What lessons are taught through the examples of the characters in Ramayana?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that some of the most basic and elemental lessons of consciousness are brought out in The Ramayana.  It is one of the most formative texts of the Hindu religion, so I think that it makes sense that the characters in the text represent lessons that are to be absorbed and understood.  To a large extent, Ravana, the demon- king of Lanka, represents the lesson learned as a result of lawlessness and a lack of restraint.  For Ravana, the desire to control all, own all, and immerse himself in a world without restraint is something that is seen to be personally and socially destructive.  Lanka burns and countless soldiers die because of his own desire for excess.  It is for this reason that Ravana's lessons become something that is understood for all to understand.  It is the lesson of unchecked ego, of unabashed and uncontrolled pride where Ravana's narrative becomes the most compelling.  It should be noted that it is quite deliberate that Ravana is only seen as the "demon king" when he becomes obsessed with having Sita, possessing the one thing he can never have.  It is through his own unchecked ego where the essence of his "demon" nature becomes revealed, suggesting the lesson and danger of unabated egoism.

I think that another set of lessons can be learned from Ravana's wife, Mandodari.  She is married to the "demon- king."  However, she herself, embodies virtue and complete devotion to what is right.  While Ravana veers off the path of what is righteous in pursuit of his own ends, Mandodari continually reminds him of what should be done.  She continually stresses that the abduction and torment of Sita is a sin, and that her husband should try to see what example Rama represents in order to make his own life better.  When Ravana is taken with Sita, ready to make her his wife, she refuses, denying Ravana what he desires.  His anger makes him ready to kill her at that spot.  Yet, Mandodari intervenes on Sita's behalf, protecting Sita, who for all practical purposes could be seen as an adversary.  Interestingly enough, Mandodari is a humanizing influence on the inhuman depravity of Ravana.  She continually seeks to make him better, even when it is evident that he has no desire to do so.  In the most odd of ways, she represents the virtue of what it means to be a wife.  It is for this reason that many believe that by merely chanting her name, included in the "Pancha Kanya (five revered women), that all sin disappears.  The lesson that is gained from Mandodari is the idea that while one might be enveloped and surrounded by depravity, one can still remain distinct from it and seek to be transcendent in a world of the contingent.

Naturally, the lessons of characters like Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Anjaneya are evident.  Rama represents the lawful nature of structure and rules, of adhering to one's word and following through on one's promise.  Sita is the devotional element, the idea that one must aspire for a transcendent purpose, something more meaningful than what one is.  Lakshman is one who embodies the lesson of loyalty and honor, never fading in that commitment.  Anjaneya is the embodiment of the lesson of working towards a noble goal, something that never fades even in the most trying of conditions.  What makes The Ramayana such a unique work is that it features lessons in both the characters that represent "good" and those who do not.  The work is central to the Hindu religion because of this.