The Ramayana

Bows and Arrows Symbol Analysis

Bows and Arrows Symbol Icon

For much of the story, Rama's weapon of choice is the bow and arrow. As such, bows and arrows in general are symbolic of Rama's great strength. This becomes particularly apparent when Janaka asks Rama to try to string Shiva's bow, a massive bow that any of Sita's suitors must be able to string in order to be considered worthy of marrying her. Rama not only strings the bow; he snaps it with his strength. In this situation, the bow is more than just a symbol of Rama's great strength; it also acts as a symbol for Rama's goodness, worthiness, and divine origins. This repeats later during the battle between Rama and Ravana, when Rama's arrows, which are imbued with prayers and Rama's goodness, neutralize or deflect all of Ravana's ill-begotten and evil weapons.

Bows and Arrows Quotes in The Ramayana

The The Ramayana quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bows and Arrows. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Heroism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of The Ramayana published in 2006.
2. The Wedding Quotes

As time passed Janaka became anxious whether he would ever see his daughter married and settled—since the condition once made could not be withdrawn. No one on earth seemed worthy of approaching Shiva's bow. Janaka sighed. "I tremble when I think of Sita's future, and question my own judgment in linking her fate with this mighty, divine heirloom in our house."

Related Characters: King Janaka (speaker), Rama, Sita, Shiva, Viswamithra
Related Symbols: Bows and Arrows
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

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6. Vali Quotes

The perfect man takes a false step, apparently commits a moral slip, and we ordinary mortals stand puzzled before the incident. It may be less an actual error of commission on his part than a lack of understanding on ours; measured in Eternity, such an event might stand out differently.

Related Characters: Rama, Lakshmana, Sugreeva, Vali
Related Symbols: Bows and Arrows
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

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12. Rama and Ravana in Battle Quotes

Rama at once invoked a weapon called "Gnana"—which means "wisdom" or "perception."

Related Characters: Rama, Ravana
Related Symbols: Bows and Arrows
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

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While he had prayed for indestructibility of his several heads and arms, he had forgotten to strengthen his heart, where the Brahmasthra entered and ended his career.

Related Characters: Rama, Ravana
Related Symbols: Bows and Arrows
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

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Bows and Arrows Symbol Timeline in The Ramayana

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bows and Arrows appears in The Ramayana. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Rama's Initiation
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
...it's Rama’s duty to kill Thataka. Rama agrees, and counters Thataka's attacks with his own bow and arrows. Rama successfully kills the demon, and the gods assemble in the sky and... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
...humans below. Rama assures the saints of their safety, and he and Lakshmana begin shooting arrows at the asuras. Rama shoots Thataka's sons, killing Subahu and wounding Mareecha. The other demons... (full context)
2. The Wedding
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
...Janaka laments that Rama can't marry Sita. The narrator explains that Janaka owns a huge bow that once belonged to Shiva. When Sita was a child and began to grow exceptionally... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Viswamithra comforts Janaka and asks to see the bow. Janaka agrees and asks his army to fetch the bow. It takes a carriage with... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Rama looks to Viswamithra for permission and then approaches the bow. The assembly speculates that this is cruel to Rama, and they completely miss seeing Rama... (full context)
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Sita is unaware that Rama broke the bow; she continues to move from bed to bed in an attempt to find someplace comfortable.... (full context)
4. Encounters in Exile
Heroism Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
...Soorpanaka and the commanders coming, he instructs Lakshmana to protect Sita, and singlehandedly uses his bow to decimate the army. Soorpanaka returns to Kara, who gathers an army of rakshasas to... (full context)
5. The Grand Tormentor
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
...and goes inside. Rama instructs Lakshmana to protect Sita and approaches the deer with his bow. He tracks the deer for miles and miles and finally realizes that it's a trick.... (full context)
6. Vali
Heroism Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
...serving Vishnu. He says to test Rama's identity, they must ask him to shoot an arrow through the trunks of powerful trees. They return to Rama and ask him to do... (full context)
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
...Sugreeva. Tara quietly mentions that Rama has joined with Sugreeva, and Rama has an invincible bow. Vali calls Tara foolish and insists that Rama is too righteous to try to kill... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
...Vali lifts Sugreeva over his head, Rama shoots Vali straight through the heart with an arrow. (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
...pauses, slowly lets go of Sugreeva, and wraps his hands, feet, and tail around the arrow. The god of death steps back in admiration. Vali wonders who could have possibly shot... (full context)
10. Across the Ocean
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
...him to pass. The sea god refuses to help until Rama threatens to shoot his arrows into the sea and dry it up. The sea god then agrees to use whatever... (full context)
11. The Siege of Lanka
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Though Kumbakarna's presence on the battlefield causes mayhem, Rama manages to use his bow and kill him. When Ravana hears of this development, he cries that his "right hand... (full context)
12. Rama and Ravana in Battle
Heroism Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
...urges his charioteer to go faster towards Rama. Though Ravana notices the "ominous signs" (snapping bows, thunder, crying horses), he decides he doesn't care about anything but killing Rama. (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
...own call. Matali follows this by blowing Indra's conch, and the battle begins. Ravana shoots arrows at Rama, but Rama's arrows stop Ravana's from hitting him. (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
...Indra's chariot, which makes him angry that the gods are supporting Rama. He shoots more arrows at Rama and again, Rama's arrows neutralize Ravana's attack. Even when Ravana uses all 20... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
...sky and Rama pursues him. Ravana destroys some of Rama's army from there, but Rama's arrows deflect most of Ravana's advances. Ravana shoots Rama's horses and Matali, and Rama pauses in... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Ravana begins using asthras in addition to his arrows, turning the fight into a battle of supernatural powers rather than simple military strength. Rama's... (full context)
Heroism Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
...Ravana's attack with the appropriate asthra. Finally, Ravana shoots his deadliest asthra towards Rama. Rama's arrows are useless against this weapon, but Rama mutters a mantra and the weapon collapses. This... (full context)
Epilogue
Heroism Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
...with open arms. When Rama was crowned, Sita sat next to him, Rama held his bow in his right hand, and Lakshmana stood watchfully below the throne. Hanuman knelt at Rama's... (full context)