Most of the so-called Hindu right wing love to call the iks.vAku kulabhUs.an.a as an ‘Indian hero’. Some more sensible persons prefer to identify Him as a/the Hindu hero. Both these groups hail rAma and hold him aloft as an ideal hero, an ideal king etc etc.
But as with most other instances, these groups have a ‘vision of rAma’ in their minds and it is not as much based on the text of Adi kavi’s mahAkAvya as on their fertile imagination. Their vision of rAma is that of an ever forgiving benign person who was almost always distressed about bloodshed. The truth is something else. S’rii RAma was indeed the ideal hero and followed the rules of warfare. He offered peace to a powerful enemy (rAvan.a) when he saw that the war will cause terrible devastation. As a king, one of His duties will be to try to avoid any possible causes for social devastation. Yudhis.t.hira and Kr.s.n.a tried for peace for the very same reason. But this preference for peace does not make them ahimsa mongers. While Yudhis.t.hira bemoaned the loss of lives several times in MahAbhArata, S’rii RAma stands as a class apart. The iks.vAku hero’s lapse into such guilt feeling was very rare. The characterization of RAma reaches its pinnacle in His determination to do what he perceives as dharma.
RAma was born into a Ks.atriya royal family. As such, his duty was mainly two-fold: 1. rule his subjects with love and care, 2. Protect the innocent and uphold dharma by punishing the wicked. RAmacandra was especially good in the latter. While the former duty was glorified by MK Gandhi with his eulogizing speeches on rAma rAjya, the doyen of ahimsa preferred to gloss over the latter of the two duties upheld by the rAghava.
Let us take a look at how Adi kavi Valmiiki portrays Him
1. abhiyAtA prahartA (2-1-29) – one who sought out his enemies and destroyed them.
2. gatvA saumitrisahito nAvijityA nivartate – He goes to war with Laks.man.a by His side. And He never returns without winning.
3. When Khara sees RAma in dand.akAran.ya, Adi kavi describes his vision as follows:
“avas.t.abdha dhanum rAmam kruddham ca ripu ghAtinam” (3-25-1)
The angry RAma, destroyer of enemies, was holding his bow. Note the words ‘ripu ghAtinam’ and kruddham. His prowess in destroying His enemies and His anger are very clearly mentioned.
4. ‘bhiima dhanvAnam’ (3-25-7) – One with a ferocious bow (no arms control act there!!)
5. ‘durjayam’ (3-25-7) – Invincible.
6. “tatho rAma susamkruddho man.dalii kr.ta kArmukha I sasarja nis’itAn bAn.An s’atas’aH atha sahasras’aH II” (3-25-16,17)
On becoming extremely infuriated, RAma bent his bow into a circle and unleashed a torrent of arrows in hundreds, nay, in thousands. (He was not a wimp who cried out his eyes upon killing an enemy. Nor did He feel squeamish about becoming a killing machine on facing His enemies).
This is just the tip of an iceberg. Similar glowing description of RAma’s unyielding anger and invincible prowess in the battlefield is given by VAlmiiki throughout his kAvya.
That such prowess was highly valued by the ks.atrAn.iis is very clear. Upon RAma’s victory over Khara and his army, Vaidehii behaved thus:
“tam dr.s.t.vA s’atruhantAram mahars.iin.Am sukha Avaham I babhUva hr.s.t.A vaidehii bhartAram paris.vaje II” (3.30.39,40)
On seeing her husband, the scorcher of enemies and bringer of happiness to the mahars.i-s, SiitA embraced him with great rejoice. It is to be noted that when RAma tried to dissuade SiitA from following Him to the forest (by saying how the forest is full of dangers and hardships), SiitA reproaches him very harshly with these words:
“kim tvA amanyata vaidehaH pita me mithilA adhipaH I rAma jAmAtaram prApya striyam me purus.a vigraham II” (2.30.3)
She turns RAma’s very words upon Him. By trying to make SiitA afraid of the forest’s dangers and hardships, it seems as if RAma is stating that He is not capable of fighting danger (and hence, a coward and unmanly person). Thus, she says “Hey RAma!! What will my father think of himself about gaining a woman in a man’s body as his son-in-law?” In the aran.ya kAn.da, RAma proves that he is certainly not a woman in a man’s body. He kills the entire army of Khara within seventy two minutes and SiitA is rejoiced by this show of valor from her husband, the mahAvIra. It is worthy to note that BhavabhUti titled his drama on rAmAyan.a story as ‘mahAviira caritam’. S’rI vedAnta des’ika, a polyglot acArya from the south, titled his stotra gadya on RAma as ‘mahAviira vaibhavam’. It is seen that Hindu scholars did view RAma as the mahAvIra par excellence. Even in Bhagavad giitA, Kr.s.n.a says “..rAmaH s’astrabhr.tAmaham” (10-31, I am RAma among those who wield weapons).
Thus, RAma was never hesitant in punishing the wicked. His ability to do the needful in the times of war is well brought out by one incident during the war at LankA. Ramayana 6-75 describes how the vAnara-s burnt down LankA nagara a second time. This was done after Laks.man.a was healed with the herbs brought by HanumAn. While the city was burning, RAma and Laks.man.a brought down the gates of the city. The chapter describes how men and women of LankA suffered due to the scorching fires spreading through the city. It is to be noted that some rules of war do not apply when your enemy is not a follower of dharma. The RAks.asa-s were not bound by dharma and indulged in vices. RAma’s army burned down their city without any hesitancy. The general rule of leaving the civilians alone was not followed in this occasion (after all, the RAks.asa-s never cared to leave enemy civilians unhurt).
Modern day Hindus must learn from their ideal hero. Rather than relying on some imaginary nonsense, they must try to know the truth about RAma and try to follow in His footsteps.