Similarity or difference between one of the most celebrated epics in Hinduism i.e. Ramayana & Mahabharata always intrigued me since I came across both. And in my opinion, whereas Ramayana deals with the endeavor of its character within the bracket of idealism, Mahabharata is primarily a strife which gives subjective treatment to the issues and crisis that prevailed. Also, both the protagonists and antagonists in these enlightening epics had its own set of principles and rules. Though both the epic concludes with the emplacement of Dharma (righteousness) finally, but the approach has been the function of Yug (ages) in which it took place.
They have many things in common too, but the article here will moreover talk about the prominent difference.
To explain more of the subject, I’d like to pick up central character of both the epics and will explain them in sharp contrast with each other. As far as greatness and tyranny of any human being is concerned, it is basically governed by two virtues – their own principles & adherence to the social rules. And the balance between the two defines one’s persona and identity. Let me explain them with the help of illustration above where Ramayana and Mahabharata diagonally intertwines each other & the line of difference :
Ramayana – Principles AND Rules
High on Principles & High on Rules – Rama
No wonder why is he referred as Maryada Purushottam. The principles he caressed, the rules he observed & the values he meant. Under all circumstances, he followed all the positive aspects & abstracts with aplomb by the means of sacrifices and righteousness without nudging from the path of Dharma.
Low on Principles & Low on Rules – Ravana
A self proclaimed alpha male who never came under the purview of any law of the land (thus, all rules were broken). With jungle rules like your-wife-my-wife, he nearly broke all the barriers of human civilization. Though a Brahmin by lineage, Ravana never bothered to confine himself to any decent principles and kept on manipulating existing ones.
Mahabharata – Principles OR Rules
High on Principles but Low on Rules – Krishna
Leela Purushottam – the one who never compromised with his principles and merits. Though he kept on bending or breaking the rules – but only for the sake of others. Takes and talks about the Dharma in humanly divine perspective what we today know as Bhagavad Gita. A kingmaker who deceptively beats the foe in their own game.
Low on Principles but High on Rules – Duryodhana
A wicked figure of the epic who never pronounced any principles but followed all the rules – literally. And when it comes to social rules, following its word than spirit within may spell disaster. While Draupadi being disrobed, he logically put all the learned stalwarts at moral dilemma. And it was rule vs need of the hour which needed to be looked upon when a royal woman’s modesty was on stake. Duryodhana complied with the rule, but never cared for the spirit of it as an autocratic individual with Dharma not being upheld.
So in the nutshell, Ramayana and Mahabharata as a colligated scripture tells us more about the change in the way atrocities are dealt with in accordance with time (and situation). Whereas in Ramayana, both the virtues are either held or laid altogether (Rama & Ravana). But in Mahabharata, the individuals (Krishna & Duryodhana) makes a single choice out of two – Principles or Rules. So if Ramayana is deeply concerned with ‘both’ , Mahabharata deals with ‘either’ – and that is the major difference.
While looking out for articles and sources about the epics, I stumbled upon this video of Devdutt Pattanaik (an eminent mythologist). The illustration has been inspired by the same.