The Ramayana ("March of Rama") was composed by Valmiki around the 2nd century BCE, but likely drew on preexisting oral tradition. It tells the epic story of Rama, the 7th incarnation of the deity Vishnu.
Written in high Sanskrit in the form of rhyming couplets, the Ramayana contains seven sections (kandas):
- Bal Kanda - Rama's boyhood
- Ayodhya Kanda - Rama's life in Ayodhya until his banishment
- Aranya - Rama's life in the forest and his abduction by Ravana
- Kishkinda - Rama's stay at Kishkinda, the capital of his monkey ally Sugriva
- Sundara - Rama's journey to Sri Lanka
- Yuddha (or Lanka) - Rama's battle with Ravana, the recovery of Sita and their return to Ayodhya
- Uttara - Rama's life as king in Ayodhya, the birth of his two sons, Sita's test of innocence and return to her mother, and Rama's demise
The Ramayana is long - about the length of the entire Christian Bible. It consists of 24,000 couplets in seven books.
There are multiple versions and translations of the Ramayana:
- Hindi version called the Rama Charita Manasa by Tulsi Das (16th century)
- Tamil version by Kampan
- Bengali version by Krttibas
A virtuous king named Rama is banished to the forest, where he has many adventures, then he rescues his wife Sita from the evil king of Sri Lanka with the help of his friends.
- Rama - 7th incarnation of Vishnu and virtuous king of Ayodhya
- Sita - incarnation of Lakshmi Ravana - evil king of Sri Lanka
- Hanuman - monkey-general and devotee of Rama
- Sugriva - king of the monkeys
- Lakshman - Rama's devoted half-brother
Role in Hinduism
The Ramayana is extremely popular. India nearly shut down when a dramatized series of the Ramayana appeared on television in the 1980s. Recitation of the Ramayana earns great merit. Rama and Sita are seen as the ideal married couple. In North India, the Ramayana is acted out in the annual pageant Ram-Lila. It was a favourite subject of Rajasthani and Pahari painters of the 17th and 18th centuries. Gandhi called it the greatest book in the world. Tulsi Das, medieval author of the Hindi translation, said, "Whenever I remember Rama's name, the desert of my heart blooms lush and green."
According to legend, the poet who wrote the Ramayana was originally a thief. One day he tried to rob a sadhu, who of course owned nothing. The sadhu gave him a mantra: "Mara" (evil). Valmiki liked it and kept repeating it, and he gradually became a better person. Then he realized that when he was saying "mara mara mara" he was also saying "rama rama rama." He then wrote the Ramayana in honor of the god who had changed his life.
Sources and Further Information
- Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker.
- "Ramayana." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2005.
- Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism (2002), pp. 60-63.
- Julia Leslie, Hinduism and the Case of Valmiki.