In The Ramayana, what relationship exists between humans and the animal world?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The relationship between animals and humans is a very interesting one in the Ramayana. On one hand, there is a complete embrace of animals representing human qualities and characteristics.  It is an animal, a vulture, that lets Rama know what happened to Sita, while it is an animal, a monkey, that helps him find her.  The qualities of Jetayu, the former, and Hanuman, the latter, are ones that humans hope to be, and are presented in a manner that shows that animals and humans possess similarities, embracing the idea that there is little distinction between all creatures of creation.  Interestingly, there is another point about the relationship between animals and humans that is made in terms of Lord Rama, himself.  Rama represents the reality of justice, law, and structure.  Part of what defines him in such a stark manner against Ravana is that Rama represents the sacred word as a bond, the upholding of promise, and the idea that civilization can only function when human beings embrace the "right" and treat one another as ends in of themselves as opposed to means to specific ends.  Rama's interaction with animals helps to reinforce this idea.  The jungle is a realm where lawlessness exists and animals capitulate to this for survival.  Rama's teachings are elements that hope to bring the light of civilized structure and order to a lawless setting.  For example, the monkeys that Rama and Lakshman encounter are lawless, pursuing their own ends, and demonstrating the lack of embrace of "the right."  Yet, once they learn from Rama what is structure and order, they begin to act in a more socially appropriate and collective manner.  Rama's presence civilizes that which is chaotic, and the animals in the narrative reflect this.  For Lord Rama, there is an embrace of the path of sustenance and in structure and order.  The animals in this narrative are like humans who have not been introduced to Lord Rama's divine guidance. Without Rama, there is chaos.  With Rama, there is meaning and structure.  Valmiki might be making a point that we, as human beings, are no different than animals in living without Rama's guidance.

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