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About Ramayana

The Ramayana is one of the great Hindu epics. It is attributed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms a vital part of the Hindu literature, considered to be itihāasa.The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of Hinduism, the other being the Mahabharata. It represents the duties of relationships, portraying ultimate characters like the ideal father, ideal servant, the ideal wife, the ideal brother and the ideal king.

The name Ramayana is a tatpurusha compound of Rāmaand ayana ("going, advancing"), translating to "Rama's Journey". The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in seven books and 500 cantos (sargas), and tells the story of Rama (an avatar of the Hindu Supreme-God Vishnu), whose wife Sita is kidnaped by Ravan, the king of Lanka. Thematically, the Ramayana explores human values and the concept ofdharma.

As in many oral epics, multiple versions of the Ramayana survive. In particular, the Ramayana related in North India differs in important respects from that preserved in South India and the rest of South-East Asia. There is a widespread tradition of oral storytelling based on the Ramayana in Cambodia,Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos,Vietnam, and Maldives. Father Kamil Bulke, author of Ramakatha, has identified over 300 variants of Ramayana.


Some 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. The general cultural background of the Ramayana is one of the post-urbanization period of the eastern part of North India and Nepal.

By tradition, the text belongs to the Treta Yuga, second of the four eons (yuga) of Hindu chronology. Rama is said to have been born in the Treta Yuga to King Daśaratha in the Ikshvaku vamsa (clan).Maharishi Valmiki, the writer of Ramayana and a contemporary of lord Rama, has described in 3 shlokas the positions of planets at the time of birth of Lord Rama.

The names of the characters (Rama, Sita, Dasharatha, Janaka, Vashista, Vishwamitra) are all known in late Vedic literature, older than the Valmiki Ramayana. According to the modern academic view, Vishnu, who according to Bala Kanda was personified as Rama, first came into prominence with the epics themselves and further during the 'Puranic' period of the later 1st millennium CE. There is also a version of Ramayana, known as Ramopakhyana, found in the epic Mahabharata. This version is depicted as a narration to Yudhishtira.

Theological significance of Ramayana

Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, is one of most famous deities worshipped in the Hindu religion. Each year, many religious pilgrims trace his journey through India and Nepal, uncertain at each of the holy sites along the way. The poem is not seen as just a literary monument, but serves as an essential part of Hinduism, and is held in such worship that the simple reading or hearing of it, or certain passages of it, is believed by Hindus to free them from sin and bless 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.

Textual history and structure of Ramayana

Verses in the Ramayana are written in a 32-syllable meter called anustubh. The Ramayana was a vital influence on later Sanskrit poetry and Hindu life and culture. Like the Mahābhārata, the Ramayana is not just a story: it presents the teachings of ancient Hindu sages (Vedas) in narrative allegory, interspersing devotional and philosophical elements. The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshman, Bharata, Hanuman and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural awareness of India, Nepal, and many South-East Asian countries such asThailand and Indonesia.

There are other versions of the Ramayana, especially the Ramavataram in Tamil, Buddhist and Jain adaptations, and also Cambodian, Indonesian, Filipino,Thai, Lao, Burmese and Malaysian versions of the tale.Traditionally, the Ramayana is attributed to Valmiki. The Hindu tradition is undisputed in its agreement that the poem is the work of a single poet, the wise Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama and a peripheral actor in the drama. The story's original version in Sanskrit is known as Valmiki Ramayana which datwes back to 5th to 4th century BCE.

While it is often viewed as a primarily devotional text, the Vaishnav elements appear to be later additions probably dating to the 2nd century BCE or later. The main body of the narrative lacks statements of Rama's spirituality, and identifications of Rama with Vishnu are rare and passive even in the later parts of the text.

According to Hindu tradition, and according to the Ramayana itself, the Ramayana belongs to the type of itihāasa, like the Mahabharata. Itihāsa is a narrative of past events (purāvṛtta) which includes teachings on the goals of human life. According to Hindu tradition, the Ramayana takes place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga.

In its extant form, Valmiki's Ramayana is an impressive poem of some 50,000 lines. The text survives in several thousand partial and complete manuscripts, the oldest of which is a palm-leaf manuscript found in Nepal and dated to the 11th century CE. The text has several regional renderings, recensions and subrecensions. Textual scholar Robert P. Goldman differentiates two major regional recensions: the northern (N) and the southern (S).Scholar Romesh Chunder Dutt writes that "the Ramayana, like the Mahabharata, is a growth of centuries, but the main story is more definitely the creation of one mind."

Famous retellings include the Ramayanam of Kamban in Tamil (ca. 11th–12th century), the Saptakanda Ramayana of Madhava Kandali in Assamese (ca. 14th century), Shri Rama Panchali or Krittivasi Ramayan by Krittibas Ojha in Bengali (ca. 15th century),Bhavarth Ramayan by sant Eknath in Marathi, which is spoken in Maharashtra (ca. 16th century), Ramcharitamanas by Tulsidas in Awadhi, which is an eastern form of Hindi (c. 16th century) and Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan in Malayalam).

Characters of Ramayana

Rama is one of the protagonists of the tale. Portrayed as the seventh avatar of the God Vishnu, he is the eldest and favourite son of the King of Ayodhya (current day Ayodhya, India), Dasharatha, and his Queen Kausalya. He is represented as the essence of virtue. Dasharatha is forced by Kaikeyi, one of his wives, to command Rama to relinquish his right to the throne for fourteen years and go into exile.

Sita is one of the characters and the beloved wife of Rama and the daughter of king Janaka. Sita is the avatar of Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu.Rama went to Mithila (current day Janakpur, Nepal), and got a chance to marry her by lifting a heavy Bow in a competition organised by King Janaka. The competition was to find the most suitable husband for Sita and many princes from different states competed to win her. Sita is portrayed as the epitome of female purity and virtue. She follows her husband into exile and is kidnapped by Ravana. She is imprisoned on the island of Lanka until Rama releases her by defeating the demon king Ravana. Later, she gives birth to Lava and
Kusha, the heirs of Rama.

Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama, who chose to go into exile with him. He is the son of King Dasaratha and Queen Sumitra, and twin of Shatrughna. Lakshmana is portrayed as an avatar of the Shesha, the nāga associated with the God Vishnu. He spends his time protecting Sita and Rama during which he fought the demoness Surpanakha. He is forced to leave Sita, who was deceived by the demon Maricha into believing that Rama was in trouble. Sita is kidnaped by Ravana upon him leaving her. He was married to Sita's younger sister Urmila.

Hanuman is a vanara who belongs to the kingdom of Kishkindha. In some versions, (other than Valmiki's) he is represented as the eleventh avatar of God Shiva and an idyllic bhakta of Rama. He is born as the son of Kesari, a vanara king, and the Goddess Anjana. He plays an important part in locating Sita and in the ensuing battle. He is believed to live until our modern world.

Ravana, a rakshasa, is the king of Lanka (current day Sri Lanka). After performing cruel penance for ten thousand years he received a boon from the creator-God Brahma: he could henceforth not be killed by Gods, demons, or spirits. He is portrayed as a powerful demon king who disturbs the penances of Rishis. Vishnu personified as the human Rama to defeat him, thus circumventing the boon given by Brahma.

Jatayu, the son of Aruṇa and nephew of Garuda. A demi-god who has the form of a vulture that tries to save Sita from Ravana. Jatayu fought bravely with Ravana, but as Jatayu was very old, Ravana soon got the better of him. As Rama and Lakshmana chanced upon the suffering and dying Jatayu in their search for Sita, he informs them the direction in which Ravana had gone.


Bharata is the son of Dasharatha and Queen Kaikeyi. When he learns that his mother Kaikeyi had forced Rama into exile and caused Dasharatha to die brokenhearted, he storms out of the palace and goes in search of Rama in the forest. When Rama declines to return from his exile to assume the throne, Bharata obtains Rama's sandals, and places them on the throne as a sign that Rama is the true king. Bharata then rules Ayodhya as the regent of Rama for the next fourteen years. He was married to Mandavi.

Satrughna is the son of Dasharatha and his third wife Queen Sumitra. He is the youngest brother of Rama and also the twin brother of Lakshmana. He was married to Shrutakirti.

Dasharatha is the king of Ayodhya and the father of Rama. He has three queens, Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, 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. Dasharatha dies heartbroken after Rama goes into exile.

Vibhishana, a younger brother of Ravana. He was against the kidnapping of Sita, and joined the forces of Rama when Ravana declines to return her. His intricate knowledge of Lanka was vital in the war, and he was crowned king after the fall of Ravana.

Sugriva, a vanara king who helped Rama regain Sita from Ravana. He had an agreement with Rama through which Baali – Sugriva's brother and king of Kishkindha-would be killed by Rama in exchange for Sugriva's help in finding Sita.At last sugriva ascends the throne of Kishkindha after the slaying of Baali, and fulfils his promise by putting the Vanara forces at Rama's disposal.

Indrajit, a son of Ravana who defeated Lakshmana twice in battle before surrendering to him the third time. He is skilled in the magical arts, he coupled his supreme fighting skills with various tricks to inflict heavy losses on the Vanara army before his death.

Kumbhakarna, a brother of Ravana, well-known for his eating and sleeping. He would sleep for months at a time and would be very hungry upon waking up, consuming anything set before him. His monstrous size and loyalty made him an important part of Ravana's army. During the war, he destroyed the Vanara army before Rama cut off his limbs and head.

Surpanakha, Ravana's demoness sister who fell in love with Rama, and had the magical power to take any form she wanted.

Influence on culture and art

The Ramayana has a deep impact on art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The story accompanied in the tradition of the next thousand years of massive-scale works in the rich diction of royal courts and Hindu temples. It has also inspired much secondary literature in various languages, especially the Kambaramayanam by the Tamil poet Kambar of the 12th century, the Telugu-language Molla Ramayana, 14th century Kannada poet Narahari's Torave Ramayana, and 15th century Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha's Krittivasi Ramayan, as well as the 16th century Awadhi version, Ramacharitamanas, written by Tulsidas.

The Ramayana became popular in Southeast Asia during the 8th century and was symbolized in literature, dance, theatre and temple architecture. Today, dramatic performances of the story of Ramayana, known as Ramlila, take place all across India and in many places across the globe within the Indian diaspora.



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