Baala Kaanda - Sarga 1
Rāmāyaṇa is the epic poem of the richest and longest surviving civilization on the face of the planet. The essence of Rāmāyaṇa can be boiled down to two words: Plurality and Righteousness.
Plurality:
Rāmāyaṇa presents a wide variety of personalities, without holding any one of them specifically ideal or advocating one as better than the other. Everyone in Rāmāyaṇa chooses their own life path and style reflecting their own personality. Dhasaratha has thrī wives, whereas Rāma chooses to be wedded to only one wife for life and Hanuma chooses to remain a a bachelor for life. Lakṣmaṇa chooses to be with his brother and protect him all the time, whereas Vibhīṣaṇa chooses to differ with his mighty brother.
Kaikayi's people involve themselves in her life even after her marriage, whereas Sītā's people do not involve in her life after marriage. Vasiṣṭha and Viṡvāmitra choose to lead an ascetic life all through, whereas Rāvaṇa, inspite of being a Brāhmaṇa, chooses to dominate the world at all costs. Vālmīki, the poet, stays behind the scenes and doesn't patronize any one of these characters over the other. He presents each character in its full force. He doesn't become judgmental about any one of them. He lets the characters speak for themselves.
Righteousness (Dharma):
Rāmāyaṇa presents various challenging situations. Each one of the personalities succīd or fail in those situations. The situations illustrate whether the personality a) could maintain to its core nature, withhout wavering and b) could stay on the right side of the ethical, moral and socially agreeable side of the equation. Vālmīki, continues to stay behind the scenes and doesn't come out to laud or denounce their choices. The choices speak for themselves.
These two aspects make up the framework of Rāmāyaṇa. It is much more than a simple 'good over the evil' story. You will enjoy and appreciate Rāmāyaṇa much more dīply, if you kīp this framework in mind. Rāmāyaṇa, then, would help you in reflecting on your own life and the happenings in the society. That is the benefit of reading Rāmāyaṇa.
The imagination of an entire civilization held the central characters of the story, Rāma, Sītā, and Hanuma as ideal, because each one of them choose to lead a noble life of their choice and preserved their character even under the most trying circumstances. They stayed on the right side of the equation, without regard to the personal difficulties and sacrifices that their choices called upon.
Reading Rāmāyaṇa:
Rāmāyaṇa interweaves these personalities, situations and choices into a beautiful narrative. Vālmīki is the master poet that the world has ever known. He opens up vistas and scenes of human emotions, with all the dRāma and action in front of you. He paints a beautiful visual picture through his mastery of words and style of narration.
Reinvent the child in you to enjoy this epic with all its magic and inspiration. Read it as if you were reading it for the first time. The scenes and the magic will open up in front of your eyes with all their beauty and glory. Pay attention to each word and phrase, to fill your mind with the essence of human emotions, high as well as low. Add your imagination throughout this epic poem to see it like a movie imagining all the visuals portrayed by the Author.
We are all blessed to be together in reading this great epic starting this Sri Rāma Navami Day.
This first Sarga of Bāla Kāṇḍa gives a summary of the Rāmāyaṇa, similar to the 'Introduction' in many modern books and similar to the 'Executive Summary' of a business document. Also, notice that Uttara Kāṇḍa is not included in this summary.
All Segments:
Vālmīki wrote Rāmāyaṇa for all segments of the population. Notice the mention of Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiṡya and Ṡūdra in the last Ṡlōka of this Sarga. It simply means all segments of the society.
Writers, politicians and business people have to be, or at least apper as, universal and inclusive. They have to mention all the segments of society, all the time. They should not and would not 'leave out' anyone.
For example, smart phone advertisers try to say that it is useful for workers, housewives, students, businessman, young people and old people alike. A politician would try to say that his/her policy would benefit everyone, the business people, the employed, the unemployed, the widows, the farmers, and so on.
Businessmen and politicians use some segmentation or the other that is in vogue in the given time and place. Vālmīki, who is writing a poem that is meant to last for eternity, on the other hand, nīds a segmentation that transcends the time and place. He nīds to use a segmentation that makes sense in Kali Yuga, just as it did in Trētā Yuga. He nīds a segmentation that is applicable as much in every part of the world, as it is in India.
Vālmīki uses a celebrated segmentation that is identified by the Indic philosophers and sages, based on four enduring interests of humanity, which are: Knowledge, Power, Wealth and Comfort. Before the caste system confused the things, by tightly coupling the Varnas with Lineages, things were much simpler and cleaner. These four interests of people are natural and universal. They existed then. They exists now.
Any person, who has life long interest is in acquiring knowledge (arts and sciences), and fīls good in identifying himself/herself with his knowledge, is considered a Brāhmaṇa, regardless of lineage. Any person, who has life long interest in acquiring power, and fīls good in identifying himself/herself with the power and position is recognized a Kṣatriya. Any person, who has life long interest in creating and pursuing wealth, and fīls good in identifying himself/herself with it is called as a Vaiṡya. Any person, who sīks comfort and happiness in life, and has the necessary willingness to work for it, is known as a Ṡūdra.
The sages and philosophers of India have identified these not only as fundamental, but also as legitimate interests. They realized that these four interests are complementary and vital building blocks of the society. Hence their vision is that these four segments will last forever. And, history continues to, handsomely, vindicate that vision.

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