Rama's Story - Hinduism & Jainism | MyPaperHub

Religious Traditions of South Asia


Religion tradition in South Asia is an aspect that has greatly influenced the nature of the culture, tradition and general identity of the people living in this region of the world. This is a region of the world that is filled with diversity in culture, traditions and most of all religious beliefs. The religions of South Asia, a sub-continent of Asia, have been and continue to be crucial and integral aspects of the cultural and social identity of the people of South Asia. Some of them include Jaina, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and various other beliefs. Some of these traditions such as the Hindu religious traditions are very old and have developed over the years into rich and diverse values, ideologies, and relativity of beliefs and teachings which are popular across the globe. Most of these religions have impacted the cultural aspects of the society, and they have become ways of living. This essay will analyze the various aspects of religious traditions found in South Asia based on texts from stories about Vessantara and Ramayana who are two historical figures from both Brahmanical and Buddhist societies and will try and explain similarities as well as differences between the two stories and how they relate to the religious traditions of people of South Asia[1].

Hinduism is one of the most popular religious traditions and the most tradition in the region followed by Jaina and Buddhism. These are all religious traditions that have existed for millennia. Dharma is an important term that is often used with references to the beliefs of these three religions. It is a term that is fundamental, the concept of Dharma is associated with reality and the way the actions of individuals relate to it regarding their appropriateness, making their belief system dharma based. 

The stories of Rama and Vessantara are both very influential in the religious traditions and backgrounds of the people of South Asia. The story of Vessantara is about a young prince, who is born of royalty and the Buddha of his time. According to the text from Gombrich (2011), the story of Vessantara is about a prince with a very big heart. He had dedicated his entire life to giving out to others and therefore, he had unlimited generosity. He was very virtuous when it came to his life. This is a story that is narrated in the future by Gotama who is Vessantara in his previous form as a human prince. In future, it is clear that he transcends and becomes a Buddha and dwells in the afterlife with other supreme beings. Gotama in his previous life is a prince who is very generous. When Vessantara grows up, and his father retires as King, he hands over the kingdom to Vessantara. However, it was a time when a neighboring country was devastated by a drought, and he gives them a female, white elephant that was responsible for giving them rain. They demanded the old king to take the kingdom back from his son and that Vessantara and his family be banished to the forest. Vessantara accepted his predicament and willingly allowed himself and his family to be banished from his kingdom. As an exiled and renouncer of his kingdom in the forest, Vessantara further faces obstacles and tests that he overcomes through his sacrificial acts regarding his wife, and kids by giving them away. This is a story of generosity, and his actions for his own kingdom make Vessantara a historical figure within Buddhist traditions. The story ends with Vessantara regaining back all that he gave away, his family and kingdom rightfully returned to him with everyone accepting his virtuousness, and blessed with prosperity[2].

On the other hand, the other text is about another virtuous young man considered by many as a righteous and young Prince. He is banished because of claims by the people led by Kaikeyi, and his father Dasaratha has to honor their request and banish his son to the forest. Ramayana and His wife Sita have to put on backcloth garments and head to the forest and his brother, Laksmana follows him because he knows that Rama is truly righteous. He is the heir to the throne of his Kingdom. However, his father had made a vow long ago that required the banishment of Ramayana. It does not bother him, and he goes with his wife and brother Lakshmana to the forest.

The two stories bear similarities to each other, all of which are the basis for the beliefs and traditions of their own respective religious backgrounds and traditions of South Asia. The two characters; Vessantara and Ramayana are both princes and heirs to their respective kingdoms. Both of them get banished for a different reason. Vessantara was banished for a generous deed he is was involved in while Ramayana was banished by his father King Dasaratha because of a vow the king had made in the past. Both these reasons are not legitimate enough for banishment. They are both banished to the forest where they leave with members of their family. Vessantara leaves with his wife and children while Ramayana leaves with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana. Both stories deal with a lot of fundamental issues associated with transcendence after death, deity, peace, and forms of conflict that on one side require peaceful approaches and on the other hand require violent approaches. In both stories, the two characters exhibit aspects of being human, and this is a form of weakness for them. They both also have aspects of being superhuman. They both reincarnate into deities with Vessantara becoming a Buddha in the future after death and Rama reincarnating into a god[3].

Despite some of these similarities, both characters have a lot of differences that clearly differentiate the story between the two and also outline the cultural and religious differences of the two aspects. These differences in religion are mostly based on Brahmanical aspects as well as Buddhist aspects from which the two heroes originate. Rama is both God and human in the present form while Vessantara is human in the present form and a Buddha in the future from one of the other significant differences between the two characters is associated with the way they exhibit the different modes of dharma. There are two modes, and mode one is associated with ethics of reciprocity while Mode 2 is associated with ethics of absolute values. For Rama, he is both human and God, but he is unaware of his divinity, and Vessantara lives as a human in the present and as Buddha in the future.  Based on the story of Vessantara, he lives a life dedicated for transcendence into Buddhism and can only exhibit the dharma mode two which is associated with doing good at all times regardless of whether others are good or are bad. His father Sanjaya operates based on mode 1 and this allows Vessantara to operate solely based on the second mode, and his life’s later on transcends, and he becomes Buddha in future. As for Ramayana, he exhibits two forms at once and has to operate in both modes. It is therefore important to understand the importance of these two stories in the shaping of the religious traditions and cultural development of South Asia[4].

These are two stories that are based on the religious narratives of two historical figures. The stories are significant in outlining the various aspects and characteristics of religious traditions and beliefs of the people of South Asia. They are two stories from two different religions but clearly exhibit similar aspects that describe the unified aspect of the religious traditions that are practiced in South Asia. The aspect of Dharma associated with perceptions of reality and the action of people in relation to reality is important in both stories. This is an aspect that outlines the importance of the action of people in the present world[5].



Clothey, Fred W. Religion in India: a historical introduction. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.

Collins, Steven. What is Literature in Pali? Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Gombrich, Richard. Perfect Generosity of Prince Vessantara: A Buddhist Epic. 2011.

[1] Clothey, Fred W. Religion in India: a historical introduction. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010

[2] Gombrich, Richard. Perfect Generosity of Prince Vessantara: A Buddhist Epic. 2011.

[3] Gombrich, Richard. Perfect Generosity of Prince Vessantara: A Buddhist Epic. 2011.

[4] Collins, Steven. What is Literature in Pali? Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

[5] Collins, Steven. What is Literature in Pali? Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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