Thoughts on the Ramayana – Part 1

(The following reflections are inspired by the conversation I had with Pranav on the Ramayana. Available here)

I am finding the story of Ratnakar, the dacoit transforming to Vālmiki, the poet very interesting.

Ratnakar used to loot and kill travelers, and thus support his family. On one such occasion, he caught hold of 7 rishi-s and looted them. Before being killed, one of the rishis asked Ratnakar if he is aware that his actions will invite pāpa upon him. Ratnakar said he was aware of it but justified his actions by saying he has to feed a family. The rishi-s then asked – “are the family members willing to share a portion of your pāpa?” The questions stunned him, for he never thought about this. He had assumed that the pāpa will be shared by the family. But the rishi-s suggested him to check with family members. To Ratnakar’s shock, the family refused to have any part in his pāpa – Ratnakar’s sins were his own, and he alone would bear the brunt. The realization that pāpa is not shared, nor transferred to anyone, proved to be a turning point. Ratnakar now asks the rishi of what he should do for prāyaścita. The rishi-s give him a mantra and ask him to do tapasyā. And so, Ratnakar leaves dacoity and become a tapasvi.

I thought this was one important point for us to flag. In India, we do not believe in ‘aggregation’ of sin. This is in contrast to the abrahmic world, where sins of many can be aggregated together and then transferred to someone (Jesus, the son of God, decides to suffer on behalf of men – a decision which transformed him into Christ). In India, perhaps we do not believe such a thing is possible – and this belief is an important aspect of the karma-phala principle.

Moreover, the case of Ratnakar has another interesting aspect. He knew that his actions would invite sin, and yet he chose to continue with them. It was not a case of ill-informed decision making on his part. Pranav explains, that according to veda-s certain actions invite puṇya and certain invite pāpa. The human being always has a choice to act or not act correctly. However, whatever action he chooses to do, the associated puṇya or pāpa cannot be escaped from. A human being may choose to postpone his mokśa to next life by choosing to do actions worthy of pāpa. We find another such example in Duryodhana, who says that he knows his actions are adhārmic but he still chooses to do them.

Moving on with the story,

Ratnakar’s tapasyā was intense. Over a period of time, an ant hill (called valmika in Sanskrit) got formed all around him, but he remained unfazed in his chanting. Once the same group of rishi-s was passing by, when they heard sound of chanting emanating from inside the valmika. On clearing that, they found Ratnakar immersed in his tapasya. Impressed by his transformation they predicted he will find glory and named him Vālmiki – the one from valmika. On their suggestion, Vālmiki built an ashram on the banks of river tamasa, where he continued with his tapasyā.. One day, probably as a result of the tapa, he formulated 16 characteristics (guṇa) an ideal man would have. Having thought of these, he wondered if there is actually anyone in this world with all the sixteen guṇa-s. One day, rishi Nārada visited Vālmiki in his ashram. Vālmiki described the sixteen guṇa-s and posed the same question to Nārada muni – is there anyone in this world with these guṇa-s? It is then, that Nārada muni told Vālmiki about Ram.

(To be continued…)

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