We all uphold certain moral values in life, don’t we? Although we belong to different countries, states and regions, represent diverse cultures and religions, fundamentally we believe in many principles of life that are very similar in nature; like, brotherhood, kindness, sincerity, honesty and integrity etc. And if we look back, these values, deeply rooted within us, were sowed when we were children. And the values we cherish the most were taught through stories. Yes, although it sounds impossible, it is true that values embedded concretely within us are strongly connected to some of our favourite characters who had upheld similar ideals through the toughest of times in their lives. Without even realizing how much those characters had impacted our thoughts, we carried them ahead in life. And at some point of time, when certain situations similar to the ones in the stories, appeared in our lives, we unconsciously sought strength from those characters.
I remember learning from the story, ‘The three little pigs’ that I should never allow a stranger to enter the house when my parents were away. And after listening to the fascinating story of ‘Red Riding Hood’, I never spoke to strangers I met, on my way home from school. I learnt from ‘The ugly duckling’ that everyone is beautiful, and one should wait for the right time for that beauty to unfold. I also understood from my favourite story in childhood, ‘Cinderella’ that kind people are rewarded and evil punished. In fact, I started believing that Fairy Godmothers are real and they appear by magic if one is as good and kind-hearted as Cinderella was!
Now, these are the fairy tales that not only improved my language skills, but also taught me the ways of the world. I mean, I just can’t imagine my childhood days without these stories, and the lessons they taught me.
But the values and principles that I uphold in life, come from our own great Indian Epics.
We have a whole world of Epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. And I think, they are worth studying, reading and sharing simply because they are a magnificent window to the views, philosophies and beliefs of the past, of past cultures, traditions and our strong value system.
The Ramayana is not just an epic or a tale, but also an educational medium to demonstrate the importance of values such as loving and respecting our family, keeping our promises, protecting the weak and so on. By using the Magnum Opus of Hindu mythology, the Ramayana as a medium, we can teach our children many life-skills and ethics.
The Ramayana is one of the greatest epics of Hindu Mythology. Written by the Hindu sage Valmiki, the Ramayana is not just a story, but also an educational medium used by the ancient sages to promote the importance of doing yourdharma (duty) in relationships. The Ramayana depicts characters that we should aspire to be like, such as the ideal father, ideal son, ideal brother, ideal leader, ideal wife, etc.
Important values and ethics can be taught to children by way of storytelling. The Ramayana and Mahabharata especially, preach a lot of values that we would want our children to imbibe. Not for nothing, are they the most commonly taught epics since ancient times.
Instead of simply telling children to respect elders, examples from these epics would teach them the same with more emphasis.
Now, parents, teachers and care givers can use one of the greatest gems of Hindu Mythology, namely the Ramayana, to promote some of the most important moral values of life in children.
Moral Values of Life Taught by Indian Epics
If your child has siblings, focus on the love the brothers, Rama, Lakhsman, Bharat and Shatrughna had for each other. Why did Lakshman, who was used to all the worldly luxuries, decide to give that all up willingly to live with his elder brother for 14 years, full of hardship, in a forest? This was because he loved his brother and could not bear the thought of living 14 years without him. Similarly, Bharata had refused to sit on the throne and rule Ayodhya in place of his brother Rama, the rightful heir, who had been very unfairly banished to live a hard life in the forest.
Children can also be taught the importance of standing up for siblings with the example of Surpanakha. When Surpanakha was insulted by Lakshman, her brothers Khaara and Dooshan had rushed to avenge her, not caring that it could lead to their death. When Rama and Lakshman did indeed vanquish her brothers, Surpanakha sought her other brother Ravana’s help, setting the wheels for the Epic Battle between Rama and Ravana, good and evil, into motion.
In today’s materialistic world where disputes between siblings are commonplace, stories like these need to be extolled and repeated, time and again. We need to encourage our children to not only spend time with their siblings, but also stand up for each other, and be there for each other when required.
Such deep affection can be cultivated only when we encourage such growth, and keep emphasizing the importance of love amongst siblings.
Differentiating between Good and Evil
Children can be inspired to choose right over wrong, even when wrong may feel more appropriate by giving them the example of Bharat, who was awarded the honour of ruling the mighty kingdom of Ayodhya. Bharat could have just ruled by becoming the king and thereby enjoying the absolute power and luxury that came with it, but his sense of justice would not permit him to do what most others would greedily do. Instead, upon learning that his mother Kaikeyi had unjustly managed to get Rama banished from Ayodhya, he immediately went into the forest to look for Rama and offer him his rightful position as the ruler of Ayodhya. So great was his devotion to his brother, and so strong was his desire to be fair and just, that when Rama refused to return to Ayodhya before completing his 14 years in exile, Bharat placed Rama’s footwear on the throne and ruled Ayodhya in the name of Rama – as Rama’s emissary until he returned to regain his rightful position.
This teaches our children that even if something is extremely desirable, it should only be accepted if attained in a right manner, without hurting or affecting anyone else in an unfair and unjust way.
The Importance of a Promise or Commitment
Kaikeyi, the queen of Ayodhya, and wife of King Dashrath had been granted two boons when she had saved his life on the battlefield. The day before Dashrath was to retire and crown his eldest son Rama as king, Kaikeyi demanded that Dashrath grant her the boons promised to her. Her first desire was that Rama should be exiled to the forest for fourteen years, and the second, that her son, Bharat, be crowned King instead. Dashrath was naturally heartbroken at the prospect of having to send his son into exile for fourteen years, but for this noble hearted clan, honouring one’s word is the highest duty. Even when Dashrath began to falter at the prospect of actually honouring that promise due to his love for his first born, and pleaded with Rama not to leave, Rama reminded his father of the value of a promise given and left Ayodhya to keep his father’s word. When Bharat begged Rama to return to Ayodhya, Rama once again reminded Bharat that he could not and would not dishonour his father by breaking the promise he had made to Kaikeyi.
Rama, a prince who had been brought up in the lap of luxury, and who stood to gain a position of absolute power and luxury if he disregarded his father’s promise willingly, chose to live a life of exile and hardship for 14 years in a forest. Now, what does it teach our children? It teaches them not to break the promise and commitment they have made to their teachers and parents.
Affection and Reverence for Parents
Rama willingly chose to spend 14 years in exile in a forest to protect his father’s much respected honour. Such was the honour he paid to his father. Dashrath too loved his child so deeply that when Rama left for the forest, Dashrath could not bear the thought of being away from his son for 14 years and breathed his last.
This demonstrates the insurmountable affection and reverence Rama had for his parents. He listened to every command his parents made, he honoured their promises and ensured that no one could accuse them of being unfair. He did not go against his parents’ wishes even though he was the rightful heir. He obeyed his parents and is immortalised for doing so. It also showcases the love parents have for their children. Hopefully, the fact that Dashrath died pining for his son will teach children all about the attachment parents have for them, and make them even more devoted.
Be Warned of Bad Advice
Kaikeyi, the youngest queen, was fundamentally a good woman and thus King Dashrath’s most favourite one. Unfortunately, she was manipulated to send Rama into exile and insist on her son Bharat being crowned king because of the venomous counsel of her maid servant whom she considered loyal and wise. Manthara, the evil one, not only poisoned Kaikeyi’s mind into demanding those two appalling boons, but also ruined her life. She not only lost her beloved husband but also her son Bharat, for whom she had asked for those very boons. Her own son, Bharath instead of praising her as she had thought, chastised her for the dreadful behaviour.
This is a very important lesson for our children. It teaches them to stay on guard against vicious advice and wrong company. It teaches to be vigilant in order to avoid being misled. It teaches them to be firm of mind, and not let better judgement get swayed easily by people. It teaches them to question their behaviour and think of the consequences of their actions before making any big or small decisions.
Defending the Weak
Jatayu, was my favourite character in the story. And I had spent many hours preening into the blue skies to find him when I was a child. Now, Jatayu, an aged demigod in the form of a vulture, had witnessed Ravana kidnapping Sita and taking her forcefully to Lanka. Paying no attention to his old age, Jatayu tried to save Sita by fighting Ravana valiantly, but failed miserably. Unfortunately, he also got fatally wounded in the massive fight. When Rama and Lakshman were looking for Sita, they came across Jatayu where he was lying, breathing his last. Jatayu informed Rama about Sita’s whereabouts and Ravana’s plans before breathing his last. Moved to tears by the courage and valour of the aged Jatayu, Rama performed the last rites as though Jatayu was his father.
This teaches our child that they must always stand up for the weak. The fact that Jatayu was so old and still tried to take on the powerful Ravana single-handedly, teaches our children to be courageous and be unafraid to take on any challenge that comes along the way, and accomplish it to the best of ability.
Thus, keeping so many invaluable ideals in mind that can be easily taught to our children, let us retell the Ramayana not just for its holiness, but also because this Magnum Opus is an important tool for instructing the future generations the code of right and ethical behaviour. The Ramayana will enrich their lives and help us mould our children to be the leaders of tomorrow, imbibed with long lasting cultural and traditional foundation.
Special Thanks to Kavita Bhupta Ghosh , teacher of DPS, Bangalore South, for sharing her thoughts. This Guest Post has been written by Kavita Ghosh.