The Ramayana is still very popular today.
Every autumn the Ramlila (Rama-play, or the drama of Lord Rama) is
performed at the festival of Dassehra. A huge model of Ravana is set alight.
This symbolises the triumph of light over darkness.
A Tamil version of the book was written
between the 9th and 10th century. The writer of this book was Kamban, and the
Tamil Ramayana is known as Iramavataram, meaning coming of Rama. In
the 16th century, Tulasidas wrote a Hindi version of Ramayana. This was named
Ramacharitmanasa. Over many centuries, the story of Rama reached places
in other countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. The Ramayana has been translated
into most of the major languages of the world.
Krittivasi Ramayan or Krittibasi
Ramayan or Sri Ram Panchali, composed by fifteenth century Bengali
poet Krittibas Ojha, is not only the first translation of Ramayana into Bengali,
but into any North Indian language other than Sanskrit.
According to literary scholarship, the
main body of the Ramayana first appeared as an oral composition somewhere between
750 to 500 BC. Cultural evidence (the presence of sati in the Mahabharata but
not in the main body of the Ramayana) suggests that the Ramayana predates the
Mahabharata. Traditionally the epic belongs to the Treta Yuga, one of the four
eons (yuga) of Hindu chronology, and is dated as far back as 880,000 years in
the past. Rama is said to have been born in the Treta Yuga to King Dasaratha
in Ikshuaku vansh (clan).
The core events told in the epic may
well be of even greater age, the names of the characters, Rama, Sita, Dasaratha,
Janaka, Vasishta and Vishwamitra are all known in the Vedic literature such
as the Brahmanas which are older than the Valmiki Ramayana. However, nowhere
in the surviving Vedic poetry is a story similar to the Ramayana of Valmiki.
According to the modern academic view, Brahma, one of the main characters of
Ramayana, and Vishnu, who according to Bala Kanda was incarnated as Rama are
not Vedic deities, and come first into prominence with the epics themselves
and further during the 'Puranic' period of the later 1st millennium AD. There
is also a version of Ramayana, known as Ramopakhyana, found in the epic Mahabharata.
This version, depicted as a narration to Yudhishtra, is devoid of any divine
characteristics to Rama.
There is general consensus that books
two to six form the oldest portion of the epic while the first book Bala Kanda
and the last the Uttara Kanda are later additions. The author or authors of
Bala Kanda and Ayodhya Kanda appear to be familiar with the eastern Gangetic
basin region of northern India and the Kosala and Magadha region during the
period of the sixteen janapadas as the geographical and geopolitical data is
in keeping with what is known about the region. However, when the story moves
to the Aranya Kanda and beyond, it seems to turn abruptly into fantasy with
its demon-slaying hero and fantastic creatures. The geography of central and
South India is increasingly vaguely described. The knowledge of the location
of the island of Sri Lanka also lacks detail. Basing his assumption on these
features, the historian H.D. Sankalia has proposed a date of the 4th century
BC for the composition of the text. A. L. Basham, however, is of the opinion
that Rama may have been a minor chief who lived in the 8th or the 7th century
The poem is traditionally divided into
several major kandas or books, that deal chronologically with the major events
in the life of Rama—Bala Kanda, Ayodhya Kanda, Aranya Kanda, Kishkindhya
Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Yuddha Kanda, and Uttara Kanda. The Bala Kanda describes
the birth of Rama, his childhood and marriage to Sita. The Ayodhya Kanda describes
the preparations for Rama's coronation and his exile into forest. The third
part, Aranya Kanda describes the forest life of Rama and the kidnapping of Sita
by the demon king Ravana. The fourth book, Kishkindhya Kanda describes the meeting
of Hanuman with Rama, destruction of vanara king Vali and the coronation of
his younger brother Sugriva on the throne of kingdom Kishkindhya. The fifth
book is Sundara Kanda, narrates the heroism of Hanuman, his flight to Lanka
and meeting with Sita. The sixth book, Yuddha Kanda, describes the battle between
Rama's and Ravana's armies. The last book, Uttara Kanda, describes the birth
of Lava and Kusha to Sita, their coronation to the throne of Ayodhya and Rama's
final departure from the world.
The Story of the Epic
Dasharatha was the king of Kosala, the
capital being the city of Ayodhya. He had three queens—Kausalya, Kaikeyi
and Sumithra. He was childless for a long time, and anxious to produce an heir,
he performs a fire sacrifice known as Putra-Kameshti Yagna. As a consequence,
Rama is first born to Kausalya, Bharata is born to Kaikeyi and Sumithra gives
birth to twins named Lakshmana and Shatrughna. These sons are infused with varying
portions of the essence of god Vishnu, born as a ordinary mortal to destroy
the demon king Ravana. They are reared as the princes of the realm, receiving
instructions from the scriptures and in warfare. When Rama is sixteen years
old, the sage Vishwamitra comes to the court of Dasaratha in search of help
against demons, who distrubed the sacrificial rites. He chooses Rama, who is
followed by Lakshmana—his constant companion throughout the story. Rama
and Lakshmana receive instructions from Vishwamitra and also supernatural weapons,
from which they destroy the demons.
Janaka was the king of Mithila. One day,
a female child was found in the field by the king Janaka in the deep furrow
dug by this plough. Overwhelmed with joy, the king regarded the child as a "miraculous
gift of god". The child was named Sita, the Sanskrit word for furrow. Sita
grew up to be a girl of unparalleled beauty and charm. When Sita was of marriageable
age, the king decided to have a swayamvara which had a contest. The king placed
a heavy bow, presented to him by god Shiva and anyone who could wield the bow
would marry Sita. The sage Vishwamitra attends the swayamvara with Rama and
Lakshmana. Only Rama wields the bow and breaks it. Marriages are arranged between
the sons of Dasarahta and daughters, nieces of Janaka. The weddings are celebrated
with great festivity at Mithila and the marriage party returns to Ayodhya.
After Rama and Sita have been married
for twelve years, Dasharatha who had grown old expresses his desire to crown
Rama, to which the Kosala assembly and his subjects express their support. On
the eve of the great event, Kaikeyi—her jealousy aroused by Manthara,
a wicked maidservant—claims two boons that Dasaratha had long ago granted
her. Kaikeyi demands Rama to be exile into wilderness for fourteen years, while
the succession passes to her son Bharata. The heartbroken king, constrained
by his rigid devotion to his given word, acceds to Kaikeyi's demands. Rama accepts
his father's reluctant decree with absolute submission and calm self-control
which characterizes him throughout the story. He is joined by Sita and Lakshmana.
When he asks Sita not to follow him, she says, "the forest where you dwell
is Ayodhya for me and Ayodhya without you is a veritable hell for me."
After Rama's departure, king Dasaratha, unable to bear the grief, passes away.
Meanwhile, Bharata who was on a visit to his maternal uncle, learns about the
events in Ayodhya. Bharata refuses to profit from his mothers' wicked scheming
and visits Rama in the forest. He requests Rama to return and rule. But Rama,
determied to carry out his fathers orders to the letter, refuses to return before
the period of exile. However, Bharata carries Rama's sandals, and keeps them
on the throne, while he rules as Rama's regent.
Rama, Sita and Lakshmana journeyed southward
along the banks of river Godavari, where they built cottages and lived by what
the forest had to offer. At the Panchavati forest, they are visited by rakshasa
woman, Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana. She attempts to seduce the brothers
and failing in this, tries to kill Sita. Lakshmana, stops her and mutilates
her. Later her demon brother Khara, organizes a expedition against the princes.
Rama annihilates these demons and Khara. The news of these events reach Ravana,
and resolves to destroy Rama by carrying off Sita. With the aid of rakshasa
Maricha. Maricha—who assumes the form of a golden deer—captivates
Sita's attention and is followed by Rama into the woods. Later, urged by Sita,
Lakshmana disregarding Rama's orders, leaves Sita alone and follows him. Now
Ravana appears in the disguise of a beggar and forcefully carries Sita. Jatayu,
a vulture tries to rescue Sita and falls mortally wounded. At Lanka, Sita is
kept in the heavy guard of rakshasis. Ravana demands Sita to marry him, but
Sita who was forever devoted to Rama, refuses. Rama and Lakshmana learn about
Sita's abduction from Jatayu, and immediately set out searching for Sita. During
their search, they meet Shabari, a woman ascetic directs them towards Sugriva
The Kishkindhya Kanda is set in the monkey
citadel of Kishkindhya. Rama and Lakshmana meet Hanuman, the greatest of monkey
heroes and a adherent of Sugriva, the banished pretender to the throne of Kishkindhya.
Rama befriends Sugriva and helps him win over his brother Vali and regain the
kingdom of Kiskindha. In exchange for the help received from Rama, Sugriva sends
search parties to the four corners of the earth, only to return without success
from north, east and west. The southern search party under the leadership of
Angad and Hanuman, learns from a vulture named Sampati, that Sita was taken
The Sundara Kanda forms of the heart
of the Valmiki's Ramayana and consists of detailed, vivid account of Hanuman's
adventures. After learning about Sita, Hanuman assumes a gargantuan form and
makes a colossal leap across the ocean to Lanka. Here, Hanuman, explores the
demon's city and spies on Ravana. He locates Sita in Ashoka vana (Ashoka grove),
who is wooed and threatened by Ravana and his rakshasis to marry Ravana. He
reassures her, giving Rama's signet ring as a sign of good faith. He offers
to carry Sita back to Rama, however she refuses, reluctant to allow herself
to be willingly touched by a male other than her husband. She says that Rama
himself must come and avenge the insult of her abduction.
Hanuman then wrecks havoc in Lanka, by
destroying trees, buildings and killing Ravana's warriors. He allows himself
to be captured and produced before Ravana. He gives a bold lecture to Ravana
to release Sita. He is condemned and his tail is set on fire. But, Hanuman escapes
his bounds and leaping from roof to roof, sets fire to Ravana's citadel and
makes the giant leap back. The joyous search party returns to Kishkindhya with
This book describes the Yudha (battle)
between forces between Rama and Ravana. Having received Hanuman's report on
Sita, Rama and Lakshmana proceed with their allies towards the shore of the
southern sea. There are joined by Ravana's renegade brother Vibhishana. The
monkeys construct a bridge (known as Rama Setu) across the ocean, and the princes
and their army cross over to Lanka. A lenghty battle ensues and Rama kills Ravana.
Rama then installs Vibhishana on the throne of Lanka. On meeting Sita, Rama
asks her to undergo agni Pariksha (test of fire) to prove her purity, since
she stayed at the demon's place. When Sita plunges into the sacrificial fire,
Agni the lord of fire raises carrying unharmed Sita on the throne, to testify
her purity. The episode of agni pariksha has variations in the versions of Ramayana
by Valmiki, Tulsidas. At the expiration of his term of exile, Rama returns to
Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshmana, where the coronation is performed.
The Uttara Kanda concerns the final years
of Rama, Sita and his brothers. After being crowned as the king, many years
passed pleasantly with Sita. However, despite the agni pariksha (fire ordeal)
of Sita, rumors about her purity are spreading among the populace of Ayodhya.
As a king, Rama bows before the public opinion and forces himself to banish
Sita into the forest, where sage Valmiki provides shelter in his ashrama (hermitage).
Here she gives birth to twin boys—Lava and Kusha, who became pupils of
Valmiki and are brought up in ignorance of their identity. Valmiki composes
the Ramayana and teaches Lava and Kusha to sing it. Later, Rama holds a ceremony
during Ashwamedha yagna, to which sage Valmiki with Lava and Kusha attend it.
Lava and Kusha sing the Ramayana in presence of Rama and his vast audience.
When Lava and Kusha recite about Sita's exile, Rama becomes grievous, and Valmiki
produces Sita. Sita calls upon the Earth, her mother, to receive her and as
the ground opens, she vanishes into it. Rama also learns that Lava and Kusha
are his children. Later a messenger from the gods appear and informs Rama that
the mission of his incarnation was over. Rama returns to his celestial abode.
The Uttara Kanda is regarded to be a later addition to the original story by