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Symbolism of Vaali vadham.

Written by Jayasree Saranathan

Vaali vadham had been a controversial one

that had invited a number of interpretations for ages.

Most interpretations however 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 article 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 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 in having driven out his younger brother

Who is to be treated as his own son and in 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?

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 (Vali’s wife) later?

He didn’t admonish him the least.

So this can not be the real reason.

Taking up the second reason,

that Rama decided to kill Vali was a foregone one

(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. (ramO dwir na api bhaashathe).

So the nuances of how this act was dharmic lies 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 had he 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 had 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.

As until long Vali was not in any way connected with Him,

the offence must have taken place later.

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

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 had been 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 (Ravana) 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 the bird, Jatayu

waited to take on 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

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

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

in which they were born.

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 in time - on 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


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 hardly faced dilemma of this sort,

but stuck to dharma always.

Of the first two Bheeshma had to do atonement

for having sacrificed dharma at the altar of his swa-dharma.

He could not save the cause for which he sacrificed dharma,

nor did the factors connected to his swa-dharma come

to his help 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 continuously hit,

initially he hears the vasus and rishis saying him

that his end has come.

Listening to them he decides to leave out his pranan.

But as that was happening,

Ganga devi sends rishis and

others as swans who came to tell the falling Bheeshma

not to leave the pranan as it was dhakshinayana.

Why did this confusion occur?

Were the rishis who initially said

that he may die wrong?

How can such confusion occur?

The only plausible reason is that Bheeshma who

was willing to listen to the voice of the divine

At the last moments,

did 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)

and laid him on a bed of arrows.

During every moment on that bed he was recollecting

how for the one on the side of adharma,

dharma can not seen.

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!!