Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
We saw how Sri Rama gave in to His beloved wife, in their argument about whether or not Sri Mythily should accompany Him to the forest.
To demonstrate that married life is a matter of give and take, a matter of appreciating the other’s viewpoint and a matter of being reasonable rather than adamant, we shall see another occasion when the Divine Couple had an argument, where Sri Janaki ultimately gave in to Sri Raghava’s reasoned arguments. The second debate that the two had, dispels the popular misconception, especially in the western world, about women in ancient India being servile and ignorant, mere ornamental objects meant for pleasure, from whom nothing intellectual could be expected.
To digress a little, all the women portrayed in Srimad Ramayanam are extremely intelligent, capable of highly advanced thought processes and well versed in their respective spheres. Many of them were adept at statecraft, some at war: and we find some aware of the subtlest aspects of Dharma. Even if you take the least educated among them, Manthara, the arguments she advances, in favour of Sri Bharata’s coronation and Sri Rama’s exile to the jungle, are quite well reasoned-out and persuasive. That she is able to bring Kaikeyi (who loves Rama more than even Kousalya) around to a diametrically opposite viewpoint, is no small tribute to the hunchback’s thought-processes and oratorical accomplishments. If this is the attainment of one of the lowest of Ayodhya’s female citizens, then one is not at all surprised at those of Kaikeyi (who helped Dasaratha win a war against the dreaded SambarAsura) or of Kousalya, whose parting words to Sri Rama on the eve of His departure for the jungle constitute a distillation of righteousness, or even those of Sri Sumitra, whose homilies to Sri Lakshmana
(“RAmam Dasaratham viddhi, mAm viddhi JanakAtmajAm
AyOdhyAm atavIm vidddhi gaccha tAta yathA sukham”)
ring still in our ears as the best advice to one bent on service to the Divine Couple. In no way inferior are TArA and MandOdarI, who render sterling counsel to their respective husbands, who, had they listened to the same, would have prospered, instead of meeting a gory death at the hands of Rama. Even a woman of apparently lowly origins like Sri Shabari, belonging to the hunter class, is hailed to be well-versed in the finer points of Dharma—“ShramaNIm dharma nipuNAm”– acquired through sincere service to her Acharyas.
Thus, it is not at all surprising to find Sri Janaki raising arguments based on a fine perception of what was right in a particular situation.
The Rishis of DandakAraNyam appeal to Sri Rama for relief from the constant torment of rAkshasAs, who not only create all sorts of hurdles to the performance of sacrifices, but also inflict often fatal injuries on the innocent sages. These Rishis assemble at the Sharabhanga Ashramam and display to Sri Raghava the innumerable injuries sustained on account of the onslaught.
“Ehi pasya shareerANi munInAm bhAvitAtmanAm
hatAnAm rAkshasai: ghOrai: bahoonAm bahudhA vanE”
Each tapasvI’s body sports more scars than would that of a warrior. The Rishis perform Sharanagati to Sri Rama (“tatastvAm sharaNArttham cha sharaNyam samupastthitA:”), seeking permanent protection against the onslaught of the unholy.
Moved beyond measure by the sufferings of the helpless Rishis, Sri Rama immediately vows to destroy the rAkshasAs, considering this a heaven-sent opportunity to be of assistance to the holy men. He assures the Rishis of protection and exhorts them to shed their fear on this count. This done, He leaves for the Sharabhanga Ashramam.
It is after leaving this Ashramam, that Sri Sita voices Her doubts about Sri Rama’s assurance to the Maharshis, about ridding them of rAkshasAs.
Sri Valmiki tells us that Sri Mythily began Her submission to Her husband, in an extremely sweet and soulful tone—“hridyayA snigdhayA vAchA bhartAram idam abraveet”. This is a lesson for modern women—if you want to be heard, however reasonable be your words, your presentation has to be friendly, avoiding all rancour and recrimination. Sri Sita’s words, though She is about to question the correctness of Sri Rama’s conduct, are couched in the sweetest possible tone and tenor.
Beginning Her argument, Sri Mythily lays a sound scriptural base for Her averments, by pointing out that there are three great sins prompted by one’s mind-
1) Lying, 2) coveting another’s wife and 3) violence towards others, without due reason.
We have to hand it to Sri Janaki for being persuasive—She commences Her argument by praising Her husband, telling Him that the first two of the aforesaid three sins had never happened and would never occur in His case, given His glorious guNAs. She lavishes further praise on Him by listing His magnificent traits-
“Tvayi Satyam cha Dharmam cha tvayi sarvam pratishttitham”
“Tat cha sarvam MahAbhAga! sakyam bOddhum jitEndriyai:
Tava vasyEndriyatvam cha jAnAmi Subhadarsana!”
Having prepared the ground, Sri Janaki now comes to the nub of the matter and tells Raghava that His vow to destroy the rAkshasAs of DankAraNyam, to protect the Rishis, is wrong, because the rAkshasAs had not done Him any harm directly.
She reminds Rama that they had come to the forest for a life of penance and non-violence and the proposed killing of rAkshasAs would be totally against their avowed objective. She tells Him that nothing could be farther from their quest of peace and tranquility, than to use weapons for tormenting people, be they asurAs or others. She launches into a powerful condemnation of Arms and their destructive nature and recounts how an extremely docile and peaceful Rishi was transformed into a bloodthirsty killer, merely through association with a sword gifted to him by Indra for self-protection.
“Having come to the jungle for observing penance and austerity, having taken to apparels of tree-bark and deer-skin signifying the life of a mendicant, let us not revert to the behaviour of a King, whose ways are violent. Aren’t weapons like the cruel bow and arrow totally in contradiction with a mission of peace? Having come to the forest, let us behave like tapasvIs and not like kshaktriyAs intent on bloodshed! Moreover, our avoiding any confrontation and living a peaceful life is what would be pleasing to your parents too.” says Sri Janaki. Lest this persuasive tone be mistaken for lack of emphasis, She adds firmly that She would never agree to anyone being tormented without reason—“aparAdham vinA hantum lOkAn Veera! na kAmayE”.
Just as She began, Sri Sita winds up Her harangue with more praise for Rama. “I do not presume to advise you, for I am incapable of that. I just draw your attention to certain matters, prompted by my endless love and respect for you. You are the repository of all wisdom and valour. Please do consider my humble submission and take appropriate action, based on discussion with Lakshmana too”. Sri Valmiki’s words here are worth their weight in gold—
“snEhAt cha bahumAnAt cha smArayE tvAm na sikshayE”
It is to be noted that Sri Sita never compels Her husband to adopt the alternative She suggests, but puts the ball entirely in His court—however, the whole exercise is with the aid of powerful and irrefutable arguments, accompanied by parables and illustrations, with subtle hints about the absolute unsuitability of the proposed course of action.
How does Rama react to this? Does He take offence at His wife’s words, apparently presuming to tell Him, of all people, of what was right and wrong? Was He not Dharma personified (“RAmO vigrahavAn dharma:”), in no need of lectures, especially from a slip of a woman, much inferior to Him in age and experience? Notwithstanding the sugarcoated language, what Sita had done was to question His wisdom. How does a hot-blooded Kshatriya take this? Does He reject His wife’s arguments outright, treating them with contempt and condescension?
Because of the strong bond of love and affection binding them, Sri Rama takes the words of Sita in the proper perspective, realising Her well-meaning sentiments. He doesn’t agree with His wife, but voices His disagreement in the most reasonable and inoffensive terms. He advances eminently sensible and logical arguments in support of His actions and tries to convince Sita of their correctness, rather than force His views upon Her. He doesn’t tell Her, “It is correct because I say so, and what I say goes!”, but talks to Her with all the persuasiveness at His command.
Sri Rama points out to Mythily how the Rishis of DandakAranyam specifically, and all others who seek refuge, are to be protected, even if it entails the loss of one’s life. He tells Her that the Rishis had performed Sharanagati to Him (“MAm SeetE svayam Agamya sharaNyA: sharaNam gatA:”), seeking protection of life and limb and the unhindered pursuit of their holy endeavours, treating Him as their sole refuge—“gatim mrigyamANAnAm bhavAn na: paramA gati:”. They had chosen Him as their sole Saviour—“Raksha na: tvam saha bhrAtrA tvam nAthA hi vayam vanE”. As a Kshatriya, residing whether in the palace or in the forest, it behoved Him to rush to the rescue of the distressed, for which sole purpose He was carrying His bow and arrow. Sri Raghava tells Sita that His keeping His word is paramount to Him, even if it involved theloss of His own life, Lakshmana or even Sita Herself. A promise, once made, should be kept at all cost, especially if it is to Brahmins, says Sri Rama—
“apyaham jeevitam jahyAm tvAm vA SeetE sa LakshmanAm
na tu pratigyAm samshrutya brAhmaNEbhyO visEshata:”
While making it clear to His wife that He had to abide by His word to the Rishis at any cost and hence could not accept Her views, Sri Raghava softens the disagreement by telling Her that it was indeed correct of Her to spell out Her views, because they were prompted by love and good intention. He also appeals to Her to see things from His viewpoint, and praises Her as being dearer to Him than His own life—
“Saha dharma chAriNI mE tvam prANEbhyOpi garIyasI”
Several unique aspects emerge from an analysis of the two arguments the Divine Couple had.
2. Both the beginning and the conclusion of the arguments were marked by absolute cordiality, with each praising the other for their views.
3. Each person stated His or Her position clearly and firmly, without ambiguity, but in an extremely reasonable manner, devoid of acrimony.
4.There was absolutely no going off at a tangent nor any resort to irrelevant matters or invective.
5. While most arguments leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the participants for days thereafter, the aforesaid arguments did nothing of the sort.
6. While disagreements tend to eat away at the fundamentals of the relationships, the aforesaid arguments resulted in the bonds of love and affection between the couple emerging stronger.
7. There was a readiness on the part of both to appreciate and accept the other’s viewpoint, once they were convinced of its correctness.
8. Ego played absolutely no part in the arguments, with neither being dogmatic or obdurate.
Besides being paragons of virtue and models of correct conduct in everything else, the Prince of Ayodhya and the Princess of Mithila also showed us the way in conducting our domestic affairs in a congenial fashion. They showed us that it was possible for couples to have disagreements without their taking on the hue of discord and diatribe.
They showed us too that wife or husband, each must respect the other’s viewpoint and not ride roughshod over the other’s opinions. Looking to these instances and others, which showcase the extremely strong bonds of love binding the Divine Couple, we feel that it is high time every discordant couple was told to read the Ramayana, which would do them immeasurably grater good than an army of Marriage Counsellors.
Srimate Sri LakshmINrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore