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Lord Rama: The Seventh Incarnation of Vishnu

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 5:09 AM
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are known even to the most illiterate of Hindus as they have come down through the ages by word of mouth. They teach the ideals of Hinduism in a most understandable form. The more popular of these two epics is the Ramayana. It was written by the great sage Valmiki. In this epic the story of Rama is given, he is believed to be the 7th incarnation of Lord Vishnu, born on earth to show the path of righteousness.

Birth of Lord Rama
Dasaratha, king of Ayodhya, had three wives but no children. When he propitiated the gods, they gave him a sacred potion containing the essence of lord Vishnu. After consuming this divine drink, Rama born of his first queen Kausalya, Lakshmana and Shatrughna, born of his second queen, Sumitra and Bharata, born of his favourite queen Kaikeyi. Rama is considered the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, and above all, the ideal king. Rama radiated a divine aura from an early age. His noble bearing and caring nature earned him the respect of young and old alike. Sages and scholars who visited the court of Dashratha were touched by his humility, dignity and grace. They spoke highly of this gentle prince of Ayodhya. Rama was but a boy when he learnt that the sage Vishvamitra was being tormented by the demons of the forest. He rushed to the rishi's defence. With his arrows he kept the trouble-makers at bay while the sage performed his yagna. When Rama heard how Ahalya had been turned to stone for being unfaithful to her husband, he was moved by compassion to redeem the helpless woman from her miserable fate. Such was the purity of his being that the touch of his foot washed away Ahalya's sin and liberated her to rejoin her husband.

Sita: The Wife of Rama
Rama broke a mighty bow that could not even be lifted by the gods and won the hand of Janaka's daughter, Sita, in marriage. Sita was no ordinary girl. She was the incarnation of Lakshmi. She emerged from the earth when Janaka, king of Mithila, was tilling the sacred fields of the earth-goddess with his golden plough. When Rama married Sita, Vishnu was reunited with his divine consort Lakshmi on earth. Sita is considered the embodiment of perfect womanhood.

Rama’s Banishment
After Rama's marriage, Dashratha was so happy that he decided to pass on his crown to his eldest son and retire into the forest. But he was stopped by Kaikeyi, his second queen, who said, "You, once promised me two boons when I saved your life in a battle. I want them now: I want my son Bharata to be made your successor and I want Rama to live like a hermit in the forest for fourteen years." Rama, on learning this, discarded his royal robes and left Ayodhya dressed in clothes of bark, without regret or resentment with his wife, Sita and brother Lakshmana.
 In the forest Sita was abducted by the demon-king, Ravana of Lanka. Rama, helped by an army of monkeys, and by Hanuman, the most loyal of them all, fought and destroyed Ravana and brought back Seeta. He was then crowned king and ruled over Ayodhya. Rama Rajya, the reign of Rama, was one of idealism and perfection, when no tear was shed nor sorrow experienced. It was a time of peace and joy, an idyllic era for all good people. Ayodhya became a land where tolerance and understanding governed the actions of everyone and even the King's actions were subject to the will of the people. Ideal behavior of the rulers and ruled, of men and women, were shown by the actions of the characters in this epic, thereby teaching the people, subtly yet effectively, what ideal behavior should be. For example, to show the qualities of ideal queens, we have Dasaratha's queens, Kausalya and Sumitra, soft-spoken but strong, who placed the prestige of the king and the kingdom above their love of their sons. Dasaratha had earlier given two boons to Kaikeyi and she asked that Rama be sent to the forest for 14 years and her own son, Bharata, be crowned king. Rama, the ideal son, readily agreed to go and Lakshmana accompanied him. Their mothers, Kausalya and Sumitra, sent away their beloved sons to the forest so that king Dasaratha could keep his word. A second lesson learnt from this was the importance of the spoken word, especially the promises made by a ruler.

Bharata Rejects the Crown
Bharata, the son of Kaikeyi, refused to rule a kingdom through deception. Bharata, who also contained the spirit of Vishnu, lived a hermit, outside the city, refusing to partake of the luxuries denied to Rama. Rama meanwhile wandered deep into the forest, far from Ayodhya, followed by Sita, his dutiful wife. Lakshmana, his brother, joined them, serving Rama as Ananta-Sesha served Vishnu in Vaikuntha. The forest was no sylvan retreat. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita had to continuously battle the elements, contending with wild beasts and hostile tribes.

Surpanakha Solicits Rama
In the final year of their exile, while they camped on the banks of the river Godavari, Ravana's sister Surpanakha cast her lustful eyes on Rama. Rama turned her away. "I have a wife already," he said. This is the jungle, you take what you want." So saying Surpanakha attacked Sita intending to kill her and take her place. This is the jungle, you defend what is yours." So saying Lakshmana raised his sword and cut off Surpariakha's nose and ears. To avenge Surpanakha's mutilation, Ravana decided to abduct Sita. While Rama and Lakshmana were away on a hunt, Ravana approached Sita in the guise of a sage with a request for alms. Sita, too innocent to suspect a sage, welcome him in keeping with the sacred laws of hospitality only to be dragged away to the island-kingdom of Lanka. As Rama wept for Sita, Nature mourned with him: trees shed leaves, flowers lost their fragrance.

Rama's Great Army
The birds and beasts of the forest promised to help Rama in finding Sita. Vultures flew high in the sky and monkeys scoured the earth until they found Rama's beloved on island of Lanka locked in Ravana's pleasure-gardens. The monkeys and bears of the forest led by the mighty Hanuman and the wise Jambuvan hurled sticks and stones into the sea to build a bridge to the island of rakshasas. These were kept afloat by fishes, serpents, and other sea-creatures. Thus did Vishnu rouse the forces of Nature to rescue consort.
Rama strode across the sea on the bridge and launched attack on Lanka with his monkey army. They stormed the high walls, brought down the towers and set ablaze the palaces within. The demons with all their diabolical powers were no match for Rama's army of monkeys who had righteousness on their side. One by one all the demons of Ravana were killed and in the final battle, took between Rama and Ravana, Ravana was killed. After the war, when Sita came towards Rama, Rama rejected her; he knew that the world had lost its innocence. Faith had been replaced by doubt. When Sita was liberated from the pleasure-gardens of Lanka, Rama asked her to prove her fidelity. "Show the world that in body, mind and soul, you have been my faithful wife," he said. Sita, surprised by Rama's order, walked through fire. The flames did not touch her.
  Battle in Rama and Ravana
Rama Returns to Vaikunta
When Rama was crowned king of Ayodhya, his subjects refused to accept Sita as their queen. "How can she, who has lived under another man's roof, sit beside our king?" they asked. Rama, the dutiful king, in keeping with the wishes of his subjects, abandoned Sita in the forest. But when they asked him to remarry, he refused, "I exiled the woman. You did not want as a queen. But she still remains my wife. I will remain eternally faithful to her," he said. The gods praised Rama. In the forest, away from the complications of worldly life, surrounded by gentle birds and beasts in the hermitage of sage Valmiki, Sita gave birth to Rama's sons: the twins Luva and Kusha. Rama, meanwhile, performed his duties as a king with a golden image of Sita by his side. Though he had sacrificed personal joy, he made sure there was peace and prosperity in the lives of all his subjects.
After doing ashwamedha yagna, when Sita descended into earth’s depths, Rama realized it was time to abandon Ayodhya and return to Vaikuntha. After appointing his sons as his successors, he bid farewell to the world of man, walking into the river Sarayu to free himself from his mortal body. Mankind mourned Rama's departure for he was the embodiment of the ideal man; his reign, the Rama-raja, was the most perfect ever.All paintings are courtesy of Art of Legend India.


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