Born on 3.4.1911, Shri S. Balakrishnan had a brilliant academic career in the disciplines of Mathematics and Law, obtaining the First Rank in the then Madras Presidency in the University Examinations and securing Gold Medals and Prizes. He entered public service and rose up to occupy top positions in Government and in important assignments during more than five decades of service after having received national and international recognition as an eminent jurist. He was conferred the National Award of Padma Shri in 1975 for distinguished public service. Belonging to a generation which believed that freedom for India was worth having only for reviving and nurturing India’s spiritual heritage and the age-old concept of happy life based on moral values with stress on plain living and high thinking, his ambition was to contribute his mite, however insignificant, to secure these noble objectives by writing handy hooks in simple language for the busy modern men and women, particularly of the younger generation. to acquaint them with our ancient noble thoughts as reflected in our classical literature. The present book is in that direction. His other books include one on the Bhagavad Gita and another on the Vedas.
When a new book on the Ramayana is launched, the question that naturally occurs to anyone is whether there is any need for yet another book on that remarkable Itihasa when there are already innumerable books on it for all categories of readers ranging from very erudite scholars to the common man and even to children. The author is fully conscious of this but feels that a book on the Adhyatma Ramayanam will not be redundant as there are very few books on that version in readable style. This paucity may be due to a misconception generated by the title that this version will be in esoteric language dealing with abstruce philosophy which could interest only the elite among the scholars. As any one who cares to read this handy book will find, there is no basis for this assumption. The Adhyatma Ramayanam is, in every sense, a Bhakti Grantha like Srimad Bhagavatham. No doubt there are numerous passages dealing with spiritual knowledge (as in the Bhagavatham) but its whole thrust is on Bhakti marga and devotion to Lord Rama on whom there are many Stotras. Every passage on spiritual knowledge ends up with the repeated affirmation that mere knowledge or spiritualism or Jnana is useless, without devotion by which alone the Grace of God so essential for salvation can be secured. Even the passages dealing with spiritualism are not beyond the comprehension of an average reader and the author has made a sincere attempt to present such passages in simple language which can be understood by any reader. The object of the author is to popularise this version of the great epic.
The author is most grateful to Lord Sri Rama for using him as an instrument in bringing out this book and for giving him the strength and clarity of mind to undertake this holy venture.
The Ramayana - “the path shown by Rama” - is an Ithihasa (a remarkable legend) which has, for centuries swayed the hearts and minds of millions of people. Even today, it is held in the highest esteem by every Hindu for its religious and moral appeal. The story itself has exercised a pervasive influence on the mass mind for generations and although an average Hindu must have heard it any number of times from his childhood, he derives special delight and emotional satisfaction whenever he reads or hears it told in discourses, or through dramas, songs or other means.
2. The admiration and respect for the Ramayana, which is unique, can be attributed to a variety of reasons. A large section of people are attracted to it as an authoritative manual of ethics (Dharmasastra) while many regard it as a guide book of philosophy (Mokshasastra), a gospel indicating specific means for spiritual uplift and salvation through Bhakti (devotion) and Saranagati (taking refuge in God). Many admire it as a Mahakavya, that is, a poetic masterpiece which one can enjoy to heart’s content. To a devout Hindu, the Ramayana is all these and much more as there is something in it which goes to his very heart. Countless generations of Hindus have been reading it as an ennobling religious exercise and also as a means for achieving success in endeavours or averting calamities.
It may be surprising to many that even today when materialism reigns supreme, there are many who believe that a mere reading of the Ramayana has proved very beneficial and to whom such reading has always been edifying. The Ramayana has lent itself to several beautiful interpretations by learned commentators, each of which has its own charm. It is like a finely cut diamond which sparkles many glorious colours when viewed from different angles. For instance, some are able to give an allegoric meaning to the separation of Rama and Sita and their reunion later on. Rama represents the Supreme Being while Sita represents the individual jivatma and they are happy only when united (as Rama and Sita were in Ayodhya) when Sita gets separated through the play of Maya (golden deer) the soul gets into the domain of evil forces. Each pines for the other and is eager to reunite. A worthy Guru in the form of Hanuman brings about the reunion. These and other such fascinating interpretations and aspects have also helped the Ramayana to maintain its preeminent position among the scriptures of India.
3. The story of Ramayana has several versions of which the Ramayana by Valmiki in Sanskrit is the most well-known. It is believed that Valmiki wrote this during the lifetime of Sri Rama although it is possible that the story by Valmiki was based on some earlier versions attributed to sages like Bharadwaja, Chyavana and Bodhayana. It is Valmiki Ramayana that forms the basis for other subsequent versions and it is that version which western scholars and modern Indians with western education mainly use for study, research or comments including adverse criticism. Among the other versions of Ramayana may be mentioned the Satakoti Ramayana, the Ananda Ramayana (both attributed to Valmiki), the Adhyatma Ramayana (attributed to Vyasa), and the Yogavashistha Ramayana (attributed to Vasishta and Valmiki). The Ramayana by Kamban, the great Tamil savant, the Ramacharitamanasa by the great devotee Tulsidasa and Ezhuthachan’s masterly work in Malayalam are all masterpieces in their own right. There are numerous other works including excellent poetical works like Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa.
4. Valmiki portrays Rama as a perfect human being endowed with great charm, the highest virtues, nobility of character as well as great valour. This is made clear in his Ramayana at the very outset in the introductory conversation between sage Narada and Valmiki during which a very brief summary of the story is given. Valmiki did not portray Rama as God himself but only as an example of human perfection but with inherent foibles and weaknesses. Even so, what impresses most people is the conduct and attitude various situations normally faced and also how he conducted himself to high ideals which are embedded Practically every single episode in Rama’s righteousness, nobility of like detachment, magnanimity, elders and holy men, affection for brothers and friends, truthfulness, respect for the scriptures and indomitable courage and wisdom in difficult situations. There is no doubt that the model provided by Rama had influenced the character, way of life and the approach to problems in life for the common man for generations.
5. Some scholars have taken the view that Valmiki had a purpose in portraying Rama as a human being and not as God incarnate. If the Ramayana had been the story of God, the tendency will be to worship him in a temple and forget about him later. The common man will not be persuaded to follow the ideals and the way of life of Rama as he may well say that it may be feasible for God to live a perfect life and reach seemingly impossible levels of rectitude, but as a mortal, he could not hope to rise to the level of God. There may be greater chances of the common’ man following the ideals of Rama, if he is portrayed as a human being facing the same trials and tribulations and subject to the same weaknesses and foibles as an ordinary human being.
6. The Ramayana is not just for the learned, the highly evolved or the elite. The commonly known version of the story and the ethos are such that they appeal to the unlettered man as well. The unsophisticated person with simple ideas on rectitude and laudable qualities is equally impressed and inspired by the conduct of Rama in various episodes some of which may be recapitulated as illustrative of this. When Rama broke the great bow in Janaka’s Court and was straightway requested to take Sita as wife, he refused to do so saying that without ascertaining his father’s wishes he could not marry Sita. This shows his discipline and respect for elders. When, on the eve of his coronation as crown prince, Kaikeyi told him of his father’s command that he should go to the forest in exile leaving Bharatha to be crowned instead, he never showed the slightest feeling of disappointment, dismay or anger and was as calm and dispassionate as when the crown was earlier offered to him by his father. He lost no time in setting out in exile. This shows his exemplary detachment and equanimity. Although he was pining for Sita after Ravana abducted her and although he killed Ravana after fighting a hard battle he did not show impatience to take Sita immediately. This shows his restraint, selflessness and solicitude for public opinion. Whenever he said anything on right conduct, etc., he never said it was his own opinion but stated that those were the opinions of Sastras and the Rishies, showing his humility and respect for the scriptures. When a person like Jabali or Lakshmana mocked at him that his so-called Dharma had brought him only misery, he calmly explained to them that the need to follow the principles of Dharma is not a matter of convenience or for the purpose of getting expected results. This shows Rama’s unflinching faith in righteousness even when facing difficulties.
7. It is widely recognised that the Ramayana has had a significant impact on Indian culture. Generations upon generations of the people of India have been imbibing the ideas, the ideals and the way’ of life as portrayed in the Ramayana and it is but natural that the Ramayana has served as a bed-rock of Indian culture and civilisation. Indian culture and civilisation have evoked worldwide admiration only on the basis of classical literature like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Itihasas and Puranas and also the way of life adopted by saints and sages, all of which are faithfully reflected in the Ramayana. The cultural influence of epics like the Ramayana is reflected even in the day to day life of the common man, his behaviour and his outlook on life. It has also influenced the culture of many countries in South-East Asia, where the story as told by Valmiki has been carried with local variations. In Laos, there is a 19th century temple for Sri Rama while in Thailand; there is a temple with stone carvings of episodes from Ramayana. Even today, the rulers of Thailand take pride in claiming dynasty from Rama.
8. However, with all that has been said above about the importance of Ramayana as providing a model for the way of life or culture, the major reason for the respect it commands among the Hindus is that it is and has always been regarded as a holy scripture. As such, for generations, it is a religious practice to read it with devotion. The general belief has been that a mere reading of the Book (Parayana) will by itself constitute a pooja or worship. Such reading not only gives emotional happiness and satisfaction but also serves as a means of communication with God for making our prayers and supplications. The Book itself has been worshipped in many households as a symbol of Lord Rama as God. It is quite a common practice among devotees to read or recite select passages from the Ramayana for achieving success in endeavours, such as to get married, to have children, to recover from illness or ill-effects of planetary movements as well as for spiritual advancement. It is quite common to see large gatherings of people even in remote villages, listening with devotion to the story of Rama through discourses or dramas and coming back home with a sense of well-being. As a vast majority of people regard Rama as God in human form to be worshipped for temporal and spiritual benefits, there are innumerable temples for Sri Rama in all parts of the Country. Indeed, the very name of Rama is holy to many and is called a Taraka Mantra, that is, a Mantra which will enable one to cross the ocean of Samsara. In the epilogue to the Vishnu-Sahasranama, Lord Parameswara tells Paravathi that the name Rama is itself equal to the thousand names and qualities of the all pervading Vishnu contained in that hymn. Indeed Valmiki became a Brahmarishi only after he repeated continuously the name Rama on initiation by sages.
9. One unintended consequence of Valmiki and some others portraying Rama only as a human being is that some critics assert their disapproval of some of the actions of Rama. They aver that Rama acted in a manner inconsistent with his being an Avatara of Vishnu, such as when he wept like a weak-hearted mortal when Sita was abducted and when Lakshmana was wounded. Such men forget that Rama was only acting as a human being and like an actor in a drama, he must be faithful to his role as an ordinary human being. The action of an actor in a drama cannot be confused with his real life. Similarly, some critics question the manner in which Rama killed Vali, and assert that Rama’s conduct was dishonourable. Rama’s treatment of Sita at the end of the war has also been criticised as unjust and unbecoming of any decent human being. The Adhyatma Ramayanam has explained all this convincingly. However, such or similar questions do not bother the average man with faith in God. He will just be content to say that these are acts of God. He will remind you that we see many things happening in this world for which we have no explanation, such as a sudden undeserved prosperity for one or an earthquake or a calamity. Being unable to see any reason for these, one will only say that God’s ways are inscrutable. This is nothing but a confession that no man can explain all that happens in the world. This is exactly the way that a wise man explains actions of Rama. To him all acts of Rama are acts of God for His own divine purpose for which we cannot discover any logic or reason. It will be noticed that the Adhyatma Ramayanam takes this line throughout.
10. Even in the Valmiki Ramayana which purports to portray Rama only as a human being there art sufficient indications to show that Rama was an Avatara Purusha. In Chapter 15 of Balakanda which gives the background for the birth of Rama, Mahavishnu was entreated by the celestial beings to descend to earth as Dasaratha’s son for destroying the wicked Ravana who was making life impossible for virtuous men and who had acquired a boon that he should be immune from being killed by any one except a human being (as he considered it beneath his dignity to ask for protection against a mere human being). The Rishies of the time including Vasishta, Visvamitra, Parasurama and others knew about Rama being an Avatara Purusha although they did not disclose it. Vali and Ravana saw Rama as Mahavishnu at the time of their deaths. At the end of the war when Brahma appeared he actually told Rama that he was Mahavishnu. Hanuman, aptly described as the purest gem in the garland of Ramayana, who was remarkable for his outstanding qualities like intelligence, wisdom, valour, reputation, fearlessness, courage and precision in eloquence, always attributed everything that he did or said to the glory of Ramanama and treated Rama only as God in human form. There are devotees of Hanuman who worship him only as a Ramabhakta. Apart from these, the godly nature of Rama has been brought out at several places. For instance, in the exchange of views on him between Sita and Hanuman in Sundarakanda Rama has been credited with several godly qualities including the very significant quality of always giving everything to others and never taking anything from others to himself. “Dadhyan Na Prathigrinheean” All these show that Valmiki did not equate Rama with a human being in all respects and there is no basis for such an assumption. If he had been only a perfect human being and nothing more, history would have forgotten him long ago whatever might have been his exploits or virtues. History is replete with’ Kings, Rulers and stalwarts among men who were famous in their own times, but who subsequently became only shadowy figures which disappeared in course of time. On the other hand, Rama has through the centuries been respected and admired by one and all and even today the worship of Rama and the chanting of his name in Bhajans etc. is so widespread that is would be most unreasonable and even perverse to assess him as a mere historical human being. The preponderant view, is that Rama was an Avatara Purusha. It will be useful to briefly explain what is meant by Avatara and when it takes place.
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