Journal Article

Violence in the <i>Vālmı̄ki Rāmāyaṇa</i>: Just War Criteria in an Ancient Indian Epic

Raj Balkaran and A. Walter Dorn

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 80, issue 3, pages 659-690
Published in print September 2012 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online July 2012 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
Violence in the Vālmı̄ki Rāmāyaṇa: Just War Criteria in an Ancient Indian Epic

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When is armed force considered justified in Hinduism? How do Hindu legitimizations of warfare compare with those of other religions? The Just War framework, which evolved from Roman and early Christian thought, stipulates distinct criteria for sanctioning the use of force. Are those themes comparable to the discourse on violence of ancient India? This article examines the influential Sanskrit epic Vālmı̄ki Rāmāyaṇa in order to broach these questions. This analysis demonstrates the presence in the ancient work of all seven modern Just War criteria—namely (1) Just Cause, (2) Right Intent, (3) Net Benefit, (4) Legitimate Authority, (5) Last Resort, (6) Proportionality of Means, and (7) Right Conduct. This study also shows the extent to which the criteria and the larger discourse in the Vālmı̄ki Rāmāyaṇa are distinctly couched within Indic ethical parameters, drawing particularly upon the moral precept of ahiṃsā (nonviolence). This article identifies both similarities and differences between the epic's criteria for warfare and those of the Just War framework. By comparing representations of violence in the Vālmı̄ki Rāmāyaṇa to modern Western legitimizations of force, this study advances the inclusion of Hindu thought into the global discourse on the ethics of war and peace.

Journal Article.  12268 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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