Ramayana

Rama (right) seated on the shoulders of Hanuman, battles the demon-king Ravana.

Ramayana Scene, Gupta Art, Indian National Museum, New Delhi.

The Ramayana (Sanskritरामायण, RāmāyaṇaIPA: [rɑːˈmɑːjəɳə] ?) is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon (smṛti), considered to be itihāsa.[1] The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahabharata.[2] It depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal father, 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 (kāṇḍas) and 500 cantos (sargas),[3] and tells the story of Rama (an Avatar of the Hindu preserver-God Vishnu), whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. Thematically, the Ramayana explores human values and the concept of dharma.[4]

Verses in the Ramayana are written in a 32-syllable meter called anustubh. The Ramayana was an important influence on later Sanskrit poetry and Indian life and culture. Like the Mahābhārata, the Ramayana is not just a story: it presents the teachings of ancient Hindu sages in narrative allegory, interspersing philosophical and devotional elements. The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India.

There are other versions of the Ramayana, notably Kambaramayana in Tamil, the Buddhist (Dasaratha Jataka No. 461) and Jain in India, and also Indonesian, Philippine, Thai, Lao, Burmese and Malay versions of the tale.

Contents

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Textuality

Traditionally, the Ramayana is ascribed to Valmiki, regarded as India's first poet.[5] The Indian tradition is unanimous in its agreement that the poem is the work of a single poet, the sage Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama and a peripheral actor in the drama.[6] The story's original version in Sanskrit is known as Valmiki Ramayana, dating to approximately the 5th to 4th century B.C.[7][8] While it is often viewed as a primarily devotional text, the Vaishnava elements appear to be later accretions possibly dating to the 2nd century BC or later.[8] The main body of the narrative lacks statements of Rama's divinity, and identifications of Rama with Vishnu are rare and subdued even in the later parts of the text.[9]

According to Indian tradition, and according to the Ramayana itself, the Ramayana belongs to the genre of itihāsa, like the Mahabharata. The definition of itihāsa has varied over time, with one definition being that itihāsa is a narrative of past events (purāvṛtta) which includes teachings on the goals of human life.[1] According to Hindu tradition, the Ramayana takes place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga.[10]

In its extant form, Valmiki's Ramayana is an epic poem of some 50,000 lines. The text survives in several thousand partial and complete manuscripts, the oldest of which appears to date from the 11th century A.D.[11] The text has several regional renderings,[12] recensions and subrecensions. Textual scholar Robert P. Goldman differentiates two major regional recensions: the northern (N) and the southern (S).[11] 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."[13]

There has been discussion as to whether the first and the last chapters of Valmiki's Ramayana were composed by the original author. Some still believe they are integral parts of the book in spite of some style differences and narrative contradictions between these two chapters and the rest of the book.[14][15]

Famous retellings include the Ramayanam of Kamban in Tamil (ca. 11th–12th century), the Kotha Ramayana of Madhava Kandali in Assamese (ca. 14th century), Shri Rama Panchali or Krittivasi Ramayan by Krittibas Ojha in Bengali (ca. 15th Century), and Ramacharitamanas by Tulasidas in Awadhi which is an eastern form of Hindi (c. 16th century).[12]

Period

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.[16] However, the general cultural background of the Ramayana is one of the post-urbanization period of the eastern part of North India (c. 450 BCE), while the Mahabharata reflects the Kuru areas west of this, from the Rigvedic to the late Vedic period.[17]

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).[18]

The names of the characters (Rama, Sita, Dasharatha, Janaka, Vasishta, Vishwamitra) are all known in late Vedic literature, older than the Valmiki Ramayana.[19] However, nowhere in the surviving Vedic poetry is there a story similar to the Ramayana of Valmiki.[20] According to the modern academic view, Vishnu, who according to Bala Kanda was incarnated 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.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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 BC.[25]

Characters

Rama seated with Sita, fanned by Lakshmana, while Hanuman pays his respects.

  • Rama is the main protagonist of the tale. Portrayed as the seventh avatar of the God Vishnu, he is the eldest and favorite son of the King of Ayodhya, Dasharatha, and his wife Kausalya. He is portrayed as the epitome 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 the beloved wife of Rama and the daughter of king Janaka. She is the avatar of Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. Sita is portrayed as the epitome of female purity and virtue. She follows her husband into exile and is abducted by Ravana. She is imprisoned on the island of Lanka until 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 the eleventh avatar of God Shiva (He is also called Rudra) and an ideal 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.
  • Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama, who chose to go into exile with him. He 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 abducted by Ravana upon him leaving her. He was married to Sita's younger sister Urmila.
  • 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: 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 incarnates 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 rescue Sita from Ravana. Jatayu fought valiantly with Ravana, but as Jatayu was very old Ravana soon got the better of him. As Rama and Lakshmana chanced upon the stricken and dying Jatayu in their search for Sita, he informs them the direction in which Ravana had gone.
  • 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.
  • Bharata is the son of Dasharatha. 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 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. 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.
  • Sugriva, a vanara king who helped Rama regain Sita from Ravana. He had an agreement with Rama through which Vaali-Sugriva’s brother and king of Kishkindha-would be killed by Rama in exchange for Sugriva’s help in finding Sita. Sugriva ultimately ascends the throne of Kishkindha after the slaying of Vaali and fulfils his promise by putting the Vanara forces at Rama’s disposal[26]
  • Indrajit, a son of Ravana who twice defeated Lakshmana in battle before succumbing to him the third time. An adept of the magical arts, he coupled his supreme fighting skills with various stratagems to inflict heavy losses on the Vanara army before his death.[26]
  • Kumbhakarna, a brother of Ravana, famous for his eating and sleeping. He would sleep for months at a time and would be extremely ravenous 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 decimated the Vanara army before Rama cut of his limbs and head.[26]
  • Surpanakha, Ravana's demoness sister who fell in love with Rama and had the ability to take any form she wanted.
  • Vibhishana, a younger brother of Ravana. He was against the kidnapping of Sita and joined the forces of Rama when Ravana refused to return her. His intricate knowledge of Lanka was vital in the war and he was crowned king after the fall of Ravana.[26]

Synopsis

The Epic is traditionally divided into several major kāṇḍas or books, that deal chronologically with the major events in the life of Rama—Bāla Kāṇḍa, Ayodhya Kāṇḍa, Araṇya Kāṇḍa, Kishkindha Kāṇḍa, Sundara Kāṇḍa, Yuddha Kāṇḍa, and Uttara Kāṇḍa.[12] The Bala Kanda describes the birth of Rama, his childhood and marriage to Sita.[27] The Ayodhya Kanda describes the preparations for Rama's coronation and his exile into the forest.[27] The third part, Aranya Kanda, describes the forest life of Rama and the kidnapping of Sita by the demon king Ravana.[27] The fourth book, Kishkindha Kanda, describes the meeting of Hanuman with Rama, the destruction of the vanara king Vali and the coronation of his younger brother Sugriva to the throne of the kingdom of Kishkindha.[27] The fifth book is Sundara Kanda, which narrates the heroism of Hanuman, his flight to Lanka and meeting with Sita.[27] The sixth book, Yuddha Kanda, describes the battle between Rama's and Ravana's armies.[27] 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.[27]

 Bala Kanda

The birth of the four sons of Dasharatha

Dasharatha was the king of Kosala, the capital of which was the city of Ayodhya. He had three queens: Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra. He was childless for a long time and, anxious to produce an heir, he performs a fire sacrifice known as Putra-Kameshti Yagya.[28] As a consequence, Rama is first born to Kausalya, Bharata is born to Kaikeyi, and Sumitra gives birth to twins named Lakshmana and Shatrughna.[29]aaaa

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