Is the incident of Lord Rama worshiping Lord Shiva not mentioned in Valkmiki Ramayan?

by Chaitanya Charan dasSeptember 13, 2019

From: Rahul Ranjan Mishra

Some people say that the incident of Lord Rama worshiping Lord Shiva is not mentioned in Valkmiki Ramayan. Is it true? Are there any other incidents that are not mentioned in Valmiki Ramayan but are described by subsequent Acaryas? 

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Transcription by: Raji Nachiappan

Question: Is the incident of Lord Rama worshiping Lord Shiva not mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana? Are there any other incidents that are not mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana but are described by subsequent acharyas?

Answer: The two well-known incidents that are not mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana apart from the incident of Lord Rama worshipping Shiva, are the incidents of the Lakshmana-rekha drawn by Lakshmana when he left Sita to search for Lord Rama and the incident of Shabari offering half chewed fruits and berries to Lord Rama.

In general, since the Lord’s pastimes are many in number and because different pastimes happen in different yugas, it is never possible for any one book to be comprehensive in the narration of all pastimes. Therefore, the question is, if we hear a pastime, then how do we know if it is authentic? We have to look at what our acharyas have said. By our acharyas, I mean the acharyas from the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. However, the acharyas of the Gaudiya sampradaya have primarily focused on detailing Krishna Lila. Hence, if we do not find relevant comments in their writings, then we can look in the writings of acharyas from other sampradayas. In the Sri sampradaya, for example, there are commentaries like the Govinda Raja commentary on the Ramayana, which is well acknowledged, and we can refer to those for verification. If we are unable to find any comments that substantiate these pastimes in any of the acharyas’ writings, then that in itself does not necessarily mean that these pastimes are not bonafide. It just means that they may or may not be bonafide. We then have to look at two factors: (i) does the pastime fits the storyline of the Ramayana (ii) does the pastime supports the philosophical message of Ramayana. If these pastimes contradict either of these, then there is reason to treat them with a pinch of salt.

Some storytellers of the Ramayana, in order to portray everybody in the Ramayana as a devotee, narrate certain incidents. One among them is the incident when Lord Rama went to Kaikeyi and asks her to do a sacrifice for him. Kaikeyi then replies, “Whatever you want, I will do for you”. Lord Rama then warns Kaikeyi that by agreeing to do this, the whole world will misunderstand her. Kaikeyi did not mind and was ready to do what Lord Rama asked of her. He further cautioned her, that doing this sacrifice may even cause the death of her husband. Kaikeyi hesitates but then says, “For your sake, I will do it.” Then, Lord Rama tells her to ask for those two benedictions. The attempt here, to portray everyone as a devotee including Kaikeyi, leads to a disastrous contradiction with the storyline, message and the teachings of the Ramayana. In the Valmiki Ramayana and most other renditions of the Ramayana, it is Manthara who actually instigates Kaikeyi. Therefore, if Lord Rama is requesting Kaikeyi, then the whole incident of Manthara instigating Kaikeyi becomes redundant and this particular twist to the story becomes contradictory to the storyline of Valmiki Ramayana. Secondly, it is also against the philosophy because the philosophical message from this pastime is that how bad association can pervert a person’s mentality completely. It is described in the Ramayana that Kaikeyi was kind, gentle and wise. However, because of bad association, she became cruel, harsh and foolish. Kindness is a disposition of the heart and she turned the opposite, as cruel. Gentle is a manner of speech and she became harsh. Wise is a disposition of the intelligence but she became foolish.

The incident of Kaikeyi becoming influenced by Manthara teaches a very important lesson at an ethical level. That lesson is that bad association can ruin a person completely and distort as well as pervert his perceptions and actions. This lesson becomes redundant and lost if this new twist to the Ramayana is accepted. Hence, this twist cannot be accepted.

The Valmiki Ramayana does not mention Shabari offering fruits which she first chewed. Valmiki Ramayana just says that she offered fruits to Lord Rama. Here, if we contemplate on the point that the Lord is bhavagrahi and how for the sake of his devotees he is ready to flout all rules, then that is beautifully conveyed through this incident. The Lord was ready to accept that which is already chewed because it was offered with love. The message of this pastime is not contradictory to the essential underlying message of the Ramayana which is the glorification of bhakti and the bhaktavatsalya nature of the lord.

Similarly, the Lakshmana-rekha pastime is also not incorrect because it neither contradicts the philosophy nor the storyline of the Ramayana. Valmiki Ramayana just mentions that Lakshmana left Sita to search for Lord Rama. It stands to reason that Lakshmana still wanted to do his duty and make some arrangements to protect Sita while he was away. It is conceivable that he could have drawn the Lakshmana-rekha. That Lakshmana-rekha is also used by our achrayas to indicate the protective nature of the instructions of the spiritual master. As long as we are within the circumference of protection of the spiritual master we will be protected. Lakshmana represents the spiritual master and when we step out of that circle of protection, we get dragged away by Ravana who represents the mind. In that sense, this incident is not contradictory but complementary to the storyline of the Valmiki Ramayana. It is also conveying a valuable additional lesson and hence there is nothing wrong in accepting that.

With respect to Lord Rama worshipping Lord Shiva, that is also consistent with the overall mood of the Valmiki Ramayana. Lord Rama does not consistently reveal himself as the Supreme Lord in the Ramayana, although he does extraordinary deeds and displays not just super human but divine power. Also, Lord Rama worshipping Shiva is not the only incidence of Lord Rama worshipping a devata. He even worshipped Samudra Deva, when he wanted to get across the ocean.

In general, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are depicting the karma kanda way of life at one level, while depicting bhakti at another. At the karma kanda level, it is depicted that how in order to fulfil one’s obligation to the devatas one needs to worship the devatas and Lord Rama demonstrates that. At a pure devotional level, he is actually exhibiting his bhaktavatsalaya nature. Lord Krishna worshipped and performed an aarti for Sudama, however, that does not make Sudama to be God. Similarly, just because Lord Rama worshipped Lord Shiva, it does not mean that Lord Shiva is the supreme.

Therefore, broadly speaking, it is ideal to stick to Valmiki Ramayana when making a decision of which pastimes are bonafide. Otherwise, stick to pastimes which are referred to, by our acharyas. Also, if the pastimes are not contradictory to the storyline or the philosophical message of the Valmiki Ramayana, they can be accepted if we have heard other senior Vaishnavas quote them. If some pastimes do not fit into any of the above categories, then it is best that we do not quote them. However, that does not mean that we go on a crusade or a campaign to condemn such pastimes. They may have some devotional input that some devotees may be able to relate to. If they, of course, contradict the philosophy or the storyline then we have to be cautious. At least we should not quote them and if we have the capacity, then we can tell the person who is quoting to rethink their position.

End of transcription.

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Chaitanya Charan das

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