Epic Emotion

By Jas Saluja
Surpanakha Tries to Devour Sita. Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/radhikita/3254842419/

Reflections on the Ramayana

My seven-year-old has been learning about emotions and feelings in her school. How humans usually express them, how it affects our behaviours and how we repeatedly choose ‘not so good’ strategies to handle them. I wasn’t surprised when she connected her learnings to Ramayana. The epic can truly be a stand-alone life subject in schools.

All our brains have selective filtering and a kid’s brain is a champion in this. Children cut trims and laces and usually remember the parts that have genuinely startled them. Apparently, for kids, a filtered version of Ramayana is: “There was a god king Rama who had to leave his kingdom because of his stepmother. He lived in a forest with his wife Sita and brother. One day an evil forest girl (Surpanakha) tried to attack Sita. But Laxman protected her by cutting Surpanakha’s nose and so injured Surpanakha went crying to her brother Ravana. Ravana who was an evil king decided to get Sita through tricks like golden deer and being a sadhu asking for food. Sita got easily tricked and Ravana took her away to his land. Rama was furious. So, he and Ravana had a big battle where he killed Ravana. Before dying Ravana said “Shri Rama”. Sita was then free and went back to her kingdom with Rama.”

After the story recital, my girl had a few questions for me that put me on a tight spot. Some I could reply to, few I couldn’t but most of them got me into thinking. While I was trying to give her some educated and justified answers, she would look at me with an unconvinced expression. As if I’m complicating things which later, I realised we adults tend to do. Her perspective was kind of peaceful and forgiving.

Soon enough, she started to explain me how different characters in Ramayana had different emotions. Her interpretations might not directly sit with the actual teachings from Ramayana but surely makes us reflect on some other important life lessons.

1. JEALOUSY: “Rama’s step mother was jealous of him because he was not his own son and she wanted her own son to become a prince.”

Why is it so important to become a king? They could still be happy and live together with the whole family in the kingdom.

2. ANGER: “Why Ravana got so angry that he decided to capture Sita even though it was his sister’s mistake?”.

He should have punished Surpanakha and should have apologised to Sita. May be Surpanakha would have realised her mistake then.

3. SADNESS: “It was really sad that Sita was just being kind and caring for the sadhu by offering some food, but he tricked her.” He should not have broken her trust and should have been kind too. Now how will she know who to help and whom not to help?

4. HAPPINESS: “Sita must have been so happy when she was finally freed and came back to her home.” She got in trouble for no mistake of hers and lived away for so long all by herself. She was brave too.

There is another emotion for which she couldn’t find an example for in her short narration. That of FEAR! For me, it was right there in her questions. But for her it’s probably too early to understand. Isn’t fear the underlying emotion behind all the negative emotions!

After discarding far too many details from the story, surprisingly she remembered the last words by Ravana. I guess there was something magical about that two words ‘Shri Rama’. Was it the sense of realisation by Ravana for his sins and his consequent plea that touched her? Was it relieving for her to know that may be Ravana was heard and forgiven? Did it make her feel light?

Ramayana and many such ancient epics from India and other parts of the world are embodiment of life’s nature, its shades and its lessons. The fundamental emotions behind all the characters and their subsequent decisions shaped their journeys in these great texts. Ever wondered how Ramayana would have turned out if Kaikeyi didn’t feel threatened of Rama or Sita was never abducted by Ravana? I leave you with that!


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