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The Character of Lord Lakshmana in the Ramayana | Lord Laxmana and the Lessons of Time

Whom do you like the most in the Ramayana among the given options?

In the famous epic The Ramacharita Manasa an adaptation of the eternal epic Ramayana, Goswami Tulsidasa describes Lord Laxmana as the Avatara or Incarnation of Lord Sheshanaga, who, as the great vehicle of Lord Narayana is eternally present as his resting couch on the great Milk ocean at the anals of the universe. Without Laxmana, Rama Avatara is incomplete.

During the course of the Naming ceremony in the kingdom of Ayodhya, in present day Uttar Pradesh Province of Bharath, Lord Rama is named first, then Bharata, then Shatrughana and finally, Laxmana. Logically Laxmana should have been named before Shatrughana, as He is elder to Shatrughana; but that did not happen. Laxmana, in the Ramacharita Manasa is described as the fundamental substrate of all existence. He is “Kaala”, “Time” or “Death” incarnate. One needs to analyze the character of Sri Laxmana only with this view in mind. Lord Narayana and Lord Sheshanaga represent the basis of the universe. This is the system of Sanatana Dharma. Other than this reality nothing exists, either, prior to the appearance of the universe, or  subsequent to the dissolution of the universe. Other than these two only personalities, only Mother Laxmi exists in a symbolic form, as the tuft of hair known as “Srivatsa” on the chest of Lord Narayana. Two beings, namely Lord Narayana and Lord Sheshanaga, the Lord’s eternal resting couch, one resting and one awake, exist eternally.

The human body is a microscopic representation of the universe, which is itself the human system’s macro representation. The universe can be known only via these two means. Knowing one’s own self through the internal process of spiritual practice or through the applied sciences, by focusing attention to the outward processes in the universe, are the means. The second means is however described as an unintelligent approach towards reality, because outward processes are largely not within man’s control, however man’s internal processes can be understood and controlled to a great extent through spiritual practice and development of character.

Lord Rama says that Sadhana is the means through which the body can be tuned to know the secrets of the universe; the body, being a tool capable of taking one to redemption or Moksha. In other words even the body is represented as the “guru” or the torch-bearer towards enlightenment. For example when Maharaja Dashratha saw his image in the mirror, he saw that the strands of his hair had gone grey. The body thus became an indicator of his advancing age. It also heralded the arrival of death in some way. Man is often reminded by the body, about advancing age and the shortage of time, as age proceeds towards the grave. Now it is just a question of insight whether the individual is able to grapple the underlying warnings that the body continues to pan as time whizzes past. Black hair is an indirect hint towards immaturity of thought or the blackness of character and white or grey hair is an indication that it is time for man to gravitate towards purity, before it is too late.

When Maharaja Dashratha saw his image in the mirror he could easily detect the tuft of grey hair, above his ears, at the side of his face, below the crown. Now if Maharaja Dashratha were to conceal his hair, he would have had to tilt the crown. This could have also revealed an abstract nature of Maharaja Dashratha’s character. Tilting the crown would have meant hypocrisy. It would have meant concealment of “ill-intentions” or an attempt to hide the Truth. Nowadays we see a lot of people employing hair weaving and using other artificial means, trying to look younger. Does this not reflect something about their innate character? It is a matter of contemplation. However in Maharaja Dashratha’s case he decided to keep his crown straight and accept the fact that he was now getting old and that time has arrived whereby he should work towards retirement and handover the reigns of the kingdom to his son, Rama. This realization was an advice given to him by his own aging body. Thus the body became his torch-bearer. Transformation in the body thus indicates passage of time and also heralds permanent changes in one’s life. One has to be awakened to this reality, if catastrophes are to be avoided.

Our entire existence has the substrate of time. It is time alone who is the supreme controller. Another striking fact in the great epic Ramayana is that Lord Laxmana never slept although there are many mentions in the epic that His Lord, Rama slept from time to time. How can the incarnation of Time sleep? Without Time, there can be no existence and hence even the Lord, to enact his pastimes also has the incarnation of Time by his side all the time!

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