Rama's courage in searching for Sita
and fighting a terrible war to rescue his wife and their honour is complemented
by Sita's absolute devotion to her husband's love, and perfect chastity despite
being Ravana's captive. Rama's younger brothers, namely Lakshmana, Shatrughna
and Bharata strongly complement his piety, virtue and strength, and they are
believed by many to belong to the Maryada Purushottama and the Seventh Avatara,
mainly embodied by Rama. Rama's piety and virtue attract powerful and devoted
allies such as Hanuman and the Vanaras of Kishkindha, with whose help he rescues
Sita. The legend of Rama is deeply influential and popular in the societies
of the Indian subcontinent and across South East Asia. Rama is revered for his
unending compassion, courage and devotion to religious values and duty.
The name Rama
The word Rama (as written in Devanaagari
script/Sanskrit above) is one of the most divine names of God Himself. The term
Rama has derived from the same root 'ram', from which the
term Ramaa (Goddess Lakshmi) has been coined. The word Rama has three
One meaning is "the only entity
from which yogis attain bliss". Spiritual aspirants do not get happiness
from finite, worldly objects. They want something infinite. Bliss cannot be
obtained from finite objects.
The infinite object which supplies them
with infinite happiness is nothing but Rama. The Ananda Sutram says
infinite happiness is anandam (blissful happiness) not sukham (worldly
Another meaning of Rama is: Rama is
the most glittering entity of the entire universe. It is the first syllable
of rati, that is, 'ra' or glittering.
The first letter of the word Mahidhara,
is ma, meaning, the world. Hence Rama. All glittering entities get their glitter
from Him, no entity possesses glitter of its own.
The moon gets its glitter from the earth;
the earth in turn derives its glitter from the sun. The sun gets energy from
the cosmological nucleus. There are countless solar systems in the cosmos and
the hub of all is Parama Purusha. He is the nucleus of all energy.
Scriptures say: "Before that effulgent
Supreme Entity, neither the sun shines, nor the moon nor stars nor the lightning
flash, what to speak of fire. In Parama Purusha's light all other entities shine.
His effulgence illuminates all entities".
The third meaning of Rama is 'Ravanasya
maranam'. The first syllable of Ravanasya and the first syllable of maranam
make up "Rama". Ravana means a mind that moves away from the nucleus
drifting away by the centrifugal force, dissipating mental energies in all 10
He is depicted as a 10-faced demon. Ravana
can be defeated or destroyed, only when one takes shelter in Rama. So one under
whom Ravana automatically dies is "Rama".
The meaning of Rama and Narayana
is the same. Hanuman was asked why he insisted on taking the name of Rama and
not of Narayana. He replied: "I know that philosophically there is no difference
between Narayana and Rama, yet I will channelise my mind towards One Entity
with all my sincerity and devotion and not many. For me there is no Narayana,
there is only Rama". In spiritual parlance such a word is called Ishta
mantra, and the spiritual aspirants treasure their Ishta mantra.
Narayana and Rama are the same Entity;
only their names differ. The word Narayana comes from naara, that has three
meanings: Parama, Prakrti and devotion or bhakti.
Nara + da = Narada, the distributor of
bhakti. Nara means devotion, and 'ayana' means ashraya (shelter). Narayana means
Parama Purusha - the Cosmic Consciousness, the shelter of Parama Prakriti.
Is the name more powerful or the nami
(named). Who is more powerful, Parama Purusha or His name? The bhava, or ideation,
for an object goes together with its name. One cannot name oneself. You need
somebody else to name you.
Before leaping across the ocean, Hanuman
consulted Rama. Rama replied, "Go ahead, Hanuman. You can jump across the
ocean. But I cannot". And Rama asked him, "How will you cross it?
"Hanuman replied, "With your
power" Rama asked, "How will you get My power?" And Hanuman replied,
"I will take your Name and jump". Hence the nama is more powerful
than the nami. The named, before being named, remains nameless. When there were
no devotees, God had no name He was nameless.
Ramá in the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda
is an adjective meaning "dark, black", or a noun meaning "darkness",
e.g. RV 10.3.3 (trans. Griffith):
10.3.3cd Agni, far-spreading with conspicuous
lustre, hath compassed Night [Rama] with whitely shining garments.
As a personal name it appears in RV 10.93.14:
10.93.14ab This to Duhsima Prthavana
have I sung, to Vena, Rama, to the nobles [Asuras], and the King.
The feminine form of the adjective, rami´
is an epitheton of the night (Ratri), as is krsni´, the feminine of krsna,
viz. "the dark one; the black one". Mayrhofer (1996) suggests a derivation
from PIE (H)reh1-mo-, cognate to OHG ramac "dirty".
Two Ramas are mentioned in the Vedas,
with the patronymics Margaveya and Aupatasvini; another Rama with the patronymic
Jamadagnya is the supposed author of a Rigvedic hymn. According to Monier-Williams,
three Ramas were celebrated in post-Vedic times,
1. Ramachandra ("Rama-moon"),
son of Dasaratha, believed to have descended from Raghu.
2. Parashurama ("Rama of the Battle-axe"), the Sixth Avatara
of Vishnu, sometimes also referred to as Jamadagnya, or as Bhargava Rama (descended
from Bhrigu), a "Chiranjeevi" or Immortal.
3. Balarama ("the strong Rama"), also called Halayudha (Wielder
of the Plough in Battle), the older brother and close companion of Krishna,
the Eighth Avatara of Vishnu.
In the Vishnu sahasranama, Rama is the
394th name of Vishnu. In the interpretation of Adi Sankara's commentary, translated
by Swami Tapasyananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, Rama has two meanings: the
supreme Brahman who is the eternally blissful spiritual Self in whom yogis delight
or the One (i.e., Vishnu) who out of his own will assumed the enchanting form
of Rama, the son of Dasaratha.
The primary source of the life and journey
of Rama is the epic Ramayana as composed by the Rishi Valmiki. The Vishnu Purana
also recounts Rama as Vishnu's seventh avatara, and in the Bhagavata Purana,
ninth skandha, adhyayas 10 & 11, the story of the Ramayana is again recounted
in brief up to an including the slaying of Ravana and Prince Rama's return to
Ayodhya. Additionally, the tales of Rama are reverently spoken of in the epic
The epic had many versions across India's
regions. However, other scriptures in Sanskrit reflect the life of Ramayana.
The followers of Sri Madhvacharya believe that an older version of the Ramayana,
the mula-Ramayana, previously existed but is no longer extant. They consider
it to be more authoritative than the version by Valmiki. Another important shortened
version of the epic in Sanskrit is the Aadhyaatma Ramayana. The seventh century
CE Sanskrit "Bhatti's Poem" Bhattikavya of Bhatti, From South
India, is a retelling of the epic that simultaneously illustrates the grammatical
examples for Panini's Ashtaadhyayee as well as the major figures of
speech and the Prakrit language.For further examples, vernacular versions of
the Ramayana which include the life, deeds and divine philosophies of Rama are
elaborated in the epic poem Kambaramayanam by the 12th century poet, Kamban
in Tamil and Ramacharitamanasa, a Hindi version of the Ramayana by the 16th
century Saint Tulsidas. Other vernacular versions also exist in most major Indian
languages. Contemporary versions of the Ramayana include Sri Ramayana Darshanam
by Kuvempu in Kannada and Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu by Viswanatha Satyanarayana
in Telugu, both of which have been awarded the Jnanpith Award. The epic has
transformed across the diverse regions of India, which boast their own unique
languages and cultural traditions.
The essential tale of Rama has also spread
across South East Asia, and evolved into unique renditions of the epic –
incorporating local history, folktales, religious values as well as unique features
from the languages and literary discourse. The Kakawin Ramayana of Java, Indonesia,
the Ramakavaca of Bali, Hikayat Seri Rama of Malaysia, Maradia Lawana of the
Philippines, Ramakien of Thailand (which calls him Phra Ram) are great works
with many unique characteristics and differences in accounts and portrayals
of the legend of Rama. The legends of Rama are witnessed in elaborate illustration
at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok. The national epic of Myanmar, Yama Zatdaw
is essentially the Burmese Ramayana, where Rama is named Yama. In the Reamker
of Cambodia, Rama is known as Preah Ream. In the Pra Lak Pra Lam of Laos, Buddha
is regarded as an incarnation of Rama.
The Ramayana speaks of how the Goddess
Earth, Bhumidevi, came to the Lord Creator, Brahma begging to be rescued from
evil kings who were plundering her resources and destroying life through bloody
wars and evil conduct. The Devas also came to Brahma fearful of the rule of
Ravana, the ten-headed rakshasa emperor of Lanka. Ravana had overpowered the
Devas and now ruled the heavens, the earth and the netherworlds. Although a
powerful and noble monarch, he was also arrogant, destructive and a patron of
evil doers. He had boons that gave him immense strength and was invulnerable
to all living and celestial beings, except man and animals.
Brahma, Bhumidevi and the Devas worshipped
Vishnu, the Preserver, for deliverance from Ravana's tyrannical rule. Vishnu
promised to kill Ravana by incarnating as a man – the eldest son of Kosala's
king Dasaratha. His eternal consort, Lakshmi took birth as Sita and was found
by king Janaka of Mithila while he was ploughing a field. Vishnu's eternal companion,
the Ananta Sesha is said to have incarnated as Lakshmana to stay at his Lord's
side on earth. Throughout his life, no one, except himself and a few select
sages (among which are included Vasishta, Sharabhanga, Agastya and Vishwamitra)
know of his destiny. Rama is continually revered by the many sages he encounters
through his life, but only the most learned and exalted know of his true identity.
At the end of the war between Rama and Ravana, just as Sita passes her Agni
pariskha, Lord Brahma, Indra and the Devas, the celestial sages and Lord Shiva
appear out of the sky. They affirm Sita's purity and ask him to end this terrible
test. Thanking the Avatara for delivering the universe from the grips of evil,
they reveal Rama's divine identity upon the culmination of his mission.
Prince of Ayodhya
King Dasaratha performs a putreshti
yajña, a sacrifice to obtain a son as offspring by pleasing the divine.
He gives the sacred, sacrificial nectar to his three wives according to their
seniority: Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. On the night of the ninth day after
Amavasya, under the asterism of Punarvasu and the cardinal sign of the Crab,
Rama was born in the city of Ayodhya, which is the capital of the ancient kingdom
of Kosala. The city and the area are located in the central region of the modern
state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Rama was the prince of the Suryavamsha (Sun
Dynasty) House of Ikshvaku, descendant of great monarchs like Ikshvaku, Raghu
and Bhagiratha. He is the eldest brother to Bharata, son of Kaikeyi, and the
twin sons of Sumitra, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Rama is dark-complexioned, mainly
bluish – a symbol of divinity.
The Ramayana describes the relationship
between the brothers as intensely loving and devotional, although Rama and Lakshmana
share a special, inseparable bond, while Bharata is especially close to Shatrughna.
The four brothers enjoy an undiscriminating love from Dasaratha and his three
queens, but Dasaratha's main affections are affixed upon Rama. Rama and his
brothers are trained by Rishi Vasishta in the Vedas, religion, philosophy and
the sciences. They are described as taller than the tallest men of modern times,
possessive of exceptional acumen and prowess in the military sciences and arts.
Initiation of the Avatara
Sage Vishwamitra takes the two princes,
Rama and Lakshmana, to the Swayamvara ceremony for Sita. The challenge is to
string the bow of Shiva, and shoot an arrow with it. This task is considered
impossible for any ordinary king or living being, as this is the personal weapon
of Shiva, more powerful, holy and of divine creation than conceivable. While
attempting to string the bow, Rama breaks it in two. This feat of strength spreads
his fame across the worlds and seals his marriage to Sita.
After Rama weds Sita and the entire royal
family and the Ayodhya army begin their journey back, the great rishi Parashurama
Bhargava appears before them, having descended from his mountainous hermitage.
Parashurama is an extremely powerful rishi, responsible for killing all of the
world's warriors and kings 21 times. He was the sixth Avatara of Vishnu, and
finds it unbelievable that anybody could break the bow of Shiva. Considering
himself to still be the most powerful warrior-rishi on earth, he brings with
them the bow of Vishnu, and intends to challenge Rama to prove his strength
by stringing it, and then fighting a battle with him to prove superiority. Although
the entire Ayodhya army is forestalled by his mystical power, Rama is himself
angered. He respectfully bows to Parashurama, and within a twinkling of an eyelid
snatches the bow of Vishnu, strings it, places an arrow and points it straight
at the challenger's heart. Rama asks Parashurama what he will give as a target
to the arrow in return for his life? At this point, Parashurama feels himself
devoid of the tremendous mystical energy he possessed for so long. He realizes
that Rama is Vishnu incarnate, his successor and definitely his superior. He
accepts Rama's superiority, devotes his tapasya to him, pays homage to Rama
and promises to return to his hermitage and leave the world of men.
Rama then fired the arrow up into the
sky with Vishnu's bow, performing a feat true to his supreme, divine nature
with his natural weapon. His overpowering of Parashurama and using the supreme
weapon with incredible ease and perfection dazzle the spectators and his relatives,
but no one save Parashurama and Vasishta associate this with his true identity.
It is said that the Rama's arrow is still flying across space, across time and
across all of the universe. The day it will return to earth, it is said, it
will bring the end of the world. Others say that the flying arrow destroys all
evil on earth to uphold dharma and righteousness.
Dharma of exile
King Dasaratha announces to Ayodhya that
he plans to crown Rama, his eldest child the Yuvaraja (crown prince). While
the news is welcomed by everyone in the kingdom, the mind of queen Kaikeyi is
poisoned by her wicked maid-servant, Manthara. Kaikeyi, who is initially pleased
for Rama, is made to fear for the safety and future of her son Bharata. Fearing
that Rama would ignore or possibly victimize his youngest brother for the sake
of power, Kaikeyi demands that Dasaratha banish Rama to a forest exile for fourteen
years, and that Bharata be crowned in Rama's place. She had been granted two
boons by the king when she had saved his life a long time ago, and the queen
now used them to serve her purpose. The king's court and the people are outraged
at this turn of events. Dasaratha loved and cherished Rama dearly, and was in
personal turmoil. Completely estranged now from his younger wife, he abhors
the prospect of separation from Rama. But Rama realizes that the king must not
break a solemn promise at any time, and neither should a son disobey his father's
command. Sita joins her husband in exile despite his discouraging her, as it
is her duty and out of love for Rama that she must be at his side at all times.
His younger brother Lakshmana also immediately decides to join Rama rather than
remain in the city.
As he leaves for exile, the people of
Ayodhya are deeply saddened and angered at Dasaratha and Kaikeyi. Dasaratha's
heart is broken and he collapses and dies by the next day, unable to bear the
agony of separation from Rama. Despite the reasoning of Vasishtha and the pleas
of his brothers, Rama refuses to return. Although horrified at the news of his
father's death, Rama finds it impossible that he should break his dead father's
word. Rama does not bear any anger towards Kaikeyi, believing firmly in the
power of destiny. According to the explanation of the classic, this exile actually
presents Rama the opportunity to confront Ravana and his evil empire.
Rama and Sita
Rama and Sita are the protagonists in
one of the most famous love stories of all time. Described as being deeply in
love, Sita and Rama are theologically understood as avatars of Lakshmi and Vishnu
respectively. When Rama is banished from the kingdom, he attempts to convince
Sita not to join him in a potentially dangerous and certainly arduous existence
in the jungle, but Sita rejects this. When Rama orders her in his capacity as
husband, Sita rejects it, asserting that it was an essential duty of a wife
to be at her husband's side come good or ill. Rama in turn is assiduously protective
and caring for Sita throughout the exile.
The NASA satellite pictures of
the Palk Strait
clearly show this ancient man-made bridge
connecting India with Sri Lanka.
When Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, both
Sita and Rama undergo great personal hardships during their separation. Sita
protects her chastity assiduously, and survives over a year in captivity on
the strength of her love and attention to religious values and duty. She is
completely unfettered in her resolve despite Ravana's courting, cajoling and
threats. Meanwhile Rama, not knowing who had kidnapped Sita or where was she
taken, often succumbs to despair and tears, denouncing himself for failing to
defend her and agonizing over her safety and pain. Sita knows that it is in
Rama's destiny to fight to rescue her (she refuses to be rescued thus by Hanuman,
who discovers her), but is deeply anxious for his safety and fearful of Ravana's
power. Very soon, Lord Rama and his army of monkeys and other creatures built
a bridge connecting Lanka (Ravana's capital) and rescued Sita after a fierce
battle with the demon king.
According to legend, Kusha or Kush and
Lava are the twin sons of Lord Rama and Sita. Born in the forest after the banishment
of Sita from Ayodhya, the twins were educated and trained in military skills
as their mother took refuge in Sage Valmiki's ashram, located in a forest on
the banks of the River Tamsa.
As Rama performed the Ashvamedha Yajna,
a horse strayed into their forest, which brought Ram into conflict with his
own children. Unaware that Rama was their father, they captured the horse and
refused to release it. This resulted in the twins engaging with Rama in a brief
conflict. When Devi Sita found out that Luv and Kush had defeated Ayodhya's
forces and even raised their weapons against their father, she revealed their/her
identity. Guru Valmiki told Luv and Kush that they would have to reinstate the
pure image of their mother in the eyes of the citizens of Ayodhya. Thus, Luv
and Kush sang in the streets of Ayodhya and then sang the Ramayan in Ram Darbar,
revealing their identity at the end. However, some individuals still demanded
an oath from Devi Sita before believing that she was in fact chaste and these
were in fact the children of Devi Sita and Sri Ram. Ultimately, Devi Sita came
to Ram Darbar, took the oath, and left for her eternal abode with Mother Earth
As a person, Rama personifies the characteristics
of an ideal person (purushottama) who is to be emulated. He had within him all
the desirable virtues that any individual would seek to aspire, and he fulfils
all his moral obligations (maryada). Rama's purity and piety in his intentions
and actions inspires affection and devotion for him from a variety of characters
from different backgrounds. For example, he gave up his rightful claim to the
throne, and agreed to go into exile for fourteen years, to fulfill the vow that
his father had given to Kaikeyi, one of King Dashratha's wives. This is in spite
of the fact that Kaikeyi's son, Bharat, begged him to return back to Ayodhya
and said that he did not want to rule in place of Rama. But Rama considered
his dharma as a son above that of his own birthright and his life's ambition.
For such supreme sacrifices, and many other qualities, Shri Rama is considered
a maryada purushottam. Some of his ideals are as follows:
1. At the time when it was normal for
kings to have more than one wife, Rama gave ideal of having a single wife. After
Sita was banished, he was doing penance with a gold statue of Sita. In Balakanda
of Valmiki Ramayana it is written that Rama and Sita resided in each others
2. Rama always followed his promise at
any cost. In fact, he went to forest to make his father's promise to Kaikeyi
true. There are many examples of Rama's promises which he kept. Most important
are the promise to sages to save their lives from Rakshasas, getting back Sugreeva's
kingdom, making Vibhishana the king of Lanka.
3. Excellent friend: Rama had very touching
relations with his friends irrespective of their status. Some of his friends
are Nishad-raj Guh, King of Nishaads (a caste whose profession was hunting the
birds), Sugreeva (the Vanar king) and Vibhishana a Rakshasa.
The end of the war coincides with the
end of Rama's tenure of exile. Flying home on the Pushpaka Vimana, Rama returns
to a joyous Ayodhya. His mothers, brothers and the people joyously welcome him.
Kaikeyi is repentant of her deeds, and Rama forgives her. The next day, Rama
is invested as the King of Ayodhya, and Emperor of the World. Although he first
asks Lakshmana to become the yuvaraja, upon the advice of Lakshmana he invests
the position to Bharata, who has had fourteen years of experience as the ruler
of Ayodhya. Rama performs the holy Ashwamedha sacrifice, purifying and establishing
religion across earth.
Beyond the Ramayana, the eleven thousand
years of Rama's rule over the earth represent to millions of modern Indians
a time and age when God as a man ruled the world. There was perfect justice
and freedom, peace and prosperity. There are no natural disasters, diseases,
ailments or ill-fortune of any nature for any living being. There are no sins
committed in the world by any of his people. Always attentive and accessible
to his people, Rama is worshipped and hailed by all – the very symbol
of moksha, the ultimate goal and destination of all life, and the best example
of perfect character and human conduct, inspiring human beings for countless
Rama like other Indian kings went undercover
every night to hear the pleas of his subjects and have a common man's perspective
of his rule. During Rama's tenure as King, the people apparently had no locks
on their doors as they feared no burglaries or other such misfortunes.
Be it as a manifestation of God or simply
as a legendary hero of myths and folktales, Rama is an immensely revered and
inspirational figure to people across the Indian subcontinent and South East
Asia, as well as increasingly across Western civilization, where the Hindu epics
and values are gaining recognition and popularity. In Jainism, Rama is enumerated
among the nine white Balas.
Rama is a great hero to the adherents
of Agama Hindu Dharma and to the Muslims who practice Abangan, a syncretic form
of Islam and Hinduism, in Indonesia. He is revered by the people throughout
Indochina who otherwise adhere to different forms of Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism.
His regal bearing and fighting prowess is emulated in various Indian martial
arts which in turn influenced various Southeast Asian fighting systems such
as Muay Thai and silat. The Rama Leela is performed across South East Asia in
numerous local languages and the story has been the subject of art, architecture,
music, folk dance and sculpture. The ancient city of Ayutthaya stands in Thailand,
as the tribute of an ancient Thai kingdom to the great legend. Many ancient
and medieval era kings of South East Asia have adopted Rama as their name.
A Buddhist version of the tale is found
in the Jataka stories, in the Dasharatha Jataka (Jataka Atthakatha
461) in the Pali vernacular. Here Rama is represented as a former life of the
Buddha as a Bodhisatva and supreme Dharma King of great wisdom. In the Buddhist
tale, he is the king of Varanasi and not Ayodhya, which is traditionally the
capital of Kosala.
Rama's day and time of birth, as well
as marriage to Sita are celebrated by Hindus across the world as Rama Navami.
It falls on the ninth day of a Hindu lunar year, or Chaitra Masa Suklapaksha
Navami. This day is observed as the marriage day of Rama and Sita as well as
the birthday of Rama. People normally perform Kalyanotsavam (marriage celebration)
for small statues of Rama and Sita in their houses and at the end of the day
the idols are taken in a procession on the streets. This day also marks the
end of nine day utsavam called Vasanthothsavam (Festival of Spring), that starts
with Ugadi. Some highlights of this day are:
1. Kalyanam (Ceremonial wedding performed
by temple priests) at Bhadrachalam on the banks of the river Godavari in Khammam
district of Andhra Pradesh.
2. Panakam, a sweet drink prepared on this day with jaggery and pepper.
3. Procession of idols in the evening that is accompanied with play of water
4. For the occasion, Hindus are supposed to fast (or restrict themselves to
a specific diet).
5. Temples are decorated and readings of the Ramayana take place. Along with
Rama, people also pray to Sita, Lakshmana and Hanumana.
The occasion of victory over Ravana and
the rakshasas is celebrated as the 10-day Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra.
The Ram Leela is publicly performed in many villages, towns and cities in India.
Rama's return to Ayodhya and his coronation are celebrated as Diwali, also known
as the Festival of Lights. The latter two are the most important and popular
festivals in India and for Hindus across the world. In Malaysia, Diwali is known
as Hari Deepavali, and is celebrated during the seventh month of the Hindu solar
calendar. It is a federal public holiday. In many respects it resembles the
traditions followed in the Indian subcontinent. In Nepal, Diwali is known as
Tihar and celebrated during the October/November period. Here, though the festival
is celebrated for five days, the traditions vary from those followed in India.
On the first day, cows are worshipped and given offerings. On the second day,
dogs are revered and offered special food. On the third day, celebrations follow
the same pattern as in India, with lights and lamps and much social activity.
On the fourth day Yama, the Lord of Death, is worshipped and appeased. On the
fifth and final day, brothers sisters meet and exchange pleasantries. In Trinidad
and Tobago, Diwali is marked as a special occasion and celebrated with a lot
of fanfare. It is observed as a national holiday in this part of the world and
some ministers of the Government also take part in the celebrations publicly.