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The Rāmāyaṇa (Devanāgarī: रामायण) is an ancient Sanskrit epic that is thought to have been compiled between approximately 400 BC and 200 CE[citation needed]. It is attributed to the Hindu sage (maharishi) Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon (smti). It was the original story on which other versions (such as the Khmer Reamker, the Thai Ramakien, the Burmese Yama Zatdaw, the Lao Phra Lak Phra Lam the Malay Hikayat Seri Rama and the Maranao Darengan) were based. It depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king.

The name Rāmāyaṇa is a tatpurusha compound of Rāma and ayana "going, advancing", translating to "Rāma's Journey".[1] The Rāmāyaṇa consists of 24,000 verses[2] in seven books, and 500 cantos (kāṇḍas),[3] and tells the story of Lord Rāma, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon (Rākshasa) king of Lanka, Rāvana. Thematically, the epic explores themes of human existence and the concept of dharma.[4]

Verses in Rāmāyana are written in a 32-syllable meter called anustubh. The epic was an important influence on later Sanskrit poetry and Indian life and culture, primarily through its establishment of the śloka meter. Like its epic cousin the Mahābhārata, however, the Rāmāyana is not just an ordinary story: it contains the teachings of ancient Hindu sages and presents them through allegory in narrative and the interspersion of the philosophical and the devotional. The characters of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanumān and Rāvana (the villain of the piece) are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India.

One of the most important literary works on ancient India, the Ramayana has had a profound impact on art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The story ushered in the tradition of the next thousand years of massive-scale works in the rich diction of regal courts and Brahminical temples.[5] It has also inspired great quantities of latter-day literature in various languages, notable among which are the Kambaramayanam by Tamil poet Kambar of the 13th century, Molla ramayanam in Telugu and the 14th century Kannada poet Narahari Kavi's Torave Ramayan, fifteenth century Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha, known as the Krittivasi Ramayan and the sixteenth century Avadi version, Ramacharitamanas, written by Tulsidas. The Ramayana became popular in Southeast Asia during the 8th century and was represented in literature, temple architecture, dance and theatre. Today, dramatic enactments of the story of Ramayana, known as Ramlila, take place all across India, and many places across the globe with Indian diaspora.


[edit] Authorship

Traditionally, Ramayan is ascribed to a single author, Vālmiki. Textual scholar Robert P. Goldman concludes that, in the face of unanimous Indian tradition and the uniform character of much of the work, there is no reason to believe that a man named Valmiki did not write the main portion of the Ramayana. However, the work as it is now known is believed to have many interpolations of a much later date than the original kernel of the work.[6] The Ramayana was a "growth of centuries, but the main story is the creation of one mind."[7]

Valmiki (Sanskrit: वाल्मीकि, vālmīki) (ca. 400 BC, northern India) is celebrated as the poet harbinger in Sanskrit literature. He is the author of the epic, Ramayana, based on the attribution in the text of the epic itself. He claimed to be the inventor of the poetic meter shloka (verse), which is used the Sanskrit poetry in many latter works. He is revered as the first poet in Hinduism. There is also a religious movement based on Valmiki's teachings as presented in the Ramayana and the Yogavashista called Valmikism.

[edit] The Story

Rama (right) seated on the shoulders of Hanuman, battles the demon-king Ravana.

Valmiki's Ramayana, the oldest version of Ramayana, is the basis of the various versions of the Ramayana that are relevant in different cultures. The text survives in numerous complete and partial manuscripts, the oldest surviving of which is dated from the eleventh century CE.[8] The current text of Valmiki Ramayana has come down to us in two regional versions from the north and the south of India. Valmiki's Ramayana has been traditionally divided into seven books, dealing with the life of Rama from his birth to his death.

The story concerns Rama, a prince in the city of Ayodhya - the capital of Kosala kingdom, belonging to Suryavansh (the Sun dynasty) - sometimes referred to as Raghuvansh (Raghu dynasty, named after Raghu, one of his illustrious forefathers). The story starts just before his birth and ends after his death when his two sons ascend to power.

The story operates at multiple levels. At one level, it describes the society at that time: vast empires, the life of a prince destined to become the next king, the rivalry between mothers and stepmothers, the bond of affection and loyalty between brothers, contests to win the hands of a princess, etc. At a second level, it describes how an ethical human being and a leader of men conducts himself at all times, facing situations with equanimity, rising to occasions to lead his people independent of his own personal tragedies and limitations, cultivating affection and respect of his people. At yet another level, it is a story of the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, this time as a human, combating evil, restoring justice in the land, fully aware of his divinity and resorting to use of his superhuman powers only when absolutely necessary.

The story is as follows: Dasaratha, the king of Kosala, childless for a long time, and anxious to produce an heir, performs a ritual (Puthrakameshti Yagna) for the gods to bless him with progeny. The gods present him with a bowl of divine nectar. His three queens partake of this, and in due course four princes - Rama, Lakshmana and Shatrughna (twins), and Bharata - are born to them. Rama, being the eldest, is naturally groomed as the future king. All the brothers are close-knit, with Lakshmana forming the closest bond with Rama. Together they are schooled in archery by Vishwaamitra, one of the legendary seven sages, referred to as Saptha rishis, who trains them in the art of firing missile-arrows imbued with power by secret chants that can cause them to shower fire or water on enemies, and even follow them through the seven worlds until they are killed.

Sita was found in the kingdom of Mithila when ploughing a field. According to popular beliefs Sita is older than Rama.

Vishwamitra leads Rama and Lakshmana to Mithila, the capital city of the kingdom of Videha ruled by king Janaka. Janaka's daughter Sita (also called Janaki, Vaidehi, Mythili) is to wed, and the king is holding a contest to select the best prince for his daughter. Rama wins the contest and returns home to Ayodhya with his new bride.

Dasaratha decides to abdicate and to crown Rama as the next king. Kaikeyi, the third and youngest of Dasaratha's queens, reminds her husband of his promise to her a long time ago that he would grant her any two wishes she had. This promise was made on an occasion when Dasaratha was wounded in his chariot on the battlefield, and Kaikeyi saved his life by taking over the reins and driving the chariot to safety. Kaikeyi demands that her son Bharata to be the next king, and that Rama be banished to the forest (see: vanvas) for fourteen years, in order to prevent him from interfering with Bharata's rule. The king, unable to refuse these wishes, agrees. The coronation preparations are halted and Rama is told to prepare to leave for the forest. At first, Rama wants to go to the forest alone, but Sita and Lakshmana will have none of it and convince Rama that, for them, "Ayodhya is wherever Rama is".

The king descends into despair when the three leave for the forest, and dies soon afterwards. All this while, Bharata and Shatrughna have been away from the kingdom. They are summoned upon their father's death, and when they arrive, are told what has happened. Bharata is aghast at his mother's greed (ostensibly for his good), and promises that he will restore Rama as king. He travels to the forest to convince Rama to return to Ayodhya. Rama refuses on the grounds that he must obey his father's command but Bharata is permitted to take Rama's sandals back to Ayodhya, so that they may be enthroned symbolically, and Bharata may rule as regent for Rama.

The story details the experiences of the trio in the forest, especially how the royal personages, used to soft living and multitudes of servants, train themselves to live frugally in natural surroundings, and to be self-sufficient. It also covers their interactions with the various hermits and sages living in the forest, some of whom perceive the divinity of Rama. Rama and Lakshmana frequently battle the forest demons who disturb the hermits' meditations.

Soorpanaka (the sister of Ravana who was scorned by Rama) decides to take revenge. She describes the beauty of Sita to her brother, Ravana, the demon king of Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka). Ravana decides that he must possess Sita, and has his uncle Maricha take the form of a deer to attract Sita's attention. Sita sends out Rama to capture the deer for her as a pet. The deer leads Rama far away from their cottage, and, when he realizes that this is no ordinary deer, Rama kills it. The dying demon shouts Sita's and Lakshmana's names in Rama's voice, causing Sita to send Lakshmana out to help Rama. When the cottage is thus unguarded, Ravana sweeps in, kidnaps Sita and flies off to Lanka. When Rama sees Lakshmana approaching him, he at once realizes the trick. They both run back to the cottage to find it empty.

Places Related to Ramayana

The rest of the story is about how Rama and Lakshmana travel to Lanka to fight and kill the demon king and to get Sita back. They start out by travelling south (in the direction Ravana was seen to have flown with Sita), killing demons and helping hermits and sages along the way, until they reach Kishkinda, where Rama befriends Sugriva, the king of a troupe of monkeys. His belief that they're on the right track is reinforced when the monkeys show him a bundle of jewels that fell from the sky - Sita had removed her jewels and dropped them to earth while being carried away. Sugriva sends groups of monkeys in all four directions to scout out the location of Raavana. The group that travels south contains Hanumaan, Sugriva's minister. Being the son of the Wind God, Hanumaan is endowed with supernatural strength and powers. When the troupe reaches the southern tip of India and are at a loss as how they were to proceed, Hanumaan decides to leap across the sea to Lanka and continue the search there. He locates Sita imprisoned there, identifies himself, and assures her that help is coming. He also has skirmishes with the demon king's army and informs Ravana that his days are numbered.

Ram tells Lakshamana that when Sita arrives he will have to make her pass through fire. To this Lakshamana gets angry saying that it is sin to be cruel to a woman. Ram explains that Lord of Fire has taken Sita with him to keep her safe from Ravana. He has created another Sita, A shadow of Sita that will remain with Ram in the forest. This way Ravana has taken away this shadow of Sita. Upon return of Sita, Ram will have to make her pass through this fire to bring her back from Lord of fire. This act will also make people trust Sita as a pure goddess. Upon Hanumaan's return from Lanka, the entire monkey army and Rama and Lakshmana march to Lanka (building a bridge, known as Rama's Bridge across the sea that Hanumaan leapt across), battle against Ravana's army for eighteen months and demolish the kingdom. Sita is restored to Rama. Rama commands Sita to walk through fire, Sita passes through the fire unscathed. This way the people bow down to Sita instead of doubting her purity. As mentioned in the start of this paragraph, Sita manages to pass through the fire as she was protected by Lord of fire.

By this time the required period of exile of fourteen years has come to an end. Rama returns to Ayodhya and is crowned as king. He rules as a just king for several decades. The following story is called as Uttara-kanda. There is an argument that this subsequent story was not written by Valmiki, but by Tulsidas. Uttara-Kanda mentions that this story was written by Valmiki based on his forecast of Ram and Sita's life. This makes one believe that Tulsidas has penned down the remaining story of Ramayana, the truth and author of which is still disputable. Ram and Sita perform their duties as King and Queen. However the people of the kingdom have doubts in their mind about their Queen. In the interest of his people Ram has to take another harsh step, to send Sita to the forest. For Ram Duty for his people was more important. He himself went away to forest in the past. Thus once again he had to take this step to keep the honor of the Kingdom. In the forest, Sita, now pregnant with Rama's twins, is taken care of by the sage Vaalmiki (another one of the seven legendary sages (Saptha rishis)). (Many stories in Hindu literature have some autobiographical segments, where the author features in the story.) Rama's twin sons Lava and Kusha are born and brought up in the sage's hermitage.

As emperor, Rama performs a horse sacrifice (Ashwamedha Yagna) to enlarge his empire. (The horse sacrifice is a ritual where an emperor sends out a horse accompanied by a huge army to various neighboring lands. Into whichever kingdom the horse wanders, the local king can allow the horse to wander, signaling that his kingdom may be annexed, or tie up the horse, indicating that he's ready to battle the emperor's army to prevent his kingdom from being annexed.) The horse wanders into the forest where Rama's twin sons live and they tie the horse, not knowing its significance. When confronted by the accompanying army, they refuse to untie the horse and soundly defeat the army. (They had been trained in arms by the sage Vaalmiki since he knew that one day they would be kings.) Rama hears of this and guesses that two youths at a hermitage who can defeat an entire army can be no ordinary children, and goes to see them himself and meets his sons for the first time. He also meets Sita again.

Some time later, when the sons are grown up, Sita decides that her time on the earth is nearing its end, and ends her life by asking mother earth to open and swallow her. The sons go Ayodhya to live with their father until they inherit the kingdom.

The epic contains the following books:

  • Bala Kanda – Book of the Childhood (birth and training of the princes and marriage of the princes)
  • Ayodhya Kanda – Book of Ayodhya (life in Ayodhya as a prince after marriage to Sita)
  • Aranya Kanda – Book of the Forest (life in exile in the forest)
  • Kishkindha Kanda – Book of Kishkindha (life in the kingdom of monkeys - on their search for the captured Seetha)[9]
  • Sundara Kanda – Book of Auspiciousness (Hanumaan's journey to Lanka and his meeting with Seetha)
  • Yuddha Kanda – Book of the War (battle between Raama's armies and Raavana's armies)
  • Uttara Kanda – Book of the Afterword (Epilogue: Raama's life after returning to Ayodhya and Sita's second exile)

There have been speculations on whether the first and the last chapters of Valmiki's Ramayan were written by the original author. Many experts are of the opinion that they are integral parts of the book in spite of the many differences in style and some contradictions in content between these two chapters and the rest of the book.[10][11] It is believed that Uttar Kanda was written by Tulisadas because there is no reference to this chapter in Valmiki's Ramayan. These two chapters contain most of the interpolations found in the Ramayana, such as the miraculous birth of Rama and his divine nature as well as the numerous legends surrounding Ravana. It is also inferred that the story of Rama's beheading the shudra sage Shambuka as well as the one relating to Sravana Kumar were not written by Valmiki.

[edit] Characters

Rama seated with Sita, fanned by Lakshamana, while the monkey-god Hanuman pays his respects.
  • Rama is the hero of this epic tale. He is portrayed as seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu. He is the eldest and the favorite son of the King of Ayodhya, Dasharatha. He is a popular prince loved by one and all. He is the epitome of virtue. Dasharatha, is forced by one of his wives Kaikeyi to command Rama to relinquish his right to the throne for fourteen years and go into exile. While in exile, Rama kills the demon king Ravana using an arrow.
  • Sita is the beloved wife of Rama and the daughter of king Janaka. Sita is also known as Janaki. She is the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi (Lord Vishnu's wife). Sita is the epitome of female purity and virtue. She follows her husband into exile and there gets abducted by Ravana. She is imprisoned on the island of Lanka by Ravana. Rama rescues her by defeating the demon king Ravana.
  • Hanuman is a vanara belonging to the kingdom of Kishkindha. He is portrayed as an incarnation of Lord Shiva(the tenth Rudra). He is born as the son of Maruti - the god of Wind and goddess Anjana. He worships ShriRama and helps find Sita by going to the kingdom of Lanka crossing the great ocean.
  • Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama, who chose to go into exile with him. He is portrayed as an incarnation of the Sheshnag Kaal. He spends his time protecting Sita and Rama. He is forced to leave Sita, who was deceived by the demon Mareecha into believing that Rama was in trouble. Sita is abducted by Ravana upon him leaving her.
  • Ravana, a rakshasa, is the king of Lanka. After performing severe penance for ten thousand years he received a boon from Brahma that he could not be killed by either gods, demons or spirits. He has ten heads and twenty arms, the former of which he began to cut off and throw into the sacrificial fire until Lord Brahma appeared to him. After getting his reward from Brahma, Ravana begins to lay waste the earth and disturbs the deeds of the good Rishis. Vishnu incarnates as the human Rama to defeat him, thus circumventing the boon given by Brahma.
  • Vibhishana, youngest son of sage Vishravas, grandson of Pulastya, brother of Ravana. Pious adherent of Dharma, devotee of Rama. Advises Ravana to return Sita to Rama, and consequently falls out of Ravana's favour. Defects and seeks refuge with Rama.
  • Dasharatha is the king of Ayodhya and the father of Rama. He has three queens, Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi, and three other sons; Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Kaikeyi, Dasharatha's favourite queen forces him to make his son Bharata crown prince and send Rama into exile. Dashratha dies heartbroken after Rama goes into exile.
  • Bharata is the second son of Dasharatha. When he learns that his mother Kaikeyi had forced Rama into exile and caused Dasharatha to die broken hearted, he storms out of the palace and goes in search of Rama to the forest. When Rama refuses to return from his exile to assume the throne, Bharata obtains Rama's sandals and places them on the throne as a gesture that Rama is the true king. Bharata then rules Ayodhya as the regent of Rama for the next fourteen years.
  • Vishvamitra is the sage who takes Rama into the forest in order to defeat the demons destroying his Yagna ceremonies. On the way back he takes Rama into Mithila where Rama and Sita meet each other for the first time and Rama participates in her swayamvara.

[edit] Theological Significance

Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, is a popular deity worshiped in the Hindu religion. Each year, many devout pilgrims trace his journey through India, halting at each of the holy sites along the way. The poem is not seen as just a literary monument, it serves as an integral part of Hinduism, and is held in such reverence that the mere reading or hearing of it, or certain passages of it, is believed by the Hindus to free them from sin and shower blessings upon the reader or listener. According to Hindu tradition, Rama is an incarnation (Avatar), of the god Vishnu. The main purpose of this incarnation is to demonstrate the righteous path (dharma) for all living creatures on Earth.

[edit] Classical Sanskrit versions

The seventh century CE "Bhatti's Poem" Bhaṭṭikāvya of Bhaṭṭi, is a retelling of the epic that simultaneously illustrates the grammatical examples for Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī as well as the major figures of speech and the Prakrit language.[12]

[edit] Contemporary versions

Hanuman as depicted in Yakshagana, popular folk art of Karnataka

Contemporary prose versions of the epic Ramayana include Sri Ramayana Darshanam by Dr. K. V. Puttappa in Kannada and Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu by Viswanatha Satyanarayana in Telugu, both of which have been awarded the Jnanpith Award. A prose version called Geet Ramayan in Marathi by G.D. Madgulkar was rendered in music by Sudhir Phadke and is considered to be a masterpiece of Marathi literature. The popular Indian author R. K. Narayan wrote a shortened prose interpretation of the epic, and another modern Indian author, Ashok Banker, has so far written a series of six English language novels based on the Ramayana. In September 2006, the first issue of Ramayan 3392 A.D. was published by Virgin Comics, featuring the Ramayana as reinvisioned by author Deepak Chopra and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur.

The Ramayana has been adapted on screen as well, in a television series from the 1980s of the same name by producer Ramanand Sagar, which was based primarily off of the Ramcharitmanas and Valmiki's Ramayana. In the late 90s, Sanjay Khan made a series called Jai Hanuman, recounting tales from the life of Hanuman and related characters from Ramayana. A Japanese animated film called Rama - The Prince of Light was also released in the early 1990s. US animation artist Nina Paley retold the Ramayana from Sita's point of view (with a secondary story about Paley's own marriage) in the animated musical Sita Sings the Blues.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Fallon, Oliver (2009). "Introduction". Bhatti’s Poem: The Death of Rávana (Bhaṭṭikāvya). New York: New York University Press, Clay Sanskrit Library[3]. ISBN 978-0-8147-2778-2. 
  • Milner Rabb, Kate, National Epics, 1896 - See eText Project Gutenburg
  • Raghunathan, N. (Trans), Srimad Valmiki Ramayanam, Vighneswara Publishing House, Madras (1981)
  • A different Song - Article from "The Hindu" August 12, 2005 - [4]
  • Dr. Gauri Mahulikar Effect Of Ramayana On Various Cultures And Civilisations, Ramayan Institute
  • Goldman, Robert P., The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India Princeton University Press, 1999 ISBN 0-691-01485-X
  • Arya, Ravi Prakash (ed.). Ramayana of Valmiki: Sanskrit Text and English Translation. (English translation according to M. N. Dutt, introduction by Dr. Ramashraya Sharma, 4-volume set) Parimal Publications: Delhi, 1998 ISBN 81-7110-156-9
  • Murthy, S.S.N.- Article from "EJVS" A Note on RAmAyaNA

Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies (EJVS), Vol.10 (2003), Issue 6 (Nov.14) pp1-18. (©) ISSN 1084 -7561

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ Note that the cerebral is due to infection by the word-initial r, see sandhi.
  2. ^ About 480,002 words, or a quarter of the length of the full text of the Mahābhārata, or about four times the length of the Iliad.
  3. ^ Romesh Dutt, "Epilogue by the Translator", Ramayana, The Epic of Rama, Prince of India, London, J.M. Dent 2nd ed., (1902) p. 183. Dutt cites Ramayana, Book VII, "Uttra-Kinda".
  4. ^ Brockington, John (2003), "The Sanskrit Epics", in Flood, Gavin, Blackwell companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 116-128, ISBN 0-631-21535-2 
  5. ^ Both the regal courts and the Brahminical temples were outstanding sites of classical theatre.
  6. ^ Goldman, Robert P., The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India pp. 31
  7. ^ Romesh Dutt, "Epilogue", Ramayana (1902) as cited, p. 181.
  8. ^ Robert P. Goldman, The Ramayan of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India, pp 5
  9. ^ The landscape of Hampi Ruins is believed to be the ancient "Monkey Kingdom" [1]
  10. ^ Raghunathan, N. (trans.), Srimad Valmiki Ramayana
  11. ^ Arya, R. P. (ed.), Ramayan of Valmiki
  12. ^ Fallon, Oliver. 2009. Bhatti’s Poem: The Death of Rávana (Bhaṭṭikāvya). New York: Clay Sanskrit Library[2]. ISBN 978-0-8147-2778-2 | ISBN 0-8147-2778-6 |

[edit] External links

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