Symbolism of Vaali vadham
by Jayasree Saranathan on 23 Oct 2020 8 Comments

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 cannot 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 forever.


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 cannot 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 cannot 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 indirect mode.


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 Rama? 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 be further substantiated by what Rama says about the slaying. Never even once did Rama say that he punished him. He said that he only gave him a ‘praayaschittham’ (atonement). He repeats the same to Tara when she appears in the scene. His repeated 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 understanding Dharma, the course of which is complex and which is of different nature under different circumstances. 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 something 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 cannot be 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!!



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