This is something I myself cannot understand. Every time, a discussion on Rama comes up, why do I have to go all out to defend Him? Rather, who am I to defend him?! Isn’t it okay to leave everyone to their own opinions? It’s okay if someone thinks Rama is flawed. Just as how I think he is not. It’s a personal opinion which should be accepted. Who am I to get annoyed with this? The truth is I do not know the answer to this. Anyway, as is always the custom, I shall defend him one more time. In the end, if we do not agree with each other (which I’m sure we will!), we’ll agree to disagree. Until, we choose to disagree the next time. Deal, RS?
Before I get to address certain issues, a few points which needs to be kept in mind while reading any mythological tale. Be it, Ramayana. Mahabharatha. Bible. Whatever.
The time and place of the tale are completely different to the extent of being diametrically opposite to what we go through today. Even between two yugas, there is a huge deal of difference. What Krishna did is not acceptable at Rama’s time. For that matter, can we consider what Parashurama did as acceptable to us now? Like, killing his own mother, Renuka keeping up with his father’s order? Taking a vow to get her back from death? And then, going on killing spree of all the Kshatriyas? Is it not considered insane as of now? But, we still call him Vishnu’s avatar. Then, is Vishnu himself flawed? No.. I am not attempting to answer any of these questions. I just wish to state we are living at a time different from when Rama lived.
My next point is that mythology exists for a reason. Ramayana is not history to be accurate. It is mythology which is well, twisted and turned enough to make us believe in a certain set of moral values. That, goodness should not be selfish. Example, Hanuman. That, you need not side with your blood relations but with goodness. Example, Vibheeshan. That, you can side with your brother even though you know he is evil. Example, Kumbhakarnan. So, in the end, the logic is to make people think. When we question why Rama is not the ideal husband of today, we don’t question why don’t we see monkeys talk or bears helping us out with our daily chores. Why so? How can someone jump into a fire and still come out alive and well?
Also, mythology is written with an assumption that every character that exists are Gods/Asuras/Devas’ incarnate. They do things for a reason. The focus should be on the end, and not the stories that lead to the end.
The fulcrum that mythology operates on is Karma. Every action has a reaction; opposite and equal. As you sow, so shall you reap.
Now, that some basics are in place, let me address the questions. Like the auditor that I am, the answers here are, to the best of my knowledge and opinion, right. At least, close to being right.
On Vali, karma can be the best answer I can think of. Rama is just a tool to prove to Vali that evil actions elicit evil reactions. Vali did a blunder by taking Sugreevan’s wife and kingdom. Rama acts as a means to impart a lesson to Vali. He himself justifies it in the epic to Tara(Vali’s wife) by stating that Vali lived by the rules of the jungle and so he was killed per the rules of the jungle.
Rama was not the king when he defeated Ravana, but his fourteen years of exile was over by then. Which meant, he would have to get back to being king, whether he liked it or not. In any part of any retelling of Ramayana, I cannot see Rama calling himself ‘pure’. He never considered himself pure. He was just living by the rule book. To put it in a lighter vein, he was a mere robot who didn’t want to deter from the dharma from his time. He was a king first and a husband later. And, I think, this one line is enough to justify almost all his actions. The dharma of the time was that the king must practice what he’d preach. He cannot have a blemish as a king and instead, chose to live a blemished husband. Right. He chose to be a blemished husband for the sake of being a blemish-less king.
And, Sita. Sigh. I do not believe that Sita sat there in Ashokavana crying and brooding over her fate. She sat there believing every day that her Rama will come to rescue her. I can only picture her as courage incarnate waiting for the war and her beloved to take her to her home. Remember the outrage it stirred when a High Court judge asked a wife to behave like Sita? Sita was of a different time. We’ve come eons away from her. How can someone compare today’s feminist women with the Sita of yore? If we can outrage for that, then, why do we want Rama to behave like a normal husband of today? Aren’t we contradicting ourselves? Rama lived by the day and age that was then the Treta Yuga. We cannot ask him to change overnight as per the Kali because his actions are different than ours, can we?
I’ve seen a lot of criticisms leveled on this Eka-Patni vrita of Rama. Imagine this. Your dad has a hundred wives. You see women around who are subservient to men, in all forms. You could have any number of wives at your beck and call. No one would question your integrity. But then, you chose to banish your beloved wife knowing well that she has no fault on her part; after that you choose to remain with a golden idol on your side as a wife. All this, for the sake of upholding the king’s dharma. And, this man, is judged by the world years later for his actions as a husband. Ain’t this man doomed either way?
If you notice, there is a pattern in the growth of the avatars of Vishnu. Matsya-Kurma-Varaha-Narasimha-Vamana-Parasurama–SriRama-Balarama-Krishna-Kalki. Fish-Turtle-Pig-Half man half lion-Dwarf-A guy with no rules-A rule book guy-An impulsive guy-An intelligent guy who chooses to twist the rules to his advantage-a guy who we don’t know who. It is just Hindu mythology’s evolution chart. Take that, Darwin. So, from Rama to Krishna, man evolves. Can we blame Rama for being so rule-oriented? After all, wasn’t it his job description?
Another criticism against the epic, Ramayan, is about the violence meted against women; Surpanaka in particular. Surpanakha was a rakshasi before being a woman. Not a satisfactory answer. Well.. Just reverse the situation to imagine a man(-rakshasa) approaching two sisters asking them to get married to him. The sisters say they are married already but the guy refuses to pay heed. Then, when the rakshasa uses force, the sisters use force in return to mutilate him. In this case, would we not support the sisters saying they tried to save themselves? So, to what avail are Rama and Lakshmana different? Why is our dharma of today different for a man and woman? If a woman can attack a man to defend herself, why can’t men use force to defend themselves?
I am not sure how much sense I made in this post of over a 1000 words. All I can say is Rama chose dharma over his quest to be a good husband; the dharma of his times. In the process, Sita suffered too. Just like how a few trees and insects are destroyed when a road is laid for the good of all. Might be a frivolous connection, but the common good of upholding dharma made Sita’s life hell. But, we should not forget that Rama’s life was hell too.