The Ramayana is not a mere story. It is the story that we live every moment of our lives. The Ramayana inspires and instantly elevates and transforms one’s life.
The story transports you from weakness to tremendous strength, from failure to success, from sorrow to blessedness and joy.
This picture shows Rama at his crowning ceremony called Pattabhishekam after all his adventures. His wife Sita is next to him, his brothers Lakshman and Baratha are at the back.
Origins of the Ramayana
• The Ramayana is a Sanskrit kavya (poetry) and is part of the smritis.
• It consists of 24,000 couplets and is believed to have been first written around the third century BC.
• The incidents it narrates are said to have occurred in the Treta Yuga.
• The epic tells the story of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, who was born on earth to liberate mankind from the demon king Ravana of Lanka, and to re-establish righteousness in the world.
• Along with Mahabharata and Bhagavat Gita, it has had a decisive influence in shaping the nature of Indian civilization.
The Ramayana existed in the oral tradition perhaps as far back as 1,500 BC, but the fourth century BC is generally accepted as the date of its composition in Sanskrit by Valmiki. The main frame of the story of the Ramayana is exceedingly well-known in India, imbibed by every Indian with the mother’s milk.
Texts and Languages
It is not just one Ramayana.
Apart from the Adikaavya in Sanskrit by Valmiki, Ramayanas exist in the vernacular Indian languages like that of Kambar written in the eleventh century.
Tulsidas’s ‘Ramacharitmanas’ is the most influential piece of scripture for the Hindi speaking diaspora all over the world.
The Importance of the Ramayana
Ramayana exists at various levels:
• Firstly it has the religious connotation but goes much beyond it.
• Next, it is mega entertainment. The story was told to groups of people in the family, village and in satsangs. It was also performed on the stage with drama, music and dance.
• Then it was a kind of instructional material that sets moral standards for human behaviour at different strata of the society under varying circumstances, and demonstrates ideal relationships within the family.
• Fourthly it integrates Rama’s entourage with the animal kingdom in the form of an army of monkeys under that eternal loyalist Bhakta Hanuman, who assumes superman proportions.
• Ramayana is a link for Hindus all over the world. Even the poor indentured labour sent to Mauritius and Fiji carried something of the Ramayana with them, while they had no other worldly possession to take with them.
• It has permanence—it is relevant at all times, in all places and in all ages.
The teachings of the Ramayana
Ramayana explains the teachings of the Vedas in the form of stories.
It spreads learning and understanding amongst all.
It teaches philosophy, politics, the concepts and kinds of duties, morality and truth, in an easy and simplified manner to those who cannot understand the complex language of the Vedas.
It expounds ideal behaviour and the ideal way of life.
It emphasises the sanctity of the spoken word, especially a promise made by anyone in a responsible position.
It also highlights the strength of Hindu women, and the sacrifices that they are capable of.
It has always taught concepts that are being spoken as modern ideas in management—of men, matters, resources and strategies.
It fits all human emotions within a framework of Time, Space and Motion.
Relevance of the Ramayana
The sacred Ramayana is full of life-redeeming lessons. There is an eternal search through the story of Ramayana to throw light upon and to guide the reader in the daily vicissitudes of life.
The raging question in every one’s mind today is the widespread Adharma – falsehood, greed and passion. To know the cause of it and to find ways to remove it is the quest.
It addresses the ambiguity that is aroused in the mind—justification of any means to achieve the end and that all is fair in love and war.
Ideals of the Ramayana
If we can understand and adopt the two basic lessons from the ideal life of Rama in our lives individually as well as universally, we will achieve our goal.
The two ideals are Truth and Purity of thought, deed and action. Rama was the embodiment of both.
The entire Ramayana was the outcome of Rama’s resolute decision to uphold the promise of his father, King Dasaratha that had been made to Kaikeyi, the queen even before he was born.
Rama gave up his life as a prince and took to a life of great hardship just to keep this promise made by his father and maintained the pledge even after King Dasaratha’s death.
The second ideal of highest purity was Rama’s life-long vow of Eka Patni vratam. This is another important tenet that needs to be reinforced for both men and women.
The fruit from the Ramayana
The Ramayana is the source of many stories told to adults and children. It teaches:
• importance of duty
• correct behaviour
• parental reverence
• peaceful co-existence between all God’s creatures
• the respect and need to preserve the ecological balance and natural order of things
The epic’s appeal lies in the human frailties it explores.
It is finally the victory of good over evil.
It is the viability of the utopian concept of ‘Rama Rajya’, in which Rama, the perfect and just king, ruled over a happy kingdom, free from want and war.
Every year, all over the world, the Ramayana is celebrated on the birthday of Lord Rama. Wherever the story of Rama is recited or narrated, Hanuman, his faithful devotee is supposed to always be present.