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Musings on #39 of Desikan's RG

From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Thu Jan 02 1997 - 04:28:04 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta dsika guravE namaha

Dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s',

We saw, in my last posting, how Jatayu transcended its "sva-dharmA" in a
manner equal, if not exceeding, in majesty to the "transcending" that Lord
Rama Himself achieved in the 'araNya-kAndam'.

We stated, if you will recall, that this was because "Jatayu embraced a
higher order of hierarchic-"dharmA" --- the "sAdhAraNa-dharmA" of human
beings !".

Now you may all wonder what this "sAdhAraNa-dharmA" of human beings is and
how did Jatayu come to embrace it while transcending the "sAdhAraNa-dharmA"
of birds.

To begin answering that question we must retrace our steps a little to that
point in the narrative sequence of the 'araNyA-kAndam' where LakshmaNa,
Rama's dashing younger brother, was himself caught in a "dharma-sankatam" (a
moral quandary).

We are all aware that when Lord Rama set out in pursuit of the
"golden-deer", 'mArichA', in the Dandaka-woods, he gave clear instructions
to his brother, Lakshmana, to stand security over 'sita-pirAtti'.

Lakshmana was thus entrusted with the duties of a highest-ranking sentinel.

The duties to which a sentinel is bound  --- his 'sAdhAraNa-dharmA' --- even
in the secular world of men, are usually written down in clear manuals. For
instance, we all know that there are elaborate security arrangements for
Heads of State and VIPs in all countries. These security arrangements are
often recorded in 'highly-classified' government manuals and missives. Only
fully trained and trust-worthy security-personnel are made privy, on a
strict "need-to-know basis", to such security measures.

So a sentinel, in military regimen, usually has a clear idea and perception
of what his duties are and how they are to be fulfilled to the letter and
spirit. Seldom are "unclear instructions" given to sentries that are likely
to make him "unsure of himself". The sentinel knows exactly what is expected
of him and no failure on his part (except by way of death in the course of
duty) to carry-out his assigned tasks ('sAdhAraNa-dharmA-s') would normally
be tolerated under any circumstance.

Now, in the Dandaka-woods, Lakshmana, too, was given similar charge of the
security of 'sIta-pirAtti' by Lord Rama in unambiguous terms : "NEVER LEAVE

Thus, the 'sAdhAraNa-dharmA' of Lakshmana was unequivocally laid down for
him by Lord Rama.

But we all know from the narrative in the 'araNyA-kAndam', that due to
certain extra-ordinary circumstances, and principally, under extreme duress
imposed by Sita, Lakshmana "deserted" his post as sentinel and instead chose
to pursue Lord Rama to warn Him of the impending danger of pursuing the
'rAkshasA' disguised as a "golden-deer".


I take your permission here, dear friends, for a moment, to put LakshmaNa's
role in the 'araNya-kAndam' in proper perspective since a member, Sri
Krishna Praba, has pointed that some of my earlier comments too on
"Ilaya-perumAl" were rather uncharitable, especially when I referred to the
"blind love" he had for Lord Rama that drove him to "dire straits". 

Sri.Krisha Praba also feels that I "got carried away" in an "otherwise
interesting discussion" !! I like his comment very much as it forces me to
re-think my position and issue an explanation as follows :

I remind members that in these little essays of mine I am deliberately
employing a "MIX OF CRITICAL APPROACHES" to the dramatic episode of the
'araNya-kAndam' to be able to achieve the maximum possible force of a
literary critique. In fact, I was precautious enough to give very early
notice to all members in my earliest postings in this series that I would be
using the "Rt.Hon'ble Sastry technique" to essay the moral aspects of the
'Jatayu-episode' as it would appeal to the modern sensibility and that I
would be using the "Mukkur-Swami II technique" only to highlight the purely
religious side of the subject matter. 

It is in the light of the above "mixed approach" of mine that my references
to LakshmaNa, such as those Sri."krish" has drawn attention to y/day, must
be viewed. When I attribute "blind love" and "dire straits" to LakshmaNa it
must not be seen as pejorative expressions but must be understood in the
larger  dramatic context of the "araNya-kAndam" such as the one that one
would be able to construct by adopting the "Rt.Hon'ble Sastry approach". 

I have already explained what this "Sastry approach" is in my earlier posting.

Be that all as it may, dear members, one of the beauties of LakshmaNa's role
in the "araNya-kAndam" (and only in this 'kAndam'!) is that Sage Valmiki, I
believe, uses his character as, what modern literary critics would call, an
"anti-hero". In all great literature, particularly of France (the great
Victor Hugo and Flaubert, come to mind immediately), "anti-heroic"
characters are generally introduced by authors in their works to drive home
certain moral messages. It is done to convey ideas and sentiments by
contrasting the "less-than-heroic' actions of 'anti-heroes' with portraits
of affirmatively 'heroic' deeds of the hero. It is a literary technique that
when used with consummate skill such as Sage Valmiki is known, indeed, to
exhibit in the 'Ramayana', it tellingly achieves the author's purpose of
making an emphatic point by revealing both its "light" and "dark" (or
"not-so-light"!) sides. 

By showing the subject in such contrasting shades of "dark" and "light", as
in a chiaroscuro, the poet or author achieves a heightened level of
appreciation from his readers. 

A reader generally understands a thing or idea better when he is also made
aware of its converse side, isn't it ?

In the 'araNya-kAnda', thus, and especially with regard to our present
discussion on the "hierarchy of "dharmA-s"", all my references to LakshmaNa
should be taken as reflective of his wonderful and "purposeful" role as such
a great "anti-hero". 

I should not be misunderstood as making denigratory remarks about one of the
greatest characters, both in the literary and religious sense, of the
"Ramayana" and whose heroic brilliance is amply evident elsewhere in other


Now, to come back to where we left a few paragraphs above.

If you examine LakshmaNa's action as a sentinel, you cannot but define it as
the act of an "anti-hero".

His 'abandonment' of one 'sAdhAraNa-dharmA' i.e. that of a sentinel, and
embracing of another 'sAdhAraNa-dharmA', that of a 'reconnoiterer', was
certainly no "transcending" from one plane of "dharmA" to a higher plane. It
was a plain lateral move and extremely "human" in its character.

Let me explain. 

LakshmaNa "gave up" the duty of a "sentinel", specifically ordained for him
by Lord Rama, and instead, chose that of a martial-scout or "reconnoiterer"
i.e. one who goes forward with important or critically urgent "military
intelligence" to be conveyed to a leading or lagging column of an advancing
armed-force. The job of such a scout is to provide "early-warning signals"
to military forces.

In this act of LakshmaNa, his good intentions and moral compulsions
notwithstanding, he could not be said to have "transcended" his 'sAdhAraNa-
dharmA'. He merely substituted one with another which he mistakenly thought
was more appropriate to pursue than the one assigned to him under the
circumstance then.

LakshmaNa sincerely believed, poor young man, that the real "need of that
moment" --- when Sita goaded him to leave his post and proceed to "warn"
Lord Rama --- the "need of that moment" was for him to serve as
"early-warning reconnoiterer to Lord Rama" rather than as "sentinel" to
Sita. There was a great confusion of "ends and means" in his mind in those
few fateful moments. He failed to clearly determine what was his true "dharmA".

And the result, we all know, was unmitigated eventual disaster ....

Dear friends, isn't it true that such momentary and fatal "confusion of ends
and means" which afflicted our great "anti-hero", LakshmaNa, also sometimes
attacks us in our petty and varied lives ? Don't we also, in many situations
in our lives, find ourselves in moral quandary over two or more conflicting
"duties of action" ? Aren't there many moments in our lives where we find
that we have erringly made a choice between the "devil and the deep-sea"
when we thought we had wisely made a "good choice between two evils" ?  

Dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', compare, on the other hand, young LakshmaNa's
"failing" by contrasting it with the categorical act or "dharmA" of old
Jatayu and you will easily see how sometimes the "cool wisdom of age" stands
one in better stead than the "hot moral fervour of youth" !

The Great Old Bird, Jatayu, for one, did not have the slightest confusion
over the order of "dharmA" to be upheld and "transcended". The bird knew it
had to transcend its own "sAdhAraNa-dharmA" so as to move to a higher plane
or order of hierarchic-"dharmA". And in this Jatayu, indeed, can be said to
have carried out majestically a "dharmA" normally expected of, not birds !!
but of full-grown human sentinels !!

It is common knowledge that in a jungle filled with predators and predatory
activity, it is often the "ordained duties" ("sAdhAraNa-dharmA") of birds to
act as "early-warning signalling systems". In the deepest jungles, where you
can never be sure what danger lurks behind a bush or a tree, one of the
safest ways by which you can forewarn yourself is to keep a constant watch
on how the birds in the surrounding area are behaving. If they are going
about their usual business of "chirping and tweeting", then you can be sure
there is nothing to worry about. But if you suddenly see some of them fall
silent or perceive some of them begin to turn restless, flutter about
agitatedly, fly away instantly or begin squawking loudly ... then you can
take all that behaviour to be sure "early-warning signals" of danger, in the
form of some predatory animal, just round the corner !!

In the case of Jatayu, a bird in the jungle, one would have expected it to
fulfill nothing more than just that ordinary "sAdhAraNa-dharmA" common to
its species: to be an "early-warning signalling mechanism" alerting
everybody in the vicinity of the imminent danger that the "predator",
Ravana, was. 

Jatayu's job -- as a "jungle reconnoiterer" -- would have been amply
accomplished if it had merely "fluttered about in frenzy" or "squawked out
aloud" while Ravana proceeded with the molesting of "sitA-pirAtti" ; it
would have been more than enough for the Great Bird to have merely created a
great commotion to attract whatever attention possible, of all creatures in
the area, to the crime about to be perpetrated then on Sita by Ravana.
Beyond that nothing more could have been expected of the great bird.

It would all, no doubt, have been justified for Jatayu, later on, to be able
to confidently say, "I did what best I could possibly do: I did warn
everyone of Ravana's approach !! I did my job, didn't I ? I did everything
that could be reasonably expected of the "sAdhAraNa-dharmA" of an ordinary
bird that I am, didn't I ?".

And believe me, dear friends, none could ever have faulted Jatayu in the least!!

But we know, dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', that Jatayu did something entirely
different and out of character with its wonted and ordained duty to act as a
reconnoiterer of the jungle. 

It did something which even the great LakshmaNa failed to do !!

Jatayu, "transcended" its "sAdharaNa-dharm-ic" duties (to serve as crude
intrument of early-warning signalling in the jungle) and, instead, quickly
assumed the higher "dharm-ic" duties at the plane of "sAdhAraNa-dharmA-s"
enjoined on human sentinels to uphold !!

By strange fate, indeed, the roles of LakshmaNa and Jatayu, in the decisive
moment in the 'araNya-kAndam', were entirely reversed !! One did the job of
the other ! LakshmaNa, the duly appointed sentinel, became the
"reconnoitering agent" running forth to warn Rama; and Jatayu, the bird
meant to act as natural 'reconnoiterer' in the forest, assumed the role of
"human sentinel" !!

Jatayu, a mere bird, thus assumed that great role which Lord Rama had
expected LakshmaNa to play --- that of an inveterate, brave,
"never-say-die", formidable sentinel to 'sitA-pirAtti' !! Jatayu set aside
its "biologically ordained" role of a "jungle-reconnoiterer" and quickly
donned the role of a "die-hard" human sentinel who wouldn't "budge an inch",
would never hesitate to give up even life in the discharge of the paramount
duty to protect whatever was in protective custody !! (In this case, Sita
was not even formally in Jatayu's custody!) 

The great Bird thus proceeded to "abandon" its own "sAdhAraNa-dharmA",
followed a "higher order of dharmA" viz. Lord Rama's "ordinances" imposed by
Him on LakshmaNa  viz. :


Jatayu, by such act, could thus be said to be, dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', a
true and exemplary exponent of the "charama-shloka" of the Bhagavath-Gita:

        sarvadharmAnparithyadjya mAmEkam sharaNam vraja I
        aham tvA sarvapApEbhyo mOksha-yIshyAmi mA shucha-ha II

So far, upto this point, dear friends, we have seen :

a) Lord Rama "transcending" His "sva-dharmA"
b) Jatayu "transcending" both its "sva-dharmA" and "sAdhArana-dharmA".

My next posting will be an account of Jatayu "transcending" to its

After that I will try and narrate how Lord Rama Himself could be said to
have demonstrated the "transcending" of His own "sAdhArana-" and
"visEsha-dharmA", although we know that the Supreme Lord, by Himself, is
beyond the pale of any "dharmA".

After that I shall sum up our discussions on "dharmA" by showing finally the
connection they have with Stanza #39 of the "Raghuveera-gadyam" of Swami
Desikan :

               vikrama yashOlAbha-vikrIthajIvitha-gridhr-rAja
dEhadidhakshA-lakshita bhakthajana dhAkshinya !  

srimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha