This question is a concern to many people nowadays, to both those who believe and those who do not believe in Vedic history: Why did Lord Rama kill Vali, with whom He had no conflict, and moreover, why did He do so while hiding behind a tree?
Most of the believers know that Lord Rama is sinless, spotless, and blameless. But because they lack sufficient knowledge of the sastras, they cannot answer this question satisfactorily, neither to others nor even to themselves. Taking advantage of this situation, the nonbelievers happily (in fact: foolishly) conclude that Lord Rama, Bhagavan, is not good. But that conclusion is contradictory, for the very definition of God establishes that He is perfect, all-powerful, the well-wisher of all, and thus always good. So why should one blame Him? How to resolve this puzzle?
First of all, we should ask ourselves, “From what source have we obtained the information that Lord Rama killed Vali?” From the Ramayana. But have we actually read the Ramayana? Amazingly, most people who question Lord Rama’s killing of Vali have never even read the Ramayana, yet they comment upon and judge it without referring to the original text. Only arrogant fools would do that. “We have seen it on television,” they argue. However, the producers of such commercial presentations are not interested in the true message of the Ramayana; they are primarily concerned about earning money, for which they can do practically anything. It commonly happens that they twist factual Vedic history to suit their own purposes. Therefore one should not rely on television versions of the Ramayana.
One should read the original (Valmiki’s) Ramayana and find satisfactory answers therein. Those who have read Valmiki’s Ramayana would never ask why Rama killed Vali, for the authentic Ramayana not only explains the reasons why Lord Rama did so but also establishes His transcendental position as the Supreme Absolute Truth, Personality of Godhead.
Thus the fault of their argument is exposed: how can one judge the validity of a story within a book that he has never read?
Yet, even without reading the Ramayana they will argue, “Everyone knows that Rama has killed Vali unjustly! No need to read the book for that.” At least they accept what sastra, the Ramayana, says—that Lord Rama exists and this incident really happened in the past. If we do not believe that Rama exists, then where is the question of accusing Him for killing Vali?
Both the believers and the nonbelievers argue about whether Rama’s killing of Vali was just. Very good. This means that both sides accept Lord Rama’s historical existence and the Ramayana. But the difference is that the believers accept the entire Ramayana, whereas the nonbelievers accept only those portions that support their accusations.
Srila Prabhupada told a story: “Once a man kept a hen that delivered a golden egg every day. The foolish man thought, ‘It is very profitable, but it is expensive to feed this hen. Better that I cut off her head and save the expense of feeding her. Then I will get the egg without any charge.’” So he cut the head of the bird and lost everything.
This story teaches that one should not accept only one portion of the sastra and reject another. We must accept the entire Ramayana and then try to properly understand it. But the nonbelievers accept only what is agreeable to their own ideas and reject what is not. They quote the Ramayana about Rama killing Vali but reject the portion wherein even Vali glorifies Lord Rama as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The fault in their argument is ardha-kukkuti-nyaya, “the logic of the half hen.”
If they would read the Ramayana, they would know that the same question was asked by Vali himself: “Why did you kill me, a monkey who is free from guilt, who lived on fruits and roots in this forest, who was not confronting you, and who was engaged in combat with another?”
To remind or inform the reader as to what had actually happened, we now offer a summary of the events as narrated in the Ramayana:
Vali was the king of Kiskindha, and Sugriva, as his younger brother, served him faithfully. Once Mayavi, the son of the demon named Maya Danava, attacked Vali due to enmity caused by their competing over a certain woman. Vali rushed out of his palace to fight the demon, and Sugriva followed. The demon fled and entered a deep dark cave. Vali then instructed Sugriva to guard the entrance while he (Vali) was inside fighting the demon.
Sugriva waited for an entire year, but still there was no sign that Vali would ever emerge. Moreover, while blood oozed from the cave, he could hear the voices of many demons but not also his brother’s voice. Therefore he finally concluded that Vali must have been slain. He decided to close the entrance of the cave with a big boulder, and then returned to his kingdom.
Because the kingdom now had no ruler, the ministers enthroned Sugriva as the new king. And He ruled righteously. But, much to the surprise of everyone, one day Vali returned. Upon seeing Sugriva seated upon the royal throne, Vali became angry and immediately arrested all the ministers who have enthroned him. Sugriva respectfully bowed to Vali and placed the royal crown at his feet, hoping that his brother would be pacified. He humbly explained that his aim was never to usurp the kingdom and apologized for his unintentional offense. Yet Vali remained angry. He accused Sugriva of closing the entrance of the cave to get rid of him and take over the kingdom. In revenge, he deprived Sugriva of all his property, including his wife, and banished him from the kingdom.
Now suffering from this great injustice and insult from his own brother, Sugriva took shelter of the supremely just Lord Rama, who assured him that He Himself would eventually kill Vali and return his (Sugriva’s) wife and kingdom. Consequently, while Vali was later engaged in combat with Sugriva, Lord Rama killed Vali and thus established righteousness.
Vali then accused Rama of killing him unrighteously, whereupon the Lord replied:
“This entire earth, with all its lands, forests, rivers, and seas, and all its people and animals, belongs to the scions of Iksvaku. Thus the right of punishment and reward is entitled to them. Presently, the righteous king Bharata rules the earth, and under his command we, who are devoted to our ksatriya duty to protect righteousness, duly punish those who stray from the path of dharma.
“You have turned your face away from kingly morality. You are guilty of cohabiting with your younger brother’s wife Ruma, who is your daughter-in-law [for the younger brother should be treated as if a son], while Sugriva is still alive. Death is the punishment for a man who lustfully approaches a girl who has sprung from his own loins, his daughter, his sister, or the wife of a younger brother. Therefore it was My duty to punish you. If I did not punish you, I would be straying from My duty, and that act of Mine would be unrighteous. Upon being punished by a king, a sinner is cleansed from karmic reactions and ascends to heaven. So Vali, you have been righteously punished by Me according to the laws of dharma.
“If you say that you are just a monkey and therefore ask why I accuse you of having an illicit relation with your brother’s wife, then My reply is that when a king goes to hunt, he can kill animals without showing himself to them. I am a king, and you are but a monkey, so there is no crime in My killing you, whether or not you have attacked Me.
“According to the dharma-sastra, to conquer his enemies a king may form an alliance with another, friendly king. Sugriva and I have formed such an alliance. He will help Me find Sita, and I agreed to help him rescue his wife and kingdom from you. You are a king who broke the laws of dharma, and you are also an enemy of Sugriva, with whom I have formed an alliance, and thus also My enemy. It is the law of dharma that struck you down by My hand. We are not free to act as we like. We must follow the rules of sastra.
“I also gave My word to Sugriva, who became My friend in distress, that I would kill you and rescue his wife and kingdom. A ksatriya never goes back on his word.”
After hearing these words that were replete with wisdom, Vali became spiritually enlightened by Lord Rama’s mercy and hence no longer faulted Rama. He said, “O jewel among men, what You have spoken is precisely true; there is no doubt about that. Indeed, a dwarf cannot argue with a giant. Please excuse me for speaking harshly due to ignorance. I admit that I have done wrong, so I pray to You: please forgive me and bestow Your mercy upon me.
“Had I obeyed Your orders and thus obtained Your grace, I could have ruled over an entire kingdom, or the entire earth, or even the whole universe. But I counted them as nothing, for my heart yearned to meet my death at Your hands so as to win myself a seat in Your supreme abode. Thus I did not care for my wife’s advice to not fight with Sugriva.”
Lord Rama then assured Vali, “Set your heart at rest, for you are now free from all sins, and having attained your spiritual body you will reach the highest destination.”
This was Lord Rama’s mercy upon Vali, that he could attain moksa and the highest destination. Yet, in ignorance people complain, “Why did Lord Rama kill Vali?” The answer is: to give him mercy, to deliver him from the insurmountable ocean of repeated birth and death, and to enable him to attain the ultimate goal of life.
The Lord’s supreme justice is His mercy. In the pastime of His killing Vali, he manifests His absolute nature: whether He blesses one or kills another, both are actually benefited.
Srimad-Bhagavatam glorifies Bhismadeva for his great fortune in being able to leave his body in the presence of Lord Krsna, which means that he will never again have to see repeated birth and death. What great fortune for Vali to have been killed by Lord Rama and thus been freed from all sins and then return to the kingdom of God—where every soul actually belongs. Even a monkey could understand his great fortune upon receiving the mercy of Lord Rama. But modern persons are questioning Lord Rama by positing mundane morality and logic.
atah sri-krsna-namadi na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau svayam eva sphuraty adah
“No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Lord through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.” (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.234)
Unless one serves and surrenders to the Lord, His pastimes, transcendental nature, and activities will forever remain a mystery. The Lord will reveal Himself only to those with whom He is pleased.
If two opposing parties ultimately agree upon a solution, then there is no longer a case. Lord Rama clarified His action to Vali, who then accepted and surrendered to Rama. The case is closed. Yet some people continue to argue on behalf of Vali.
Vali was a wrongdoer. Must a policeman announce to a criminal that he intends to arrest him: “Please prepare yourself. I am coming!”? Not at all. So what is the wrong in Lord Rama’s having killed Vali without prior warning?
Some say that Rama had to hide because Vali had received a boon that no one could kill him in a face-to-face battle. Even if this is so, the Lord is still almighty. It is He who empowers the demigods to give boons to others. He could have easily killed Vali in spite of such a boon, but to preserve the benediction given by demigod to Vali, Lord Rama might have decided to remain concealed while killing Vali, to thus fulfill His promise without invalidating the boon.
We are reminded of the case of Hiranyakasipu, who had received a multi-benediction from Lord Brahma. That benediction protected Hiranyakasipu from being killed under various specific circumstances. Yet, while keeping Brahma’s boon intact, the Lord appeared as Nrsiàha-deva, a half man and half lion—a form that had never before been seen—and killed Hiranyakasipu.
The Lord is supremely intelligent, capable of doing anything. But we will be able to understand Him only by hearing from an authorized source, from a devotee of the Lord—not by challenging questions, mundane logic, or mundane morality.
Before challenging Lord Rama, one should ask oneself, “If Lord Rama was guilty of acting immorally, then how is it that for thousands of years people have been worshiping Him and building magnificent temples to spread His glories and teachings? Were all of them fools?” No. With full faith and proper understanding, they have all heard or read narrations of the Ramayana and thus worshiped Lord Rama.
But nowadays, we drink, smoke, indulge in all kinds of sinful activity, never read sastra, never hear from devotees, never go to temples, never commit ourselves to good deeds, but expertly (in fact: foolishly) find fault in Lord Rama. Intoxicated by pride, we comment upon and judge everything, and make cynical remarks even about our own well-wishers, own culture, and own tradition. We think that we understand everything better than did all our forefathers, who “wasted time by hearing mythological stories” from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. We think that we can grasp the “true meaning” better than could all of the Sanskrit panditas and brahmanas of the past, that our power of reason and logic is superior to that of the rsis, and that although we have never read the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gīta, or Srimad-Bhagavatam, we are even more learned than Vyasadeva, who composed all the Vedas.
We consider even great kings like the Cheras, Pandyas, Hoysalas and Cholas, who built those great temples for worship of Lord Rama, to be primitive. “Sankaracarya was wrong, Ramanujacarya was wrong, Madhvacarya was wrong, for they all glorified and worshiped Lord Rama. Even Brahma and Siva are wrong, because they worship Lord Rama and chant His holy name. Only we are right, we modern people sitting on the peak of modern civilization.”
In reality, we are sitting in the pit of human degradation. Maybe we are just arrogant or ignorant fools, for disregarding our tradition, culture, and wisdom, which are thousands of years old. Maybe we are wrong and our forefathers right. Why not be honest and face the reality?
There was never a time in history when people had such bad qualities, such a low standard of morality, such a poor understanding of life, and such weak faith in God as we have today. Again the sastras speak the truth—it is Kali-yuga:
prayenalpayusah sabhya kalav asmin yuge janah
mandah sumanda-matayo manda-bhagya hy upadrutah
“O learned one, in this iron age of Kali, men almost always have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky, and, above all, always disturbed.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.10)
Why don’t we study our scriptures and thus find the solution and shelter in the divine words of God from the Vedas? Why don’t we read Valmiki’s Ramayana (available in all ISKCON temples)? Why don’t we surrender to Lord Rama and thus invoke His blessings? Why don’t we try chanting the names of Krsna and Rama as advised in the sastras, and live a pure, peaceful, and meaningful life while experiencing transcendental bliss in our heart?
If our tradition and culture are so bad, then why are so many foreigners following it all over the world, as we see in ISKCON? Are we so much allured by maya’s false promises of material happiness that we are ready to challenge Lord Rama, as Ravana did? Well, those who have read the Ramayana know what happened to Ravana. Those who have not read it should do so at the first opportunity. Sri Ramacandra Bhagavan ki jaya!