Archive for April, 2012

The Ramayana and Shamanism

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

During the many years I lived in Ramagiri Ashram, and listened to Eknath Easwaran tell the many Hindu epics, and reading them in several versions, I never warmed up to the Ramayana. It seemed like it was anti-woman, and that Rama was way over-the-top straight arrow. I attributed it to being a hold-over from a less enlightened time, an ancient tale that came from a male-dominated culture of very different morality and ethics – interesting in that light, but otherwise not something I’d really want to internalize.

True, there were amazing threads of loyalty and devotion. Not to mention more plot twists and complications than an Italian Opera. But when I learned that the Ramayana is told very differently in Sri Lanka (that Sita left Rama on her own to be with the dashing handsome Ravana, rather than being kidnapped), I soured even more. That, and Rama insisting that Sita had to go through the fire before he’d accept her as his wife again, after having rescued her, struck me as the worst kind of male behavior.

Yesterday I was musing on things in general during my morning practice, and it occurred to me that the Ramayana has a very different interpretation that opens thing up in a new depth to the story. It’s really a metaphor for a shamanic soul retrieval.

It can be viewed on several levels – but the essence is that Sita’s abduction is soul theft. Sita can represent either her own soul (I see this in a few clients, where their soul has been stolen), the soul of the earth (she is the daughter of King Janaka and the earth itself), or even part of Rama’s soul. Or all three.

Since in this view this happens outside of ordinary reality, Rama (the shaman) cannot raise a regular army, or even some special forces, to recover Sita – he has to rely on an army of Power Animals – led by none other than the magical Hanuman. Many bears are involved too. Eventually the spirit army reaches the redoubt of Sri Lanka, probably only associated with the geographic island by later bards. A bridge needs to be built, which the spirit animals do, and the siege begins. Eventually Sita is found and rescued, and the demon Ravana vanquished – or in some tellings transmuted into the light – and Sita and the spirit army return to the forest.

The “trial by fire” is really a spirit cleansing by the elements – shamans often do this in some soul retrieval ceremonies – here with Sita’s friend the fire god Agni – and she is then restored to Rama’s side – or reintegrated with Rama, or herself, or the earth.

(In some soul abductions the captured soul part develops a codependent relationship with the captor, just as in ordinary real-life abductions. This needs to be healed before successful reintegration can take place, and the shaman may do this through the power of the elements in some way.)

Then it all makes sense.

I hope to be able to examine the epic more closely and see if this theory, this interpretation, holds up – or even goes deeper, or not…

If any of you have thoughts on this I’d love to see them!