I first encountered the Ramayana, perhaps as most Indian kids do these days, in the pages of an Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) “comic” book. The drawings were figurative. Lord Rama was a handsome blue-skinned man, Sita was a fair and beautiful woman, Ravana had a mustache, and so on. I liked the drawings, but I remember not being impressed by the tale. It was weepy. Mushy. The skies seemed perpetually overcast with duty, betrayal, duty, loneliness, duty and bereavement. I didn’t like monkeys and there were far too many of them in the story. I didn’t consider the bow and arrow—Lord Rama’s weapon of choice– to be a hero’s weapon. Maces, swords, Ninja claws, axes and teeth—now, those were weapons. What was heroic about shooting at people from a distance? And where were ACK’s curvy sari-clad women, the one consolation of my otherwise celibate childhood? When I finished the story, I concluded that the Ramayana was one of those tales written solely to punish kids for having time and bloom on their side.
But it’s no one’s fault. The Ramayana is simply not a story suitable for kids. It’s also not a story suitable for most adults either. Else why would south-Asians make and re-make this tale over the long centuries? Discontent is one of the great gifts of this magnificent epic. To read this tale is to be seized with the urge to re-make it. Perhaps it’s because of its deterministic hero, Lord Rama. Deterministic characters, like existential ones, offer no definite purchase, and so we find ourselves, like Sisyphus, shoulder to stone, feet on earth, pushing once more for a resolution we can never attain.
Since the Ramayana is rich in relationships, there are many ways to study Lord Rama from a psychological point of view. One of the best is R. P. Goldman’s analysisR. P. Goldman. “Ramah Sahalaksmanah: Psychological and Literary Aspects of the Composite Hero of Valmiki’s Ramayana.” Indian J. of Philosophy, Vol. 8, 1980, pp. 149-189.† of the relationship between Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana. I’m going to take a different track. I’m going to look at the god-king’s relationship with dharma.