Loyal Allies

RI 4 Hanuman in Meditation J.jpg

In this Indian painting from the Rajasthan region, Hanuman, a monkey hero, peacefully sits cross-legged. A mighty gold gada, or mace, lays to his right. A golden glow circles his head, highlighting his power and significance in the Ramayana

Gurvich, Martin. “Living Traditions in Indian Art.” Ahmedabad, India: Museum of Sacred Art in association with Mapin Pub., 2010.


You must be valiant, capable, and wise, best of monkeys, since you have been able to breach the stronghold of the rakshasas single-handedly. You are to be greatly praised for your valor, for in leaping you have crossed the mighty ocean, a hundred leagues in breadth, the lair of sea monsters, as easily as if it were a puddle in a cow’s hoof-print.

— “Sundara” 34.5-34.10

Rama is undoubtedly one of literature's greatest heroes; however, his many successes would not have been possible without the support of his allies. Hanuman is one of Rama's most devoted followers. He joins the search to rescue Sita from the rakshasa Ravana after Rama seeks the help of the powerful monkey Sugriva. Sugriva agrees to send out monkey armies if Rama helps him take back his kingdom — an issue that Rama, whose crown was stolen bevcause of palace corruption, could certainly sympathize with.

When this task is completed, Hanuman joins the search party that is headed to the south of India. His party learns that Ravana lives in Lanka, a kingdom across the sea. At first, it seems impossible for the monkeys to get there. Yet Hanuman is not deterred. Powered by incredible strength and devotion to Rama, the monkey flies across the sea and lands safely in Lanka. 

Hanuman finds Sita in a closed-off garden, surrounded by hideous female rakshasas who taunt and hiss at her. When the demons finally leave, the brave moneky sneaks in and shows Sita a ring of Rama's to prove his loyalty. But Sita refuses to leave, explaining that it must be Rama who rescues her. Shocked, Hanuman instead accepts a piece of jewelery as proof that he has found Rama's wife.

This is one of the most emotionally gripping scenes in the epic. Both Hanuman and Sita love and respect Rama, yet they have very different ideas of how to best honor him. In the end, Hanuman makes the correct decision by respecting Sita's choice — after all, she is Rama's wife and an avatar of the goddess Lakshmi — but his internal struggle humanizes the monkey.

RI 4 Hanuman old comic J.jpg

This colorful comic is popular among children in India. In this scene, Hanuman attempts to convince Sita to flee Lanka with him, but she nobly refuses to protect Rama's honor.

Pai, Anant. “Tales of Hanuman.” Book. Amar Chitra Katha. Special Issue ; No. 10006. Mumbai : India Book House, 2000.

RI 4 Hanuman Modern Comic J.jpg

This page from a recently published graphic novel depicts the same scene as the comic on the left. The creator's decision to use high-contrast black-and-white illustrations heightens the tension in Hanuman and Sita's dramatic conversation. Her desolate state is also enhanced thanks to her stringy, lifeless hair and the way she slumps down onto the floor.

Balagopal, Vikram. “Simian.” Book. Noida, India: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2014.


From earliest childhood Lakshmana, bringer of glory, was always especially fond of his older brother, Rama, delight of the world. Performing every service for him, glorious Lakshmana was like another life breath outside his body, for without him, the best of men could get no sleep.

— "Boyhood" 17.15-17.20

While Rama was the one destined to become a true hero, his three brothers were also considered to be incarnations of the god Vishnu. However, there was no jealousy amongst them; in fact, younger brother Lakshmana was Rama's best friend since childhood. When a wise sage comes to the city of Ayodhya, asking that Rama come on a journey with him to help fight off rakshasas, King Dasaratha only feels comfortable with the idea when it is agreed that loyal Lakshamana will join Rama.

This spiritual journey allows the brothers to hone their skills as warriors, which is expecially helpful when Rama is exiled to the rakshasa-filled forest. Lakshmana has no obligation to go with him, but he knows that the banishment is wrong and wishes to support Rama. While he is married to Sita's sister, Urmila, Lakshmana's ultimate loyalty is to his eldest brother.

His devotion to Rama is clear on the day that Ravana kidnaps Sita. While Rama is off catching a golden deer for Sita, Lakshmana is assigned to watch over her. He does this dutifully until Ravana tricks him by making him believe that Rama is screaming far away. Although Lakshmana respects Rama's orders, he is willing to break them if he thinks Rama is in trouble. Lakshmana even obeys Rama when it causes him pain, such as when he follows Rama’s orders to banish Sita due to false rumors of infidelity. This level of devotion makes Lakshmana a deeply honorable character in the Ramayana.

RI 4 Hanuman Lakshmana J.jpg

In this artwork from the Hare Krishna movement, the monkey Hanuman is shown leading the army to fight Ravana in Lanka. Rama has pale blue skin and carries a bow, while loyal Lakshmana is seated at his right hand.

Gurvich, Martin. “Living Traditions in Indian Art.” Ahmedabad, India: Museum of Sacred Art in association with Mapin Pub., 2010.


Rama, our eldest brother, shall be the lord of the earth. [...] Let a great army be marshalled, complete with four divisions; for I myself will bring my eldest brother Rama back from the forest.

— "Ayodha" 73.5-73.10

Queen Kaikeyi's son had no involvement with her plot to make him king. In fact, he was not even in Ayodhya when Kaikeyi and her maidservant, Manthara, broke King Dasaratha's heart by tricking him into banishing Rama. As soon as he returns to Ayodha and realizes what has happened, Bharata immediately wants to rescind the crown. This strong moral stance is remarkable, given how much he stands to gain by quietly going along with the immoral scheme.

Bharata searches for Rama in the forest in a genuine attempt to give him the crown. However, Rama refuses to accept. Despite the circumstances, he is determined to honor his father's commands. Rama assures Bharata that he will be a fine king, and even encourages him to forgive Kaikeyi for her underhanded scheme. The two brothers come to an agreement that Bharata will serve as regent in the fourteen years that Rama is away. Rama gives Bharata a pair of golden slippers as a symbol of this decision, and Bharata chooses to live as an ascetic away from the palace until Rama returns in fourteen years.


In this image, blue-skinned Rama is shown with his three brothers. The light-skinned twins, Lakshmana and Shatrughna, sit on either side of him, while orange-skinned Bharata sits smiling behind the great hero.

Gurvich, Martin. “Living Traditions in Indian Art.” Ahmedabad, India: Museum of Sacred Art in association with Mapin Pub., 2010.

Wives of Kosala

Rama's Enemies