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The Ramayana(The Way of Rama)

Author: Valmiki
Culture: Indian
Language: Sanskrit
Genre: epic poetry
Time: 550 B.C.E
Concept: dharma
Themes
The nature of heroism / Heros journey
Gender roles
Natural social hierarchies [Caste]
How to live a good life (according to dharma: right action, sacred duty according to ones
social role, status, and gender)
Moral Exemplars
The poem has had powerful effects on peoples behavior in South Asia. Rama, Sita,
Lakshman have been held up as models of behavior. Public performances revolve around
the questions:
Why did Rama do this?
Was Sita right in doing that?
Moral Problems/Obedience
The Ramayana explores the problem of authority and obedience.
It is the necessity of obedience that the poem emphasizes, rather than the quality of the
authority that demands it.
Background
This is the oldest literary version of the tale of the exile and adventures of Rama, a story that
goes back in folk traditions to the 7th c. BCE.
It is probably that Valmiki, like Homer, gathered up other versions of the oral tale and
shaped it.
This is the great story of Indian civilization, the one narrative that Indians have known and
loved since the 7th c. BCE and which remains very popular today.
Valmiki
Valmiki is celebrated as the first poet and the Ramayana as the first poem.
The poem begins with the sage Valmiki himself inventing metrical verse and asking the
question: Who is the perfect man?
The sage Narada responds with the story of Rama, whose wife had been abducted by a
demon-king.
The poet is one who transforms raw emotion and the chaos of real life into an ordered
work of art.
The God Vishnu
The Avatars (Reincarnations)
Vishnu incarnates as Rama, son of Dasa-ratha, king of Kosala, and his senior wife Kausalya.
Rama is a paragon of princely virtues.
Sons are also born at the same time to lesser wives: Kaikeyi bore Bharat, Sumitra bore the
twins Lakshman and Satrughna. These sons all share in Vishnus divine essence.
Sita is avatar of Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu
Sita symbolizes an ideal daughter, wife, mother, and queen
Ramas Heroism
Ramas heroism lies in both his acts and his attitude
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A mans fundamental duty: to honor his fathers word. Rama does this without anger.
Ramas heroism combines the strong sense of duty and dedication to social responsibility
demanded of an ideal king and the ideal member of the structured Hindu social order.
Sitas Heroism
Her role is focused on her conduct as wife: a womans dharma is to obey her husband.
Women were mens property; sexual fidelity to their husbands was the major virtue of
women.
Sitas Troubles
Still, Valmikis account implies that Sitas own willful actions - coveting the golden deer
and persuading her male relatives to leave her unguarded - led to what happens afterward.
Her kidnapping and imprisonment, as well as Ramas eventual rejection of her.
Cultural Values
The male authors of Hindu legal and ritual texts wrote that men had to be guardians over
women to ensure the legitimacy of the family line.
A womans uncontrolled sexuality could bring dishonor and ruin to her family.
Marriage was arranged soon after puberty, for each menstrual cycle was seen as a lost
opportunity for producing a son.
However, in the epic we do see women such as Sita making choices about their own lives.
Sita is a heroine in her own right
Fundamental Concepts
Dharma. Dharma is the practice of virtue, the living of an ethical and ritually correct life.
The definition of what is virtuous, however, varies, depending on a person's caste
membership.
The primary virtue is to fulfill the duties assigned to one's caste.
Thus a Brahmin should offer sacrifices and do them to the best of his ability, while a
Vaishya silversmith should create his plates and bowls as strong and beautiful as
possible.
The dharma of a person is expected to fulfill, also varies depending on their stage of life.
A student, for instance, becomes virtuous through a different set of actions than a
householder.
Moksha. Moksha is the striving for release from life (since, after all, it is bad). To achieve
this, a person must turn their back on life and strive to live without the things that make up
life. It requires rejecting family, comforts, pleasure, education, and so on. It also requires
one to become an ascetic, a hermit, and to spend one's time in contemplation.
Four Disciplines. There are believed to be four Yogas (disciplines) or margas (paths) for the
attainment of moksha. These are:
Working for the Supreme (Karma Yoga)
Realizing the Supreme (Jnana Yoga)
Meditating on the Supreme (Raja Yoga)
Serving the Supreme in loving devotion (Bhakti Yoga).
Different schools of Hinduism place varying emphasis on one path or other, some of the
most famous being the tantric and yogic practices developed in Hinduism.
Synopsis
Family
Dasa-ratha, King of Ayodhya, has three wives and four sons.
Rama is the eldest. His mother is Kaushalya.
Bharat is the son of his second and favorite wife, Queen Kaikeyi.
The other two are twins, Lakshman and Satrughna.

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Rama and Bharat are blue, indicating they were dark skinned or originally south Indian
deities.
Training
A sage takes the boys out to train them in archery.
Rama has hit an apple hanging from a string.
A Bride
In a neighboring city the ruler's daughter is named Sita.
When it was time for Sita to choose her bridegroom, the princes were asked to string the
giant bow of Rudra.
No one else can even lift the bow, but as Rama bends it, he not only strings it but breaks
it in two.
Sita Chooses a Husband
Sita indicates she has chosen Rama as her husband by putting a garland around his neck.
The disappointed suitors watch.
Passing Leadership
King Dasa-ratha, Rama's father, decides it is time to give his throne to his eldest son
Rama and retire to the forest.
Everyone seems pleased.
This plan fulfills the rules of dharma because an eldest son should rule and, if a son can
take over one's responsibilities, one's last years may be spent in a search for moksha.
Trouble in Paradise
However Rama's step-mother, the king's second wife, is not pleased.
She wants her son, Bharat, to rule as persuaded by the maid Manthara.
Queen Kaikeyi
She wants her son, Bharat, to rule because of an oath Dasa-ratha had made to her years
before, she gets the king to agree to:
Banish Rama for fourteen years;
To crown Bharat.
Even though the king, on bended knee, begs her not to demand such things.
Rama, always obedient, is as content to go into banishment in the forest as to be
crowned king. Sita convinces Rama that she belongs at his side and his brother
Lakshman also begs to accompany them. Rama, Sita and Lakshman set out for the
forest.
Plans Thwarted
Bharat, whose mother's evil plot has won him the throne, is very upset when he finds out
what has happened.
Not for a moment does he consider breaking the rules of dharma and becoming king in
Rama's place.
He goes to Rama's forest retreat and begs Rama to return and rule, but Rama refuses.
"We must obey father," Rama says. Bharat then takes Rama's sandals saying, "I will put
these on the throne, and every day I shall place the fruits of my work at the feet of my
Lord."
Embracing Rama, he takes the sandals and returns to Ayodhya.
Time Passes
Years pass and Rama, Sita and Lakshman are very happy in the forest. Rama and
Lakshman destroy the Rakshasas (evil creatures) who disturb the sages in their
meditations.
One day a Rakshasa princess tries to seduce Rama, and Lakshman wounds her and
drives her away.
The Beauty of Sita
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She returns to her brother Ravan, the ten-headed ruler of Lanka (Sri Lanka, formerly
Ceylon), and tells her brother (who has a weakness for beautiful women) about lovely
Sita.
Golden Deer
Magic Circle. Rama and Lakshman go off to hunt the deer, first drawing a protective
circle around Sita and warning her she will be safe as long as she does not step outside
the circle.
Sitas Abduction. The moment Sita steps outside the circle to give him food, Ravan grabs
her and carries her off to the his kingdom in Lanka.
Rama is broken-hearted when he returns to the empty hut and cannot find Sita. A band of
monkeys offer to help him find Sita.
Ravans Palace
Monkey General. Hanuman, the general of the monkey band can fly since his father is
the wind, and Hanuman flies to Lanka and, finding Sita in the grove, comforts her and
tells her Rama will soon come and save her.
Strategy Backfires
Ravan's men capture Hanuman, and Ravan orders them to wrap Hanuman's tail in cloth
and to set it on fire.
With his tail burning, Hanuman hops from house-top to house-top, setting Lanka afire.
He then flies back to Rama to tell him Sitas location.
Rama Arrives in Lanka
Rama, Lakshman and the monkey army build a causeway from the tip of India to Lanka
and cross over to Lanka.
A mighty battle ensues.
Battle between Rama and Ravan
Rama kills several of Ravan's brothers and then Rama confronts ten-headed Ravan.
(Ravan is known for his wisdom as well as for his weakness for women which may
explain why he is pictured as very brainy.) Rama finally kills Ravan.
Rama frees Sita
After Sita proves her purity, they return to Ayodhya and Rama becomes king. His rule,
Ram-rajya, is an ideal time when everyone does his or her dharma and "fathers never
have to light the funeral pyres for their sons."
Sitas Fidelity is Tested
Sita stands calmly in a gated area with flames burning around the lotus blossom
platform on which she stands.

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