There are many versions of the Ramayana, a tale loved not only in India but in many countries in South and South East Asia. R.K. Narayan has written his own unique version of the timeless epic, drawing on poet Kamban’s Tamil version of the Ramayana from the 11th century.
The Ramayana espouses many beautiful ideals: the sacred power of a promise, truly a word of honor, no matter how impractical it may be; the holiness of all forms of life, even the supposedly lower ones; and an idealized view of the relationship between a man and a woman. Perhaps the historical epic owes its everlasting importance to its being a whopping good story. It contains many of the twists and thrills of a modern soap opera – betrayal of a prince by his stepmother, abduction of a princess by a villain, a glorious battle, and kingly virtues.
Rama believes a king must not break a solemn promise and a son should not disobey his father’s command. When exiled to the forest, Rama calmly and rationally accepts his fate, blames himself for hastily accepting the throne without thinking about the consequences and takes the ‘high road’, casting no blame and showing no regrets nor anger toward anyone, neither his scheming stepmother nor his distraught father.
In fact, the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve are banished to attain a life experience and prove their worthiness, is very similar to Rama’s banishment. For the sake of his father’s honor, Rama willingly abandons his claim to Kosala’s throne to serve an exile of fourteen years in the forest. He sees his exile as an opportunity, not a curse, revealing his detachment from the material world.
He is the ideal son, the ideal brother, the ideal husband, and he is also an ideal friend. He does not discriminate on account of class towards his friends.
When Ravana sent two of his spies to the Vanara camps to gather information about the strengths and weaknesses of Rama’s army, Rama shows great nobility and virtue even towards his enemies and treats them with Kingly courtesy. So Rama is worshipped as the best example of perfect character and human conduct, inspiring all humans for eternity.
This thrilling ancient tale is enjoyable for its spiritual wisdom, the portrayal of idealistic people, and as an enduring love story. The Ramayana teaches that fulfilling one’s obligations is a dharma.
Narayan, R. K. The Ramayana. New Delhi: Vision, 1987. Print.