Using Ramayana to navigate life’s challenges

For centuries, humans have told stories to impart moral values and guide society’s behavior. Ramayana does this exquisitely. The ancient Indian epic, filled with tales to teach people about the importance of morality, ethics, and proper conduct, still resonates with us today.

Rama, the ideal son, loving husband, and virtuous king, has served as a moral compass for generations. While none of us mortals can reach his moral height, he has continued to inspire us to do better.

Sita, his loyal wife, sacrificed her comfort to follow Rama into the forest. She displayed quiet courage while Ravana kidnapped her against her will and held her in captivity. Sita resisted his advances and refused his demands, no matter the threat. And she faced all her adversity with grace and dignity. Her remarkable ability to forgive can teach us to let go of our resentments.

I love these stories, and you will read references to this epic sprinkled throughout my books.

As the birth of Rama and his brothers were announced to the king of Ayodhya, the performers broke into a joyful dance.

Heir to Malla by Anna Bushi

Filial piety shown in Ramayana has a subtle distinction from a son merely respecting his father’s wishes. King Dushyant had granted his wife, Kaikeyi, two boons for helping him during a battle. This is of significance because this portrays a culture where female warriors were present. That should come as no surprise because some of the fiercest dieties are warrior Goddess like Durga. Back to the story, Kaikeyi wants her son Bharatha to rule Ayodhya, though Rama, son of Kausalya, is the firstborn son of Dasaratha. Kaikeyi asks Dasaratha to grant her the two boons, crown her son and send Rama to the forest for fourteen years. When Rama hears of the boon, he agrees to keep his father’s word, though Dasaratha begs Rama to stay and rule the kingdom. In my view, the story conveys Rama’s value for the dharma and his commitment to upholding the principles of righteousness. Rama fulfills his father’s promise to his stepmother, though it comes at a tremendous personal cost. Despite Dasaratha’s pleas and offers to make amends, Rama firmly upholds his father’s promise and accepts his fate with grace and equanimity.

You can see the same distinction in respect for elders. Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, is a loyal and dutiful sibling and rarely goes against his older brother’s wishes. Rama, with his virtuous ways, is an easier brother to respect and obey. Vibhishana, Ravana’s younger brother, on the other hand, opposes his older brother’s devious acts. The tale of these two brothers illustrate that the lesson here is not blind obedience to one’s elders but rather adherence to dharma.

Our modern sensibilities might dislike Rama’s test of Sita’s virtue after he rescues her from Ravana. But the different adaptations of this offer us a clue to the culture and norms of those times. Some historians have stated that in the original Valmiki Ramayana, Rama does not explicitly doubt Sita’s virtue or subject her to a trial by fire. However, in some later versions and adaptations of the Ramayana, Rama does express a desire for Sita to prove her virtue and subjects her to a trial by fire to prove her purity. This trial by fire is known as the agnipariksha, in which Sita walks through a blazing fire to prove her innocence. These subsequent changes provide us a clue that the importance placed on a woman’s honor changed over time.

Ramayana is a beautiful window into our past and our present. The way we tell the story today offers an insight into what we hold valuable now. For instance, in modern adaptations, a lot of emphasis is placed on portraying Sita as an equal partner to Rama, rather than a subservient wife. That is a reflection of the place of modern Indian women.

I hope this epic continues to delight and guide young readers.

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