Joseph Campbell's Myths and the Story of Ramayana

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18th May 2020 Literature Reference this

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Joseph Campbell was a man that firmly believed that the best answers to the problems of the world would be rooted in the findings of psychology; “Specifically,” he said, “those findings having to do with the … nature of myth.” (Campbell 11) Having devoted his life to the analysis of myth through psychology, he created the concept of a supreme structure for all myths. In this concept, “all myths follow the same pattern, despite the infinite variety of setting and incident.” (Devinney, Thury 186) Campbell first introduced it in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and called it the monomyth, otherwise known as the hero’s journey. The monomyth is best put to use analyzing tales of the epic adventures hero in myth and religion. The great story of the Ramayana is the exact type of myth the monomyth is meant to analyze. Throughout the Ramayana, the scheme of Campbell’s monomyth can be applied to the plot and character profiles of the main characters. Although the monomyth pattern may not be as blatantly obvious in the Ramayana as in other epic tales, through thorough examination of the story it is impossible not to draw connections between the Campbell’s way of plot analysis to the Ramayana. The events of the respective journeys of the hero and heroine – Rama and Sita – can all be dissected and classified into the categories and subcategories of the monomyth. In this essay, I will focus solely on Rama’s journey, simply because he is the chief protagonist of the story. The events of his life move the story along as he continuously sets perfect examples of what to do when a man’s dharma is challenged in various situations. In analyzing Rama’s journey as a hero according to the monomyth, his journey must be broken into the monomyth’s three main stages of Departure, Initiation, and Return, with those stages broken into substages: Call to Adventure, Crossing of the 1st Threshold, Divine Aid, Road of Trials, Helpers, Apotheosis, Ultimate Boon, Atonement with the Father, Magic Flight Crossing of the Return Threshold, Master of Two Worlds, and Freedom to Live.

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         The first part of Campbell’s monomyth deals with the Departure of the hero of the story from the world of the known to the hero into the world of the unknown, physically or otherwise. In the phase of departure, first comes the Call to Adventure. For Rama, the call comes to him in the form of his father’s wife, Kaikeyi, telling him that he is to be exiled from the kingdom and into the forest. This is the call because this forces Rama away from the ease of his civilized life as a prince and into a dangerous unknown place. Rama accepts it unperturbed because his father has promised Kaikeyi and it is not the dharma of a good son to go against his elders or the promise of his father. This leads into the next stage of departure, the Crossing of the 1st Threshold. The crossing is when Rama, along with his wife Sita, and his brother Lakshmana, go into the forest, the whole of city trying desperately to follow in their unwillingness to see Rama leave. This is the Crossing because it is the first time Rama leaves civilization. He actually physically crosses over the threshold of everything he knows into a zone he is unfamiliar with.

         The next phase of the journey begins with the Crossing and is called the Initiation, in which “the hero earns his merit, is tempted by evil, and learns the secret of the gods.” (Devinney, Thury 187) In the forest after ten years, Rama visits sage Agastya who shows Sita, Lakshmana, and he hospitality, gives them advice on where to go, and bequeaths Rama a “celestial bow, two inexhaustible quivers and a sword.” (Devinney, Thury 247) This part of the story can easily be thought of the part of the monomyth involving Divine Aid. The celestial bow belonged to the god Vishnu and the quiver to the god Indra. The gods are definitely on Rama’s side. Afterward one of Rama’s Trials occurs. Being in the forest, the place of the unknown, Rama will not leave unchanged. While in the unknown a hero must endure and overcome trials that will either change him and/or prove his worthiness and this the Road of Trials. One of Rama’s Trials is when he is attacked by Dooshana and Khara and their fourteen thousand men, all of whom Rama slays single handedly. For Rama, since he is already essentially the perfect man (always displaying impeccable dharma) his trial in the forest only further proves his worthiness. The next aspect of the monomyth presents itself after Sita is lost, in the form of the Sugreeva and his monkeys who Rama makes an alliance with in order to get Sita back. Their role in the story is simply the Helpers of the tale, as very plainly it is mainly through their help that Sita is found. And once she is found, Rama crosses the sea with the monkeys to battle Ravana and his titans achieving the step of Apotheosis when finally the Ravana is defeated. In the moment of victory Rama is gifted by Vishnu Brahma’s arrow and becomes god-like, though more importantly, he is still human and this is the reason he is able to defeat Ravana, correcting the mistake of the gods. Out of his victory he obtains the Ultimate Boon, his wife Sita. His dharma demanded that he “overpower the person who dishonored his family by abducting his wife,” but “ he fears she might have given into Ravana,” so he rejects her at first, to satisfy public opinion, until she proves her virtue to him. (Devinney, Thury 252) Last in Rama’s initiation stage, he finds Atonement with his Father. This happens more literally than in other stories as Rama’s father Dasratha appears from heaven itself to Rama and Sita. Rama uses the moment to correct dharma even further and begs his father to forgive his Kaikeyi and his brother Bharata, whom he had renounced before his death. Dasaratha grants Rama this at last and that piece of dharma is corrected.

         The last leg of the hero’s journey is the Return, where the hero goes back into the world he came from having fully proven himself worthy of the life he is will have. In the Ramayana, Rama experiences a Magic Flight in the celestial chariot Pushpaka. The Magic Flight is merely a tool that brings Rama back to Ayodhya. It is the tool that brings this hero through the 2nd Threshold in this story. The threshold itself is the line (not physical) that represents the separation between the world of peril that Rama has been occupying for the past 14 years. He crosses back over that line into civilization when it is time for him to take backup rule of the kingdom as he and Bharata had agreed 14 years before. Rama now fulfils the aspect of the monomyth that is labeled the Freedom to Live. In this last part of the structure the hero has all of the knowledge of his lengthy adventure and uses it to live his life to its fullest extent. “Rama rules the kingdom for over ten thousand years, enhancing the joy of his people…” He not only rules as he would have 14 years before, but comes back having lived out an adventure that teaches his people how to live and sets the perfect example of dharma.

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         The tale of the Ramayana through the magnifying glass of Campbell’s monomyth is an interesting puzzle. Though I have analyzed it this way, through piecing it together I have realized there are many ways I could have interpreted it. From various characters’ angles at that. It is easier now to see the importance of the Ramayana itself as well. Unlike other hero stories I have read, it displays a hero that is already perfect – that begins story without flaws and ends the story not very much changed accept that he is older. Other stories display a hero that has extraordinary abilities as Rama does but, almost as a rule, the hero has personality defects. Rama does not, and the reason seems to be that in this type of myth is exclusively meant to teach. To be a type of perfection for people of the Hindu faith to constantly strive for. With the concept of dharma the foundation of that perfect society.

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