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January 22, 2013

Who is a hero ?

Lord Rama's Heroism
History produces two types of heroes: crisis-time heroes and prosperous-time heroes.

Crisis-time heroes emerge at a time of social, economical, moral and spiritual crisis. They flash like lightening against darkness and are easily remembered. Prosperous-time heroes go unnoticed like Sun in the day time. But they are the ones who work hard to prevent the crises from occurring in the first place, by ensuring smooth, harmonious and orderly function of the society.

It is easy to name a number of crisis-time heroes like Gandhi, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, Mohammad, Gorbachev, Nehru, Mao, Buddha, Hitler, Lenin, George Washington, etc. But it is hard to think of the names of prosperous-time heroes, because their times are remembered more than their names. There had been many of them, who are responsible for the many long, quiet, harmonious, peaceful and prosperous periods of history.

Rama is one such hero and Rama Rajyam is one such period, when people enjoyed the best of the times of peace, harmony and prosperity, without any crisis.

Crisis-time heroes, most of the times, leave a legacy of passions against a demonized past, and for a glorified and imagined future. They leave people with hatred for their own past and dissatisfaction of not able to realize an imagined future.

Prosperous-time heroes illustrate the art and science of keeping a society harmonious and prosperous. They illustrate the tough stands one has to take and personal sacrifices one has to make in order to keep the society strong, stable and prosperous. Crisis-time heroes should be remembered, but prosperous-time heroes are the ones that should be emulated. Crisis-time heroes inspire us to take action in the periods of desperation. But prosperous-time heroes are the one that can tell us how to lead life.

For our good fortune, Indian civilization understood this subtle difference. The stories of Indian civilizatoin are about the prosperous-time heroes and not about the crisis-time heroes. It doesn't mean they ignored the crisis-time heroes. They embedded the stories of the crisis-time heroes inside the stories of prosperous-time heroes. Rama is the prosperous-time hero. Parasurama is the crisis-time hero. Parasurama's story is embedded into Rama's story, not the other way around.

Rama is an illustrious prosperous-time hero. He should not be mistaken to be a simple private individual. He inherited one of the grandest kingdoms of the day, from an illustrious line of rulers of an unparalleled dynasty. He gained the confidence of the people much before he got coroneted as crown prince. He is a public person with great social responsibilities on his shoulder. He is fully prepared and mentally invested in discharging that responsibility. The magnanimity and grandeur of Rama's life can only be understood, when one considers him as an individual struggling to keep up to his social responsibilities, which challenged him to make immense personal sacrifices.

Rama says (in Uttara Kanda slokas 45. 11-15) "Even my love to you (the brothers) and to Sita are secondary, when it comes to meeting the expectations of people in discharging my responsibilities". His decision to leave the kingdom, to kill the Rakshasas to protect the Rishis in the forests, his action to punish Vali for his transgression against his brother's wife and his killing of Ravana for abducting a women, are all part of one single principle for him: to protect Dharma. In every single action that he takes, he clearly articulates, "I have no choice, but to take this action, in accordance with the expectations of people and in accordance with the guidance of the illustrious Ikshvaku kings of the past"! (example: Kishkindha Kanda Sloka 18.36)

Don't we wish we have rulers of that kind all the time and in all the places?

Valmiki came to know about Rama, after he inquired Narada, whether one such illustrious prosperous-time hero ever existed. Valmiki uses SIXTEEN illustrious characteristics, posed as questions to Narada, to describe such a hero, in the very beginning of Ramayana.

కో న్వస్మిన్సామ్ప్రతం లోకే గుణవాన్కశ్చ వీర్యవాన్ ।
ధర్మజ్ఞశ్చ కృతజ్ఞశ్చ సత్యవాక్యో దృఢవ్రతః

kō nvasminsāmprataṃ lōkē guṇavānkaṡca vīryavān ।
dharmajñaṡca kṛtajñaṡca satyavākyō dṛḍhavrataḥ

Who, in this world, is a person 
1) of adorable and admirable character, 
2) of great valor, 
3) of acute discernment about right and wrong, 
4) that appreciates, remembers and grateful 
for the help received from anyone, 
5) that stands by his word all the times, 
6) and pursues the objectives to completion, unswervingly ? 

చారిత్రేణ చ కో యుక్తః సర్వభూతేషు కో హితః ।
విద్వాన్కః కః సమర్థశ్చ కశ్చైకప్రియదర్శనః ॥

cāritrēṇa ca kō yuktaḥ sarvabhūtēṣu kō hitaḥ ।
vidvānkaḥ kaḥ samarthaṡca kaṡcaikapriyadarṡanaḥ ॥

7) Who is a man of proven track record, 
8) who always wishes and does good to all beings, 
9) who is well read about all aspects of life, 
10) who is capable of getting the most challenging things done, 
11) who is also approachable, personable and pleasing 
to all alike, at all times? 

ఆత్మవాన్కో జితక్రోధో మతిమాన్కోఽనసూయకః ।
కస్య బిభ్యతి దేవాశ్చ జాతరోషస్య సంయుగే ॥

ātmavānkō jitakrōdhō matimānkō'nasūyakaḥ ।
kasya bibhyati dēvāṡca jātarōṣasya saṃyugē ॥

Who is a person 
12) of exemplary courage, 
13) in complete control of his temperament, 
14) of great intellect, 
15) that is unbiased and doesn't indulge in slander, 
16) and whose displeasure and wrath 
would frighten even the gods ? 

Valmiki, in these three slokas, is giving the characteristics of an illustrious prosperous time hero. To appreciate this list, wee need to contrast them with the characteristics of the most of the crisis-time heroes: exciting, bombastic, sensational, mecurial, blinding, etc.

What is more important to Rama: Dharma or Rama? Clearly Dharma. If we want to follow Rama, we should love Dharma even more than we love Rama. We should be able to say: "I love Rama, because I love Dharma'. Only then, the purpose of Ramayana is served.

Ramayana is a case study of how to keep Dharma above personal issues, given to us by none other than Valmiki, who wrote the first poem that humankind knows about!

Blessed are we, for the opportunity to read this poem together!


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