Portrayal of animal characters
Posted on: 04 May 2011
Cultures all over the world view animals in different ways . The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, two great Indian Epics, are an excellent example of how animal characters are portrayed positively in ancient India. In fact there is no Ramayana without animals. What inspired Valmiki to become a great poet? The experience of seeing a bird in love shot dead by a hunter. In shock and sadness he cries, 'You will find no rest for the long years of Eternity, for you killed a bird in love and unsuspecting!' For days he cannot get these lines out of his head and repeats them over and over., Lord Brahma understands the inspiration that Valmiki has come across and instructs him to retell the life of Rama in a poem.
The Ramayana is the most glorious celebration of animals . There is no distinction between human beings and other life forms and the same qualities and emotions are felt irrespective of the species. Both sides have animals – and while the humans can be bad , the animals are not . Ravana's palace was guarded by four and three tusked elephants , horses and strange animals but there is no report of them taking part in the war. The author Valmiki's comment. 'All living beings, including those which are born in animal wombs are eager to do good to Rama, even by sacrificing their lives.'
When Ravana abducts Sita, it is the vulture Jatayu and his brother Sampati ,sons of the charioteer to the Sun, who fight with him and dying, inform Rama of the kidnapping.
When Rama sets out to find Sita he is informed by a wise old woman that the monkey Hanuman can help him. Who is Hanuman ? The son of Vayu, the Wind God, and Anjana the monkey. Which clearly sends out the message that even animals are of divine descent. Rama helps Hanuman's friend Sugriva of Kishkindha kill his elder brother Vali – but in this slaying , no attempt is made to make Vali the 'bad guy'. In fact it is written in an almost disapproving style indicating that Rama is flawed. Sugriva becomes the king of the tribe and calls all the tribes to search for Sita. Their strength is increased by the bears led by their king Jambavan. They come to the edge of India and Hanuman volunteers to jump across to Sri Lanka to see if Sita is there.
Hanuman jumps across the sea, turns himself into a cat , explores the kingdom and finds Sita in a grove. He sees Ravana come to woo Sita who refuses him. Hanuman reveals himself to Sita and takes back a message from her asking Rama to come and rescue her. Before Hanuman returns he begins to destroy Lanka in a fit of rage but Sita stops him by asking him to leave some for Rama to finish off !!
When Lakshman and Rama dither at the thought of attacking Lanka it is Jambavan who urges them to have courage. Rama resolves to fight. He leads all of the animals to the ocean shore where they are confronted with the problem of crossing. Nala the monkey becomes the architect of the bridge Ramasetu that presumably stands till today. I do not think a human could have built that bridge thousands of years ago with stone, wood, grass and sand 100 leagues long and 10 leagues wide. Every animal helps in making it. Monkeys of all sizes, shapes and hues scramble to collect branches, stones and large boulders and drag them to the shore, piling them on top of the other in the sea. In four days the task was almost complete. When Nala and his monkeys put the large rocks , they find the water pushing through the crevices of the rocks and gradually dislodging them. Five little squirrels come and asked to fill in the gaps. Rama agrees (and it is said that he rubbed his fingers down their backs leaving three beautiful colored stripes.)Within minutes, hundreds of thousands of little squirrels come running out of the forest. They roll on the sand and then roll on top of the crevices closing up all the leaks until the bridge was strong enough for Rama's army to cross.
The animals cross the bridge and thousands die in each battle. But they refuse to give in and little by little Ravana is pushed back. Indrajit, his son, takes over the attack and millions of animals die. Indrajit is invisible and when he throws his huge axe , it flies through the air heading straight for Rama. Sugriva is suddenly afraid for Rama's ability to knock down the flying weapon. He jumps up and throws his body in front of Rama. The axe hits Sugriva square in the heart and he dies instantly.
Lakshman is mortally wounded. It is Hanuman who fetches the mountain with the herbs that cure him. Indrajit and Ravana are killed and the army of surviving animals returns to the mainland and to their own families.
What are the qualities that make a human: intelligence, sensitivity, compassion, mercy,
patience, courage, farsightedness and empathy. In the Ramayana all the animals have these qualities. The devotion, and love that shines through these animals is the ultimate form of divinity.
The Ramayana has had a great impact on the culture of India. It gave form to the values of our society and giving role models of correct behaviour. There is increasing evidence that the kingdoms existed and that the battles took place in the years between 1200 and 1000 BC. If you say that , all the animal roles are mythological – then you must also say the same about Ram and Sita and stop revering them. But if they are/were real and are forms of the divine , so must the animals be.
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