The principle of d’harma that appears throughout Ramayana is one that calls for a specific kind of righteousness. D’harma is a difficult concept to pin down, but it essentially translates as the individual’s proper place and role in the cosmic cycle. D’harma manifests in many forms throughout Ramayana, but perhaps its most concrete manifestations are the father and son relationship and the husband and wife relationship. The principle of d’harma is brought to life by Rama’s respect and devotion to his father. Similarly, Sita is celebrated for her devotion to her husband Rama. These themes of respect and devotion appear in 21st century culture but have developed over time to account for new values. While the d’harma of the Ramayana places significance on duty to the father and husband, modern d’harma moves away from roles of obligatory respect and focuses on the autonomous individual.
Rama’s characterization as the ideal man in Ramayana relies heavily on his adherence to the principle of d’harma. D’harma entails righteousness, purity, and nobility. In Rama’s case, this righteousness, purity, and nobility mean an unquestioning respect for his father’s wishes. In this way, Rama’s duty to the principle of d’harma is a duty to his father. Rama’s unwavering devotion to Dasharatha is seen when Kaikeyi orders that he accept his father’s demands before he even hears what they are. Kaikeyi demands: “From faith, as well the righteous know/ Our virtue and our merits flow/ Now, be they good or be they ill/ Do thou thy father’s words fulfil:/ Swear that his promise shall not fail/ And I will tell thee all the tale” (2. 95-100). D’harma calls for such unconditional respect for the father that Rama is expected to accept Dasharatha’s command before the fact. Once Rama hears that he will be exiled, he responds without question: “Yea, for my father’s promise sake/ I to the wood my way will take/ And dwell a lonely exile there/ In hermit dress with matted hair” (11. 144-148). The d’harma celebrated in this scene is Rama’s loyalty before and after he is exiled. His righteousness is not derived from the knowledge of a greater good or consideration for his father’s possible intention behind banishing him. Rather, Rama displays d’harma in that he promises to obey his father’s command without regard to its severity or purpose.
Devotion to one’s father is a principle that has been dismantled over time. In 21st century society, unwavering devotion to the father has namely been disregarded for its inherent misogyny. The principle of devotion to the father stems from the belief that he is the assigned and rightful authority over the wife and children. The 21st century recognizes that a principle of unconditional loyalty to the father suggests a lack of loyalty to the mother, or at least a less pressing or significant one. The inherent misogyny of this aspect of d’harma can be seen in Sita’s unconditional devotion to Rama. When Sita learns of Rama’s impending exile, she responds, “The wife alone, whate’er await/ Must share on earth her husband’s fate./ So now the king’s command which sends/ Thee to the wild, to me extents./ The wife can find no refuge, none/ In father, mother, self, or son” (2. 388-393). Here Sita’s unchanging loyalty to her husband is celebrated as d’harma, although a 21st century reader would likely recognize the pressing issue of the perception of the wife as an extension of the husband. Though this form of d’harma is between husband and wife, Sita displays the proper righteousness by ignoring any desires of her own to follow Rama into exile. Kaikeyi is portrayed as manipulative and antagonistic for taking advantage of Dasharatha’s integrity and ordering that he banish Rama. Though Kaikeyi is antagonistic, her antagonism is made more severe in the face of the expected d’harma, or devotion to her husband. The 21st century sees past these obligatory forms of devotion to male figures and instead deals in the rights of the woman as an individual. This point brings forth the fact that 21st century society has also developed from ideas of individualism and autonomy. Unwavering respect for the father’s command, under the lens of 21st century culture, undermines fundamental rights of the individual. A modern family wouldn’t call for or be expected to call for the child’s blind adherence to the father’s every desire. Instead, individual thought, free will, and contemplation have been set forth as highly valued principles in their own right. Similarly, the ideas surrounding the family unit itself have shifted. While the Ramayana holds Rama accountable for fulfilling the commands of his parents, 21st century culture has established that “family” may not necessarily be blood relatives. Rama’s unwavering respect and calm acceptance of banishment might be seen as a form of manipulative abuse on his father’s part. The individual of the 21st century might rightfully take Dasharatha’s command as cruelty, and forge new connections and meaningful relationships that offer security, love, and compassion.
The d’harma celebrated in Ramayana stems from the notion of the individual’s “proper” behavior and actions in the cosmic cycle. Part of the ascribed proper behavior deals in an unconditional respect for the father’s authority. Rama is celebrated for his unconditional respect for Dasharatha, following his every command without question or regard for his own well-being. While these values are applauded in Ramayana, a 21st century individual would likely view them as dangerous. Rama’s code of conduct deals in reverence for his father, but 21st century culture recognizes that one’s code of conduct must deal in his or her individual needs and desires. Instead of viewing the individual as an extension of the father, the 21st century values the individual for his or herself.