Rama, a great King, a great Hero, loved by all and charming. Ravana, also once a great King, also adored by his people and good looking, but more known as having been a Tyrant and now remembered as a demon.
These characters and the Ramayana teach us a lot about ourselves and our potential from which we can learn, interpret and live. Rama wasn’t just an average hero to admire, Rama sets an example, each of us are capable of becoming like him, and in fact deep down we are Rama. But likewise Ravana isn’t just a villain to fear, but someone to fear our own selves becoming, he is an example of what a human becomes as a victim of his own ego.
What was the difference between these two kings that make them who they were?
Rama was born in a time where kings often had multiple wives. His father Dasaratha, a great king, also followed this custom. Conversely, Rama kept no other lady by his side but Sita. Not once did he consider another woman. This was brought to the surface with the encounter of the flirtatious and sensuous Surpanakha to who Rama responded with “there is no other for me but Sita”.
On the other side of sea, Ravana not only possessed multiple wives, but he was fuelled by sensuous desires. Whichever woman he desired, he would have her. He even lusted after the wife of Shiva, Parvati. When he saw the beautiful Sita he abducted her. Interestingly however, he couldn’t so much as lay a finger on her. This wasn’t out of his decency however, a story within the Ramayana goes back to a time where Ravana had once grabbed a beautiful lady called Vedavati against her will, later on just before she ended her life, she cursed him “if you ever touch a woman against her will again, you will burn.” Some believe that Vedavati was no other than Sita in her previous birth.
Kings are known to be rich, wealthy and surrounded by riches. Many of us today already live like kings, yet we tell ourselves we need more and need to become Kings. No matter how wealthy you are, you often want more. Kings themselves, were at times no different, they fought for more land, more riches and more power.
Rama by first glance doesn’t appear as a King, we know him better as the adventurous forest dweller. He was actually selfless enough to leave his own kingdom and comfortable rich life for 14 years, obeying the command of His father, due to his selfish stepmother Kaikeyi. He didn’t argue, as an ideal son he said “Father has blessed me with the kingdom of the forests.”
Ravana, wealthy as he was, acted by his greed. Many of the riches and ornaments he owned were acquired through Adharmic and unrighteous means, they were stolen goods. A story details of how he robbed Lord Kuber, the deity of riches, items included an ancient flying aircraft called the Pushpavakan.
Anger & Ego
In the eyes of Rama, no living being was different to the other. Monkeys, Bears, Cows and even Squirrels were all as divine to him as a human being was. Rama demonstrated this throughout the Ramayana.
One tale speaks of an elderly lady named Sabari whose cottage Rama and Lakshmana once passed. She adored Rama and wished to serve him a meal. Being the sweet lady she was she wanted to make sure that everything she fed to Rama from the tiniest grape was of good quality, so she tasted each herself first. Normally, one would repulse at eating something that has been near someone else’s mouth. Add race and caste and this is a greater issue, but Rama lovingly accepted her food pointing out “a person’s caste is not determined by birth but by their deeds.”
Even during the war in Lanka, Rama once had Ravana cornered and was able to kill him if he wished, but through his forgiving nature he gave him another chance and the dignity to save himself. Even after the war’s end and Ravana’s demise, Ravana’s own brother Vibishan, who had led a righteous life was given the throne. It is also worth considering the fact that if Rama had wished he could have taken the kingdom of Lanka under his own rule, again showing his control of desire and greed.
On the hand, we have Ravana, he may have been loved by his followers and many wives, but his heart was filled with hatred and ego. He would put himself before anything else. One example of this was his involvement in human sacrifices, many of which included sages who he sacrificed and collected the blood from, in the belief that he would benefit. In Dharma, the golden rule is to live without harming another life physically, mentally or spiritually. By acting in this way, he was already an Adharmic being. He felt a need to be known as the greatest and the biggest and this in itself leads to one’s own demise.
In summary, regardless of what we have and how intelligent we are, if we let our heart fill with the slightest amount of lust or greed, it could be detrimental to us. One must keep his ego and pride under control and live without causing harm to any living being. This is the difference between a great King and Tyrant, between an Arya and an Asura.
He who lives by Dharma is an Arya, and he who lives by Adharma is an Asura.
~ Saie SS