Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
“Rama’s statement should be understood contextually and not misinterpreted to degrade His relationship with Lakshmana”
Rama’s pertinent remark
All brothers are not equal to Bharatha……” Rama declared thus to Sugriva, when there was a debate as to whether Vibishana’s surrender to Rama was to be accepted or not. This significant statement is a sunject matter for comment. Rama uttered these words in the assembly of important vanaras and after looking at Lakshmana with a mild smile. Valmiki’s mention of Lakshmana’s presence in this context and about Rama’s mild smile is not without significance.
Among Rama’s three brothers, it was Lakshmana who voluntarily came forward or rather instead of accompanying him to the forest, and remained with him throughout. It was Lakshmana who attended on Rama very diligently performing service (sirusha) of the most humble order, undergoing several ordeals and difficulties. It was Lakshmana who remined glued, body and soul, to Rama, even as a new born baby to its mother. Rama himself had once to Lakshmana, ‘You are my soul in another body’. Yet Rama made a pointed statement that all brothers were not equal to Bharatha, in the presence of Lakshmana. Rama was known not to talk without fore-thought.
Commentators have tried to unravel what thoughts could have passed through Rama’s mind before he made this characteristic statement. Rama’s thoughts are unfathomable. Analysis of his thoughts is at best an analysis only and cannot be conclusive. Even one thousand Upanishads cannot precisely describe Lord Narayana. Rama was Veda Purusha and Paramatma. Some attempts can be made to understand bit of his personality and his utterance and deeds. This attempt now made is one such. Before we take up for study the special relationship between Rama and Bharatha as brothers, it will of interest to know what view Dasaratha, as a father, had of his son Bharatha.
Dasaratha at first informed Rama about the consensus of all concerned to install the latter as the Crown Prince and in their presence. After dispersing all those who had assembled, Dasaratha called for Rama and had an exclusive talk with him alone. He conveyed to Rama why he took the decision all of a sudden and he also said, “Rama!….. I hasten your coronation, which has to take place tomorrow. Bharatha is not here now; even so the proper timing have come, my mind has decided to crown you now. Your brother Bharatha stands by the high standards of noble people. He endorses elders. He controls the senses. He is compassionate and righteous. Rama! the inner minds of even the noble men, adhering to the noble path always, beam rarely with genuine happiness, on seeing others prosper. Yet I have my own perception.”
Dasaratha has thus expressed his reservation about the permanence of Bharatha’s noble nature and his words did convey ironically that Bharatha’s absence would be the proper time for Rama’s coronation to take place. On the other hand, as the later events had demonstrated, Bharatha’s presence at Ayodhya at that crucial period might have given a different shape to Ramayana.
Vasishta’s fair assessment
As a contrast to what Dasaratha had mentioned, Sage Vasishta came out unequivocally about Bharatha’s unalterable noble nature while rebuking Kaikeyi for her heartless conduct. These were his words, “Kaikeyin! Set to destroy your race!….. Bharatha and Satrughana will also wear wood barks and go to where Rama is….. Bharatha will not agree to rule and will not like to remain here either. Bharatha will not deviate from the path of tradition. What you have earned him is not what he likes….”
True to Vasishta’s correct assesement of Bharatha, when the latter returned to Ayodhya, he first learnt from Kaikeyi about his father’s demise. He fell down unconscious, unable to bear the grief. His next question to Kaikeyi was, “ Where is Rama, who is my brother, father and everything to me and to whom I subservient? Tell me quickly! For one who is aware of righteousness, the elder brother becomes the father. I shall fall at his worshipful feet. He is my ultimate refugee’. Bharatha would thus be seen to have considered Rama as his father and even at this stage, he surrendered to Rama, in absentia.
Rama had perhaps got this message of surrender, in advance, telepathically and he told he confused Lakshmana about the real intentions of Bharatha in coming to the forest with a large army. Lakshmana was suspicious that Bharatha was coming to invade with the intention of killing Rama. Rama told him, “… I guess that Bharatha, who is dearer to me than my own life, on his return to Ayodhya, learning about our departure to the forest, wearing wood barks and matted hair-locks, would have been hurt and so he would be coming to see us. Bharatha would have spoken harshly to Kaikeyi and persuaded the king to hand over the kingdom to me. He will not nurture in his heart any idea to do even the slightest harm to me. Do not suspect Bharatha. He does not deserv to be rebuked by you He doesnot deserve talked about disparagingly. If you do anything unkind to him, it will amount to showing unkind attitude towards me. How can one kill his own brother? If you have spoken to me in this fashion for the sake of the kingdom, I shall tell Bharatha, “Give the kingdom to him and he, most willingly will offer his consent”. Rama’s assessment of Bharatha had proved to be absolutely correct, because Bharatha’s intention was unambiguously to offer the kingdom to Rama. Rama had infact moved a step further in that, according to him, Bharatha would offer the kingdom to Lakshmana too. Lakshmana was younger to Bharatha. Rama was highlighting Bharatha’s nature of supreme sacrifice, that Bharatha would be governed not by the principle of seniority by age but charmed by brotherly attachment.
Bharatha first fell at the feet of Rama when he met the latter in the forest. After Rama performed the religious rites on hearing about their father’s demise, Bharatha started pleading for Rama to return to Ayodhya and become the king. Bharatha advanced several arguments one after the other, to convenience Rama that He ought to return, aborting forest life. These were-
– Rama was the eldest son of Dasaratha and so by tradition was entitled to succeed as the next king.
– Their father had committed a great sin because of the control exercised on him by his mother and Bharatha had no role in Rama’s exile.
– Rama should get crowned immediately in the forest itself and that would be a great favour for Bharatha, the mothers, ministers and all the people who had come to the forest.
– Rama should respect the great Ikshvaku tradition by becoming the king.
– Bharatha admitted that the kingdom had been placed in his hands. But he hastened to add that his mother had now agreed to pass on the kingdom to Rama. Bharatha was now passing on the kingdom voluntarily to Rama.
– Bharatha conceded that he had no ability to run the vast kingdom and he was no match to Rama. Only Rama was capable of ruling the kingdom.
– Bharatha asserted that he would be abiding by the principles of dharma (righteousness); what his mother did was unrighteous and was reproached by the world. What his father had done, either out of anger or by desire or by impulse, is to be brought back within the realm of righteousness by Rama. A son would be adored as noble only when he restores to the righteous path what his father had committed by way of deviation from righteousness.
– Rama belong to the race of kings. Wood barks and matted locks were not meant for kings.
– Family life is considered superior to the life of ascetics.
– If Rama did not agree to return, Bharatha would also remain in forest along with him.
– Bharatha came forward to spend fourteen years in the forest instead of Rama doing so.
– Bharatha threatened that he would undertake fast until Rama agreed to return to Ayodhya and even started the fast.
As we all know Rama did not agree to return to Ayodhya without completing fourteen years of forest life. Bharatha atlast pleaded with Ram to step on the golden sandals, brought by him as one of the materials to be used by Rama if He had accepted the coronation. Rama did so and graced the sandals by stepping on them. Bharatha then reverentially took the sandals and placed them on his head.He pledged that he would also wear wood barks and matted hair, that he would entrust the duty of ruling the kingdom to Rama’s sandals, that he would reside outside the city of Ayodhya and that he would enter the fire if Rama did not return to Ayodhya on the day following the completion of fourteen years.
Bharatha had thus demonstrated his strong and unswerving devotion as a baktha to Lord Almighty, a unique example of seeking Rama’s sandals . Such a display of absolute surrender and devotion had not been seen anywhere by anyone either before Bharatha or after him, It was not wonder that Rama that all brothers were not equal to Bharatha.
The context of Rama’s utterance
We should also study in the context Rama expressed those words. Vibhishana after deserting his brother Ravana, was seeking Rama’s refuge. Sugreva was strongly against accepting Vibhishana’s surrender. He posited that if Vibhishana had chosen to desert his own blood brother, he would not hesitate to betray Rama when a suitable opportunity arose. On hearing these words, Rama mildily smiled looking at Lakshmana and told Sugriva “….. Vibhishana would certainly be expecting to become the king of Lanka after Ravana is killed by me. As for myself I do not seek Lanka’s kingdom. I do not belong to rakshasa race. Vibhishana would not have the motive to betray me. Division between brothers is not uncommon. He is facing a threat from Ravana and so is seeking my protection. He is therefore, to be accepted by me. Sugriva! All brothers are not equal to Bharatha…..” the context in which Rama made the statement is very significant. Bharatha’s sense of sacrifice and his devotion to his brother are unique features and if Vibhishana, as a brother are unique features and if Vibhishana, as a brother, was of a different mould, that should not be surprising. It is also pertinent to look into Sugriva’s credentials as a brother. Did not Sugriva seek his brother Vali’s for the sake of kingdom? Rama’s smile towards Lakshmana perhaps was also against this background. But, Rama true to his nature would not have smiled with any sarcastic motive. He might have meant that if Sugriva had betrayed his own brother and came forward to support Rama, Vibhishana should also be credited with that sort of assessment.
Bharatha – a study in comparison
Bharatha was an exception in that he came forward to surrender the kingdom, which came to him without his asking. It is therefore, Bharatha’s sacrifice of the kingdom, which was legitimately his? Would not Rama be eligible to be classified as ‘the brother without equal’? There is a subtle difference between Rama and Bharatha. Rama sacrificed the kingdom but under the compulsion of dharma (righteousness) . Bharatha had no such compulsion and his sacrifice was voluntary, out of devotion, out of self-subordination to an elder brother, out of an urge to set right an unrighteous act of his mother. Rama nevertheless sacrificed the kingdom in order to obey his father’s command. So, perhaps he preferred to credit himself by citing that there was no son equal to himself! How does Lakshmana figure in this context ? how about the sacrifices he had made for the sake of his brother? While Bharatha had sacrificed what he got at his own, the quality of this act does in no way mitigate the greatness of Lakshmana who distinguished himself as a brother. Bharatha had a kingdom to offer, but Lakshmana was not favoured with such a privileage! Further, Lakshmana was more than a brother to Rama.
Lakshmana no doubt delighted in describing himself as Rama’s dasa(servant), whereas Rama was seeing his own father Dasaratha in Lakshmana and this has been depicted in appropriate contexts in Ramayana. When Lakshmana constructed a hermitage in the forest as their dwelling, Rama was so much overwhelmed that he mentioned that he saw his father in Lakshmana. Sita also, while conveying through Hanuman her message to Lakshmana, paid the most outstanding tribute that Lakshmana was like the father to Rama, and that Rama loved him more than herself.
Rama’s relationship with Lakshmana
Later there was an occassion when Rama spoke about Lakshmana, giving full vent to his heartfelt feelings. Lakshmana was lying in the battlefield fighting for his life. Rama was heart-broken and he saw no reason why should he continue to live. He made this significant statement then. “One may secure wives from place to place; but he cannot secure anywhere on earth a brother like Lakshmana”. Let us recall once again what Rama mentioned about Lakshmana. “You are my soul in a different body”. Thus the relationship between Rama and Lakshmana has to be viewed in different perspectives.
Rama was a son, a husband, a friend, and a king. He was a brother too. But he did not consider himself as an unequalled brother. Rather he took pride in classifying himself as an unequalled son to a father. He considered Sugriva as an equalled friend. Bharatha was an unequalled brother.
Sri Nrisimha Priya
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore