Rama

Rama (IAST: rāma, Devanāgarī: राम, Thai: Phra Ram, Lao: Phra Lam) or Ramachandra was a king of Ayodhya in ancient India. In Hinduism, he is considered to be an avatar of Vishnu and a lila-avatara as described in the Bhagavata Purana.

Rama is one of the most popular figures and deities in Vaishnava and religious scriptures in South and Southeast Asia. The majority of details concerning Rama come from the Ramayana, one of the two great epics of India. Born as the eldest son of Kaushalya and Dasharatha, king of Ayodhya, Rama is referred to within Hinduism as Maryada Purushottama, literally the Perfect Man or Lord of Restrictions. Rama is the husband of Sita, who is considered to be an Avatar of Lakshmi and the embodiment of perfect womanhood.

Rama's life and journey is one of perfect adherence to dharma despite harsh tests of life and time. For the sake of his father's honour, Rama abandons his claim to Kosala's throne to serve an exile of fourteen years in the forest. His wife, Sita and brother, Lakshmana being unable to live without Rama decide to join him, and all three spend the fourteen years in exile together. This leads to the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana, the Rakshasa monarch of Lanka. After a long and arduous search that tests his personal strength and virtue, Rama fights a colossal war against Ravana's armies. In a war of powerful and magical beings, greatly destructive weaponry and battles, Rama slays Ravana in battle and liberates his wife. Having completed his exile, Rama returns to be crowned King in Ayodhya (the capital of his Kingdom) and eventually becomes Emperor of the World, after which he reigns for eleven thousand years – an era of perfect happiness, peace, prosperity and justice known as Rama Rajya.

Rama's courage in searching for Sita and fighting a terrible war to rescue his wife and their honour is complemented by Sita's absolute devotion to her husband's love, and perfect chastity despite being Ravana's captive. Rama's younger brothers, namely Lakshmana, Shatrughna and Bharata strongly complement his piety, virtue and strength,[9] and they are believed by many to belong to the Mariyada Purshottama and the Seventh Avatara, mainly embodied by Rama. Rama's piety and virtue attract powerful and devoted allies such as Hanuman and the Vanaras of Kishkindha, with whose help he rescues Sita.[9] The legend of Rama is deeply influential and popular in the societies of the Indian subcontinent and across South East Asia. Rama is revered for his unending compassion, courage and devotion to religious values and duty.

Prince of Ayodhya

King Dasaratha performs a putrakameṣṭi yajña, a sacrifice to obtain offspring by pleasing the gods. He gives the sacred, sacrificial nectar to his three wives according to their seniority: Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. On the night of the ninth day after Amavasya, under the asterism of Punarvasu and the cardinal sign of the Crab, Rama was born in the city of Ayodhya, which is the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kosala. The city and the area are located in the central region of the modern state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Rama was the prince of the Suryavamsha (Sun Dynasty) House of Ikshvaku, descendant of great monarchs like Ikshvaku, Raghu and Bhagiratha. He is the eldest brother to Bharata, son of Kaikeyi, and the twin sons of Sumitra, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Rama is dark-complexioned, mainly bluish – a symbol of divinity.[15]

The Ramayana describes the relationship between the brothers as intensely loving and devotional, although Rama and Lakshmana share a special, inseparable bond, while Bharata is especially close to Shatrughna. The four brothers enjoy an undiscriminating love from Dasaratha and his three queens, but Dasaratha's main affections are affixed upon Rama. Rama and his brothers are trained by Rishi Vasishta in the Vedas, religion, philosophy and the sciences. They are described as taller than the tallest men of modern times, possessive of exceptional acumen and prowess in the military sciences and arts.

Initiation of the Avatara

Sage Vishwamitra takes the two princes, Rama and Lakshmana, to the Swayamvara ceremony for Sita. The challenge is to string the bow of Shiva, and shoot an arrow with it. This task is considered impossible for any ordinary king or living being, as this is the personal weapon of Shiva, more powerful, holy and of divine creation than conceivable. While attempting to string the bow, Rama breaks it into two. This feat of unbelievable strength, to have broken the bow of Shiva, spreads his fame across the worlds and seals his marriage to Sita.[17]

After Rama weds Sita and the entire royal family and the Ayodhya army begin their journey back, the great rishi Parashurama Bhargava appears before them, having descended from his mountainous hermitage. Parashurama is an extremely powerful rishi, responsible for killing all of the world's warriors and kings 21 times. He was the sixth Avatara of Vishnu, and finds it unbelievable that anybody could break the bow of Shiva. Considering himself to still be the most powerful warrior-rishi on earth, he brings with them the bow of Vishnu, and intends to challenge Rama to prove his strength by stringing it, and then fighting a battle with him to prove superiority.[18] Although the entire Ayodhya army is forestalled by his mystical power, Rama is himself angered. He respectfully bows to Parashurama, and within a twinkling of an eyelid snatches the bow of Vishnu, strings it, places an arrow and points it straight at the challenger's heart. Rama asks Parashurama what he will give as a target to the arrow in return for his life? At this point, Parashurama feels himself devoid of the tremendous mystical energy he possessed for so long. He realizes that Rama is Vishnu incarnate, his successor and definitely his superior. He accepts Rama's superiority, devotes his tapasya to him, pays homage to Rama and promises to return to his hermitage and leave the world of men.[19]

Rama then fired the arrow up into the sky with Vishnu's bow, performing a feat true to his Supreme, divine nature with his natural weapon. His overpowering of Parashurama and using the supreme weapon with incredible ease and perfection dazzle the spectators and his relatives, but no one save Parashurama and Vasishta associate this with his true identity. It is said that the Rama's arrow is still flying across space, across time and across all of the universe. The day it will return to earth, it is said, it will bring the end of the world. Others say that the flying arrow destroys all evil on earth to uphold dharma and righteousness.

Dharma of exile

King Dasaratha announces to Ayodhya that he plans to crown Rama, his eldest child the Yuvaraja (crown prince). While the news is welcomed by everyone in the kingdom, the mind of queen Kaikeyi is poisoned by her wicked maid-servant, Manthara. Kaikeyi, who is initially pleased for Rama, is made to fear for the safety and future of her son Bharata. Fearing that Rama would ignore or possibly victimize his youngest brother for the sake of power, Kaikeyi demands that Dasaratha banish Rama to a forest exile for fourteen years, and that Bharata be crowned in Rama's place. She had been granted two boons by the king when she had saved his life a long time ago, and the queen now used them to serve her purpose.[21] The king's court and the people are outraged at this turn of events. Dasaratha loved and cherished Rama dearly, and was in personal turmoil. Completely estranged now from his younger wife, he abhors the prospect of separation from Rama. But Rama realizes that the king must not break a solemn promise at any time, and neither should a son disobey his father's command. Sita joins her husband in exile despite his discouraging her, as it is her duty and out of love for Rama that she must be at his side at all times. His younger brother Lakshmana also immediately decides to join Rama rather than remain in the city.

As he leaves for exile, the people of Ayodhya are deeply saddened and angered at Dasaratha and Kaikeyi. Dasaratha's heart is broken and he collapses and dies by the next day, unable to bear the agony of separation from Rama. Despite the reasoning of Vasishtha and the pleas of his brothers, Rama refuses to return. Although horrified at the news of his father's death, Rama finds it impossible that he should break his dead father's word. Rama does not bear any anger towards Kaikeyi, believing firmly in the power of destiny.[23] According to the explanation of the classic, this exile actually presents Rama the opportunity to confront Ravana and his evil empire.

Rama and Sita

Rama and Sita are the protagonists in one of the most famous love stories of all time. Described as being deeply in love, Sita and Rama are theologically understood as avatars of Lakshmi and Vishnu respectively. When Rama is banished from the kingdom, he attempts to convince Sita not to join him in a potentially dangerous and certainly arduous existence in the jungle, but Sita rejects this. When Rama orders her in his capacity as husband, Sita rejects it, asserting that it was an essential duty of a wife to be at her husband's side come good or ill.[24] Rama in turn is assiduously protective and caring for Sita throughout the exile.

When Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, both Sita and Rama undergo great personal hardships during their separation. Sita protects her chastity assiduously, and survives over a year in captivity on the strength of her love and attention to religious values and duty. She is completely unfettered in her resolve despite Ravana's courting, cajoling and threats. Meanwhile Rama, not knowing who had kidnapped Sita or where was she taken, often succumbs to despair and tears, denouncing himself for failing to defend her and agonizing over her safety and pain. Sita knows that it is in Rama's destiny to fight to rescue her (she refuses to be rescued thus by Hanuman, who discovers her), but is deeply anxious for his safety and fearful of Ravana's power.

Rama Rajya

The end of the war coincides with the end of Rama's tenure of exile. Flying home on the Pushpaka Vimana, Rama returns to a joyous Ayodhya. His mothers, brothers and the people joyously welcome him. Kaikeyi is repentant of her deeds, and Rama forgives her. The next day, Rama is invested as the King of Ayodhya, and Emperor of the World. Although he first asks Lakshmana to become the yuvaraja, upon the advice of Lakshmana he invests the position to Bharata, who has had fourteen years of experience as the ruler of Ayodhya. Rama performs the holy Ashwamedha sacrifice, purifying and establishing religion across earth.[38]

Beyond the Ramayana, the eleven thousand years of Rama's rule over the earth represent to millions of modern Indians a time and age when God as a man ruled the world. There was perfect justice and freedom, peace and prosperity. There are no natural disasters, diseases, ailments or ill-fortune of any nature for any living being. There are no sins committed in the world by any of his people. Always attentive and accessible to his people, Rama is worshipped and hailed by all – the very symbol of moksha, the ultimate goal and destination of all life, and the best example of perfect character and human conduct, inspiring human beings for countless succeeding ages.

Rama like other Indian kings went undercover every night to hear the pleas of his subjects and have a common man's perspective of his rule. During Rama's tenure as King, the people apparently had no locks on their doors as they feared no burglaries or other such misfortunes.

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