Symbolisms in the Ramayana – Chapter Seven

Jatayu

Ravana was the Master of the Golden City of Lanka. Though learned, he was egoistic. Ego gives rise to further vices. It is said that Ravana had ten faces. . The ten faces are symbolic of the ten evil facets of his character. This is what made him symbolic of a demon. Ravana possessed magical powers.

It is believed in the Hindu philosophy that magi­cal powers can be acquired by any man who practises certain austerities. A man could learn to aim and shoot straight with diligent practice. In the same way a man with a certain kind of training can learn certain tricks, which may seem magical because they are not according to the normal nature of things.

A gun can be used for protection as well as for destruction.

These magical powers can also be used in two ways depending upon the spiritual progress of the owner. Ravana possessed these powers and unfortu­nately was using them for exploitation. This was one of the facets of his evil nature.

SURPANAKHA

Surpanakha was the sister of Ravana. She was ugly in appearance but turned herself into a beautiful damsel by the power of the magic powers she possessed. One day she passed through the forest and saw the charming Princes Rama and Lakshmana. She became enamoured of them. Surpanakha outrageously flirted with Rama and Lakshmana. Lakshmana took out a knife and cut off a portion of Surpanakha’s nose. Surpanakha’s magic spell was broken. She reverted to her original form, which took an uglier appearance because of her fury.

{Symbolism : When one wants to impress, one puts on an artificial beautiful exterior. This not being one’s true appearance cannot last for long and on being slighted one reverts back to one’s true colours.

Cutting off the nose is symbolic of being insulted.}

Surpanakha fled to her brother Ravana’s court and recounted all that had transpired. In order to avenge herself of the insult inflicted upon her, Sur­panakha sowed the Seed of Desire in her brother’s heart.

She told Ravana of the beauty of Sita and said that only he was worthy of owning such beauty.

Evil cannot possess devotion. How could Ravana get Sita. Since it could not be done by fair means, Ravana decided to get Sita by unfair means.

MAREECHA

Ravana instructed one of his ministers Mareecha to change his form to that of a golden deer and romp around near the cottage of Sri Rama and Sita.

Sita on seeing the beautiful deer urged Rama to get it for her. Rama asked Sita to realise that a deer could not be golden and that it was an illusion. Yet Sita insisted upon owning the beautiful deer. To fulfil his beloved’s desire, Rama left.

Just before Rama killed Mareecha, Mareecha cried out in Rama’s voice, ‘Please save me, O Lakshmana.” Sita fearing for her husband’s safety, urged Lakshmana to go to the rescue of Rama.

Before leaving Sita alone in the cottage, Laksh­mana drew a line around the cottage, which he be­seeched Sita not to cross over under any circumstances, as she would be protected as long as she remained within the limit of the line. Ravana took advantage of the opportunity and entered the cottage in the form of a sage. Ravana asked for alms. Sita wanted to serve Ravana from within the cottage but Ravana in the guise of a sage took offence. When, perforce, Sita had to come out beyond the line, Ravana took her away on one of his flying vehicles to Lanka where she was kept prisoner in a garden called “Ashok Vatika”.

{Symbolism : The golden deer is symbolic of Maya.}

MAYA

Maya is literally an illusion. It is that which prevents man from seeing the world as it truly is.

Man believes that the world is a source of happiness and so tries to possess it. Any man of experience has seen that happiness is not directly proportional to the extent of one’s possessions. Sometimes, the reverse seems to hold true. So happiness eludes one despite the amount of possessions one has.

Sita wanted the deer, despite the urgings of Sri Rama that the deer could not be real and it would bring only sorrow. How then could Sita, such an evolved human being, have been so persistent in her desire?

Hindus believe that this was a drama (Leela) played by Sita for the benefit of mankind. She is try­ing to teach us not to take one’s spiritual progress lightly. One ne ver knows when one can have a pitfall.

DRAMA OR LEELA

Leela is a Sanskrit word which means ‘flickering of fire’. It also means ‘play’ and in this context it would mean Divine Activity.

The Hindus believe that the world and the events of the world are part of a Drama (Leela) and Divine characters take part in it sometimes to teach certain lessons to mankind.

Sita made one mistake of desiring the Golden Deer. But when one commits a mistake too many it sometimes is too late.

If Sita, after having desired the deer, had remained within the limits drawn around her, all would have been well. When one surpasses the limits then only one becomes a prisoner, of evil.

The Ashok Vatika is also symbolic of the Garden of Illusion or Maya.

The world is also a Garden of Illusion. It seems so beautiful on the surface, yet beneath every happi­ness, sorrow lurks and we all seem to be its prisoners until we open our eyes in to the Truth.

HANUMAN

Hanuman is one of the most colourful characters in the Ramayana. He has the appearance of a monkey. Some scholars claim that he is symbolic of the mind.

A monkey’s predominant character is never to be still, but to jump from branch to branch. Compare it to our mind. Isn’t that what the mind does – always moving from one desire unto another.

Hanuman reminds us that even though he is a monkey yet he is close to Sri Rama (the Lord God himself); and if a monkey can make it to that proximity, can’t we?

Some claim that Hanuman in this life took up the body of a monkey on purpose because as an animal he would be able to serve better.

Hanuman has a colourful parentage. The mind is as fickle as air. So popularly Hanuman is knows as the son of the wind (Pavana Putra). His presence is therefore felt everywhere which shall remain to be present as long as the world exists.

‘Charo yug partap tumhara
Hai parsidh jagat ujiyara’

This couplet is from the famous prayer of Sri Hanuman (Hanuman Chalisa) and it means that the Influence of Sri Hanuman is present everywhere, every time and everyone is aware of this fact.

Hanuman is symbolic of mind and air. To his devotees, he is like a cool breeze, but to eradicate evil he is like a tornado capable of uprooting mighty trees.

A not very well-known belief is that during King Dasaratha’s sacrificial prayer, a little portion of the blessed milk was snatched by a bird who dropped it on Hanuman’s mother Anjali. Hanuman’s mother partook of the same, so this school of thought claims that even Hanuman is a half-brother of Rama.

Some scholars claim that Hanuman is the Reincar­nation of Lord Shiva who wanted to be part of the Leela (Drama) enacted by the Reincarnation of Lord Vishnu – Sri Rama.

Hanuman has great qualities. He is a great soldier instrumental in reuniting Rama with Sita.

Hence a lot of young ladies who want to get married earnestly recite the Hanuman Chalisa hoping that they would soon be united with husbands.

It is said that a prayer to Hanuman never goes unheeded because Hanuman’s selfless and devoted service has kept the Lord of Lords indebted to him forever.

BALI

Bali, the King of the Monkeys, was the elder brother of Sugreeva. Bali was so powerful that he tied up the mighty Ravana in his tail and kept him prisoner in his kingdom Kishkinda for many years.

Bali had unjustly banished Sugreeva from the kingdom and had taken Uma, Sugreeva’s wife, for himself. Once a powerful demon, Dundubhi, challeng­ed Bali for a fight. Bali drove the demon into a dark cave where they continued the fight for years. Sug­reeva, who had been keeping a watch at the mouth of the cave, saw blood gushing out of the cave, and thought Bali had been killed and closed the mouth of the cave with a huge boulder. When he reported this to the ministers and elders on his return to Kishkinda they insisted on his being crowned the king. Bali after killing Dundubhi called out to Sugreeva, but there was no answer. He found the mouth of the cave closed but using his superhuman strength, removed the boulder and rushed back to Kishkinda where he found Sugreeva crowned as the King. This infuriated him so much that he drove out Sugreeva from Kish­kinda, though Sugreeva pleaded his innocence.

Rama promised to help Sugreeva get his kingdom and wife back. There was a fight. While Sugreeva and Bali fought, Rama shot an arrow from behind a tree and Bali was killed.

Shooting from behind a tree is symbolic. We may think that we fight and win all the battles of life but it is actually God’s unseen hand that is behind our victories.

ANGADA

While Bali lay wounded he asked Rama to take custody or care of his son Angada. Rama wanted to bring Bali back to life since Bali felt repentant of his previous deeds. But Bali being a good soul, who had been deluded for a while, feared that he may not have the opportunity of dying in the Lord’s arms if he chose to recuperate from his wounds this time.

Bali died with a smile on his lips.

Sugreeva, Bali’s Son Angada and Hanuman with their monkeys promised to help Rama find Sita. Rama gave a ring to Hanuman to be given to Sita as a token that Rama would soon be on the way to rescue her.

PRABHA

During their search for Sita the monkeys arrived at a cave inhabited by a lady saint by the name of Prabha. Prabha informed the monkeys that they would find Sita if they closed their eyes.

This statement is symbolic.

An aspirant on the spiritual path must open his eyes and see the form of God in everyone. If, how­ever, he is unable to do so then he must close his eyes to outside influences, distractions and look within.

The monkeys opened their eyes prematurely. So they realised that they had not got to Sita but had stopped short and reached the sea.

Now they realised that they would have to cross the ocean to get to Lanka where Sita was held

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine