Sri Rama - Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana



Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

The pure literature of the period is represented by the  two great epics, the Mahabharata, which gathered into  its vast structure the greater part of the poetic activity of  the Indian mind during several centuries, and the Ramayana.  These two poems are epical in their motive and spirit, but they  are not like any other two epics in the world, but are entirely of  their own kind and subtly different from others in their principle.  It is not only that although they contain an early heroic story  and a transmutation of many primitive elements, their form  belongs to a period of highly developed intellectual, ethical and  social culture, is enriched with a body of mature thought and  uplifted by a ripe nobility and refined gravity of ethical tone and  therefore these poems are quite different from primitive edda  and saga and greater in breadth of view and substance and  height of motive — I do not speak now of aesthetic quality and  poetic perfection — than the Homeric poems, while at the same  time there is still an early breath, a direct and straightforward  vigour, a freshness and greatness and pulse of life, a simplicity  of strength and beauty that makes of them quite another kind  than the elaborately constructed literary epics of Virgil or Milton, Firdausi or Kalidasa. This peculiar blending of the natural  breath of an early, heroic, swift and vigorous force of life with  a strong development and activity of the ethical, the intellectual, even the philosophic mind is indeed a remarkable feature;

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

these poems are the voice of the youth of a people, but a youth  not only fresh and fine and buoyant, but also great and accomplished, wise and noble. This however is only a temperamental  distinction: there is another that is more far-reaching, a difference in the whole conception, function and structure.

One of the elements of the old Vedic education was a knowledge of significant tradition, itihāsa, and it is this word that  was used by the ancient critics to distinguish the Mahabharata  and the Ramayana from the later literary epics. The Itihāsa was  an ancient historical or legendary tradition turned to creative  use as a significant mythus or tale expressive of some spiritual or religious or ethical or ideal meaning and thus formative  of the mind of the people. The Mahabharata and Ramayana  are Itihasas of this kind on a large scale and with a massive  purpose. The poets who wrote and those who added to these  great bodies of poetic writing did not intend merely to tell an  ancient tale in a beautiful or noble manner or even to fashion  a poem pregnant with much richness of interest and meaning,  though they did both these things with a high success; they  wrote with a sense of their function as architects and sculptors  of life, creative exponents, fashioners of significant forms of  the national thought and religion and ethics and culture. A profound stress of thought on life, a large and vital view of religion  and society, a certain strain of philosophic idea runs through  these poems and the whole ancient culture of India is embodied in them with a great force of intellectual conception and  living presentation. The Mahabharata has been spoken of as a  fifth Veda, it has been said of both these poems that they are  not only great poems but Dharmashastras, the body of a large  religious and ethical and social and political teaching, and their  effect and hold on the mind and life of the people have been so  great that they have been described as the bible of the Indian  people. That is not quite an accurate analogy, for the bible of  the Indian people contains also the Veda and Upanishads, the  Purana and Tantras and theDharmashastras, not to speak of  a large bulk of the religious poetry in the regional languages.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

The work of these epics was to popularise high philosophic and  ethical idea and cultural practice; it was to throw out prominently and with a seizing relief and effect in a frame of great  poetry and on a background of poetic story and' around significant personalities that became to the people abiding national  memories and representative figures all that was best in the  soul and thought or true to the life or real to the creative imagination and ideal mind or characteristic and illuminative of the  social, ethical, political and religious culture of India. All these  things were brought together and disposed with artistic power  and a telling effect in a poetic body given to traditions half legendary, half historic but cherished henceforth as deepest and  most living truth and as a part of their religion by the people.  Thus framed the Mahabharata and Ramayana, whether in the  original Sanskrit or rewritten in the regional tongues, brought  to the masses by Kathakas, — rhapsodists, reciters and exegetes, — became and remained one of the chief instruments  of popular education and culture, moulded the thought, character, aesthetic and religious mind of the people and gave even  to the illiterate some sufficient tincture of philosophy, ethics,  social and political ideas, aesthetic emotion, poetry, fiction and  romance. That which was for the cultured classes contained in  Veda and Upanishad, shut into profound philosophical aphorism  and treatise or inculcated in Dharmashastra and Arthashastra,  was put here into creative and living figures, associated with  familiar story and legend, fused into a vivid representation of  life and thus made a near and living power that all could readily assimilate through the poetic word appealing at once to the  soul and the imagination and the intelligence.

... The Ramayana is a work of the same essential kind as  the Mahabharata; it differs only by a greater simplicity of plan,  a more delicate ideal temperament and a finer glow of poetic warmth andcolour. The main bulk of the poem in spite  of much accretion is evidently by a single hand and has a less  complex and more obvious unity of structure. There is less of  the philosophic, more of the purely poetic mind, more of the

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

artist, less of the builder. The whole story is from beginning to  end of one piece and there is no deviation from the stream of  the narrative. At the same time there is a like vastness of vision, an even more wide-winged flight of epic sublimity in the  conception and sustained richness of minute execution in the  detail. The structural power, strong workmanship and method  of disposition of the Mahabharata remind one of the art of  the Indian builders, the grandeur and boldness of outline and  wealth of colour and minute decorative execution of the Ramayana suggest rather a transcript into literature of the spirit and  style of Indian painting. The epic poet has taken here also as  his subject an Itihasa, an ancient tale or legend associated with  an old Indian dynasty and filled it in with detail from myth and  folklore, but has exalted all into a scale of grandiose epic figure  that it may bear more worthily the high intention and significance. The subject is the same as in the Mahabharata, the strife  of the divine with the titanic forces in the life of the earth, but  in more purely ideal forms, in frankly supernatural dimensions  and an imaginative heightening of both the good and the evil in  human character. On one side is portrayed an ideal manhood, a  divine beauty of virtue and ethical order, a civilization founded  on the Dharma and realising an exaltation of the moral ideal  which is presented with a singularly strong appeal of aesthetic  grace and harmony and sweetness; on the other are wild and  anarchic and almost amorphous forces of superhuman egoism and self-will and exultant violence, and the two ideas and  powers of mental nature living and embodied are brought into  conflict and led to a decisive issue of the victory of the divine  man over the Rakshasa. All shade and complexity are omitted  which would diminish the single purity of the idea, the representative force in the outline of the figures, the significance of  the temperamental colour and only so much admitted as is sufficient to humanise the appeal and the significance. The poet  makes us conscious of the immense forces that are behind our  life and sets his action in a magnificent epic scenery, the great  imperial city, the mountains and the ocean, the forest and wilderness

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

described with such a largeness as to make us feel as  if the whole world were the scene of his poem and its subject  the whole divine and titanic possibility of man imaged in a few  great or monstrous figures. The ethical and the aesthetic mind  of India have here fused themselves into a harmonious unity  and reached an unexampled pure wideness and beauty of self-  expression. The Ramayana embodied for the Indian imagination its highest and tenderest human ideals of character, made  strength and courage and gentleness and purity and fidelity  and self-sacrifice familiar to it in the suavest and most harmonious forms coloured so as to attract the emotion and the aesthetic sense, stripped morals of all repellent austerity on one  side or on the other of mere commonness and lent a certain  high divineness to the ordinary things of life, conjugal and filial  and maternal and fraternal feeling, the duty of the prince and  leader and the loyalty of follower and subject, the greatness of  the great and the truth and worth of the simple, toning things  ethical to the beauty of a more psychical meaning by the glow  of its ideal hues. The work of Valmiki has been an agent of al-  most incalculable power in the moulding of the cultural mind of  India: it has presented to it to be loved and imitated in figures  like Rama and Sita, made so divinely and with such a revelation  of reality as to become objects of enduring cult and worship,  or like Hanuman, LakshmanaBharata the living human image  of its ethical ideals; it has fashioned much of what is best and  sweetest in the national character, and it has evoked and fixed  in it those finer and exquisite yet firm soul-tones and that more  delicate humanity of temperament which are a more valuable  thing than the formal outsides of virtue and conduct.

The poetical manner of these epics is not inferior to the  greatness of their substance. The style and the verse in which  they are written have always a noble epic quality, a lucid classical simplicity and directness rich in expression but stripped of  superfluous ornament, a swift, vigorous, flexible and fluid verse  constantly sure of the epic cadence. There is a difference in the  temperament of the language. The characteristic diction of the

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Mahabharata is almost austerely masculine, trusting to force of  sense and inspired accuracy of turn, almost ascetic in its simplicity and directness and a frequent fine and happy bareness; it  is the speech of a strong and rapid poetical intelligence and a  great and straightforward vital force, brief and telling in phrase  but by virtue of a single-minded sincerity and, except in some  knotted passages or episodes, without any rhetorical labour of  compactness, a style like the light and strong body of a runner  nude and pure and healthily lustrous and clear without superfluity of flesh or exaggeration of muscle, agile and swift and  untired in the race. There is inevitably much in this vast poem  that is in an inferior manner, but little or nothing that falls below a certain sustained level in which there is always something  of this virtue. The diction of the Ramayana is shaped in a more  attractive mould, a marvel of sweetness and strength, lucidity  and warmth and grace; its phrase has not only poetic truth  and epic force and diction but a constant intimate vibration of I  the feeling of the idea, emotion or object: there is an element  of fine ideal delicacy in its sustained strength and breath of  power. In both poems it is a high poetic soul and inspired intelligence that is at work; the directly intuitive mind of the Veda  and Upanishads has retired behind the veil of the intellectual  and outwardly psychical imagination.

This is the character of the epics and the qualities which  have made them immortal, cherished among India's greatest  literary and cultural treasures, and given them their enduring  power over the national mind. Apart from minor defects and  inequalities such as we find in all works set at this pitch and  involving a considerable length of labour, the objections made  by western criticism are simply expressions of a difference of  mentality and aesthetic taste. The vastness of the plan and the  leisurely minuteness of detail are baffling and tiring to a western mind accustomed to smaller limits, a more easily fatigued  eye and imagination and a hastier pace of life, but they are  congenial to the spaciousness of vision and intent curiosity of  circumstances, characteristic of the Indian mind, that spring,

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

as I have pointed out in relation to architecture, from the habit  of the cosmic consciousness and its sight and imagination and  activity of experience. Another difference is that the terrestrial  life is not seen realistically just as it is to the physical mind but  constantly in relation to the much that is behind it, the human  action is surrounded and influenced by great powers and forces, DaivicAsuric and Rakshasic, and the greater human figures  are a kind of incarnation of these more cosmic personalities  and powers. The objection that the individual there by loses his  individual interest and becomes a puppet of impersonal forces  is not true either in reality or actually in the imaginative figures  of this literature, for there we see that the personages gain  by it in greatness and force of action and are only ennobled  by an impersonality that raises and heightens the play of their  personality. The mingling of terrestrial nature and supernature, not as a mere imagination but with an entire sincerity and  naturalness, is due to the same conception of a greater reality  in life, and it is as significant figures of this greater reality that  we must regard much to which the realistic critic objects with  an absurdly misplaced violence, such as the powers gained by  Tapasya, the use of divine weapons, the frequent indications of  psychic action and influence. The complaint of exaggeration is  equally invalid where the whole action is that of men raised beyond the usual human level, since we can only ask for proportions consonant with the truth of the stature of life conceived  in the imagination of the poet and cannot insist on an unimaginative fidelity to the ordinary measures which would here be  false because wholly out of place. The complaint of lifelessness  and want of personality in the epic characters is equally unfounded: Rama and SitaArjuna and Yudhishthira,Bhishma and  Duryodhana and Kama are intensely real and human and alive  to the Indian mind. Only the main insistence, here as in Indian  art, is not on the outward saliences of character, for these are  only used secondarily as aids to the presentation, but on the  soul-life and the inner soul-quality presented with as absolute  a vividness and strength and purity of outline as possible. The

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

idealism of characters like Rama and Sita is no pale and vapid  unreality; they are vivid with the truth of the ideal life, of the  greatness that man may be and does become when he gives  his soul a chance and it is no sound objection that there is  only a small allowance of the broken littleness of our ordinary  nature.

These epics are therefore not a mere mass of untransmuted  legend and folklore, as is ignorantly objected, but a highly artistic representation of intimate significances of life, the living  presentment of a strong and noble thinking, a developed ethical and aesthetic mind and a high social and political ideal, the ensouled image of a great culture. As rich in freshness of life  but immeasurably more profound and evolved in thought and  substance than the Greek, as advanced in maturity of culture  but more vigorous and vital and young in strength than the Latin epic poetry, the Indian epic poems were fashioned to serve  a greater and completer national and cultural function and that  they should have been received and absorbed by both the high  and the low, the cultured and the masses and remained through  twenty centuries an intimate and formative part of the life of  the whole nation is of itself the strongest possible evidence of  the greatness and fineness of this ancient Indian culture.

....The Vedic Rishis and their successors made it their chief  work to found a spiritual basis of Indian life and to effect the  spiritual and cultural unity of the many races and peoples of the  peninsula. But they were not blind to the necessity of a political  unification. Observing the constant tendency of the clan life of  the Aryan peoples to consolidate under confederacies and hegemonies of varying proportions,vairajyasamrajya, they saw  that to follow this line to its full conclusion was the right way  and evolved therefore the ideal of the cakravartin, a uniting imperial rule, uniting without destroying the autonomy of India's  many kingdoms and peoples, from sea to sea.

The full flowering of the idea! is seen in the great epics. The  Mahabharata is the record of a legendary or, it may be, a historic  attempt to establish such an empire, a dharmarajya or kingdom

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

of the Dharma. There the ideal is pictured as so imperative  and widely acknowledged that even the turbulent Shishupala is  represented as motiving his submission and attendance at the  Rajasuya sacrifice on the ground that Yudhishthira was carrying  out an action demanded by the Dharma. And in the Ramayana  we have an idealised picture of such a Dharmarajya, a settled  universal empire. Here too it is not an autocratic despotism  but a universal monarchy supported by a free assembly of the  city and provinces and of all the classes that is held up as the  ideal, an enlargement of the monarchical statesynthetising the  communal autonomies of the Indian system and maintaining  the law and constitution of the Dharma. The ideal of conquest  held up is not a destructive and predatory invasion annihilating the organic freedom and the political and social institutions and exploiting the economic resources of the conquered  peoples, but a sacrificial progression bringing with it a trial  of military strength of which the result was easily accepted  because defeat entailed neither humiliation nor servitude and  suffering but merely a strengthening adhesion to a suzerain  power concerned only with establishing the visible unity of the  nation and the Dharma. The ideal of the ancient Rishis is clear  and their political utility and necessity of a unification of the  divided and warring peoples of the land, but they saw also that  it ought not to be secured at the expense of the free life of the  regional peoples or of the communal liberties and not therefore  by a centralised monarchy or a rigidly unitarian imperial State.  A hegemony or confederacy under an imperial head would be  the nearest western analogy to the conception they sought to  impose on the minds of the people.

— The Foundations of Indian Culture, Vol.14, SABCL,

                                            pp. 284-86, 289-93, 371-72.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana


Sri Aurobindo's Translations

(a few passages from the Ramayana)

An Aryan City1

Coshala by the Soroyou, a land

Smiling at heaven, of riches measureless

And corn abounding glad; in that great country

Ayodhya was, the city world-renowned,

Ayodhya by King Manou built, immense.

Twelve yojans long the mighty city lay

Grandiose, and wide three yojans. Grandly spaced

Ayodhya's streets were and the long high-road

Ran through it spaciously with sweet cool flowers

Hourly new-paved and hourly watered wide.

Dussarutha in Ayodhya, as in heaven

Its natural lord, abode, those massive walls

Ruling, and a great people in his name

Felt greater, — door and wall and ponderous arch

And market places huge. Of every craft

Engines mechanical and tools there thronged,

And craftsmen of each guild and manner. High rang

With heralds and sonorous eulogists

The beautiful bright city imperial.

High were her bannered edifices reared,


1. Bala Kanda, Sarga 5, 5-22.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

With theatres and dancing-halls for joy 

Of her bright daughters, and sweet-scented parks 

Were round and gardens cool. High circling all 

The city with disastrous engines stored

In hundreds, the great ramparts like a zone

Of iron spanned in her moated girth immense 

Threatening with forts the ancient sky. Defiant 

Ayodhya stood, armed, impregnable, 

Inviolable in her virgin walls. 

And in her streets was ever large turmoil, 

Passing of elephants, the steed and ox, 

Mules and rich-laden camels. And through them drove 

The powerful barons of the land, great wardens 

Of taxes, and from countries near and far 

The splendid merchants came much marvelling 

To see those orgulous high builded homes

With jewels curiously fretted, topped 

With summer houses for the joy of girls, 

Like some proud city in heaven.Without a gap 

On either side as far as eye could reach 

Mass upon serried mass the houses rose, 

Seven-storied architectures metrical 

Upon a level base, and made sublime. 

Splendid Ayodhya octagonally built, 

The mother of beautiful women and of gems 

A world. Large granaries of rice unhusked 

She had and husked rice for the fire, and sweet 

Her water, like the cane's delightful juice, 

Cool down the throat. And a great voice throbbed of  drums,

The tabour and the tambourine, while ever 

The lyre with softer rumours intervened.

Nor only was she grandiosely built, 

A city without earthly peer, — her sons 

Were noble, warriors whose arrows scorned to pierce 

The isolated man from friends cut off

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Or guided by a sound to smite the alarmed 

And crouching fugitive, but with sharp steel 

Sought out the lion in his den or grappling 

Unarmed they murdered with their mighty hands 

The tiger roaring in his trackless woods 

Or the mad tusked boar.

Even such strong arms 

Of heroes kept that city and in her midst 

Regnant king Dussaruth the nations ruled

Speech of Dussaruth1 

to the Assembled States-General of His Empire

Then with a far reverberating sound 

As of a cloud in heaven or war-drum's call 

Deep-voiced to battle and with echoings 

In the wide roof of his majestic voice 

That like the resonant surges onward rolled 

Moving men's hearts to joy, a King to Kings 

He spoke and all they heard him.

                                         "It is known 

To you, 0 princes, How this noblest realm 

Was by my fathers ruled, the kings of old 

Who went before me, even as one dearest son 

Is by his parents cherished; therefore I too 

Would happier leave than when my youth assumed 

Their burden, mankind, my subjects, and this vast 

World-empire of the old Ikshwacou kings. 

Lo, I have trod in those imperial steps 

My fathers left, guarding with sleepless toil 

The people while strength was patient in this frame 

O'erburdened with the large majestic world. 

But now my body broken is and old,


1. Ayodhya Kanda, Sarga 2, 1-20.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Aging beneath the shadow of the white 

Canopy imperial and outworn with long 

Labouring for the good of all mankind. 

My people. Nature fails me! I have lived 

Thousands of years and many lives of men 

And all my worn heart wearies for repose. 

Weary am I of bearing up this heavy 

Burden austere of the great world, duties 

Not sufferable by souls undisciplined:

0 folk, to rest from greatness I desire. 

Therefore with your august, assembled will, 

0 powers and 0 twice-born nations, I 

Would share with Rama this great kingdom's crown, 

Rama, my warrior son, son by kingly birth 

And by gifts inherited confessed my son, 

Rama, a mighty nation's joy. Less fair, 

Yoked with his favouring constellation bright, 

The regent moon shall be than Rama's face, 

When morn upon his crowning smiles. 0 folk, 

Say then shall Luxman's brother be your lord, 

Glory's high favourite who empire breathes? 

Yea, if the whole vast universe should own 

My son for king, it would be kinged indeed 

And regal: Lords, of such desirable 

Fortune I would possess this mother of men;

Then would I be at peace, at last repose 

Transferring to such shoulders Earth. Pronounce 

If I have nobly planned, if counselled well;

Grant me your high permissive voices; people, 

But if my narrower pleasure, private hope," 

Of welfare general the smooth disguise 

Have in your censure donned, then let the folk 

Themselves advise their monarch or command. 

For other is disinterested thought 

And by the clash of minds dissimilar 

Counsel increases."

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Then with a deep sound 

As when a cloud with rain and thunder armed 

Invades the skies, the jewelled peacocks loud 

Clamour, assembled monarchs praised their king. 

And like a moving echo came the voice 

Of the great commons answering them, a thunder 

And one exultant roar. Earth seemed to rock 

Beneath the noise. Thus by their Emperor high 

Admitted to his will great conclave was 

Of clergy and of captains and of kings 

And of the people of the provinces 

And of the people metropolitan: all these 

Deliberated and became one mind. 

Resolved, they answered then their aged king.

A Mother's Lament1

"Hadst thou been never born, Rama, my son,

Born for my grief, I had not felt such pain,

A childless woman. For the barren one

Grief of the heart companions, only one,

Complaining, 'I am barren'; this she mourns,

She has no cause for any deeper tears.

But I am inexperienced in delight

And never of my husband's masculine love

Had pleasure, — still I lingered, still endured

Hoping to be acquainted yet with joy.

Therefore full many unlovely words that strove

To break the suffering heart had I to hear

From wives of my husband, I the Queen and highest,

From lesser women. Ah, what greater pain

Than this can women have who mourn on earth,

Than this my grief and infinite lament?


1. Ayodhya Kanda, Sarga 20, 36-55.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

0 Rama, even at thy side so much

I have endured, and if thou goest hence,

Death is my certain prospect, death alone.

Cruelly neglected, grievously oppressed

I have lived slighted in my husband's house

As though Kaikayie's serving-woman, — nay,

A lesser thing than these. If any honours,

If any follows me, even that man

Hushes when he beholds Kaikayie's son.

How shall I in my misery endure

That bitter mouth intolerable, bear

Her ceaseless petulance. Oh, I have lived

Seventeen years since thou wast born, my son,

Rama, seventeen long years have I lived,

Wearily wishing for an end to grief;

And now this mighty anguish without end! 

I have no strength to bear for ever pain;

Nor this worn heart with suffering fatigued

To satisfy the scorn of rivals yields

More tears. Ah how shall I without thy face

Miserably exist, without thy face,

My moon of beauty, miserable days?

Me wretched, who with fasts and weary toil

And dedicated musings reared thee up,

Vainly. Alas, the river's giant banks,

How great they are! and yet when violent rain

Has levelled their tops with water, they descend

In ruin, not like this heart which will not break.

But I perceive death was not made for me,

For me no room in those stupendous realms"

Has been discovered; since not even today

As on a mourning hind the lion falls

Death seizes me or to his thicket bears

With his huge leap, — death ender of all pain.

How livest thou, 0 hard, 0 iron heart,

Unbroken, 0 body, tortured by such grief,

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

How sinkest thou not all shattered to the earth?

Therefore I know death comes not called — he waits

Inexorably his time. But this I mourn,

My useless vows, gifts, offerings, self-control.

And dire ascetic strenuousness perfected

In passion for a son, — yet all like seed

Fruitless and given to ungrateful soil.

But if death came before his season, if one

By anguish of unbearable heavy grief

Naturally might win him, then today

Would I have hurried to his distant worlds

Of thee deprived, 0 Rama, 0 my son.

Why should I vainly live without thine eyes,

Thou moonlight of my soul? No, let me toil

After thee to the savage woods where thou

Must harbour, I will trail these feeble limbs

Behind thy steps slow as the sick yearning dam

That follows still her ravished young." Thus she

Yearning upon her own beloved son; —

As over her offspring chained a centauress

Impatient of her anguish deep, so wailed

Cowshalya; for her heart with grief was loud.

The Wife1

But Sita all the while, unhappy child,  Worshipped propitious gods. Her mind in dreams  August and splendid coronations dwelt  And knew not of that woe. Royal she worshipped,  A princess in her mind and mood, and sat  With expectation thrilled. To whom there came  Rama, downcast and sad, his forehead moist  From inner anguish. Dark with thought and shaken

1. Ayodhya Kanda, Sarga 26-30.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

He entered his august and jubilant halls.

She started from her seat, transfixed, and trembled,

For all the beauty of his face was marred,

Who when he saw his young beloved wife

Endured no longer; all his inner passion

Of tortured pride was opened in his face.

And Sita, shaken, cried aloud, "What grief

Comes in these eyes? Was not today thine hour

When Jupiter, the imperial planet, joins

With Pushya, that high constellation? Why

Art thou then pale, disturbed? Where is thy pomp,

Thy crowning where? No foam-white softness silk

With hundred-shafted canopy o'erhues

Thy kingly head, no fans o'erwave thy face

Like birds that beat their bright wings near a flower;

Minstrel nor orator attends thy steps 

To hymn thy greatness, nor are heralds heard 

Voicing high stanzas. Who has then forbade 

The honeyed curds that Brahmins Veda-wise 

Should pour on thy anointed brow, — the throngs' 

That should behind thee in a glory surge, — 

The ministers and leading citizens 

And peers and commons of the provinces 

And commons metropolitan? Where stays 

Thy chariot by four gold-clad horses drawn, 

Trampling, magnificent, wide-maned? thy huge 

High-omened elephant, a thunder-cloud 

Or moving mountain in thy front? thy seat 

Enriched with curious gold? Such are the high 

Symbols men lead before anointed kings 

Through streets flower-crowned. But thou com'st careless, dumb,

Alone. Or if thy coronation still, 

Hero, prepares and nations for thee wait, 

Wherefore comes this grey face not seen before 

In which there is no joy?" Trembling she hushed.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Then answered her the hope of Raghou's line:

"Sita, my sire exiles me to the woods. 

0 high-born soul, 0 firm religious mind, 

Be strong and hear me. Dussaruth my sire, 

Whose royal word stands as the mountains pledged 

To Bharath's mother boons of old, her choice 

In her selected time, who now prefers 

Athwart the coronation's sacred pomp 

Her just demand; me to the Dundac woods 

For fourteen years exiled and in my stead 

Bharath, my brother, royally elect 

To this wide empire. Therefore I come, to visit 

And clasp thee once, ere to far woods I go. 

But thou before King Bharath speak my name 

Seldom; thou knowest great and wealthy men 

Are jealous and endure not others' praise. 

Speak low and humbly of me when thou speakest

Observing all his moods; for only thus 

Shall man survive against a monarch's brow. 

He is a king, therefore to be observed;

Holy, since by a monarch's sacred hands

Anointed to inviolable rule.

Be patient; thou art wise and good. For I

Today begin exile, Sita, today

Leave thee, 0 Sita. But when I am gone

Into the paths of the ascetics old

Do thou in vows and fasts spend blamelessly

Thy lonely seasons. With the dawn arise

And when thou hast adored the Gods, bow down

Before King Dussaruth, my father, then

Like a dear daughter tend religiously

Cowshalya, my afflicted mother old;

Nor her alone, but all my father's queens 

Gratify with sweet love, smiles, blandishments 

And filial claspings; — they my mothers are, 

Nor than the breasts that suckled me less dear.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

But mostly I would have thee show, beloved, 

To Shatrughna and Bharath, my dear brothers, 

More than my life-blood dear, a sister's love 

And a maternal kindness. Cross not Bharath 

Even slightly in his will. He is thy king, 

Monarch of thee and monarch of our house 

And all this nation. 'Tis by modest awe 

And soft obedience and high toilsome service 

That princes are appeased, but being crossed 

Most dangerous grow the wrathful hearts of kings 

And mischiefs mean. Monarchs incensed reject 

The sons of their own loins who durst oppose 

Their mighty policies, and raise, of birth 

Though vile, the strong and serviceable man. 

Here then obedient dwell unto the King, 

Sita; but I into the woods depart."

He ended, but Videha's daughter, she 

Whose words were ever soft like one whose life 

Is lapped in sweets, now other answer made 

In that exceeding anger born of love, 

Fierce reprimand and high. "What words are these, 

Rama, from thee? What frail unworthy spirit 

Converses with me uttering thoughts depraved, 

Inglorious, full of ignominy, unmeet 

For armed heroical great sons of Kings? 

With alien laughter and amazed today 

I hear the noblest lips in all the world 

Uttering baseness. For father, mother, son, 

Brother or son's wife, all their separate deeds

Enjoying their own separate fates pursue. 

But the wife is the husband's and she has 

Her husband's fate, not any private joy. 

Have they said to thee 'Thou art exiled'? Me 

That doom includes, me too exiles. For neither 

Father nor the sweet son of her own womb

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Nor self, nor mother, nor companion dear

Is woman's sanctuary, only her husband

Whether in this world or beyond is hers.

If to the difficult dim forest then,

Rama, this day thou journeyest, I will walk

Before thee, treading down the thorns^and sharp

Grasses, smoothing with my torn feet thy way;

And henceforth from my bosom as from a cup

Stale water, jealousy and wrath renounce.

Trust me, take me; for, Rama, in this breast

Sin cannot harbour. Heaven, spacious terraces

Of mansions, the aerial gait of Gods

With leave to walk among those distant stars,

Man's winged aspiration or his earth

Of sensuous joys, tempt not a woman's heart;

She chooses at her husband's feet her home.

My father's lap, my mother's knees to me

Were school of morals, Rama; each human law

Of love and service there I learned, nor need

Thy lessons. All things else are wind; I choose

The inaccessible inhuman woods,

The deer's green walk or where the tigers roam,

Life savage with the multitude of beasts,

Dense thickets; there will I dwell in desert ways,

Happier than in my father's lordly house,

A pure-limbed hermitess. How I will tend thee

And watch thy needs, and thinking of no joy

But that warm wifely service and delight

Forget the unneeded world, alone with thee.

We two shall dalliance take in honied groves

And scented springtides. These heroic hands

Can in the forest dangerous protect

Even common men, and will they then not guard

A woman and the noble name of wife?

I go with thee this day, deny who will,

Nor aught shall turn me. Fear not thou lest I

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Should burden thee, since gladly I elect

Life upon fruits and roots, and still before thee

Shall walk, not faltering with fatigue, eat only

Thy remnants after hunger satisfied,

Nor greater bliss conceive. 0 I desire

That life, desire to see the large wide lakes,

The cliffs of the great mountains, the dim tarns,

Not frighted since thou art beside me, and visit

Fair waters swan-beset in lovely bloom.

In thy heroic guard my life shall be

A happy wandering among beautiful things,

For I shall bathe in those delightful pools,

And to thy bosom fast-devoted, wooed

By thy great beautiful eyes, yield and experience

On mountains and by rivers large delight.

Thus if a hundred years should pass or many

Millenniums, yet I should not tire or change,

For wandering so not heaven itself would seem

Desirable, but this were rather heaven.

Rama, Paradise and thou not there

No Paradise were to my mind. I should

Grow miserable and reject the bliss.

I rather mid the gloomy entangled boughs

And sylvan haunts of elephant and ape,

Clasping my husband's feet, intend to lie

Obedient, glad, and feel about me home."

But Rama, though his heart approved her words 

Yeilded not to the entreaty, for he feared 

Her dolour in the desolate woods; therefore " 

Once more he spoke and kissed her brimming eyes.  "

Of a high blood thou comest and thy soul 

Turns naturally to duties high. Now, too, 

Sita, let thy duty be thy guide;

Elect thy husband's will. Thou shouldst obey, 

Sita, my words, who art a woman weak.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

The woods are full of hardship, full of peril,

And 'tis thy ease that I command. Nay, nay,

But listen and this forestward resolve

Thou wilt abandon: Love! for I shall speak

Of fears and great discomforts. There is no pleasure

In the vast woodlands drear, but sorrows, toils,

Wretched privations. Thundering from the hills

The waterfalls leap down, and dreadfully

The mountain lions from their caverns roar

Hurting the ear with sound. This is one pain.

Then in vast solitudes the wild beasts sport

Untroubled, but when they behold men, rage

And savage onset move. Unfordable

Great rivers thick with ooze, the python's haunt,

Or turbid with wild elephants, sharp thorns

Beset with pain and tangled creepers close

The thirsty tedious paths impracticable

That echo with the peacock's startling call.

At night thou must with thine own hands break off

The sun-dried leaves, thy only bed, and lay

Thy worn-out limbs fatigued on the hard ground,

And day or night no kindlier food must ask

Than wild fruit shaken from the trees, arid fast

Near to the limits of thy fragile life,

And wear the bark of trees for raiment, bind

Thy tresses piled in a neglected knot,

And daily worship with large ceremony

New-coming guests and the high ancient dead

And the great deities, and three times 'twixt dawn

And evening bathe with sacred accuracy,

And patiently in all things rule observe.

All these are other hardships of the woods.

Nor at thy ease shalt worship, but must offer

The flowers by thine own labour culled, and deck

The altar with observance difficult,

And be content with little and casual food.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Abstinent is their life who roam in woods,

Mithilan, strenuous, a travail. Hunger

And violent winds and darkness and huge fears

Are their companions. Reptiles of all shapes

Coil numerous where thou walkest, spirited,

Insurgent, and the river-dwelling snakes

That with the river's winding motion go,

Beset thy path, waiting. Fierce scorpions, worms,

Gadflies and gnats continually distress,

And the sharp grasses pierce and thorny trees

With an entangled anarchy of boughs

Oppose. 0 many bodily pains and swift

Terrors the inhabitants in forests know.

They must expel desire and wrath expel,

Austere of mind, who such discomforts choose,

Nor any fear must feel of fearful things.

Dream not of it, 0 Sita; nothing good

The mind recalls in that disastrous life

For thee unmeet; only stern miseries

And toils ruthless and many dangers drear."

Then Sita with the tears upon her face 

Made answer very sad and low: "Many 

Sorrows and perils of that forest life 

Thou hast pronounced, discovered dreadful ills. 

Rama, they are joys if borne for thee, 

For thy dear love, 0 Rama. Tiger or elk, 

The savage lion and fierce forest-bull 

Marsh-jaguars and the creatures of the woods 

And desolate peaks, will from thy path remove 

At unaccustomed beauty terrified. 

Fearless shall I go with thee if my elders 

Allow, nor they refuse, themselves who feel 

That parting from thee, Rama, is a death. 

There is no danger. Hero, at thy side 

Who shall touch me? Not sovran Indra durst,

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Though in his might he master ail the Gods,

Assail me with his thunder-bearing hands.

0 how can woman from her husband's arms

Divorced exist? Thine own words have revealed,

Rama, its sad impossibility.

Therefore my face is set towards going, for I

Preferring that sweet service of my lord,

Following my husband's feet, surely shall grow

All purified by my exceeding love.

0 thou great heart and pure, what joy is there

But thy nearness? To me my husband is

Heaven and God. 0 even when I am dead

A bliss to me will be my lord's embrace.

Yea, thou who know'st, wilt thou, forgetful grown

Of common joys and sorrows sweetly shared,

The faithful heart reject, reject the love?

Thou carest nothing then for Sita's tears?

Go! poison or the water or the fire

Shall yield me sanctuary, importuning death."

Thus while she varied passionate appeal 

And her sweet miserable eyes with tears 

Swam over, he her wrath and terror and grief 

Strove always to appease. But she alarmed, 

Great Junac's daughter. Princess Mithilan

Her woman's pride of love all wounded, shook 

From her the solace of his touch and weeping 

Assailed indignantly her mighty lord. 

"Surely my father erred, great Mithila 

Who rules and the Videhas, that he chose 

Thee with his line to mate, Rama unworthy, 

No man but woman in a male disguise. 

What casts thee down, wherefore art thou then sad, 

That thou art bent thus basely to forsake 

Thy single-hearted wife? Not Savitri 

So loved the hero Dyumathsena's son

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

As I love thee and from my soul adore.

I would not, like another woman, shame

Of her great house, turn even in thought from thee

To watch a second face; for where thou goest

My heart follows. Tis thou, 0 shame! 'tis thou

Who thy young wife and pure, thy boyhood's bride

And bosom's sweet companion, like an actor,

Resign'st to others. If thy heart so pant

To be his slave for whom thou art oppressed,

Obey him thou, court, flatter, for I will not.

Alas, my husband, leave me not behind,

Forbid me not from exile. Whether harsh

Asceticism in the forest drear

Or paradise my lot, either is bliss

From thee not parted, Rama. How can I,

Guiding in thy dear steps my feet, grow tired

Though journeying endlessly? as well might one

Weary, who on a bed of pleasure lies.

The bramble-bushes in our common path,

The bladed grasses and the pointed reeds

Shall be as pleasant to me as the touch

Of cotton or of velvet, being with thee.

And when the storm-blast rises scattering

The thick dust over me, I, feeling then

My dear one's hand, shall think that I am smeared

With sandal-powder highly-priced. Or when

From grove to grove upon the grass I lie,

In couches how is there more soft delight

Or rugs of brilliant wool? The fruits of trees,

Roots of the earth or leaves, whate'er thou bring,

Be it much or little, being by thy hands

Gathered, I shall account ambrosial food,

I shall not once remember, being with thee,

Father or mother dear or my far home.

Nor shall thy pains by my companionship

Be greatened; doom me not to parting, Rama.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

For only where thou art is Heaven; 'tis Hell

Where thou art not. 0 thou who know'st my love,

If thou canst leave me, poison still is left

To be my comforter. I will not bear

Their yoke who hate thee. And if today I shunned

Swift solace, grief at length would do its work

With torments slow. How should the broken heart

That once has beaten on thine, absence endure

Ten years and three to these and yet one more?"

So writhing in the fire of grief, she wound

Her body about her husband, fiercely silent,

Or sometimes wailed aloud; as a wild beast

That maddens with the fire-tipped arrows, such

Her grief ungovernable and like the streams

Of fire from its stony prison freed,

Her quick hot tears, or as when the whole river

From new-culled lilies weeps, — those crystal brooks

Of sorrow poured from her afflicted lids.

And all the moonlight glories of her face

Grew dimmed and her large eyes vacant of joy.

But he revived her with sweet words: "Weep not;

If I could buy all heaven with one tear

Of thineSita, I would not pay the price,

My Sita, my beloved. Nor have I grown,

I who have stood like God by nature planted

High above any cause of fear, so suddenly

Familiar with alarm. Only I knew not

Thy sweet and resolute courage, and for thee

Dreaded the misery that sad exiles feel.

But since to share my exile and o'erthrow

God first created thee, 0 Mithilan,

Sooner shall high serenity divorce

From the self-conquering heart, than thou from me

Be parted. Fixed I stand in my resolve

Who follow ancient virtue and the paths

Of the old perfect dead; ever my face

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Turns steadfast to that radiant goal, self-vowed 

Its sunflower. To the drear wilderness I go. 

My father's stainless honour points me on, 

His oath that must not fail. This is the old 

Religion, brought from dateless ages down, 

Parents to honour and obey; their will 

Should I transgress, I would not wish to live. 

For how shall man with homage or with prayer 

Approach the distant Deity, yet scorn 

A present godhead, father, mother, sage? 

In these man's triple objects live, in these 

The triple world is bounded, nor than these 

Has all wide earth one holier thing. Large eyes, 

These therefore let us worship. Truth or gifts, 

Or Honour or liberal proud sacrifice, 

Nought equals the effectual force and pure 

Of worship filial done. This all bliss brings, 

Compels all gifts, compels harvests and wealth, 

Knowledge compels and children. All these joys 

And human boons great filial souls on earth 

Recovering here enjoy, and in that world 

Heaven naturally is theirs. But me whatever, 

In the strict path of virtue while he stands, 

My father bids, my heart bids that. I go, 

But not alone, o'ercome by thy sweet soul's 

High courage. 0 intoxicating eyes, 

0 faultless limbs, go with me, justify 

The wife's proud name, partner in virtue. Love, 

Warm from thy great high-blooded lineage old 

Thy purpose springing mates with the pure strain 

Of Raghou's ancient house. 0 let thy large 

And lovely motion forestward make speed 

High ceremonies to absolve. Heaven's joys 

Without thee now were beggarly and rude. 

Haste then, the Brahmin and the pauper feed 

And to their blessings answer jewels. All

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Our priceless diamonds and our splendid robes, 

Our curious things, our couches and our cars, 

The glory and the eye's delight, do these 

Renounce, nor let our faithful servants lose 

Their worthy portion." Sita, of that consent 

So hardly won sprang joyous, as on fire, 

Disburdened of her wealth, lightly to wing 

Into dim wood and wilderness unknown.


Canto One1

The Book of the Wild Forest

Then, possessing his soul, Rama entered the great forest,  the forest Dundac with difficulty approachable by men  and beheld a circle there of hermitages of ascetic men;

a refuge for all living things, with ever well-swept courts and  strewn with many forms of beasts and swarming with compa-  nies of birds and holy, high and temperate sages graced those  homes. The high of energy approached them unstringing first  his mighty bow and they beholding him like a rising moon with  wonder in their looks gazed at the fabric of his beauty'and its  glory and softness and garbed grace and at Vaidehie too with  unfailing eyelids they gazed and Luxman; for they were things  of amazement to those dwellers in the woods. Great-natured  sages occupied in doing good to all living things, they made  him sit a guest in their leafy home and burning with splendour  of soul like living fires they offered him guest-worship due and  presented all things of auspice, full of high gladness in the act,  roots, flowers and fruits they gave, yea, all the hermitage they

1. Aranya Kanda, Sarga 2, 1-25.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

laid at the feet of Rama. And high-souled, learned in righteous-  ness they said to him with outstretched and upward folded  palms: "For that he is the keeper of the virtue of all this folk,  a refuge and a mighty fame, high worship and honour are the  king's, and he holds the staff of justice and is reverent to all.  Of Indra's self he is the fourth part and protects the people. 0  seed of Raghou, therefore he enjoys noble and beautiful pleasures and to him men bow down. Thou shouldst protect us,  then, dwellers in thy dominions; for whether the city hold thee  or the wilderness, still art thou the king and the master of the  folk. But we, 0 king, have laid by the staff of offence, we have  put anger from us and the desire of the senses and 'tis thou  must protect us always, ascetics rich in austerity but helpless  as children in the womb."'

Canto Two1

 Now when he had taken of their hospitality, Rama towards  the rising of the sun took farewell of all these seers and plunged  into mere forest scattered through with many beasts of the  chase and haunted by the tiger and the bear. There he and  Luxman following him, saw a desolation in the midmost of that  wood, for blasted were tree and creeper and bush and water  was nowhere to be seen, but the forest was full of the screaming of vultures and rang with the crickets' cry. And walking with  Sita there Cacootstha in that haunt of fierce wild beasts beheld  the appearance like a mountain peak and heard the thundering roar of an eater of men; deep set were his eyes and huge  his face, hideous was he and hideous bellied, horrid, rough and  tall, deformed and dreadful to the gaze and wore a tiger's skin  .moist with fat and streaked with gore, a terror to all creatures  even as death the ender when he comes with yawning mouth.  Three lions,, four tigers, two wolves, ten spotted deer and the

1. Aranya Kanda, Sarga 1, 1-21.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

huge fat-smeared head of an elephant with its tusks he had  stuck up on an iron spit and roared with a mighty sound. As  soon as he saw Rama and Luxman and Sita Maithili he ran upon  them in sore wrath like Death the ender leaping on the nations.  And with a terrible roar that seemed to shake the earth he took  Vaidehie up in his arms and moved away and said, "You who  wearing the ascetic's cloth and matted locks, 0 ye whose lives  are short, yet with a wife have you entered Dundac woods and  you bear the arrow, sword and bow, how is this that you being  anchorites hold your dwelling with a woman's beauty? Workers  of unrighteousness, who are ye, evil men, disgrace to the garb  of the seer? I Viradha the Rakshasa range armed these tangled  woods eating the flesh of the sages. This woman with the noble  hips shall be my spouse, but as for you, I will drink in battle your  sinful blood." Evil-souled Viradha speaking thus wicked words,  Sita heard his haughty speech, alarmed she shook in herapprehension as a plantain trembles in the storm-wind. The son of  Raghou seeing the beautiful Sita in Viradha's arms said to Luxman, his face drying up with grief, "Behold, 0 my brother, the  daughter ofJanak, lord of men, my wife of noble life taken into  Viradha's arms, the king's daughter high-splendoured and nurtured in utter ease! The thing Kaikeyie desired, the thing dear to  her that she chose for a gift, how quickly today, 0 Luxman, has it  been utterly fulfilled, she whose foresight was not satisfied with  the kingdom for her son, but she sent me, beloved of all beings  to the wild woods. Now today she has her desire, thaf middle  mother of mine. For no worse grief can befall me than that another should touch Vaidehie and that my father should perish  and my own kingdom be wrested from my hands." SoCacootstha  spoke and Luxman answered him, his eyes filled with the rush of  grief, panting like a furious snake controlled, "0 thou who art like  Indra and the protector of this world's creatures, why dost thou  afflict thyself as if thou wert one who has himself no protector,  even though I am here, the servant of thy will? Today shall the  Rakshasa be slain by my angry shaft and Earth drink the blood  ofViradha dead. (The wrath that was born in me against Bharat

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

for his lust of rule, I will loose upon Viradha as the Thunderer  hurls his bolt against a hill.)"

Canto Three1

Then Viradha spoke yet again and filled the forest with his  voice.

 "Answer to my questioning, who are ye and whither do ye  go?" And Rama answered to the Rakshasa with his mouth of  fire, in his pride of strength he answered his questioning and  declared his birth in Ikshwaku's line. "Kshatriyas accomplished  in virtue know us to be, farers in this forest, but of thee we  would know who thou art that rangest Dundac woods." And to  Rama of enormous might Viradhamade reply: "Java's son am  I, Shatahrida was my dam and Viradha am I called by all Rakshasas on earth ..."



The Slaying of Dhumraksha2

Loud in their gladness and the lust 'of fight 

Shouted the forest-host when they beheld 

The dreadful Rakshas coming forth to war, 

Dhumraksha; loud the noise of mellay clashed, 

Giants and Apes with tree and spear and mace 

Smiting their foemen. For the Giants hewed 

Their dread opponents earthward everywhere, 

And they too with the trunks of trees bore down 

Their monstrous foes and levelled with the dust. 


 Sri Aurobindo, Translations, Vol.8, SABCL


1. Aranya Kanda, Sarga 3, 1-5.

2. Yuddha Kanda, Sarga 52, 1-4.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana


Letters of Sri Aurobindo on Sri Rama

I am rather perplexed by your strictures on Rama. Cowardice is the last thing that can be charged against Valmiki's  Rama; he has always been considered as a warrior and it  is the "martial races" of India who have made him their god.  Valmiki everywhere paints him as a great warrior. His employment of ruse against an infrahuman enemy does not prove  the opposite — for that is always how the human (even great  warriors and hunters) has dealt with the infrahuman. I think  it is Madhusudan who has darkened Valmiki's hero in Bengali  eyes and turned him into a poor puppet, but that is not the  authentic Rama who, say what one will, was a great epic figure — Avatar or no Avatar. As for conventional morality, all morality is a convention — man cannot live without conventions,  mental and moral, otherwise he feels himself lost in the rolling  sea of the anarchic forces of the vital Nature. Even the Russells and Bernard Shaws can only end by setting up another  set of conventions in the place of those they have skittled over.  Only by rising above mind can one really get beyond conventions — Krishna was able to do it because he was not a mental human being but an overmental godhead acting freely out  of a greater consciousness than man's. Rama was not that,  he was the Avatar of the sattwic mind -— mental, emotional,  moral — and he followed the Dharma of the age and race. That  may make him temperamentally congenial to Gandhi and the

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

reverse to you; but just as Gandhi's temperamental recoil from  Krishna does not prove Krishna to be no Avatar, so your tem-  peramental recoil from Rama does not establish that he was  not an Avatar. However, my main point will be that Avatarhood  does not depend upon these questions at all, but has another  basis, meaning and purpose.

* * *

I have no intention of entering into a supreme defence of  Rama — I only entered into the points about Bali etc. because  these are usually employed nowadays to belittle him as a great  personality on the usual level. But from the point of view of  Avatarhood I would no more think of defending his moral perfection according to modern standards than I would think of  defending Napoleon or Caesar against the moralists or the  democratic critics or the debunkers in order to prove that they  were VibhutisVibhuti, Avatar are terms which have their own  meaning and scope, and they are not concerned with morality  or immorality, perfection or imperfection according to small hu-  man standards or setting an example to men or showing new  moral attitudes or giving new spiritual teachings. These may  or may not be done, but they are not at all the essence of the  matter.

Also, I do not consider your method of dealing with the  human personality of Rama to be the right one. It has to be  taken as a whole in the setting that Valmiki gave it (not treated  as if it were the story of a modern man) with the significance  that he gave to his hero's personality, deeds and works. If it  is pulled out of its setting and analysed under the dissecting  knife of a modern ethical mind, it loses all its significance at  once. Krishna so treated becomes a debauchee and trickster  who no doubt did great things in politics — but so did Rama in  war. Achilles and Odysseus pulled out of their setting become,  one a furious egoistic savage, and the other a cruel and cunning savage. I consider myself under an obligation to enter into

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

the spirit, significance, atmosphere of the Mahabharata, Iliad,  Ramayana and identify myself with their time-spirit before I  can feel what their heroes were in themselves apart from the  details of their outer actions.

As for the Avatarhood, I accept it for Rama because he fills  a place in the scheme — and seems to me to fill it rightly —  and because when I read the Ramayana I feel a great afflatus  which Irecognise and which makes of its story — mere faery-  tale though it seems — a parable of a great critical transitional  event that happened in the terrestrial evolution and gives to  the main character's personality and action a significance of  the large typical cosmic kind which these actions would not  have had if they 'had been done by another man in another  scheme of events. The Avatar is not bound to do extraordinary  actions, but he is bound to give his acts or his work or what he  is — any of these or all — a significance and an effective power  that are part of something essential to be done in the history  of the earth and its races.

All the same, if anybody does not see as I do and wants  to eject Rama from his place,. I have no objection — I have  no particular partiality for Rama — provided somebody is put  in who can more worthily fill up the gap his absence leaves.  There was somebody there, Valmiki's Rama or another Rama or  somebody not Rama.

Also I do not mean that I admit the validity of your remarks  about Rama, even taken as a piecemeal criticism, but that I  have no time for today. I maintain my position about the killing  of Bali and the banishment of Sita — in spite of Ball's preliminary objection to the procedure, afterwards retracted, and in  spite of the opinion of Rama's relatives, necessarily from the  point of view of the antique dharma — not from that of any  universal moral standard — which besides does not exist, since  the standard changes according to clime or age.

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

No, certainly not—an Avatar is not at all bound to be a spiritual prophet — he is never in fact merely a prophet, he is a  realiser, an establisher — not of outward things only, though he  does realisesomething in the outward also, but, as I have said,  of something essential and radical needed for the terrestial  evolution which is the evolution of the embodied spirit through  successive stages towards the Divine. It was not at all Rama's  business to establish the spiritual stage of that evolution — so  he did not at all concern himself with that. His business was  to destroy Ravana and to establish the Rama rajya— in other  words, to fix for the future the possibility of an order proper to  the sattwic civilised human being who governs his life by the  reason, the finer emotions, morality, or at least moral ideals,  such as truth, obedience, co-operation and harmony, the sense  of domestic and public order, — to establish this in a world still  occupied by anarchic forces, the Animal mind and the powers  of the vital Ego making its own satisfaction the rule of life, in  other words, the Vanara and the Rakshasa. This is the meaning  of Rama and his life-work and it is according as he fulfilled it  or not that he must be judged as Avatar or no Avatar. It was  not his business to play the comedy of the chivalrous Kshatriya  with the formidable brute beast that was Bali, it was his busi-  ness to kill him and get the Animal under his control. It was his  business to be not necessarily a perfect, but a largely representative sattwic Man, a faithful husband and a lover, a loving and  obedient son, a tender and perfect brother, father, friend — he  is friend of all kinds of people, friend of the outcast Guhaka,  friend of the Animal leaders, Sugriva, Hanuman, friend of the  vulture Jatayu, friend of even the Rakshasa Vibhishana. All that  he was in a brilliant, striking but above all spontaneous and  inevitable way, not with forcing of this note or that like Harishchandra or Shivi, but with a certain harmonious complete-  ness. But most of all, it was his business to typify and establish  the things on which the social idea and its stability depend,  truth and honour, the sense of the Dharma, public spirit and  the sense of order. To the first, truth and honour,much more

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

than to his filial love and obedience to his father — though to  that also — he sacrificed his personal rights as the elect of the  King and the assembly and fourteen of the best years of his life  and went into exile in the forests. To his public spirit and his  sense of public order (the great and supreme civic virtue in the  eyes of the ancient Indians, Greeks, Romans, for at that time  the maintenance of the ordered community, not the separate  development and satisfaction of the individual was the pressing  need of the human evolution) he sacrificed his own happiness  and domestic life and the happiness of Sita. In that he was at  one with the moral sense of all the antique races, though at  variance with the later romantic individualistic sentimental morality of the modern man who can afford to have that less stern  morality just because the ancients sacrificed the individual in  order to make the world safe for the spirit of social order. Finally, it was Rama's business to make the world safe for the  ideal of the sattwic human being by destroying the sovereignty  of Ravana, the Rakshasa menace. All this he did with such a  divine afflatus in his personality and action that his figure has  been stamped for more than two millenniums on the mind of  Indian culture, and what he stood for has dominated the reason and idealising mind of man in all countries, and in spite of  the constant revolt of the human vital, is likely to continue to  do so until a greater ideal arises. And you say in spite of all  these that he was no Avatar? If you like — but at any rate he  stands among the few greatest Vibhutis. You may dethrone him  now — for man is no longer satisfied with the sattwic ideal and  is seeking for something more — but his work and meaning  remain stamped on the past of the earth's evolving race. When  I spoke of the gap that would be left by his absence, I did not  mean a gap among the prophets and intellectuals, but a gap in  the scheme of Avatarhood—there was somebody who was the  Avatar of the sattwic Human as Krishna was the Avatar of the  overmental Superhuman — I see no one but Rama who can fill  the place. Spiritual teachers and prophets (as also intellectuals, scientists, artists, poets, etc.) — these are at the greatest


Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Vibhutis, but they are not Avatars. For at that rate all religious  founders would be Avatars — Joseph Smith (I think that is his  name) of the Mormons, St. Francis of Assisi, Calvin, Loyola and  a host of others as well as Christ, Chaitanya or Ramakrishna.

For faith, miracles, Bejoy Goswami, another occasion. I  wanted to say this much more about Rama — which is still only  a hint and is not the thing I was going to write about the general principle of Avatarhood.

Nor, may I add, is it a complete or supreme defence of Rama.  For that I would have to write about what the story of the Ramayana meant, appreciate Valmiki's presentation of his chief  characters (they are none of them copy-book examples, but  great men and women with the defects and merits of human  nature, as all men even the greatest are), and show also how  the Godhead, which was behind the frontal and instrumental  personality we call Rama, worked out every incident of his life  as a necessary step in what had to be done. As to the weeping  Rama, I had answered that in my other unfinished letter. You  are imposing the colder and harder Nordic ideal on the Southern temperament which regarded the expression of emotions,  not its suppression, as a virtue. Witness the weeping and lamentationsof Achilles, Ulysses and other great heroes, Persian  and Indian — the latter especially as lovers.

* * *

... As for the unconscious Avatar, why not? Chaitanya is supposed to be an Avatar by the Vaishnavas, yet he was conscious  of the Godhead behind only when that Godhead came in front  and possessed him on rare occasions. Christ said "I and my father are one," but yet he always spoke and behaved as if there  were a difference. Ramakrishna's earlier period was that of one  seeking God, not aware from the first of his identity. These are  the reputed religious Avatars who ought to be more conscious  than a man of action like Rama. And supposing the full and permanent  

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

consciousness, why should the Avatar proclaim himself  except on rare occasions to an Arjuna or to a few bhaktas or  disciples? It is for others to find out what he is; though he does  not deny when others speak of him as That, he is not always  saying and perhaps never may say or only in moments like that  of the Gita, "I am He."

* * *

No time for a full answer to your renewed remarks on Rama  tonight. You are intrigued only because you stick to the modern  standard, modern measuring-rods of moral and spiritual perfection(introduced by Seely and Bankim) for the Avatar — while  I start from another standpoint altogether and resolutely refuse  these standard human measures. The ancient Avatars except  Buddha were not either standards of perfection or spiritual  teachers in spite of the Gita which was spoken, says Krishna, in  a moment of supernormal consciousness which he lost immediately afterwards. They were, if I may say so, representative  cosmic men who were instruments of a divine Intervention for  fixing certain things in the evolution of the earth-race. I stick to  that and refuse to submit myself in this argument to any other  standard whatever.

I did not admit that Rama was a blind Avatar, but offered  you two alternatives of which the latter represents my real  view founded on the impression made on me by the Ramayana  that Rama knew very well but refused to be talkative about it  — his business being not to disclose the Divine but to fix mental, moral and emotional man (not to originate him, for he was  there already) on the earth as against the Animal and the Rakshasa forces. My argument from Chaitanya (who was for most  of the time to his own outward consciousness first a pandit and  then a bhakta, but only occasionally the Divine himself) is per-  fectly rational and logical, if you follow my line and don't insist  on a high specifically spiritual consciousness for the Avatar. I

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

shall point out what I mean in my next.

By sattwic man I do not mean a moral or an always self-con-  trolled one, but a predominantly mental (as opposed to a vital  or merely physical man) who has rajasic emotions and passions, but lives predominantly according to his mind and its will  and ideas. There is no such thing, I suppose, as a purely sattwic man — since the three gunas go always together in a state  of unstable equilibrium — but a predominantly sattwic man is  what I have described. My impression of Rama from Valmiki is  such — it is quite different from yours. I am afraid your picture  of him is quite out of focus — you efface the main lines of the  characters, belittle and brush out all the lights to which Valmiki  gave so much value and prominence and hammer always at  some details and some parts of shadow which you turn into the  larger part of Rama. That is what the debunkers do — but a  debunked figure is not the true figure.

By the way, a sattwic man can have a strong passion and  strong anger — and when he lets the latter loose, the normally  vicious fellow is simply nowhere. Witness the outbursts of anger of Christ, the indignation of Chaitanya — and the general  evidence of experience and psychology on that point.

The trait of Rama which you give as that of an undeveloped  man, viz., his decisive spontaneous action according to the will  and the idea that came to him, is a trait of the cosmic man and  manyVibhutif, men of action of the large Caesarean or Napoleonic type.

* * *

When I said, "Why not an unconscious Avatar?" I was taking your statement (not mine) that Rama was unconscious and  how could there be an unconscious Avatar. My own view is  that Rama was not blind, not unconscious of his Avatarhood,  only uncommunicative about it. But I said that even taking  your statement to be correct, the objection was not insuper  

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

able. I instanced the case of Chaitanya and the others, because  there the facts are hardly disputable. Chaitanya for the first  part of his life was simply Nimai Pandit and had no consciousness of being anything else. Then he had his conversion and  became the bhakta Chaitanya. This bhakta at times seemed  to be possessed by the presence of Krishna, knew himself to  be Krishna, spoke, moved and appeared with the light of the  Godhead — none around him could think of or see him as  anything else when he was in this glorified and transfigured  condition. But from that he fell back to the ordinary conscious-  ness of the bhakta and, as I have read in his biography, refused  then to consider himself as anything more. These, I think, are  the facts. Well, then what do they signify? Was he only Nimai Pandit at first? It is quite conceivable that he was so and the  descent of the Godhead into him only took place after his conversion and spiritual change. But also afterwards when he was  in his normalbhakta-consciousness, was he then no longer the  Avatar? An intermittent Avatarhood? Krishna coming down for  an afternoon call into Chaitanya and then going up again till  the time came for the next visit? I find it difficult to believe in  this phenomenon. The rational explanation is that in the phenomenon of Avatarhood there is a Consciousness behind, at  first veiled or sometimes perhaps half-veiled which is that of  the Godhead and a frontal consciousness, human or apparently  human or at any rate with all the appearance of terrestriality  which is the instrumental personality. In that case, it is possible  that the secret Consciousness was all along there, but waited to  manifest until after the conversion and it manifested intermittently because the main work of Chaitanya was to establish the  type of a spiritual and psychicbhakti and love in the emotional  vital part of man, preparing the vital in us in that way to turn  towards the Divine — at any rate, to fix that possibility in the  earth-nature. It was not that there had not been the emotional  type of bhakti before; but the completeness of it, the elan, the  vital's rapture in it had never manifested as it manifested in  Chaitanya. But for that work it would never have done if he had

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

always been in the Krishna consciousness; he would have been  the Lord to whom all gave bhakti, but not the supreme example  of the divine ecstatic bhakta. But still the occasional manifestation showed who he was and at the same time evidenced the  mystic law of the Immanence,

Voila — for Chaitanya. But, if Chaitanya, the frontal consciousness, the instrumental personality, was all the time the  Avatar, yet except in his highest moments was unconscious of it  and even denied it, that pushed a little farther would establish  the possibility of what you call an unconscious Avatar, that is to  say, of one in which the veiled consciousness might not come  in front but always move the instrumental personality from behind. The frontal consciousness might be aware in the inner  parts of its being that it was only an instrument of something  Divine which was its real Self, but outwardly would think, speak  and behave as if it were only the human being doing a given  work with a peculiar power and splendour. Whether there was  such an Avatar or not is another matter, but logically it is possible.

— Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Vol. 22, SABCL,

                                                                 pp. 413-21


Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana


Sri Aurobindo on Valmiki and Vyasa

A Comparison

Vyasa in fact stands at the opposite pole from Valmiki. The  poet of the Ramayana has a flexible and universal genius  embracing the Titanic and the divine, the human and  the gigantic at once or with an inspired ease of transition. But  Vyasa is unmixed Olympian, he lives in a world of pure verse  and diction, enjoying his own heaven of golden clearness. We  have seen what are the main negative qualities of the style; pureness, strength, grandeur of intellect and personality are its  positive virtues. It is the expression of a pregnant and forceful  mind, in which the idea is sufficient to itself, conscious of its  own intrinsic greatness; when this mind runs in the groove of  narrative or emotion, the style wears an air of high and pellucid  ease in the midst of which its strenuous compactness and brevity moves and lives as a saving and strengthening spirit; but  when it begins to think rapidly and profoundly, as often happens in the great speeches, it is apt to leave the hearer behind; sufficient to itself, thinking quickly, briefly and greatly, it does  not care to pause on its own ideas or explain them at length,  but speaks as it thinks, in a condensed often elliptical style,  preferring to indicate rather than expatiate, often passing over  the steps by which it should arrive at the idea and hastening  to the idea itself; often it is subtle and multiplies many shades  and ramifications of thought in a short compass. From this  arises that frequent knottiness and excessive compression of

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

logical sequence, that appearance of elliptical and sometimes  obscure expression, which so struck the ancient critics in Vyasa  and which they expressed in the legend that when dictating  the Mahabharata toGanesha — for it was Ganesha's stipulation that not for one moment should he be left without matter  to write — the poet in order not to be outstripped by his divine  scribe threw in frequently knotty and close-knit passages which  forced the lightning swift hand to pause and labour slowly over  the work. To a strenuous mind these passages are, from the  exercise they give to the intellect, an added charm, just as a  mountain climber takes an especial delight in steep ascents  which let him feel his ability. Of one thing, however, we may be  confident in reading Vyasa that the expression will always be  just to the thought; he never palters with or labours to dress  up the reality within him. For the rest we must evidently trace  this peculiarity to the compact, steep and sometimes elliptical,  but always strenuous diction of the Upanishads in which the  mind of the poet was trained and his personality tempered.  At the same time, like the Upanishads themselves or like the  enigmatic Aeschylus, he can be perfectly clear, precise and full  whenever he chooses; and he more often chooses than not.  His expression of thought is usually strong and abrupt, his expression of fact and of emotion strong and precise. His verse  has similar peculiarities. It is a golden and equable stream that  sometimes whirls itself into eddies or dashes upon rocks, but  it always runs in harmony with the thought. Vyasa has not Valmiki's movement as of the sea, the wide and unbroken surge  with its infinite variety of waves, which enables him not only  to find in the facile anustup metre a sufficient vehicle for his  vast and ambitious work but to maintain it throughout without  its palling or losing its capacity of adjustment to ever-varying  moods and turns of narrative. But in his narrower limits and  on the level of his lower flight Vyasa has great subtlety and  fineness. Especially admirable is his use, in speeches, of broken effects such as would in less skilful hands have become  veritable discords; and again in narrative of the simplest and

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

barest metrical movements, as in the opening Sarga of the  Sabhaparva, to create certain calculated effects. But it would  be idle to pretend for him any equality as a master of verse  with Valmiki. When he has to rise from his levels to express  powerful emotion, grandiose eloquence or swift and sweeping  narrative, he cannot always effect it in the anustup metre; he  falls back more often than not on the rolling magnificence of  the tristup (and its variations) which best sets and ennobles his  strong-winged austerity....

A comparison with Valmiki is instructive of the varying genius of these great masters. Both excel in epical rhetoric, if  such a term as rhetoric can be applied to Vyasa's direct and  severe style, butVyasa's has the air of a more intellectual,  reflective and experienced stage of poetical advance. The longer speeches in the Ramayana, those even which have most  the appearance of set, argumentative oration, proceed straight  from the heart, the thoughts, words, reasonings come welling up from the dominant emotion or conflicting feeling of the  speaker; they palpitate and are alive with the vital force from  which they have sprung. Though belonging to a more thoughtful, gentle and cultured civilisation than Homer's, they have,  like his, the large utterance which is not of primitive times,  but of the primal emotions.Vyasa's have a powerful but austere force of intellectuality. In expressing character they firmly  expose it rather than spring half-unconsciously from it; their  bold and finely planned consistency with the original conception reveals rather the conscientious painstaking of an inspired  but reflective artist than the more primary and impetuous creative impulse. In their management of emotion itself a similar  difference becomes prominent. Valmiki, when giving utterance  to a mood or passion simple or complex, surcharges every line,  every phrase, turn of words or movement of verse with it; there  are no lightning flashes but a great depth of emotion swelling steadily, inexhaustibly and increasingly in a wonder of sustained feeling, like a continually rising wave with low crests of  foam. Vyasa has a high level of style with a subdued emotion

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

behind it occasionally breaking into poignant outbursts. It is by  sudden beauties that he rises above himself and not only exalts, stirs and delights us at his ordinary level, but memorably  seizes the heart and imagination. This is the natural result of  the peculiarly disinterested art which never seeks out anything  striking for its own sake, but admits it only when it arises uncalled from the occasion.

Vyasa is therefore less broadly human than Valmiki, he is  at the same time a wider and more original thinker. His su-  preme intellect arises everywhere out of the mass of insipid or  turbulent redaction and interpolation with bare and grandiose  outlines. A wide searching mind, historian, statesman, orator,  a deep and keen looker into ethics and conduct, a subtle and  high-aiming politician, theologian and philosopher, it is not for  nothing that Hindu imagination makes the name of Vyasa loom  so large in the history of Aryan thought and attributes to him  work so important and manifold. The wideness of the man's  intellectual empire is evident throughout the work; we feel the  presence of the great Rishi, the original thinker who has en-  larged the boundaries of ethical and religious outlook.

Modern India since the Musulman advent has accepted the  politics of Chanakya in preference to Vyasa's. Certainly there  was little in politics concealed from that great and sinister spir-  it. Yet Vyasaperhaps knew its subtleties quite as well, but he  had to ennoble and guide him a high ethical aim and an august  imperial idea. He did not, like European imperialism, unable  to rise above the idea of power, accept the Jesuitic doctrine  of any means to a good end, still less justify the goodness of  the end by that profession of an utterly false disinterestedness  which ends in the soothing belief that plunder, arson, outrage  and massacre are committed for the good of the slaughtered  nation. Vyasa's imperialism frankly accepts war and empire as  the result of man's natural lust for power and dominion, but de-  mandsthat empire should be won by noble and civilized meth-  ods, not in the spirit of the savage, and insists, once it is won,  not on its powers, but on its duties. Valmiki too has included

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

politics in his wide sweep; his picture of an ideal imperialism  is sound and noble and the spirit of the Koshalan Ikshwakus  that monarchy must be broad-based on the people's will and  yet broader-based on justice, truth and good government, is  admirably developed as an undertone of the poem. But it is  an undertone only, not as in the Mahabharata its uppermost  and weightiest drift. Valmiki's approach to politics is imaginative, poetic, made from outside. He is attracted to it by the  unlimited curiosity of an universal mind and still more by the  appreciation of a great creative artist; only therefore when it  gives opportunities for a grandiose imagination or is mingled  with the motives of conduct and acts on character. He is a poet  who makes occasional use of public affairs as part of his wide  human subject. The reverse may, with some appearance of  truth, be said of Vyasa that he is interested in human action  and character mainly as they move and work in relation to a  large political background.

From this difference in temper and mode of expression arises  a difference in the mode also of portraying character. Vyasa's  knowledge of character is not so intimate, emotional and sym-  pathetic asValmiki's; it has more of a heroic inspiration, less  of a divine sympathy. He has reached it not like Valmiki immediately through the heart and imagination, but deliberately  through intellect and experience, a deep criticism and reading  of men; the spirit of shaping imagination has come afterwards  like a sculptor using the materials labour has provided for him.  It has not been a light leading him into the secret places of the  heart. Nevertheless the characterisation, however reached, is  admirable and firm. It is the fruit of a lifelong experience, the  knowledge of a statesman who has had much to do with the  ruling of men and has been himself a considerable part in some  great revolution full of astonishing incidents and extraordinary  characters. With that high experience his brain and his soul are  full. It has cast his imagination into colossal proportions, provided him with majestic conceptions which can dispense with  all but the simplest language for expression; for they are so

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

great that the bare precise statement of what is said and done  seems enough to make language epical. His character-drawing  indeed is more epical, less psychological than Valmiki's. Truth  of speech and action gives us the truth of nature and it is done  with strong purposeful strokes that have the power to move the  heart and enlarge and ennoble the imagination which is what  we mean by the epic in poetry. In Valmiki there are marvellous  and revealing touches which show us the secret something in  character usually beyond the expressive power either of speech  and action; they are touches oftener found in the dramatic  artist than the epic, and seldom fall within Vyasa's method.  It is the difference between a strong and purposeful artistic  synthesis and the beautiful, subtle and involute symmetry of  an organic existence evolved and inevitable rather than shaped  and purposed.....

But Vyasa has not only a high political and religious thought  and deep-seeing ethical judgments, he deals not only with the  massive aspects and world-wide issues of human conduct, but  has a keen eye for the details of government and society, the  ceremonies, forms and usages, the religious and social order  on the due stability of which public welfare is grounded. The  principles of good government and the motives and impulses  that move men to public action, no less than the rise and fall  of States and the clash of mighty personalities and great powers form, incidentally and epically treated, the staple ofVyasa's  epic. The poem was therefore, first and foremost, like the Iliad  and Aeneid and even more than the Iliad and Aeneid, national  — a poem in which the religious, social and personal temperamentand ideals of the Aryan nation have found a high ex-  pression and the institutions, actions and heroes in the most  critical period of its history received the judgments and criticisms of one of its greatest and soundest minds. If this had not  been so we should not have had the Mahabharata in its present  form. Valmiki had also dealt with a great historical period in a  yet more universal spirit and with finer richness of detail, but  he approached it in a poetic and dramatic manner, he created

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

rather than criticised; while Vyasa in his manner was the critic  far more than the creator. Hence later poets found it easier and  more congenial to introduce their criticisms of life and thought  into the Mahabharata than into the Ramayana. Vyasa's poem  has been increased to threefold its original size; the additions  to Valmiki, few in themselves if we set apart the Uttara Kanda,  have been immaterial and for the most part of an accidental  nature.

Gifted with such poetical powers, limited by such intellectual and emotional characteristics, endowed with such gran-  deur of soul and severe purity of taste, what was the special  work which Vyasadid for his country and in what, beyond the  ordinary elements of poetical treatise, lies his claim to world-  wide acceptance? It has been suggested already that the Ma-  habharata is the great national poem of India. It is true the  Ramayana also represents an Aryan civilisation idealisedRama  and Sita are more intimately characteristic types of the Hindu  temperament as it finally shaped itself than are Arjunaand  Draupadi; Sri Krishna, though his character is founded in the  national type, yet rises far above it. But although Valmiki, writing the poem of mankind, drew his chief figures in the Hindu  model andVyasa, writing a great national epic, lifted his divine  hero above the basis of national character into an universal humanity, yet the original purpose of either poem remains intact.  In the Ramayana under the disguise of an Aryan golden age,  the wide world with all its elemental impulses and affections  finds itself mirrored. The Mahabharata reflects rather a great  Aryan civilisation with the types, ideas, aims and passions of a  heroic and pregnant period in the history of a high-hearted and  deep-thoughted nation. It has, moreover, as I have attempted  'to indicate, a formative ethical and religious spirit which isabsolutely corrective to the faults that have most marred in the  past and mar to the present day the Hindu character and type  of thought. And it provides us with this corrective not in the  form of an aliencivilisation difficult to assimilate and associated with other elements as dangerous to us as this is salutary,

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

but in a great creative work of our own literature written by the  mightiest of our sages {mumnamapyaha vyasah, Krishna has  said), one therefore who speaks our own language, thinks our  own thoughts and has the same national cast of mind, nature  and conscience. His ideals will therefore be a corrective not  only to our own faults but to the dangers of that attractive but  unwholesome Asura civilisationwhich has invaded us, especially its morbid animalism and its neurotic tendency to abandon  itself to its own desires.

But this does not say all. Vyasa too, beyond the essential  universality of all great poets, has his peculiar appeal to hu-  manity in general making his poem of world-wide as well as  national importance. By comparing him once again with Valmiki  we shall realize more precisely in what this appeal consists. The  Titanic impulse was strong in Valmiki. The very dimensions of  his poetical canvas, the audacity and occasional recklessness  of his conceptions, the gust with which he fills in the gigantic  outlines of his Ravana are the essence of Titanism; his genius  was so universal and Protean that no single element of it can  be said to predominate, yet this tendency towards the enormous enters perhaps as largely into it as any other. But to  the temperament of Vyasa the Titanic was alien. It is true he  carves his figures so largely (for he was a sculptor in creation  rather than a painter like Valmiki) that looked at separately  they seem to have colossal stature, but he is always at pains so  to harmonise them that they shall appear measurable to us and  strongly human. They are largely and boldly human, oppressive and sublime, but never Titanic. He loves the earth and the  heavens but he visits not Patala nor the stupendous regions of  Vrishaparvan. His Rakshasas, supposing them to be' his at all,  are epic giants or matter-of-fact ogres, but they do not exhale  the breath of midnight and terror like Valmiki's demons nor the  spirit of world-shaking anarchy like Valmiki's giants. This poet  could never have conceived Ravana. He had neither unconscious sympathy nor a sufficient force of abhorrence to inspire  him. The passions ofDuryodhana though presented with great

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

force of antipathetic insight are human and limited. The Titanic  was so foreign to Vyasa's habit of mind that he could not grasp  it sufficiently either to love or hate. His humanism shuts to him  the outermost gates of that sublime and menacing region; he  has not the secret of the storm nor has his soul ridden upon  the whirlwind. For his particular work this was a real advantageValmiki has drawn for us both the divine and anarchic in  extraordinary proportions; an Akbar or a Napoleon might find  his spiritual kindred in Rama or Ravana, but with more ordinary  beings such figures impress the sense of the sublime principally  and do not dwell with them as daily acquaintances. It was left  for Vyasa to create epically the human divine and the human  anarchic so as to bring idealisms of the conflictimoral types into  line with the daily emotions and imaginations of men.

—Vol.3, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, 

                              pp.148-50, 163-66, 174-77

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

  "... are RamaSitaSavitrie, merely patterns of moral  excellence? I who have read their tale in the swift and  mighty language of Valmekie and Vyasa and thrilled with  their joys and their sorrows, cannot persuade myself that  it is so. Surely Savitrie that strong silent heart, with her  powerful and subtly-indicated personality, has both life  and charm; surely Rama puts too much divine fire into  all he does to be a dead thing,— Sita is too gracious and  sweet, too full of human lovingness and lovableness, of  womanly weakness and womanly strength!"

— Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 27, SABCL, p. 154

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Other monographs distributed by Auroville Press Publishers

which are part of the programme of publications for Value-oriented 

Education by Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational 

Research (SAIIER), Auroville


Parvati's Tapasya

Nala and Damayanti

The Siege of Troy

Alexander the Great

Homer and the Iliad — Sri Aurobindo and Ilion

Catherine the Great

Uniting Men —Jean Monnet

Gods and the World

Joan of Arc

The Crucifixion



Sri Krishna in Brindavan

Other titles published by SAIIER and Shubhra Ketu Foundation


The Aim of Life

The Good Teacher and the Good Pupil

Mystery and Excellence of the Human Body

Sri Aurobindo on the Ramayana

Back to Content