Rama + Ayana = Ramayana
Ramayana means Rama’s Ayana. Ayana means journey, literally speaking. But it implies the tranjectory of life, with all the events and the ups and downs. The term ‘story’ in English also has similar connotation. So Ramayana would simply mean the story of Rama.
Some people, who feel very sympathetic to the character of Sita say, “why can’t it be called ‘Sitayana’?”. Others, who are sympathetic to the character of Ravana, ask, “why can’t it be called ‘Ravanayana’?”. In fact, Ramayana is known by all these names, as per Valmiki himself. Sloka 1.4.7 says that this kavya is known as Ramayana, as Sita Mahat Charita and also as Paulastya Vadha.
Truly, Ramayana is the story of Rama, Ravana, Sita, Anjaneya, Bharata, Lakshmana, Urmila, Vibhishana, Sugriva and many others. It can be called the story of any one of them. Since all other characters are strung through the story of Rama, it is called Ramayana. Anyone, who wants to get benefits of reading Ramayana, should look at the story through the eyes and the mind of each one of these characters. Ramayana should not be seen as a sports match, where you take a side right upfront to enjoy the game. Ramayana should be seen as the story of many. You should emphathise with all the characters, just as the writer did.
Each character in Ramayana is molded by three influences. One, the principles each character sets for itself to live by. Two, the principles set for the character by the society of the times. Three, the events and happenings that set the story in motion, with these two sets of principles being the guard rails. Rama has his own principles of life: to be truthful, to be righteous and to be married to only one wife. The societal norms demanded him to be worthy of the decent of Ikshvaku dynasty and to be abided by the popular opinion. The events that wreck havoc in his life come in the form of Mandhara and Surphanakha. He sails through them by his own abilities and by the help of people like Lakshmana, Sugriva, Hanuman and others, while sticking to the principles he laid for himself and abiding the norms laid by the society.
Sita has her own set of principles: to be wedded to Rama for life and to not do anything that would bring disgrace to her side of the family and to Rama’s side of the family. All the choices she made are guided by these two principles. Her life became a wreck, unfortunately, by the events triggered by her own impulsive decision to send away Lakshmana to help Rama, against his assurances that Rama would be safe. She put her own safety at risk, by her concern for the safety of her husband, which proved to be unwise. So, when her life came to the point, where there is no meaning in continuing it any further, she goes back to her mother, the mother Earth. ‘A life worthy of it is only worth living’ – is a theme that permeates Ramayana.
Bharata has lived a difficult life. He never intended to be the King. But people could implicate him to be the master mind behind the whole plan. He could be easily seen as the cleverest person who did everything from behind the scenes. He did nothing to earn this blemish on his reputation. Further, it was brought upon him by none other the mother who gave birth to him. He had to live with it for fourteen years, with no mechanism or outlet to dispel the doubts of the skeptics, Lakshmana himself being one such outspoken skeptic. What a life ? But Bharata endured and held himself tight, for what has befallen on him with no fault of his.
To enjoy any character in Ramayana, like Hanuman, Sugreeva, Vibheeshana, Maricha, Vishwamitra, Dasaratha and all others, you have to view them through the same three dimensional prism. We will go through our own challenges similar to the challenges faced by one or other of these characters. What do we do in those challenging times? We would certainly find a character in Ramayana whose challenges and trajectory of life resembles our own. That character is our guide, our companion and our support. Ramayana is rich because it offers so many characters that are rich and real. That is why people read Ramayana. That is how and why people find strength in Ramayana.
The characters of Vali and Ravana set the example of what not to be. They are strong. They are capable. They know how to enjoy life. They have the taste for the finest things in life. But what they do not have are: their own set of principles or a set of social norms to live by. They have set their momentary and carnal needs and their personal supremacy and dominance above everything else. Is a life with no principles and values worth living ? Would it be something that their progeny be proud of? But, they clung to their self centered and meaningless life, till the end. The riches, the scholarship and the dominance they enjoyed could not offset the ignominy of their lives.