Moral Dilemmas: Lesson 2

Scene from the RamayanaLAKSHMANA'S LOYALTY

"Lakshmana responds to Sita's plight by stating, 'No need for you to harm yourself. Only I shudder at the import of your words. I'll obey you now. Do not be anxious. This very second I'll leave. I only hesitated because your order goes against the command of my brother. I'll go, and may the gods protect you from harm. If I don't go, she will kill herself... if I go, she will be in danger. I'd rather be dead than facing such a dilemma...I'll go and what is destined will happen. Dharma alone should protect her." (from Valmiki, trans. R.K. Narayan)

Defining the Dilemma

After Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are sent into exile, and Soorpanaka has been humiliated, Ravana (Soorpanaka's brother and king of Lanka) declares revenge. He not only wants to see Rama and Lakshmana destroyed, he desires Sita to be his consort. He decides to consult with Mareecha, his uncle, who now lives as an ascetic in the woods. Mareecha had previously tried to kill Rama to avenge his mother's death, therefore Ravana thinks him to be knowledgeable on this subject. After some provoking, Mareecha agrees to assume the figure of a golden deer and to try to lure Sita from her guardians. Once Sita spots the golden deer, her heart is set on it. She begs Rama to bring it to her, and is terribly unhappy until he agrees to try.

Lakshmana warns Rama not to fetch the golden deer that Sita desires. Rama ignores his brother's plea and goes any way, making Lakshmana the guardian of Sita. Mareecha, after being mortally wounded by Rama's arrow, calls for help in a voice disguised as Rama's. Upon hearing this voice calling for help, Sita pleads with her brother-in-law to save him. When Lakshmana explains that this is a trick, Sita tells him that she will throw herself into a fire and die if he does not help Rama.

Lakshmana is in a dilemma. He has sworn to protect his sister-in-law, yet he must help his brother as well. When Lakshmana decides to leave Sita to try to help his brother, Sita is captured by Ravana.

Outcomes / Consequences

If Lakshmana goes to the aid of his brother, he is forsaking his duty to guard Sita. Yet, Sita swears that she will kill herself if he does not go.


Lakshmana's dharma as a younger brother is to follow what his elder brother orders him to do. An earlier example of this is represented when Lakshmana leaves his wife and beloved city behind to follow his elder brother into exile.
Lakshmana's dharma as a brother-in-law is to follow the wishes of his sister-in-law (who becomes as a mother figure to him after the marriage ceremony) and to protect her from harm.


Brainstorm and discuss the following questions as they relate to this scene.

1. In a situation like this one, assuming that you do not have an omniscient point of view, which decision seems to be the best one? 2. According to Lakshmana's dharma, which choice would have made the most sense?
3. Is Lakshmana's decision correct according to his dharma?
4. Does this remind you of a situation you have been in, read about or seen?

1. Ask students what current or historical issue illustrates the same type of dilemma.
2. Ask students what comparable piece of literature illustrates similar dilemmas.
3. If this were to be viewed as a contemporary dilemma, what factors or variables would contribute to the outcome?