Rama and The Hero’s Journey

Anybody who is interested in myth will most probably be familiar with the name Joseph Campbell. It is impossible not to come across his books when we are on mythical explorations.

Campbell was excited by the recurrence of certain themes in the mythology of cultures separated by wide gulfs of time and space. His exploration of the hero’s journey as it occurs in many myths is embodied in the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. It is this book which started me off on my journey.

The following is an attempt to examine the journey of Rama, the exiled prince of Ayodhya, to recover his wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, in a Jungian light.

I make no claims to scholarship. Whatever Ramayana I know has been transmitted to me by my parents and grandparents, supplemented by my own scattered reading. There may be many factual errors immediately visible to the Ramayana scholar. Feel free to correct me anytime.

And this is my analysis. It may not agree with anybody else’s. Dissent is welcome.

I believe myth is experienced by each of us individually.

What I am trying to do is share my feeling of wonder.

***

A great chunk of Rama’s story comprises his fighting demons and demonesses in the forest. Incidentally, one gets an uneasy feeling that this forest is right by his palace, and at any time it can encroach upon it.

This forest has intrigued me from the beginning. I have my own mental image of it: it is like no forest that exists in the world. Each tree, each branch is tinged with the elfin light of fantasy.

And who are the dwellers of this forest?

As we travel through the Ramayana, we feel that the forest is mainly populated by sages and demons. Animals are only an afterthought. As he travels, Rama kills or maims different types of demons, and is imparted nuggets of wisdom by the sages. Till the abduction of Sita, the forest journey is a sort of village idyll.

Of course, when Ravana enters the scene, the whole complexion of the story changes. It becomes more tense and tragic. Those endearing monkeys creep into it. And we move out of the forest to the seaside, and over the sea to Lanka.

Let us study Rama’s journeys (yes, it is more than one) in a little bit of detail.

The First Journey: Adolescence to Manhood

Rama’s first journey, along with his brother and constant companion Lakshmana, is with the sage Viswamitra to protect his ashram from being harassed by demons. Why he would turn to two adolescent boys to do this perilous task when King Dasharatha offers himself is a very significant question. I think this is best answered by seeing the result of this journey: Rama comes back with a wife!

This, then is the journey into adulthood.

Rama and Lakshmana come of age during this episode. Interestingly, the first kill Rama makes is that of a woman! A demoness, true: but nevertheless a woman.

The first thing Viswamitra does is to give the mantras of bala and ati – bala to the brothers. These will protect them from thirst and hunger during the journey. Then they come to the hermitage where Lord Siva burnt down Kama, the god of love. Here we find the motif of desire being introduced for the first time. As we travel along with Rama, we’ll see that almost all of Ramayana is about desire.

After this idyllic episode, we next find Rama entering the forest of the terrifying Tataka. Viswamitra explains that this was once a thriving country: now become a wasteland because of the atrocities of Tataka (This motif brings to mind the grail legend). Rama promptly enters the forest and kills Tataka.

[It is interesting to note that Krishna also starts of his adventures by the killing of a demoness, in this case, Putana. She had come in the guise of a beautiful woman (another common motif) with poisoned nipples to breast – feed the infant Krishna to death. Instead, he sucks out the life through her nipple.]

It is not hard to see all these demonesses are expressions of the anima. They are the other side of the terrifying female deities like Kali and Durga. One explanation is that they are the embodiments of the punishing mother. Bruno Bettelheim in his fantastic work, The Uses of Enchantment, says that all those wicked stepmothers in fairy tales are the same thing.

Anyway, Rama has to destroy his anima before proceeding. He accomplishes that with the destruction of Tataka. Or does he? We will see that throughout his journey, Rama is troubled by this female archetype of terrifying sexuality which keeps cropping up.

Next, the princes reach Viswamitra’s hermitage and promptly rout all the demons. With mission accomplished, the sage can take them home. But he does not do so. He takes them to King Janaka’s palace, where the king holding a contest to marry off his daughter Sita.

One more mission awaits Rama before they reach Janaka’s palace. They go to the sage Gautama’s hermitage, where Ahalya, the wife of the sage, has been turned into stone by him, for infidelity. The touch of Rama’s foot turns the stone back into a woman.

[The interweaving of the story of adulterous love at this juncture is interesting. Rama is one rare mythic hero who is a symbol of purity. He has only one wife. He has absolutely no adulterous relationships. Yet these motifs of desire keep on popping up in his story.]

Well, the princes reach Janaka’s palace, where the contest is to string Siva’s bow, the Thrayyambaka. A lot of kings are there, as usual, making fools of themselves. The bow is so heavy that it can be lifted only by five thousand men! However, Rama easily lifts it and in the process of stringing it, bang! The bow breaks in two.

Now, why does the bow break? For Rama’s success, it would have been sufficient to string it. We cannot expect that the breaking of the bow has been inserted just to provide shock value. Myth just does not work that way.

If we probe deep enough, we’ll find that the bow is a phallic symbol. Note that it is Siva’s bow: Siva is worshipped as a Linga, or phallus. Also, connect this incident with Rama spending time in the hermitage where Siva burnt Kama. Rama’s journey into manhood has started. He is awakening sexually. But destructive form of female sexuality has already started to haunt him. The breaking of the bow also does not portend well. He, instead of passing the test, has actually passed beyond it.

Anyway, he wins Sita and this is the end of his first journey. But this is not quite the end. On the way back from the wedding, Rama meets with Parasurama, who is in a rage over his breaking of Siva’s bow. He taunts Rama as a woman – killer, and challenges him to string Vishnu’s bow, which is in his hands. To the surprise of all, Rama does this easily. The defeated Parasurama thus blesses Rama and walks away.

Now, this episode is very interesting. If we accept the theory that both Parasurama and Rama are incarnations of Vishnu, then this is where Rama becomes a “complete avatar”. Even otherwise, we feel a merging of two selves, and of Rama becoming complete.

Parasurama is the only divine person who is guilty of matricide: he killed his mother at the behest of his father. Even if we accept the historical explanation that Parasurama’s story is the replacement of matriarchy by patriarchy, and the ascendance of Brahmins over Kshatriyas, the question remains: why should all these heroes kill women?

Here, it would be interesting to draw parallels between myth and fairy tale. Fairy tales also abound with wicked witches in forests who are killed by the hero.

It seems, at the start of the journey, the hero has to eliminate his anima.

The Second Journey: Phase One: Honeymoon in the Forest

Rama’s journey proper begins when he is banished to the forest for fourteen years.

Dasaratha is forced to do this by his second wife, Kaikeyi. The king is totally under the thumb of this beautiful queen. However, in the story, Dasaratha is forced to do this because of a boon he has bestowed on Kaikeyi. The story is that during a war, Kaikeyi was with Dasaratha in his chariot (highly unlikely!), and saw the wheel slipping off. She inserted her finger into the hole in the axle, and held the wheel in place. As a reward, Dasaratha granted her two boons which she kept in abeyance.

The finger – in – the – hole business is too phallic for us to not see the sexual connotations. Here again, desire is rearing its head: the desire of the aging king for his beautiful queen. Significantly, this becomes the root cause of Rama losing his throne and having to live in the forest for fourteen years, because these are the boons Kaikeyi asks for.

Dasaratha dies of sorrow for Rama. It is as though the father archetype, after accomplishment of its mission, disappears from the story.

Now begins Rama’s journey proper along with Sita and Lakshmana. The forest fantastic enters the scene again. As usual, it is full of demons and sages. Rama picks up where he left off earlier: killing demons and protecting sages, picking up nuggets of wisdom from them.

One sage merits special attention: Agasthya. He is known as “Angushta Matra Purusha” or the man only as big as your thumb. But he is the wisest sage in the entire Hindu pantheon. He is knowledge condensed into a capsular format. After meeting Agasthya, it seems one phase of Rama’s journey is over. He settles into the beautiful forest of Panchavati, ready to enjoy an extended honeymoon with Sita.

But this is only a way station: the Garden of Eden from which they must be expelled, if the journey is to be completed. Here, Surpanakha the demoness, the sister of Ravana plays the role of the serpent.

Here is the anima again: not in a terrifying form like Tataka, because Surpanakha’s aim is to seduce Rama, not eat him up. The female power has changed form. Here the hunger is not for the flesh but the pleasures of the flesh. But it’s frightening all the same.

Surpanakha takes the form of “Lalitha”, a beautiful woman, and arrives to seduce Rama. It is instructive to note how Rama deals with her. Instead of sending her about her business immediately, Rama actually toys with her! It has all the elements of a flirtation. It is at this point in the story that an unease starts creeping in, like the shadow of a disaster glimpsed faintly ahead.

Surpanakha tells Rama of her unending love for him. Rama pleads that he is already married, and points her at Lakshmana. Lakshmana again redirects her to Rama, and the game goes on merrily till the demoness, mad with anger, takes on her terrible form and roars in to devour Sita. Lakshmana defaces her by cutting off her nose and nipples, and she runs crying into the forest.

This episode does do any credit at all to Rama. It is tantamount to trifling with a woman’s affections, and her disfigurement is plainly intolerable. Then why is it included in the story?

The motif of desire again…

This time, it’s terrifying: a demoness disguised as a beauty. Rama does not have the courage to deny her advances. We get the feeling that he even takes a guilty pleasure in teasing her. Then she takes on her demonic form. It is significant that Sita is the one she tries to devour. She, the wife of Rama, the object of his desire.

But is she his fully?

Think of the broken bow…

Rama has married Sita, but still he has not “won” her. His journey is only started. He must lose her, and win her again: in the event killing his alter ego, Ravana. But more of that later.

The demon of desire is not conquered fully by Rama, but only disfigured. And this particular one is going to wreak havoc.

Surpanakha runs complaining to her brothers, Khara, Dushana and Thrishiras, who arrive one after other, in force, to be destroyed by Rama and Lakshmana.

Ultimately, Surpanakha runs to big brother Ravana. However, here her tactic changes. Instead of trying to anger Ravana by the tales of the outrage done to her, she praises the beauty of Sita. It is because she tried to bring Sita to him, this outrage has been perpetuated on her, she says.

Ravana’s lust is aroused, along with his hatred of Rama, and he decides to kidnap Sita.

This is a turning point of the story. If we consider the journey as psychological rather than physical, all the demons and demonesses are part of Rama’s psyche. We see the lust demon, in particular, following Rama without letting him go. Here it is easy to see that Ravana is none other than Rama’s alter ego: Rama himself, as he’d never dare to express openly, hidden in the innermost reaches of his internal landscape, on an unreachable island. This form is terrifying, with ten heads and twenty arms. But we must also remember that apart from lust, Ravana is blameless. He is a just ruler: he does not do murder and mayhem like the demons of the forest. His only crime was kidnapping another man’s wife.

Well, the honeymoon of Rama and Sita is about to come to a disastrous end.

Ravana decides to steal Sita. I always wonder why. He was no coward: he could have attacked Rama in the forest. It is unlikely that knowledge of the fate of other demons deterred him. At this point in Ramayana, everything happens under covers rather than openly. I believe that the story takes this particular turn because, as we will see later, the time for the encounter is not yet ripe. So many things are still hidden.

Ravana goes to Maricha, his uncle, to weave a stratagem to entice Rama away from Sita. Maricha is an old demon who is one of the rare ones to escape Rama’s wrath. He was among the group who attacked Viswamitra’s hermitage early in the story: however, he was spared by Rama because he begged forgiveness. Since then he has left his old ways and is living the life of a hermit. At first he refuses, but Ravana prevails upon him by threats. It seems Rama was unwise to spare him earlier!

Now, one of the most enduring mythical symbols of Indian mythology enters the scene: The Maya-Mriga, or “The Golden Deer of Illusion”.

Maricha takes the shape of a golden deer, and wanders around Panchavati for Sita to see. Sita tries to catch him, but he remains just out of reach. Frustrated, Sita runs to her husband and asks him to catch the deer for her.

See the symbol of lust again? Sita sees something beautiful, and immediately wants to possess it. If we look at it closely, this wish is foolish. Living around the forest hermitages for such a long time, Sita would have had her fill of forest creatures: touching them and petting them. Then why does she want to possess this golden deer? This cupidity is there in all of us, the thirst for possession, which is only another form of lust. Rama’s tale is full of it, and we keep meeting it again and again, till he conquers it.

Rama puts Lakshmana in charge of Sita and rushes off after the deer, which stays just out of reach. He moves farther and farther away: the deer keeps teasing him (by the way, the image of something tempting you just out of your reach is a common theme in mythology). In the end, maddened by anger, he lets loose a bolt and kills it.

[This killing of an innocent creature because it doesn’t let itself be captured takes off some of Rama’s glow, for me at least. But then, Rama is an imperfect man till the very end of the story.]

Maricha, dying, cries out in Rama’s voice to Lakshmana and Sita. Sita is immediately worried for her husband’s safety: but Lakshmana assures him that no harm will come to Rama. It is then that Sita starts behaving in a most untoward fashion. She accuses Lakshmana of wanting Rama dead so that he can marry her! The story grows darker and darker.

Lakshmana, shocked by the tirade, finally goes after Rama. It is this opportunity that Ravana has been waiting for: he assumes the guise of a travelling mendicant, and begs for alms outside her doorstep. When she steps out to give him food, he assumes his normal form, and asks her to be his wife. When she refuses, he forcibly takes her into his sky – chariot and leaves.

Rama, disturbed by seeing Lakshmana come after him, hurries back to the ashram to find that Sita has disappeared: and so ends the first phase of this journey.

Phase Two: Meeting One’s Nemesis

 

The second phase of Rama’s journey is stark in contrast to the first. There is no sense of the pastoral romance of the earlier part. Rama does not where his love has gone: he asks the trees, the creepers and the animals about her. This is really heart – rending.

This is when he meets Jatayu, the great bird. Of course, the readers of Ramayana meet him earlier: he attacks Ravana as he flees with Sita in his sky – chariot, and Ravana cuts off his wings and he falls to earth, dying. But of course, he keeps living long enough to tell Rama what has happened to his wife.

[This bird is an intriguing character. He may have been placed there simply as a plot device: however, he seems to reflect some deeper symbolism. His story must be coupled with that of Sampadi, his elder brother, whom the monkeys in search of Sita meet later on.

While young, the two brothers decided to have a flying contest to see who could fly higher. As they got nearer and nearer the sun, Sampadi found that the heat of the sun had started to scorch his brother’s wings. To save him, Sampadi flies over Jatayu and consequently, his wings get burnt off. Now he is living a flightless existence…

We will meet him later on.]

Rama learns that Sita has been taken by Ravana towards the south, and he starts moving that way. There is one more demon whom he meets and vanquishes, and this tale is illustrative.

This is Kabandha, the demon without a head. He is simply one large belly and two arms. He uses these great arms to encircle anything that comes within range, and pulls them into his mouth located in the centre of his stomach.

As is his practice, Kabandha encircles Rama and Lakshmana prior to devouring them. But they cut off his hands and bury him alive.

As with many demons in Hindu mythology, he has also assumed this form because of a curse. (It is illustrative that almost all the devils of India are celestial beings under black enchantment. This is a common factor in fairy tales around the world also.) It is at Kabandha’s own insistence that Rama buries him.

Kabandha is an evident example of the oral stage: everything goes to the mouth without discrimination! One more obstacle in the path of Rama’s development. But like Surpanakha and Maricha, Rama lets him also go! The time hasn’t yet come for him to exorcise his demons.

It is when Rama reaches Kishkindha, the kingdom of monkeys, that the story really starts developing.

040514_0907_RamaandTheH8.jpg

Now, these monkeys are enigmatic characters. Why do they come into the story at all? Till now, Rama along with Lakshmana had vanquished all their foes and overcome all their obstacles. Now for the first time in his life, he forges an alliance with another king.

Even if we consider the Ramayana as true history instead of myth, this shows growth indeed. Forging strategic alliances are part of a king’s life. It is only common sense that two people alone, however Baliant they may be, cannot fight a mighty king like Ravana by themselves.

But why did Rama, after coming all this way alone, suddenly decide to seek help?

And why monkeys?

Let’s take a closer look at the symbol of the monkey. In many sculptures of courtesans (notably the ones at Belur and Halebid in Karnataka) the beautiful girls are always shown in the company of monkeys. Here will be a girl dressing up, staring at the mirror: a monkey is there on her table, slyly stealing the fruits kept for her lover. Another girl is preening herself in a dancing pose: a monkey is peering under her skirt. In another, a girl is chasing a monkey who is pulling at her dress.

It has been suggested that the monkeys are Vyabhichari Bhavas, the transitory emotions presented in most dance forms of India. I think of them as the representations of Id, the base animal nature of all human beings. If we dig deep down, there is no good and bad: no virtue and sin: but only animal needs. Food, drink, sex.

Rama, the virtuous prince, needs to come to terms with his animal nature. That is why this part of the journey becomes crucial. The alliance with Sugreeva is indeed the turning point of the story.

But we are jumping the gun here. Let’s follow Rama and Lakshmana as they are sighted by Sugreeva, the monkey king in exile. He has been driven out by is brother Bali, after a misunderstanding. Bali has appropriated his lands, wife and everything.

Sugreeva sends out his General, Hanuman, to check these newcomers out; to see whether they are spies of Bali. Hanuman meets with them in disguise and after ascertaining their identities, takes them to Sugreeva. The prince in exile meets the king in exile.

Here we can find a curious fact. Rama and Sugreeva seem to be mirror images of each other. Both have lost their lands and wives. It seems only natural that they agree to help each other. Rama has to help Sugreeva kill Bali, and he will in turn help Rama defeat Ravana and free Sita.

It is here that Rama gets the first concrete evidence about Sita. As she was carried aloft by Ravana, she dropped all her ornaments wrapped in a torn piece of garment. The monkeys have kept it, and show it to Rama.

It seems unnatural that Sita went to the forest clad in all her jewels, in pristine glory of a princess. No, the jewels are there for a specific reason. Rama is rediscovering his lady love, part by part.

Now comes the killing of Bali. It is here that many people who are devotees of Rama, who consider him as an incarnation of god, become uncomfortable. Because Rama kills Bali as a coward does: from hiding. Here the people who see all Hindu myths as the submission of Dravidians by the warlike Aryans nod their head grimly as if to say they had expected nothing else from a member of the lying, thieving race.

Before we get embroiled in a caste equation, let us examine this incident also as part of Rama’s journey of self – realization.

Bali is the only person to defeat Ravana, indeed, to humiliate him even. He tied Ravana to his tail and carried him all over the world, and only let him go after he repeatedly begged for mercy. Nobody can beat Bali in a face – to – face fight: half of the opponent’s strength goes to Bali! As he lies dying, this great monkey king asks Rama: “You need only have told me. I would have thrashed Ravana and brought Sita to you. Why did you kill me like this?”

Indeed, why? Bali’s claim was no idle boast: he could have done it easily. So could Hanuman, as burning of Lanka later in the story will show. (Indeed, if Ravana is Rama’s dark half, then Hanuman is his animal half.) Then why does Rama take the hard way, building a bridge to Lanka, conducting a great war, when the matter could have been accomplished so easily?

For his journey to become complete, Rama must kill Ravana himself…

To return to the story: Sugreeva challenges Bali to a hand – to – hand combat, the plan being that Rama will remain hidden and kill Bali with a strategically sped arrow. But here we have an interesting twist: Rama is not able to do so because, as soon as the brothers begin wrestling, he can’t distinguish between the two! Sugreeva runs away defeated and upbraids Rama for not carrying out his part of the contract. Rama confesses his difficulty. Then Hanuman comes up with an idea: Sugreeva will return to the fight with a garland around his neck, so Rama will be able to distinguish him. He does so, and Rama kills Bali during the fight.

Now, if we consider the monkeys as the representations of Id that Rama must come to grips with, Sugreeva and Bali are two sides of the same coin, as are Rama and Ravana. Bali is too powerful to be dealt with frontally: he will crush you. Rama has to let Sugreeva fight Bali, and kill him with a cowardly arrow. But the terms hero and coward have no meaning in the realm of the unconscious. Rama does what he has to do.

Bali has in a way done what Ravana has done: he has appropriated the kingdom of Sugreeva and seized his wife. By killing Bali and putting Sugreeva on the throne, Rama takes the first concrete step towards self – integration, at the very basic level.

Now, it is as if Hanuman steps into the role of the protagonist all of a sudden. Hanuman’s journey to Lanka and back is a mini – journey inserted into the tale, in the context of the longer journey.

Sugreeva sends his monkey warriors in search of Sita. One contingent reaches the beach at the southernmost tip of India. It is here that they meet Sampadi, Jatayu’s elder brother, and tell him of his brother’s tragic demise. Sampadi in turn tells them how he came to lose his wings (the story recounted earlier). On completing the tale, his wings grow back and he flies away!

[This encounter seems significant. When Sita is carried away, we have Jatayu, his wings cut – off and dying. Sampadi gives the monkeys news of Sita, and his wings grow back.]

The monkeys are stymied. How to cross the ocean? But now, hope has slowly begun to creep into the story: it is as if Sampadi’s rejuvenation is a symbol. Everybody knows that Hanuman can easily cross the ocean in a jump: but he does not know his own strength. On the advice of Jambavan, the eldest member of the team, they begin to praise him, fill him with self – confidence, till he grows and grows to become a colossus. Then he takes off, across the ocean.

Across the way he has many adventures. He takes a rest on Mainaka, the mountain with wings: he goes in through the mouth and out through the ear of Surasa, the giant fish: he is stopped by Chayagrahi, the demoness who grabs people by their reflection. Finally, at the walls of Lanka, he meets Lanka – Lakshmi, the prosperity of Lanka in the form of a woman, whom he fells with one blow and thus becomes the cause of her leaving Lanka forever.

As I described earlier, Hanuman’s journey is a journey within a journey, and is rich with symbolism. Take Mainaka rising from the sea. Now we have come through the forest, infested with demons, to the sea: another symbol of the unconscious, but more serene and unfathomable: and more mysterious. Reaching the sea through the forest seems to be an inevitable outcome.

Now, Mainaka is a very pertinent symbol. The story runs this way: in the beginning, all the mountains had wings. But because they flew about and settled where they will, thus creating problems for humans, Indra cut away their wings and they all fell down to earth; all except Mainaka who hid in the sea. He has been in hiding since. However, it has been prophesied that he should come up and offer a place of rest to Hanuman on his way to Lanka.

Again the symbol of wings, this time rising up from the deep, deep sea…

The demons Hanuman meets on the way are different from the ones Rama meets: the demons of the forest can be lumped together as one variety, whereas those of the sea are more animal-like than demon-like. And though he bests them, Hanuman does not kill any. Even Lanka – Lakshmi is subdued with a slap.

Hanuman discovers of Sita in the Ashoka forest, surrounded by demonesses. It is curious that Ravana has already not ravished her. One gets the impression that he cannot do so unless she herself wills it. The story of Rambha’s curse that prevents Ravana from touching any woman without her consent seems a pre-fabricated story. It is more likely that this applied only in Sita’s case: if we consider Ravana as Rama’s demon – ego, this makes perfect sense. The two are fighting it out for Sita. Which side will win, the human or demon?

Hanuman meets Sita and gives her the message that Rama is coming.

Now comes a strange episode. Hanuman behaves like a common monkey and destroys Ravana’s garden. There is a terrific fight, at the end of which Hanuman allows himself to be captured. Ravana decides to spare his life, but to set fire to his tail. Using his tale as a burning torch, Hanuman burns down Lanka.

This behaviour is unbefitting of a man of the world like Hanuman. It seems more likely that he would return quietly to inform Rama of the success of the mission. Then why does he do it?

Maybe, it is the animal nature rebelling against the demonic nature. And tasting first blood.

Rama comes with his monkey army, and proceeds to build a bridge across the ocean to Lanka.

This is a decisive act for Rama. The question can be asked: why the bridge, when building some boats will do? Surely that is the more commonsense solution? The answer is: the building of the bridge is as essential as killing all those demons. Rama requires a permanent connection to Lanka. Lanka is his natural destination, the place he must reach: the dark well of his soul.

In the ensuing war the demons are utterly decimated. It is significant that Rama kills Ravana by firing at the navel, where supposedly his power resides. Ravana, with ten heads and twenty arms, is utterly indestructible otherwise. According to the Indian concept, the navel is where all power is: the Mooladhara, where the lotus with a thousand petals resides. Thus Rama’s killing of Ravana is more mystical than physical: the final demon of the mind he must dispatch, to possess his lady love permanently.

After the victory, Rama puts Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana, on the throne. Significantly, he does not annex the kingdom. In Sanskrit, “Vibhishana” means non – frightening, the exact opposite of “Ravana”! Rama’s inner demon has been conquered: now he can peacefully reign in his nether kingdom.

Finally, another curious episode unfolds. Rama subjects Sita to a trial by fire, to prove her chastity. This seems ridiculous, as he went through hell and high water to regain her. If he had any doubt on her chastity, would he have gone to all the trouble? Moreover, Hanuman had informed him about Sita’s condition in Lanka, so he need not have any doubt on that account.

Then why the trial by fire?

The way I see it, Sita is Rama’s bliss (to borrow from Joseph Campbell). As I mentioned earlier on, Sita has never fully become his, until Ravana kidnaps her and he recovers her. This is the final step in that journey. It is in the internal fire of Rama’s soul that she is purified, removed of all taint of Ravana. It is Rama who is being purified, not Sita.

Sita comes out of the trial successfully (in fact, Agni, the God of fire, himself delivers her, radiant and bedecked in jewels, to Rama). The journey is complete.

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana return home by Pushpaka, Ravana’s sky – chariot. Rama does not need to pass through the forest again.

Actually, there is more to the story of Rama, if we take Uttara Ramayana also into account. But all the pundits seem to agree that it was not written by Valmiki. If Ramayana is the story of Integration, Uttara Ramayana is the story of Disintegration, frightening in its depth of despair. I will return to it, but at a later date.

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