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February 21, 2013

Ramayana and hierarchy - a review

As much as I love Ramayana, there is one part I cannot help questioning.

It is said that women were loved and respected by their MILs and husbands in the times of Ramayana (the way Kaushalya cries when Sita leaves, the way Rama speaks out heart rending laments when he lost Sita in the woods).

But the same Ramayana places a strong system of hierarchy in the family, which I feel in today's scenario, is unnecessary. 

Example - it glorifies Sita's going with Rama and Rama's grief on losing Sita. But there is no mention- not one single mention of concern - about how Lakshmana (only one day younger than Rama) would have felt when he was away from his wife Urmila for 14 years.

Sure she was not abducted, she was safe.... but When Sita says she will not live for one second without Rama, even Lakshmana would have had the same feelings towards his wife. Atleast he should have. If he did not, I pity his wife. So, in order to glorify one couple, another couple's grief is ignored?

Poeple may say Lakshmana should have taken initiative to take his wife - but he went to Serve Rama, so having his wife would have been a hindrance. Ok, let’s agree Lakshmana was a young boy, not so mature like Rama.

Yes, Rama tried to ask Lakshmana to stay back, but Lakshmana persisted.

Let’s see what went on in the conversation after Rama asked Lakshmana to stay back for the sake of their mothers and Lakshmana says they have enough protection in Bharatha and Sathrugna and also their own properties.

आहरिष्यामि ते नित्यम् मूलानि फलानि |
वन्यानि यानि अन्यानि स्वाहाराणि तपस्विनाम् || -३१-२४

"I will procure for you for all time the tubers, fruits and other things which are good food stuffs available in the forest for sages."

 भवांस् तु सह वैदेह्या गिरि सानुषु रंस्यते |
अहम् सर्वम् करिष्यामि जाग्रतः स्वपतः ते || -३१-२५

"You along with Seetha enjoy yourself on mountain-ridges. I shall do everything while you are waking or sleeping."

रामः तु अनेन वाक्येन सुप्रीतः प्रत्युवाच तम् |
व्रज आपृच्चस्व सौमित्रे सर्वम् एव सुहृज् जनम् || -३१-२६

“Rama, very much delighted of hearing these words, said to him: "Oh, Lakshmana! Go, take leave of all your friends."

But what should Rama have told when agreeing to take him along, especially when his wife is accompanying him? Lakshmana, despite my preventing you, you are insisting that you want to come with me. Ok fine, come. But think for a second Lakshmana, when Sita cannot live for a second without me, how can Urmila live without you? So, either stay with her or if you must come, bring her also, let’s have 2 ashrams side by side and live by protecting each other.”

For Rama’s character, I’d have expected this from him. But what did he do? He took his wife with him, and took Lakshmana with him who served him like a servant all life. When Rama and Sita played in the rivers and mountains and had their share of lovely time in the woods, Lakshmana who was just 2 days younger to Rama was serving them! The selfless Lakshmana did not feel bad, that’s to his credit. Elder brother gets to have the comforts and the younger brother is expected to serve and sacrifice.

In Sundara Kandam, Valmiki says through Hanuman:

दुष्करम् कुरुते रामो हीनो यद् अनया प्रभुः |
धारयति आत्मनो देहम् दुह्खेन अवसीदति || -१६-२७

Dushkritham krithavaan Raama: heenoya dhanayaa prabhu:|
Dhaarayath yaathmano deham: na shokena avaseedhathi|| 5-16-27

 “This Lord of men, Rama has done an impossible act by staying bereft of this one (Seetha); It’s a wonder he is still staying alive and has not perished with sorrow!” 

Fine. Why was the sorrow of Urmila and Lakshmana never mentioned?

In the previous shlokham,

भर्ता नाम परम् नार्या भूषणम् भूषणाद् अपि |
एषा हि रहिता तेन शोभन अर्हा शोभते || -१६-२६

bhartaa naama param naaryaa bhuushanam bhuushanaad api |
eshaa hi rahitaa tena shobhana arhaa na shobhate || 5-16-26

"Husband is indeed the greatest adornment for a woman greater than jewellery; This Seetha though deserving of decoration, is not looking charming without Sri Rama."

Same with Urmila, right? Same age as Sita (almost), another princess, another DIL in the same family......

When Hanuman says “Sita will not live for more than one month” to Rama, Rama says to Lakshmana:

चिरम् जीवति वैदेही यदि मासम् धरिष्यति |
क्षणम् सौम्य जीवेयम् विना ताम् असित ईक्षणाम् || -६६-१०

chiram jiivati vaidehii yadi maasam dharishyati |
kshanam saumya na jiiveyam vinaa taam asita iikShaNaam || 5-66-10

"O gentle one! If Seetha can survive for a month, it means that she will be chiranjeevi; without that Seetha with black eyes, I cannot survive for even a moment."

I understand his grief. Rama cannot live without Seetha for even a second, but he is saying this to Lakshmana who has at this point, been away from his wife for the sake of his brother for 13 years and 10 months! 

Rama and Lakshmana were 24 years old when they left for the forest. (12 during their marriage, 12 years in Ayodhya).

When they came back they were 38.

When all glorify Lakshmana's sacrifice, I shed tears for him and especially his wife Urmila. Their youth, their life was ruined and it goes un-noticed; Is their love - life in any way inferior to Rama's?

To top it all up, I am quoting Lakshmana's mom Sumithra Devi, when she bids farewell to Lakshmana:

 व्यसनी वा समृद्धो वा गतिर् एष तव अनघ |
एष लोके सताम् धर्मः यज् ज्येष्ठ वशगो भवेत् || -४०-

"Oh, sinless one! Whether in adversity or in riches, Rama alone is refugee to you. It should become the code of conduct in the world, that younger brother should be subject to the control of his elder brother."


I am sure my dear friend and guide Ramachandra moorthy will not be angry with me in writing so, he is my friend from childhood :), and he loves his brother so much that he will appreciate someone speaking for his brother! It is He who is making me write from my heart as Andharyaami.

Children are born in a family as equals. To fledge their wings and make contributions in the outside world. Not to live in a system of hierarchy and constant subservience to the eldest child.

And if I am wrong, may He forgive and enlighten me.

I am placing thie e-mail at His feet, and whatever it is, He is Merciful.

Love, regards
Bhuvaneshwar D

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