SOURCE ANALYSIS: Analyzing the Ramayana
What does this excerpt from the Ramayana reveal about traditional social values in classical India? Areas you might consider: the ideal relationship between men and women, parents and children, humans and the divine. List the evidence in the text that supports your assertions.
Here are some things to think about.
Rama and Sita represent the ideal married couple in classical (ancient) Indian culture. The passage you read was chosen because it illustrates the couple in crisis. Rama has just been told that he will not be made crown prince and his fathers heir because of a promise his father, King Dasaratha, made to his wife, Kaikeyi (Ramas step mother). Instead Rama must spend fourteen years in exile in the forest, while Kaikeyis son, Bharata, takes Ramas place as crown prince. The way that Rama and Sita behave in this terrible turn of events tells you something about what people in ancient India considered honorable behavior for a man and a woman.
The ideal relationship between husband and wife is not the only lesson that the people of classical India would draw from this passage. We see a number of other people interacting: king and subjects, parents and children, in-laws and step-relations, and brothers and half brothers. Their speech and actions also teach ancient Indian values, showing how people should act as members of a family and as part of society.
When refining your ideas about this story, remember that you want to be as precise as possible. It is not enough to say that Rama and Sita loved each other. That is true, of course, but it is not the whole story. Love required different things from Rama and Sita.
Questions to Consider
How do various passages tell us:
What is proper or honorable behavior for a man? (Consider not just Rama, but all the men in the story.)
What is proper or honorable behavior for a woman? (Consider not just Sita, but all the women in the story.)
What are the rights and duties of the following people (i.e., what should each person be able to expect from the other)
Ramas to Sita
Sitas to Rama
His to his parents/stepparents
Hers to her parents
Hers to his parents/stepparents
Parents to their sons (e.g., inheritance, power over them, etc.)
Parents to their daughters
Brothers to each other
Marriage number of wives
relations of step siblings to each other
relations of wives to each other
age at marriage
Do the marriage customs affect the relationship between husband and wife?
Does religion support the family relationships? How?
Does it matter that Dasaratha is king as well as father to Rama and the others? Why/why not?
Are women powerless?
Kaushalya? (Dont forget chapter 31)
There may be other questions that come to mind as you think about the issues raised here. Thats great! Hunting down the answers will give you more material to work into your paper.
Remember that you are dealing with a tradition that has been handed down for centuries. The Ramayana will tell what values ancient Indians held and how they thought people should act. It will not tell you how most people actually behaved.
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