1) Introduce the concept of the Indo-Europeans
2) Introduce the Indic world (through the Mauryan Empire)
3) Introduce Hinduism
4) Contextualize the Ramayana
5) Discuss dharma in the selected passages
I. Ayodhya ("The Unassailable"): King Dasharatha is about to crown Rama king. This is in accord with
dharma, as Rama is the eldest of the four sons.
A. Both her low position in society and her physical appearance (a hunchback) indicate bad
karma from a previous life. Clearly, she is doing no better in this incarnation.
B. In part it is simply her nature to cause trouble, but she also holds a grudge because as a small
child Rama once threw a clump of mud that hit her hump.
C. The poet says:
The hunchback grew even more distraught,, and with Kaikeyi's best interests at heart, spoke
out, trying to sharpen her distress and turn her against Raghava
1. The statement that the servant has her mistress's best interests at heart might be ironic
2. If taken at face value, it means that her consideration of dharma is too constrictive
3. Note: Rama is referred to here as "the descendant of Raghu." Many characters are referred to
by their lineage. Partially poetic convention, it also emphasizes the importance of family.
III. Kaikeyi (mother of Bharata)
A. Her initial response to Manthara is dharmic: Rama is both the eldest son and the most promising
B. Manthara's first appeal, to a diminishment of Kaikeyi's position, had no effect. When she direly
predicts that Rama will kill Bharata, Kaikeyi is moved to action. But subsequent dialog reveals
her actions are not entirely altruistic
C. Manthara must tell Kaikeyi how to accomplish her goal: call in the two promises of the king
1. The granting of two requests was offered after Kaikeyi saved Dasharatha in battle.
2. According to one tradition, she enabled his escape by substituting her arm for a broken chariot
IV. Dasharatha and Kaikeyi
A. The poet's contrast of the "guileless old man" and the "guileful young wife"
B. The king caresses his wife, "sick with worry and desire"
1. On the one hand, the king cares for his wife
2. On the other hand, her sexual allure is described as almost supra-human ("like a kinnaras").
Women are often described erotically in the Ramayana, and if sexuality is something to be
celebrated, keep in mind that celibacy is also a common element on the path to enlightenment.
C. As instructed, Kaikeyi makes her husband vow to keep his promise before he knows what it is.
D. Dasharatha is now bound by dharma to keep his promise, but equally bound to crown his eldest
son and most promising king
A. Rama accepts exile without his father ever uttering a word.
B. Rama states his determination to follow dharma:
My lady, it is not in the hopes of gain that I suffer living in this world. You should know that,
like the seers, I have but one concern and that is righteousness (dharma)
Whatever I can do to please this honored man I will do at any cost, even if it means giving up
For there is no greater act of righteousness (dharma) than this: obedience to one's father and doing as he bids
C. Rama upbraids his stepmother by pointing out that she did not need to cause the king such pain.
Dharma would have required Rama to go into exile merely at her request
D. Rama is not insensitive to his loss, he is simply more concerned for others:
Reverently circling the equipment for the consecration, but careful not to gate at it, Rama
slowly went away
As Rama entered her [his mother's] residence, where joy still reigned supreme, as he reflected on the sudden wreck of all his fortunes, even then he showed no sign of
discomposure, for fear it might endanger the lives of those he loved.
The Abduction of Sita
I. The Background: The sister of the demon Ravana has seen Rama and was attracted to him, but he
rebuffed her. Ravana determines to abduct Sita in revenge, a plan even more to his liking after he
sees Sita. Ravana sends a demon in the form of a golden deer to lure Rama away. Rama seeks the
deer after ordering his brother Lakshmana to guard Sita.
II. Rama kills the deer, which reverts to its demon form. The demon cries out to Sita and Lakshmana
in the voice of Rama. "Righteous" (dharma) Rama worries about their reaction.
III. Sita and Lakshmana
A. Sita orders Lakshmana to go help Rama. He refuses for two reasons
1. Dharma requires that he obey his brother's order to guard Sita
2. He repeats his earlier observation that the deer is a demon; the voice was not Rama
B. Sita accuses Lakshmana of coveting her. She then elaborates:
You treacherously followed Rama to the forest, the two of you alone: You are either in the
employ of Bharata or secretly plotting to get me.
Why would she make such an accusation?
1. Sita believes Rama is in grave danger. Her dharma leads her to put herself in danger in order
to save her husband. She will say anything to drive Lakshmana to go to Rama's aid. OR
2. The "dharmic textbook" approach to the poem is too limiting. Better, perhaps, to see Sita as
a frightened young woman whose imagination runs wild.
C. Lakshmana's response:
This is the nature of women the whole world over: Women care nothing for righteousness,
they are flighty, sharp-tongued, and divisive.
Curse you and be damned, that you could so suspect me, when I am only following the
orders of my guru. How like a woman to be so perverse!
D. Lakshmana goes to find Rama
1. Because Sita has threatened suicide, dharma demands that he bring back Rama at once.
2. Sorrowed, but also angered, by her outburst he leaves her alone rather than be insulted.
A. The demon comes to Sita in the guise of a Brahmin beggar.
B. He praises Sita's beauty:
Your hips are full and broad, your thighs smooth as an elephant's trunk. And these, your
delightful breasts, how round they are, so firm and gently heaving; how full and lovely,
smooth as two palm fruits, with their nipples standing stiff and the rarest gems to adorn
C. Sita tolerates his speech and shows him courtesy because of his social status.
D. Sita tells the story of their exile. Note that at the time of the exile Rama was twenty-five and Sita
was eighteen -- and they had been married thirteen years!
E. Ravana reveals his identity. When Sita refuses to go with him willingly, he takes on his true, ten-
headed demonic form and carries off Sita.
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