Why did Lord Rama kill Vali from behind a tree?
Answer: Lord Rama’s killing of Vali from behind is elaborately discussed in Valmiki Ramayana itself and also analyzed by subsequent acharyas. That one act does seem to be a stain on to otherwise spotless and virtuous character. Vali himself fumes and rants at the apparent injustice in being killed while be engaged in a duel with another. And Lord Rama Himself answers. So let us see what Lord Rama answers and then we’ll discuss what the acharyas further explain.
Vali when he is hit by Lord Rama’s arrow, which is capable of rending the earth, falls in pain and he looks around and sees Lord Rama coming there with a smile on His face. In a fit of rage amidst his agony, he says, “I thought you are a virtuous person. How could you have done such a vicious act? I think it is because of your association with this vicious person Sugriva that you have also become spoiled.” Lord Rama smiles and He says, “O Vali, it seems that with the deterioration of the body even the intelligence gets deteriorated. You are accusing me of immorality without understanding the intricacies of dharma.” Lord Rama further says that I am the servant of Bharat who is currently the ruler of the world. Lord Rama’s consciousness can be seen here. He is not saying I am God. He is saying I am the servant of His own younger brother who is the king and I am serving on his behalf. So He says as a member as a servant of the king and the member of the royal Kshatriya class, it is my duty to protect the virtuous and to punish the unrighteous or the vicious. You, O monkey, have for no reason what so ever grievously wronged your faithful younger brother Sugriva. Although there was no fault of his, you attacked him, you insulted him, you exiled him and you threatened to take his very life. Not only that you even took up his own wife as your wife. And because of this you are an aggressor, an aatatai. Aatatai is aggressor. In the Vedic scriptures, it is described that person coming as an aggressor with themalevolent intention, he deserves to be killed and there is no sin in killing such a person by whatever means. So if somebody comes to kill, somebody comes to abduct one’s wife to exploit and abuse her, somebody comes to steal away one’s property, somebody tries to destroy one’s property with arson, in all these cases, the aggressor can be killed, not just by anyone but by the Kshatriyas. By those who are meant to be upholders of law and they incur no sin for killing such aggressors. Just as the policeman when they arrest and execute criminals who are serial killers, they get no punishment by law for doing so. The Kshatriyas are like the policeman and aatatai are like the criminals. So Lord Rama says that because you for no good reason wronged your brother so viciously, it is my duty to kill you and to give justice to your brother. And that is why I have killed you. This is the first and foremost reason.
And then the Lord says further that you know you are a monkey and as a hunter can kill ananimal without necessarily confronting it, a hunter can kill an animal while being in a tree, while being concealed in the bushes, so the Kshatriyas codes allows one to do that. That’s why I have killed you and I have done nothing wrong. And then Lord Rama goes further and says, “O Vali, if you still feel that I have wronged you than I can give you back your life right now.”
Actually I explained things briefly, but there are pages and pages of this in Valmiki Ramayana and subsequent acharyas give thiselaboration about Lord Rama’s further conversation.
So when Vali hears all the answers that Lord Rama is giving and he hears His powerful and sweet voice, he becomes purified. Ultimately Vali is not evil; Vali is not a demon like Ravana. He is a powerful person and his power to some extent went to his head and he seriously misunderstood Sugriva’s intentions. But at heart Vali is actually Indra is a Devotee. So the arrogance which has come because of his power now was removed by the arrow that burned through his body, through his heart. So actually Lord Rama’s arrow and Lord Rama’s words purified him and they brought forth his natural devotion. And Vali at that time said, “My dear Lord, lives I’ll get many, but a death like this when will I get again. To die in Your presence is the greatest fortune and it is a perfection of life. I seek only that I can behold Your face and die in your presence.” And Vali being completely purified, he gave his own necklace which was given to him as a source of his power and as long as he was wearing that necklace he could not die. That’s how he was able to stay alive even after being pierced by Lord Rama’s arrow to talk with him for so long. He took that necklace and he gave it not to his own son but he gave it to Sugriva. Now, it’s natural for him to give it to his son. And nobody could have blamed him because that would have made his son invincible. But actually Vali himself was so convinced and transformed by Lord Rama’s answer that he realized that I have wronged Sugriva and to seek forgiveness to Sugriva, he gave him his own necklace. And before giving that necklace he told Angada, his son; don’t bear any animosity against Sugriva or Rama because they have not killed me. It is my own bad deeds that have caused my death. Please serve Sugriva as you have served me and please serve Lord Rama as The Supreme Lord.
Then he turned to his own wife, Tara, and told her that after I go, please assist Sugriva and serve him. And then he told Lord Rama that please let the hatred that the Sugriva and his associates may have had against me, not be expressed against Tara or Angada. Lord Rama smiled and said, not at all. In fact when Sugriva saw Vali’s change of heart, Sugriva became remorseful. And if we see, Sugriva was not at all eager to go for the kingdom. After receiving that necklace from his brother Vali, Vali felt dead. While dying he uttered the names of Rama and attained the exalted spiritual destination. Sugriva felt remorseful and he said, “I have killed my own brother. How can I become the kingand take care of the kingdom.” Then Lord Rama told him that- follow the instructions of your brother that is the way you can please him. He wants you to become the king.
Some people argue further that what Vali did with Sugriva’s wife same thing Sugriva did with Vali’s wife. Vali lived and co-habited with Sugriva’s wife and Sugriva did the same with Vali’s wife. So isn’t Sugriva’s act also a sinful act? Not at all, for two reasons. First is that, when Vali was co-habiting with Sugriva’s wife, her husband was still alive. He had forcibly driven her away and stolen his wife, whereas in case of Sugriva, Tara’s husband had passed away. According to the Vedic culture women always has to be under the shelter of some one. So he accepted her and it was his duty to protect her. It was Vali who told Tara to serve Sugriva. Therefore it is not that Sugriva was greedy for the kingdom or lusty for Vali’s wife but rather it was a duty for him to rule the kingdom. So it was the duty for him to protect Vali’s wife.
When Lord Rama answered Vali’s question, Vali was convinced but unfortunately people who read the Ramayanaare not convinced. Vali was convinced and the conviction was demonstrated through his transformation.
Still the question may remain, why did Lord Rama have to kill Vali like that? Why He didn’t kill him directly in the battle. He could have. Vali had earlier performed tapasya and got blessings from the gods. He wanted immortality but he could not get immortality from any of the gods; because only Lord Vishnu, by the performance of pure devotional service, can give us immortality. So he had asked for immortality in an indirect way by saying that whenever I have to fight with anyone let half of that person’s powers come to me. If Vali has power of hundred units, and even some enemy has power of hundred units, equal to him. Then what would happen with Vali’s benediction? That he would have hundred and fifty units power and his opponent would have fifty units. Even his opponent had thousand units of power, if half of his power would come to Vali then his opponent could have left five hundred and could have five hundred plus hundred- six hundred. So Vali has by this tricky benediction ensured his victory always. Lord Rama is the supreme Lord, and He could still have killed Vali anyway, but he honored the benedictions of the devtas, just as Lord Narsimha Dev came in a special form. Neither man nor lion and killed Hiranyakashyipu in a special way, neither at day time nor at night time but in twilight. Like that Lord Rama in order to honor the benediction of the devtas, arranged to have Vali killed in a way in which he was not facing Him. Vali was looking away from him. This is not told in the Valmiki Ramayana but in the subsequent retellings of the Ramayana.
Regarding the hunter who killed Lord Krishna, actually the hunter could have never killed Lord Krishna. If we look at the eleventh canto carefully that when the hunter shot an arrow at Lord Krishna’s feet he realized that He was Lord, he was aghast. He came and removed the arrow but there is no description that he removed the blood or he treated the wound over there. He was actually very repentful and he was very prayerful, begging forgiveness. So actually it was just a Lila by the Lord to leave this material world.
As far as Vali is concerned, none of our acharyas, none of the Gaudiya Vaishnava acharyas have talked about it and as much as I know the other acharyas have also not talked about it. There is a lot which has come subsequently in the Ramayana in the form of tales which have been added without any validity from the original Shastra. if we find in the subsequent retellings of the Ramayana, like the Tulsi Ramayana or XXXX Ramayana or the various other Ramayana that are there in the different parts of the country. If there are some subsequent stories, how do we know whether they are right or wrong? First of all we have to see if any of our acharyas have spoken about it. In the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya, the acharyas are primarily focused on Krishna Lila and not so much on the Rama Lila because Sukadeva Goswami does not speak much on the Rama Lila in the Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu focuses on the Bhagavatam as Amala Purana, as the spotless Purana. As Jiva Goswami called it as the Sarva Pramana Chakravarty Bhuta, as emperor among all sources of knowledge.That is why our acharyas are not making statements like this. If acharyas are not making statements about some past times about Lord Rama which are not in the Valmiki Ramayana, then how do we know, we can know it by looking at whether these past times contradict the story line or the philosophy of the Ramayana.
The Lakshman Rekha, that Lakshman drew a circle to protect Sita, is not talked about in the Valmiki Ramayana. But it is not inconsistent. Yes, Lakshman could have arranged, he would have arranged to protect Sita, even when he was forced to go away. So it is not wrong in that sense. Similarly Shabri, the elderly female ascetic, the tribal ascetic lady who had great devotion to Lord Rama, offered Him berries which she himself tasted to see whether they are sweet. Shabri’s this particular past time is not mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana. But it is not again inconsistent directly because it talks about spirit of devotion. How the Lord is Bhavagrahi that is also acceptable. Now this particular pastime of Vali seems to indicate that there is some sort of karmic retribution, that if A kills B then B will come and kill A. And that is philosophically incorrect. First of all the Lord is not an ordinary person who is under the law of Karma. When Lord Rama killed Vali, He liberated Vali. So if he liberated Vali, it’s unlikely that Vali would again come back to the material world. And certainly it is completely against the philosophy that the Lord will have to suffer the karmic reaction to be killed by the person whom He had killed in earlier life.
Although Vali’s coming back again may seemto be some sort of poetic karmic justice. It is not philosophically consistent. It is not being mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana. It has not been mentioned by the subsequent acharyas; therefore it is not to be considered bonafide. At the same time they don’t have go on a campaign, if some people believe that we don’t have to go on a campaign against themselves that they are deviating and they are wrong. It is not an absolutely important detail. But we should be able to reflect and be able to persuade others about the morality and the correctness of Lord Rama’s killing Vali on its own right. What was that? Aggressor can be killed in any way. Vali was an aggressor so he was killed. That itself was good enough for Vali and that it should be good enough for us. We don’t have to go into any fanciful past life connections to justify Lord Rama’s behavior.