The characters in the Ramayana place a great deal of importance on honor, loyalty, and behaving dutifully to their family members. Honor and loyalty control every character in the story, humans as well as the demons and the gods. Even though honoring one's promises and behaving loyally often has disastrous short-term consequences for the characters, they overwhelmingly choose to follow through with their promises, which later result in long-term success. This suggests that though behaving loyally or honorably may be difficult or unappealing initially, it's entirely necessary for future happiness.
First, it's important to note that the importance placed on loyalty and duty works in the logic of the story and in Hindu society because of a widespread belief in fate and destiny. Essentially, if someone violates a promise or refuses to grant a promised boon, the cosmic order of society will be catastrophically interrupted. On the other hand, following through with one's promises allows a person to actually follow the cosmic order, even if it doesn't make logical sense at the time.
As the protagonist of the story and the ideal hero, Rama is intensely loyal and honorable—at times, nearly to a fault. He acts as a model citizen, demonstrating for other characters as well as readers or listeners the importance of behaving honorably, loyally, and remaining dutiful to one's family. When King Dasaratha is forced to send Rama into exile to fulfill an earlier promise he made to his wife Kaikeyi, Rama refuses the pleadings of his family members and advisors to stay and obey the desires of his father's heart, rather than his father's words. The gods watch these discussions closely, worried that Rama will interrupt his fate by allowing himself to be crowned. When Rama insists on honoring his father's words, he insures three things: that his father upholds his promise to Kaikeyi; that Rama himself behaves obediently to his father; and that he will be able to go on and fulfill his destiny of destroying the rakshasa demons. This choice also means that when Rama does return, his rule will be legitimate.
Even though upholding one's promises is of the utmost importance to the characters in the Ramayana, the characters also look for ways to use loopholes and technicalities to orchestrate events and behave in a way they believe to be correct. This is practiced by mortals and gods alike, and shows that though the gods might control fate, they can't always insure that their actions or promises will lead to good. For example, Ravana, the story's villain, becomes extremely powerful because he was initially decent and virtuous, and the gods agreed to reward him for his virtue. Ravana's resulting power corrupted him and led him to use his power to subjugate the gods who pledged protection to him. This in turn leads the gods to concoct the plan for Vishnu to be born as Rama, as it allows them to utilize the fact that Ravana never asked a human for protection. Other gods incarnate as monkeys, since Ravana is cursed to expect his downfall from a monkey. By doing this, the gods are able to technically keep their promises to Ravana while simultaneously removing him from power. Bharatha, Rama's brother, engages in a similar thought process when Rama insists that he follow Dasaratha's wishes that he stay in Ayodhya to rule. While Bharatha technically follows his father's wishes, in actuality he rules as a regent from outside the city and waits for Rama's return. These situations show that though ideas of duty, honor, and loyalty are extremely important for society to function at all levels, individuals can still exert some control over their lives and fates by working within the confines of these expectations.
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty ThemeTracker
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Quotes in The Ramayana
You cannot count on the physical proximity of someone you love, all the time. A seed that sprouts at the foot of its parent tree remains stunted until it is transplanted...Every human being, when the time comes, has to depart and seek his fulfillment in his own way.
You will learn the answer if you listen to this story—of a woman fierce, ruthless, eating and digesting all living creatures, possessing the strength of a thousand mad elephants.
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."
He is perfect and will be a perfect ruler. He has compassion, a sense of justice, and courage, and he makes no distinctions between human beings—old or young, prince or peasant; he has the same consideration for everyone. In courage, valor, and all the qualities—none to equal him.
"My father's name is renowned for the steadfastness of his words. Would you rather that he spoke false? ... I am thrice blessed, to make my brother the King, to carry out my father's command, and to live in the forests. Do not let your heart grieve."
"I'll be the fate to overpower fate itself," said Lakshmana, with martial arrogance. Rama argued with him further. "I'll change and alter fate itself, if necessary..."
Rama's whole purpose of incarnation was ultimately to destroy Ravana, the chief of the asuras, abolish fear from the hearts of men and gods, and establish peace, gentleness, and justice in the world.
"You are the overlord of seven worlds, mightier than the mightiest. Why do you feel sad and unhappy? Go and get her; that is all. Take her. She is yours. Is there anything beyond your reach? Stir yourself. Leave this desolate mood. Go forth, snatch her, because she is yours, created for you and waiting for you."
"We should not become too analytical about a friend, nor look too deeply into original causes; but accept only what appears good to us in the first instance, and act on it."
"In spite of my obstinacy you have helped me attain a profound understanding and opened my mind with your magic. While other gods confer boons after being asked, you confer them on the mere utterance of your name. Great sages have attempted, after eons of austerities, to obtain a vision of God, but you have bestowed it upon me unasked."
The gods, who had watched this in suspense, were now profoundly relieved but also had an uneasy feeling that Rama had, perhaps, lost sight of his own identity. Again and again this seemed to happen. Rama displayed the tribulations and the limitations of the human frame and it was necessary from time to time to remind him of his divinity.