The Riddle of Rama by Dr. Babasaheb B.R. Ambedkar

from Appendix No.1 of Part 3 of Riddles of Hinduism By Dr. Babasaheb B.R.Ambedkar


Rama is the hero of the Ramayana whose author is Valmiki. The story of the Ramayana is a very short one. Besides it is simple and in itself there is nothing sensational about it.

Rama is the son of Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya, the modern Banares. Dasharatha had three wives, Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra besides several hundred concubines. Kaikeyi had married Dasharatha on terms which were at the time of marriage unspecified and which Dasharatha was bound to fulfill whenever he was called upon by Kaikeyi to do so.

Dasharatha was childless for a long time. An heir to the throne was ardently desired by him. Seeing that he was unable to have a son with any of his three wives he decided to perform a Putreshti Yajna and called the sage Shrung at the sacrifice who prepared pandas and gave the three wives of Dasharatha to eat them. After they ate the pandas the three wives became pregnant and gave birth to sons. Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharatha and Sumitra gave birth to two sons, Laxman and Satrughana. In due course Rama was married to Sita.

When Rama came of age, Dasharatha thought of resigning the throne in favour of Rama and retiring from kingship. While this was being settled Kaikeyi raised the question of rendering her satisfaction of the terms on which she had married Dasharatha. On being asked to state her terms she demanded that her son Bharata should be installed on the throne in preference to Rama and that Rama should live in the forest for 12 years. Dasharatha, with great reluctance, agreed. Baharata became king of Ayodhya and Rama accompanied by his wife Sita and his step brother Laxman went to live in the forest.

Ravana, the king of Lanka, kidnapped Sita and took her away and kept her in his palace intending to make her one of his wives. Rama and Laxman than started search of Sita. On the way they meet Sugriva and Hanuman, two leading personages of the Vanara (monkey) race and formed friendship with them. With their help they marched on Lanka, defeated Ravana in the battle and rescued Sita. Rama returned with Laxman and Sita to Ayodhya. By the time twelve years had elapsed and the term prescribed by Kaikeyi was fulfilled, with the result that Bharata gave up the throne and in his place Rama became the king of Ayodhya.

Such is the brief outline of the story of the Ramayana as told by Valmiki.

There is nothing in this story to make Rama the object of worship. He is only a dutiful son. But Valmiki saw something extraordinary in Rama and that is why he undertook to compose the Ramayana. Valmiki asked Narada the following question:

Tell me Oh! Narada, who is the most accomplished man on earth at the present time?” And then he goes on to elaborate what he means by accomplished man. He defines his accomplished man as:

“Powerful, one who knows the secret of religion, one who knows gratitude, truthful, one who is ready to sacrifice his self interest even when in distress to fulfill a religious vow, virtuous in his conduct, eager to safeguard the interests of all, strong, pleasing in appearance with power of self-control, able to subdue anger, illustrious, with no jealousy for the prosperity of others, and in war able to strike terror in the hearts of Gods.”

Narada then asks for time to consider and after mature deliberation tells him that the only person who can be said to possess these virtues is Rama, the son of Dasharatha.

It is because of his virtues that Rama has come to be defied. But is Rama a worthy personality of deification? Let those who accept him as an object of worship as a God consider the following facts:

Rama’s birth is miraculous and it may be that the suggestion that he was born from a pinda prepared by the sage Shrung is an allegorical gloss to cover up the naked truth that he was begotten upon Kausalya by the sage Shrung, although the two did not stand in the relationship of husband and wife. In any case his birth, if not disreputable in its origin, is certainly unnatural.

There are other incidents connected with the birth of Rama the unsavory character of which it will be difficult to deny.

Valmiki starts his Ramayana by emphasizing the fact that Rama is an Avatar of Vishnu, and it is Vishnu who agreed to take birth as Rama and be the son of Dasharatha. The God Brahma came to know of this and felt that in order that this Rama Avatar of Vishnu be a complete success, arrangement shall be made that Rama shall have powerful associates to help him and cooperate with him. There were none existing then.

The Gods agreed to carry out the command to Brahma and engaged themselves in wholesale acts of fornication not only against Apsaras who were prostitutes, not only against the unmarried daughters of Yakshas and Nagas but also against the lawfully wedded wives of Ruksha, Vidhyadhar, Gandharvas, Kinnars and Vanaras and produced the Vanaras who became the associates of Rama.

Rama’s birth is thus accompanied by general debauchery if not in his case certainly in the case of his associates. His marriage to Sita is not above comment. According to Buddha Ramayana, Sita was the sister of Rama, both were the children of Dasharatha. The Ramayana of Valmiki does not agree with the relationship mentioned in Buddha Ramayana. According to Valmiki, Sita was the daughter of the king Janaka of Videha and therefore not a sister of Rama. This is not convincing for even according to Valmiki she is not the natural born daughter of Janaka but a child found by a farmer in his field while ploughing it and was presented by him to king Janaka and brought up by Janaka. It was therefore in a superficial sense that Sita could be said to be daughter of Janaka.

The story in the Buddha Ramayana is natural and not inconsistent with the Aryan rules of marriage. If the story is true, then Rama’s marriage to Sita is no ideal to be copied.

In another sense Rama’s marriage was not an ideal marriage which could be copied. One of the virtues ascribed to Rama is that he was monogamous. It is difficult to understand how such a notion could have become common. For it has no foundation in fact. Even Valmiki refers to the many wives of Rama. These were of course in addition to his many concubines. In this he was the true son of his nominal father Dasharatha who had not only the wives referred to above but many others.

Let us next consider his character as an individual and as a king.

In speaking of him as an individual, I will refer to only two incidents – one relating to his treatment of Vali and other relating to his treatment of his own wife Sita. First, let us consider the incident of Vali.

Vali and Sugriva were two brothers. They belonged to the Vanar race and came from a ruling family, which had its own kingdom the capital of which was Kishkindha. At the time when Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, Vali was reigning at Kishkindha. While Vali was on the throne he was engaged in a war with a Rakshasa by name Mayavi. In the personal combat between the two, Mayavi ran for his life. Both Vali and Sugriva pursued him. Mayavi entered into a deep cavity in the earth. Vali asked Sugriva to wait at the mouth of the cavity and he went inside. After sometime a flood of blood came from inside the cavity. Sugriva concluded that Vali must have been killed by Mayavi and came to Kishkindha and got himself declared king in place of Vali and made Hanuman his Prime Minister.

As a matter of fact, Vali was not killed. It was Mayavi who was killed by Vali. Vali came out of the cavity but did not find Sugriva there. He proceeded to Kishkindha and to his great surprise he found that Sugriva had proclaimed himself king. Vali naturally became enraged at this act of treachery on the part of his brother Sugriva and he had good ground to be. Sugriva should have ascertained, should not merely have assumed, that Vali was dead. Secondly, Vali had a son by name Angad whom Sugriva should have made the king as the ligitimate heir of Vali. He did neither of the two things. His was a clear case of usurpation. Vali drove out Sugriva and took back the throne. The two brothers became mortal enemies.

This occurred just after Ravana had kidnapped Sita. Rama and Laxman were wandering in search of her. Sugriva and Hanuman were wandering in search of friends who could help them regain the throne from Vali. The two parties met quite accidentally. After informing each other of their difficulties, a pact was arrived at between the two. It was agreed that Rama should help Sugriva to kill Vali and to establish him on the throne of Kishkinda. On the part of Sugriva and Hanuman it was agreed that they should help Rama to regain Sita. To enable Rama to fulfill his part of the pact it was planned that Sugriva should wear a garland around his neck as to be easily distinguishable to Rama from Vali and that while the duel was going on Rama should conceal himself behind a tree and then shoot an arrow at Vali and kill him. Accordingly a duel was arranged, Sugriva with a garland around his neck, while the duel was on, Rama, standing behind a tree, shot Vali with his arrow and opened the way for Surgiva to be the king of Kiskinda.

This murder of Vali is the greatest blot on the character of Rama. It was a crime which was thoroughly unprovoked, for Vali had no quarrel with Rama. It was a most cowardly act, for Vali was unarmed. It was a planned and premeditated murder.

Consider his treatment of his own wife Sita. With the army collected for him by Sugriva and Hanuman, Rama invades Lanka. There too he plays the same mean part as he did between the two brothers, Vali and Sugriva. He takes the help of Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana, promising him to kill Ravana and his son and place him on the vacant throne. Rama kills Ravana and his son Indrajit. The first thing Rama does after the fight was to give a descent burial to the dead body of Ravana. Thereafter he interested himself in the coronation of Vibhishana and it was after the coronation that he sends Hanuman to Sita to inform her that he, Laxman and Sugriva have killed Ravana.

Even when the coronation was over he did not go himself but he sent Hanuman. And what was the message he sent him with? He did not ask Hanuman to bring her. He asked him to inform her that he was hale and hearty. It was Sita who expressed to Hanuman her desire to see Rama. Rama did not go to see Sita, his own wife who was kidnapped and confined by Ravana for more than 10 months. Sita went to him and what did Rama say to Sita when he saw her? It would be difficult to believe any man with ordinary human kindness could address his wife in such dire distress as Ram did to Sita when he met her at Lanka if there was not the direct authority of Valmiki. This is how Rama addressed het:

“I have got you as a prize in a war after conquering my enemy, your captor. I have recovered my honour and punished my enemy. People have witnessed my military powers and I am glad my labours have been rewarded. I came here to kill Ravana and wash off the dishonour. I did not take this trouble for your sake.”

Could there be anything more cruel than this conduct of Rama towards Sita? He does not stop there. He proceeded to tell her:

“I suspect your conduct. You must have been spoiled by Ravana. Your very sight is revolting to me. Oh you daughter of Janaka! I allow you to go anywhere you like. I have nothing to do with you. I conquered you back and I am content for that was my object. I cannot think that Ravana would have failed to enjoy a woman as beautiful as you are.”

Quite naturally Sita calls Rama low and mean and tells him quite plainly that she would have committed suicide and saved him all this trouble if when Hanuman first came he had sent her a message that he had abandoned her on the ground that she was kidnapped. To give him no excuse Sita undertakes to prove her purity. She enters the fire and comes out unscathed. The Gods satisfied with this evidence, proclaim that she is pure. It is then that Rama agrees to take her back to Ayodhya.

And what does he do with her when he brings her back to Ayodhya? Of course, he became king and she became queen. But while Rama remained king, Sita ceased to be queen very soon. This incident reflects great infamy upon Rama. It is recorded by Valmiki in his Ramayana that some days after the coronation of Rama and Sita as king and queen, Sita conceived. Seeing that she was carrying some residents of evil disposition began to calumniate Sita suggesting that she was in Lanka and blaming Rama for taking such a woman back as his wife. This malicious gossip in the town was reported by Bhadra, the Court joker, to Rama. Rama evidently was stung by this calumny. He was overwhelmed with a sense of disgrace. This is quite natural. What is quite unnatural is the means he adopts of getting rid of this disgrace. To get rid of this disgrace he takes the shortest cut and the swiftest means – namely to abandon her, a woman in a somewhat advanced state of pregnancy in a jungle, without friends, without provision, without even notice – in a most treacherous manner. There is no doubt that the idea of abandoning Sita was not sudden and had not occurred to ram on the spur of the moment. The genesis of the idea, the developing of it and the plan of executing are worth some detailed mention.

When Bhadra reports to him the gossip about Sita which had spread in the town, Rama calls his brothers and tells them of his feelings. He tells them Sita’s purity and chastity was proved in Lanka, that Gods had vouched for it and that he absolutely believed in her innocence, purity and chastity. “All the same the public are calumniating Sita and are blaming me and putting me to shame. No one can tolerate such disgrace. Honour is a great asset; Gods as well as great men strive to maintain it. I cannot bear this dishonour and disgrace. To save myself from such dishonour and disgrace I shall be ready even to abandon you. Don’t think I shall hesitate to abandon Sita.”

This shows that he was making up his mind to abandon Sita as the easiest way of saving himself from public calumny without considering whether the way was fair or foul. The life of Sita simply did not count. What counted was his own personal name and fame. He of course does not take the manly course of defending his wife and stopping the gossip, which as a king he could have done and which as a husband who was convinced of his wife’s innocence he was supposed to do. He yielded to the public gossip and there are not wanting Hindus who use this as ground to prove that Rama was a democratic king when others could equally well say that he was a weak and cowardly monarch. Be that as it may that diabolical plan of saving his name and his fame he discloses to his brother but not to Sita, the only person who was affected by it and the only person who was entitled to have notice of it. But she is kept entirely in the dark. Rama keeps it away from Sita as a closely guarded secret and was waiting for an opportunity to put his plan into action. Eventually the cruel fate of Sita gives him the opportunity he was waiting for. Women who are carrying exhibit all sorts of cravings for all sorts of things. Rama knew of this. So one day he asked Sita if there was anything for which she was craving. She replied that she would like to live in the vicinity of the Ashrama of a sage on the bank of the river Ganges and live on fruits and roots at least for one night. Rama simply jumped at the suggestion of Sita and said, “Be easy my dear, I shall see that you are sent there tomorrow”. Sita treats this as an honest promise. But what does Rama do? He thinks it is a good opportunity for carrying out his plan of abandoning Sita. Accordingly he called his brothers to a secret conference and disclosed to them his determination to use this desire of Sita as the opportunity to carry out the plan of abandoning her. He tells his brothers not to intercede on behalf of Sita, and warns them that if they came in his way he would look upon them as his enemies. Then he tells Laxman to take Sita in a chariot next day to the Ashram in the jungle on the bank of the river Ganges and to abandon her there. Laxman did not know how he could muster courage to tell Sita what was decided by Rama. Sensing his difficulty Rama informs Laxman that Sita had already expressed her desire to spend some time in the vicinity of an Ashram on the bank of the river and eased the mind of Laxman. This confabulation took place at night. Next morning Laxman asked Sumanta to yoke the horses to the chariot. Sumanta informs Laxman of having already done so. Laxman then goes into the palace and meets Sita and reminds her of her having expressed the desire to pass some days in the vicinity of an Ashrama and Rama having promised to fulfill the same and tells her of his having been charged by Rama to do the needful in the matter. He points to her the chariot waiting there and says, “Let us go!” Sita jumps into the chariot with her heart full of gratitude to Rama. With Laxman as her companion and Sumanta as coachman, the chariot proceeds to its appointed place. At last, they were on the bank of the Ganges and were ferried across by the fishermen. Laxman fell at Sita’s feet, and with hot tears flowing from his eyes he said, “Pardon me, O, blameless queen, for what I am doing. My orders are to abandon you here, for the people blame Rama for keeping you in his house”.

Sita, abandoned by Rama and left to die in a jungle, went for shelter to the Ashrama of Valmiki, which was near about. Valmiki gave her protection and kept her in his Ashram. There in course of time, Sita gave birth to twin sons, called Kusa and Lava. The three lived with Valmiki. Valmiki brought up the boys and taught them to sing the Ramayana which he had composed. For 12 years the boys lived in the forest in the Ashrama of Valmiki not far from Ayodhya where Rama continued to rule. Never once in those 12 years this ‘model husband and loving father’ cared to inquire what had happened to Sita – whether she was living or whether she was dead. Twelve years after Rama meets Sita in a strange manner. Rama decided to perform a Yagna and issued an invitation to all the Rishis to attend and take part. For reasons best known to Rama himself no invitation was issued to Valmiki although his Ashram was near to Ayodhya. But Valmiki came to the Yagna of his own accord accompanied by the two sons of Sita introducing them as his disciples. While the Yagna was going on the two boys were used to perform recitations of Ramayana in the presence of the Assembly. Rama was very pleased and made inquiries, and he was informed that they were the sons of Sita. It was then he remembered Sita and what does he do then? He does not send for Sita. He calls these innocent boys who knew nothing about their parents’ sin, who were the only victims of a cruel destiny, to tell Valmiki that if Sita was pure and chaste she could present herself in the Assembly to take a vow and thereby remove the calumny cast against herself and himself. This is a thing she had once done in Lanka. This is a thing she could have been asked to do again before she was sent away. There was no promise that after this vindication of her character Rama was prepared to take her back. Valmiki brings her to the Assembly. When she was in front of Rama, Valmiki said, “O, son of Dashratha, here is Sita whom you abandoned in consequence of public disapprobation. She will now swear her purity if permitted by you. Here are your twin-born sons raised up by me in my hermitage”. “I know”, said Rama, “that Sita is pure and that these are my sons. She performed an ordeal in Lanka in proof of her purity and therefore I took her back. But people here have doubts still, and let Sita perform an ordeal here that all these Rashis and people may witness it”.

With eyes cast down on the ground and with hands folded Sita swore “As I never thought out of anyone except Rama even in my mind, let mother Earth open and bury me. As I always loved Rama in words, in thoughts, and in deed, let mother Earth open and bury me!” As she uttered the oath, the earth verily opened and Sita was carried away inside seated on a golden simhasana (throne). Heavenly flowers fell on Sita’s head while the audience looked on as in a trance.

That means that Sita preferred to die rather than return to Rama who had behaved no better than a brute.
Such is the tragedy of Sita and the crime of Rama the God.

Let me throw some search light on Rama the King.

Rama is held out as an ideal King. But can that conclusion be said to be found in fact?

As a matter of fact Rama never functions as a king. He was a normal King. The administration, as Valmiki, states, was entrusted to Bharata, his brother. He had freed himself from the cares and worries about his kingdom and subjects.

Valmiki has very minutely described the daily life of Rama after he became King. According to that accounts, the day was divided into two parts, up to forenoon and afternoon. From morning to forenoon he was engaged in performing religious rites and ceremonies and offering devotion. The afternoon he spent alternately in the company of Court jesters and in the Zenana. When he got tired of jesters he went back to the Zenana. Valmiki also gives a detailed description of how Rama spent his life in the Zenana. This Zenana was housed in a park called Ashoka Vana. There Rama used to take his meals. The food, according to Valmiki, consisted of all kinds of delicious viands. They included flesh and fruits and liquor. Rama was not a teetotaler. He drank liquor copiously and Valmiki records that Rama saw to it that Sita joined with him in his drinking bouts. From the description of the Zenana of Rama as given by Valmiki it was by no means a mean thing. There were Apsaras, Uraga and Kinnari accomplished in dancing and singing. There were other beautiful women brought from different parts. Rama sat in the midst of these women drinking and dancing. They pleased Rama and Rama garlanded them. Valmiki calls Ram as a ‘Prince among women’s men’. This was not a day’s affair. It was a regular course of his life.

As has already been said Rama never attended to public business. He never observed the ancient rule of Indian kings of hearing the wrongs of his subjects and attempting to redress them. Only one occasion has been recorded by Valmiki when he personally heard the grievance of his subjects. But unfortunately the occasion turned out to be a tragic one. He took upon himself to redress the wrong but in doing so committed the worst crime that history has ever recorded.

The incident is known as the murder of Sambuka, the Shudra. It is said by Valmiki that in Rama’s reign there were no premature deaths in his kingdom. It happened, however, that a certain Brahman’s son died in a premature death. The bereaved father carried his body to the gate of the king’s palace, and placing it there, cried aloud and bitterly reproached Rama for the death of his son, saying that it must be the consequence of some sin committed within his realm, and that the king himself was guilty if he did not punish it; and finally threatened to end his life there by sitting on a dharana (hunger-strike) against Rama unless his son was restored to life. Rama thereupon consulted his council of eight learned Rishis, and Narada amongst them told Rama that some Shudra among his subjects must have been performing Tapasya (ascetic exercises), and thereby going against Dharma (sacred law), for according to it, the practice of Tapasya was proper to the twice-born alone, while the duty of the Shudras consisted only in the service of the “twice-born”. Rama was thus convinced that it was the sin committed by a Shudra in transgressing Dharma in that manner, which was responsible for the death of the Brahmin boy.

So, Rama mounted his aerial car and scoured the countryside for the culprit. At last, in a wild region far away to the south he espied a man practicing rigorous austerity of a certain kind. He approached the man, and with no more ado than to enquire of him and inform himself that he was a Shudra, by name Sambuka who was practicing Tapasya with a view to going to heaven in his own earthly person and without so much as a warning, expostulation or the like addressed to him, cut off his head. And lo and behold! At that very moment the dead Brahman boy in distant Ayodhya began to breathe again. Here in the wilds the Gods rained flowers on the king from their joy at his having prevented a Shudra from gaining admission to their celestial abode through the power of the Tapasya which he had no right to perform. They also appeared before Rama and congratulated him on his deed. In answer to his prayer to them to revive the dead Brahman boy lying at the palace gate in Ayodhya, they informed him that he had already come to life. They then departed. Rama thence proceeded to the Ashrama, which was nearby, of the sage Agastya, who commended the step he had taken with Sambuka, and presented him with a divine bracelet. Rama then returned to his capital.
Such is Rama.

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Dr. B R Ambedkar Written by:

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956), popularly known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who inspired the Dalit movement and campaigned against social discrimination against the Dalits, while also supporting the rights of women and labour. He was Independent India's first law minister and the principal architect of the Constitution of India.

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