Traditionally, Sita was regarded as the model for ideal womanhood. Does Sita exemplify the traits that you think women should have? Why or why not?
I think that Rama is the ideal model for both men and women. Rama is brave and courageous, whereas Sita's main virtues are loyalty and chastity. Perhaps this made sense during the time that the Ramayana was written, but in the modern era, it makes more sense for men and women to have similar virtues.
The Ramayana exists in many different versions. Develop your own version by rewriting a scene from the Ramayana from the perspective of a different character. First, identify the point-of-view character in a particular scene, then rewrite the scene from a different character's perspective.
Khara is a brave and noble rakshasa who has carved out part of the forest for his people to live in. Suddenly, a trio of loud and noisy humans appear in this peaceful place. They kill deer and cut down grass, and Khara decides that it's time to kick them out. Unfortunately, they don't listen to him....
The Ramayana shares many storytelling devices with other epic poems and sacred scriptures. Identify one aspect of the Ramayana with that of another story with which you are more familia. (For example, which of the episodes in the Ramayana have parallels in the Bible, the Iliad, the Quran?) Do these episodes accomplish the same purpose in the narrative? How do they differ?
In both the Ramayana and the Iliad, the catalyst for war is the kidnapping of a royal woman. In the Ramayana, Ravana kidnaps Sita, and Rama must enlist the help of the vanara army to save her out of his love for her. In the Iliad, the Trojan prince Paris kidnaps Helen (or does she willingly run off with him? The Iliad is less than clear on this point). Because of a promise that the kings of Greece made with Menelaus, Helen's husband, they go to war to get Helen back. In both cases, a long and bloody war is started over the kidnapping of a woman, but the Ramayana emphasizes the role that love plays in the struggle to free Sita.
The Ramayana suggests that much of Rama's greatness is the result of his choices to place dharma above his own personal interests. Likewise, Ravana possess many noble characteristics, but has chosen to use them for a life of evil. Do you think that being good or bad is a matter of personal choice, or are people simply born good or bad?
I think that good and evil are matters of personal choice. Though the text emphasizes Rama's divinity, I think it would have been possible for him to choose an evil path. For example, he could have assassinated Kaikeyi and Bharata for usurping his throne; in that case, maybe one of his other brothers would have assassinated him, and his kingdom would decline and suffer. Instead, he decided to go into exile to avoid confrontation. Likewise, Rama makes a bad choice in sending Sita away when the people of Ayodhya gossip about her, and he later regrets this evil mistake.
Ravana received a number of warnings to release Sita and apologize to Rama, but he chose to ignore this advice. Do you think Ravana deserved the terrible fate that befell him? Why or why not?
I do not Ravana deserved this fate. This would imply that he had the ability to change his course of action or alter his fate, and it is clear from the text that his love for Sita was so great that it would have torn him apart to see her go. However, I do not think that his rakshasa subjects deserved to die in a war that was caused by Ravana's private emotions.
How would things have been different if Bharata was happy to usurp his brother and ascend the throne?
The people of Ayodyha would not have accepted a Bharata who was happy to exile the beloved Rama. They would either have refused to listen to him, or they would have revolted against him. Either way, he would have found it extremely difficult to rule, and may have had to resort to force to keep his people in line. If Bharata were forcibly evicted from the throne, it is possible that the whole dynasty would have fallen. Alternatively, perhaps Rama would have been forced to come back from the jungle to rule. In that case, Rama would have suffered terrible guilt from breaking his father's promise, and he would never have served his life's purpose by killing the evil Ravana.
Sugriva is loyal to Rama, but he is also occasionally dishonest, cowardly, and duplicitous. Do you think he was telling the truth when he said that he shut his brother Vali in the cave by accident? How would it change the story if he did it on purpose?
I think it is very likely that Sugriva shut his brother Vali in the cave on purpose. Though he heard his brother screaming and saw blood flowing out, this does not necessarily mean that his brother was dead; he could have bravely gone to assist his brother. It is suspicious how quickly Sugriva wrote his brother off. If this is true, it seems a bit odd that Rama would ally himself with someone who tried to usurp his brother. Maybe this shows that Rama has human flaws; he doesn't know everything and sometimes trusts the wrong people. Another possibility is that Rama's friendship with Sugriva demonstrates that forgiveness can be extended even to those who have performed the most heinous acts.
Rama is deeply suspicious of Sita after her captivity in Ravana's palace; in book seven, he even exiles her due to his suspicions. Do you think this is the right or fair thing to do?
I think this is a fair thing to do. Sita spent almost a year in the palace of a rakshasa known for seducing women; it makes sense that Rama thought she too may have succumbed to Ravana. In book seven, despite the emotionally painful nature of the scene where he exiles her, his decision makes sense. Rama's first duty is to his people, and if his people think that their king is weak and without morals, they will start to behave badly and it will be difficult to maintain justice.
Who do you think is the most admirable character in the Ramayana?
I think that Hanuman is the most admirable character in the Ramayana. He does not know Rama, Lakshmana, or Sita extremely well, but he performs incredible acts for their sakes. He flies over the ocean to assure Sita that Rama has not forgotten her, he ransacks Lanka, and he provides indispensable help to Rama in the final battle against Ravana. Hanuman does not stand to gain wealth or power by helping them; they aren't even the same species as he is. But he is loyal and a brave fighter, and he eventually helps them come out victorious.
Rama insists that his exile in the forest is destined by fate. What purpose did this exile serve?
At first, Rama's friends and relatives think that the jungle exile is (among other things) a terrible waste of time. Rama will lose fourteen years that he could have used to learn statecraft and ruling; instead of governing, he will wander in the woods. Moreover, he will no longer be a young man when he returns. However, Rama's exile into the forest is one of the most important parts of his story. It is in this moment that he sees the loyalty of Lakshmana and Sita, and he spends his time in the woods honing his rakshasa-killing skills and visiting powerful holy men. Moreover, it is his exile in the woods that sets him on the path to his confrontation with Ravana, which is the reason he was born into this world.