One of the most famous epics in Hindu literature, the Ramayana tells of the life and adventures of Rama, a legendary hero who is worshiped as a god in many parts of India. Probably written in the 200s B.C. , the Ramayana is attributed to Valmiki, a wise man who appears as a character in the work. Based on numerous legends, the Ramayana also incorporates sacred material from the Vedas, a series of ancient Hindu religious texts.

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

incarnation appearance of a god, spirit, or soul in earthly form

Early Life of Rama. According to the Ramayana, Rama was the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu*. Born as the eldest son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, he was conceived when Vishnu gave three of the king's wives a special potion to drink. Dasaratha's

The Ramayana, a famous Hindu epic, tells of the life and adventures of a legendary hero called Rama. This painting from the 1700s illustrates the marriage of Rama and his brothers.
The Ramayana, a famous Hindu epic, tells of the life and adventures of a legendary hero called Rama. This painting from the 1700s illustrates the marriage of Rama and his brothers.
senior wife, Kausalya, gave birth to Rama. The other wives gave birth to Rama's brothers—Bharata and the twins Lakshmana and Satrughna. Rama inherited half of Vishnu's supernatural power, while his brothers shared the rest.

The four brothers grew up as close friends, particularly Rama and Lakshmana. One day a wise man named Vishvamitra asked Rama and his brothers to help defeat Taraka, queen of a race of demons called the Rakshasas. Rama and Lakshmana agreed to help, and Rama killed Taraka. Vishvamitra then took the brothers to the court of King Janaka, where Rama entered a contest for the hand of Sita, the king's daughter. By bending and breaking a sacred bow given to the king by the god Shiva, Rama won the contest.

Soon after the marriage of Rama and Sita, King Dasaratha decided to turn over his throne to Rama. However, his wife Kaikeyi, the mother of Bharata, reminded Dasaratha that he had once promised to grant her two wishes. Reluctantly, the king granted Kaikeyi her wishes—to banish Rama and place Bharata on the throne.

A dutiful son, Rama accepted his banishment and went to the Dandaka Forest with Sita and Lakshmana. King Dasaratha died of grief soon after they departed. Bharata had been away during these earlier events. When called back to take the throne, he agreed to rule only during his brother's absence and acknowledged Rama as the rightful king.

supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous

Battling the Rakshasas. During their exile in the forest, Rama helped defend the wise men living there against the evil Rakshasas. One of these demons, the hideous giantess Surpanakha, offered to marry both Rama and Lakshmana. When they

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

refused, the giantess attacked Sita, but the brothers cut off Surpanakha's ears and nose and drove her away. Surpanakha sent her younger brother Khara and an army of demons to avenge her, but Rama and Lakshmana defeated and killed them all.

Furious at this defeat, Surpanakha went to her older brother Ravana, the demon king of Sri Lanka, and plotted revenge. When the giantess told Ravana about the beautiful Sita, he went to Dandaka Forest. Disguised as a beggar, the demon king kidnapped Sita and carried her back to his kingdom. He then tried to get Sita to marry him, but she rejected all his advances—even when he threatened to kill and eat her.

Meanwhile, Rama and Lakshmana set off in search of Sita. Along the way they met the monkey king Sugriva, son of the god Indra, and formed an alliance. They helped him win back his throne from his wicked half brother Bali. In return, the brothers received help from the monkey armies. After the monkey god Hanuman discovered where Sita had been taken, the monkey armies marched to Sri Lanka and defeated the Rakshasas in a series of battles. During the fighting, Rama killed Ravana and was reunited with Sita.

Rama and Sita. After their reunion, Rama wondered whether Sita had remained faithful while held captive by Ravana. Sita proclaimed her innocence and proved it by passing through a fire unharmed. The fire god Agni also spoke on her behalf, and Rama accepted her innocence.

The couple returned to Ayodhya, and Rama began a long reign of peace and prosperity. But the people still questioned Sita's faithfulness. In time, Rama began to doubt her innocence as well, and he banished her. While in exile, Sita found refuge with an old wise man named Valmiki, and she gave birth to Rama's twin sons, Kusa and Lava.

After many years, the two boys visited Ayodhya. When Rama saw them, he recognized them as his sons and called Sita back from exile. Sita returned and protested her innocence again. She called on Mother Earth to verify that she was telling the truth. In response, the earth opened a crack beneath Sita and swallowed her.

Grief stricken by the loss of Sita, Rama asked the gods to end his sorrow. The gods told Rama that he must either enter heaven or stay on earth. Rama chose to follow Sita to eternity, so he walked into the river Sarayu and drowned. Upon Rama's death, the god Brahma* welcomed the hero into heaven.

See also Brahma ; Devils and Demons ; Hinduism and Mythology ; Indra ; Rama ; Vedas ; Vishnu .

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