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    In defence of Sri Rama
       A study of the greatness of Sri Rama
                             D. Harish Kumar




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Copyright


The contents of this book can be freely distributed as long as the original source is mentioned.




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Preface


This work was compiled to clarify certain questions raised by the secularists concerning the epic
Ramayana and the noble character of Sri Rama. This great Indian figure, revered by millions of
devout hindus has been the target of periodic attacks by secularists and other anti-hindu forces
who are out to defame hindu heroes, hindu history and hindu mythos. Their aim is to
systematically degrade heroes whom the hindusamaj has held in high esteem, to debunk them
and demoralize the hindu society, inject feelings of guilt, and present a caricature of hindu
religion and culture to its ardent lovers and admirers. Clearly, this trend needs to be countered by
the right thinking members and this work is an effort in that direction.




In this brief work, I present some of the topics raised by the anti-hindu forces to “prove” Sri
Rama was less than noble and in the process attack the foundations of our dharma. These mainly
relate to the incidents of Agni Pariksha of Sita, the killing of Vaali/Bali and Shambuka. I present
the counter-arguments, and expose the tactic of the secularists, which is taking things out of
context, and view the events of yore through the prism of modern values/sensibilities.




I have primarily relied on the exposition of the Epic by Madhva, among the traditional Vedantic
exponents and Sri Aurobindo, amongst the modern exponents. In fact, Sri Aurobindo himself
enters into a spirited defence of Rama in his characteristic fashion, combining yogic insight with
plain commonsense. He does an admirable job of knocking down the debunkers.



The author can be contacted at harishkumar09@yahoo.co.in




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Contents


COPYRIGHT                         2


PREFACE                           3


CONTENTS                          4


INTRODUCTION                      5


THE AGNI PARIKSHA OF SITA         5


HIS TREATMENT OF BALI             8


THE SLAYING OF SHAMBUKA          10


EPILOGUE                         14


GLOSSARY                         16




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Introduction

I find that as far as the Ramayana is concerned there are three points that are repeatedly raised to
prove that Lord Rama was not infallible and had many faults and many of his actions are not
acceptable to modern sensibilities. They are:


      1. His suspecting of his wife’s chastity,
      2. His killing of Shambuka who was doing penance and lastly,
      3. His deceitful killing of Vaali.


   All these are given as examples of his less than noble conduct and are often compared with
  Ravana’s noble character, for he never violated Sita when she was in his custody.




The Agni Pariksha of Sita

  The First one is of course regarding the Agni Pariksha. Before we go further we should know
  the story of Ramayana. Rama is the avatar of Lord Vishnu and he came to this world as Rama
  to set an example to human kind. And in the case of the Avatar, his consort Sri Lakshmi also
  descends to aid the Lord in his divine works. She had incarnated as Sita to fulfill His plan. As
  the omnipotent Lord , Rama certainly knows that Sita was untouched. Neither can Sita be
  touched by any mortal or immortal, asura or rakshasha or man as she is the adhipathi of this
  universe. Thus the concept of his suspecting is wife here is a meaningless one. Clearly Rama
  was eager to establish that his wife was pure and fit for the throne of Ayodhya. And it was to
  this end that he asked her to undergo the Agni Pariksha which was meant to elevate the status
  of Sita amongst his subjects. Thus he actually shows how an ideal King should be, one who
  keeps the feelings of the public in mind. We must realize that in those days much was
  expected of kings, quite unlike today’s elected democratic rulers whose misdemeanor we have
  come to expect. Rama has thus established the code of conduct for an ideal king and by his act
  becomes flawless and worthy of respect.




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Madhva states that at the time of abduction, the soul of Lakshmi Devi left her body and it was
occupied by Indra, the Lord of the Heavens. After the return of Sita, Agni Pariksha was used
as an opportunity to burn down the temporary body of Sita, which was then replaced by the
permanent one.


Aurobindo commenting on Lord Rama:


It was his business to be not necessarily a perfect, but a largely representative sattwic Man, a
faithful husband and a lover, a loving and obedient son, a tender and perfect brother, father,
friend—he is friend of all kinds of people, friend of the outcast Guhaka, friend of the Animal
leaders, Sugriva, Hanuman, friend of the vulture Jatayu, friend of even Rakshasa Vibhishana.
All that he was in a brilliant, striking but above all spontaneous and inevitable way, not with
forcing of this note or that like Harishchandra or Shivi, but with a certain harmonious
completeness. But most of all, it was his business to typify and establish the things on which
the social idea and its stability depend, truth and honour, the sense of Dharma, public spirit
and the sense of order. To the first, to truth and honour, much more than to his filial love and
obedience to his father—though to that also—he sacrificed his personal rights as the elect of
the King and the assembly and fourteen of the best years of his life and went into exile in the
forests. To his public spirit and his sense of public order (the great and supreme civic virtue in
the eyes of the ancient Indians, Greeks, Romans, for at that time the maintenance of the
ordered community, not the separate development and satisfaction of the individual was the
pressing need of the human evolution) he sacrificed his own happiness and domestic life and
the happiness of Sita. In that he was at one with the moral sense of all the antique races,
though at variance with the later romantic individualistic sentimental morality of the modern
man who can afford to have that less stern morality just because the ancients sacrificed the
individual in order to make the world safe for the spirit of social order. Finally, it was Rama's
business to make the world safe for the ideal of the sattwic human being by destroying the
sovereignty of Ravana, the Rakshasa menace. All this he did with such a divine afflatus in his
personality and action that his figure has been stamped for more than two millenniums on the
mind of Indian culture, and what he stood for has dominated the reason and idealising mind of




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man in all countries, and in spite of the constant revolt of the human vital, is likely to continue
to do so until a greater ideal arises. And you say in spite of all these that he was no Avatar? If
you like—but at any rate he stands among the few greatest Vibhutis. You may dethrone him
now—for man is no longer satisfied with the sattwic ideal and is seeking for something
more—but his work and meaning remain stamped on the past of the earth's evolving race.
When I spoke of the gap that would be left by his absence, I did not mean a gap among the
prophets and intellectuals, but a gap in the scheme of Avatarhood—there was somebody who
was the Avatar of the sattwic Human as Krishna was the Avatar of the overmental
Superman—I can see no one but Rama who can fill the place.


In Aurobindo’s view Rama came to complete an evolutionary task , the establishment of an
orderly society where a sattwic type was established firmly over and above the Rakshashic
type. And also social order and ethics were more important than the individual freedom. So
that on this stable foundation future races can enjoy individual freedom (with which they
criticize Rama himself).


One should understand the circumstances in which Rama came to this world. The society was
dominated by rakshasic people whose primary aim in life was self-gratification. The vitalisic
part of the being was the most dominant. In such society characterized by disorder, he had the
task of bringing in order and discipline. It is thanks to His work, today we can afford to have
all the freedoms and rights, because He and His people sacrificed their rights and freedoms to
create a stable society. If today, modern women have the freedom to live as they want and
criticize Rama for his treatment of Sita, they have to thank Rama first for creating the stable
society, which enabled the future races to focus on individual development and give freedom
of speech/action to one and all. Modern women, more than anybody else, owe a debt of
gratitude to Sri Rama, for he created a stable society which gave the modern races the
confidence to experiment with new ideas such as women’s liberation, gender equality and
other such ideals.




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His treatment of Bali

  The Second issue on which Rama is criticized is his treatment of Vaali/Bali. He was the
  monkey king who usurped the throne of Sugriva.


  Madhva states that it is adharmic to kill sinners in a dharmic fashion. It is a sin to kill a sinner
  dharmically. It is dharmic to kill a sinners in an adharmic fashion. Sinners don’t deserve a
  dharmic death. Madhva lays great emphasis on yogyata or deservedness of individuals.


  A deva or a daivic person has the yogyata to be treated respectfully or fairly especially at the
  time of his death. But an asuric or a Rakshashic individual cannot claim similar status.


  Vaali was a sinner so he did not deserve to be killed from the front. He was therefore killed
  from behind. But on the other hand Ravana was one of the dvarapalakas of Vaikuntha who
  was cursed thrice to be born on earth and battle the Lord so he was basically of a divine
  nature. So Rama faces him squarely and defeats him and disarms and even asks him to come
  back tomorrow well-armed. The humiliation of Ravana is recorded by the tamil poet
  Kambar “ Kadanpattarnenjam pol kalanginaanyelangaivendhan , indru poi
  naalaivaaendruvittane” (Ravana felt humiliated, when Rama asked him to return „morrow
  armed with better weapons). When the Avatar descends, it first of all frees the earth of all evil
  doers and creates an atmosphere suitable for Yoga. Vishnu also uses this opportunity to take
  back all his closest devotees and especially the great souls who had been cursed to be born on
  earth to fulfill his plan for the cosmos.


  Aurobindo on the killing of Vaali/Bali by Rama:


  Volume: 12 [CWSA] (Essays Divine and Human), Page: 495 Ravana's mind thought it was
  hungering after universal sovereignty and victory over Rama; but the aim his soul kept its
  vision fixed upon all the time was to get back to its heaven as soon as possible & be again
  God's menial. Therefore, as the shortest way, it hurled itself against God in a furious clasp of
  enmity.



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At any rate Rama has proved his bravery in his fight against Ravana and also in his fight
against the demons who tried to thwart the yajna of Vishwamitra. There was no need to prove
it against an underserving infra human like Vaali.


Volume: 22-23-24 [SABCL] (Letters on Yoga), Page: 415 No, certainly not—an Avatar is not
at all bound to be a spiritual prophet—he is never in fact merely a prophet, he is a realiser, an
establisher—not of outward things only, though he does realise something in the outward also,
but, as I have said, of something essential and radical needed for the terrestrial evolution
which is the evolution of the embodied spirit through successive stages towards the Divine.


It was not at all Rama's business to establish the spiritual stage of that evolution—so he did
not at all concern himself with that. His business was to destroy Ravana and to establish the
Rama-rajya—in other words, to fix for the future the possibility of an order proper to the
sattwic civilised human being who governs his life by the reason, the finer emotions, morality,
or at least moral ideals, such as truth, obedience, co-operation and harmony, the sense of
domestic and public order,—to establish this in a world still occupied by anarchic forces, the
Animal mind and the powers of the vital Ego making its own satisfaction the rule of life, in
other words, the Vanara and Rakshasa. This is the meaning of Rama and his life-work and it
is according as he fulfilled it or not that he must be judged as Avatar or no Avatar. It was not
his business to play the comedy of the chivalrous Kshatriya with the formidable brute beast
that was Bali, it was his business to kill him and get the Animal under his control.


If we judge Rama by our human standards, bullets for karsevaks and biriyani for terrorists ,
Rama certainly does not come out very well. But Rama belongs to the divine world and in that
world there is a difference between divine and demonic, the two are not equal (never equal
according to Madhva) and the treatment is different for both of them.


Vishnu as both Rama and Krishna upheld the divine law. As Rama he upheld it by his actions
and as Krishna he did not directly participate in the wars but he always advised his servants to




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 kill the asuras by deceit and trickery. Thus Bhimasena was advised by Krishna to hit
 Duryodhana below the waist and kill him which also helped fulfill Bhimasena’s vow that he
 would shatter the sinner’s thighs. Also when killing Keechaka ,Arjuna dresses as a lady to
 seduce the rakshasha, and once inside the trap , he is eliminated by Bhima . Again
 Bhimasena, after killing Dushashana tears up his body to pieces. When Bhishma objects to
 this as an act of barbarism Krishna comes to the defence of Bhima and states that a sinner like
 Dushashana only deserved that kind of a death, he deserves to be torn apart and scatterd in the
 battlefield and not given a decent treatment. But when it came to Shishupala, the reincarnation
 of Ravana , or more precisely the dvarapalaka , Krishna allows him to abuse him a hundred
 times and after that kills him with his Chakra.




The Slaying of Shambuka

 The Third issue on which Rama is often attacked is his slaying of Shambuka. We are told
 that Shambuka was a shudra who was doing penance and Rama did not like a shudra
 performing tapasya, so he was killed off, due to caste prejudice. The shudra is prohibited
 from doing tapasya/asceticism, and he should only follow his caste duties. The secularists
 maintain that Rama killed Shambuka to uphold varnashrama dharma, or the birth based caste
 system, in which shudras are prohibited from performing penance. But they do not tell you
 why Shambuka was doing tapasya. The reason for the tapasya is given by Shambuka
 himself, and we will study this elaborately.


 The killing of Shambuka appears in the Valmiki Ramayana, Book 7, the 'Uttarakanda' [Final
 Chapter], sargas 73-76. Three scene-setting sargas are paraphrased, and then the crucial one is
 presented in full:


 (73) When Rama is reigning as a virtuous king, a humble aged Brahmin comes to him,
 weeping, with his dead son in his arms. He says that Rama must have committed some sin, or
 else his son would not have died. (74) The sage Narada explains to Rama that a Shudra is



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practicing penances, and this is the cause of the child's death. (75) Rama goes on a tour of
inspection in his flying chariot, and finds an ascetic doing austerities, and asks who he is.


"(76) Hearing the [inquiring] words of Rama of imperishable exploits, that ascetic, his head
still hanging downwards [as part of his austerities] answered:— 'O Rama, I was born of a
Shudra alliance and I am performing this rigorous penance in order to acquire the status of a
God in this body. I am not telling a lie, O Rama, I wish to attain the Celestial Region. Know
that I am a Shudra and my name is Shambuka.' As he was yet speaking, Raghava [Rama],
drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head. The Shudra being
slain, all the Gods and their leaders with Agni's followers, cried out, 'Well done! Well done!'
overwhelming Rama with praise, and a rain of celestial flowers of divine fragrance fell on all
sides, scattered by Vayu. In their supreme satisfaction, the Gods said to that hero, Rama:—
'Thou hast protected the interests of the Gods, O Highly Intelligent Prince, now ask a boon, O
beloved Offspring of Raghu, Destroyer of Thy Foes. By thy grace, this Shudra will not be able
to attain heaven!'" (583-84)


The Ramayana of Valmiki trans. Hari Prasad Shastri (London: Shanti Sadan, 1970): 3:579-85.


Now it is clear from the above verses that Shambuka was not performing penance to
attain moksha, but to enter into Indra’s domain, in this material body. Now this is
prohibited for anybody, not just a shudra. One is allowed into heaven only in their
spiritual bodies and not material bodies. Shambuka makes no attempt to hide the real
reason for his tapasya (unlike the secularists). He is very clear that he is not aiming for
spiritual cleansing or moksha, but to enjoy heavenly benefits in the material body. Madhva
maintains that he was actually an asura, who was attempting to usurp Indra’s heavenly
position, by unnatural methods. Rama slayed shambuka to protect the devas from the asuras.
The type of tapasya that shambuka was performing was tamasik tapasya, which has an evil
motive. Rajasik tapasya is what we perform to obtain material benefits. Satvik tapasya leads
us to moksha. It is performed with good and pure intentions in the mind.




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Prior to Shambuka, one more person, Trishanku, attempted the same endeavor. The story is
mentioned in the same Valmiki Ramayana, in the Bala Kanda. It is as follows:


Trishanku, the son of Prithu, was a king in the Solar Dynasty, the same dynasty as Sri Rama.
Trishanku wished to ascend to heaven in his mortal body -- just like Shambhuka -- and
requested his Guru Vasishta to perform the needful rites to achieve this goal. Vasishta
refused for it was against the laws of nature for someone with a mortal body to enter
heaven. Upon refusal, Trishanku approached the sons of Vasishta to help him. The request of
Trishanku in spite of the refusal by their father angered the sons of Vasishta and they cursed
Trishanku with a debilitating disease. Trishanku was forced to leave his country and wander
the lands.


During his wanderings, Trishanku met sage Viswamitra. Upon hearing the plight of the king,
Guru Vishwamitra who was a rival of Guru Vasishta accepted Trishanku's request and agreed
to perform the rites required to send Trishanku to heaven with a mortal body.


The yagnas (rituals) began and by the power of the great sage, the King Trishanku started
ascending to heaven. The Devas were alarmed by this unnatural occurrence and under the
leadership of Indra decided to not let Trishanku enter through the gates of heaven in this
mortal self. Indra using his powers caused Trishanku to fall back to earth. (excerpted from
Wikipedia, and corroborated by other hindu sources)


No concession was shown to Trishanku, because he was a Kshatriya. The Gods who rejoiced
at the slaying of Shambuka, kicked out the Kshatriya who attempted a similar exercise. There
was no caste based discrimination by the Devas under the leadership of Indra.


Later, Vishwamitra, to get the better of Vashista, with whom he had a running feud, created a
parallel heaven for Trishanku to reside in, but ensured that he would reside in it upside down,
thereby not superseding the heaven created by Indra.



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Throughout hindu puranas we find recorded innumerable attempts by all kinds people,
humans, asuras and Rishis to ascend to heaven in their material bodies and they have
belonged to all the castes and they have all been punished for their endeavors.


Again if Rama disliked shudras, why did he eat the half-eaten fruits, tasted and given to him
by the tribal like Shabari, who is below the shudras in the caste hierarchy? Why did he bless
Guha, who was an outcaste? Rama also slew Ravana who was Brahmin, and belonged to the
topmost caste. But he killed him nevertheless for his evil deeds.




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Epilogue

I cannot think of a better closing than quoting Aurobindo:


Volume: 22-23-24 [SABCL] (Letters on Yoga), Page: 413


I have no intention of entering into a supreme defence of Rama—I only entered into the points
about Bali etc. because these are usually employed nowadays to belittle him as a great
personality on the usual level. But from the point of view of Avatarhood I would no more think
of defending his moral perfection according to modern standards than I would think of defending
Napoleon or Caesar against the moralists or the democratic critics or the debunkers in order to
prove that they were Vibhutis. Vibhuti, Avatar are terms which have their own meaning and
scope, and they are not concerned with morality or immorality, perfection or imperfection
according to small human standards or setting an example to men or showing new moral
attitudes or giving new spiritual teachings. These may or may not be done, but they are not at all
the essence of the matter.


Also, I do not consider your method of dealing with the human personality of Rama to be the
right one. It has to be taken as a whole in the setting that Valmiki gave it (not treated as if it were
the story of a modern man) and with the significance that he gave to his hero's personality, deeds
and works. If it is pulled out of its setting and analyzed under the dissecting knife of a modern
ethical mind, it loses all its significance at once. Krishna so treated becomes a debauchee and
trickster who no doubt did great things in politics—but so did Rama in war. Achilles and
Odysseus pulled out of their setting become, one a furious egoistic savage, and the other a cruel
and cunning savage. I consider myself under an obligation to enter into the spirit, significance,
atmosphere of the Mahabharata, Iliad, Ramayana and identify myself with their time-spirit
before I can feel what their heroes were in themselves apart from the details of their outer action.


As for the Avatarhood, I accept it for Rama because he fills a place in the scheme—and seems to
me to fill it rightly—and because when I read the Ramayana I feel a great afflatus which I




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recognise and which makes of its story—mere faery-tale though it seems—a parable of a great
critical transitional event that happened in the terrestrial evolution and gives to the main
character's personality and action a significance of the large typical cosmic kind which these
actions would not have had if they had been done by another man in another scheme of events.
The Avatar is not bound to do extraordinary actions, but he is bound to give his acts or his work
or what he is—any of these or all—a significance and an effective power that are part of
something essential to be done in the history of the earth and its races.


All the same, if anybody does not see as I do and wants to eject Rama from his place, I have no
objection—I have no particular partiality for Rama—provided somebody is put in who can
worthily fill up the gap his absence leaves. There was somebody there, Valmiki's Rama or
another Rama or somebody not Rama. Also I do not mean that I admit the validity of your
remarks about Rama, even taken as a piecemeal criticism, but that I have no time for today. I
maintain my position about the killing of Bali and the banishment of Sita in spite of Bali's
preliminary objection to the procedure, afterwards retracted, and in spite of the opinion of
Rama's relatives, necessarily from the point of view of the antique dharma—not from that of any
universal moral standard—which besides does not exist, since the standard changes according to
clime or age.


Volume: 22-23-24 [SABCL] (Letters on Yoga), Page: 419


I am afraid your picture of him is quite out of focus—you efface the main lines of the characters,
belittle and brush out all the lights to which Valmiki gave so much value and prominence and
hammer always at some details and some parts of shadow which you turn into the larger part of
Rama. That is what the debunkers do—but a debunked figure is not the true figure.




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Glossary

Asura – A being which distorts the truth and projects falsehood in the mental plane

Agni Pariksha – Trial by fire

Avatar – Descent. Refers to the descent into earth plane of the Supreme Godhead Vishnu

Adhipathi– One who owns and presides

Dharma – Law (of nature), intrinsic quality

Deva – A divine being

Daivic – of a divine nature

Dvarapalakas– door keepers

Kshatriya – One who defends the divine law with his physical and administrative strength

Karsevak– One who offers worship prior to the construction of a temple

Rama-rajya– Rule of Rama, considered the ideal rule

Rakshasha – A being which operates in the lower vital planes and is prone to lust, anger and violence.

Sattwic– Pure. One of the three modes of nature, the other two being passion and inertia.

Vanara– of the type of an ape

Vibhuti – A great achiever or realiser.

Vaikuntha – literally, no anxiety, the residence of Vishnu

Yogyata – deservedness

Yoga – Union (with the divine)

Yajna – worship, also a particular ritual of worship, involving offering ghee into a fire-altar




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