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The Ramayana (Devanāgarī: रामायण, Rāmāyaṇa), also spelt as Ramayan , is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is attributed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon (smṛti). The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India, the other being Mahabharata.[1] 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 Ramayana is a tatpurusha compound of Rāma and ayana "going, advancing", translating to "Rama's Journey". The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in seven books, and 500 cantos (kāṇḍas),[2] and tells the story of Rama (an incarnation of the Hindu preserver-god Vishnu), whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon (Rakshasa) king of Lanka, Ravana. Thematically, the epic explores themes of human existence and the concept of dharma.[3]

Verses in Ramayana 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 shloka meter. Like its epic cousin the Mahābhārata, however, the Ramayana 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, Hanuman and Ravana (the villain of the piece) are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India.

Textuality Edit

Traditionally, Ramayana is ascribed to a Valmiki, regarded as India's first poet.[4] The Indian tradition, is unanimous in its agreement that the poem is the work of a single poet, the brahman sage Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama and a peripheral actor in the epic drama.[5] The story's original version in Sanskrit is known as Valmiki Ramayana, written around 4th century B.C.[6] According to Hindu tradition, the Ramayana takes place during a period of time, knows as Treta Yuga.[7]

In the form we have it today, Valmiki Ramayana is an epic poem of some 50,000 lines retelling in Sanskrit verses. The text survives in several thousand partial and complete manuscripts, the oldest of which appears to date from the eleventh century A.D.[8] The text has several regional renderings,[6] recensions and subrecensions. Textual scholar Robert P. Goldman, differentiates two major regional recensions—the northern (N) and the southern (S).[8] Famous recensions include, the Ramayanam of Kamban in Tamil (ca. 11th-12th century) and Ramacharitamanas by Tulasidas in Hindi (c. 16th century).[6] Scholar Romesh Chunder Dutt writes that, "the Ramayana, like the Mahabharata, is a growth of centuries, but the main story is more distinctly the creation of one mind."[9]

There have been speculations on whether the first and the last chapters of Valmiki's Ramayana 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]

Characters Edit

Hanuman before Rama

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 and his wife Kousalya. 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.
  • 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, the consort of god Vishnu. 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. Later, she gives birth to Lava and Kusha, the heirs of Rama.
  • Hanuman is a vanara belonging to the kingdom of Kishkindha. He is portrayed as an incarnation of god Shiva (the Eleventh Rudra). He is born as the son of Kesari, a vanara king and goddess Anjana. He worships Rama 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 Shesha, the nāga associated with god Vishnu. 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 the creator-god 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 Brahma appeared to him. After getting his reward from Brahma, Ravana begins to lay waste the earth and disturbs the deeds of the good sages. Vishnu incarnates as the human Rama to defeat him, thus circumventing the boon given by Brahma.
  • 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 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.

SynopsisEdit

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, Kishkinda Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Yuddha Kanda, and Uttara Kanda.[6] The Bala Kanda describes the birth of Rama, his childhood and marriage to Sita.[12] The Ayodhya Kanda describes the preparations for Rama's coronation and his exile into forest.[12] The third part, Aranya Kanda describes the forest life of Rama and the kidnapping of Sita by the demon king Ravana.[12] The fourth book, Kishkinda 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 Kishkindha.[12] The fifth book is Sundara Kanda, narrates the heroism of Hanuman, his flight to Lanka and meeting with Sita.[12] The sixth book, Yuddha Kanda, describes the battle between Rama's and Ravana's armies.[12] 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.[12]

Bala KandaEdit

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.[13] As a consequence, Rama is first born to Kausalya, Bharata is born to Kaikeyi and Sumithra gives birth to twins named Lakshmana and Shatrughna.[14][15] These sons are infused with varying portions of the essence of god Vishnu, born as a ordinary mortal to destroy the demon king Ravana.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[17]

Ayodhya KandaEdit

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.[19][20] 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.[21] Rama accepts his father's reluctant decree with absolute submission and calm self-control which characterizes him throughout the story.[22] 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."[23] After Rama's departure, king Dasaratha, unable to bear the grief, passes away.[24] 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.[24][21]

Aranya KandaEdit

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.[25] 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.[25][26] Now Ravana apprears 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.[27] Rama and Lakshmana learn about Sita's abduction from Jatayu, and immediately set out searching for Sita.[28] During their search, they meet Shabari, a woman ascetic directs them towards Sugriva and Hanuman.[29][30]

Kishkindha KandaEdit

The Kishkindha Kanda is set in the monkey citadel of Kishkindha. Rama and Lakshmana meet Hanuman, the greatest of monkey heroes and a adherent of Sugriva, the banished pretender to the throne of Kishkindha.[31] Rama befriends Sugriva and helps him win over his brother Vali and regain the kingdom of Kiskindha.[32] 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.[33] The southern search party under the leadership of Angad and Hanuman, learns from a vulture named Sampati, that Sita was taken to Lanka.[34][33]

Sundara KandaEdit

The Sundara Kanda, forms of the heart of the Valmiki's Ramayana[35] and consists of detailed, vivid account of Hanuman's adventures.[36] 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.[36]

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 Kishkindha with the news.[37][36]

Yuddha KandaEdit

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.[38] 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.[39] The episode of agni pariksha has variations in the versions of Ramayana by Valmiki, Tulsidas.[40] At the expiration of his term of exile, Rama returns to Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshmana, where the coronation is performed.[38]

Uttara KandaEdit

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.[41] 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 (horse sacrifice), 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.[41][42] 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.[43] The Uttara Kanda is regarded to be a later addition to the original story by Valmiki.[44]

Influence on culture and art Edit

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. 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 Awadhi 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.

Foreign adaptationsEdit

On the Ramayana, 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 are based.

Theological significanceEdit

Srisita ram laxman hanuman manor

Deities Sita (far right), Rama (center), Lakshmana (far left) and Hanuman (below seated) at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Watford, England.

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.

Classical Sanskrit versionsEdit

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.[45]

Contemporary versionsEdit

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 addition, Ramesh Menon wrote a single-volume edition of the Ramayana, which has received praise from scholars. In September 2006, the first issue of Ramayan 3392 A.D. was published by Virgin Comics, featuring the Ramayana as re-envisioned by author Deepak Chopra and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur.

The Ramayana has been adapted on screen as well, most notably as the television series Ramayan by producer Ramanand Sagar, which is based primarily off of the Ramcharitmanas and Valmiki's Ramayana and, at the time, was the most popular series in Indian television history. In the late 1990s, Sanjay Khan made a series called Jai Hanuman, recounting tales from the life of Hanuman and related characters from the 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.

See alsoEdit

FootnotesEdit

  1. William Buck & Van Nooten 2000, "Introduction" p.xiii
  2. Dutt 2004, p.198
  3. Brockington 2003
  4. Prabhavananda 1979, p.81
  5. Goldman 1990, p.29
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Sundararajan 1989, p.106
  7. William Buck & Van Nooten 2000, p.xxi
  8. 8.0 8.1 Goldman 1990 "Valmiki's Ramayana: Its nature and history", pp.4-6
  9. Dutt 2004, p.191
  10. Raghunathan, N. (trans.), Srimad Valmiki Ramayana
  11. Arya, R. P. (ed.), Ramayan of Valmiki
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 Keshavadas 1988, p.23
  13. Keshavadas 1988, p.27
  14. Keshavadas 1988, p.29
  15. William Buck & Van Nooten 2000, p.16
  16. Goldman 1990, p.7 "These sons, are infused with varying portions of the essence of the great Lord Vishnu who has agreed to be born as a man in order to destroy a violent and otherwise invincible demon, the mighty rakshasa Ravana who has been opressing the gods, for by the terms of a boon that he has received, the demon can be destroyed only by a mortal."
  17. 17.0 17.1 Goldman 1990, p.7
  18. Bhattacharji 1998, p.73
  19. William Buck & Van Nooten 2000, pp.60-61
  20. Prabhavananda 1979, p.82
  21. 21.0 21.1 Goldman 1990, p.8
  22. Brockington 2003, p.117
  23. Keshavadas 1988, pp.69-70
  24. 24.0 24.1 Prabhavananda 1979, p.83
  25. 25.0 25.1 Goldman 1990, p.9
  26. William Buck & Van Nooten 2000, p.166-168
  27. Prabhavananda 1979, p.83
  28. Keshavadas 1988, pp.112-115
  29. Keshavadas 1988, pp.121-123
  30. William Buck & Van Nooten 2000, p.183-184
  31. Goldman 1990, p.10
  32. William Buck & Van Nooten 2000, p.197
  33. 33.0 33.1 Goldman 1994, p.4
  34. Kishore 1995, pp.84-88
  35. Goldman 1996, p.3
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Goldman 1990, p.10
  37. Goldman 1996, p.4
  38. 38.0 38.1 Goldman 1990, pp. 11-12
  39. Prabhavananda 1979, p.84
  40. Rajagopal, Arvind (2001). Politics after television. Cambridge University Press. pp. 114–115. http://books.google.com/books?id=PbgW2jTESKEC&pg=PA114. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 Goldman 1990, p.13
  42. Dutt 2002, "Aswa-Medha" p.146
  43. Prabhavananda 1979, p.84
  44. Sundararajan 1989, p.106
  45. Fallon 2009

ReferencesEdit

Further reading Edit

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