Vaali vadham had been a controversial one
that had invited a number of interpretations for ages.
But many interpretations had failed
to justify the way Rama killed Vali.
But Rama as perfect embodiment of Dharma can never be wrong.
He can never be thought to have slipped from dharma
at any time in Ramavadhara.
Even otherwise as Brahman,
He can not be
said to have faltered in dharma.
“Not even on account
of the peculiarity of situation can the two-fold
characteristics (v,z., positive and negative)
belong to the Highest” (Vedantha Sutra III-2-11).
He is Positive,
Pure, Auspicious and Right always.
Then why was Vali vadham designed in the way it was?
This post seeks to find an answer to this question.
Did Rama slip from Dharma in Vali vadam?
A person can be a ‘perfect’ embodiment of dharma
only if he had adhered to dharma at all times
and despite challenges to such adherence.
If he had slipped once,
how can He be called as a ‘perfect’ embodiment of dharma?
Once slipped, it is a slip for ever.
If in spite of vali vadam,
Rama were to be regarded as a ‘perfect’ embodiment of dharma
by a long list of enlightened ones starting from sages of yore,
the inference is that
Rama can not have done anything adharmic
in vali vadam.
We have on record the reasons to substantiate that
Rama’s act was indeed dharmic.
But that they (the reasons) have done precious little
is borne by the fact that the issue still remains.
The most often cited reasons are two.
(1) Vali was adharmic for having driven out his younger brother
who is to be treated as his own son and
for having taken his wife for sam-bhogam.
(2) It is only natural for a warrior like Rama
to have hunted him as he happens to be a monkey.
The first reason is not a strong one
though this is what Rama Himself says.
If younger brother is like a son and his wife the daughter-in-law,
what do we say about elder brother and his wife?
They are father and mother, rightly.
If Rama intended to punish Vali
for what he did to Ruma (Sugreeva’s wife),
why did he spare Sugreeva who took up Tara later?
He didn’t admonish him the least.
So this can not be the real reason.
Taking up the second reason,
how can it be said that Rama hunted Vali,
while killing Vali was a decision already made?
(by virtue of the pledge he
made with Agni as witness)
But why did he choose the mode
that was not fitting to the stature of one like Him?
He could not be said to have hunted Vali,
As Vali himself had noted that monkeys were not hunted.
So this reason also is not a sound one.
There are other reasons cited ,
but each one of them stands to be countered.
That is why the controversy continues.
The issue is not why he killed.
It is why he killed while not being in direct combat.
Though Vali accuses Rama initially,
he gets convinced later that Rama was
perfectly dharmic in His action.
He recalls the Hitopadesam by Tara on Rama’s greatness,
before he set out for the second combat with Sugreeva.
Rama also says that He has been perfectly dharmic
in what He had done.
So the nuances of how this act was dharmic can be picked out
somewhere in between the
Hitopadesa part of Tara and Rama’s reply to Vali.
Let us analyse the scenario step by step.
When Tara cautioned Vali,
Vali was too confident that
he would not be harmed by Rama who knows Dharma.
He least believed that Rama would harm him
because he (Vali) had been ‘innocent’
and that he had not done any offence (aparAdam) to Rama.
He repeats the same thing to Rama after he was hit by Him.
“I didn’t offend you in any way in your country or your town.
I didn’t humiliate you in any way.”
Just by applying logic found in this defence of Vali,
shall we say that if only he had not offended Rama,
if not in Rama’s place,
but in his own place (vali’s territory)
and humiliated Rama in some way,
could Rama have given him the end in the way as it was?
In order to understand the nuances,
let us remind ourselves that there was no going back
on killing Vali as far as Rama was concerned.
The moment He went around the fire
and pledged to sugreeva that he would kill Vali,
Vali’s fate was sealed.
So the issue was not why He killed.
The question whether Vali
committed any offence or not as to attract a death
sentence from Rama is irrelevant
(based on the pledge that Rama gave to Sugreeva).
But that he was killed in
a particular fashion alone gets connected with
some cause, probably an offence to Rama.
And Vali himself has acknowledged the fact that
Rama would not kill unless one has offended Him.
Since the killing was in an indirect mode,
the offence must also have been in an
If we proceed with this line of reasoning,
we get ample evidence to show that Vali had indeed
offended Rama in an indirect way.
He seemed to have come into the
grasp of this indirect offense gradually
as he continued to talk to Rama.
One can see a palpable shift in Vali’s tone
from being accusative to submissive
thereby indicating that wisdom had dawned
on him slowly and lately.
It starts with Vali’s talks on Raj-dharma.
As he continued to speak of raj-dharma,
Rama’s commitment to
‘dhushtah nigraha- sishta paripaalanam’
sinks in his mind and wonders
“you have to do something,
but you have done some other thing”.
What is that something and some other thing is again
spelt by Vali himself.
“You have failed to show your
paraakramam on the one who had offended you,
namely Ravana, but instead you have shown your paraakramam
on me who had not offended you’”
Is Vali right when he said that he had not offended
Vali himself does not think so.
For he proceeds to ask (unprovoked)
“If only you have asked me to restore
Sita, I would have got her back within a day.
If only you had approached me,
I would have killed Ravana in combat, pulled him to you and got back Sita.
If only you had commanded me
I, like Hayagreeva who restored
Vedas from Madu-kaidapa,
would have gone after Ravana,
searched for Sita even if she is hidden
inside the oceans, and restored her back to you.”
So Vali himself thinks that there is some cause for
grouse by Rama about him.
Vali knows what Rama requires.
Vali knows that he (vali) is quite capable
of fulfilling that requirement.
But he has not done that.
He had not risen to the occasion.
Why should he,
is the question that comes to our mind.
In what way he is bound to help Rama
when Rama had not sought his help.
This is the message conveyed by Vali.
He thinks that because of his not rising to the occasion,
Rama had killed him unseen.
He expresses this in his talk
(that continues from the above mentioned one).
“ It is perfectly legitimate for Sugreeva to aspire
for the throne after me.
It is perfectly legitimate
for him to kill me to attain the throne.
But Rama, it is not legitimate on your part to hit me
when I am fighting with another”, says Vali.
“If you think it is
legitimate, tell me how”, says Vali
before he collapses.
So the issue now centres around whether Rama
considered the non-rising to the occasion of Vali
as an offence.
The answer is yes, going by what Rama says
in the beginning and at the end of his talk in reply to Vali.
Rama replies that He had been perfectly dharmic in
what He had done by having done that in the land
belonging to Ikshvahu dynasty
(He says that the entire Bhoo mandalam is under His dynasty (Ram Rajya?))
By this does He point out to Vali
that he had failed to carry out the dharma in his (Vali’s) land?
Vali spoke of all Raj-dharma that included
protecting the dharma in one’s land and punishing the offenders.
Did he follow that Raj-dharma?
He knew that Sita had been abducted.
He knew the one who had abducted her was once defeated by him.
So he was more valiant than the abductor
and could have easily overpowered him
if he had made an attempt.
Further the abduction was carried out in a land that
belonged to beings like him.
And Sita was carried
across his kingdom.
Sugreeva had seen the abduction.
So did Vali.
Sugreeva did not do anything to stop it,
he being incapable of doing that.
But Vali could have stopped it,
he being capable and
in his capacity as a king
who has to stop crimes in
his land and punish the offenders.
Vali had known that Sita had been abducted
and as a king must have been well aware
that she had been carried right across his land.
But he didn’t do anything about it,
despite being powerful enough to
stop it or restore her.
He didn’t do anything later -
to even go after Ravana for having unauthorizedly
crossed his land and committed a crime.
Rama didn’t wait for Bharatha’s command
to execute Raj-dharma.
For whose command did Vali wait to go after Ravana?
Or for that matter,
for whose command did the bird, Jatayu
wait to fight with Ravana?
The sense of duty that a pakshi (bird) had,
a monkey king didn’t have.
Vali need not have offended Rama directly.
But that he had failed in his duty has indirectly offended Rama.
By remaining passive,
he has allowed Ravana get away with Sita across his territory.
This passiveness amounts to assisting the crime
which in today’s jargon
is known as abetting.
The one who turns away his face
when a crime is being committed
is not spared by law of any land.
He, as an abettor is liable for a punishment
equivalent to that awarded for the actual crime committed.
By his act of abetting and by being
indifferent in his duty as a king,
Vali has offended Rama.
Since his offense is not of direct nature,
the hit he received from Rama was not of direct nature.
This can further substantiated by what Rama says about
the slaying. Never even once did Rama say that he
He said that he only gave him a
He repeats the same to
Tara when she appears in the scene.
reminders about stealing another man’s wife
(though outwardly seeming to refer to Ruma)
in effect is aimed
at reminding vali the real kind of stealing,
which is the abduction that Ravana committed.
(We are led to believe that Rama meant only this
for the following reason.
In Ruma’s case and in Tara’s case,
the winning of the women happened after winning a combat.
And such exchange seemed to have happened smoothly
with the acceptance of the women themselves –
something applicable to the dharma of the species
which they belong to .
Sugreeva did not abandon Ruma
after Vali was slayed,
nor did Ruma think it necessary to demonstrate her pathi vradhai quality.
The abduction of a married woman and the consequence of the same
are of serious dimensions for humans
and no need to say that this applies to the divine couple.
That Vali had failed to contribute his might in stopping it happen
or restoring Sita by his own volition seems to be the
factor being reminded by Rama repeatedly.)
Now let us see the symbolism of this episode.
It is that ‘Dharma is not seen to the eyes of the one who
is steeped in adharma.”
Vali could not see Rama,
the embodiment of Dharma, as
he (Vali) was adharmic (in ways explained).
For such a person,
any punishment or ‘haani’ would seem to
originate from nowhere –
unable to be predicted by the person.
And any release from such a predicament / haani
is possible by atonement only.
This is what Rama did to Vali.
This is what Bheeshma did on the arrow-bed.
To elaborate on this,
history records only three persons as capable of
the course of which is complex
and which is of different nature under different
They are Bheeshma, Yudhishtra and Vidura.
( We don’t include Rama here for He is a
complete embodiment of Dharma,
not just one who has understood dharma)
Of these three, Bheeshma stuck to swadharma
at the expense of para-dharma and
allowed vasthra –haaran to take place.
Yudhishtra sacrificed swadharma to aid in
the victory of Dharma
when he eliminated Drona from the battle field.
Vidura luckily did not face a dilemma of this sort,
but he had stuck to dharma always.
Of the first two, Bheeshma had to do atonement
for having sacrificed dharma at the altar of his swa-dharma.
When there is a clash between dharma and swa-dharma,
only dharma must be upheld - not swa-dharma.
If one wants to stick to swa dharma at the cost of Dharma,
one has to face the consequences.
Bheeshma did that.
He could not save the cause for which he sacrificed dharma,
nor were the factors connected to his swa-dharma
of help to him at a crucial juncture.
I refer to the boon he received about choosing the
time of his death which was related to his
(swa-dharma) vow of protecting the throne.
In the war, when he was being continuously hit,
initially he heard the
vasus and rishis saying him
that his end had come.
Listening to them he decided to leave out his pranan.
But before he could do that,
his mother Ganga devi sent rishis and others
as swans to tell the falling Bheeshma
not to leave the pranan as it was dhakshinayana.
Why did this confusion occur?
Were the rishis wrong when they initially said
that he would die?
Or did he hear them wrong - something they said and he heard it as soemthing else?
How could such a confusion occur?
The only plausible reason is that Bheeshma who
was capable of listening to the voice of the divine,
could not listen to the voice of
dharma at a crucial juncture!!
That is why what he
heard at the end confused him
(he lost the power to decipher correctly keeping other factors
such as the season in mind) .
The bed of arrows was a prayaschittha for not having talked right-
for not having upheld Dharma - even if it means to sacrifice his swa-dharma
(of the vow to stand by the throne)
when Draupadi's modesty was outraged with several wicked eyes piercing her body.
During every moment on that bed he was recollecting
how dharma can not seen
by the one on the side of adharma.
The atonement got itself manifested in his kind
words to karna.
What he failed to do, he requested Karna to do.
A search like this on the question of dharma is what
Rama has perhaps expected us to do.
It is perhaps to drive home hard lessons in an effective way,
He made Vali vadam a controversial (only seemingly) one!!