In Ayodhya, (yudhdha means conflict, Ayodhya means where there is no conflict) to King Dasharatha was born the Supreme Lord, Shri Rama as a baby. Shri Rama grows up in Ayodhya and then goes out of Ayodhya with sage Vishwamitra to protect the yagnaas.
Shri Rama gets married to Sita. Janaka is her father. Janaka found her while ploughing the mother earth, the most improbable place to come out from. Ultimately, she goes back to mother earth. So here is someone who came from no-cause and goes back to no-cause, and this is called, in Vedanta, as ‘ Maaya’.
Thus Shri Rama, the Atman, the Self, gets wedded to Maaya. Once ‘Self ‘ gets wedded to Maaya, the Ego, ‘I’ cannot remain in Ayodhya. Conflict must necessarily start. Thus Shri Rama goes to jungle with Sita. Jungle means the forest of pluralities, conflicts, in which you and I live today.
There, as long as Sita was looking at Shri Rama, living in Shri Rama, for Shri Rama (the Ego thinking of God only), she never knew the difference between Ayodhya and forest. But in one little moment, she turned her attention outwards and there stood the Golden deer – the delusory golden deer.
And once we see that delusion, we do not want God, we want that delusory thing only. Sita got stung by the desire, rejected Shri Rama, sent him away saying, “I want that Golden deer.” Shri Rama goes. The deer is killed no doubt, but it starts crying out and Sita asks Lakshmana also to go. He hesitatingly goes.
It is at this time that Ten-headed monster, Ravana, comes in the guise of a sanyasi Bhikshu. See the anti-thesis. Dasharatha, who has conquered the ten indriyaas, is in Ayodhya, and Dashamukha is in Lanka. We are like Ravana. Our attention is constantly turned outwards through the ten indriyaas. Materialism enters the bosom of a seeker in a deceitful form. Ravana, the extrovert man, with lusty living came to Sita in a deceitful form. He comes and takes her away and Sita becomes a prisoner in Lanka.
Her fall from Ayodhya to Lanka is the fall of man from greatness of divinity into the present condition of guilt, sorrow, agitation, worries and suffering. Thus, you and I are Sita now in Lanka.
What did she do there? We must also go through the same discipline. She refused to co-operate with materialism all around. When she says ‘NO’, materialism cannot touch her. She remained under Ashoka tree. Shoka is sorrow and Ashoka is sorrowless. Though there is sorrow in all our minds, we refuse to recognise it. There under the Ashoka tree, she contemplated on Shri Rama with a sense of total surrender, recognising and realising the terrible mistake that she made and remained there. When we thus remain contemplating on Shri Rama, every seeker will get intimation from the Divine, Shri Rama that ‘I am coming’. Hanuman reaches her and gives her the symbol. Her hope increases and she is confident that Shri Rama is coming. She awaits the arrival of Shri Rama.
As Sita weeps for him, Shri Rama also expresses sentimental emotions. Valmiki wants to communicate to us that when we cry for God, he responds. How will he go there? He is in the jungle. The only army he can have is made up of monkeys. We find so much of criticism in Western literature that monkeys cannot make an army. But here it has to be monkeys. Human minds and thoughts are the only ally for the Lord, the spiritual Self, for I and you to reach that state. Monkeys and human minds have the same qualities of ‘chanchalatwa’ and ‘asthiratwa’ (lack concentration and attention).
These monkeys can never be the ally of the Lord as long as they are ruled by Vali, the incorrigible lust. As long as our minds are ruled by lust we are not ready to do Shri Rama’s work. So Vali is to be destroyed and see who comes to the throne – Sugreeva. Greeva means the reins of horses. Sugreeva – the total self control! Under Sugreeva the monkeys are available to do Shri Rama’s work and together they build the bridge – the bridge of contemplation to reach the realm of Ravana – the realm of pure materialism, to destroy the extrovertedness, destroy Ravana and take Sita to Shri Rama.
Sita, the ego, when comes face to face with Shri Rama, the Self, the ego disappears. Just as ‘ the dreamer I’ disappears before ‘the waker I’, Sita thus disappears. It is Kapila muni who tells Shri Rama that he cannot go back to Ayodhya and bring about Rama Rajya without a queen. Hence Kapila muni makes a delusory Sita with whom Shri Rama returns to Ayodhya and rules for a short time. All men of Realisation, having realised the Truth, always come back to the world for a short time to serve as Saints, Prophets. We cannot work in the world without an ego. But here, it is not a true ego, but an illusory ego. When he thus rules, Luva and Kusha are born. Similarly when a Jnani works in the world, a Bible or a Koran, a Gita or an Upanishad will necessarily emerge out of Him.
Then he gives up the world. There is no compulsion on him to give up because it is already an illusory one. It is not a real one. He gives up the world and there ends the masterpiece.
Thus Raamayana, from Ayodhya to Lanka is the process of an individualised Ego, coming into the present state of misconception that I am a limited, individualised ego, and the return of Shri Rama back to Ayodhya from Lanka is the man’s pilgrimage fulfilled in the Realised Self. There after they live in the world for a short time serving the mankind and then the story ends.
Thus there is a spiritual background to the entire story of Ramayana. That is the reason why it is so popular. The average man is happy with the story. To the mediocre man, the idealism that Rama stands for is a great education. But even the man of Realisation enjoys Ramayana, because he sees in and through the story, the entire Vedantic Wisdom, echoing and re-echoing as a melody Divine.
This November 2017, Chinmaya Mission UK is staging a production of Ramayana entitled The Rāmāyaṇa – Truth | Love | Dharma. More details can be found here: www.ramayanaplay.com