Hanuman before Ram (Wikimedia Commons) 
Snapshot
  • Ram is the first character in Indian scriptures who covers the length of subcontinent with a purpose of drawing a geographic national consciousness.

Ramayana pervades the Indian ethos so thoroughly that we cannot imagine an India without Ram. Every aspect of our individual and social life is conditioned by it. Our Dharma, our conduct, life philosophies and spiritual thirst find their fulfilment in the story of Ram.

Bhagwan Ram manifests himself as an object of Bhakti, he acts as a moral guide and personifies ethical conduct. He is not a preacher who has different sets of rule for himself and his devotees. He lives by example, facing continuous trials and tribulations but not wavering for a moment from virtuosity and social conventions.

While there is an overarching theme about Dharma triumphing over Adharma, there are is also a latent socio-political message emerging from Ramkatha - the story of Ram. Author Meenakshi Jain puts it succinctly when she says that "The Ramayana was the first literary attempt in India to 'moralize' the exercise of political power". Besides, Ram also appears as a progenitor of Indian nationalism working endlessly towards social harmony between various sections of the populace in subcontinent. In fact, his fourteen year exile in jungles is a divine intercession to achieve these two ends.

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Ram is the first character in Indian scriptures who covers the length of subcontinent with a purpose of drawing a geographic national consciousness. By annihilating Rakshasas and Asuras throughout his journey, consecrating Tirthas across India, fostering a common value system among different people and encouraging a collective will for larger corporate life, he creates a soul, chiti, of the nation. Rejecting the lure of power in a wealthy and prosperous Lanka, his words "janani janmabhoomishcha swargadapi gariyasi" reinforce the national pride.

While carving out this national identity, an equally important feature to emerge from Ramayana is Ram's outreach to various sections of society both within the evolved civilisational structure of the time and outside it. Vanar, Matang and Reechh are the tribals of his time. Ram leads an austere life of a tribal himself, earns the trust and friendship of various tribes and weaves them into the idea of a nation. Even in his war against Ravana he doesn't summon forces from the Janapadas, which he could easily, but organises an Army of tribal subalterns.

He spends the first night of his exile in Shringaverpur under protection of Nishadraj Guha, eats leftovers of Shabari and performs the last rites of Jatayu - thereby according him a fatherlike status. He goes on to slay Banasur who had been troubling the tribals in Dandakaranya. But the most affecting episode in Ram's social outreach efforts is conveyed in his encounter with Kewat.

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Kewat refuses repeated entreaties by Ram to let him board his boat along with Sita and Laxman until Bhagwan allows him to wash his feat. But once the three have crossed the river, he rejects the remuneration offered by Sita in the form of a precious ring. Despite being a Bhakta, he is bold enough to claim the status of an equal. He says that while he helps people sail across rivers in this world, Prabhu Shri Ram guides them across the bounds of bhavasagar. As such both of them have the same profession and he cannot take remuneration from a fellow professional.

The idea of Ram Rajya that Ram espouses is that of a Dharmic nation where not only the landmass is sacred but politics is governed by a code of ethics and social equality prevails.

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