There are two ways of looking at the Ramayana. One is to think of it as a story that happened millennia ago, if at all, and feel amused by various 'characters' of the story. And I fear this is the feeling in majority that it either happened long ago or that it was simply conjured up by some clever story tellers. Whatever, the fact is that this epic has penetrated into the Indian souls and Rama is very much a household name. A name that Indians utter in trouble or while sighing almost involuntarily. It has inspired scores of artisans to re-tell the story through every conceivable art form. Sample this, in telugu alone, there are tens of works that have re-told the Rama story. Not all of them follow the original of Valmiki as such. They add their own poetry and Bhakthi Rasa to it.
The second way of looking at Ramayana is internalizing it, relating to the story, the situations, the dharma and putting into practice a little of that and emerge as better human beings.
It is this second aspect that Sri Sathya Sai Baba emphasizes in the matchless book Ramakatha Rasavahini, originally written in Telugu and rendered into English by Late Sri. Kasturi. Baba prefaces the book with a very beautiful insight into the Rama story and says:
Rama is the Indweller in every Body. He is the Atma-Rama, the Rama (Source of Bliss) in every individual. His blessings upsurging from that inner Spring can confer Peace and Bliss. He is the very embodiment of Dharma of all the Codes of Morality that hold mankind together in Love and Unity.
Baba tells the story of Rama in a concise and clear manner and as you are reading a paragraph from an episode, the undelying moral follows soon enough to make the reader understand and put the Rama story into perspective in our life. I quote the remainder of the preface as it removes the veil of the 'story' and gives the epic a more spiritual meaning.
The Ramayana, the Rama story, teaches two lessons: the value of detachment and the need to become aware of the Divine in every being. Faith in God and detachment from objective pursuits are the keys for human liberation. Give up sense-objects; you gain Rama. Sita gave up the luxuries of Ayodhya and so, she could be with Rama, in the period of 'exile'. When she cast longing eyes on the golden deer and craved for it, she lost the Presence of Rama. Renunciation leads to joy; attachment brings about grief. Be in the world, but, not of it.
The brothers, comrades, companions and collaborators of Rama are each of them examples of persons saturated with Dharma. Dasaratha is the representative of the merely physical, with the ten senses. The three Gunas - Sathwa, Rajas and Thamas - are the three Queens. The Four Goals of Life - the Purusharthas - are the four Sons. Lakshmana is the Intellect; Sugriva is Viveka or Discrimination. Vali is Despair. Hanuman is the embodiment of Courage. The Bridge is built over the Ocean of Delusion. The three Rakshasa chiefs are personifications of the Rajasic (Ravana), Thamasic (Kumbhakarna) and the Sathwic qualities (Vibhishana). Sita is Brahmajnana or the Awareness of the Universal Absolute, which the Individual must acquire and regain undergoing travails in the crucible of Life. Make your heart pure and strong, contemplating the grandeur of the Ramayana. Be established in the faith that Rama is the Reality of your existence.
I have tried to see the Rama story from this angle and when viewed thus it unearths lessons galore to be practiced in daily life, in short, how to be and how not to be! More later.