnate."56 His actions reveal all the facets of the jewel of the Law. He walks the earth, desirous of extending the. reign of the Law.57 We can model our lives on His and ever seek His approval and approbation in all our actions. Everywhere, people say "Rama, Rama, Rama" and become Dharmatmas after Him.

"When Rama ruled the kingdom, the people talked ‘Rama, Rama. Rama.’ and the world became one with Rama. The people became lovers of the Law, when Rama was the King; all of them had all desirable qualities; and all of them were attached to the Law."4 And Rama-rajya became synonymous with Dharma-rajya–the Reign of the Law.

1 A paper read before the Samskrita Academy. Madras.

2 Valmiki, it is said, chose the twin-sons of Rama who were well educated in the Vedas for the elaboration of the Vedas. See Ramayana Bk. I, canto 4, verse 6.

3 Ram. I viii, 1.

4 Bhagavad Gita iii, 10.

5 Ram. I viii, 12.

6 Ram, III xv, 29.

7 Ram II cxiii, 17.

8 Ram II cxii, 3.

9 Ram, I xviii, 36.

10 Ram, I lxxvii, 27.

11 Ram. I xxxii, 21.

12 Ram. II cx viii, 51.

13 Ram, II xxx, 33.

14 Ram. II xxi, 21 & 24.

15 Ram, II cxi, 2-3.

16 Ram. I ii, 13.

17 Ram. I iii, 4.

18 Ram. I iv, 12.

19 Ram. I iv, 16.

20 Ram. I vi, 2.

21 Ram. I xv. 19,

22 Ram II vi, 24.

23 Ram. II xiv, 24,

24 Ram. II xx, 24.

25 Ram. II lxxii. 3-4.

26 Ram. II lxx, 8.

27 Ram. II xliv, 4.

28 This is the Law followed by the good–that one should follow his elder brother." Ram. II xl, 6.

29 Ram. II iv, 26.

30 Ram. II xii, 62.

31 Ram. II xxiv, 22.

32 The Dharmatma Bharata, upright and truthful, and deep in the love of the Law, love and wealth, rules the world, taking delight in administering justice by punishments and rewards. Ram, IV xviii, 7.

33 Ram. II xxxi, 20.

34 Ram. III xiii, 24.

35 Ram. VI xxviii, 17-19.

36 Ram. VI lxxxvii, 22.

37 Ram. III ix, 7.

38 Ram. VI xci, 72.

39 Ram. II cviii, 2.

40 Ram. II cviii, 3, 4.

41 Ram. VI cxviii. 21.

42 Ram. VI cxix, 24-26.

43 Ram. I i, 12 and 13.

44 Ram. II ii, 29.

45 Ram. II xx v, 3.

46 Ram. II xix, 20.

47 Ram. II xxx, 9.

48 Ram. II xxx, 30-31.

49 Ram. II liii, 26.

50 Ram. V lv, 24.

51 Ram. V xxi. 20.

52 Ram. VI xviii, 36.

53 Ram. II. cvi, 21.

54 Ram. III L, 18.

55 Ram. IV xviii.

56 Ram. III xxxvii. 13.

57 Ram. IV xviii. 9.

58 Ram. VI cxxxi. 102.

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