Rama is a symbol of our soul. Ramayan is Ram+Ayan. It means the journey of Rama, symbolising the way our soul advances. Rama, like our soul, is without faults and is of divine origin, having been born as a blessing of the divine nectar given by the gods to King Dasaratha as a result of the Puthrakameshti Yagna performed by him. Like Krishna, Rama too is an incarnation of Vishnu, that virtual part of the Paramatma, the ultimate Soul or power which sustains Creation. Like Krishna, Rama too is blue-hued as blue signifies eternity.
The Soul entity does not usually take birth by itself. It is accompanied by other fellowsouls who are also of divine origin. Rama’s brother Lakshmana is one such. He accompanies Rama into exile. Bharata and Shatrughana, the other two elements of the Soul entity, stay behind and take care of the kingdom in Rama’s name.
The Soul is wedded to the body, symbolised by Sita. Sita is considered the daughter of mother earth, as she was found by Janaka, king of Mithila, in a furrow in a field and raised by him and his wife Sunayana. Our bodies, too, are made of the elements provided by the earth.
As a step in Rama’s journey through life, he is sent into exile. Indeed, the very birth of the Soul in physical form can be considered an exile for the Soul. During his exile, he is accompanied by his wife, as, indeed, the Soul is accompanied by the body during our time on the earth.
While here, the body often desires riches and beautiful objects. The golden deer is symbolic of these objects of desire. In pursuit of these, Sita gets kidnapped by Ravana, the symbol of our mind. Some think that the 10 heads symbolise the five sense organs and the five motor (or cognitive) organs of the human body described in the Vedas.
Ravana’s heads symbolise the tendencies of our mind. Our mind is clever and powerful like Ravana and can be demonic like him, too. It is related to Kumbhakarna, the embodiment of gluttony and sloth. It is related to Vibhishana, too, the part of our mind which leaves behind its demonic origin to take the side of the good.
Our mind has many ‘heads’ and it is not possible to kill them one at a time, for the moment one head is removed another takes its place. We have to remove all the tendencies of the mind at one go and overcome the mind in order to regain our divine place.
To get Sita back from Ravana, Rama is helped by Hanuman and his vanar sena. He is helped, too, by the bear army under Jambvant. These represent the forces of nature, which come to the aid of those who dare. Some of these forces are malevolent, too, like Sugreeva’s brother Bali. The divine in us helps us overcome forces of evil, too.
When Sita goes through the test of fire — agnipariksha — it is only symbolic of the body that is burnt once the Self overcomes the mind. Rama’s journey is complete and his exile is over.
With so many plots and sub-plots, underlying themes and messages and interesting characters, the stories of the Ramayana continue to engage us. With its many interpre-tations and versions, the epic means different things to different people, rich in content and symbolism.
- Kishore Asthana
Time Of India, Speaking Tree, 9th Oct 2008