In India, it’s not such a remarkable thing to claim to be an incarnation of a god. God-men are built into Hindu philosophy, in a way. Hindu legends are replete with accounts of god-men come to walk among the people...as with Vishnu’s many avatars.
And while these legends reflect the belief in the divine spark—that anyone can, at some time, embody the spirit of a god, as with a married couple on their wedding day—it also speaks of a deeper desire hidden in the heart of man...
The desire to touch God and have Him walk among us.
Long Ago in the Land of Ayodhya
So many centuries ago the days cannot be counted, the Ramayana tells of a king named Dasharatha and his three wives, Sumitra, Kausalya, and Kaikeyi. They lived in the beautiful city of Ayodhya, a place of peace on the banks of the Sarayu River.
Dasharatha grew old and longed for a son to take his place on the throne. So the priest Vasistha took his request to the gods, seeking their favor.
As he was doing this, the gods looked upon the earth and the havoc being wreaked by the powerful demon-king Ravanna of Lanka. Yet what could they do? Long ago, Lord Shiva had granted a boon to Ravanna, promising him the gods could never take his life. Taking advantage of this, Ravanna interfered with their worship and made it nearly impossible for people to connect with their chosen gods and give them due honor.
And so it was that the gods chose a path Ravanna could not have anticipated: Vishnu came down to earth, a god-man embodied in the form of a child, born of a human mother. This child, Rama, grew brave and strong—obedient to his parents, a terror to all demons.
Dasharatha loved him well, as did his brothers. Rama married the lovely and perfect Sita, the embodiment of his divine consort, Lakshmi. And although the jealous queen Kaikeyi maneuvered Dashratha into exiling Rama for 14 years, Rama would later inherit Ayodhya.
A Demon Scorned
The road he walked in exile was not an easy one, but he didn’t travel it alone. Faithful Sita and one of his brothers, Lakshman, came with him, fighting demons along the way.
Then one day they encountered a she-demon, Shurpanakha, who disguised herself as a beautiful woman and attempted to seduce Rama. She failed. When she saw that Rama wouldn’t be unfaithful to his wife, she became angry, resumed her ugly demon form, and attacked Sita.
And in the ensuing battle, Lakshman took his gold-handled knife and chopped off her nose and ears. Bleeding and disfigured, she ran into the forest, wailing.
When two of her demon brothers saw her and learned that humans had damaged her, they flew into a rage and called forth an army of demons. Together, 14,000 of them went to wage battle against Rama and Lakshman.
As the sky darkened with swarms of flying demons, Rama sent Sita to safety in the house. He and Lakshman fought fearlessly, and the demons couldn’t stand against the divine power of his golden arrows.
Each shot was flawless. Demon after demon fell to the ground, vanquished, until Rama and Lakshman stood alone among the dead, and they had won.
But beyond the deadly call of Rama’s arrows, Shurpanakha watched and waited. She slunk away to give Ravanna news of their defeat.
When Ravanna heard the news, he was incensed. His 10 heads grew dark with fury. Who were these upstart humans? He didn't know they were god-men, but it mattered little; they would soon be dead. Not one to rush in blindly with brute force, Ravanna waited and planned while Shurpanakha nursed her wounds...and sought revenge in her own way.
She whispered in his ear of the beauty of Sita...the way to rip out Rama’s heart, and a worthy prize for a king. Ravanna worked out a plan to trick Sita—to lure her away from safety.
Deceit of the Gentle
He summoned a magician who could assume any from he wanted and devised a plan. This magician would take the form of a golden deer, gentle and wild.
When Rama saw the deer, he was enchanted by its perfection. Despite Lakshman’s warning, he followed the deer deep into the wood, far, far from Sita.
Not long after, Lakshman heard the pleading calls of Rama and went to rescue him—but to no avail. The calls were false...and Sita was alone. Yet she was safe within a magic circle in her home and bound by her promise to Lakshman that she would not leave it.
As she waited, a holy man came, begging alms. Although she offered him fruit, he reminded her that as a sanyasi, he couldn’t enter her home to accept the gift; she must bring it outside.
Thinking there could be no harm in a holy man, she stepped out to share fruit with him. As she reached out to place it in his begging bowl, his shape suddenly shifted before her eyes. Ravanna rose from his hiding place in the grass. Sita drew back in horror at the gruesome sight before her, but he grabbed her quickly. Holding her tightly in his arms, he rose swiftly into the air and carried her away to his abode far away in Lanka, across the sea.
The Final Battle
When Rama discovered where she’d been taken, he left quickly and enlisted the aid of the monkey-god Hanuman. Nothing could keep him from her.
After many battles and much intrigue, Rama still had not managed to rescue poor Sita, who remained faithful to him. He was advised to pray to the sun—light to fight the darkness of the demon kingdom.
The next day, Rama defeated Ravanna and his army and rescued his beloved. She honored Hanuman for his bravery and gave her heart into Rama’s keeping forever.
A Seed of Something Real
Rama is considered a paragon of Hindu virtues and a hero of epic proportions. And although he isn’t representative of
the 10 avatars of Vishnu,
he shows the very human desire we have to see the face of God...to understand him in a smaller, more human way.
Rama is a picture of the longing God has put inside of us for Himself. The story of Rama may not be historically factual, but these stories of god-men are pictures of something real. Far from being wishful thinking or self delusion, this desire is proof of the existence of something to fill that longing—something greater than ourselves.
We hunger for food because our bodies are designed to receive fuel from sustenance. The food we desire fills our bodies.
We hunger for love because it feeds our hearts.
We hunger for the touch of God because
He, too, is real and feeds our souls.
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