Rama, Sita and the Monkey King share a number of adventures in the Ramayana, in which friendship is the force behind acts of great bravery and sacrifice.
A hero of the Ramayana
Rama is the hero of the Ramayana, a grant Hindu poem composed around the fifth century BC. He is a might king whose name means sexual pleasure’, deriving from the phallic horns of the Ram, used in ancient India to symbolically plow the land.
His consort Sita’s name means furrowed earth’; she is a symbol of the fertile soil, their union representing abundance and harvest. Their reunion is brought about by the actions of the Monkey King, Sugreeva, who represents the value of humility and the bonds of friendship.
The Ramayana tells the mundane story of the subjugation of indigenous tribes in Southern India by the Aryans, with the Demon Ravanna forced to relinquish Sita (the Earth) to the fairer Golden King Rama and his loyal friend, the Monkey King. On a profound level the Ramayana is a religious text explaining the soul’s illusion of separation from the Divine.
The friendship theme of the story is one of humility and devotion.
Sugreeva is described as being half-human and half-ape. Throughout the Ramayana he is devoted to Rama once the latter has proven himself to be worthy and humble. He offers the help of all his monkey subjects in the search for Sita and remains a reliable and trustworthy ally.
In this way, the spiritual message is that, through self-renunciation, service to others and service to the divine, one can reach enlightenment (union with the god or goddess).
The moral of the story
The moral of the story also lies within Ram’s humility; despite being all-powerful and mighty, he is willing to ask for the Monkey King’s help and to accept his bond of friendship. It is this exchange of energy between the highest and the lowest that explains the Hindu philosophy of embracing suffering as a spiritual practice.
An ancient story of deceit and trickery, the myth of the kidnapping of Sita and Rama’s efforts to save her also explains how the noble Monkey King came to be their friend.
Once upon a time in Ayodhya, the old King was preparing to pass his crown on to his eldest and brightest son, Rama. This King’s other wives and sons, however, were jealous and devised a test for the Prince. Rama was to be sent with his wife, Sita, into the forest for 14 years. Rama was also to be accompanied by his brother Lakshmana.
In the forest, Rama befriended all of the animals and the Monkey-man Hunaman became his general and faithful servant.
One day, a ten-headed demon named Ravanna, who desired Sita and wanted her for himself, tricked Rama and Lakshmana into leaving Sita alone and then captured her and locked her in his island palace.
Rama was distraught with grief and turned to Hanuman for help. Hanuman took Rama to see the Monkey King, Sugreeva, whereupon Rama threw himself upon his mercy and begged for help. The Monkey King was so impressed by the Golden Prince’s meekness and humility that he lit a sacred fire to solemnize their vow of friendship and put all of his mighty armies at Rama’s disposal.
A great battle ensued in which the monkeys build a bridge across to the island where Sita was being held and Rama crossed it to challenge Ravanna. The gods gave Rama a magical bow with which he killed the demon and liberated Sita. Thousands of lamps were lit to guide Sita and Rama back to the city and on their return, they were crowned King and Queen of Heaven.
Pure devotion and selfless service
Every friendship would benefit from the pure devotion and selfless service at the heart of this friendship story. Though you will seldom have cause to demonstrate your devotion so lavishly, there are ways in which you can recreate the devotion that grew between Rama and Sita and their friend, the Monkey King.
Offer to help your friend with a mundane task such as decorating or cleaning. Sharing boring tasks can be bonding.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you genuinely need it. Friends like to help each other solve problems.
Be emotionally open within your friendship. Showing your vulnerability and sadness will let your friend know that you trust them.
Give your friend moral support to help them achieve their goals. Enroll in an evening course together so that you can help them study or make a salad and invite your friend over for a healthy dinner when you know they are on a diet.
Be positive. Only offer sensitive advice that will help you friend feel good about themselves. Make sure you choose your words carefully. Saying, “You look fabulous in green” is better than “Blue looks absolutely terrible on you”.