The Ramayana


R. K. Narayan

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Ramayana can help.
Themes and Colors
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Ramayana, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Heroism Theme Icon

The Ramayana tells the story of Rama, a man who is an avatar (incarnation) of the Hindu god Vishnu. As such, Rama possesses all of Vishnu's godly qualities in the body of a man, and is therefore meant to represent an image of the ideal man according to Hindu philosophy. As the characters travel through the text, interacting with other honorable characters as well as less-ideal characters, the text seeks to discover what truly makes an ideal hero or person, and how readers or listeners can use Rama's example to create for themselves a more ideal life.

As the ideal man, Rama is exceptionally strong, handsome, skilled in battle, extremely thoughtful, and loyal to his family members. The first indicator of Rama's greatness, and one that carries throughout the entirety of the story, is Rama's exceptional strength and abilities in battle. When Rama is a boy, the sage Viswamithra asks that Rama and Rama's brother, Lakshmana, accompany him to a sacred place to defend him against evil demons during a sacrifice. As Viswamithra performs his sacrifice, Rama and Lakshmana successfully fight off all the demons who wish to interrupt Viswamithra's prayers. This stands as an early indicator that both Rama and Lakshmana are great fighters and possess great strength. Further, this initial victory causes the asthras (weapons powered by supernatural forces) to pledge themselves to Rama, which reinforces the righteousness of Rama and allows him to triumph over Ravana later. Later in the same journey, Rama successfully strings Shiva's bow in Mithila, demonstrating his godly strength and his worthiness to marry Sita. King Janaka designed this nearly impossible test to discourage unworthy young men from asking for Sita's hand, and the fact that Rama is not just able to string the bow, but break it stands as a public announcement of Rama's strength and perfection.

Alongside his great strength, what sets Rama apart from other characters, including the similarly strong Lakshmana, is Rama's desire to do only good, and to carefully weigh the evidence in order to make the decision that will lead to the most good. This suggests that one of the most important qualities of a hero is that he first of all seeks to champion good, and that he does so by being particularly thoughtful and considerate. Though Rama and Lakshmana both possess impressive strength and military knowledge, Rama rises far above Lakshmana when comparing their tempers and thoughtfulness. Lakshmana certainly has good intentions, but at times he attempts to act rashly and without fully considering the consequences of his actions, as when he threatens to take on anyone who opposes Rama's claim to the throne of Ayodhya. When Lakshmana behaves this way, Rama demonstrates his own positive qualities by reasoning with his brother and leading him towards the correct path.

Rama discusses with a number of characters throughout the book as to why his reasoning is the most correct, pointing out to them exactly why their logic is flawed. In all cases, Rama is successful in teaching other characters how and why a particular path is correct. In other situations, Rama allows other characters to convince him of why a choice is the correct one. This shows that part of being the perfect hero is being willing and able to both teach and learn from others, so that everyone can become similarly ideal. Though Rama does at times make decisions that call his morality into question, as when he forces Sita to prove her fidelity, the book overwhelmingly presents the idea that being willing to listen, learn, and then teach is a crucial part of what makes Rama the ideal hero. Further, by humanizing Rama in this way (even the gods intervene at that point and remind Rama of his purpose and divinity), the ideal set out by Rama seems even more possible for a reader or listener. Even Rama makes mistakes, but his willingness to listen and learn allows him to remain a revered hero.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…
Get the entire The Ramayana LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Ramayana PDF

Heroism Quotes in The Ramayana

Below you will find the important quotes in The Ramayana related to the theme of Heroism.
3. Two Promises Revived Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dasaratha (speaker), Rama
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

"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..."

Related Characters: Lakshmana (speaker), Rama, Dasaratha, Bharatha, Kaikeyi
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

"Oh, impossible thought—did he commit a wrong? But if Rama committed a seemingly wrong act, it would still be something to benefit humanity, like a mother forcibly administering a medicine to her child."

Related Characters: Bharatha (speaker), Rama, Kaikeyi
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
4. Encounters in Exile Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Rama, Ravana, Vishnu
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

"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."

Related Characters: Vali (speaker), Rama
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
7. When the Rains Cease Quotes

"Even in jest, do not hurt anyone's feelings, not even the lowliest," he said—remembering how he used to make fun of Kooni's deformity when he was young...

Related Characters: Rama (speaker), Sugreeva, Kooni
Page Number: Book Page 106
Explanation and Analysis:
10. Across the Ocean Quotes

"After all, one who seeks asylum must be given protection. Whatever may happen later, it is our first duty to protect."

Related Characters: Rama (speaker), Hanuman, Vibishana
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

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:
14. The Coronation Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Rama, Ravana, Brahma, Shiva
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis: