The story of Rama – Rama Avatar

The story of Rama  – Based on Valmiki Ramayanam

Introduction

One of the fundamental facets of Hinduism is the faith that God descends to earth as an Avatar at appropriate times for the benefit of humanity; He comes to eradicate  evil doers and safeguard good and pious people, to uplift dharma (righteous living), to curtail adharma (anarchy), to give divine bliss to His earnest devotees and to preach dharma suited to the times of the arrival and to the imminent generations to come.

Rama  Avatar

Out of the human forms of Avatar that Lord Vishnu had taken according to Hindu scriptures, Rama Avatar that took place in Treta Yuga and Krishna Avatar  that happened later in Dwapara Yuga are considered to be the two greatest  avatars, wherein divinely qualities of the Avatara purushas (incarnated persons) were exhibited in a vast measure.

Treta Yuga was a time period in Hindu belief that dates back to several thousands of years and it is the second yuga after Satya Yuga. Unlike Satya yuga when people in earth were mostly leading highly righteous lives, Treta yuga saw a gradual deterioration in the practice of dharma; it is said that in Treta yuga, three quarters of the people in earth were righteous and a quarter of the population followed unrighteous ways in life. And it was at appropriate time in Treta Yuga  that Lord Vishnu descended on earth as Rama Avatar. Ramayanam is the life story of Rama, a very revered king of Ayodhya, whose very life exemplified dharma. Ramayana was originally written in twenty-four thousand Sanskrit verses by Saint Valmiki, who was a contemporary of Rama and a caretaker of Sita, Rama’s wife, during her exile to forest.  Ramayanam is one of the two great itihas (epics of historical happenings) of Hindu scriptures.

The purpose of Rama Avatar was primarily to eradicate the evil Asura (demonic) king Ravana and his associates. However, In this process,  Lord Rama lead such an exemplary life — as a youth, as a prince, as a house holder, as a devoted son, as an affectionate brother, as a loving husband wedded to just one woman, as a humble and spiritually evolved human being, as a great and powerful warrior,  as a great king and as a non-compromising stickler to dharma — that throughout his very life, he set innumerable examples on righteous living for people to emulate.

The Beauty and Greatness of Rama

Another striking feature of Rama’s life is that despite his innate awareness  that he was an Avatar with a divine mission, Rama (except on a very few occasions) opted to live just as a human being, exhibiting human nature and human emotions, always trying to hide his divinity and insisting on being just ‘Rama, the son of Dasaratha’. This is in total contrast to his next Avatar in the following Dwapara Yuga where he came as Krishna and openly demonstrated his divinity through  extraordinary display of unearthly powers at every occasion of need. Unlike Krishna, Rama did very little preaching of dharma, but lived it in day to day life. The beauty of Rama avatar does not end with Rama alone. There are so many relatives and associates of him that too lead lives of stellar values and extraordinary human qualities worthy of inspiration for generations to come.

Let us now briefly see Rama’s wonderful life story as narrated in Valmiki Ramayana. The story spreads through 6 major chapters (Cantos), called Kandams.

 Part 1   BALA KANDAM (Boyhood of Rama)

King Dasarata was a very reputed king of the Sun Dynasty, who ruled the kingdom Kosala from its capital Ayodhya in the northern part of India. He had three queens — Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi was the youngest and was particularly the sweetheart of king Dasarata. The king had no offspring.

As the king advanced in age, he was tormented by worry about the lack of progeny. He consulted his ministers, priests and sages and he was advised to conduct a grand Ashwameta Yaga (Horse sacrifice ritual) as a “Putra Kameshti Yaga” — a sacred fire sacrifice aimed pleasing celestial Gods specifically to get a boon of children. He invited a famous saint Rushyasringa to conduct the yaga. A very grand yajnya  (yaga – fire sacrifice) was conducted inviting kings, priests and brahmins from all over the sub-continent. People were fed sumptuously and gifts were given lavishly. The fire sacrifice was conducted faultlessly as per rules of the scriptures, to the satisfaction of all.

Ravana the Demon king – the Cause of the Avatar

During that period, down south in the country Lanka (now Srilanka),  Ravana, an extremely powerful demonic king was ruling the country. He was born with 10 heads (and hence known as Dasagriva). Early in his life, he did intense austerities by undertaking total fasting for many years aimed at pleasing Lord Brahma;  by cutting off his heads one by one and sacrificing them into the fire, he did terrific tapas (penance). Pleased, Lord Brahma appeared before him and gave him the boon he wished: no being in earth, in heavens or in nether worlds (excluding a human beings, whom he thought too insignificant to pose a threat to him) could ever kill him. Brahma also restored his 10 heads and voluntarily gave him the power to assume any physical form he liked.

Having acquired such unearthly powers , Ravana became extremely arrogant, unlawful and adharmic (unrighteous). He was an incurable war monger and whomsoever was known to be very powerful in all the three worlds, he would challenge them for fight . He grew into such a big threat that he attacked and conquered many celestial Gods, many rulers in the higher worlds ,earth and the nether world and killed many saints and sages.  He was a womanizer too and he captured beautiful women from all the worlds for his enjoyment.

As the celestial Gods with their king Indra could not bear the onslaught of Ravana any longer, they, along with Lord  Brahma, met Lord Vishnu (the Lord of protection) and poured out their woes. Hearing their plight, lord Vishnu said “I shall take birth as the son of King Dasarata at appropriate time and annihilate Ravana; Don’t worry”.

As King Dasaratha’s Yagna was brought  to a successful completion by saint Rushyasringa through the chanting appropriate mantras and offerings to the fire precisely as stipulated in the scriptures , an effulgent divine messenger sent by Lord Vishnu emanated from the sacrificial fire. He handed over a golden pot containing sweet pudding to Dasarata and said “Please give this pudding to your wives and they will bear children for you”.

Very pleased, Dasarata gave half the contents in the pot to his first wife Kousalya to drink. He shared the balance equally and gave to Sumitra and Kaikeyi to consume. Noticing some pudding still sticking to the pot, he wiped it and gave it to Sumitra again.

The Birth of Rama and his three brothers

Soon the three wives became pregnant . In due course, Kousalya gave birth to Rama, followed by Kaikeyi who gave birth to Bharata. Shortly soon,  Sumitra ,who got the sweet pudding twice, gave birth to twins who were named Lakshmana and Shatrughna . The royal family and the entire people of the country were overwhelmed with joy upon the arrival of the divinely children.

The four  royal children were very beautiful and charming. They were of very refined manners, intelligent and obedient.  The first son Rama was rather dark skinned, but his aura was so powerful that everyone who came to contact with him felt instantly attracted by his charm, pleasing manners, humility  and poise. The children underwent formal education, scriptural study and also in practice of armory and weaponry under Saint Vasishta. Rama particularly excelled in archery. King Dasara’s love on Rama was very intense. Right from early childhood, Rama and Lashmana became very close to each other and likewise, Bharata and Shatrughna always sought each other’s company.

Saint Vishwamitra’s request

Some time before Rama reached his 16th age, a very revered sage Vishwamitra visited Ayodhya. King Dasarata received  him at his palace with lots of respect and reverence. The purpose of visit of the sage was to seek a help from the king and Dasaratha promised to offer him whatever Vishwamitra  asked for. The sage wanted help to protect a Yaga (fire sacrifice) he was conducting at the forest which was frequently disturbed by Asuras (demons) and he asked for Rama to be sent with him to fight the demonic forces and protect his yaga. This request was rather shocking and unpalatable to Dasaratha, as he could not bear getting separated from Rama even for a short while; he was also concerned that the young boy may not be equipped enough to fight with demons and he offered his own services instead.

But the sage was adamant and was getting angry about Dasarata’s refusal to send Rama. Vasishta, the saintly minister intervened immediately and counseled Dasaratha that he should keep his promise and that the saint’s request was indeed a blessing in disguise for Rama. He made the king  agree to send Rama with Vishwamitra. The king summoned Rama and Lakshmana. Lakshmana, as his wont, accompanied Rama whom he could not get separated from. The young princes soon departed with the saint after paying obeisance to parents and elders.

On their way they stayed at the banks of River Sarayu for the night and the sage taught 2 mantras — Bala and Athibala to Rama that could give him lots of strength even when he had to go without food or water for days.

Killing of Tataka, the woman giant

On their way through a very dense forest, they encountered a female giant called Tataka who loved devouring human beings . She and her son son Maricha were constant trouble makers to hermits and the Saint Vishwamitra wanted Rama to kill her. Rama was reluctant at first,  because he did not want to kill a woman, as a matter of principle ordained in dharma.

Tataka ferociously charged towards all of them and rained huge boulders over them . Rama sent powerful arrows to thwart the boulders and chop her limbs with the intention of crippling her totally without the need of killing her.  However, Tataka had occult powers to take any form she liked ; chopping off her limbs had no effect on her. The saint advised Rama that it was indeed a dharma to kill such a horrendous female devil and Rama consented; he sent another powerful arrow that pierced through her chest and killed the woman giant. The sage appreciated Rama for his valor.

As they travelled further, stopping at various hermitages en route, the sage gave Rama several Divyastras (powerful celestial arms which were used as missiles that can cause varying degrees of destruction when deployed in a warfare ) and taught the specific Mantras to activate each of them. This way he equipped Rama to face powerful demons whom he had to face very soon. Based on Rama’s request, he also taught mantras on how to restrain the missiles once they were deployed.

Protecting Vishwamitra’s Yaga

Finally they reached Vishwamitra’s hermitage in the forest known as Siddhasramam, a very holy and sacred place where Lord Vishnu in his previous incarnation as Vamana had stayed there for long years and done austerities. All the hermits received Rama and Lakshmana with love. The saint decided to start the Yaga meant for the welfare of the mankind immediately, which would go on over 6 days and nights continuously. As  Rama and Lakshmana kept a wakeful vigil, the Rakshasas lead by two demons Maricha and Subhahu arrived at the scene on the sixth day, floating high on the sky. They had brought flesh, bones and blood to be dropped on to the sacrificial fire and mar the holy proceedings.

Rama and Lakshmana started their fight with the Rakshasas using their bows and diyastras (power packed arrows). With a mighty knock Rama hit Maricha and sent him skywards in exile miles and miles beyond the seas. He killed Maricha on the spot with another arrow. Rama and Lakshmana then killed all the other evil rakshasas and ensured that the yaga was completed successfully without any hitch.

Saint Vishwamitra and his associates were extremely happy and they profusely showered their praises on Rama and Lakshmana for their dedication, alertness and valor.

Right at that time, in the city Mithila, the capital of the country of Vidheha, the saintly king Janaka was preparing to conduct a grand Ashamedha Yaga ; Viswamitra decided to attend the grand ceremony along with his fellow hermits  and he wanted Rama and Lakshmana to accompany them. He was desirous of showing to Rama a very holy Danus (Bow) of Lord Shiva that king Janaka possessed which no human being was ever able to lift. En route, they stayed at the banks of holy river Ganga and also at several other holy places. To keep the young boys entertained, Vishwamitra told them several mythological stories including the story of  Himavan and his two daughters Uma and Ganga. He also told the elaborate story of how the holy river Ganga came to earth by the untiring efforts of king Bhagiratha.

Vishwamitra also told the famous mythological story of churning of milky ocean by Devas and Asuras together to get the nectar of immortality.

Rama resurrects  Ahalya, the cursed wife of saint Gautama

As they reached the outskirts of Mithila, Rama noticed a deserted Hermitage on their way. Vishwamitra told him that it was once a holy ashram of Saint Gautama who lived there with his beautiful wife Ahalya and practiced austerities. The king of devas, Indra once got lured by the captivating beauty of Ahalya; One day at predawn hours,  when the sage was away for his early morning ablutions,Indra came to the ashram in the disguise of the sage Gautama. He lured Ahalya to have a sexual union with him, and Ahalya, in a moment of mental weakness yielded to him, though she sensed that it was Indra, the celestial chief who had come in the guise of her husband.

The saint came to know of the happenings and he cursed his wife to remain there incognito for years; however, he told her that her sin would be washed away when Rama would visit the hermitage in the distant future.

As Rama walked in there, suddenly a lady sprang up to life. She was indeed Ahalya. Rama and Lakshmana paid their respects to the saint lady and she extended her hospitality to the princes. Saint Gautama too appeared there and paid his respects to Rama. Purified of her sin, Ahalya got reunited with her husband. The visitors bade farewell to the saintly couple and proceeded to enter Mithila.

Rama Lakshmana at Mithila

As they arrived at Mithila, they were pleased to notice that very elaborate arrangements had been made for the comfortable stay of visitors who had arrived there to attend the king’s grand yaga. King Janaka came personally along with his minister Satananda to pay respects to Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra introduced Rama and Lakshmana to the king Janaka.

Satananda was the son of Saint Goutama and he felt extremely pleased to learn that his mother Ahalya was resurrected by Rama and got reunuited with his father; he could immediately grasp that Rama was a divine personality.  Satananda felt that Rama was indeed very blessed to get the association, guidance and blessings of Saint Vishwamitra and he took the opportunity to narrate to Rama the captivating life history of Vishwamitra (a former king who through his unceasing practice of severe austerities amidst so many trials and tribulations attained the knowledge of Brahman).

The next day, king Janaka invited his distinguished guests to his palace. Upon Vishwamitra’s request, he narrated how his ancestors got the possession of Shiva Danus.

He continued, “Years ago, when I ploughed a piece of land as a preparatory ritual for conducting a Yagna there, my furrow got stuck and as I dug the spot I noticed a box buried there that contained a very beautiful and live female infant there.  I was overjoyed to get the baby as a divine gift to be my daughter and named her Sita (furrow). Knowing that she had divine qualities, I wanted to get her married only to a truly valiant King. I made an announcement that anyone who can lift up the Shiva danus and tie the bow-string to it can get married to my daughter. Kings from far and wide came to my court and none of them could lift the bow.  In fact I had earned the wrath of many kings on account of it and waged very taxing and tiring wars against them to drive them away”.

Rama breaks Shiva danus and weds Sita

“Would you please arrange to bring the bow of Shiva  to the Yagnya Hall so that the princes of Dasarata and the various kings and guests arrived here could have a look?” asked Vishwamitra.

The king ordered for it immediately. The sacred bow, kept in a large iron box fitted with 8 wheels was rolled in to the Yagnya Hall, pulled strenuously my numerous soldiers. King Janaka announced that anyone in the gathering was welcome to try lifting and tying the string to the holy bow and the one who succeeds could get wedded to Sita.

“Rama, you can try and see whether you can succeed” said Vishwamitra.

Rama got up, sought the blessings of the saint and went near the bow. He bent and picked up the mighty bow with his left hand as if it is a child play. As the whole gathering watched with abated breath, Rama held one end of the bow with his toe fingers, bend the bow and pulled the string so as to tie it to the other end. Suddenly the bow broke at the middle with a thunderous noise.  Cries of cheer from the whole gathering rent the air. Vishwamitra beamed joyously and king Janaka went speechless, shedding tears of joy, for he had now got the right match for his beloved daughter Sita.

After getting Vishwamitra’s consent, king Janaka  despatched fast travelling envoys to Ayodhya to inform  king Dasaratha of the joyful happenings at Mithila, seek his consent for the marriage and invite the king, his royal family and all other distinguished guests to come to Mithila and conduct Rama’s marriage in their presence with their blessings.

After eight days, King Dasarata arrived at Mithila with all his family members, priests and ministers ; they were  given a grand and royal reception. The Ashwamedha Yaga was also completed successfully by that time. Considering the greatness of the lineage of the two emperors, elders discussed and decided that along with Rama’s marriage, the marriage of the other three princes too were to be conducted then and there; brides of right age and beauty from the royal family of Janaka were indeed available as if by divine dispensation. It was decided to marry king Janaka’s (second) daughter Urmila to Lakshmana; Janaka’s younger brother Kushadhvaja’s elder daughter Mandavi to Bharata and the younger daughter Srutakirti to Shatrughnan.

Without delay, the grand marriage function was arranged. With moist eyes, king Janaka took the hand of his daughter Sita to gave to Rama’s hand and solemnized the marriage saying “Here is my dear daughter Sita, who will share the sacred duties of your life; she is blessed; please accept  her hand and take care; she will be most faithful to you as wife and follow you as your shade; “. The marriage of the other three princes too were solemnized next.

Having accomplished his divine task, Vishwamitra bid farewell to one and all and departed to the northern mountains. Soon it was time for King Dasaratha’s family to depart. King Janaka gifted his daughters lavishly with gold, jewels, servant maids and so on and honored the all the guests.

Rama subdues Parashurama

As the journey towards Ayodhya was going joyfully, suddenly the sage Vashishta noticed some bad omens. A storm rose up, uprooting trees and whipping up dust.  And right in front of the caravan, there stood Parashurama (considered as another Avatar of Vishnu, in the role of a destroyer), the notorious slayer of numerous kings and destroyer of the ruling class.

Saint Vashishta extended a formal reception to the Brahmin. Ignoring the formalities, with his famous weapon axe hanging on his right shoulders and a mighty bow on his left hand, Parashurama, the son of saintly Brahmin Jamadagni addressed Rama “Hey Rama, I heard the news that you broke the bow of Shiva at Mithila. Yeons ago, the celestial Architect Vishwakarma once made two identical bows and presented to Lord Shiva and Vishu. Do you know that it was that bow that Lord Shiva discarded after he failed in a combat against lord Vishnu? The bow used by Vishnu is here with me which is far more powerful. Now show me your real valor by holding this bow and shooting an arrow from it!”

Dasaratha, gripped in fear said, “Oh mighty Brahmin; I have heard that you had stopped your killing spree, donated the kingdoms won by you to saint Kashyapa  and retired to Mahindra hills to engage in austerities. I beg you not to harm my son and if done, none of us would live any longer”.

However, totally unperturbed, Rama accepted the challenge. He picked up the Vishnu Danus with ease from the hand of Parashurama, mounted the arrow, pulled the string and aimed it against Parashurama. With words brimming with anger, Rama addressed Parashurama: “Now I have done what you have challenged me to do. The arrow mounted  and drawn on this great bow shall not go waste without hitting a target. Great Parashurama, tell me what should I hit with it; I don’t want to kill you because you are a Brahmin and hence respectable; with this I can either destroy the power you have attained to be a deathless and swift wanderer or the privilege of higher worlds you are entitled to enjoy  gained by you through your austerities”

Parashurama  stood stupefied; his pride thus crushed by Rama, he became sober; he immediately understood that the person who handled Vishnu Danus with such an ease  was none other than lord Vishnu in human form. He prayed to Rama: “Hail, hail, Oh Vishnu, the lord of all Gods! I wish to retain my prowess to be a swift wanderer on this earth. You may please destroy my path to reach the higher worlds with arrow!” Rama shot the arrow and destroyed the fortune of higher worlds and Parasurama. After reverently circumambulating Rama, Parashurama swiftly left the place to return to Mehendra hills where he was meditating earlier.

The marriage party soon returned to Ayodhya. A grand reception awaited them there.

Happy life at Ayodhya

The newlywed royal couples settled in their palaces in Ayodhya and enjoyed their life thoroughly. Sita, who was verily the incarnate of Lakshmi ( the consort of Lord Vishnu) showered love on Rama with her beauty, behavior and words;  She was so much tuned to Rama that she could read Rama’s mind and act according to his wish without the need of words. Rama with his pleasing manners and manly personality loved Sita from the bottom of his heart.

After some days passed, Yudajith, the maternal uncle of Bharata visited Ayodhya with the intention of taking Bharata with him to his father’s kingdom Kekeya. Accompanied by Shatrughna, Bharata bid farewell to parents and brothers and left for Kekeya.

Rama assisted his father in the administrative aspects of Government. King Dasaratha was captivated by Rama’s maturity, mental poise, care and concern for the welfare of citizens and so on. King Dasaratha seemed to be the happiest of all.

End of Bala Kandam.

To be continued in Part:2  Ayodhya Kandam

Who was more righteous, Lord Krishna or Yudhisthira?

Yudhishtra was a human being. He was bound by the laws of Dharma. Since he was the son of Dharma devatha, his sense of understanding of, faith in, commitment to and practice of dharma were of the highest order, when compared to contemporary kshatriayas. He was head and shoulders above any of the kings of his period in the matters of dharma. Since he was a human being, he too faltered; got confused; yielded to temptations here and there. And he suffered for it.

On the the other hand, Krishna was a divine incarnation. Unlike Rama of Treta Yuga, who opted to consider him more as a human being —’Rama, the the son of Dasaratha’, Krishna of the Dwapara yuga had no qualms in accepting and demonstrating his Godliness at every opportune time.

By virtue of being God, he had transcended dharma and adharma. It is all his divine play and being divine, it is He who sets the rules or break the rules.

Hence comparisons have no meaning.

What is the difference between Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad Gita?

Srimad Bhagavatam

It is a grand collection of puranas and spiritual stories with lots of philosophical teachings too. It contains the stories of Bhagvan Vishnu’s 24 avatars and stories of several great devotees. Srimad Bhagavatam is considered the greatest of all the puranas because it contains all the three shades  of Hindu philosophy (Advaita, Vishitadvaita and Dvaita) in its stories, discourses, dialogs, prayers and parables. The life story of Lord Krishna occupies a prominent position in this purana. It is one Purana that can be said to bridge both Bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (Knowledge) in a wonderful way. Vyasa Maharshi was the author.

Bhagavad Gita 

Bhagavad Gita is essentially philosophical teachings of Lord Krishna, delivered as sermon to Arjuna just before Kurukshetra war and it is part of Mahabharata . Mahabharata too was a book authored by Vyasa Maharshi. But the Bhagavad Gita section is out and out a book of spiritual teachings and not a story book. It predominantly teaches Karma Yoga and also covers Bhakti and Jnana yogas. Bhagavad Gita contains the essence of the teachings of Upanishads in a simplified way.

 

How to Learn Wisdom from Nature – What Srimad Bhagavatam says about the Avadhuta Who had 24 Gurus

What is Wisdom? Practically all religions in the world talk about two classes of wisdom – one the knowledge about the world and the second, the knowledge about God. While scientists go about in their quest to gather all knowledge about the world, the spiritual persons go in search of knowledge about God.

Hinduism calls the “worldly knowledge” as a lower one (apara vidya) and the Godly knowledge as the supreme one (para vidya). Basic human tendency is mostly to go in for acquiring worldly knowledge. With his limited intellect, man thinks that only through acquiring worldly knowledge, he can multiply his happiness – by acquiring physical things he loves to possess and by satiating his sensual needs that the world can give.

But saints and sages cry repeatedly that no lasting pleasure can ever be attained by hankering after worldly pleasure and seeking worldly knowledge. Jesus Christ says that all the pleasures one seeks actually do not rest anywhere in the world, not even in any a heaven outside the world, but “the kingdom of God is within you”.(Luke 17-21)

Man constantly worries about earning money to eat and drink, and take due care of his body; worrying about his future, he accumulates and hoards. Then he worries about the safety of his wealth that he has so meticulously acquired.

This is precisely where birds and animals seem to be far better off than men! They have no worry about the morrow and they live for the day; they seem to enjoy every moment of their life by living in the present. Perhaps they may not have the intellect to know that it’s God who is protecting them always and ensures the supply of their food and comfort, but can’t men who have the intellect to analyze and deduce figure out that there is some higher force somewhere which is taking care of all these creatures?

If that higher force, who has created this world, the trees, the animals, birds and human beings can take care of the birds and animals that do not plan for future, can’t He take care of we humans too, who believe in his omniscience and omnipotence and surrender to Him in full faith?

Sources of Wisdom for a Seeker

One who has understood the hopelessness of hankering behind worldly pursuits turns to scriptures for guidance. But scriptures are like maps that can show the way, but cannot lead you to your destination. Religions like Hinduism insists on surrendering to a guru, a true knower of the Ultimate Truth, to take you closer to your destination, by explaining the “map” (scripture), by sharing his personal experience and by showering his grace. That’s the way for salvation for the most who are uninitiated in religion and spirituality.

But for the vigilant ones, who are blessed with inquisitiveness by birth, seeking true knowledge comes through their keenness of observation of everything around one, particularly the nature.

Learning Wisdom from Nature – A Hindu Monk’s Advice

While the culture of the west gives the highest accolade and respect to the rich, the powerful, and the worldly-wise, the eastern culture (as in India) gives the highest reverence to the saints and monks in the society, who relinquish everything materialistic and go in quest of God. In Hinduism, some monks opt to be wandering monks, possessing nothing for themselves, having no permanent shelter for themselves, eating food from whomsoever that offers to them, and dispensing divine knowledge to whomsoever keen to learn from them.

In Srimad Bhagavata Maha Purana , a holy mythological scripture (on the life of Lord Krishna and other divine personalities and Avatars) read reverently by the Hindus, there is a mention about such a wandering monk (“Avadhuta”) who had attained the highest knowledge, not by reading any scripture, not by surrendering to any guru and seeking guidance, but by keenly observing nature and gathering wisdom from it. (Refer Chapter 11-07 to 09). He says he had twenty-four gurus and most of them were from an assortment of birds, animals and creatures!

At the behest of his host, the Avadhuta explains in detail who those gurus from the nature were and what he learned from them. Let us see here a few of his “gurus of nature” and his explanations about them:

The fish

The fish which swims along the river carefree gets attracted by the bait in the hook of the fisherman. In its desire to enjoy it, the fish gets trapped in the hook and meets its end. In a human being, it is the desire to enjoy the sense pleasures that traps him to doom sooner or later.

The pigeons

The Avadhuta once saw a pair of pigeons living happily with their little siblings in a tree. Once when the parent pigeons were out to gather and bring food to their siblings, a hunter came and spread a net and the little pigeons got trapped into it.

When the parent pigeons returned, they were shocked to see their little ones trapped in the net. The mother pigeon, out of love and concern to save her children went near them and got herself trapped too. The father pigeon became motionless in utter shock at the sight of the sad plight of all his near and dear; the hunter simply came and snatched the frozen father pigeon too.

The Avadhuta learned from this the misery behind the attachment to the family and bondage behind it.

Picture source: treehugger.com

The Python

The python does not wander hither and thither in search of its food. It patiently awaits the crossing of an animal closer to its abode and snatches it to eat; whether it is good or bad, small or sumptuous, it does not care; it accepts what it gets and remains content at that. Likewise, a wise man accepts what comes to him unasked and is content at that. He does not hanker behind his sensual urges to acquire and taste things of transient pleasure.

The moth

The moth gets attracted by the light of the flame in the lamp and getting too close to the flame, the moth dies burnt.

For a man earnestly seeking God, likewise, the sexual attraction of a woman is too tempting to resist. If he gets too close to woman, he is sure to get lost in the Maya and miss his pursuit of God.

The Sun

The sun evaporates a large quantity of water by its heat; but it does not retain it for itself, but returns it in the form of rain back to the earth. Likewise, a wise man may acquire many material things in this world as they come to him; but he does not possess them for his own. He returns whatever he acquired back to the world at appropriate time.

The sun is reflected in water, be in pond, well, river or ocean at so many places but this reflection does not mean that the sun is divided and seen as so many parts. Likewise, the man of wisdom learns that it is one single Being (Atman) that gets reflected as so many individual souls in the living beings of this world.

The moon

From new moon to full moon and back to new moon, the moon waxes and wanes in phases. But it does not affect the moon in any way. Likewise, from birth to death, the human body grows and decays, but it does not affect the soul (Atman).

The ocean

The rivers that join the ocean may overflow with water in rainy season and go lean or dry in summer. But the ocean, whether rainy season or summer, does neither swell nor dries up. Likewise, the wise men will neither get overjoyed when they get great material wealth nor do they sulk if they get impoverished.

The Spider

The spider creates the web out of itself and withdraws it at its will. From this, one learns that God created this universe out of himself, he sustains it by his will and, as a master of time and causation, at His own will, he annihilates his creation and withdraws everything – all matter and living beings into himself.

Photo Courtesy: Mr Satish treknature.com/gallery/Asia/India/photo159937

The Serpent

The serpent never builds a home for itself. It occupies one built by other creatures (like an anthill) and leads a carefree life. But people toil and earn money to build a permanent shelter for themselves but they cannot live permanently for ever in it.

The Hawk

The Avadhuta once saw a hawk with a piece of meat in its beak being chased by several hawks that could not get anything to eat. All the other hawks were trying to snatch the meat from the one possessing it; at last, getting tired of flying to escape from its rivals, it let go off the meat. All the other hawks went behind the dropped meat and the hawk originally carrying it felt relieved.

The Avadhuta learned from this the hopelessness of acquiring and holding on to the material possessions. As long as one holds, he has no peace of mind and once he relinquishes what was previously dear to him, he attains peace of mind.

We have seen some samples of what the wandering sage learned from the nature and it’s an eye opener for all of us. After all, the whole universe is a creation of God, and it’s quite natural that his creation contains his invisible qualities. It is for the one who is seeking God to learn wisdom from His creation.

Moral lessons you can learn from the story of Ramayana

Ramayana is just not a mythological story—it is one of the two most widely read “Itihas,” and revered by Hindus everywhere. Itihas means “thus happened.” As per Hindu belief, Ramayana is the true story of Rama—the king of Ayodhya who is considered to be the very incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Great sage poet Valmiki, who wrote the magnum opus “Ramayana,” was a caretaker for Sita, Rama’s wife during the turbulent, tail end period of her life.

The historic period (or Yuga) that Rama lived in was known as Treta Yuga. This was during a time when people’s righteousness (dharma) and moral standards were of a high order. In subsequent yugas (namely Dwapar Yuga, when the story of Mahabharata took place; and the present day Kali yuga that we live in), dharma and morality seem to be steadily declining. Thus, the story of “Ramayana,” whenever read, tends to give us great insight to the very high moral and ethical standards of yore. During times of mental turmoil, we can often find enlightenment from reading “Ramayana.”

Rama, an Avatar of Vishnu, the Hero of the epic story Ramayana.

Here are some of the lessons one can learn from reading Ramayana:

  1. The relationship between Dharma, ArthaKama and Moksha.

Human life is often lost while chasing materialism—known as Artha, and sensory pleasures—known as Kama. The story of “Ramayana” makes it clear that these two pursuits should never be sought at the cost of righteousness—Dharma. The ultimate goal of life is liberation—or Moksha, and this can be attained only by relinquishing Artha and Kama and by strictly following a life of Dharma.

  1. The importance of one man being wedded to only one wife

During the Ramayana period, practice of polygamy (by men) was quite prevalent and it was quite an acceptable social norm for kings to marry many women. Rama’s own father, Dasaratha, was wedded to three wives, and he also had innumerable concubines at his palace. In a stark contrast to his father, Rama remained wedded and staunchly loyal to his only wife, Sita. From this practice, he held his head high as the greatest king ever to rule in Bharat, India. He set a good example for future generations of men as to what was considered the gold standard for a respectable man in society.

  1. Adherence to truth and the need to honor one’s word

When Rama was a young boy, the love and affection his father Dasarata had for him was immense. He would never want to get separated from his loving son. When Sage Viswamitra visited his palace and asked for help to ward off demons who were disturbing his spiritual practices at his forest hermitage, Dasarata promised to offer whatever help he could give. The Sage asked the king to send young Rama with him to fight the demons at the forest and naturally Dasarata was terribly shocked. Still, though, he agreed to part with Rama, to honor his promise to the Sage.

Later on, his third wife Kaikeyi wanted the throne of Ayodhya for her own son Bharata. She also wanted Rama to be exiled to the forest. This was nothing short of a deathly blow to Dasarata, but, still, he never used his authority as king to veto her request. This is because of the promise he had made long ago to Kaikeyi to grant her two boons whenever she chose to ask.

  1. Respecting a father’s word of honor

On the night before Rama’s crowning ceremony, Kaikeyi made use of her boons not only to deny Rama his rightful ascend to the kingdom, but also to send him into exile in the forest. Rama, as a kshatriya (a person belonging to a ruler or warrior class), had every right to question such an injustice. He was also not duty bound to honor his father’s unjust promises, either. However, true to his greatness, Rama, with total mental equipoise and without even a trace of disappointment on his face, conceded to both the demands. For him, “pitru vakya paripalanam” (honoring his father’s words) was one of the highest dharmas.

  1. The futility of listening to vicious counseling

Kaikeyi, who was an essentially good-natured woman, meekly allowed her very loyal maid servant Mandara to brainwash her into demanding these two atrocious boons from Dasarata. Though she was not enthusiastic in the beginning, she gradually allowed Mandara’s venomous words to poison her mind. Did she gain anything finally? No. In fact, she lost her beloved husband Dasarata who died very soon thereafter, on account of the shock and the pain of separation he experienced from having from his beloved son Rama being sent off. Bharata, Kaikeyi’s son, for whom she obtained the very kingdom, reprimanded her for her atrocious act. He never ever took charge of the kingdom as a King.

Now, notice this contrast: Upon hearing about these developments, Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, (who was very short-tempered), like a true Kshatriya, got angry. He could not tolerate the injustice doled out to Rama. He wanted Rama to fight for his rights, he also wanted to proceed and fight with his father and imprison Kaikeyi. However, Rama never heeded to his counsel. He pacified Lakshmana with calming words, pointing out the need for adhering to dharma. The effect of Rama’s counseling not only pacified Lakshmana, but this also gave him a steely resolution to relinquish his own comforts of the palace to accompany Rama to the forest, despite the latter’s objections to it.

  1. Not accepting any booty that came in an unjust way

Bharata, Kaikeyi’s son, also could not tolerate the very idea of bequeathing the throne that rightfully belong to his elder brother Rama, which was wrongly acquired for his sake by his mother. He felt wrath towards his mother on this issue and took her to task for having asked for such a boon. So, he went to the forest in search of his brother and pled for his return to the country to rightfully rule it. Rama refused to concede, of course, so he took Rama’s shoes, carried it on his head, and placed them on Ayodhya’s throne. He took care of administration of the country as a representative of Rama till Rama returned from exile.

  1. The futility of getting swayed by dubious attractions

Sita, who was in the forest, grew madly attracted to a beautiful golden deer. She wanted her husband Rama to catch the deer. She refused to listen to Lakshmana’s warning that such a deer was not natural, and that it could be a demon in disguise. Because of her incessant pestering to acquire the deer to be her playmate, Rama had to go behind it. Unfortunately, this led to her getting separated from him, and she then got forcibly abducted by Ravana, the demon.

  1. The importance of being watchful about one’s utterances

Afterwards, Rama killed the demon. Then, Maricha, the demon who was disguised as the golden deer, called out “Ha Lakshmana! Ha Sita!” mimicking Rama’s voice, and died. Sita, upon hearing it, urged Lakshmana, who was standing guard next to her, to go and help Rama (who was actually not in any trouble). Lakshmana tried his best to counsel her, but he could not convince her that Rama was fine. In a fit of rage, Sita accused Lakshmana of wanting to have an illicit relationship with her in Rama’s absence. Lakshmana, who was then shell-shocked from hearing such an abominable accusation, left immediately, leaving her alone. Ravana then utilized this opportunity to abduct her.

Some interpreters of Ramayana say that Sita was forced to prove her chastity by the test of fire by Rama (after she was freed from the clutches of Ravana) only because of her intemperate and terrible accusation against the saintly and devout Lakshmana.

  1. The importance of fighting against atrocity done to woman

Jatayu, the old and once powerful bird, noticed Ravana abducting Sita forcefully and flying with her in his vehicle towards his country Lanka. Jatayu fought valiantly with Ravana in an effort to release Sita. Unfortunately, he could not succeed in this effort. The bird sacrificed its very own life on such a noble effort. Before taking his last breath, though, Jatayu managed to convey the news to Rama, who was moved to tears by the old bird’s gallantry. Rama performed its last rites and funeral, as though he was the bird’s son.

  1. Divine love transcends all barriers of caste and creed

Lowly fisherman Guha was was full of devotion to Rama. He helped Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita cross the Ganges river in a boat. Impressed by his devotion and service, Rama accepted him as if his brother. Sabari, an old hunter woman of low caste, became a staunch devotee of Rama, just by hearing about Rama’s greatness.

When Rama was wandering the forests in search of Sita, he happened to visit Sabari’s hut. The old lady, overwhelmed with love for Rama, reportedly offered him fruits after nibbling each a bit to make sure that she did not offer sour fruits to her beloved Rama. Rama treated Sabari as though she was his own mother and showered his grace on her.

  1. The importance of humility as a great virtue

Hanuman, estranged Vanar King Sugriva’s minister, was one of the greatest characters of Ramayana. Hanuman was physically very powerful, a great diplomat, very articulate, and very wise. Despite all his great traits, his humility was still unsurpassed. The moment he met Rama, he was bowled over by Rama’s divinity and charm and he committed himself to be Rama’s lifelong servant. The great feats he subsequently performed in serving Rama were unparalleled. The humility he displayed despite his greatness was unfathomable.

  1. The greatness of true friendship

Rama befriended the estranged Vanar King Sugriva with a mutual promise of help. Sugriva’s brother Vali had forcefully taken Sugriva’s wife. Not only that, but he also denied him his share of the Vanar kingdom. Sugriva and Rama teamed up in an effort to eliminate the immensely powerful Vali. Sugriva, in turn, helped Rama in seeking and locating Sita. He also helped Rama to wage war against Ravana in order to retrieve Sita. Both did a commendable job in honoring their words.

  1. Showing mercy, even to the enemy.

Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishan was an extremely righteous person. In fact, he was bold enough to warn and advise Ravana against abducting another person’s wife just to satisfy his own carnal desires. When the furious Ravana showed his brother to the door, Vibhishana went to Rama and surrendered to him. Despite reservations from Sugriva and others, Rama accepted Vibhishana into his fold.

During the first fiery combat between Rama and Ravana, Rama destroyed all of Ravana’s weapons and armor. So, Ravana stood on the war field unprotected. Rama, who could have easily killed Ravana at that moment, in one of the greatest acts of graciousness, then asked Ravana to retire for the day and return to the war field the next day, fully rearmed, as it was against dharma to kill an un-armed person.

  1. The need for the highest standards in a King

After annihilating Ravana and freeing Sita from confinement, Rama performed one of the most controversial and oft-criticized demands in asking Sita to jump into the fire to prove her chastity. Sita did it, and she came out unscathed. Rama took her into his loving fold once again.

Later, when he became King of Ayodhya, he came to know that  a washerman who spoke ill words about Rama for having accepted his wife Sita who had stayed in the confinement of his enemy for months. Rama, whose love for Sita was unfathomable, then made the most painful decision in relinquishing her—simply because he had to maintain a very high order of personal probity as the ruler of Ayodhya.

One can go on discussing many more lessons of morality and dharma that can be found from an in-depth reading of Ramayana. It is no wonder that Ramayana is a wonderful story for both children and elders alike. It’s both a wondrous piece of literature and a great source of guidance on righteous living that has stood up to the test of time. It continues to inspire millions of people, breaking through both religion and linguistic barriers across the world.

Murugan – the Hindu God of Tamils

Murugan is hailed as ‘Thamizh kadavul’ — the Lord of Tamils by poets and Tamil cultural exponents who take pride in the uniqueness of Tamil culture. Murugan is a popular deity widely worshiped in Tamil Nadu and also in Kerala, Karnataka and Srilanka. Worship of Karthigeya or Subramanya (other names of Muruga) is rather sporadic in other parts and linguistic segments of India.

Lord Muruga (Subramanya)

Worship of Subramanya (or Shiva Kumar, the son of Lord Shiva) was in fact one of the formal religious sects recognized and sanctified by Shri Shankaracharya and this sect was known as Koumaram. As Shri Sankaracharya hails from Kerala, it is quite obvious that he was quite familiar with the tradition of worship of Muruga, existing all along in the Hindu culture of the south.

The myriod Tamil names of Murugan

The word Murugan means one who is handsome. In India, naming children with popular names of God is very widely practiced. The name Murugan and his numerous other names like Murugaiyan,  SivamuruganVelmurugan, Saravanan, Karthigeyan, Senthil, Arumugam, Subramaniyan, Subbaiah, Subbarayan, Swaminathan, Velan, Kadirvel, Shaktivel, Kandan (Skandan), Kandaswamy, Kadamban, Kumar, Kumaraswamy, Shivakumar, Shanmukham, Palani (it is actually the name of one of his abodes), Palaniswamy, Muthu Kumaran, Sakthi Kumar, Muthukumaraswamy, Dandapani, Dandayutapani etc are widely used in naming children; a vast majority in the above names are quite typical to Tamils.

The birth of Murugan

Murugan is actually Subramanya, the son of lord Shiva. According to mythology, Murugan was born out of the fire that emanated from Lord Shiva’s third eye — his eye at the middle of his forehead, when he opened it to burn Manmata (a lord of love and romance) who tried to disturb Shiva’s meditation and turn his mind towards romance. The very purpose of birth of Muruga was to annihilate the two demons Tarakasura and Surapadma. Elaborate details of this mythology can be obtained from “Skanda Puranam”. The tamil poetic version of this mythology is also available, known as “Kanda Puranam” written by the poet Kacchiappa Sivachariyar (1350-1420).

Murugan with his consorts — Valli at the left and Devayani at the right.

Murugan’s vehicle is peacock and his main weapon to destroy his enemies is “Vel” (lance). His army flag (“kodi“) carries the symbol of rooster (“seval“) and on account of it, he is also known as “Seval Kodiyon“. According to mythology, Lord Murugan is married to two wives,Devayani (daughter of Indra, the king of Devas) and Valli. Valli reportedly belongs to a Tamil tribal community.

Bhagwan Ramana maharshi, of Tiruvannamalai is a Gnyani par excellence. As a gyani, though he does not encourage ideas about avatars, some of his devotees consider him an avatar of Lord Muruga.

Murugan and Gyana (Supreme Knowledge)

Realizing the highest truth of the Atman (and its oneness with the Brahman) is called gnyana (true knowledge) in Hinduism. Attaining this knowledge is also known as the opening of the “third eye” in a person. Lord Murugan, who was born on account of the opening of the third eye of Lord Shiva is a knower of the supreme truth and is therefore referred to as “Gyana Panditan” (An exponent of Supreme knowledge).

The holy Hindu syllable “Om” is said to encapsulate the Supreme knowledge; one who knows the profoundest meaning of Om is indeed a Gyani who knows the Supreme Truth. According to mythology, Murugan, even as a little boy was aware the meaning of Om.

Once lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe, out of egotism, failed to show due respect to Lord Murugan, who was then a little boy. Murugan cornered Lord Brahma to expound the meaning of Om

Little Lord Muruga teaching secret of Omkara to Lord Shiva

to him and the later could not do it. Murugan imprisoned him citing his incompetence.

 

Lord Shiva who came to the rescue of Brahma, questioned his little son’s authority to imprison the God of creation; he wondered whether Murugan knew anything about Om. Murugan, the little master was bold enough to tease his father that if Lord Shiva too didn’t know the meaning of Om, he could very well learn from him, provided he came to him very politely, like an earnest disciple who wants to learn from his master.

Lord Shiva agreed at once. Like an obedient student, he sat low in front of his son, with one hand close to his chest and the other hand closing his mouth (this is a traditional way of showing respect to Guru and Saints). Murugan then expounded the secret behind Om secretly in the ears of Lord Shiva.

Since Murugan thus became a saint who taught to the very lord of the universe, he was called Swaminathan. In Tamil, he is hailed as “Thagappan Sami” – one who became a Guru to his own father.

Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi – Some devotees consider him an avatar of Lord Muruga

Ramana Maharishi, of Tiruvannamalai, a very famous Gyani par excellence, is considered by his ardent devotees to be an incarnation of Lord Muruga. Though he has not written any hymns about Muruga, his cryptic poems are a source of treasure which contains the essence of his philosophical teachings.

The 6 great abodes of Murugan in Tamil Nadu

A very famous temple of Swaminathan (i.e. Murugan), situated at Swamimalai(near Kumbakonam at Tamil Nadu, India) is associated with the above mythological story. Swamimalai, is incidentally one of the “Arupadai Veedu“s (6 great abodes of Lord Murugan, situated in Tamil nadu).

The other 5 “padai veedu”s are : Thiruttani, Palani, PazhamudirSolai, Thirupparankundram and Thiruchendur. “Thirumurugatruppadai” is a famous and ancient Tamil literature written by poet Nakkirar which contains the stories of the wondrous divine play of Lord Murugan in all these 6 main abodes.

Swamimalai

 

Palani

 

Tiruchendur – situated near sea shore.

 

Pazhamudircholai

 

Thirupparankunram

 

Tiruthani

Tamil hymns in praise of Murugan

Several Tamil saints have had the divine vision of Lord Muruga. A couple of them have been initiated to writing poetry by the lord himself. “Thiruppugazh” by the saint Arunagirinathar is a wonderful piece of Tamil poetry containing poems pregnant with devotion on Muruga and they overflow with beauty, rhyme and rhythm. Kumaragurupara Swamigal is another poet, who’s “Kandar Kali Venba” and “Muthukumaraswami Pillai Thamizh” are wonderful pieces of devotion and literary content. “Kanda sashti Kavacham” is another very popular hymn known to most of the devotees of Muruga, written by by Devaraya Swamigal.

“Muththaiththiru” Lord Muruga gave this word and Arunagiriyar started singing…

Auspicious days for worship of lord Murugan

Murugan is worshiped by Tamils at many occasions specially considered conducive to his worship right through a year. “Thaipusam” is one important festival, celebrated in the Tamil month “Thai” (January-February). The significance of the day is that it was on this occasion he was given a “Vel” (lance) by his mother Parvati to destroy the demons (Surapadma and Tarakasura).

“Skanda Shashti” is another auspicious period of six days coming in the Tamil Month “Aippasi” (October-November). This period is spent doing fast and prayer on Muruga. “Vaikasi Visakam” or the full moon of the Tamil month of Vaikasi (May-June) is Murugan’s birthday.

Tamils and Murugan – a global phenomenon

Across the globe, wherever Tamil community is settled in large numbers, temples have come up for worship of Lord Muruga. In Srilanka, The Kadirkama Skanda temple in Kadirkamam and the Nallur Kandaswamy temple in Jaffna are very famous. So also are the Murugan Temple at Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur (Malasia), Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road, Singapore, Highgate Hill Murugan temple at United Kingdom and the Sydney Murugan temple in Parramatta (Mays Hill)at Australia.

Kathirkamam Skanda temple, Srilanka

 

Nallur Kandasamy temple, Jaffna, Srilanka.

 

Murugan Temple, Batu caves, near Kualalampur, Malasia.

 

Highgate Murugan temple, London

 

Sri Thendayutapani Temple, Singapore

 

Sydney Murugan Temple, Australia