January 2011
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Lessons from Ramayana – Part 23

Reproducing a part from the book which I believe all of us should read and understand: 

Now, a word to those of our times who read Raamayana and Bhaarata and other Puraanas. In these works, there are frequent references to Devas and Raakshasas. The latter were wicked, had no regard for dharma, and revelled in evil deeds. Asuras were also like Raakshasas. But even among Raakshasas there were a few wise and virtuous people. There spring up bad men even in the best of races and vice versa. On the whole, Asuras and Raakshasas were those who rejoiced in doing wicked deeds. It is a pity that some people in their ignorance identify the Asuras and Raakshasas with ancient Indian tribes and races – a view not supported by any literary work or tradition or recorded history.  

The conjencture of foreigners that Raakshasas were the Dravidian race, is not borne out by any authority in Taiml or other literature. The Tamil people are not descendents of the Asuras or Raakshasas.  

The Devas were generally upholders of dharma and took on themselves the task of putting down the Raakshasas. According to the Puraanas, they had at times to deviate from dharma in dealing with the Raakshasas, some of whom had attained great power through tapas.  

The Devas were generally good; and those among them who swerved form the path of righteousness paid the price for it. There was no separate code of conduct for the Devas; the law of karma admits of no distinction between the Devas and others. The law dealt with the Devas as with others.  

Wedded to virtue as the Devas generally were, lapses on their part appear big to us, like stains on white cloth. The Raakshasas’ evil deeds are taken for granted and do not attract much attention, like stains on black cloth.  

The honest, when they happen to go astray, should evoke our sympathy. It is however the way of the world – but it is not right – to condemn in strong terms casual lapse on the virtuous, while tolerating habitual wrong-doers.  

It should be noted that in the Puranas we see the gods getting entangled in dilemmas of dharma. Indra and other devas are shown often as committing serious sins. Why did the sages who told the Puranas involve themselves in such difficulties? Their aim was to awaken people to a sense of the dangers of adharma. Else, the sages need not have deliberately attributed sinful acts to their own heroes and created difficulties for themselves. 

Some persons take pleasure in jumping to wrong conclusions from the incidents in the Puraanas. They argue, “Raavana was a very good king. Vaalmiki has falsely accused him of wicked deeds.” They ask: “Did not Raama act unjustly on a certain occasion? Did not Seeta utter a lie?” and the like. 

Valmeeki could well have omitted incidents which are not edifying. Both Raama and Raavana were first presented to us by the poet Vaalmiki. There was no earlier work referring to Raavana that can be quoted to contradict Vaalmiki and stamp him as being partial to Raama, Seeta and the Devas, and twisting facts to deceive people. Vaalmiki’s Raamayana is the fountain source of the story of Raama; in it, one comes across seemingly wrong deeds.  

Calm consideration of such situations would show that they are just portrayals of similar difficulties in our day-to-day life. It is for us to benefit from the moral trails contained in them. The lesson of the Ahalya episode is that, however deadly one’s sin, one may hope to be freed from its consequences by penitence and punishment. Instead of condemning others for their sins, we should look within our own hearts and try to purify them of every evil thought. The best of us have need for eternal vigilance, if we would escape sin.  

(C. Rajagopalachari; Ramayana; Chap VIII, Ahalya; P40-42)

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