Comparable to the Odyssey or the Bible, Ramayana is a classic of world literature. The poem details the adventures of Prince Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, along with his devoted wife Sita and his beloved brother Lakshmana.
Written in classical Sanskrit and dated between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC. C., the Ramayana is a massive epic poem consisting of more than 24,000 verses. Relatively little is known about the author of the text, but it is traditionally attributed to Valmiki, a sage who is also credited with developing various Sanskrit poetic forms.
Summary and Synopsis
Dasharatha was the king of Ayodhya and had three wives and four children. Rama was the eldest and his mother was Kaushalya. Bharata was the son of Dasharatha’s second and favorite wife, Queen Kaikeyi. The other two were twins, Lakshmana and Shatrughna, whose mother was Sumithra. In the neighboring city, the ruler’s daughter was named Sita. When the time came for Sita to choose her boyfriend (in a ceremony called swayamvara), princes across the country were asked to tie a giant bow that no one could lift.
However, when Rama picked it up, he not only hung the bow, but broke it. Seeing this, Sita indicated that she had chosen Rama as her husband by putting a garland around her neck. Their love became a model for the entire kingdom as they looked at the kingdom under the watchful eye of their father, the king.
A few years later, King Dasharatha decided it was time to hand over his throne to his eldest son Rama and retreat to the forest. Everyone seemed pleased except Queen Kaikeyi, since she wanted her son Bharata to rule.
Due to an oath that Dasharatha had made him years before, he managed to get the king to agree to banish Rama for fourteen years and crown Bharata, despite the king pleading with him not to ask such a request. The devastated King was unable to confront Rama and it was Queen Kaikeyi who told Rama the King’s decree. Rama, always obedient, was content to be banished in the forest. Sita and Lakshmana accompanied him in his exile.
One day Rama and Lakshmana wounded a princess rakshasas (demon) who tried to seduce Rama. He returned with his brother Ravana, the ten-headed ruler of Lanka. In retaliation, Ravana devised a plan to kidnap Sita after learning of her incomparable beauty. He sent one of his demons disguised as a magical golden deer to attract Sita. To please her, Rama and Lakshmana went hunting the deer.
However, before doing so, they drew a protective circle around Sita and told her that she would be safe as long as she did not leave the circle. After Rama and Lakshmana left, Ravana appeared as a holy man begging for alms. The moment Sita left the circle to give her food, Ravana grabbed her and carried her to her kingdom in Lanka.
Rama then sought the help of a gang of monkeys to help him find Sita. Hanuman, the general of the monkey gang can fly, since his father is the wind. He flew to Lanka and, finding Sita in the forest, comforted her and told her that Rama would come to save her soon. Ravana’s men captured Hanuman, and Ravana ordered them to wrap Hanuman’s tail in cloth and set him on fire. Tail burning, Hanuman escaped and jumped from house to house, setting Lanka on fire. Then he flew back to Rama to tell him where Sita was.
Rama, Lakshmana and the monkey army built a causeway from the tip of India to Lanka and crossed into Lanka, where a cosmic battle ensued. Rama killed several of Ravana’s brothers and eventually confronted the ten-headed Ravana. He killed Ravana, freed Sita, and after Sita proved her purity here, they returned to Ayodhya where Bharata returned the crown to her.
Genre: Epic Poem
Composed of 24,000 verses in seven songs, the epic contains the teachings of the very ancient Hindu sages. One of the most important literary works in ancient India, it has greatly influenced art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, with versions of history also appearing in the Buddhist canon from a very early date.
Rama’s story has been constantly told in poetic and dramatic versions by some of the best writers in India and also in narrative sculptures on the temple walls. It is one of the basic elements of later dramatic traditions, represented in dance dramas, village theater, shadow puppet theater, and the annual Ram-lila (Rama-play).
In addition to being one of the great classics of India, the Ramayana is also a text with deep religious significance. Many devout Hindus believe that reading the Ramayana will erase sins and bring numerous spiritual benefits. Ramayana’s history has spread throughout South Asia, becoming a treasured history in countries such as Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
- Rama – is the hero of the Ramayana epic, an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Dasaratha’s oldest and favorite son, King of Ayodhya, is a virtuous prince and is well liked by the people. He is exiled from Ayodhya due to the conspiracy of his stepmother, Kaikeyi.
- Sita: is the wife and daughter of Rama to King Janaka of Mithila. Sita is the epitome of feminine purity and virtue.
- Lakshmana: He is the younger brother of Rama. Completely loyal to Rama, he chooses to go with Rama and Sita when they are exiled from Ayodhya.
- Ravana: He is the king of Lanka and has 10 heads and 20 arms. He received a blessing from the God Brahma that he cannot be killed by gods, demons, or spirits, after performing severe penance for 10,000 years. After receiving his reward from Brahma, Ravana began to lay waste to the earth and disturbed the works of the Hindu sages.
- Dasaratha: He is the King of Ayodhya, the father of Rama.
- Kausalya: She is the mother of Rama, the main wife of Dasaratha.
- Kaikeyi: she is the wife of Dasaratha and the stepmother of Rama. She demands that Rama be banished to the forest and that her son Bharata receive the kingdom instead.
- Bharata: is the second son of Dasaratha. When he learns that his mother Kaikeyi had forced Rama into exile, causing Dasaratha to die with a broken heart, he runs out of the palace and goes in search of Rama.
- Sumitra: she is the wife of Dasharatha and mother of the twins Lakshmana and Satrughna.
- Hanuman – is the wise and resourceful monkey who helps Rama on his quest to defeat Ravana and rescue Sita.
- Sugriva: is the ruler of the monkey kingdom. His brother Bali took his throne, but Rama helps him defeat the usurper in exchange for his help in finding Sita.
In Ramayana, good and evil are diametrically opposed forces, locked in eternal combat. They are often depicted as a contrast between human / god and rakshasa. Rakshasas exhibit a series of vices (violence, blasphemous impulses, sexual indiscretions), while righteous humans are examples of all the virtues. Although good and evil are opposed, the Ramayana suggests that they are not innate but are the result of choice. Some rakshasas have become demons as punishment for a transgression, while previous virtuous human beings can become evil when they choose to abandon the path of dharma.