What is the theme of the Ramayana, and explain its significance?

One of the most important themes of The Ramayama is that choices have consequences, both good and bad. From this, the reader is meant to derive the moral message that people must always take responsibility for their own actions.

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The Ramayana is an epic, a word which is used to indicate the length, scope, subject and themes of a work of literature. As with the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid, one of the major themes of the Ramayana is heroism. The qualities of an epic hero are remarkably similar across cultures, and Rama has them to a high degree. He is of royal birth, and has great strength and prowess in battle, as well as exceptional courage. Even as a boy, he is able to fight and vanquish a host of demons, allowing Viswamithra to perform his sacrifice unmolested.

Rama, like other heroes, is fallible, but he learns from his mistakes to become a better hero. His brother, Lakshmana, acts as a foil for him in this respect. Lakshmana is also courageous and strong in battle, but he is not as well-rounded, logical and thoughtful a character as Rama. Rama is committed not only to performing heroic feats, but to acting honorably, keeping his promises, and doing all the good he can. This means that the theme of the Ramayana has more direct religious significance than the Greek and Latin epics, since Rama is a model of piety to be imitated by Hindus. He does not have the same faults of character as Gilgamesh or Achilles, or make the same moral compromises as Odysseus or Aeneas.

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Though The Ramayana deals with the actions of powerful deities and the awesome powers of the cosmos, it presents us with a world in which individual choice matters, a world where the choices people make often have quite serious consequences.

At various points in the epic narrative, characters make decisions, some good, some not so good, that will have serious repercussions one way or the other.

For instance, Rama, doubting the fidelity of his wife Sita, makes the fateful decision to send her away from court. After spending some considerable time at the hermitage of Valmiki, she eventually returns to the royal palace of Ayodhya, where she is required to undergo a test of her virtue. In the event, the earth opens up and swallows Sita, taking her back to her roots.

Though wise in many respects, Rama undoubtedly made a big mistake in doubting Sita's constancy. Instead of trusting her, he gave credence to baseless court gossip and abandoned the pregnant Sita in a forest. In doing so, he was replicating his own exile in a forest after he was banished from court at the request of his stepmother Kaikeyi.

What this unfortunate episode illustrates is that even wise people, brave and noble individuals like Rama, can make foolish decisions that will generate negative consequences.

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The theme of the Ramayana, one of the two great epic poems of India along with the Mahabharata, is the importance of dharma, or doing one's duty. The hero of the story, Rama, the prince of Aydohya, follows his dharma at all stages of his life. When he is young, he obeys his father, who wants his stepson to become king. Though Rama is the rightful king as the oldest of his father's sons, he cedes to his father's wishes and allows his stepbrother to become king. Later, Rama rescues his wife, Sita, after she is abducted by the evil king of Lanka, Ravana. Rama musters an army of monkeys to rescue Sita, and he later asks her to prove her purity to the community and ushers in a golden era in Aydohya. The epic is significant as a work of poetry. At 24,000 verses, it is one of the longest epic poems. It is also a work of religious significance, and it is considered the first poem in the Hindu tradition. 

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The need to uphold one's duty is one of the most important themes in The Ramayana.

There are many different themes within The Ramayana.  However, the need for people to adhere to their duty resonates throughout the work.  It is the respect for one's duty that causes Lord Rama to accept his banishment because a child's must always honor parents.  Rama's father, Dasaratha, is bound by his promise to Kaikeyi.  In honoring his promise to her, she insists on Rama's exile. While it causes great pain to him, he knows that his responsibility as a King is to respect his word.  Breaking his word would be an abdication of duty and the source of great shame.

Devi Sita sees her duty as accompanying her husband, even if it comes at great cost to herself.  Lakshmana's duty is to follow his brother, assisting him as he can and leaving the life of a prince.  Another example of the theme of duty can be seen in Bharata, who pledges his dutiful respect to Lord Rama. Even when he is given the throne through his mother's actions, Bharata insists that Rama's slippers will rule in his absence.  Bharata's duty is even more evident when he says that should Rama fail to return, he will take his own life to show respect to his exiled brother. The way in which it drives the major characters reflects the significance of the duty theme.  It helps to define the purpose of  human beings.

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