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Ramayana: Summary and Lessons by Dr. Sandip Bankar

Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic that narrates the life of Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. It’s an epic that captivates the reader or listener, from the start to the end. One can find love, duty, hatred, devotion, envy, valor, diplomacy, philosophy, ethical dilemma, temptations, leadership, and even grief in this narration. Be it the influence of association on Kaikeyi, the dutifulness of Lord Rama, devotion and chastity of Mother Sita, the lust of Ravana, the integrity of Dasarath, the sacrifice of Jatayu, or the servitude of Hanuman, each narration is full of anticipation and amazement.

Lord Rama’s father, Dasharatha was the king of Kosala, an ancient kingdom that’s located in present day Uttar Pradesh. He had 4 sons from three queens: Kausalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra. Rama is the son of Kausalya, the eldest queen. Bharata is the son of Kaikeyi and Lakshmana and Shatrughna are twins born to Sumitra. Rama’s birthday is now celebrated as Ramanavami or Sri Ramanavami. Lord Rama married Mother Sita, a lovely daughter of King Janaka. For the next twelve years Rama and Sita lived happily in Ayodhya. Rama was loved by all. He was a joy to his father, Dasharatha, whose heart nearly burst with pride every time he beheld his son. As Dasharatha was growing older, he summoned his ministers to seek their opinion about crowning Rama as the prince of Ayodhya. When they unanimously welcomed the suggestion, Dasharatha announced the decision and gave orders for the coronation of Rama. During this time, Bharata and his favorite brother, Shatrughna, had gone to see their maternal grandfather and were not present in Ayodhya. Along with the other queens, Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi rejoiced too when she heard of Rama’s coronation. She was extremely happy to hear the news. She loved Rama as her own son; but her wicked maid, Manthara, was unhappy. Manthara wanted Bharata to be the king, so she devised a heinous plan to thwart Rama’s coronation. She poisoned Kaikeyi’s thoughts. “What a fool you are, the king has always loved you more than the other queens. But the moment Rama is crowned, Kausalya will become all powerful and she will make you, her slave”, said Manthara, clouding Kaikeyi’s mind and heart with suspicion and doubt. Slowly and steadily she completely influenced Kaikeyi’s thinking process. Confused and distraught, Kaikeyi finally agreed to Manthara’s plan. “But what can I do to change it?” asked Kaikeyi with a puzzled mind. Manthara was cunning and clever. Manthara reminded Kaikeyi the two boons Dasharath offered when she saved him in the battlefield fighting Asuras, a long time ago. Kaikeyi readily remembered. Manthara continued, “Now the time has come to demand those boons. Ask Dasharatha for your first boon to make Bharat the king of Kosal and for the second boon to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years.” Kakeyi was a noble-hearted queen, now trapped by Manthara. She agreed to do what Manthara said. Both of them knew that Dasharatha would never fall back on his words. Dasharatha could hardly believe his ears when he hears this. Unable to bear what he had heard; he fell down unconscious. When he returned to his senses, he cried out in helpless anger, “What has come over you? What harm has Rama done to you? Please ask for anything else but these.” Kaikeyi stood firm and refused to yield. Dasharatha fainted and lay on the floor the rest of the night. The next morning, Sumantra, the minister, came to inform Dasharatha that all the preparations for the coronation were ready. But Dasharatha was not in a position to speak to anyone. Kaikeyi asked Sumantra to call Rama immediately. When Rama arrived, Dasharatha was sobbing uncontrollably and could only utter “Rama! Rama!” Rama was alarmed seeing his father in this state and when he got to know about the demands of Kaikeyi, he said with a smile “Is that all mother?”. “Please take it that your boons are granted. Call for Bharata. I shall start for the forest today.” Rama did his pranams to his revered father, Dasharatha, and to his stepmother, Kaikeyi, and then left the room.

Dasharatha was in shock. He painfully asked his attendants to move him to Kaushalya’s apartment. He was waiting for death to ease his pain. By that evening Rama, Sita and Lakshmana left Ayodhya and reached the bank of the Ganges and decided to spend the night under a tree near a village of hunters.


Lord Rama and boatmen Kevat!


When Lord Sri Ramachandra reached the forest with Sita and Lakshmana they had to cross river Ganga. Guha, the chieftain of the village had heard about the banishment of Lord Rama and came running to help Him. One of his boatmen was unloading people on the opposite bank and Guha said to Kevat to bring the boat and take the divine personalities to the other side of the river Ganga. Kevat brought the boat near Lord Rama, got down and did namaskar with an intense devotion to Lord Rama. He is a big devotee of lord Rama and normally started and ended his days with prayers to Lord Rama and throughout the day he was well known for talking about the glories of Lord. Kevat asked Guha whether he could wash Lord’s feet before he stepped into his boat. Guha told him to wash his feet after seating him in the boat. But Kevat was adamant and told Guha that he would like to wash Lord’s feet before he got into the boat. Guha was a little angry at his stubbornness and was about to lose his temper. Then Kevat decided to explain his point to Lord Rama directly. He said, “Lord, the limited income I have as a boatman is just enough to make both ends meet in life and I am afraid that I cannot afford any more boats. So, let me please wash the dust on your feet before you step into my boat.” Lord Rama smiled looking at Sita Devi and remained silent. Kevat continued, “Lord, I have heard that the dust from your feet embraced a stone in the forest and it became a woman. My boat is made of several pieces of wood and if the dust of your feet falls on my boat, I am afraid the boat would turn into several women corresponding to each piece of wood. I cannot take care of any more members in my household. That is why I am requesting to wash the feet and make it dust free before you step into the boat. Please be kind to me.” Lord Rama appreciated his pure and innocent faith and lets him wash his feet. After washing their feet Kevat places his hands on earth and asks Lord Rama to first step on his hand before stepping into the boat. This way he washed all his sins by having a touch of Lords feet. Then, Kevat ferried them across the river. As soon as they alighted from the boat, Ma Sita immediately withdrew a ring from her finger and handed it over to Lord Rama, signaling to him to pass it on to the boatman. Lord Rama said, “here brother, that is all we can pay you for your kind service. Please accept it!” Shaking his head, Kevat says, “No, My Lord! I cannot possibly accept this from you”. When Lord Rama wanted to know the reason, he says, “because people of the same profession do not charge each other for theirservices. A barber never takes payment when he gives a haircut to another barber. Even a washerman never charges a fellow washerman”. Bewildered by this reasoning, lord Rama says, “brother, how can you and I be of the same profession? You are a boatman and I am....”. For this, Kevat replies, “Lord, both of us do the same work. I ferry people from this shore of the Ganges to the other. You ferry people across the ocean of Samsaar (Bhav-sagar or the ocean of material existence), through the journey of life. How can I accept payment from you? Prabhu! I don’t want anything. But please, as I have made you cross this river today, when my time comes, take me across Samsaar. That would be your return to me. The Lord gets so overwhelmed at this devotional request from Kevat, that he held out his arms and embraced the boatman. Later, the expert ferryman was delivered from
the cycle of birth and death just because of this little service done unto the Supreme Lord! Lord Rama said, “you not need to take another birth”, and granted Kevat Mukti from the material world.

punarapi jananam punarapi maranam

punarapi jananii jathare shayanam
iha samsaare bahudustaare
kripayaa apaare paahi muraare

Moral of the story: We all ask God for material elements and temporary material pleasures. This is just like asking a rupee from a benevolent who has the ability to give you the whole world. How foolish are we, that we run after the world leaving the loving supreme soul. Let’s act smartly like this expert ferryman. Let’s do some devotional service unto Supreme Lord Hari. That way reaching the ultimate perfection in life would be assured. The Merciful Lord comes himself or sends his devotees (saints) to show us the right direction. We can find an example in Mahabharat also. As soon as Arjuna accepted Lord Krishna as his guide, Lord’s perfect instructions lead him to victory and fame. Little service rendered to the merciful Supreme Lord would please him and he would hold the reins of the chariot of our life. And, when the Supreme Lord would be our guide, would there be any doubt in our victory on the path of life?

The integrity of Bharata:


Meanwhile Bharata had no idea that his mother, Kaikeyi, had sent his elder brother Lord Rama to the forest. He was in fact called by ministers to perform the cremation of his father Dasaratha, who passed away in the grief of separation from Lord Rama. Upon reaching back to Ayodhya, every single person treated him with the attitude of anger, disdain, and condemnation thinking him to be the cause of Lord Rama’s exile. His nearest and dearest relatives – Kaushalya, Laxmana, Vasishta, and in fact the entire kingdom saw him as someone hungry for power, selfish, insensitive, and cruel. How did he respond? His heart was pierced with each remark and yet his focus was on bringing Lord Rama back. Even when Lord Rama refused and requested him to accept the responsibility, he never sat on the throne but ruled the kingdom from an outer village on behalf of Lord Rama. He didn’t accept the dress and food of the royal court. He never slept on the bed thinking how Rama was sleeping on the floor. It is said that the greatness of a person has to be estimated by their capacity to tolerate provoking situations. The tolerance of Bharat amidst misunderstanding and false accusations by everyone around him gives a glimpse of his greatness. What can be more heart- wrenching than to face false accusations and stand responsible for the entire conspiracy at a time when his heart was infact sinking because he just lost his father and his dearest brothers he loved so much? Lord Rama, Sita, and Laxmana reaches Panchavati on the bank of Godavari River (Present day Nasik). It was a beautiful place. Rama planned to stay at Panchavati for some time. So, Lakshamana quickly put up an elegant hut and they all settled down. Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana, lived in Panchavati. Ravana was then the most powerful Asura king who lived in Lanka (today’s Sri Lanka). One day Surpanakha happened to see Rama and instantly fell in love with him. She requested Rama to marry her. Rama was amused on hearing this and smilingly says,
“As you see I am already married. You can request Lakshmana. He is young, handsome and is alone without his wife.” Surpanakha took Rama’s word seriously and approached Lakshmana. But when Lakshmana refuses too, Surpanakha gets furious with the rejection and attacks Sita. Lakshmana swiftly intervenes and cut off her nose with his dagger. Surpanakha runs away with her bleeding nose, crying in pain, to seek help from her Asura brothers, Khara and Dushana. Both the brothers got red with anger and marched their army towards Panchavati. Rama and Lakshmana faced the Rakshasas and finally they were all killed. Surpanakha was terror stricken. She immediately flew to Lanka to seek her brother Ravana’s protection. Ravana was outraged to see her sister mutilated. Surpanakha described all that happened. Ravana was interested when he heard that Sita is the most beautiful woman in the world, Ravana decided to abduct Sita. Rama loved Sita very much and could not live without her. Ravana kidnapped Sita with an evil plan and took her to Lanka.


Jatayu – Devotion enables you to go beyond your capacity & develop fearlessness.


When Demon Ravana kidnapped Sita and was taking her to his kingdom, he was challenged by Lord Rama’s great devotee Jatayu. Jatayu, a vulture who was very old at that time and could hardly move, could not tolerate Lord’s wife being kidnapped by a demon. Though, he stood no chance against the mighty cruel Ravana, he was fearless, went much beyond his capabilities and gave a great fight to Ravana. Eventually, he gave his life in the service of the Lord. When Lord Rama came and saw Jatayu just about to die, He took him in his lap and told him “On this very day, I am sending you to my eternal abode, Vaikuntha”. Who was the actual winner in the battle? Was it Ravana, whose whole dynasty was destroyed or was it the great devotee Jatayu, who although lost his life, but got the highest liberation – a place in Lord’s abode. In the unalloyed service of the supreme Lord, there is no defeat irrespective of external circumstances and situations.
1. Mercy extending beyond the human species: Here Jatayu, a vulture, has been mortally wounded while in the process of protecting Rama’s wife, Sita Devi. As a reward, Jatayu gets to see God face to face at the time of death. The moment of quitting is inevitable for every person. Rather than focus on the temporary, it is better to contemplate the one person who is always beyond birth and death, who can take me back to the original home, the spiritual world.

2. Auspiciousness even in defeat: Jatayu did not succeed in protecting Sita. The evil Ravana succeeded in flying his aerial car back to Lanka, taking Sita with him. Jatayu not only lost the battle, but the wounds suffered in combat were fatal. However, if see this little deeply, we see that there was nothing lost. Jatayu gained the vision of Rama’s moonlike face at the time of death. He is still remembered and honored to this day. He is one of the great heroes to appear on this earth, and he is not even of the human species.

3. God will find you – Lord Ram came to Jatayu at his last time and did his final rights which were not received by his own father Dasaratha.


Hanuman found Sita and helped Rama get back Sita to Ayodhya


Hanuman’s many feats of strength do not make him a brute—rather, he is very soft-hearted and caring. When he jumped across the ocean to warn Ravana and kill many of his men, for instance, he also gently comforted Sita in her distress, giving her Rama’s ring to assure her of his allegiance and promising her that her Lord would come and save her soon. Such care earned him a deep embrace from his master upon his return. When the battle had ended and Lord Ramachandra had killed Ravana, Hanuman once again visited Sita, who was still in captivity, and brought life and joy back to her when he told her the good news. He then personally took her to meet her husband. The Lord deeply appreciated such service, favoring Hanuman by presenting him with Sita’s gold necklace and granting him unflinching pure
devotion to himself, Rama.


Hanuman’s Simplicity


A devotee is very uncomplicated—his life is simply dedicated to doing whatever will please the Lord. This simplicity and innocent devotion is illustrated in a story told at Hanuman temples all over India. When Hanuman was delivering Rama’s message and ring to Sita while she was being held captive by Ravana, he saw her applying reddish vermillion—known as “sindhur” or “kumkum”—in the parting in her hair, and asked what its purpose was. “It is to give my husband Sri Rama a long life and to protect him from calamities,” Sita explained. Hearing this, Hanuman thought, “If just a pinch of sindhur can protect Rama, how safe will a huge amount keep him?” He then promptly covered his entire body with sindhur. When he returned to the other side of the ocean, where Rama was preparing his army of monkey warriors for war, the commander-in-chief Sugriva burst into laughter. Rama, however, gravely asked Hanuman why he had done such a thing. When Hanuman told him, Rama was deeply moved by this innocent show of Bhakti and proclaimed that any devotee who worshipped Hanuman with sindhur would receive his mercy and be able to cross all obstacles in devotional service. Today, devotees at temples across India still worship Hanuman by anointing his deity form with sindhur.


Hanuman’s Selfless Service


Vaishnava text Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, describes Hanuman as free from all fear, strictly celibate, and extremely intelligent. He is a skilled poet, thoroughly learned in all Vedic literature, and gave excellent strategic advice during the battle with Ravana. He also carried out medical services, treating Rama’s battlefield wounds, and sang beautiful songs for the Lord’s pleasure. While Lord Rama was living in the forest, on exile from his kingdom, Hanuman used his huge white tail to provide the Lord with a white umbrella—a traditional symbol of royalty at the time. The same tail also served as a sunscreen canopy, a fan, and, when Hanuman was serving as the Lord’s vehicle, a flag. Yet despite rendering all these services to Lord Rama, when the Lord offered him liberation as a reward, Hanuman did not accept it—he did not want anything in return other than more service. “Even though liberation destroys the bondage of material existence,” Hanuman told Rama, “I have no desire for liberation, in which I would forget that you are the master and I am your servant.”


Chanting the Lord’s Holy Name


It is stated in the scriptures that wherever Rama-katha (stories about Rama), are recited, Hanuman comes to listen. He makes every endeavor to increase the bliss of Lord Ramachandra’s devotees, both in ancient times and today. It is also said that the immortal Hanuman has vowed to remain in this world as long as the holy names of Rama are chanted.
So, on the sacred appearance day of Lord Rama, as we hear stories of his pastimes, and chant his Holy name —the essence of which translates as “My dear Lord, kindly engage me in your service”—we can be sure that the great monkey warrior Hanuman is right there with us, listening and increasing our desire to serve his Lord.

Note from the author: “Much content of this blog is taken from various sources and the original authors own the copyrights. Some of the sources are:

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