Thursday, 22 March 2018

Did Vibhishana betray his brother by defecting to Lord Rama's side in Ramayana?

My Answer:
Let us ignore the scriptures (Valmiki Ramayana) and think rationally for a moment. Which brother would leave his elder brother cum king, his lineage, his kingdom, and support an invader? Well, we do have many brothers among royalty, who have done that, in history. But such behavior was mainly due to an alliance with the invader that, after conquering the kingdom, he would rule as a vassal of the invader. The most obvious example that comes to mind is that of Pratap-Jagmal-Akbar. Rana Pratap was made the ruler of Mewar in the year 1572. When this happened, his younger brother, Jagmal, abandoned him and went to Akbar, eventually forming an alliance with the emperor. They both would then work together to uproot Rana Pratap, given that Jagmal would rule the kingdom of Mewar as a vassal of Akbar, if Rana Pratap was defeated and removed from the position of a ruler of Mewar.
As you can see from the above example, Jagmal sided with Akbar for political reasons, not because of some desire to support a more dharmic personality. We are dealing with the royalty here, whose major decisions are rooted in politics and the associated benefits vs losses, not “right vs wrong” or “dharma vs adharma”. So why do we expect Vibhishana to be any different? It is true that Vibhishana did hail Rama as a very dharmic personality, and gave this as a reason for abandoning/betraying his brother and joining Ravana. However, isn’t it a bit far fetched to limit ourselves to this reason given by Vibhishana and conclude that the real reason why he joined Rama was that he wanted to support the dharmic side?
First of all, Vibhishana had never even personally met Rama, prior to abandoning Ravana. That being said, his knowledge that Rama was virtuous was based on rumors. Could mere rumors about an invader’s virtuousness urge a man to betray his own kith and kin and join the invader?
That is for you all to decide…
Furthermore, among the royalty, it is very common to justify one’s actions, using dharma as a shield. For example, isn’t it very often that we get to see our own politicians claiming that they are righteous and that they make their own decisions based on this righteous, for the benefit of the entire population? Does this really mean that they are making their political decisions based on dharma/righteousness? Should we take their words as the absolute truth? Or perhaps, are they striking a common chord with the masses about dharma and playing with their emotions/sentiments, to ensure their voters see them as righteous, thereby guaranteeing them a vote bank in future elections? If so, then why do we insist on saying that Vibhishana’s words are the absolute truth, and that he did not betray Ravana, but instead just abandoned the adharmic side (Ravana) and joined the dharmic side (Rama)? Isn’t it very wishful thinking to make such a conclusion?
I therefore think we should reconsider Vibhishana’s behavior, and his motives, by analyzing the Valmiki Ramayana in a critical manner. Below is an analysis, I wrote some time back, of Vibhishana’s political motives behind abandoning Ravana and supporting Rama in the conquest of Lanka…
Why Did Vibhishana Abandon Ravana?
We are told that Vibhishana abandoned Ravana because he followed adharma, and that he joined Rama because Rama was dharmic. However, is that really true?
Separating the bias that is present with every historical record, it does not seem that Ravana can be called adharmic or unrighteous. He was a great king, and raised the social status of his subjects. He repulsed the invasions of the Devas, thereby giving his nation security, and in his rule, Lanka became a force to reckon with, giving even Dasharatha the shivers that urged him to try to coronate his valorous son, Rama, as soon as possible (to prevent Kosala from falling prey to Ravana's imperialistic campaigns). In the beginning of Yuddha Kanda, Valmiki narrates the proceedings in Ravana's Sabha when Ravana was discussing about what actions ought to be taken against Rama who would be proceeding to invade Lanka at any time. We see a display of his calmness, and disposition towards democracy in the proceedings of the Sabha. Most monarchs would make their decision and then consult their courtiers to see if they would agree. In such circumstances most courtiers would agree with the king's decisions to please the king. But Ravana was different. He wanted to take everyone's true advice into account, without them suppressing their opinions to please the king. Hence he himself refrained from voicing his own opinion, but told his courtiers to express their own opinions and that his decision would be that of the consensus... Through such behavior, we see Ravana's maturity and the realization that consultation of a variety of opinions, through a democratic setting allows for the optimal solution to the problem:
मन्त्र मूलम् हि विजयम् प्राहुर् आर्या मनस्विनः || ६-६-५
तस्माद् वै रोचये मन्त्रम् रामम् प्रति महाबलाः |
त्रिविधाः पुरुषा लोके उत्तम अधम मध्यमाः || ६-६-६
तेषाम् तु समवेतानाम् गुण दोषम् वदामि अहम् |
मन्त्रिभिर् हित सम्युक्तैः समर्थैर् मन्त्र निर्णये || ६-६-७
मित्रैर् वा अपि समान अर्थैर् बान्धवैर् अपि वा हितैः |
सहितो मन्त्रयित्वा यः कर्म आरम्भान् प्रवर्तयेत् || ६-६-८
दैवे च कुरुते यत्नम् तम् आहुः पुरुष उत्तमम् |
एको अर्थम् विम्ऱ्शेद् एको धर्मे प्रकुरुते मनः || ६-६-९
एकः कार्याणि कुरुते तम् आहुर् मध्यमम् नरम् |
गुण दोषाव् अनिश्चित्य त्यक्त्वा दैव व्यपाश्रयम् || ६-६-१०
करिष्यामि इति यः कार्यम् उपेक्षेत् स नर अधमः |
यथा इमे पुरुषा नित्यम् उत्तम अधम मध्यमाः || ६-६-११
एवम् मन्त्रो अपि विज्ञेय उत्तम अधम मध्यमः |
ऐकमत्यम् उपागम्य शास्त्र दृष्टेन चक्षुषा || ६-६-१२
मन्त्रिणो यत्र निरस्तास् तम् आहुर् मन्त्रम् उत्तमम् |
बह्व्यो अपि मतयो गत्वा मन्त्रिणो हि अर्थ निर्णये || ६-६-१३
पुनर् यत्र एकताम् प्राप्तः स मन्त्रो मध्यमः स्मृतः |
अन्योन्य मतिम् आस्थाय यत्र सम्प्रतिभाष्यते || ६-६-१४
न च ऐकमत्ये श्रेयो अस्ति मन्त्रः सो अधम उच्यते |
तस्मात् सुमन्त्रितम् साधु भवन्तो मन्त्रि सत्तमाः || ६-६-१५
कार्यम् सम्प्रतिपद्यन्ताम् एतत् कृत्यतमम् मम |
वानराणाम् हि वीराणाम् सहस्रैः परिवारितः || ६-६-१६
रामो अभ्येति पुरीम् लंकाम् अस्माकम् उपरोधकः |
तरिष्यति च सुव्यक्तम् राघवः सागरम् सुखम् || ६-६-१७
तरसा युक्त रूपेण सानुजः सबल अनुगः |
समुद्रमुच्छोषयति वीर्येणान्यत्करोति वा|| ६-६-१८
तस्मिन्न् एवम् गते कार्ये विरुद्धे वानरैः सह |
हितम् पुरे च सैन्ये च सर्वम् सम्मन्त्र्यताम् मम || ६-६-१९
"Oh, people of great strength! Wise-men say that victory is dependent on good forethought. Verily for that reason, I desire a deliberation about Rama. There are three types of men in the world, namely the foremost the middle most and the lowest. I am telling their inherent merits and defects. The wise call him as the foremost among men, who carries through the beginning of any undertaking after consulting those who are wedded with welfare of others, or with ministers who are efficient in conferring decisions or with friends having common interests or additionally with relatives or who try to get a favour from Providence too. The wise men call that man as mediocre, who deliberates about an activity solitarily, applies his mind on law and justice all by himself and performs works singly. He who does not determine the merits and demerits of an act clearly, having recourse to Providence and neglects his duty by simply telling I shall do it', he is the lowest among men. In which manner these men are categorized always as good, bad or mediocre, so also the resolution in thought is classified as good bad or mediocre. The wise say that resolution of thought is excellent, in which the thinkers, on a view perceived by scriptures, obtain consensus and are satisfied with it. Only after deliberating several kinds of opinions, that decision of a matter obtained finally by a consensus of the counselors, is called mediocre. That resolution is said to be worst in which several arguments are made, employing one or the other divergent opinions and in which there is no advantage even after a consensus. For that reason, you, having excellent intellect, arrive at a well-thought out rightful action. To me, this is earnestly to be done. Rama surrounded by thousands of courageous monkeys, is coming to the City of Lanka, for the purpose of besieging us. Rama, by his be-fitting strength, can certainly cross the ocean easily, with his brother along with his army and his companions. He may even get the ocean dried up. He may do any other thing by his valour. The aforesaid act of enmity with monkeys having commenced in this way, advise me everything that is good for the city and my army."
Even though Vibhishana would later go on to express an opinion contrary to Ravana’s own opinion and that of the rest of the courtiers in that Sabha, Ravana accepted Vibhishana’s right to present his opinion. Although most of the courtiers in Ravana’s Sabha opted for launching an attack on Rama, the action taken by Ravana is not clearly mentioned by Valmiki. However, since Ravana said he would make a decision based on the consensus, one can infer that Ravana had planned on attacking Rama before he crossed the 100 yojana long ocean. It seems that the results of this attack on Rama are summarized in Ravana’s speech to Seetha in Yuddha Kanda Section 31.13-37, where he tells Seetha that his army had launched a night attack on Rama (before Rama crossed the ocean) and had killed Rama in that night attack. Later poets had likely tampered with that narrative and incorporated to that narrative, the story of Ravana showing Seetha Rama’s dead head (an illusion by Vidyujjuha) to pressurize Seetha to marry him, and as a result, this entire Ravana-Seetha-Vidyujjuha episode of showing the illusionary head of Rama to convince Seetha that Rama was dead seems very far-fetched and comes “out of nowhere”.
Anyways, coming back to the point… After this night attack on Rama by Ravana’s army (that was unfortunately unsuccessful), Vibhishana again came to Ravana’s apartments to tell him to give up Seetha to Rama. Despite the fact that there was no option but war, Ravana very calmly and politely listened to the advice of Vibhishana, as a king should do, instead of insulting Vibhishana for his advice. In the very next Sabha that all Ravana’s courtiers would meet, Ravana would have a verbal fight with Vibhishana, resulting in Vibhishana leaving Ravana and proceeding to go seek refuge with Rama. However, again we don’t ever see Ravana kicking Vibhishana out of Lanka. In that Sabha, Vibhishana again began to praise Rama and his valor to the skies like Rama’s personal bard (perhaps a tactic to provoke Ravana so that Ravana would kick him out Lanka and so that he would then have some sort of excuse to approach Rama for help). In response to this, Indrajit countered some of Vibhishana’s claims, and Vibhishana lost his cool and abused Indrajit in a very disgusting manner, and said that such a son should be killed:
अथेन्द्रकल्पस्य दुरासदस्य |
महाजसस्तद्वचनम् निशम्य |
ततो महार्थम् वचनम् बभाषे |
विभीषणः शस्त्रभृताम् वरिष्ठः || ६-१५-८
Hearing those words of Indrajit, who was equal to Indra (god of celestials), dangerous to be approached, and possessing great vital power, Vibhishana the excellent one among bearers of weapons spoke then the following highly meaningful words:
न तात मन्त्रे तव निश्चयोऽस्ति |
बालस्त्वमद्याप्यविपक्वबुद्धिः |
तस्मात्त्वयाप्यात्मविनाशनाय |
वचोऽर्थ्हीनम् बहु विप्रलप्तम् || ६-१५-९
"O, child! There is no stability of thought in you. Being a boy, you are still immature in mind. That is why, many a meaningless word was prattled by you too, for only your self-destruction."
पुत्रप्रवादेन तु रावणस्य |
त्वमिन्द्रजिन्मित्रमुखोऽसि शत्रुः |
यस्येदृशम् राघवतो विनाशम् |
विशम्य मोहादनुवन्यसे त्वम् || ६-१५-१०
"In the guise of a son, O, Indrajit, you are an enemy of Ravana putting on the mask of a well wisher in that even hearing (from me) of his destruction at the hands of Rama, you are blindly agreeing with him."
त्वमेव वध्यश्च सुदुर्मतिश्च |
स चापि वध्यो य ऐहानयत्त्वाम् |
बालम् दृढम् साहासिकम् च योऽद्य |
प्रावेशयन्मन्त्रक्ऱ्^ताम् समीपम् || ६-१५-११
"You surely are fit to be killed. Nay, he too is fit to be killed, who brought you, a reckless boy here today and ushered you foolishly in the proximity of counselors".
मूढोऽप्रगल्भोऽविनयोपपन्न |
स्तीक्षणस्वभावोऽल्पमतिर्दुरात्मा |
मूर्खस्त्वमत्यन्तसुदुर्मतिश्च |
त्वमिन्द्रजिद्बालतया ब्रवीषि || ६-१५-१२
"O, Indrajit! You are a stupid, irresolute, without humility, rude natured; unwise; evil person, inexperienced and highly evil minded. You are speaking in this manner because you are an immature boy".
In response to this attack on his own son, Ravana could not bear it any longer, lost his cool and rebuked Vibhishana for not being loyal and being an internal enemy. Ravana never actually told Vibhishana to leave Lanka. Had Vibhishana been a dutiful brother, he would have tried to convince Ravana that he was still loyal. But he did not. He instead used Ravana’s words accusing him of being biased as an excuse to leave Lanka, and directly went straight to Rama. When departing he made his desire to destroy Ravana very clear to everyone in Ravana’s Sabha:
तनर्षयतु यच्चोक्तम् गुरुत्वाद्धितमिच्चता || ६-१६-२५
आत्मानम् सर्वथा रक्ष पुरीम् च इमाम् सराक्षसाम् |
स्वस्ति ते अस्तु गमिष्यामि सुखी भव मया विना || ६-१६-२६
"As an elder brother, bear the words spoken by me, who desire your welfare. Guard this city and yourself along with demons, by all means. Let all be well with you. I am departing. Be a happy person without me."
निवार्यमाणस्य मया हित एषिणा |
न रोचते ते वचनम् निशा चर |
परीत काला हि गत आयुषो नरा |
हितम् न गृह्णन्ति सुहृद्भिर् ईरितम् || ६-१६-२७
"O, Ravana the ranger of the night! My words are not relishing to you, who are being restrained by me duly desiring your welfare. Persons whose duration of life is to end, do not accept the salutary words spoken by their well wishers"
Needless to say, without wasting another moment of thought, Vibhishana proceeded directly to Rama and Lakshmana to form an alliance with them:
इति उक्त्वा परुषम् वाक्यम् रावणम् रावण अनुजः |
आजगाम मुहूर्तेन यत्र रामः सलक्ष्मणः ||६-१७-१
Having spoken the aforesaid harsh words to Ravana, Vibhishana arrived almost immediately to the place where Rama was together with Lakshmana.
Is this the behavior of what some people call a dutiful, dharma-abiding brother, or a political opportunist? I would say the latter. Vibhishana clearly provoked Ravana to utter rude words so that he could use that as an excuse to leave Lanka. Once that happened, he reached Rama and Lakshmana without delay, as if he had pre-planned going to the two brothers to form an alliance with them. Upon seeing Vibhishana, the intelligent minded Hanumana had realized that Vibhishana had come to Rama with the desire of obtaining the Rakshasa throne of Lanka:
उद्योगम् तव सम्प्रेक्ष्य मिथ्या वृत्तम् च रावणम् |
वालिनः च वधम् श्रुत्वा सुग्रीवम् च अभिषेचितम् ||६-१७-६६
राज्यम् प्रार्थयमानः च बुद्धि पूर्वम् इह आगतः |
एतावत् तु पुरस् कृत्य युज्यते त्व् अस्य सम्ग्रहः ||६-१७-६७
"Seeing your perseverance and the improper conduct of Ravana as well as hearing about Vali having been killed and Sugriva anointed as king, he deliberately came here, with a desire to obtain the kingdom of demons. On consideration of this aspect alone, he is worthy of acceptance by us."
Needless to say, Vibhishana was coronated as the King of Rakshasas by Rama, even prior to crossing the 100 yojana long ocean.
In Yuddha Kanda, Vibhishana subconsciously reveals his desire to become the king of Lanka. When Indrajit makes Rama and Lakshmana unconscious, Vibhishana laments by saying:
शरैर् इमाव् अलम् विद्धौ रुधिरेण समुक्षितौ |
वसुधायाम् इम सुप्तौ दृश्येते शल्यकाव् इव || ६-५०-१७
"These two warriors, Rama and Lakshmana, who were struck badly by arrows and covered with blood are lying on the earth, like two porcupines."
ययोर् वीर्यम् उपाश्रित्य प्रतिष्ठा कान्क्षिता मया |
ताव् उभौ देह नाशाय प्रसुप्तौ पुरुष ऋषभौ || ६-५०-१८
"These two lions among men, on whom depended the positon aspired by me, are lying insensible, waiting for the dissolution of the body."
जीवन्न् अद्य विपन्नो अस्मि नष्ट राज्य मनो रथः |
प्राप्त प्रतिज्नश् च रिपुह् सकामो रावणह् कृतः || ६-५०-१९
"Deprived of the hope now of becoming a king, I am as one dead, eventhough surviving; while my rival Ravana sees his vow fulfilled and gets his desires realised."
We can clearly see how the desire of becoming the king of Lanka was at the forefront of Vibhishana's mind, when deciding to wage war against Ravana. He laments, upon what he thought was Rama's death, that with Rama's death his hopes of becoming king are now gone, thereby suggesting that Vibhishana had aspired to become the king of Lanka when he formed the political alliance with Rama and used it to wage war against Ravana.
Furthermore, after Ravana's death, Vibhishana gets very emotional and says that with Ravana’s death there is a decline of dharma and that the dharma-incarnate (धर्मस्य विग्रहः - Ravana) has departed (from the Earth). He makes it very clear to the reader which side (Rama vs Ravana) he sees dharma, in this emotional outburst:
गतः सेतुः सुनीतीनां गतो धर्मस्य विग्रहः || ६-१०९-६
गतः सत्त्वस्य संक्षेपह् प्रस्तावानां गतिर्गता |
आदित्यः पतितो भूमौ मग्नस्तमसि चन्द्रमाः || ६-१०९-७
"As this hero, the foremost of those who wield the weapons, has fallen on the ground, the established rule of well-conducted persons has gone. The incarnation of dharma has departed. The epitome of strength has gone. The refuge of enlogies has gone out of sight. The sun has fallen to the earth. The moon has merged in darkness. Fire has extinguished its flames and a strennous effort has become inactive."
Vibhishana’s emotional speech makes it very clear that he had a high opinion of Ravana as a follower of dharma. If he considered Ravana very dharmic, how logical is it to say that he abandoned Ravana for the sake of dharma?
Not too logical...
We can conclude from the present evidence that Vibhishana was a political opportunist and used dharma as an excuse to abandon Ravana and join Rama's side so that he would eventually obtain the throne of Lanka. Needless to say, merely obtaining a throne does not make one a great king. One needs good kingly qualities to become a ruler, just like Ravana had. As a result, in a mere 1-2 generations after Vibhishana obtained the throne of Lanka, it had weakened to the extent that Vibhishana did not have the power to resist Sahadeva when the latter proceeded Southwards in his Digvijaya mission, and sent messengers to obtain tribute from Lanka:
And, O king of kings, that slayer of all foes, the virtuous and intelligent son of Madri having arrived at the sea-shore, then despatched with great assurance messengers unto the illustrious Vibhishana, the grandson of Pulastya. And the monarch willingly accepted the sway of the son of Pandu, for that intelligent and exalted king regarded it all as the act of Time. And he sent unto the son of Pandu diverse kinds of jewels and gems, and sandal and also wood, and many celestial ornaments, and much costly apparel, and many valuable pearls. And the intelligent Sahadeva, accepting them all, returned to his own kingdom.
Note Vibhishana's words. He regarded the weakening of his kingdom as an act of time. Time is ever powerful. It shows the true worth of a valorous king like Ravana and of a coward cum political opportunist like Vibhishana. Time had allowed Ravana to shape his kingdom to be so prosperous that it had threatened the existence of the Devas, and this Time had also deteriorated the same kingdom, led by Vibhishana to the position where it no longer had the power to resist a single Sahadeva, let alone a host of Devas...
Vibhishana's last statement that he regarded it all "as the act of Time" subtly shows his remorse for his act of trying to deprive his righteous (and in his own words, dharma-incarnate -- धर्मस्य विग्रहः) brother of the kingdom that rightly belonged to him (Ravana).


  1. Extremely well written with good proofs and analysis of the verses. I am convinced of your opinion of Vibhishan.

    Thanks for posting.