Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

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Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby King Author » Tue Mar 16, 2010 6:48 pm UTC

Having recently read an abridged version of the Ramayana (as a primer so I can begin reading the actual 4.0 x 10^27 line epic poem and not be overwhelmed), I'm left with a burning question that I presume has a simple answer, one so obvious to the intended readership that it simply wasn't mentioned, but that I'd rather discuss than get an absolute, final answer for.

Much ancient Indian lore concerns gods incarnating as mortals. In no incident that I'm aware of do they lose their memories in the process; they always incarnate for some direct purpose and usually say, "Rawr, I am Vishnu, watch as I split the continents in twain with my pinky finger!"

So then why, when Vishnu incarnated as Rama for the purposes of eliminating the Asuras as a class of beings, did Vishnu not retain his memories? That is, why doesn't Rama know he's Vishnu?

I expect one of two dead-end answers -- it makes for a more interesting narrative that way, and Vishnu knew how everything was going to turn out beforehand, so it was all keikaku doori. But those are boring conclusions, so let's ignore them.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's look at the Ramayana as a piece of literature, rather than as a holy text and rather than as an author's work (i.e. disregarding the author's intentions). Why did Vishnu abandon his memories when incarnating as Rama?

I wanna save my response for a few posts, to see what other people have to say first (I'd be geeked if someone else speculated the same thing as I do).
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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby King Author » Fri Mar 19, 2010 6:07 pm UTC

Whoops. I meant Vishnu, not Shiva.
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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby Dave_Wise » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:37 pm UTC

Maybe he'd done something awful in his past and he wanted to start a new life?
Or he was hiding from the FBI?
Or evil imperialistic aliens were searching for something in his memory, which he then erased so he could hide on earth pretending to be a human?
Or maybe in order to become president of the galaxy and find out what the vogons were up to he had to...

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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby Asleep or Wrong » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:27 pm UTC

there's some speculation as to whether the first and last books, where all the vishnuite stuff is to be found, are original parts of the ramayana.

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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby King Author » Sat Apr 10, 2010 10:12 am UTC

Really? I thought the very core of the Ramayana was that Rama was the reincarnation of Vishnu. In the version I read, such references were peppered throughout.

Anyway, since nobody seems interested, I'll go ahead and post what I think.

Okay, so whole mission for Rama was to eliminate the Asuras as a class of creatures, especially their leader Ravana. Ravana was so powerful, he'd enslaved many gods to be his personal servants (he enslaved the god of fire to keep his hearth going and the candles in his castle lit, for instance). Now, I'm no expert on Indian mystic mythology, but presumably, Vishnu, as the Great God, could have simply destroyed the Asuras and Ravana outright. Perhaps not merely by willing it like the Christian God, but I'm guessing if Vishnu really wanted to, he could've wiped the floor with Ravana and personally hunted down and killed every last Asura.

The operative question, then, is why didn't he? If he wanted the Asuras gone, why didn't he do it himself? Why the hell go through all this crazy incarnation nonsense? I mean, Rama might have failed. He might have been raised a spoiled brat, he might've turned out - with his immense strength - to be the worst terror humanity's ever seen.

I think it's because Vishnu wanted to put human fate into human hands. Rama is essentially the ultimate, perfect weapon. Rather than Vishnu just sweep in and save the humans from the Asuras, he gave the humans the means to help themselves, but he gave them no instruction manual, nor did he guarantee that Rama would even complete his mission or even know what it was.

Maybe, after countless millenia of watching humanity, Vishnu simply became tired of his almighty position, and decided to put human fate in human hands by incarnating as Rama. Allow the humans to raise Rama, and let them do with him what they might; either save themselves or doom themselves.
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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby mastered » Sun Apr 11, 2010 12:45 am UTC

Having Hindu background (but not devout), I'm pretty sure avatars of gods rarely "remember" that they're a god. I'm not sure why; they're just born like people.
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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby tastelikecoke » Sat Apr 17, 2010 5:08 am UTC

For Ramayana to have a Plot line and be able to save the world.

Seriously though, I think the whole idea of vishnu as a humans kill ravana gets down if vishnu hadn't erased memories, that means he still got those omniscient memories. And having four people identifying themselves as Vishnu sounds confusing.

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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby Nath » Mon Apr 19, 2010 3:37 am UTC

In the versions that I've read, Rama's purpose was to end the rule of Ravana; not to wipe out all the asuras.

Besides, the Hindu gods don't really do much direct smiting. If they need to get something done in the physical world, they almost always do it via an avatar. Dem's the rules. The Hindu gods are bound by dharma, like everybody else.

Rama failing or going rogue was never a real concern. After all, being an incarnation of Vishnu, he was expected to have the usual godly qualities, whether or not he remembered his time as Vishnu.

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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby aurumelectrum13 » Fri Apr 30, 2010 8:31 am UTC

I was under the impression that only a human could kill Ravana; hence, Vishnu incarnates.

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Re: Why did Vishnu erase his memories as Rama?

Postby Nath » Sat May 01, 2010 5:06 am UTC

Oh, right, I'd forgotten about that. Yeah, that's probably the main reason. It's not the only time in Hindu mythology that a Big Bad got some kind of invulnerability from Brahma, and Vishnu had to find a loophole to get around it.


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