The Ideal King and Ideal Man:
As one of the most important gods in the Hindu pantheon, there
are many puranas or stories in honour of his love to the
universe. In one story, the earth was drowning in a huge flood,
so to save it Vishnu took on the body of a giant turtle and
lifted the earth on his back out of the waters.
A tale found in the Vedas describes a demon who could not be
conquered. Responding to the pleas of the gods, Vishnu appeared
before the demon as a dwarf. The demon, in a classic instance of
pride, underestimated this dwarf and granted him as much of the
world as he could tread in three steps. Vishnu then assumed his
universal form and in three strides spanned the entire universe
and beyond, crushing the demon in the process.
The incarnation of Vishnu known to almost everyone in India is
his life as Ram (Rama in Sanskrit), a prince from the ancient
north Indian kingdom of Ayodhya, in the cycle of stories known as
the Ramayana (The Travels of Ram).
On one level, this is a classic adventure story, as Ram is
exiled from the kingdom and has to wander in the forests of
southern India with his beautiful wife Sita and his loyal younger
After many adventures, during which Ram befriends the king of
the monkey kingdom and joins forces with the great monkey hero
Hanuman, the demon king Ravana kidnaps Sita and takes her to his
fortress on the island of Lanka (modern Sri Lanka).
A huge war then ensues, as Ram with his animal allies attacks
the demons, destroys them all, and returns in triumph to North
India to occupy his lawful throne. Village storytellers, street
theater players, the movies, and the national television network
all have their versions of this story.
In many parts of the country, but especially in North India,
the annual festival of Dussehra celebrates Ram's adventures
and his final triumph and includes the public burning of huge
effigies of Ravana at the end of several days of parties.
Everyone knows that Ram is really Vishnu, who came down to rid
the earth of the demons and set up an ideal kingdom of
righteousness--Ram Raj--which stands as an ideal in contemporary
Sita is in reality his consort, the goddess Lakshmi, the ideal
of feminine beauty and devotion to her husband. Lakshmi, also
known as Shri, eventually became the goddess of fortune, surplus,
Hanuman, as the faithful sidekick with great physical and
magical powers, is one of the most beloved images in the Hindu
pantheon with temples of his own throughout the country.
Lord Rama is one of the most commonly adored gods of Hindus
and is known as an ideal man and hero of the epic Ramayana.
He is always holding a bow and arrow indicating his readiness
to destroy evils. He is also called "Shri Rama". More
commonly he is pictured in a family style, (Ram Parivar) with his
wife Sita, brother Lakshman and devotee Hanuman who is sitting
near Lord Rama's feet.
From a comparatively minor incarnation whose task was to kill
a demon king who held his wife captive, the story of Rama has
entered deeply into Indian life as a deity, a subject for
literature, and an example of moral excellence.
As one of the chief protagonists in Indian epic poetry he has
passed into the mythology of countries other than India whose
cultures have been influenced by it or its regional
In spite of this, his iconography in Indian bronzes is almost
entirely restricted to the form shown standing, with two arms one
of which holds a how although in cases where the bow has been
cast separately it is sometimes missing.
This weapon connects him with his brother, the sixth
incarnation, through the incident in which the Shaivite
Parashurama, annoyed by Rama breaking Shiva's bow in a
contest, attempted to punish him in a fight.
It is likely that the bow, which became Rama's
distinguishing attribute, also symbolized masculine virtues
through the technique of its use needing a subtle application of
strength. It is, however, rather for his qualities of fidelity,
gentleness and steadfastness that he has become in Indian society
endowed with the ideal qualities of manhood.
In the same way his wife Sita is regarded as the embodiment of
all that is most admired in Indian womanhood, faithfulness and
affectionate compliance. As each was the other's only partner
they are also looked upon as setting an example of constancy in
The ways in which these qualities were demonstrated by both
Rama and Sita are described in the Mahabharata and, at greater
length, in the Ramayana ('The adventures of Rama') both
of which are too long to be summarized here, but are available in