We know the scriptures recommend the worship of Shri Rama as a sure means of cleansing our inner selves. This worship inevitably consists of offering flowers etc. to our beloved Rama. However, the thinking devotee cannot but pause to wonder over the following dilemma: "What great merit can hope to be accrued by offering to God what has been created by God Himself, and which truly belongs to Him only?" Indeed, can a flower said to be the creation of human hands? Man can fashion a paper flower, but can he infuse it with fragrance? The ground over which a flower grows, the water which sustains it, all have been created by God. The flower has been truly created by Him only. The fragrance in the flower too has been established by Him. Indeed, everything in this world belongs to Shri Rama.
However, there is definitely merit in offering to Rama what is already His own. It generates pleasure on the part of Rama; but this pleasure is partial only and not complete. This is the initial most stage of Bhakti, when we, whether we want to do it or not, perform Puja towards Shri Rama, taking the scriptural word to be command. Slowly and steadily our interest is awakened as to who Shri Rama is? What is the narrative surrounding Him? It is at this stage, when we delve into what the ancient scriptures like Valmiki Ramayana say about Him, that we take a step towards performing true Bhakti towards Shri Rama, leading to His full satisfaction and pleasure. What exactly do we need to do be this especial winner of His grace? We need to follow His life.
Each and every action Shri Rama performed during His life was bound by Dharma. Actually, when we bow to Shri Rama we are but saying that: "I am under You. I surrender to You both my head and hands." The head represents our brains and hands our capacity to action. Thus both are offered to Him, surrendered at the altar of Dharma.
The Difference between Shri Rama and Lord Krishna
The message of Rama’s life is very clear: We have to emulate each and every
of His actions. This is in fact the crucial difference between Shri Rama and
Lord Krishna. While Krishna’s Lila is not to be emulated but only meditated
upon, Shri Rama’s each and every action is an inspiration for us to follow in
Living as Shri Rama had done is the most effective means of cleansing our inner selves, making us the recipients of the Lord’s grace. This grace is the only means of salvation.
Some particularly inspiring facets of Shri Rama’s life are:
Shri Rama’s Bhakti towards His Parents
Shri Rama has demonstrated that we should unquestionably do what our parents ask us to do. This in fact is the ideal of Ramayana: Keeping faith in God and Ramayana, we should always fulfill our parent’s will, even though it may seem unpalatable. In fact, Rama’s father Dashratha, never specifically asked Him to go the forest. His tongue could never utter those terrible and tragic words. It was only Shri Rama’s step mother who told Him that His father was bound by promise to send Him to the forests. Rama’s answer was: "If this is my father’s wish then so will it be; because obeying his command is my sacred duty (Dharma). Leave alone the forest, I can jump into the fire or sea, or even partake poison if my father so wishes." (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda 18.28-29)
Shri Rama always considered Himself to be under the will of His parents. The Almighty Rama says that "I do not have the power to transgress my father’s orders." A son is undoubtedly the keeper of his father’s promises and honor.
Shri Rama’s Affection for His Brothers
The Ramayana says the following about Lakshmana, Shri Rama’s younger brother: ‘Lakshmana was like Rama’s Prana, albeit outside His body. Without Lakshmana Rama could not sleep. Whenever delicious food was brought before Him, Shri Rama would not eat it without sharing it with Lakshmana first.’
When Rama came to know that He was to be declared crown prince, this is what He said to His dear brother: "Lakshmana! Come rule this world with me. You are but my soul. Come and enjoy all the pleasures and fruits of this kingdom. I desire this kingdom, nay my life itself, only for your own sake." (Ayodhya Kanda 4.43-44)
During His childhood, while playing with His brothers, Rama never attempted to defeat them. He sought not victory, but deliberately chose defeat to give pleasure to His brothers. Indeed, this is what the word ‘Rama’ means in Sanskrit: ‘One who gives pleasure to others.’
Of course this love was equally reciprocated by the brothers too. When we keep affection for our younger brother in our heart, he too will definitely do the same. A particular malady of this Kaliyuga is people loving and helping others, but neglecting or even cheating their own brothers. At times we see someone ready to share their wealth with others, but not his own brother. This is not the ideal of the Ramayana. Those who are near to us, by the accident of birth or otherwise, they have the first calling on our resources (and time).
Shri Rama’s Restraint
If we come to know that we are going to be declared heir to a big kingdom tomorrow, what would our immediate reaction be? We would go out and party in style. What did Shri Rama do when His crowning was announced? That night He fasted, slept on the floor over a bed of grass, and maintained complete celibacy (Ayodhya Kanda 4.23).
Another great feature in Shri Rama’s character is His commitment to one woman. The scriptures sing exceptional glory of a person who commits himself to only one woman and vice versa. Restricting oneself to the woman one has married in the presence of the gods, Brahmins and Agni (sacred fire), is considered as the greatest of virtues. Hereby, one concentrates the locus of his desire in a single individual, and fulfills one’s desires within the ambit of Dharma.
Actually desire or Kama has the tendency to spread out and pervade. The mere sight of beauty creates Kama. Restraining Kama by restricting it to a single individual eventually leads to its destruction. This is the higher purpose of marriage. Marriage is not license for an indiscriminate enjoyment of carnal pleasures; rather, its purpose ultimately is to destroy these very desires. Not the flowering of Kama, but its reduction to ashes is the purpose of marriage. We however need the ideal of Rama to defeat the demon of Kama.
A popular story illustrates this point: Since Sita Ji never let Ravana come near her, he was once advised to take the form of Rama and approach her. However Ravana replied that he had already tried it out and realized it was of no use, because no sooner had he done so, he was unable to go near her. As soon as he became Rama, he found himself devoid of Kama.
Shri Rama as the Follower of Scriptures
Shri Rama was very particular that all His actions conformed to the scriptures, thus setting an inspirational example for us. In this regard it must be noted that a fundamental aspect of the Vedas is a firm belief that there exist worlds beyond this present one, laying particular emphasis on Swarga (heaven) and Naraka (hell). In fact, one whole chapter of the Valmiki Ramayana is dedicated to Shri Rama establishing that heaven and hell do exist, and following one’s Dharma as laid down in the scriptures is the way of achieving the former (Ayodhya Kanda 109).
Also, no sooner had he heard that His father had passed away, even though He was in the forests, Shri Rama set out to perform His father’s Shraddha, the after-death ceremony for one’s ancestors, which is absolutely necessary for believers in the Vedas (Ayodhya Kanda 103).
What’s more, Shri Rama unfailingly used to get up before dawn, and perform the daily obligatory meditation on the Sun God know as Sundhya, which consists of offering water to the Sun God and chanting of the Gayatri Mantra. Some fortunate people are still blessed enough in this country to be performing this ritual everyday. (Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kanda 23.3)
Towards the end of the Ramayana, when Shri Rama had killed Ravana, the latter’s younger brother Vibhishana (who was on Shri Rama’s side), hesitated to cremate Ravana’s body because of his evil deeds. What Shri Rama said at that moment is believed by some to be the most instructive and potent statement in the whole of the Ramayana: "Vibhishana! Hostilities cease with death. Our purpose has been accomplished. Now Ravana is as much a brother to me as he was to you. Go and make preparations for a befitting funeral."
Where else but in Shri Rama can we find such magnanimity? Grand yet practical. The hostilities with Ravana had been initiated only to achieve a purpose. Thus it constituted Dharma. However, once that purpose was accomplished, there remained in Rama’s heart, not even a trace of enmity or hatred towards Ravana. Indeed, we are thankful to the divine land of India for having given us the narrative of this best amongst men (Purushottama), whose actions not only inspire us towards fulfilling our own Dharma, but also give us much needed rootedness, especially during times of adversity, which are but inevitable in the cycle of life.
References & Further Reading:
- Dongre Ji, Shri Ramachandra Keshav. Tattva-Artha Ramayana (Discourses on the Ramayana): Varanasi, 2011.
- Goldman, Robert P. and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman (Tr. and Annotation):
The Valmiki Ramayana (Seven Volumes): Delhi
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda Ji. Discourses on the Valmiki Ramayana: Mumbai, 2012
- Shrimad Valmiki Ramayana (English Translation in Two Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2003.
- Valmiki Ramayanam with Five Sanskrit Commentaries: New Delhi, 2008.