One of the definitions describes man as a social animal. For his sustenance as well as accomplishments, man needs to connect with others and work with them. Whether it is a question of family, friendship, society or governance, good relationships bring enduring success while ill-motivated relationships only drive men towards failure and despair. In illustrating this point from several angles and through several unique examples, The Ramayana can at best be called as a treatise on relationships. There are different kinds of relationships in life and the one between brothers is a fantastic one. A famous saying in Tamil says, “The one with a brother need not fear facing wars”. Thus, the support from a good brother could be highly comforting at times of adversities and highly supportive at times of difficulties and challenges. However, for the true merits of brotherhood to be realized, the brothers must be selfless in seeking the mutual welfare. Strong brotherhoods are built on values, morals and ethics. While being bent upon giving more than taking, the brothers end up contributing to the building of lasting bond. Self-centered brotherhoods on the other hand hang in loose ropes waiting to be snapped even during the lightest of breezes. To tell men what ensues from good brotherhood and to where a bad brotherhood is headed to, there are four examples in the epic with two on each side of the coin.
Often, the relationship between Ram and Lakshman is quoted as an example for an ideal brotherhood. Lakshman pursues Rama throughout his life dedicating his entire life at the service of Rama’s mission in various capacities. In fact, we can say that the relationship between both of them is divinely ordained. Analyzing the background of their birth can bring this to surface.
King Dasharath performed Putra Kameshti Yajna seeking progeny. The blessed porridge that emerged from the fires of the sacrificial altar was distributed among the three queens. One of the Queens Sumitra had kept the bowl of porridge on the parapet wall when an eagle carried it away. Worried over the loss and not being prepared to deprive their counterpart, the other two queens poured out a portion of their porridge in a bowl and handed over to Sumitra. Finally when the queens gave birth to children, Rama was born to Kausalya and Bharat was born to Kaikeyi. Sumitra but gave birth to twins probably because she received a portion from the porridge given by two other queens.
The twins namely Lakshman and Shatrughna were found crying bitterly from birth. The queens approached the renowned sage Vasishta, the royal preceptor to suggest a remedy. Looking at the babies, he discovered that among the twins, Lakshman was born as an aspect of Rama and Shatrughna was born as the aspect of Bharat. He suggested that the twins be separated and kept besides their original counterparts. Once this was done, the babies smiled and played happily. Thus, it was a lesson for all in the royal household to understand that Ram and Lakshman were part of the same portion of the porridge as well as Bharat and Shatrughna of the porridge from the other bowl. Throughout their lives, these pairs continued. When Ram and Lakshman were part and parcel of the experiences happening around Rama, Bharat and Shatrughna together shared all that happened around Bharat.
Talking of Ram and Lakshman, we find words do not suffice to describe the ideal kind of relationship and brotherhood they had. Following their learning under the auspices of Sage Vasishta, Ram and Lakshman together left with Sage Vishwamitra to safeguard his Yajna from the demonic forces. At such a tender age, together they demonstrated heroism by killing several demons who were a big threat to the earth. When things at the royal household conspired against Rama and it was time for Rama to go on exile for fourteen years into the forest, Lakshman at once came forward to assist his brother. Leaving back his wife at the palace, he accompanied his brother and sister in law to the forest. Day and night Lakshman was very keen to understand the needs and wishes of his brother Ram and served him in the best manner possible. In the war field, Lakshman once fell unconscious which made Ram wail bitterly since he valued his relationship with his brother Lakshman more than anything else on this earth.
Later during the last stage of their sojourn on the earth, Ram had to give death sentence to Lakshman to save his word given to a sage. However, upon the advice of Hanuman, Ram expelled Lakshman from the country. Lakshman accepted the command of his beloved brother and complied with the decision in word and spirit. He moved into River Sarayu to give up his life. Soon after, the other three brothers too followed leaving back their children on the thrones of the newly budding kingdoms.
All through their lives, Ram and Lakshman lived in a great understanding of each other and it looked as though they were not two, but one in terms of their souls. Though at times they had differences of opinion among themselves, such instances could never stain their relationship which was bonded on the true ideals of brotherhood. Love, reverence and sacrifice were the hallmarks of their relationship for each other that were the driving force of their brotherhood all through. Thus we find in this pair an ideal brotherhood that stands out as an illustrative example for all times to come.
Jatayu – Sampati
Jatayu and Sampati was yet another pair presenting a startling example for an ideal brotherhood. Both of them were gigantic eagles born to Aruna. Right from young age, they developed their relationship in mutual love and lived happily for quite some time. As part of their childhood sport, once they competed with each other as to who can fly higher in the sky. Jatayu, the younger one reached a point when his wings were about to be scorched by the sun. Sampati therefore soared up to spread his wings on his to save his beloved brother. Though Jatayu was saved, Sampati had to permanently lose his wings for the rest of his life hopping only on legs on the earth.
Both these brothers had a crucial role in the mission of Ram. When Ravan had abducted Sita and was taking her in his celestial flight, Jatayu intervened and had a stiff fight with the demon. Ravan used the sword Chandrahas given by Shiva to sever the wings of Jatayu. Jatayu fell down on the earth severely bleeding and sticking on to his life only to stay alive till Rama came on the way. Once Jatayu reported the issue to Ram, he breathed his last. Jatayu had the honor of his last rites performed by Ram.
While Hanuman and his team passed through the place where Sampati was living, Sampati was looking forward to prey upon them. But listening to the name of his brother Jatayu from them, he eagerly enquired what had happened to his brother. Sampati learnt all that happened causing the death of his brother and wailed in pain. Later he helped the team with the crucially needed information on the whereabouts of Sita.
We see the value of sacrifice topping the relationships of Sampati and Jatayu. They had always been prepared to do their best in the interest of their other counterpart. They could both sanctify their lives in the service of Ram and earned immortal fame in the epic of Ramayan.
Bali – Sugriva
The Vanara brothers Vali and Sugriva were said to be born from the blessings of Indra, the king of gods and Surya, the son god respectively. Bali was well renowned for his heroism, valour and unconquerable physical prowess that was a threat even to the mighty Ravana. In the story of Ramayana we come across the intrigues between these two, the conspiracies and the self-centered egotistic relationship that had always caused strains and stains among them. Often both had been seeking their own welfare and were ready to seek the downfall of the other for furthering their self interest. Though much of their actions were attributed to their Vanara origin (monkey family), they never seem to suggest any ideal example of brotherhood.
Being the elder one, Bali was ruling over the kingdom of Kishkindha being assisted by Sugriva. Bali was wedded to Tara While Sugriva was married to Ruma. Once, Bali enters into a terrible fight with a demon called Mayavi. They both enter a cave to fight over months. As per the understanding developed earlier, if the red cloured blood oozes out of the cave, then it would mean Bali was dead and if milky color blood came out of the cave then it would suggest that Mayavi is dead. Therefore, to save the kingdom from the attack by Mayavi upon the death of Bali, it was suggested that the only entrance to the cave is closed if red colour blood comes out of the cave. Due to a conspiracy, the milky blood of the dead Mayavi is reddened by mixing some colours and therefore all in the empire got a suggestion that it was Bali who was dead. Now the cave was closed and Sugriva was made the ruler of Kishkindha to fill the vacancy arising due to the presumed death of Bali.
Bali returns and smashes his way out of the closed cave. He is terribly angered at the sight of Sugriva being made the king and given his wife Tara in marriage. Mighty Bali was far from understanding any explanations given to him. He just throws away Sugriva after appropriating Tara and Sugriva’s wife Ruma. In fear of suffering death from his brother Bali, Sugriva goes off to a hill named Rushyamukha where Bali could not enter due to a curse. Later when Rama goes over there in search of Sita, there is an alliance developed between the two with the understanding that Rama would help avenge the injustice done to Sugriva by Bali and in turn Sugriva would help Rama in searching for Sita. During a duel between the brothers, Rama kills Bali from behind a tree since it was impossible for someone to conquer Bali. An earlier boon received by Bali assured that half of the powers of his opponent would come to him which had made him invincible. Rama’s arrow puts an end to Bali’s life regaining the throne of Kishkindha to Sugriva.
In this story, we find both the brothers appropriating each other’s wives and kingship without any regard for each other. Their self directed relationship had caused their downfall time and again ruining the happiness of their lives. What we find in their lives are the stains and strains left by frequent clashes, misunderstandings and selfish motives that project them as bad examples for brotherhood.
Ravan – Vibhishan
Though both Ravan and Vibhishan were siblings and born in demonic family, their natures were in sharp contrast to each other. Ravan was demonic, arrogant, egoistic, lustful and immoral in many regards despite his able kingship and mastery of several arts. On the other hand, Vibhishan was compassionate, friendly with all, humble, pious and virtuous. He had been advising his brother Ravan on several occasions when he went wrong and Ravan would never give heed to his brother’s words. Vibhishan strongly reacted against Ravan kidnapping Sita and trying to marry her forcibly. He took great pains to tell his brother that his act could never be justified on any grounds. However, Vibhishan’s efforts went waste. When it was time for the war to break between Rama and Ravan, Vibhishan tried to make Ravan understand that his act shall only bring ruin and despair to him and the kingdom, which angered Ravan to throw him out of the kingdom. Helpless and hopeless, Vibhishan approaches Rama and prays him to accept him on his side.
None in the side of Rama was prepared to believe Vibhishan since they viewed Vibhishan coming to them as part of demonic conspiracy in order to supply the news about the plans of Rama to Ravan. However, the one person who gave a strong attestation of the virtuous quality of Vibhishan was Hanuman who said he had seen how good Vibhishan was when he visited Lanka in search of Sita. He said Vibhishan’s apartment in the palace was filled with positive and divine vibrations due to his prayerful life. In fact, Vibhishan also drove some good sense into Ravan’s head and persuaded him to release Hanuman when Ravan wanted to kill Hanuman during his entry into Lanka. Rama was more than compassionate to Vibhishan and stated that once someone had approached him seeking shelter, it is but his dharma to accept them despite possible doubts regarding their motives. Thus, Vibhishan was accepted into Rama’s fold. In the long run, Vibhishan’s presence on Rama’s side helped Rama to a great extent to win the mighty war against Ravan.
Time and again, Vibhishan and Kumbhakarna are compared as brothers. While Vibhishan forsook Ravan, Kumbhakarna stood by his brother’s side and faced his death in the hands of Rama in the war. In fact, Kumbhakarna did not fail to remind Ravan that he was going wrong. However when Ravan was far from listening to him, Kumbhakarna chose to die for his brother instead of forsaking him at times of crucial need. Often it is debated as to who was right in his stand, whether Kumbhakarna or Vibhishan. Looking from their personal points of view, both of them seem to be right in their own way. We may even say that both of them tried to show their loyalty to their brother in their own way. For instance, when Vibhishan was questioned on his decision to leave Ravan, he replied that if he chose to stay with Ravan, it is for sure that there would be none left at the end of the war even to perform the last rites of Ravan. In this regard, his decision was meaningful in helping Ravan at least after his death as it would be otherwise impossible to help him out in any meaningful way when he was alive.
Over and above all the discussion we had so far, the point to note here is this. Brotherhood is a unique relationship in the human society. Realized in the right way, it can achieve wonders and set ideals; contrived or adulterated for personal interests and unlawful ends, it will only end up bringing harm to both the partners. Down the times, puranas, epics, mythologies and histories are replete with several examples of brotherhood. While some are ideal and trend setting, some are despicable in not realizing the true objectives of brotherhood. Literature is meant to guide men on the path of their life. Learning from epics and stories, we are guided on our attitudes, decisions and moves in life. While right approaches, values and decisions shall contribute to our success and enduring fame, wrong attitudes and short sighted selfish moves shall only bring us miseries and ill repute.