Weekly Deity: Rama


Rama is a popular figure in Hindu mythology.  He is the seventh avatar of Vishnu, king of Ayodhya, and husband of Sita.  Rama is the chief character in one of the great epics of India, the Ramayana.

Attributes

Rama is pictured as a middle-aged man, his skin blue and his eyes and hair black.  Rama’s blue skin is a sign of divinity.  Often he has a lot of jewelry on his person, and at times he is shown with his wife, Sita.  Sometimes he is also shown with a bow and arrow in hand.

Mythology

Rama was the oldest son of Kausalya and Dasaratha.  He had three younger brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna.  Rama’s father, King Dasaratha, had three wives but no children.  In order to obtain heirs, the king gave each of his three wives  some of the sacred, sacrificial nectar to eat in order of their seniority.  Kausalya was the senior wife and received it first, and so she bore Rama as the eldest child.

When the sons were older, a sage named Vishwamitra takes Rama and Lakshmana with him.  He requested their help in ridding his area of Rakshasas, a kind of demon.  The boys (mainly Rama) aid the sages by killing the Rakshasas.  Later, Sage Vishwamitra takes Rama and his brother to the Swayamvara ceremony for Sita.  (A Swayamvara is a marriage ceremony of sorts in which the husband is chosen by the marriageable girl and her family.)  The task to win Sita’s hand was to bend and string the bow of Shiva, an impossible feat for any mortal man.  However, Rama not only bends the bow in the process of stringing it, but he snaps it in two.  Rama’s fame for this act is spread far and wide and he marries Sita.

Upon his return to Ayodhya, the king announced that he would crown Rama as his successor.  Everyone is pleased about this except for the king’s younger wife, Kaikeyi, mother of Bharata.  Because of a poisoning by her maidservant, Kaikeyi feared for her son when Rama assumed the throne.  She asked her husband to instead send Rama into a forest exile for 14 years, and the king was forced to grant this request because he had granted Kaikeyi two boons when she saved his life, and she used those now.  Rama, recognizing the truth but also recognizing the importance of the solemn vow and a son’s duty, accepts the exile.  He is joined by Sita and his brother Lakshmana, their devotion to him compelling their actions.  Although King Dasaratha died of a broken heart the next day and his brothers and family pleaded for Rama to return, he instead held to the vow and remained in the forest.

While in exile, Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, a powerful Rakshasa.  Sita is captive for a year before Rama is able to find and defeat Ravana in a great battle.  When Sita returned to him, however, Rama couldn’t look at her, supposedly believing that her honor and virtue had been compromised during her captivity.  Sita begged that a great pyre be built so she could die, but instead of dying, she walked through the fire unharmed.  Rama rushed to her and explained that it was only a test to prove to everyone else that she had remained faithful–he had never truly doubted her purity.

After Rama and Sita claimed their rightful place as rulers of Ayodhya, Rama still faced rumors of her impurity.  Therefore to uphold the duty of a king, Rama banished Sita, even though she was pregnant, escorted by Lakshmana to Rishi Valmiki’s home.  Sita bore her twin sons, Kusha and Lava (aka Kush and Luv), while in banishment.  It comes about that Rama held a ceremony and during this ceremony a horse strayed into the forest.  When retrieving the horse, Rama found his sons.  Rishi Valmiki revealed their parentage to Rama.  When Sita saw that her sons were accepted by Rama, she took refuge with her mother the Earth (Bhumidevi), and Rama lived forevermore without his soul mate.

Light Side

On the Light side, Rama is the epitome of honor and duty.  He is the “perfect” man.  He held to his promises and vows at any and all cost.  He shows a great deal of love not only for his family but for his friends as well.  All in all, Rama is the height of nobility in Hindu culture.  He’s not he god of anything in the sense that the Greek and Roman gods had their spheres of influence, but Rama is, I suppose, the god of perfect manhood, as Sita is the goddess of perfect womanhood.

Dark Side

I’m not sure what the Dark side would be for Rama, but I’ll give it a shot.  He is a very good being, but there can be no good without the bad.  His insistence to hold to his word, while noble and good, also lost him the love of his life and sent him into exile in a forest for 14 years.  The desire to always hold to his vows and his duty above all else at the expense of personal happiness and love could itself be his Dark side.

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