RELIGST 1J03 Lecture Notes - Ravana, Shurpanakha, Sita
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A great story is a story that gets retold.
What is religious in the text?
- Talks about the gods (Shiva, Vishnu, Indra, Brahma, Kama) a lot. Vishnu is the
head of the gods (know this bc people go to him when they cant figure
something out). Kama is the god of love.
- Class of religious specialists (priests are the top 2)warrior 3)merchant 4)
- Male doinated
What drives the action in the first half of the story?
- Ravana is a demon (asura) has too much power; gods can’t kill him or defeat
them. Except for Vishnu. Brahma gives Ravana protection-invulnerable to the
god, demigods and demons. (That was his wish, he got it bc he impressed
Brahma, but you can never become absolutely immortal). Vishnu incarnates
himself into Rama
- Early period of gods= indra (in one story, indra tries to get a very powerful
persons wife, gets caught and the powerful person puts vaginas all over him
lol then people have pity for him and replace them with eyes), later= Vishnu,
What kind of person is Rāma?
- Wants to kill demons and rescue his wife. She was abducted by Ravana-
taken to his kingdom (sri lanka/ lanka).
- Everything in his fate is manufactured and necessary bc its really the cosmic
problem that needs to be resolved.
- Everyone liked him- even his father wanted him to become king when he
- Hes perfect
What kind of person is Sītā (Ramas wife)?
- Avatar of Lakshmi (Vishnu’s wife)
- Fell in love with Rama right when she met him. Gets all mopey when not
- Dramatic and naïve (?)
Does Rāma deserve his exile in the forest?
- No, but his duty is to obey his father so he must do it.
- But he feels he does bc he accepts it.
- He ends up in the forest bc his father (Dasaratha- he has three wives=
Kausalya (Rama’s mom), Kaikeyi (Bharata’s mom) and Sumitra (Lakshmana -
he goes into the forest with rama, very loyal bc he chose to do this. A little hot
headed- any sign of trouble and he gets his sword out and ready-> opposite
of Rama. He also mutilates ramavas sister, Soorpanka (only when she seems
like shes going to attack sita)- & Satrughna’s mom) grants his step mother
(Kaikeyi) two wishes- 1) own son put on thrown instead of Rama 2) Rama
has to be exiled for 14 years.
Are the demons of Laṅkā all bad?
Or is there some subtlety to their character?
- No they’re not all bad
- Vibishana- joined ramas camp kinda. He’s good
- Mareecha- bad for a while and now dedicated his life to being better. Ravana
had to convince him a lot to help him kidnap sita.
- Some subtlety in their character. More in some cases.
Avatar= incarnations of Vishnu on earth (stays in heaven and sends down part of
himself and is reborn as rama- whose goal on earth is to kill Ravana. Rama doesn’t
know he’s an incarnation of Vishnu.
What evidence is there of class distinctions in the story? To what extent is the story
driven by class conflict? You may want to revisit the conversation between Rama
and Soorpanaka (Ravana’s sister?) on page 65.
- lower than men, must be protected by men
- Law codes say that women shouldn’t be independent and men should keep
them under control. (that’s men’s duty)
- 6 bad things for women to do:
o Associating with bad people
o Travel- Soorpanaka travels independently. She’s pretty manipulative.
o Being away from husband
o Staying in the houses of others
We talked a little in class about duty and conflicts between duties. What other
conflicts between competing duties do we see in the second half of the Ramayana?
- duty= dharma
- figure out your dharma by a law code (of Manu and Vishnu)
- ex: little brothers have to obey older brothers
- children obey parents
Are the demons of Lanka all bad? Or is there some subtlety to their character? (This
is a question from last week that we did not get to consider last class.)
How is Sita treated while she is in Ravana's city? How does her treatment by the
demons compare with Rama and Lakshmana's treatment of Soorpanaka?
- shes taunted by all girl demon
- kept in a woods/ garden
- doesn’t touch sita till she consents bc he would explode (he has been cursed)
What sorts of parallels are there between Rama's situation and Sugreeva’s
situation? What function might these parallels serve?
Rama didn’t fight the war to save sita, but to restore the honour of his family. He
didn’t like sita that much after bc she lived in another mans house for awhile. Her
accessibility is in question. She proposes a trial by fire, throws herself in the fire.
Rama meets up with exiled leader of a group of monkey people (intelligent,
speaking) bc his brother tried to get more power. Rama allies himself with Sugreeva
(brothers with Vali) Sugreeva makes a deal with Rama= if you help me help my
brother than ill have an army ready to get back Sita. Rama kills Vali when he is
fighting his brother. But this is against the “warrior way/code” bc rama was in
hiding. Pretty much goes against everything rama stands for. “youre wrong bc you
exiled your brother, so its justified” (reason why rama says he shot Vali).
Ravana’s brothers= Kumbakarna, Vibishana. Uncle = Mareecha. He also has a sister.
She runs into rama, sita and his brother while they’re in exile, she falls in love with
rama and wants him to marry her so she wants to get rid of sita. She plans on eating
sita. She gets Ravana interested and that leads to sita being kidnapped. She then
tries to marry Rama’s bro bc Rama is in love with Sita, his bro doesn’t understand
why she would want him. That’s when she realizes she won’t get Rama and tries to
attack sita. Then the bro mutilates her.
Demons/ asura/ rakshasa
No noble= non Aryan (shows class distinction)
Assumption is that all events are worth understanding. The story changes a little as
years go on (sensitized violent things)
Article 1/30/13 300 ramayanas
version vs telling’s
- versions make it seem like it’s a version of something that is more original
- telling’s is more neutral