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Sidharth Duvvuri

Yu-Shan You
Of the vast amount of stories in the history of India, two stories stand out in particular, the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Both stories are immensely influential in Hindu culture and
both stand out as some of the most significant works of literature in history. However,
despite their many similarities, both stories have vastly contrasting main characters and how
they portray views of social dharma.
Written during 200 BC 200 AD, the Ramayana is a story depicting Lord Ramas life and is
broken up into 7 books, or kandas, each depicting a particular event of Lord Ramas life. In
its entirety, the epic contains 25,000 verses originally composed in Sanskrit. The story of its
creation is as such.
One day, the sage Valmiki was walking near a river. He saw a pair of birds in love. Abruptly
the male bird was shot dead by a hunter and the female screamed out in agony over the death
of her husband. Valmiki felt pity for the dead bird and his grieving lover and burst forth:
"Never, O hunter, shalt thou obtain rest, as thou hast killed a bird in the midst of his love"
(Sivananda 340). These words came out as a musical verse of four feet of eight syllables
each. Then Lord Brahma appeared and said, "Sing Rama's charming story in the same
melodious meter. (Sivananda 341) gave the poet the knowledge of Rama's story. Valmiki
sat down and saw every event of Ramas life through meditation. The melody of Ramayana

was inspired from the pair of lovebirds. The birds represent Rama and Sita while Ravana is
the hunter (Sivananda 341).
The Mahabharata is the story of the lineage of Bharata the Great. It was written between the
time period of 200 BC 400 AD. The Mahabharata is the other influential epic of Hindu
mythology and is the longest epic known to date with 18 sections or Parvas and 100,000
verses. The 18th chapter is also more famously known as the Bhagavad Gita. The
Mahabharata is an encyclopedia of ethics, knowledge, politics, religion, philosophy
and Dharma. (Sivananda 265)
This story was originally composed by Vyasa who was an ancestor of the Pandavas and the
Kauravas. He taught this epic to his son and his disciples. After many years of being passed
on by word of mouth, the epic was eventually transcribed into Sanskrit.
In the Ramayana, The king of Ayodhya, King Dasaratha, had three wives (Kausalya, Sumitra,
Kaikeyi) but no son to continue his lineage. He tried many times but was unsuccessful so
Dasaratha performed Asvamedha or horse sacrifice which involves offering the royal horse
as a sacrifice to the gods (Pandharipande 46). If done properly, the sacrificer would be
guaranteed an offspring. Meanwhile, the gods were worried about the demon Ravana, the
king of Lanka who is being cruel to his people so they begged Vishnu to help. He descended
to Earth and gave King Dasaratha a bowl of payasam to spread to his wives that, when
drunk, would give them all children. Vishnu then split himself into the form of the form on

Dasarathas 4 children; Rama born to Kausalya, Lakshmana and Satrugha to Sumitra, and
Bharata to Kaikeyi. (Pandharipande 46)
In the Mahabharata, Queen Kunti, wife of King Pandu, received a magic spell to attract any
male to her and he would be forced to have a child with her. She attracted Surya, the Sun
god, and had Karna. She abandoned him in a river to be found later by a charioteer. She
later attracted Lord Yama and had Yudhishtira, Lord Vayu and had Bhima, and Lord Indra
and had Arjuna. She then gave the spell to Madri who summoned Asvinau, the god of
medicine, and had Nakula and Sahadeva. (Pandharipande 57)
Trying to say that there is only one main character in the Mahabharata is difficult, as all 5 of
the Pandavas are the main characters. In the Ramayana, Rama is clearly the main character
since the entire story surrounds his life. Some of the major differences rise around the fact
that each of the 5 Pandavas is a demigod and Rama is not a demigod but he is an incarnation
of Vishnu. When Rama killed his enemy Ravana, Rama absorbs Ravana because everything
goes back to Vishnu. Rama's life and journey is one of perfect adherence to his
dharma despite cruelties of life and time. He is considered as the idyllic man and the faultless
human and will do everything he believes is right and moral. The five Pandavas are not
immoral but they will do whatever they must to complete their goals. For example, the
Pandavas killed an elephant named Asvatthama (the name of Dronas son) and told Drona
that they killed Asvatthama. He believes them and lays down his weapons and is killed
(Pandharipande 61). Although technically they are not telling a lie, they are using deception
to get Drona to stop fighting. Rama would morally not be able to use trickery.

Another major difference between the two is that Arjuna performed tapas and was granted
the powerful bow Gandiva by Lord Siva. Rama was powerful enough on his own and did
not require additional help.
In another story in the Ramayana, King Dasaratha announces to Ayodhya that he plans to
crown Rama, his eldest child the crown prince. When hearing of the news, Manthara, the
queens maid, corrupts the mind of the queen Kaikeyi. She makes Kaikeyi fear for Bharata
future by saying that Rama would ignore or victimize his brother for power, Kaikeyi
demands that Dasaratha banish Rama to a forest exile for fourteen years, and that Bharata be
crowned in Rama's place. Although. Dasaratha loved Rama dearly; he was forced to banish
Rama as he owed Kaikeyi two boons for she had saved his life many years ago. Rama
recognizes that a son cannot disobey his father so he leaves. Sita believes it is her place as a
wife to stay with her husband at all times so she leaves with Rama even after his numerous
attempts to discourage her. Rather than choosing to stay in Ayodhya, Ramas younger
brother Lakshmana decides to join Rama
The next day, King Dasarathas dies as he is unable to bear being apart from Rama. Despite
the appeals of his brothers, Rama refuses to return to Ayodhya. He says he feels it is
impossible to break his fathers last request to him. Much later in the story, Sita gets
captured by Ravana and taken to Lanka so Rama goes on a long journey to rescue her.
In the Mahabharata, When King Santanu wanted to marry Satyavati, she was afraid that
Bhishma would become king instead of her children so Bhishma said that he will never

marry and never take up the throne. Later, Satyavati asks Bhishma to get a bride for her son
Vicitravirya (Chitrangada died young in the battle with a Gandharva) (Pandharipande 56).
So Bhishma went to the land of Kashi and abducted three princesses. At the time there was a
practice where if a princess was captured by a prince, the prince was able to marry her. So
Bhishma captured the three princesses, Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika and brought them back
to Vicitravirya and asked the three princesses to marry them and they agreed to do so but
Amba was adamant and said no. She believed that since it was Bhishma who captured her
that it was Bhishma that should marry them and not Vicitravirya. And also, Amba was in
love with the king of Salva. Bhishma let her go to the king of Salva but the king had insulted
her saying that she was won over by Bhishma and was no longer worthy of his love. Angry
at Bhishma, Amba performs tapas in order to take revenge on Bhishma. Siva granted her the
boon where she wanted to be reborn as a man so that she can kill Bhisha. She then killed
herself to be reborn as man (Pandharipande 56).
What the Ramayana and the Mahabharata differ in the most is their views of social dharma.
Dharma is the fulfillment of ones cosmic and social duties (Klostermaier 58). The
Ramayana is written in a way that says that if you do follow your social dharma, these things
will come to you. The Mahabharata is written in a way that is the exact opposite, if you
dont follow you social dharma, everything will be chaotic like this.
Rama is viewed as the idyllic man and the perfect human. When told that he was banished
from the kingdom for 14 years, he never talked back and argued. When Sita was kidnapped
by Ravana, Rama spent months trying to get her back and even waged a war against Lanka to

get her returned safely. After rescuing her he makes her go through the fire trial to check her
chastity even though he knows that she is pure, but he makes her go through it for the sake of
the people.
The entire story of the Ramayana is based on the concept of completing your dharma. In all
stories of the book, the characters in the Mahabharata are fulfilling their dharma. Even
Kaikeyi, even though she banishes Rama, she is doing it for her love of Bhishma and she
wants Bhishma to become king. However, she is doing the wrong thing on a social order
which is more important than individual needs so she is seen as being evil or going against
her dharma.
One example where social dharma is not shown in the Mahabharata is when Bhishma takes
the three princesses. As is the law, Bhishma is supposed to marry them but doesnt because
of his vow to his father to never marry. Another example where social dharma is not
followed is when Amba does not want to marry Vicitravirya because she is in love with
another man. She is not supposed to have a say because the law states that she is Bhishmas
and has no choice but to marry him but she still does not want to marry him. Both examples
are examples where the characters did not follow their duties to the populous because they
didnt want to.
The two epic stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are some of the most influential
works ever written in history. Both of the works are similar in that they both show that you
should follow your social dharma but both present them to you in different ways. The

Ramayana shows what happens when you do follow your dharma and the Mahabharata
shows what happens when you dont follow you dharma. Consequently, both stories main
characters are also vastly different but also very similar as they try to symbolize two sides of
the same coin.

Sivananda. "Mahabharata, Ramayana." Bliss Divine; a Book of Spiritual Essays on the Lofty
Purpose of Human Life and the Means to Its Achievement. Shivanandanagar, India:
Divine Life Society, 1991. 265+. Print.
Pandharipande, Rajeshwari. "Ramayana, Mahabharata." The Eternal Self and the Cycle of
Samsra: Introduction to Asian Mythology and Religion. Needham Heights, MA:
Simon & Schuster Custom Pub., 2005. 37-67. Print.
Klostermaier, Klaus K. "A Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism." A Concise Encyclopedia of
Hinduism. Oxford: Oneworld, 1998. 58. Print.