The episode of the Vali Vadham , where Shri Rama kills Sugreeva’s brother Vali has been a topic of debate amongst many for years. Many whom have watched TV debates on this topic might have come out of it thinking Shri Rama was wrong. (especially those debates in Tamil)
A cursory view of these debates would show that mostly, better debaters would be put on the side of Vali, while hardly good speakers would be put to argue Shri Rama’s side.
It is also well known for those educated in the psychology of influence and verbal persuasion, that speakers can use techniques to argue a wrong as a right.
This can be seen in popular speakers of such topics such as Nellai Kannan ( who was recently arrested for promoting violence on Modi and Amit Shah on stage ) for whom the Dravidian ideology and propaganda they subscribe to , is reason enough to falsify what is actually written in the Ramayana.
Now before diving in, a few things.
There is this obsession among the general population, on the proper way to do battle, that one has to fight directly, facing each other, head on, yada yada. That is more romanticism than reality.
It is why some criticized Chatrapati Shivaji for his effective use of guerilla tactics even while other Kings who stuck to the traditional conventional methods were being destroyed.
Snipers are an essential part of any military today to take out high value targets, just as “encounters” have been done to take out dangerous mafia targets. Heck even a tiger hides in the bushes and ambushes its prey, so this romanticism for direct confrontation is just that.
Coming back to the Ramayana, before getting into any specific incident within the Ramayana, we have to see what the overarching theme of the text is, and it is very clear in the introduction itself.
Valmiki asks Devarishi Narada among other things, who in the world possesses all the (good) qualities, who knows about dharma and what has to be done , who has control over himself and has conquered anger, who is devoid of jealousy , is truthful in his words and firm in his vows etc etc.
It is from this that the entire Valmiki Ramayana starts with Devarishi Narada saying, that one who possesses all such qualities is rare, and after describing the physical qualities of such a person, he also mentions that such a person exists in the Ikshvaku clan,
known as Rama and that he, is one who knows about dharma, firm in adhering to the truth and devoted to the welfare of his subjects, knows the truth about the Vedas and all sacred texts and is the protector of dharma etc etc.
So , the entire epic is about such a personality, who knows dharma , is devoted to dharma , has mastered all the holy texts including the Shrutis and Smritis and has conquered all negative traits like jealousy and anger.
Hence if anywhere in the text, there is confusion if Rama is following dharma and what is prescribed in the sashtras , or if he has succumbed to baser traits like jealousy or anger, it would simply be an error in understanding.
Now in the Vali Vadham , Shri Rama had promised Sugreeva that he would kill Vali , so Sugreeva called out Vali for a fight. And Tara, Vali’s wife had warned Vali that this was a ploy and not to go, to make peace with Sugreeva, and that she had heard that Rama of Ikshvaku clan was now supporting him.
Vali actually knew of Rama and the Ikshvaku clan and had chided Tara saying that Rama was someone who knew what Dharma was and would not resort to Adharma. Hence when he was shot (in the chest) while battling Sugreeva, and saw that it was Rama , he was angered and questions Rama on his adherence to Dharma.
( Here I quote his questions from Valmiki and Kamba Ramayana)
In Valmiki’s Ramayana , the original text, when Vali harshly questions Rama if it was right to attack someone when they were engaged in battle with another , when they had no personal enmity , etc he still mentions how Shri Rama is known throughout the world for his noble lineage and adherence to Dharma , hence his shock at what he (Vali) perceived to be an adharmic act.
Shri Rama responds by saying , he did not engage in battle with Vali, but was merely punishing him for his adharma. The Ikshvaku clan ruled over all the lands ( including Kishkindha where Vali was King of the Vanaras ) and as someone who was from the royal clan,
though he was in exile , it was well within his right to enforce Dharma in the lands , as an extension of his clan.
We should also remember though Bharata was ruling, he was ruling in proxy for Shri Rama only.
Shri Rama goes on to say, the wife of a younger brother was equal to one’s daughter , and Vali by snatching Sugreeva’s wife from him , and having intercourse with her, had done a grave sin, that was punishable by death as per the dharma sashtras.
And as for shooting him while hidden, it is within the rules of hunting animals, that men always hunt while hidden , hence he was following the dharma of hunting , hence had not transgressed dharma.
In Valmiki’s Ramayana, after hearing Shri Rama’s points, Vali himself accepts it and apologizes and asks Shri Rama to look after his son Angada as he would Lakshmana. Shri Rama makes Angada Prince Regent, who would rule after Sugreeva. The episode ends as such in Valmiki’s Ramayana.
In Kamban’s Ramayana, Vali argues if it was fair to go against the rules of battle as per Manu Neethi and other Dharma Sashtras and that it was common for Vanaras to take another’s wife, and the rules of humans did not apply to animals like them.
For this Shri Rama replies that one cannot be looked at as a higher or lower being just by birth itself, and ones intellect and other factors also come to play. He mentions how Jataayu was by birth a bird ( animal ) but his sacrifice had elevated him to such a level that Rama had done the last rites for him in the same way he had done for his father.
He admonishes Vali saying, you call yourself a lowly animal, but an animal would not have been able to quote the dharma sashtras like you eloquently did and even if you still want to use that excuse, I
know the ways of the Vanaras too, and though you are allowed to take another’s wife, it is not allowed when the husband is still alive, so you transgressed your own rules too.
As he continues to argue, Lakshmana steps in to say, Sugreeva had already taken Sharanagati at the feet of Shri Rama, and Shri Rama had already given his vow to kill you. If you had seen Shri Rama face on,
there is no doubt you would have fallen at his feet immediately, and Shri Rama being as compassionate as he is, would not have been able to fulfill his vow, would he?
This silenced Vali as he agreed to what was said.
In ending , we have to remember that in both versions, Vali mentioned that he could have easily gotten back Sita for Rama ( since Ravana was afraid of Vali, who had defeated him ) , but Rama’s adherence to dharma was supreme and was above any personal advantages.
Shri Rama had also mastered the dharma sastras, and unlike Bhishma in the Draupadi disrobing episode where the Grandsire would be caught up in the technicalities of the Sashtras forgetting the spirit of the Sashtras, Shri Rama was clear on both so there was no question whatsoever on him being adharmic.
– Shri Rama Chandra Samarpanam