Shri Ramachandra also known as Lord Rama is considered as the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu by Hindus, the eighth Balabhadra by Jains, a divine incarnation by Sikhs, and a revered person by the Buddhists. Rama and his life find relevance even today because of the qualities he represents. Although he is revered the world over as a religious deity, it is important to remember that Rama is an iconic figure primarily due to his spiritual and cultural significance.
Rama and his life transformed into the foundation of our civilization through numerous literary works penned during different historical periods. Composed by the sage Valmiki, Rama’s original story or the Ramayana is an epic in Sanskrit that contains 24,000 verses and dates back to the 6th century BCE. In the 16th century CE, Tulsidas composed the classic ‘Ramacharitamanasa’ that related the story of Rama in a Hindi dialect popular in Northern India. Another medieval retelling of the story is the ‘Adhyatma Ramayana’ in Sanskrit. Regardless of our differing faiths, it is an undeniable fact that Lord Rama continues to reign in the collective consciousness of millions of people in India. For more than 7000 years, Rama and the Ramayana have been sources of inspiration, solace, peace, stability and righteousness for generations of believers and non-believers.
Rama belongs to the revered Suryavanshi and Ikshvaku dynasty, one of the prominent Kshatriya dynasties mentioned in the ancient epics and scriptures. Rama is mentioned across texts by many names – Rajeevalochana (one with eyes like the lotus), Janakivallabha (Janaki’s consort), Janardhana (one who offers liberation from the cycle of rebirths), Satyavrata (one who has taken the oath of truth), Vedatmane (one who has mastered the Vedas), Trivikrama (one who has conquered the three worlds), Raghava (belonging to the race of Raghu) and Ramachandra (one with a face as lovely and gentle as the moon).
Rama was born to King Dasharatha and Queen Kaushalya in the city of Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh, India) located near the Sarayu River. Dasharatha reigned over the kingdom of Kosala that finds mention in numerous Jain and Buddhist manuscripts as one among the Maha janapadas (one of the sixteen kingdoms that flourished in ancient India). His mother too hailed from Kosala. Rama and his three stepbrothers – Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna – were inseparably close and the relationship was marked by love, trust, devotion and compassion. Rama was closest to Lakshmana and this relation is hailed the world over as the supreme example of ideal brotherhood.
Childhood and Early Life
The enchanting details of Rama’s childhood and his early life as the prince of Kosala are described in the Balakhanda portion in the Ramayana. However, Ramayana is limited to brief descriptions about the childhood of the four princes. Later works such as Tulsidas’ Ramavali offer more extensive details about Rama’s childhood. All these works depict Rama as a gracious, honorable, gentle and reserved youth always eager to lend a helping hand.
His three brothers were Rama’s constant companions in his childhood. The threesome looked up to Rama with unwavering respect, devotion and obedience. Most of their time was spent in education under Maharishi Vashista and Maharishi Vishwamitra. They also received expert training in horse-riding, administration, war tactics and in various martial arts such as sword fighting, archery, wrestling, mace fighting and spear fighting.
Rama excelled in everything he learnt. His archery skills were legendary. However, there is no reference to him ever taking pride in his abilities, instead choosing the path of humility and peace. Rama is said to have mastered the Vedas and Vedangas flawlessly. His life is testimony to the fact that he always strived to tread on the path of justice and righteousness alluded to in the Vedas.
Marriage, Exile and War
King Janaka of Videha organized an archery contest, announcing that any Kshatriya who won the competition would be offered his daughter Sita’s hand in marriage. Rama emerged the winner in the contest and married Sita. Amidst the marriage celebrations, ominous events began to brew in Ayodhya.
Kaikeyi, Bharata’s mother and Dasharatha’s second wife reminded her husband of a promise that he would grant her one wish, no questions asked. Kaikeyi stated her wish that Rama be exiled to life in the forest for 14 years. Dasharatha and the rest of the family were distraught. However, Rama proclaimed that he was duty-bound to protect his father’s word. He left for exile accompanied by his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman.
Rama and his entourage wandered through dense forests. After ten long years, they reached Panchavati that was frequented by many rakshasas (demons). One day, the demoness Shurpanakha set her eyes on Rama and was instantly captivated by his good looks. However, Rama rejected her explaining that he had adopted eka patni vratha (vow to marry only once and remain loyal to his wife). The enraged Shurpanakha turned towards Sita, compelling Lakshmana to strike back by chopping off the nose and ears of the demoness. On hearing about the attack on his sister, King Ravana of Lanka set off to seek revenge. He kidnapped Sita and took her away to Lanka.
Rama befriended Sugreeva and his legion of monkeys and with the commitment of his greatest devotee – Hanuman – waged war on Lanka. After 13 days of war, Rama slayed Ravana, rescued Sita and crowned Vibhishana (Ravana’s brother) as the new king of Lanka. With the period of exile coming to an end, Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshmana. By lighting lamps, the people of the kingdom celebrated Rama’s return with great fervor. Since then, this day is celebrated every year across the country as Dussehra.
Inspiration from the Life of Lord Rama
Rama is the supreme embodiment of Purushottama (the best among men with ideal characteristics that make him a role model for all). Throughout his life, he held fast to the virtues of dignity, justice, truth and dharma in spite of numerous turbulent experiences that could have emotionally shattered any other man. His life is a perfect exemplar of a dharmic life that magnificently illustrates how to practice forgiveness, peace and compassion even towards enemies.
Rama was denied his right to the throne and sent on a long exile into the forest. He was compelled to burn down an entire kingdom to rescue Sita. When his countrymen raised doubts about Sita’s chastity after her return to Ayodhya, Rama had to take the heart-wrenching decision of banishing his beloved Sita from the kingdom. The unfortunate incidents did not turn him resentful or revengeful. Rama accepted everything with unparalleled grace, incomparable courage and surprising equanimity.
The story of Rama is a glorious epic that reminds us of the significance of performing our duties towards family, society, our motherland and the world in general. And Rama is one of the most iconic characters ever who continues to inspire us to achieve that golden standard of Ramarajya where peace and righteousness reign.