Ramayana (Devanagari: रामायण, Bengali: রামায়ণ) is an ancient epic of India. Hindu sage Valmiki is considered as the writer of the epic.
In this article, our topic is Swami Vivekananda‘s quotes on Ramayana.
The story of Ramayana, as told by Swami Vivekananda
In a lecture delivered at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, on 31 January 1900, Vivekananda told this summarized story of Ramayana—[Source]
“There was an ancient Indian town called Ayodhya — and it exists even in modern times. The province in which it is still located is called Oudh, and most of you may have noticed it in the map of India. That was the ancient Ayodhya. There, in ancient times, reigned a king called Dasharatha. He had three queens, but the king had not any children by them. And like good Hindus, the king and the queens, all went on pilgrimages fasting and praying, that they might have children and, in good time, four sons were born. The eldest of them was Rama.
Now, as it should be, these four brothers were thoroughly educated in all branches of learning. To avoid future quarrels there was in ancient India a custom for the king in his own lifetime to nominate his eldest son as his successor, the Yuvaraja, young king, as he is called.
Now, there was another king, called Janaka, and this king had a beautiful daughter named Sita. Sita was found in a field; she was a daughter of the Earth, and was born without parents. The word “Sita” in ancient Sanskrit means the furrow made by a plough. In the ancient mythology of India you will find persons born of one parent only, or persons born without parents, born of sacrificial fire, born in the field, and so on — dropped from the clouds as it were. All those sorts of miraculous birth were common in the mythological lore of India.
Sita, being the daughter of the Earth, was pure and immaculate. She was brought up by King Janaka. When she was of a marriageable age, the king wanted to find a suitable husband for her.
There was an ancient Indian custom called Svayamvara, by which the princesses used to choose husbands. A number of princes from different parts of the country were invited, and the princess in splendid array, with a garland in her hand, and accompanied by a crier who enumerated the distinctive claims of each of the royal suitors, would pass in the midst of those assembled before her, and select the prince she liked for her husband by throwing the garland of flowers round his neck. They would then be married with much pomp and grandeur.
There were numbers of princes who aspired for the hand of Sita; the test demanded on this occasion was the breaking of a huge bow, called Haradhanu. All the princes put forth all their strength to accomplish this feat, but failed. Finally, Rama took the mighty bow in his hands and with easy grace broke it in twain. Thus Sita selected Rama, the son of King Dasharatha for her husband, and they were wedded with great rejoicings. Then, Rama took his bride to his home, and his old father thought that the time was now come for him to retire and appoint Rama as Yuvaraja. Everything was accordingly made ready for the ceremony, and the whole country was jubilant over the affair, when the younger queen Kaikeyi was reminded by one of her maidservants of two promises made to her by the king long ago. At one time she had pleased the king very much, and he offered to grant her two boons: “Ask any two things in my power and I will grant them to you,” said he, but she made no request then. She had forgotten all about it; but the evil-minded maidservant in her employ began to work upon her jealousy with regard to Rama being installed on the throne, and insinuated to her how nice it would be for her if her own son had succeeded the king, until the queen was almost mad with jealousy. Then the servant suggested to her to ask from the king the two promised boons: one would be that her own son Bharata should be placed on the throne, and the other, that Rama should be sent to the forest and be exiled for fourteen years.
Now, Rama was the life and soul of the old king and when this wicked request was made to him, he as a king felt he could not go back on his word. So he did not know what to do. But Rama came to the rescue and willingly offered to give up the throne and go into exile, so that his father might not be guilty of falsehood. So Rama went into exile for fourteen years, accompanied by his loving wife Sita and his devoted brother Lakshmana, who would on no account be parted from him.
The Aryans did not know who were the inhabitants of these wild forests. In those days the forest tribes they called “monkeys”, and some of the so-called “monkeys”, if unusually strong and powerful, were called “demons”.
So, into the forest, inhabited by demons and monkeys, Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita went. When Sita had offered to accompany Rama, he exclaimed, “How can you, a princess, face hardships and accompany me into a forest full of unknown dangers!” But Sita replied, “Wherever Rama goes, there goes Sita. How can you talk of ‘princess’ and ‘royal birth’ to me? I go before you!” So, Sita went. And the younger brother, he also went with them. They penetrated far into the forest, until they reached the river Godâvari. On the banks of the river they built little cottages, and Rama and Lakshmana used to hunt deer and collect fruits. After they had lived thus for some time, one day there came a demon giantess. She was the sister of the giant king of Lanka (Ceylon). Roaming through the forest at will, she came across Rama, and seeing that he was a very handsome man, she fell in love with him at once. But Rama was the purest of men, and also he was a married man; so of course he could not return her love. In revenge, she went to her brother, the giant king, and told him all about the beautiful Sita, the wife of Rama.
Rama was the most powerful of mortals; there were no giants or demons or anybody else strong enough to conquer him. So, the giant king had to resort to subterfuge. He got hold of another giant who was a magician and changed him into a beautiful golden deer; and the deer went prancing round about the place where Rama lived, until Sita was fascinated by its beauty and asked Rama to go and capture the deer for her. Rama went into the forest to catch the deer, leaving his brother in charge of Sita. Then Lakshmana laid a circle of fire round the cottage, and he said to Sita, “Today I see something may befall you; and, therefore, I tell you not to go outside of this magic circle. Some danger may befall you if you do.” In the meanwhile, Rama had pierced the magic deer with his arrow, and immediately the deer, changed into the form of a man, died.
Immediately, at the cottage was heard the voice of Rama, crying, “Oh, Lakshmana, come to my help!” and Sita said, “Lakshmana, go at once into the forest to help Rama!” “That is not Rama’s voice,” protested Lakshmana. But at the entreaties of Sita, Lakshmana had to go in search of Rama. As soon as he went away, the giant king, who had taken the form of a mendicant monk, stood at the gate and asked for alms. “Wait awhile,” said Sita, “until my husband comes back and I will give you plentiful alms.” “I cannot wait, good lady,” said he, “I am very hungry, give me anything you have.” At this, Sita, who had a few fruits in the cottage, brought them out. But the mendicant monk after many persuasions prevailed upon her to bring the alms to him, assuring her that she need have no fear as he was a holy person. So Sita came out of the magic circle, and immediately the seeming monk assumed his giant body, and grasping Sita in his arms he called his magic chariot, and putting her therein, he fled with the weeping Sita. Poor Sita! She was utterly helpless, nobody, was there to come to her aid. As the giant was carrying her away, she took off a few of the ornaments from her arms and at intervals dropped them to the grounds
She was taken by Ravana to his kingdom, Lanka, the island of Ceylon. He made peals to her to become his queen, and tempted her in many ways to accede to his request. But Sita who was chastity itself, would not even speak to the giant; and he to punish her, made her live under a tree, day and night, until she should consent to be his wife.
When Rama and Lakshmana returned to the cottage and found that Sita was not there, their grief knew no bounds. They could not imagine what had become of her. The two brothers went on, seeking, seeking everywhere for Sita, but could find no trace of her. After long searching, they came across a group of “monkeys”, and in the midst of them was Hanumân, the “divine monkey”. Hanuman, the best of the monkeys, became the most faithful servant of Rama and helped him in rescuing Sita, as we shall see later on. His devotion to Rama was so great that he is still worshipped by the Hindus as the ideal of a true servant of the Lord. You see, by the “monkeys” and “demons” are meant the aborigines of South India.
So, Rama, at last, fell in with these monkeys. They told him that they had seen flying through the sky a chariot, in which was seated a demon who was carrying away a most beautiful lady, and that she was weeping bitterly, and as the chariot passed over their heads she dropped one of her ornaments to attract their attention. Then they showed Rama the ornament. Lakshmana took up the ornament, and said, “I do not know whose ornament this is.” Rama took it from him and recognised it at once, saying, “Yes, it is Sita’s.” Lakshmana could not recognise the ornament, because in India the wife of the elder brother was held in so much reverence that he had never looked upon the arms and the neck of Sita. So you see, as it was a necklace, he did not know whose it was. There is in this episode a touch of the old Indian custom. Then, the monkeys told Rama who this demon king was and where he lived, and then they all went to seek for him.
Now, the monkey-king Vâli and his younger brother Sugriva were then fighting amongst themselves for the kingdom. The younger brother was helped by Rama, and he regained the kingdom from Vali, who had driven him away; and he, in return, promised to help Rama. They searched the country all round, but could not find Sita. At last Hanuman leaped by one bound from the coast of India to the island of Ceylon, and there went looking all over Lanka for Sita, but nowhere could he find her.
You see, this giant king had conquered the gods, the men, in fact the whole world; and he had collected all the beautiful women and made them his concubines. So, Hanuman thought to himself, “Sita cannot be with them in the palace. She would rather die than be in such a place.” So Hanuman went to seek for her elsewhere. At last, he found Sita under a tree, pale and thin, like the new moon that lies low in the horizon. Now Hanuman took the form of a little monkey and settled on the tree, and there he witnessed how giantesses sent by Ravana came and tried to frighten Sita into submission, but she would not even listen to the name of the giant king.
Then, Hanuman came nearer to Sita and told her how he became the messenger of Rama, who had sent him to find out where Sita was; and Hanuman showed to Sita the signet ring which Rama had given as a token for establishing his identity. He also informed her that as soon as Rama would know her whereabouts, he would come with an army and conquer the giant and recover her. However, he suggested to Sita that if she wished it, he would take her on his shoulders and could with one leap clear the ocean and get back to Rama. But Sita could not bear the idea, as she was chastity itself, and could not touch the body of any man except her husband. So, Sita remained where she was. But she gave him a jewel from her hair to carry to Rama; and with that Hanuman returned.
Learning everything about Sita from Hanuman, Rama collected an army, and with it marched towards the southernmost point of India. There Rama’s monkeys built a huge bridge, called Setu-Bandha, connecting India with Ceylon. In very low water even now it is possible to cross from India to Ceylon over the sand-banks there.
Now Rama was God incarnate, otherwise, how could he have done all these things? He was an Incarnation of God, according to the Hindus. They in India believe him to be the seventh Incarnation of God.
The monkeys removed whole hills, placed them in the sea and covered them with stones and trees, thus making a huge embankment. A little squirrel, so it is said, was there rolling himself in the sand and running backwards and forwards on to the bridge and shaking himself. Thus in his small way he was working for the bridge of Rama by putting in sand. The monkeys laughed, for they were bringing whole mountains, whole forests, huge loads of sand for the bridge — so they laughed at the little squirrel rolling in the sand and then shaking himself. But Rama saw it and remarked: “Blessed be the little squirrel; he is doing his work to the best of his ability, and he is therefore quite as great as the greatest of you.” Then he gently stroked the squirrel on the back, and the marks of Rama’s fingers, running lengthways, are seen on the squirrel’s back to this day.
Now, when the bridge was finished, the whole army of monkeys, led by Rama and his brother entered Ceylon. For several months afterwards tremendous war and bloodshed followed. At last, this demon king, Ravana, was conquered and killed; and his capital, with all the palaces and everything, which were entirely of solid gold, was taken. In far-away villages in the interior of India, when I tell them that I have been in Ceylon, the simple folk say, “There, as our books tell, the houses are built of gold.” So, all these golden cities fell into the hands of Rama, who gave them over to Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana, and seated him on the throne in the place of his brother, as a return for the valuable services rendered by him to Rama during the war.
Then Rama with Sita and his followers left Lanka. But there ran a murmur among the followers. “The test! The test!” they cried, “Sita has not given the test that she was perfectly pure in Ravana’s household. “Pure! she is chastity itself” exclaimed Rama. “Never mind! We want the test,” persisted the people. Subsequently, a huge sacrificial fire was made ready, into which Sita had to plunge herself. Rama was in agony, thinking that Sita was lost; but in a moment, the God of fire himself appeared with a throne upon his head, and upon the throne was Sita. Then, there was universal rejoicing, and everybody was satisfied.
Early during the period of exile, Bharata, the younger brother had come and informed Rama, of the death of the old king and vehemently insisted on his occupying the throne. During Rama’s exile Bharata would on no account ascend the throne and out of respect placed a pair of Rama’s wooden shoes on it as a substitute for his brother. Then Rama returned to his capital, and by the common consent of his people he became the king of Ayodhya.
After Rama regained his kingdom, he took the necessary vows which in olden times the king had to take for the benefit of his people. The king was the slave of his people, and had to bow to public opinion, as we shall see later on. Rama passed a few years in happiness with Sita, when the people again began to murmur that Sita had been stolen by a demon and carried across the ocean. They were not satisfied with the former test and clamoured for another test, otherwise she must be banished.
In order to satisfy the demands of the people, Sita was banished, and left to live in the forest, where was the hermitage of the sage and poet Valmiki. The sage found poor Sita weeping and forlorn, and hearing her sad story, sheltered her in his Âshrama. Sita was expecting soon to become a mother, and she gave birth to twin boys. The poet never told the children who they were. He brought them up together in the Brahmachârin life. He then composed the poem known as Ramayana, set it to music, and dramatised it.
The drama, in India, was a very holy thing. Drama and music are themselves held to be religion. Any song — whether it be a love-song or otherwise — if one’s whole soul is in that song, one attains salvation, one has nothing else to do. They say it leads to the same goal as meditation.
So, Valmiki dramatised “The Life of Rama”, and taught Rama’s two children how to recite and sing it.
There came a time when Rama was going to perform a huge sacrifice, or Yajna, such as the old kings used to celebrate. But no ceremony in India can be performed by a married man without his wife: he must have the wife with him, the Sahadharmini, the “co-religionist” — that is the expression for a wife. The Hindu householder has to perform hundreds of ceremonies, but not one can be duly performed according to the Shâstras, if he has not a wife to complement it with her part in it.
Now Rama’s wife was not with him then, as she had been banished. So, the people asked him to marry again. But at this request Rama for the first time in his life stood against the people. He said, “This cannot be. My life is Sita’s.” So, as a substitute, a golden statue of Sita was made, in order that the; ceremony could be accomplished. They arranged even a dramatic entertainment, to enhance the religious feeling in this great festival. Valmiki, the great sage-poet, came with his pupils, Lava and Kusha, the unknown sons of Rama. A stage had been erected and everything was ready for the performance. Rama and his brothers attended with all his nobles and his people — a vast audience. Under the direction of Valmiki, the life of Rama was sung by Lava and Kusha, who fascinated the whole assembly by their charming voice and appearance. Poor Rama was nearly maddened, and when in the drama, the scene of Sita’s exile came about, he did not know what to do. Then the sage said to him, “Do not be grieved, for I will show you Sita.” Then Sita was brought upon the stage and Rama delighted to see his wife. All of a sudden, the old murmur arose: “The test! The test!” Poor Sita was so terribly overcome by the repeated cruel slight on her reputation that it was more than she could bear. She appealed to the gods to testify to her innocence, when the Earth opened and Sita exclaimed, “Here is the test”, and vanished into the bosom of the Earth. The people were taken aback at this tragic end. And Rama was overwhelmed with grief.
A few days after Sita’s disappearance, a messenger came to Rama from the gods, who intimated to him that his mission on earth was finished and he was to return to heaven. These tidings brought to him the recognition of his own real Self. He plunged into the waters of Sarayu, the mighty river that laved his capital, and joined Sita in the other world.”
Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on Rama
Main article: Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on Rama
- He who was Shri Rama, whose stream of love flowed with resistless might even to the Chandala (the outcaste); Oh, who ever was engaged in doing good to the world though superhuman by nature, whose renown there is none to equal in the three worlds, Sita’s beloved, whose body of Knowledge Supreme was covered by devotion sweet in the form of Sita.[Source]
- Rama, the ancient idol of the heroic ages, the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideals son, the ideals husband, the ideal father, and, above all, the ideals all, the ideal king, this Rama has been presented before us by the great saint Valmiki.
- Rama and Sita are the ideals of the Indian nation.[Source]
- Rama gave up his body and joined Sita in the other world.[Source]
- “Where there is Rama, there is no Kama; where there is Kama, there Rama is not. Night and day can never exist together.” The voice of the ancient sages proclaim to us, “If you desire to attain God, you will have to renounce Kâma-Kânchana (lust and possession).[Source]
Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on Sita
Main article: Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on Sita
- Sita is typical of India— the idealized India. The question is not whether she ever lived, whether the story is history or not, we know that the ideal is there.[Source]
- Sita is unique; the character was depicted once and for all. There may have been several Ramas, perhaps, but never more than one Sita.
- Sita — to say that she was pure is a blasphemy. She was purity itself embodied — the most beautiful character that ever lived on earth.[Source]
- Sita was chastity itself; she would never touch the body of another man except that of her husband. “Pure? She is chastity itself”, says Rama.[Source]
- What to speak of Sita? You may exhaust the literature of the world that is past, and I may assure that you will have to exhaust the literature of the world of the future, before finding another Sita.
Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on King Janaka
Main article: Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on King Janaka
- Do not pretend to be like Janaka when you are only the “progenitor” of delusions. (The name Janaka means “progenitor” and belonged to a king who, although he still held his kingdom for the sake of his people, had given up everything mentally.) Be honest and say, “I see the ideal but I cannot yet approach it”; but do not pretend to give up when you do not. If you give up, stand fast.[Source]
- “Give up,” says the Veda, “give up.” That is the one way, “Give up”.न प्रजया धनेन त्यागेनैकेऽमृतत्वमानशुः — “Neither through wealth, nor through progeny, but by giving up alone that immortality is to be reached.” That is the dictate of the Indian books. Of course, there have been great givers-up of the world, even sitting on thrones. But even (King) Janaka himself had to renounce; who was a greater renouncer than he? But in modern times we all want to be called Janakas! They are all Janakas (lit. fathers) of children — unclad, ill-fed, miserable children. The word Janaka can be applied to them in that sense only; they have none of the shining, Godlike thoughts as the old Janaka had. These are our modern Janakas! A little less of this Janakism now, and come straight to the mark![Source]
- Is it so easy to be Janaka — to sit on a throne absolutely unattached, caring nothing for wealth or fame, for wife or child? One after another in the West has told me that he has reached this. But I could only say, ‘Such great men are not born in India![Source]
Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on Hanuman
Main article: Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on Hanuman
- As on the one hand Hanuman represent the ideal of service, so on the other hand he represents leonine courage, striking the whole world with awe. He has not the least hesitation in sacrificing his life for the good of Rama. A supreme indifference to everything except the service of Rama, even to the attainment of the status of Brahma and Shiva, the great World – gods! Only the carrying out of Shri Rama’s best is the one vow of this life! Such whole – hearted devotion is wanted.[Source]
- Eka-Nishtha or devotion to one ideal is absolutely necessary for the beginner in the practice of religious devotion. He must say with Hanuman in the Râmâyana, “Though I know that the Lord of Shri and the Lord of Jânaki are both manifestations of the same Supreme Being, yet my all in all is the lotus-eyed Râma.”[Source]
Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on the squirrel
Main article: Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on the squirrel of Ramayana
I do not believe in reform; I believe in growth. I do not dare to put myself in the position of God and dictate to our society, “This way thou shouldst move and not that.” I simply want to be like the squirrel in the building of Râma’s bridge, who was quite content to put on the bridge his little quota of sand-dust. That is my position.[Source]