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The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahabharata.
The Ramayana is undoubtedly the most popular and timeless Indian epic. This webessay is a very brief account of the Ramayana and I have divided it into various sections. You can click on a sub heading below to reach that part of the essay.

The author

Sage Valmiki
The Ramayana was written by the sageValmiki in about 400 B.C. Valmiki was a robber whose life changed when he met the great sage Narada. Narada showed Valmiki the path to righteousness and taught him to worship God. Valmiki meditated for years, and so much so that anthills grew around him. Finally, a divine voice declared his penance successful and bestowed him with the name "Valmiki," meaning "one born out of ant hills" ( "Valmikam" in Sanskrit means - ant hill). Valmiki is revered as the "adi kavi," which means  "first poet." Valmiki was the creator of the "sloka" - a form of verse which set the base for Sanskrit poetry.
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The Ramayana is written in Sanskrit and has 24,000 verses. It is divided into the following seven "kandas" or books.
  1. Bal Kanda  - Rama's childhood.
  2. Ayodhya Kanda - Rama's life in Ayodhya until his banishment.
  3. Aranya - Rama's life in the forest and his abduction by Ravana.
  4. Kishikinda - Rama's stay at Kishikinda, the capital of his monkey ally Sugriva.
  5. Sundara - Rama's journey to Sri Lanka.
  6. Yuddha - Rama's battle with Ravana, the recovery of Sita and their return to Ayodhya.
  7. Uttara - Rama's life as king in Ayodhya, the birth of his two sons. Rama and Sita's departure to their heavenly abode

The characters

There are many characters in the Ramayana. In the table below, I have included only the ones that I have mentioned in the "story" part of my webessay.

Dasaratha King of  Kosala with Ayodhya as its capital
Kaushalya Dasratha's wife and Rama's mother
Sumitra Dasratha's wife and mother of Lakshmana and Shatrughana
Kaikai Dasratha's youngest queen and mother of Bharata
Rama Dasratha's eldest son and husband of Sita
Sita Rama's wife and daughter of King Janaka and Queen Sunayana
Lakshman Half brother of Rama and King Dasratha and Queen Sumitra's son
Shatrughana Half brother of Rama and King Dasratha and Queen Sumitra's son
Bharata Half brother of Rama and King Dasratha and Queen Kaikai's son
Hanuman The monkey God and devout of Rama
Ravana The ten headed evil King of Lanka

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The story

The story of Ramayana starts with King Dasratha, the ruler of the kingdom of Kosala with Ayodhya as its capital. Dasratha had three wives namely, Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikai. His four sons were Rama, Lakshmana, Shatrughana and Bharata. Rama was Kaushalya's son. Lakashmana and Shatrughana were Sumitra's children and Bharata's mother was Kaikai. A time came when Dasratha decided to hand over the throne to Rama who was the eldest. This was not approved by Kaikai who wanted her son Bharata to be the king.

Kaikai suggested this to Dasratha who declined and said that the norm was that the eldest son inherits the throne. Kaikai reminded Dasratha of a wish he had once granted her. At the time Dasratha had granted her the wish, Kaikai told him that she did not want anything then but shall save the wish for a later time. That time had now come and Kaikai's wish was that her son Bharata should be crowned king and Rama to be banished from the kingdom of Ayodhya for fourteen years.
Dasratha though heartbroken, kept his word and yielded to Kaikai's wish. Bharata too was not happy with his mother's decision but bowed down to circumstances and to the wish of his elders. However, he did not fail in his duty. He begged Rama to give him his sandals. He did not sit on the throne but kept Rama's sandals on it and worshipped them everyday. Rama the obedient son, left Ayodhya with his devoted wife Sita and his dutiful half brother Lakshmana who insisted on accompanying him.

News of them being banished reached the evil king Ravana. Once when Sita was alone in the forest, Ravana abducted her. Rama was devastated. With the help
of the monkey god Hanuman, Rama the devoted husband killed Ravana and rescued Sita.  This victory is celebrated to this day as the festival of Dussera. Having lived in Ravana's palace, Sita had to prove her loyalty to Rama by going through "agnipareeksha" or "the test of fire." She sat in fire and emerged unscathed thereby proving her purity and  loyalty to Rama. Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned to Ayodhya. This joyful event is celebrated as Diwali to this day. Unfortunately, Rama's subjects continued to question her loyalty to him. Rama the ideal king did not want his people's disapproval and so painfully banished his beloved Sita from his kingdom. Although the story goes a little beyond this, this is the main body of the Ramayana.

Ram and Sita ravana Hanuman ravana's effigy burning dieali Rama's coronation
Rama and Sita in exile Ravana Lord Hanuman Burning of Ravana's effigy during Dussehra Diwali is celebrated  for Rama's victory over Ravana and his return to Ayodhya Coronation of King Rama in Ayodhya

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The Philosophy

Ramayana embodies the domestic and religious life of ancient India, with all its tenderness, sweetness, endurance and devotion. Sorrow, suffering, trial and endurance are a part of the Hindu ideal of a
perfect life of righteousness. Rama and Sita are the Hindu ideals of a perfect man and a perfect woman. Rama suffers for fourteen years in exile, before he ascends the throne of his father. The pious Hindu saw in Rama's life the ideal of a true Hindu life, the success and triumph which follow upon endurance, faith and duty. The tale of Sita was a tale of womanly faith, devotion and self denial which charmed and fascinated the Hindu world. No other character in Hindu imagination is higher and loftier than that of Sita's. She is the highest ideal of womanly love, truth and devotion.

Ramayana teaches us the values of ideology, devotion, duty, relationships, "dharma" and "karma." It has been a perennial source of spiritual, cultural and artistic inspiration, not only to the people of India but also to the people all over the world. It is not just a literary monument, but serves as an integral part of Hinduism, and is held in such reverence that the mere reading or hearing of it, is believed by Hindus to free them from sin and bless the reader or the listener.

Ramayana in today's India

The ancient ideal may seem far fetched in these days but the Ramayana is revered to this day. Mahatma Gandhi called it the "greatest book in the world." Generations of poets were never tired of adding to the descriptions of scenes that were dear to the Hindu and patient Hindu listeners were not and are still not tired of listening to these repetitions. It can be safely said that every individual among the one billion plus living in India today is aware of the Ramayana in some measure or the other. Ramayana 's popularity can be guaged well when India nearly shut down when a dramatized series of the Ramayana appeared on television in the 1980s.

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© ENG 123 Personal Web Site Project                             
P Brahmbhatt
Revised January 14 2011