The esoteric side of the history of Rama is unique. His personality type was 'maryada purushottam'. Purush means man and uttam means highest quality, transcendental. Rama was a perfect personality who lived within the limits and precepts of the Vedic tradition and discipline. Born under auspicious circumstances he was the boon of Agni, Lord of Fire, to King Dasharath. Fire represents energy, vitality, life, and it has the ability to burn everything, whether good material or rubbish. It can digest everything. The boon of fire, of life, is a perfect gift.
We all would like to have a brother like Rama or Lakshman, a husband like Rama, or a wife like Sita. They represent our different aspirations. Who would want their son to go against their wishes? Nowadays of course that is the trend - totally opposite from ancient times - and it creates limitation, conflict and indiscipline in one's lifestyle and personality. Rama had transcendental or divine qualities. He was not fickle like Krishna. Krishna was very fickle, stirring up trouble here and there, causing one person to fight with another person; although of course he had his divine qualities also.
Symbolically, Rama represents the state of perfection, and the personalities around him had also attained a high degree of perfection or realisation. Hanuman was a siddha. Bali, with whom Rama fought and killed from behind by shooting him with an arrow, also represents the culmination of strength, will, determination and knowledge. Bali was very knowledgeable. At the time of his death Rama sent Lakshman to get knowledge from him. Rama himself sent to Bali!
Rama's attitude and behaviour was never egotistical. He never considered himself to be the Almighty, but maintained his humility and the attitude of a disciple. Even when he was with his father he was like a disciple and not a son. When he fought with his enemies, still he behaved like a disciple. In the battlefield when Ravana was counting his last breath Rama stood near his feet, not at his head or beside him.
Ravana himself was a realised although deviated soul. He had deviated from the path of dharma, but he had the knowledge and wisdom. He was the possessor of so many vidyas, siddhis. In the battlefield he was considered to be immortal because he had awakened his manipura chakra. As long as the fire of energy, the vital force, was burning within him he could not be killed. He is depicted as having ten heads as this is symbolic of his having mastery over the five gyanindriyas and karmendriyas.
So, all the personalities with whom Rama was involved during his lifetime were very high realised souls, some on the path following the precepts of dharma (duty) and karma (action), and some who had deviated from the path, yet who had all the understanding of it. The deviated souls were the demons while those who were on the path were the demigods, the saints, the divine personalities manifest as human beings. Thus Rama led the life of a perfect human being. Historically his reign is called the 'Golden Age' when there was no theft of any kind, no injury to others in in any form. His people were happy, content and satisfied.
Now, when one's consciousness is transcendental, in order to gain experience of the low qualities of the consciousness of the ordinary man, there is the danger of that pure consciousness being pulled downwards. For example, if we are land-dwellers we want to experience water, we wart to swim. Whenever we see water there is the desire to enter. If we remain in water for some time we want to come out again and be on dry land. As a child Rama was perfect. Children are very innocent, simple-minded, and within them is a highly developed intuition. They are free, open and outgoing. They are not inhibited in any way. Their state of consciousness is very much closer to the Supreme Being then our own. There is the desire to experience the lower qualities and tendencies, for without experience nothing can be called perfect. Rama was born perfect but his perfection needed to be expressed and so he had to experience the gross consciousness. The moon which is always depicted on Rama's head represents gross matter, worldly sensory experience. Rama therefore wanted the moon.
If we look at the stories of sages, saints and incarnations like Rama, Krishna, Buddha or Mahavira we will find that they never wanted the moon like Rama. The story of the moon is emphasised in the history of all the ten avatars but not in the case of Buddha or other great personalities. Out of the ten incarnations, dasavatar, Rama is supreme - he asked for the moon. When he asked his father he was unable to provide it. He said, "No you can't have it, it is too far away". He gave the intellectual answer, but a simple, innocent child cannot understand rationally. What is the use of telling a little child that the moon is so many millions of kilometres away? The idea of distance means nothing to him because he has not yet developed the rational aspect of his personality. So, when his father was unable to satisfy him, Rama really threw a tantrum. He began to cry, to get depressed, not to eat, to throw his food around. Then his mother, the shakti aspect, comes in with a mirror. The mirror is important because she only permits Rama to have the reflection of the moon. For Rama is not like Hanuman who actually jumped up and got the moon, he only gets the reflection. So he has the indirect experience of worldly affairs and then he is satisfied.
Those who have attained supreme consciousness cannot, while maintaining their universality, have direct experience of gross matter. They must have an indirect experience, and they can only have direct experience when that universality is lost, when from one it becomes many, when it develops an ego and identity. For only then is it subject to the play of Maya - dwandwa (conflict). However, we know that in the life of Rama there was no dwandwa. He accepted his destiny without question.
If any one of us had been in Rama's place and the night before our coronation we had been told to go out to the jungle for fourteen years - my God, there would have been civil war within the family! There would have been murder, but Rama accepted with the same frame of mind with which he accepted his coronation. He felt neither sad nor elated at the time of his coronation, nor at the abduction of Sita, nor at the time of her recovery. He knew that everyone has a dharma, a karma, to fulfil and he accepted life with the inner serenity which we all lack.
Most people cannot accept Rama's rejection of Sita, but it was very clear in Rama's mind that Sita was pure and immaculate in all respects. This was proved when, for the sake of his subjects who did not have the same degree of understanding, he performed the agni pariksha (test by fire), before taking Sita back from Ravana. In the agni pariksha Sita is symbolic of Shakti, Rama's vital force which made him perform all his actions and deeds, which enabled him to subdue all the negative qualities that were flourishing during the era, Sita was a siddha; if she had wished she could have reduced Ravana to ashes right at the start with her power. In her previous life when she was a tapaswini (female practitioner of austerity) and Ravana came to her, she immolated herself through the power of her tapasya. Sita was Lakshmi (Rama being Vishnu) and she had a role to play in order that higher consciousness would flourish.
We have the opposite aspect in the life of Durga. The gods: Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Indra, Agni, Varun and all the thirty-three crores of gods could not subdue the demons because they did not have the necessary shakti. So they combined their wills and created Durga to fight with the demons. Then they sat back and watched Durga fighting. Because they are powerless when it comes to fighting with the negative tendencies. After all, how much can you fight with rationality? When emotions, desires, anger, jealousy and hatred are welling up from within you cannot just sit back and say, 'Oh, this is all just a process, it should happen'. In order to create a balance you have to make an effort and that effort is shakti. The process of bringing this balance is the vital force, not through chetana (consciousness).
When Sita returned from Lanka, Rama knew she was pure. His subjects knew that she had passed through the fire test and that she was taintless in all respects. However, when the rumours started against Sita, Rama felt that the mission of his life had come to an end, because all the positive attributes had reached their peak and were now on the decline, so stories began to spread that otherwise could have started the day Rama arrived. If there was no consistency in dharma; no consistency in vichar (thinking) and karma; if there was no satisfaction in the form of artha, no contentment in the form of kama, then the same question would have arisen ten years ago, as soon as Rama had arrived! "How can we accept this man as king who brings a wife from a foreign house"? So, because people were too well established and their civilisation had come to a peak, 'Ramaraj' was over.
Then there was the birth of Rama's sons which took place not in the palace but in the jungle. If he had thought, "My mission is over but let my sons be born here and then I will throw Sita out", it would have created a different history altogether. But since he was duty-conscious and knew that his role as the protector of dharma, kama, artha and moksha was over and that he was now simply living the life of a king, doing his duty every day, listening to his subjects, watching dancers, performing pujas, havans, yagyas, etc. - a stagnant life for consciousness and for energy (there is no movement, no evolution) - he decided to give energy up.
Now, unfortunately it happened when Sita was pregnant. Rama knew this but still he sent Sita to the forest ashram, because if his sons had grown up in the palace they would have been exposed to this period of decline. In the forest they had to struggle to survive, so they were able to grow up as balanced personalities. In the palace they would have developed only one aspect of their personality - the rajasic aspect. In the ashram they were able to develop sattwa. If they had grown up in the palace, at a later stage they would have become tamasic, because they would not have experienced the other reality, and that would have been the cause of even more decline.
So, Rama asked Lakshmana to take Sita into the forest to the ashram of sage Valmiki and leave her there. Sage Valmiki brought the children up. He taught them everything including the martial arts and the Vedic precepts. They grew up in totally extreme conditions without the usual comforts. Thus they developed strength and willpower. They became so powerful that when Rama was performing the final yagya (fire ceremony) to mark the end of his era before going to the forest to give up his life, they even subdued the power of Rama which was represented by the Ashwa Megha (horse) Yagya. They subdued all the forces of Rama because they were now so well-established that they could fight anything and still be on top, still be in absolute control of their faculties.
Bharat ruled the kingdom for four years but he never once sat on the rajgaddi (throne). He placed Rama's wooden shoes there and ruled on his behalf. He did not accept the crown. Rama wanted to carry on a tradition, a strong dynasty, and if his children were born in the jungle they would have had to fight in order to win the kingdom, as happened in the case of the Kauravas and Pandavas. They were all cousins.
In the 'Mahabharata' when Janamejaya asks Vaishmapayan to relate the story of Shankuntala and Dushyant, he does so in a very beautiful way. It is not the one we usually read: Dushyant comes to the hermitage of Sage Kanva while he is out hunting and there he sees Shankuntala. They have a long discussion about dharma, the duty of a king and of an aesthetic. They have a gandhava vivak (a form of love marriage without the knowledge or consent of parents or society) and then Dhusyant returns back to his kingdom.
When Sage Kanva comes back to his hermitage and finds that Shakuntala has married the king and is expecting a child, he is pleased. There is no anger in the form of, "How could you do such an act? How could you marry without my permission?" He is happy that such a decision has been taken because he knows that this union will promote dharma.
However, Dushyant does not return, so when the child reaches the age of eight Shakuntala takes him to the palace. The discussion which Shakuntala and Dushyant have in the palace is beautiful. Dushyant pretends not to recognise her. Shakuntala of course becomes angry and they have a heated discussion where Dushyant abuses Shakuntala and Shakuntala abuses Dushyant. Finally, Shankuntala leaves. After she has gone, Dushyant and all the subjects in the hall hear a heavenly voice saying, "Dushyant, she is your rightful wife and he is your rightful heir, take them both".
After this is confirmed by the heavenly voice, Dushyant calls Shakuntala and says, "I am sorry I could not take you before but if I had done so without evidence from the Divine my subjects would think that we married out of lust and passion. I wanted to prove through divine confirmation that our union and our son were according to the precepts of dharma."
This story emphasises the fact that a king has a duty to discharge and in order to fulfil that duty he cannot allow any quarrel or doubt to take place among his subjects. Rama was first and foremost a king and so his primary duty was to his subjects.