#Covid19Dharma: What Can The Ramayana Teach Us?

Author: Divya Nagaraj.

With Ramayana and Mahabharata back in the mainstream through our beloved national channel Doordarshan, there is a widespread resurgence in the discussion of values and morals upheld by these two great Itihasas of India and their correlation to current day events. India has largely lived on the principles of Shri Rama and his life, be it consciously or sub-consciously. Rama an avatar of Maha Vishnu was born as a human to demonstrate to the world the way one should lead his/her life. He demonstrated to the world the roles and duties of an ideal husband, son, brother, administrator, friend and so on. Rama is said to be an incarnate of Dharma. He upheld Dharma (loosely translated as righteousness) in all walks of his life, even if it sometimes meant that choosing Dharma would cause him grief or unhappiness (when he chose to go give up the kingdom and go to the forest). Dharma can be loosely defined as follows: “It is a set of rules and regulations which needs to be followed by all levels of the society, for universal well-being. These rules and regulations are place, time and context- driven, also several other factors. A dharmic action would result in the universal welfare of all creatures. Failing to follow these rules will adversely affect the society and world at large, today. Each individual adharmic activity will contribute to the collective suffering of the world at large. It is important to note that, these rules and regulations are not rigid and codified as the last word.” We are witnessing this sort of suffering in the present day today. Therefore, Dharma is essential to maintain the fabric of life and keep things in balance, which is diminishing in the world today. Dharma is the subject matter of Ramayana.

Here I quote excerpts from Dr. R. Rangan’s translation of the Valmiki Ramayana:

Dharma is that which leads to Abhyudaya and Nisreyasa (Vaisesika sutra, 1.1.2). Nisreyasa includes austerities and sense control aspiring everlasting peace. Here the path may be tough; but the final goal is everlasting peace that is inherent in every being. To get mastery over senses(2.99.32), to practice austerity which includes proper diet, control and meditation and to keep the mind peaceful(3.9.31&32) is personal Dharma. With all these principles, Dharma is the wish for the universal wellbeing(3.1.3). Dharma is not mere sense control, but sense control with the aspiration of universal well being. If sense control alone is Dharma, Ravana also can be called as a man of Dharma. Ravana too practiced sense control and austerities for some days and only for some selfish purposes.

Implementing this universal well being in a step by step practical way is Abhyudaya which includes serving and contributing to the welfare of family, society, nation and the whole world. The characteristics of Rama’s Kingship are described in Ramayana which reveal the concept of the universal well being.

These values are still largely ingrained and reflective in the Indian ethos till today. As the world is grappling with the pandemic, the lockdown, the ‘Janata Curfew’ called by PM Modi in India was largely a success without any external restrictions imposed. We also saw a lot of religious places such as the Kanchi Mutt hold special prayers for universal welfare even before the pandemic had reached India:

Hindu religious bodies usually run on donations of devotees, who also donated huge sums of money towards the public relief care fund. Once the pandemic reached India and was a cause of concern, temples were immediately closed, for nothing is more important than universal well-being. Shri Rama consistently emphasized that there is no greater devotion and prayer to God than upholding Dharma, which is aligning our actions towards universal welfare.

We also saw that when the Prime Minister requested citizens to light diyas and candles in a show of solidarity and confidence in our collective fight against the virus, citizens from all walks of life came together to stand in solidarity. We saw a lot of well-to-do families holding diyas and praying for the welfare of fellow beings.

However, we also saw the behaviour of certain communities alienated from Dharma. Their actions were in stark contrast with the tenets of Dharma. The incidents such as the congregations at the Nizamuddin Markaz by the Tablighi Jamaat, and the protests at Shaheen Bagh, were instances of people and communities who defied the norms of universal welfare. Mosques continued to be functional.

Although Hindus still largely hold on to the universal well-being tenets of Dharma as emphasized by Shri Rama, what we have forgotten is that Rama also emphasized on countering adharmic forces that come in the way of universal welfare.

Quoting another excerpt from Dr. R. Rangan’s translation of the Ramayana that emphasizes this point:

Rama tries to eliminate anti-Abhyudaya-Nisreyasa elements. Eliminating elements that go against the tenets of universal welfare is also dharma in Ramayana. “Rama punished those who deserved punishment(2.2.47)” Though Rama respected the conventions, laws and decorum of war, he was ready to break even them sometimes for the sake of Dharma. This is how he was hiding himself and killed Vali. This is to show that an evil which cannot be conquered by direct means can be brought under control through indirect or hidden ways. The great heroes like Chanakya, Shivaji and Bukkaraya won the evil forces only through indirect means, so that they could bring the golden eras for the nation.

With our Itihasas back in the mainstream, let’s hope that we also revive our kshatriya spirit as that is the need of the hour. Hopefully, we draw important lessons from these great narratives to build a stronger India based on the model of Rama Rajya.

Here is a summary of Dharma from Dr. R. Rangan’s translation in the context of Ramayana:

  1. Dharma is praying for universal well being, with mastery over senses to be in everlasting peace
  2. Dharma is implementing this universal well being in a step by step practical way which includes service and contributing to the welfare of family, society, nation and the whole world
  3. Dharma is supporting and serving Dharma oriented people in promoting it
  4. Dharma also includes discouraging or drubbing them if needed, those who trouble the Dharma oriented people
  5. Rama is exemplary in all these five principles proving the statement of Maricha: “Rama is Dharma embodied (3.37.13)”

Divya Nagaraj from Bangalore is currently a Research Assistant at Infinity Foundation. She is a Computer Science Engineer from PES University, Bangalore with a Post-Graduate degree in management from SP Jain school, View More…

8 thoughts on “#Covid19Dharma: What Can The Ramayana Teach Us?”

  1. Nicely put. It seemed while reading there was some research in there like inserting the excerpts(various news papers, abhyudaya & nisreyasa, definition of dharma, etc). Anyhow, thanks for the concrete details. If you are on Facebook, better it be posted there as it has larger section. It should reach the ignorants.

  2. Abhilash Jayachandra

    Good read discussing dharma using current events. Draws parallels between dharmic and adharmic behavior and its impact to the entire society/world at large.

  3. Nicely done.. Dr. Ranganji have a platform called WEBOLIM which spreads dharma way of life..through Ramayana. We have Ramayana and dharma classes and today we covered this article there (part of what is dharma? session.)

    Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Why Some Groups Are Reluctant To Close Their Place Of Worship During The CoVid-19 Pandemic - INTELLECTUAL KSHATRIYA

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