Symbolic meaning of characters of Ramayana
Soon after his entry into Ayodhya in the company of Sita as Maya, Rama had to enter the jungle of life. These ordeals are the concomitants of those who are associated with Maya As a result he had to embark on a search for Sita. On the way, he met Sugriva. Sugriva and Vali—the brothers...represent the qualities of Viveka (discrimination) and Dheeratva (valour). Rama made common cause with Sugriva to overcome Vali. He got the friendship of Anjaneya who symbolises Dhairyam (dauntless courage). With the help of Sugriva and Hanuman, Rama crossed the ocean of moha (delusion) to enter Lanka. Once again he encounterd the three gunas-- Satwa, Rajas and Tamas (qualities of serenity, passion and passivity), in Lanka in the form of Vibhishana, Ravana and Kumbakarna. He vanquished Ravana and Kumbhakarna (Rajo and Tamo gunas) and crowned Vibhishana (Satwa guna) as King. He recovered Sita who now assumed the form of Anubhavajnana (wisdom born of experience) and reentered Ayodhya with her.
The Ramayana epic carries these significant messages when the symbolic meaning of the characters and events in it are properly understood. Here the unique features of Lanka may be noted. Its ruler was the ten-headed Ravana. Although he was endowed with all powers, he was perpetually immersed in Moha (infatuation for women). He had the appellation "Dasagriva"---the one with ten heads. In Ayodhya, Dasaratha was the ruler and in Lanka it was Dasagriva. Dasaratha had ten indriyas (sense organs) as his chariot. Ravana was the one who was enjoying the ten senses as a sensualist. Whatever one's scholarship or wealth or strength, if he has no control over his senses, he descends to the depths of degradation. Without control over his senses, a person who may have conquered the three worlds, will be a slave of his impulses. The bad traits of Ravana were shared by all the people of Lanka. As is the ruler, so are the subjects, says the adage. When the ruler indulges in sensual pleasures, the subjects also do likewise. Lanka was thus immersed in carnal pleasures. The people were not aware of human virtues, much less of divine qualities. Pleasures of the flesh were their sole preoccupation. But at the same time, they carried on ritualistic practices like yagas and yajnas (sacrificial rites and rituals).
Source: Discourse in the Prashaanthi Mandir on 7-4-1987.