Two instances in the Rāmāyana which teach us that karma is supreme

In Sanātana culture, karma of the past drives the life incidents of the present and the karma of the present determines the life incidents of the future. Whatever (good or bad) action you perform, it will have an effect on your present and future life. You will have to live the ‘karmafala‘ (the result) of your past actions. 

यज्ञशिष्टाशिन: सन्तो मुच्यन्ते सर्वकिल्बिषै: |

भुञ्जते ते त्वघं पापा ये पचन्त्यात्मकारणात् ||Gita 3.13||

Some people realize this philosophy of life at some point of their lives and start living as a karma yogi. They offer all their actions to the Paramātmā or the supreme being whatever you call him. Other people keep getting stuck in the cycle and keep building the karmika imprints. Thus, they have to bear this cycle of human body not just once, but time and again until the realize what the former category has already stated by their lives. 

Whatever action you have performed in the past will definitely have an effect on your future. But, with right mindset, you can terminate any mistake and get rid of its ‘fala‘ which you have made in the past. In the Rāmāyana, there are two instances which lead us to understand this philosophy of life. 

Instance one: Mātā Ahalyā and her penance

Mātā Ahalyā was wife of Sage Gautama and the mother of Shatānanda. Sage Gautama was regarded as one of the Saptarṣī while Shatanand was the rājaguru of Mithilā.

Sculpture of Mata Ahilya

Back in time, Sage Gautama was performing an extreme tapasyā. In our scriptures, it is mentioned that by doing tapasyā and anuṣṭhāna  you can even be eligible to conquer the loka or realms. There are many lokas mentioned in our itihāsas such as the bhu loka, swarga loka, Vaikunṭha loka etc. Do these realms actually exist? Are they Ancient names for some portion of earth? Do they only reside in the consciousness of a yogi in upper koṣa of our pancakoṣī body and mind? These all are different speculations and there are philosophers who give different explanations on the basis of their understanding and level of their enlightenment. 

Anyways, somehow Indra became insecure of his post. He thought that Sage Gautama might attack his loka to attain it if he is successful in his tapasyā. Thus, Indra made a suicidal plan to break the tapasyā of Sage Gautama. He disguised himself as the great sage and went to the sage’s wife, Ahilyā, in the Brahma muhurta when the sage was out for Prātah Sandhyā. He asked Ahilyā to have sex with him. 

मुनिवेषं सहस्राक्षं विज्ञाय रघुनन्दन।

मतिं चकार दुर्मेधा देवराजकुतूहलात्।। (VR 1.48.19)

Even though Ahilyā recognised Indra, she agreed out of curiosity. She also got carried away with the misunderstanding that Indra, the King of the Deities, had come just for him. This was her mistake which was going to change her life. Sage Gautama became aware of this act by his divine sight. 

First, He cursed Indra to become impotent. Though Indra had to suffer because of his crime, he became successful in his motive to make the sage angry which broke the penance that he was performing. 

Anger is something you must conquer if you want to walk on the past of spirituality and tapasyā. In yoga, there are primary steps like yama and niyama which you have to follow. They make your body and mind ready and eligible to walk on the next steps. Controlling your anger is one of those first things you must do in order to walk the path of yoga.

इह वर्षसहस्राणि बहूनि त्वं निवत्स्यसि।

तथा शप्त्वा स वै शक्रमहल्यामपि शप्तवान्।।

वायुभक्षा निराहारा तप्यन्ती भस्मशायिनी ।

अदृश्या सर्वभूतानां आश्रमेऽस्मिन्निवत्स्यसि।। (VR 1.49.29-30)

Sage Gautama Gave extreme orders to Ahilyā to do penance for her śuddhi and prāyaścitta . During that period, she had to live alone in the āśrama . She had to live and do tapasyā while no one could see or find her. Sage told her that she couldn’t eat or drink anything but had to survive only on air. 

शापस्यान्तमुपागम्य तेषां दर्शनमागता।

राघवौ तु ततस्तस्या: पादौ जगृहतुस्तदा।। (VR 1.49.16)

Sage Gautama said that the penance of Ahalyā will be completed only when Lord Rāma will pay a visit to the āśrama and she will host him. When Shri Ram visited the āśrama along with Sage Viśvāmitra and Lakṣmana, he touched her feet with utmost respect. Thus, her penance was successful and Sage Gautama came back to take her with him.

Even though her mistake was not of low intensity, Mātā Ahalyā is worshipped even today because she is an example that anyone can become a divine being and his one mistake doesn’t decide his entire life.

Instance two: Daśaratha and Śrāvana Kumāra 

यदाचरति कल्याणि शुभं वा यदि वाऽशुभम्।

तदेव लभते भद्रे कर्ता कर्मजमात्मनः।। (VR 2.63.6)

Śrāvana Kumāra was a sage who was an ideal son to his parents. He was living with his parents who were sages too, living on the banks of Sarāyu river. 

Śrāvana was the son of a Śudra mother and a Vaiṣya Father. He was living the life of an ascetic. 

This was the time, when Daśaratha was prince of Ayodhya. He was an expert in archery and could hit the target by just hearing the sound. On a fine day in Varsha Ritu, he was waiting for some animals to come on the bank of Sarāyu river so that he could hunt them with his special skill. 

Prince Dasharath and Shravan Kumar

Mistaking Śrāvana Kumāra for an elephant, Daśaratha killed him with his arrow. Since, Daśaratha had unintentionally killed the sage, he was not cursed to instant death by the demised sage’s father. His father, despite being a Vaiṣya by birth, had accumulated very much tapas by his penance and he had the power to curse anyone.

The blind sage was so much attached to his son that he couldn’t bear the news of his death. He died but cursed Daśaratha before dying. Daśaratha was cursed to die like the sage was dying out of grief while his son was not there with him.

This was the fruit of his karma that when Daśaratha died in his chamber, Rāma (his dearest son) was out on exile.

What karma we are performing now, is going to show results as the karmafala at some point of time. If we all keep this in mind, we can save ourselves from continuous life cycles. We can consciously live this life as a yogi and leave this loka after burning all our past kārmika imprints. 

About The Author

Prabhakar Kumar is Founder of The Indian Rover. He loves to ask questions by himself and seek the answers. He is an enthusiast on Sanātana culture and its rich heritage.


  1. You can also add the Bali vadh by SriRam, where SriRam shot the arrow from hiding when Bali was in duel with Sugriv. Karma hit back in next incarnation as lord Krishna was killed by the hunter Jara who shot the arrow at his toe mistaking as an animal.

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