A central focus of the Ramayana is the love between Sita and Rama. As incarnations of the goddess Lakshmi and the god Vishnu, they are literally been made for each other. They fall in love at first sight, and their relationship is characterized by harmony and devotion. Sita follows Rama into exile out of her love for him, and she refuses Ravana's advances at great risk to herself because of her loyalty to her husband. Rama, in turn, defends Sita fiercely and cares for her tenderly. For centuries, the love between Rama and Sita has been a model relationship for South Asians.
The Perfect Man
Rama is the time-honored symbol of the perfect man: he is generous, just, merciful, the master of his emotions, and a valiant warrior. He is a dedicated son and a loyal husband. Other characters exemplify perfect virtues as well. Sita, with her perfect devotion to her husband, is the eternal symbol of the perfect woman and wife. Lakshmana, who never leaves his brother's side despite the horrible dangers, is the image of the perfect brother. Hanuman, witty, loyal, and wise, is the perfect advisor.
A central concept in Hinduism and Indian philosophy, dharma may be translated as truth, justice, and duty. It refers to the central purpose of a particular being, as well as the correct path that she or he should follow in this world. Dharma also describes a conduct defined by truth and justice, which is divinely commanded. Populated with perfect characters, the Ramayana offers a playbook for how to behave with virtue and dharma in the world.
Lakshmana is an exemplar of brotherly love. He is never envious of his more accomplished brother Rama, and supports him in his every adventure. When they are still boys, Lakshmana accompanies Rama into the forest to defeat the rakshasa Tataka, having full faith in his brother despite their youth and inexperience. Rama tells Lakshmana that he is like part of his own body; Rama is never more devastated than when Lakshmana falls injured on the battlefield.
Good and Evil
In the Ramayana, good and evil are diametrically opposed forces, locked in eternal combat. They are frequently represented as a contrast between human/god and rakshasa. The rakshasas exhibit a number of vices (violence, blasphemous impulses, sexual indiscretions), while the righteous humans are exemplars of every virtue. Though good and evil are opposed, the Ramayana suggests that they are not innate but rather the result of choice. Some rakshasas have been turned into demons as punishment for a transgression, while previous virtuous human beings can become wicked when they choose to abandon the path of dharma.
Large portions of the Ramayana describe incredible battles between Rama and various wicked rakshasa. These battles are intense and described in evocative prose, featuring a great deal of violence and magical weapons. Rama's success in combat is part of his identity as the perfect man, an unconquered warrior. The centrality of combat in the Ramayana may also be symbolic: the rakshasas symbolize the evil impulses in every person, which must be destroyed in order for the soul to be made pure.
Human and Divine
The differences and similarities between human and divine are a major theme in the Ramayana. Rama himself is the incarnation of a god, but much of his goodness is the result of his own personal choices rather than this divine heritage. Rama has been born into the world because an enormously powerful rakshasa, Ravana, cannot be killed by any deity or supernatural creature; the gods themselves are unable to defeat them. In some ways, some human beings and vanaras (magical monkeys) are superior to the gods in their virtuous conduct. However, the gods still have the power to offer boons to mortals, such as weapons and invincibility.
The Ramayana Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Ramayana is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.