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What Is Pranayama?

Pranayama is the fourth limb of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, which was first outlined in his Yoga Sutras. It is also an important part of Hindu asceticism and a vital part of any yoga practice. Prana is the vital energy (breath) in all of us; pranayama is the control of that vital energy. Control of the breath means refusing to breathe as people normally do. Under normal circumstances, breath is non-rhythmic and shallow. However, in pranayama, the breath is deep, even, and controlled by the practitioner (Eliade 55). “A Yogi measures the span of his life not by the number of years but by the number of breaths. One can take in only a certain amount of energy or prana from the air along with each breath. The vital capacity is measured by the greatest amount of air one can inhale after the deepest possible exhalation (Sivananda 269).

Early Textual References

Yoga, one of the orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy, is the psychophysical system of attaining union with Absolute Reality (Brahman). As an integral part of the Hindu philosophy, yoga is mentioned in many influential Hindu texts. Pranayama is identified in the Rg Veda with Brahma as inhalation, Visnu as suspension of the breath, and Rudra as exhalation. In the Upanisads, there is the mention of “obtaining “ecstasy” through concentration on sounds [and] such concentration is acquired only by the application of yogic technique (asana, pranayama, etc.) (Eliade 133) In the Bhagavad Gita also mentions yoga, presenting it as a practical means for attaining moksa through meditation (Eliade 159n).


One of the most important aspects of the practice of pranayama is said to be the preparation for practice. It is said that one must be firmly grounded in asanas, as well as preparing the body by purifying it through the following six kriyas (Sivananda 292). First, one must complete dhauti, or cleansing the digestive track. Then the bowels are cleansed through basti and the sinuses through neti. The eyes and mind are cleansed through steady gazing or trataka. Nauli cleanses abdominal churning which eliminates constipation and increases digestive fire. Kapalabhati, which is heavy, fast breathing, destroys excess phlegm.

There are other preliminary considerations for practice. These include a place that is pleasant, quiet, beautiful, private, where there are no disturbances or distractions. The time of day pranayama is practiced is also important, it is best to practice in the spring or fall. In the summer season, the cool early morning hours are the best time of day. The food that the body consumes is also considered and important consideration. Light, moderate, substantial and nutritious food – there are three categories of food which must be balanced. Sattvic foods (i.e., milk, fruit, cereals, butter, cheese, tomatoes, and spinach) make the mind pure. Rajasic foods (i.e., fish, eggs, meat) stimulate passion. Tamasic foods (i.e., beef, onions, garlic) make the mind lethargic and angry. The practice is best approached with passion and earnestness. It is said that the student must have a calm mind, faith in his Guru’s teachings, believe in God, live a life of moderation, and be eager to attain moksa. The final step of suggested preliminary preparation is the purification of the nadis which is done through alternate nostril breathing and creates harmony in the body (Sivananda 296-314):


After preparing physically with your kriyas and asanas, mental preparation can begin. The first part of practice is the three-part breath. First is puraka (inhalation), followed by rechaka (exhalation), and finally kumbhaka (retention). The time unit used to measure the breath is a matra, usually the syllable Om. It is also suggested that the suitable asanas for pranayama are padmasana, siddhasana, svastikasana, or samasana.

When first starting to practice pranayama, Sivananda recommends that you practice only puraka and rechaka, without kumbhaka for a month or two. Once comfortable with the slowing down of the breath, retention can be added. At first a ratio of 1:4:2 is recommended which gradually will be increased to 16:64:32 (377). This ratio refers to inhaling for one matra, retaining for four matra, and exhaling for two matra. The three types of pranayama discussed by Sivananda are inferior pranayama, which is 12 matras, middling pranayama, which is 24 matras, and superior pranayama, which consists of 32 matras. These numbers refer to the number of matras for inhalation only.

There is more than one way to practice pranayama. Sivananda outlines various exercises which include alternate nostril breathing, deep breathing exercises, pranayama during meditation, while walking and during savasana (deep relaxation of the muscles and nerves), and ujjayi pranayama (breathing while partially closing the glottis) to name a few.

Sivananda also identifies four stages that accompany pranayama practice. The first is arambha avastha, which is for the destruction of former sins and often consists of profuse perspiration that should be rubbed into the body with the hands. The second stage is ghata avastha, which is obtained through the regular practice of suppressing the breath. In order to pass through the ghata state one must constantly keep up their yogic practice. The third stage is parichaya avastha. “Through steady practice and concentrated thought the breath now pierces the Kundalini Shakti along with the Agni and enters the Sushumna uninterrupted” (328). The final stage of pranayama is nishpatti avastha, the state of consummation where all of the karmic seeds have been destroyed and the practitioner becomes immortal.


“The yogic practitioner seeks through a careful process of spiritual exercises to reach a state of “isolation”, of the complete separation of spirit and matter” (Embree 195). It is through practicing pranayama that this goal becomes attainable. The goal of pranayama is very much the same as the goal of yoga. There is a reciprocal relationship between breath and the mind. Once able to control the breath, one is able to control the mind and control of the mind allows control of the breath. If the mind and prana are both controlled, one becomes liberated from the rounds of births and deaths and attains immortality” (Sivananda, 268).


Eliade, Mircea (1958) Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon Books

Embree, Ainslie T (ed.) (1972) The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought. New York: Vintage Books

Sivananda, Swami (1981) The Science of Yoga v. 4. Shivanandanagar, Dist. Tehri-Garhwal, U.P., India: Divine Life Society.

Further Reading

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1985) Light on Pranayama. New York:Crossroad

Rosen, Richard (2002) The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama. Boston: Shambhala.

Saraswrthi, Swami Satyanananda (2000) Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. New Delhi: Bihar School of Yoga.

Related Topics



Hatha Yoga

Kundalini Yoga


Raja Yoga, Yoga Sutras, Patanjali

Notable Websites

ABC of Yoga (2006) Yoga Breathing (Pranayama) – The Art of Yoga Breathing

Focal Point Yoga (2006) Pranayama

Yoga Journal (2006) Prescriptions for Pranayama

Written by Melissa Scullen (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.


One path to the attainment of liberation (moksa) is through the union of the body and the spirit, most commonly known as yoga. This is a mystical path en route to self-awareness, with the goal to achieve enlightenment. Within its tradition, there are several aspects to the practice of yoga. One specific characteristic is prana. Simply put, prana can be defined as vital energy flow within the body. Georg Feuerstein, one of the foremost teachers of yoga and yogic teachings, defines prana with the origins of the word: pra—“on, forth” and an—“to breathe,” thus denoting the “vital energy, life.” The image of prana was referenced in the Upanishads as “breath to life.” The name prana was given to the “vital breath” and by extension to the bodily inhaled air (Varenne 235). Prana is similar to the Chinese concept of chithe circulating life energy that in Chinese philosophy is thought to be inherent in all things. Several comparisons with nature are used in the description of prana. Prana is compared to a fire being formed into new life by every inhalation. The flame burns higher, devours the fuel [oxygen] brought in from the outside by air, and then expels the waste [ash] in the forms of exhaled air (Varenne 111). The rhythm of prana is comparable to the ebb and flow of tidal waves (Feuerstein and Miller 26). Furthermore, according to Professor H. Upadhyay, prana is like a knife which he carefully employs to operate on his own mind, to cut out the malicious thoughts and feelings in order to piece through to higher levels of consciousness (Feuerstein and Miller 112).

According to yogic teaching, at birth, we all receive the “vital breath” of prana and the function of respiration is to circulate it through the body. As human beings we need to breathe to survive making prana essential to our existence. Breath is not filled with oxygen, but the all sustaining life-force—prana (Feuerstein 236). Prana is a vital force of life energy which we constantly inhale as we breathe in. The complete withdrawal of prana from our body means death (Feuerstein and Miller 112). It can be said that sensations of hunger, thirst, hot, cold, etc. within the body could be understood as symptoms of prana. Moreover, all physical feelings that flow within the body might also be interpreted as evidence that prana is at work. The presence of prana is said to be what distinguishes a living body from a dead one. When a person dies, the prana, or life force, is thought to leave the body. Our bodies are seen to contain a complex network of channels (nadi) and valves (bandha) that allow prana to flow through the body. For yoga, prana (breath) represents life itself in its most concrete form (Varenne 111). “By means of regulation, control and restraint of prana, the yogi first gains mastery over the prana currents, then over his body.” For breathing in yoga, “there is always a connection between respiration and mental states,” (Eliade 69). Yoga brings about the unity of the senses, the mind, and the vital force—prana (Joshi 57). The breath is the essential maintainer of concentration and the heart of the yoga principle. As such in practice, if a yogi has attained complete mastery over the technique of breathing [he] succeeds in “seeing” the interior of his body (Varenne 208).

Contrary to the ancient Upanisadic belief that prana was breath within the being; Feuerstein takes a variation of the definition. In his book, Yoga and Beyond, he does not think that prana is mere breath, but the “spanda-sakti” (vibratory power) that penetrates the whole cosmos and every living being and even able to exercise influence on the mind (citta) (Feuerstein and Miller 26). This references a very profound union between prana and citta—vital energy and mind. Furthermore, texts such as the Yoga Sutra have not plainly expressed prana as breath. Prana can be seen as “more akin to vital force or life energy,” (Feuerstein and Miller 111-112). On a much more spiritual level prana is defined as, the cosmic breath, the rhythmic oscillation effective on all levels of conditioned existence (Feuerstein and Miller 26).

There are five subdivisions of prana connected with certain functions and distributions over certain regions of the body: prana, samana, apana, udana, and vyana. The particulars of these sectors are described within Vyasa’s commentary in the Yoga Sutra. Prana is located through the mouth and the nose, and its changeability continues as far as the heart. Samana is dispersed uniformly and fluctuates from the navel. Apana leads downward in the body and oscillates as far as the sole of the foot. Udana leads upwards in the body and fluctuates as far as the head. Vyana is encompassing through the entire body system.

From the Mahabharata:

The breath called prana, residing within the head and the heat that is there, cause all kinds of exertion. That prana is the living creature, the universal soul, the eternal Being, and the Mind, Intellect and Consciousness of all living creatures, as also all the objects of the senses. Thus the living creature is, in every respect, caused by prana to move about and exert. Then in consequence of the other breath called samana, every one of the senses is made to act as it does. The breath called apana, having recourse to the heat that is in the urethra and the abdominal intestines, moves, engaged in carrying out urine and feces. That single breath, which operates in these three, is called udana by those that are conversant with science. That breath, which operates, residing in all the joints of men’s bodies, is called vyana. There is heat in the bodies of living creatures which is circulated all over the system by the breath called samana.

(The Mahabharata Santi Parva, Section CLXXXIV)

Prana is associated with many entities and objects. One of the eight limbs of yoga is dependent on prana, pranayama. Pranayama is breath control and the “rejection to breathe like the general run of men…in an unrhythmic fashion,” (Eliade 69). Pranayama regulates the flow of prana through the channels (nadi) and valves (bandha) of the body. Regulating the breath then leads to the control of prana through the body. Through the evolution of human beings, we become tone deaf towards the “original rhythm” of the cosmos. Pranayama is used to “restore the primeval rhythm and cosmic harmony,” (Feuerstein and Miller 26). Prana is the cause of spiritual progress within the practice of pranayama (Varenne 158). The rhythm found in pranayama is divided in to three phases of prana: inhalation (puraka), exhalation (recaka), and the retention of air (kumbhaka) (Eliade 71-72). At the time of inhalation, the breath occupies internal space, which is said to be felt from the palms of the hands to the soles of the feet. At exhalation, the external space can be felt at the tip of the nose (Dasgupta 146). Also associated with prana (or life-energy) is the wind god Vayu. In the Vedic system Vayu is the master of life, inspirer of that breath or dynamic energy called prana. Vayu is seen as the “companion to the breath of life” (Feuerstein and Miller 110). All the vital and nervous activities of the human being fall within the definition of prana and belong to the domain of Vayu (Aurobindo 323). Prana is identified as the wind in the hymn XI.4 of the Atharva Veda: “Breath they call Matarisvan; breath is called the wind; in breath what has been and what will be, in breath is all established.”

Yoga is a traditional Hindu act towards the attainment of absolute liberation (moksa). On this journey towards liberation prana is an important aspect to the practice of yoga and to life itself. Prana aids in the achievement of total concentration within the yogic tradition. According to many texts and practices, prana is the essence of life and without it we are dead. Even though there are several meanings to prana, it can simply be said that it is the vital energy flow to life. Prana is essential to one of the eight limbs of yoga, breath control or pranayama. Without the proper utilization of prana, pranayama cannot be executed successfully. Furthermore, there are five subdivisions within prana, found throughout the body, which altogether function to bring prana to the highest power. But prana in its explicit form is most essential. To quote the Yoga Darshana Upanishad: “prana, like the sun, travels though the signs of the zodiac; each time you inhale, hold in your breath before expelling it.” Prana is found in every living being, but in order to have full control over it, it must be practiced with pranayama. These features together in formation with the other seven limbs of yoga are the quintessential model for the achievement of moksa.


Dasgupta, Surendranath (1978) Yoga: As Philosophy and Religion. Delhi: Indological Publishers.

Eliade, Mircea (1976) Patanjali and Yoga. New York: Schocken Books.

Feuerstein, Georg and Jeanine Miller (1972) Yoga and Beyond: Essays in Indian Philosophy. New York: Schocken Books.

Feuerstein, Georg (1991) Sacred Paths: Essays on Wisdom, Love, and Mystical Realization. New York: Larson Publications.

Joshi, K.S., “On the Meaning of Yoga.” Philosophy East and West. Volume 15, Number 1, January 1965, pp. 53-64.

Varenne, Jean (1976) Yoga and the Hindu Tradition. London: The University of Chicago Press.

Further Readings

Feuerstein, Georg (1980) The Philosophy of Classical Yoga. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Feuerstein, George (1983) Self-realization of noble wisdom: The Lankavatara Sutra. California: Dawn Horse Press.

Feuerstein, Georg (2002) The Yoga Tradition: its history, literature, philosophy and practice. New Delhi: Bhavana Books

Pandit, B.N. (1997) Specific principles of Kashmir Saivism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

Singh, Shail Kumari (1983) Religious and moral philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. Patna: Janaki Prakashan

Related Topics


Atharva Veda



Georg Feuerstein












Yoga Darshana Upanishad

Yoga Sutras




Noteworthy websites related to the topic

Article written by Krista Epp (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings (On Yoga)

Aranya, Swami Hariharananda (1983) Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Bernard, T. (1944) Hatha Yoga. New York: Samuel Weiser.

Connolly, Peter (2006) A Student’s Guide to the History and Philosophy of Yoga. London: Equinox.

Danélou, A. (1956) Yoga: The Method of Re-Integration. New York: University Books.

Eliade, Mircea (1973) Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Feuerstein, Georg (1979) The Yoga-sutra of Patanjali. Reprint. Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1989.

Miller, Barbara S. (trans.) (1996) Yoga, Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rukmani, T. S. (1981) Yogavarttika of Vijnabhiksu, 4 vols. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Svatmarama (1972) The Hathayogapradipika. Madras: The Adyar Library Research Centre.

Taimni, I. K. (1972) The Science of Yoga. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House.

Varenne, Jean (1976) Yoga and the Hindu Tradition. Derek Coltman (trans.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Werner, K. “Yoga and the Rg Veda: An Interpretation of the Kesin Hymn,” Religious Studies, 13 (1976), 289-293.

_____ (ed.) (1989) The Yogi and the Mystic. London: Curzon Press.

Woods, J. H (1914) The Yoga-System of Patanjali. Cambridge, MA. Harvard Oriental Series XVIII.

The Yogas of The Bhagavad Gita

The practice of Yoga is a spiritual tradition in which millions of people worldwide have studied for many years. The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning “to join” or “to yoke” (McCartney 2). Modern Yoga which is practiced in the West is mainly thought of as postures and exercises aimed at keeping the body fit. This type of Yoga, also known as Hatha Yoga, involves proper breathing and meditation. Besides Hatha Yoga, many other types exist not only to keep the body fit but also to keep the mind fit spiritually. This includes a variety of actions devoted to each individual practice of Yoga involving techniques such as meditation and concentration to train the mind. The concept of meditation involves a method by which a person is able to stop all the turnings (vrtti) of thought (citta) one has. By detaching oneself from all thoughts, there is a shift from an external focus of attention to an inner one (Feuerstein 1991:187). Orthodox Hinduism holds that Yoga is more than just postures and exercise; its real power is said to be in training the mind to achieve moksa. Moksa can be understood as spiritual liberation or an ultimate state of realization (Singh 150). With knowledge of the transcendental Reality, we can answer some basic questions of human existence: Who am I? Where do I go? Why am I here? What must I do? Hinduism ideals suggest that without answers to these questions, one is merely adrift (Feuerstein 2003:15). Through proper practice one is believed to be closer to God and knowledgeable of the true nature of reality.

The Bhagavad-Gita or “Song of God,” a sacred text of Hindu philosophy, seems to have a large influence on Yoga. Included in The Bhagavad Gita is a conversation that took place between Krsna and Arjuna on the battlefield in the epic The Mahabharata. There, Arjuna struggles over killing his family and friends. Krsna, being a great friend and mentor, consoles Arjuna with his transcendental teachings on human nature and the purpose of life. Among these teachings, Krsna outlines three Yogic paths. These are Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action. This Yoga focuses on self-less deeds or sacrifice undertaken for the sake of the Supreme and to purify the heart. According to a famous practitioner, Sri Chinmoy, Karma Yoga does not focus on the result of actions or the thought of gain by performing particular actions (Sri Chinmoy 382). With this immunity to the reactive and negative consequences of actions, it is believed that one can better manage mental associations. In this sense, one is thought to be unselfish and can therefore achieve moksa. It is commonly stated that being a Karma Yogi is not an easy endeavour. The process of working without a sense of attachment is a difficult task. But it seems that with patience and determination, it becomes easier and more pleasant to do.

Karma itself teaches that nothing happens by accident. It is said that it is either the outcome of a previous cause or it is the cause of a later effect. This is also why Karma Yoga is sometimes referred to as “cause and effect” Yoga (McCartney 114). Humans are free to act as they like, but it is the responsibility the way in which they act that is theirs (Singh 73). It is within the laws of Karma that states that nothing happens to a man/woman except insofar as it is the result of his/her own deed (Singh 73). We can also see Karma Yoga being practiced whenever the action being performed is for the benefit of others. Therefore, performing any task that is not for your benefit, such as cleaning up in a temple, is believed to be a part of Karma Yoga. “He whose understanding is unattached everywhere, who has subdued his self and from whom desire has fled — he comes through renunciation to the supreme state transcending all work” (Radhakrishnan and Moore 161). For the Karma Yogi, work is primarily for service and not for means of economic survival or psychic gratification (Feuerstein 1991:81). It is commonly understood that Karma Yogis work to protect and nurture everyone, including nonhuman beings. It has been said that a Karma Yogi does not succumb to failure, nor does he/she gloat on success. Karma Yogis do not forget or ignore the world but rather live for the world. In this view, one can be understood to have an ongoing sense of worldly struggles, but is never totally overcome by them. Everyone is forced to act in some way by Nature, but he who can do this selflessly and without attachment can attain inner wholeness and be a true Karma Yogi (Feuerstein 1996:20).

It is believed that selfless action comes before both Bhakti Yoga (love) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge) (Feuerstein 1991:82). In this sense, it seems logical for anyone who is interested in practicing and learning ancient techniques of Yoga, to start with Karma Yoga so as to learn self-realization first.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the Yoga of Knowledge. This knowledge is of the Self, the Nature of God, the Universe and their mutual relationships (McCartney 191). It is thought that with this knowledge, the true realization of Brahman can be achieved. The Jnana Yogi feels that it is through the mind that this goal will be attained. Yogic martyrs claim that fulfillment of the mind is of supreme importance. As McCartney recalls, a person can stand on a cliff and see blue waves rolling up the beach and hear large waves breaking upon the sands and be filled with pure exhilaration by the experience. We would also be able to see the same pictures through a camera, or hear the same sounds from a microphone. It is the presence of exhilaration that would be missing from the latter experience. This means that something exists in humans which is absent in mechanical processes (cameras and microphones).

It is commonly stated that Jnana Yoga is the abolition of the concept dualism, which eventually leads to ones realization of the unity of the individual self with the Supreme Self (Sri Swami Sivananda 137). It is the process that converts the simple acts of seeing and hearing into an experience that is “I,” or the absolute true self and knowledge. Jnana Yoga has been thought of as being the “shortest and steepest” path to God, and also the most difficult one (McCartney 193). The process of discrimination between real & unreal and eternal & temporal is not easy. It is a long and difficult path, but can be very rewarding. One example in discriminating between reality and illusions would be to look at a piece of cloth. Cloth is made of thread. In the beginning the piece of cloth was thread and in the end, all that would be left of the cloth is thread. So in the end, a Jnana Yogi would see cloth as an illusion and only the thread as being real. Jnana Yogis do not want to escape life or death because they know that there is no such escape. It seems there is only escape of such ignorance into Knowledge and Light (Sri Chinmoy 383). Before practicing and mastering Jnana Yoga one must be involved in the lessons of other Yogic paths. This is beneficial because the acts of selflessness and strength of body and mind should be achieved before Jnana Yoga can be understood.

One modern Hindu sage, Ramana Maharsi, demonstrates the Jnana Yoga path. He taught a certain form of self-inquiry, of self-pondering inquiry, where one focuses on the I-thought and its source. This technique of inquiry is also known as vicara. This an adamant search in pursuit of the question “Who am I?”

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is simply service in Love and Devotion to God. It is the practice of Karma Yoga that will lead a person directly to Bhakti Yoga. It is known as the Yoga of Love and Devotion because of ones surrender completely to God. The Bhakti worshipper (Bhakta) worships a personal God. There is no concern of the “Absolute” or Brahman as in the other Yogas discussed thus far. Bhakti Yoga is monotheistic in that one believes in one, single, universal, all-encompassing God. Mainly, this has been devoted to the worship of Siva or Visnu (McCartney 150). The Bhagavad Gita was the first Hindu text to depict the Bhakti Yoga path. Depicted in the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna is seen as the object of love and devotion, hence the rise of Bhakti Yoga.

In Bhakti Yoga, one practices meditation by imagining his/her God being right there with them and by sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings one can be brought closer to their God. The Bhakta has a large commitment because through prayer, worship and rituals, one is being surrendered solely to God. This can be seen by an outsider as devotion and love to one’s parent or lover. “Through all his senses he realizes it as if it were a sensuous delight; with his heart and soul he feels it as a spiritual intoxication of joy.” (Feuerstein 1996:22). There are many aspects which illustrate the Yoga of Devotion. The true devotee is passionate, patient, self-controlled, determined and treats friends and foes the same. This is a person who is dear to their God (Radhakrishnan and Moore 144).

Bhakti Yoga can be traced as far back as 300 B.C. and seen as one of the oldest forms of Yoga (McCartney 150). One assumption for its presence can be based on its simplicity and because of this, its attraction from “commoners” who may be untutored (McCartney 149). It is believed that Bhakti Yoga does not require a lot of intellectual skills or great amount of knowledge. All it requires is emotion as a loving state of mind and the urge to worship. Bhakta Yogis believe that meditation is of great importance. It is thought that through meditation one can “graduate” the stages of devotion to God. There are two stages. First, an elementary stage which is the love for and worship of a personal God (such as love existing in a relationship between parent and child). Second, is a pure devoted love that comes to exist. God is now worshipped as the all-knowing Absolute (McCartney 160). As a Bhakta, every act performed everyday is one of devotion, regardless of getting anything in return. This love is believed to be demonstrated in action. One can spend a life time thinking about loving thoughts, but if these thoughts are never expressed, it is thought that one will have never loved at all (Feuerstein 1991:86). Bhakti Yogis believe that love is not a temporary high that comes and goes, but one that needs to be nourished as an ongoing spiritual disposition (Feuerstein 1991:85). Even when one is sad, hurt, angry or bored, love needs to exist. It is in these moments of doubt when love is needed the most.

One well known spiritual teacher, Sri Swami Sivananda, stated that each Yoga is a fulfillment of the preceding one (Sri Swami Sivananda 1). Karma Yoga leads to Bhakti Yoga which brings Jnana Yoga (knowledge). So to understand Jnana Yoga, one must first be experienced with Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga. It is thought that any practice or belief that is sincere will go straight to the Source. If you sincerely believe in something and practice it with good intentions, you will be rewarded.

Yoga is an extremely old and popular spiritual tradition. From a broad perspective, all types of Yoga seem to have the same purpose. This is for one to become less focused on the self and more focused on a “higher” Reality (Feuerstein 1996: 1). It is possible for anyone to practice Yoga regardless of age, sex, race or religious beliefs. Yoga is commonly known as a discipline rather than a therapy. Therapy is for those who are sick and unhealthy, discipline is needed even when one is healthy (Osho 21). Yoga has been said to be helpful in many ways including spiritual, physical and psychological. It is believed that by understanding and having total faith in what you practice be it Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga or Bhakti Yoga, one can be more in tune with oneself and the world around them.


Feuerstein, Georg (1991) Sacred Paths: Essays on Wisdom, Love and Mystical Realization. Burdett, NY: Larson Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1996) The Shambala Guide to Yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (2003) The Deeper Dimension of Yoga. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

McCartney, James (1969) Yoga: The Key to Life. Johannesburg: Rider & Company.

Osho (1976) The Path of Yoga: Commentaries of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. MS, India: Thomson Press.

Radhakrishnan, S., and C.A. Moore (eds.) (1989) A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Singh, Balbir (1981) Karma Yoga: The Discipline of Action. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Sri Chinmoy (2000) The Wisdom of Sri Chinmoy. San Diego: The Blue Dove Foundation.

Sri Swami Sivananda (no date) Science of Yoga (vol.5). Pondicherry, India: Swami Krishnananda.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Hatha Yoga






The Mahabharata



Yoga Sutras

Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga

Bhakti Yoga

Raja Yoga






Ramana Maharsi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by Andrea Werewka (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings on the Bhagavad Gita and its Teachings

The Bhagavad Gita

Bhaktivedanta, A. C., Swami (1968) Bhagavad G?ta: As It Is (Link). New York: Macmillan.

Buitenen, J. A. B. (trans.) (1981) The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chidbhavananda, Swami. (trans.) (1986) The Bhagavad Gita. Tirupparaitturai: Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam.

Edgerton, F. (trans.) (1944) Bhagavadgita. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Easwaran, Eknath (trans.) (1985) The Bhagavad Gita. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.

Minor, R. (1982) Bhagavad-Gita: An Exegetical Commentary. Columbia, Mo.: South Asia Books.

Radhakrishnan, S. (trans.) (1956) Bhagavadgita. London: Allen & Unwin.

Stoller-Miller, B. (trans.) (1986) The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War. New York: Bantam Books.

Werner, Karel (1993) Love Divine: Studies in Bhakti and Devotional Mysticism. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.

Zaehner, R. C. (trans.) (1969) Bhagavadgita. Oxford: Oxford University Press. On-line versions of the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, with translations and commentaries.

On the Bhagavad Gita’s Teachings

Minor, Robert (ed.) (1986) Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavadgita. Albany: State University of New York Press.

De Nicolás, A. T. (1976) Avatara: The Humanization of Philosophy through the Bhagavad Gita. New York: Nicholas Hays.

Sharpe, Eric J. (1985) The Universal G?t?: Western Images of the Bhagavadgita.

La Salle: Open Court, 1985.

Related Readings (Mahabharata)

Buck, William (1973) Mahabharata. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Buitenen, J. A. B. (1973-8)The Mahabharata, 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fitzgerald, James L. (2004) The Mahabharata, Vol 7. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mahabharata, Critical Edition, 22 vols. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1933-1978.

Narayan, R. K. (1978) The Mahabharata. New York: Viking.

Rajagopalachari, C. (trans.) (1958) Mahabharata. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

On the Mahabharata and its Tradition

Bessinger, M., and J. Tylus (eds.) (1999) Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Dumézil, George (1973) The Destiny of a King. Alf Hiltebeitel (trans.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (1999) Rethinking India’s Oral and Classical Epics: Draupadi among Rajputs, Muslims, and Dalits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

_____ (2001) Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma-King. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

_____ (1988) The Cult of Draupadi, Vol. I. Mythologies: From Gingee to Kuruksetra. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

_____ (1991) The Cult of Draupadi, Vol. II. On Hindu Ritual and the Goddess. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

O’Connor, Garry (1990) The Mahabharata: Peter Brook’s Epic in the Making. San Francisco: Mercury House, Inc.

Sullivan, Bruce (1990) Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa and the Mahabharata: A New Interpretation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Sukthankar, V. S. (1957) On the Meaning of the Mahabharata. Bombay: Asiatic Society.

Williams, David (1991) Peter Brook and The Mahabharata. London: Routledge.

Related Readings (The Ramayana)

Buck, William (1976) Ramayana. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Dharma, Krishna (aka Kenneth Anderson) (2000) Ramayana: India’s Immortal Tale of Adventure, Love, and Wisdom. Badger, CA: Torchlight Publishing, Inc.

Goldman, Robert P. (gen. ed) The Ramayana of V?lm?ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Volume I: Balakanda. Robert P. Goldman (ed. and trans.) Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (PUP), 1984; Sheldon Pollock (ed. and trans.) Volume II: Ayodhyanda. PUP, 1986; Sheldon Pollock (ed. and trans.) Volume III: Aranyakanda. PUP, 1991; Rosalind Lefeber (ed. and trans.) Volume IV: Kiskindhakanda. PUP, 1996.

Robert P. Goldman and Sally Sutherland Goldman (ed. and trans.). Volume V: Sundarakanda. PUP, 1996.

Hill. W. D. P. (1952)The Holy Lake of the Acts of Rama: An English translation of Tulsi Das’s Ramacaritmanasa. Calcutta: Oxford University Press.

Menon, Ramesh (2001) The Ramayana. New York: North Point Press.

Narayan, R. K. (1996) The Ramayana. New Delhi, Vision Books Pvt. Ltd.

Prasad, R. C. (ed. and trans.) (1988) Tulasidasa’s Shriramacharitamanasa: The Holy Lake of the Acts of Rama. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Rajagopalachari, C. (1962) Ramayana. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Sundaram, P. S. (2002) Kamba Ramayana. N.S. Jagannatha (ed.). New Delhi: Penguin.

Tapasyananda, Swami (1985) The Adhyatma Ramayana: The Spiritual Version of the Rama Saga. Mylapore, Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math.

V?lm?ki. The Ramayana, abridged. Arshia Sattar (trans.) New Delhi: Penguin, 1996.

Venkatesananada, Swami (1988) The Concise Ramayana of Valmiki. Albany: State University of New York Press.

On the Ramayana and its Tradition

Blank, Jonah (1992) Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God, Retracing the Ramayana Through India. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Dehejia, Vidya, (ed.) (1994) The Legend of Rama – Artistic Visions. Bombay, Marg Publications.

Lutgendorf, Philip (1992) The Life of a Text: Performing the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Richman, Paula, (ed.) (1991) Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley, University of California Press.

_____, (ed.) (2001) Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Vyas, S. N. (1967) Indian in the Ramayana Age. Delhi: Atura Ram & Sons.

Whaling, F. (1980) The Rise of the Religious Significance of Rama. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Book 7: Uttara Kanda (part 2)

Book of the North
Jessica Renney

After Agastya finished the story of Hanuman all the rsis, vanaras, and raksasas left Ayodhya. Subsequently the puspaka vimana presented itself to Rama and vowed its services. Rama dismissed the puspaka vimana and continued towards a private garden where he was greeted by Sita. Together they drank wine, ate food and fruit, and enjoyed dancing and singing as they did most nights. As all of Ayodhya was under control, Rama felt it was time for him and Sita to have a child. While the two were preparing to seek the rsis blessing for their child, Rama joined Bharata and a few bards in the sabha. He wanted to know how his people felt about him; he wanted Bharata to tell him all the things his people said about him, good or bad. Bharata did just that. He told Rama that his people were not convinced Sita was pure and accused her of infidelity. Rama was distraught and began to question his own actions; they had lead to his tarnished reputation. Laksmana tried to convince him otherwise, but Rama ordered him to take Sita to Valmiki’s hermitage in an attempt to gain back some of his honor as a king. Although it was difficult for Laksmana, he followed his brother’s orders. At the northern bank of the Ganga that Laksmana broke down and told Sita the real reason they were engaged in the journey together. Upset and aware of her own purity, Sita accepted Rama’s decision and vowed to continue loving him regardless. Alone and mystified Laksmana began his journey back to Ayodhya questioning his brother Rama’s actions towards Sita, the women he loved. Sumantra explained, “Laksmana, Fate has overruled all emotion today.” Sumantra proceeded to tell the story of Bhrgu who placed a curse on Visnu, who would be reborn as human and experience separation from his wife.

Laksmana returned to find Rama depressed and heart broken. He reminded Rama of his capabilities as a great king and his duty to his people. The two spent the night together as Rama began to tell his brother many stories of power of trusting in Fate to conquer all. Rama began to tell the story of king Naga, who was cursed to be reborn as a lizard and would only attain liberation when Visnu was incarnated as Vasudeva. Rama explained to Laksmana how this was an example of a king who neglected his own dharma, and no king should neglect his people. Rama continued, “King Nimi was cursed him by Vasistha. Nimi lost his body but later returned into the eyes of humans causing us to blink.” Rama asked Laksmana if he wanted to hear another ancient tale. Laksmana agreed eagerly and Rama proceeded to tell the story of Yayati and his two wives Sarmia and Devayani. Yadu, Devayani’s son, placed a curse of immediate old age on his father. Yayati approached both his sons for help, Yadu refused but his brother, Puru Sarmia’s son, agreed to help. In turn, his father rewarded him with kingship. While reminiscing on these stories Rama recognized it was time to stop grieving over Sita and return to his duties as king.

The next morning the two brothers were awoken by Sumatra who had hurried to tell Rama there were munis waiting to see him. The munis entered and explained to Rama how they lived in terror of Lavana, son of Madhu a powerful demon. Rama took the opportunity to send Satrughna to kill Lavana and take rule over the kingdom of Madhu. The summer months approached and Satrughna began his journey to fulfill his brother’s requests. After two days of riding, he spent the night at Valmiki’s asrama. Before he began traveling, the next morning Valmiki shared the story of king Sauasa with Satrughna. This story took place in a neighboring hermitage. And still in another nearby hermitage the very same night, Sita gave birth to Kusa and Lava, Rama’s sons who later grow up in Valmiki’s care. When the right time came and the weather permitted, Satrughna began his journey to the river Yamuna where Chyvana welcomed him and relayed to him the story of Mandhata, who was defeated by Lavana. The next day Satrughna crossed the Yamuna where he defeated Lavana with the arrow of Brahma. The kingdom of Madhu flourished under Satrughna’s rule and his people prospered more than could have been imagined. Nevertheless, twelve years later, king Satrughna longed to return to Ayodhya to see his brother Rama.

On the way back to his home city, Satrughna arrived in Valmiki’s hermitage and heard the story of his brother as composed by the great rsi. Satrughna rode out again the next morning at dawn for Ayodhya, where he begged Rama not to send him back to Madhura. After only seven days, despite his wishes, Satrughna returned to Madhura to be a great ruler and adhered to his dharma and destiny to be a king.

In Ayodhya, no evil disturbed Rama’s people until one day a terribly distraught Brahmin came to his gates. The Brahmin did not believe the kingdom to be perfect and sinless, for his son had died, and it must have been a result of the king’s terrible sins. Rama wondered whether he was to blame. What had he done to deserve this? Narada assured Rama he was not responsible for the boy’s death. A sudra was performing austerities in the kingdom, an immoral practice, which caused the young boy to die. Rama went in search of the sudra and found him beside a grodha tree standing upon his head in intense tapasya. Rama drew his sword and beheaded the sudra, thus acquiring a boon that was used to resuscitate the Brahmin’s son. Rama then continued on to visit Agastya who was completing his tapasya that very day. He asked Rama to stay the night with him, and relayed the story of king Vidharbha who ruled for many years and his son late Sveta. When Sveta passed away, Brahma made him hungry for human flesh because his austerities over the last three thousand years were self-involved rather than performed for others. Yet he was finally released from his curse by Agastya. Vidharbha offered Agastya an ornament, which the rsi now presented to Rama. Rama recalled years ago while in exile hearing about a forest with no birds or beasts and was curious to know if it was the same vana where Agastya was met by king Sveta. Agastya admitted to withholding the entirety of the story and explained how Danda, Iksvaku’s son, was subject to a cursed death and rainfall throughout his kingdom as the consequence for taking advantage of a maiden named Araja. The curse placed on Danda by Araja’s father, Surka, left the Dandaka forest empty and abandoned until Rama’s sacred touch removed the curse. Rama induced purification and the forest was sacred once again.

As the morning sun rose, Rama began his journey back to Ayodhya. Upon his arrival he expressed to both of his brothers Laksmana and of Bharata his intentions to perform the rajasuya rite to purify him from the sin he acquired when he killed the sudra. Bharata deterred Rama from performing the rajasuya while Laksmana suggested the asvamedha sacrifice, reminding Rama how Indra used it to free himself when he slew Vtra. This prompted Rama to tell the tale of Karmada and Ila. While Karmada was hunting in the forest, he interrupted Siva and Parvati making love. By Siva’s power no male creature was to see Uma naked. Therefore, as king Karmada and his soldiers approached the two, they turned into women. King Karmanda was granted a boon and remembered that Uma conferred half of every boon Siva granted. He thus asked for his manhood back. With the ability to grant only half the boon, Uma deemed Karmada to be women for a half of his life and a man for the rest. Ila, who was Karmada as a women, fell in love and married a man named Bhuda in the first month and was once again Karmanda the next. After nine months Budha and Ila and had a child named Pururava. When the young boy was a year old his father called together some of the most powerful rsis and decided to perform and asvamedha yajna to retrieve Kamanda’s manhood. These stories only solidified Rama’s decision to perform an asvamedha yajna, and holy men from all over the world gathered to bless the king.

Valmiki sent Lava and Kusa to Ayodhya where they would sing and perform the ramayana for Rama, their father. After twenty-five days of watching and listening to the ramayana, Rama discovered Sita’s condition and ordered for her return to Ayodhya. She returned to Rama followed by Valmiki who questioned Rama’s reasons for banishing Sita and informed him of existence of his two sons. Sita expressed her love for her only god, king Rama. She then called to be ingested by the earth as she had accomplished all she had come to earth to do. She was swallowed up and returned to her mother Bhumi Devi. Rama was distressed and angry. Valmiki assured him that he would be reunited with Sita in another life, and this comforted him.

Rama completed the asvamedha yajna and performed ten thousand more, one for every year he ruled as king, with the golden image of Sita by his side. With plenty to eat in the villages and no disease, Rama’s kingdom radiated with natural perfection. Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi passed on and joined Dasaratha in heaven. Bharata’s sons Taka and Pukala were granted kingdoms along with Laksmana’s two sons Agada and Candraketu.

Rama ruled for ten thousand years protecting many people from evil, and stood as a perfect example of a life lead by dharma. Yet the day came when Rama’s mission was complete. Relieved, he was ready to return to his divine home.

One day as Yama was engaged in conversation with Rama the rsi Durvasa approached Laksmana. Durvasa demanded to be allowed to speak to Rama immediately and threatened to curse his entire royal lineage. Laksmana entered the chamber interrupting Rama knowing this was punishable by death, and was instantly banished by his brother Rama. This began Laksmana’s journey to heaven. This also marked Rama’s journey to return to the heavenly realm, leaving the world of mortals. Rama crowned Kusa and Lava to rule over their respective division of Ayodhya. Yet the people of his kingdom vowed to follow Rama to the Sarayu River along with Bharata, Satrughna, and Sugriva. Hanuman and Vibhisana remained at Rama’s request, as the world still needed their presence. They obeyed their king and agreed to stay as he asked. Rama entered the water as the river erupted with fire and flames. As Rama dissolved, he became something different, something he had always been. The rest followed. All their bodies dissolved and rose up to the sky as forms of light, following Rama’s lead as they always had. As the last of the bhaktas ascended, Rama climbed out of the world, leaving behind his legacy, which would forever be remembered. Sita awaited his heavenly ascent.

Book 7: Uttara Kanda (part 1)

The Book of the North
Julie Wiseman

When Rama was crowned king, rsis from the four quarters led by Agastya, came to bless him. While conversing in Rama’s ancient court, one of the wise rsis inquired about the triumph at Lanka and stated he was shocked by Laksmana’s ability to slay the supposedly invincible Indrajit. Intrigued by this new information, Rama admitted to his guests, that he knew little about his enemy and perhaps they could enlighten him. To that, Agastya proceeded to tell the tale of Ravana and his ancestors.
Long ago in the krta yuga, Muni Pulastya was born the son of Brahma. Blessed by the gods, he went to an asrama on a mountain that belonged to King Trnabindu. Not wanting to be disrupted, Pulastya set a curse that any women who disturbed him would become pregnant. The king’s daughter did not hear about the curse and encountered the son of Brahma and immediately became pregnant. She gave birth to Visravas, who was exceptionally devoted to the Vedas and lived with Pulastya for many years. Visravas went on to marry Devavarnini and had a son who resembled his father so much that the rsis named him Vaisravana. Visravas’ son went into tapasya for a thousand years, which pleased Brahma so much that he was given a magic vehicle, called puspaka vimana. He lived in a great city on an island called Lanka, for many, many years.

After hearing this, Rama was confused. He was sure that Lanka had always been home to the raksasa race. He asked Agastya how the demons came to claim Lanka as their home. Then Agastya began his tale of the mighty demons, which were created by Prajapati.

Once there were two mighty raksasa brothers called Heti and Praheti. Praheti was a righteous raksasa and chose to spend his time in tapasya, while his brother Heti wanted a wife. Heti married Yama’s sister Bhaya and they had a son named Vidyutkesa. Vidyutkesa married Salakatankata and they were so in love that when Salakatankata gave birth, she abandoned the child so she could return to her husband. The deserted baby boy named Sukesa and was found by Parvati and Siva. They were so touched by the raksasas love for each other, that they blessed the race with immediate birth following conception. Then to Sukesa, they granted immortality, lavish wealth, and a flying city. Sukesa eventually married Devavati and sired three sons, Malyavan, Sumali and Mali. These brothers, arrogant because of their father’s immortality, began a terrifying tapasya and were granted boons to live long and be invincible. They were also given a home on Lanka, where they were free to roam.

They eventually married Narmada’s three daughters and began to conquer and torture all the worlds.

One day Visnu was convinced by the gods to fight these demon brothers in battle with the hope of humbling them. The battle was magnificent and had many casualties on both sides. Finally, Visnu murdered Mali, frightening the demon race so that they fled to the underworld to hide from Visnu.
Eventually Sumali grew tired of living in fear of Visnu. He came up with a plan for his daughter Kaikasi to marry the righteous Visravas. In doing so, she would surely have a righteous child and clear the family name. Therefore, he sent his daughter off to pursue Visravas. Unfortunately, Visravas happened to be in a foul mood when Kaikasi found him and he cursed her with having bad raksasa sons with the exception of the last one who would be noble. Kaikasi gave birth to four children. The first was a ten headed demon child named Dasagriva. The second, Kumbhakarna was the biggest baby ever born. Next, Kaikasi had a daughter named Surpanakha who was atrocious and perfectly evil. Then finally, a child named Vibhisana was born and his mother knew this was the dharmic son she had wished for. The boys grew up in the forest and had various interests. Dasagriva and Kumbhakarna were lustful and searched the earth to satisfy their appetites, while Vibhisana was devoted to the Vedas. They all decided to go into tapasya that would last an entire age. Dasagriva decided to sacrifice one head every thousand years. After the nine thousandth year passed and he was about to offer his tenth head Brahma appeared. Brahma granted Dasagriva a boon of immunity from all beings except humans, restoration of all his nine heads, and the power to assume any form. Vibhisana was granted a truly dharmic life because of his penance. Then Brahma came before Kumbhakarna, who all the worlds feared because of his monstrous size and hefty appetite. To save the earth from this monster, Brahma tricked Kumbhakarna into asking for a boon to make him sleep for thousands of years.

Sumali, delighted for his grandchildren and their boons, no longer lived in fear of Visnu and wanted to return to Lanka. He convinced Dasagriva to take back Lanka from his stepbrother Vaisravana. So Dasagriva sent a message to his stepbrother to give back Lanka to the rightful owners. After Vaisravana consulted his father, he saw no other way to maintain peace and gave Lanka to Dasagriva.

Once Dasagriva was crowned king of the raksasas on Lanka, he felt compelled to marry. First, he gave his sister Surpanakha away to Vidhujjiva who was as hideous a match for his sister. Next, he had his brother Kumbhakarna marry Vajra and Vibhisana, marry Sarma. Then for himself, he chose Mandodari, daughter to asura maya and devi Hema, who was the most beautiful women on earth. In time, Mandodari gave birth to Meghanada and Dasagriva was more than pleased with his son.

After sometime, Kumbhakarna’s boon came into affect and he fell asleep for a thousand years. Dasagriva missed his brother terribly and grew angry with Brahma for the nasty trick. He flew into a state of destruction and decided to take over the three worlds. To avenge his sleeping brother, he started with devaloka and desecrated the land. After hearing that Dasagriva had caused so much destruction, Vaisravana, his stepbrother, sent him a warning. It stated that Dasagriva’s actions were appalling and would surely lead to no good. Taking Vaisravana warning as a threat, Dasagriva challenged his stepbrother to battle. They had a bloody combat, ending with Dasagriva vanquishing Vaisravana and acquiring his renowned puspaka vimana.

Riding home on the puspaka vimana Dasagriva ran into Nandi the mount of Siva, who was guarding the hill while his master indulged with Uma. Dasagriva, high from his victory, attempted to prove just how great he was by uprooting the mountain on which Siva resided. Little did he know, Siva found this amusing and trapped him under the mountain. Humbled by Siva, Dasagriva began to worship him for a thousand years. Pleased by the raksasa’s worship, Siva changed Dasagriva’s name to Ravana, due to his treacherous howl and granted him with the Chandrahasa, a powerful sword.

Ravana continued his reign of terror. He passed a beautiful jungle and caught sight of a stunning women dressed like a hermit. Her name was Vedavati and she worshiped Visnu in hopes of one day marrying him. Ravana had little regard for her dream and forced himself on her. Violated and with her life’s purpose ruined, she entered a funeral pyre and cursed him that she would be reborn again for the purpose of his demise.

Later in Ravana’s reign, he came across Narada Muni, who convinced him that the living world was a waste of time and he should focus on conquering the netherworld. So Ravana flew down to the netherworld and engaged Yama in a deadly battle. Just when Yama was about to kill Ravana with the staff of death, Brahma intervened. He begged Yama not to kill Ravana because this would make Brahma a liar and the three worlds would perish. In seeing that Ravana’s death was not meant to happen then, Yama vanished from the battlefield. Ravana, thinking he was triumphant in vanquishing the master of death, continued on to conquer the rest of the underworld. Once he was confident that the entire underworld bowed to him, he returned to Lanka.

When he reached Lanka he found his sister Surpanakha most distraught, for Ravana in his purging of the underworld had killed her husband in battle. Ravana swore that he didn’t intend to kill her husband and that Vidhujjiva was merely a causality of war. He decided that sending her away to mourn in Dandaka vana wilderness with their cousin Khara would be best. Ravana saw his son Meghanada, who was performing six great yajnas and was acquiring many dark mystical powers. After Ravana blessed his son, Meghanada finished his worship and return to Lanka. The pair was truly a force to be feared.

After a while in Lanka, Ravana decided it was time to return to the devaloka and take on the mighty Indra. While camping on the foot of Indra’s kingdom, he came across Rambha, who was queen of the nymphs of heaven and extraordinarily beautiful. Even though she told Ravana that they were practically kin, he forced himself on her anyway. Rambha, violated and distraught ran to her husband, who cursed Ravana saying, “If you ever force yourself on another woman your ten heads will explode.”

At last, the time came for the battle in devaloka. The battle was very fierce, with many causalities, most notably Sumali Ravana’s grandfather was killed. When it came time for Indra to fight, he proved to be a worthy adversary for Ravana and his son. This didn’t last long, for Meghanada, with his dark powers and maya was obviously supreme. When he saw his father begin to wane on the field, he captured Indra, winning the battle and saving his father’s reputation.

When Brahma heard of Indra’s failure at battle, he went down to Lanka to negotiate the release of the king of devaloka. Brahma changed Meghanada’s name to Indrajit and offered him any boon in exchange for Indra’s release. So, Indrajit released Indra and in turn asked for invincibility to all, after completion of special worship to Agni god of fire.

After Agastya completed of the tale of Ravana and Indrajit, Rama was curious as to why the ksatriya class never bothered to stand up to the mighty raksasas. Agastya explained that this wasn’t exactly the case and proceeded to tell the story of the ksatriya Arjuna. After many years of Ravana’s rule, he learned of the great ksatriya and engaged him in battle. Arjuna proved very quickly to Ravana that he was not like any of the other ksatriyas Ravana had ever fought. He had one thousand arms and could deal deadly blows and deflect Ravana’s attacks continuously. Ultimately, the ksatriya prevailed and captured Ravana, by grasping the raksasa in his arms. Victorious, Arjuna brought Ravana home and held him prisoner in his kingdom. When Ravana’s grandfather Pulastya Muni heard of Ravana’s capture, he came to the mighty ksatriya’s palace. Pulastya proclaimed that Arjuna that there was no equal to him, he asked the mighty ksatriya to set his grandson free. Arjuna gladly released the now humbled Ravana and they swore a friendship. Ravana returned home, once again satisfied that because of his friendship with the mightiest of humans, no one would question his rule of all the three worlds.

When Agastya completed the tale, Rama felt a great sense of pride for his twice born class. Afterwards, Rama asked if Ravana had ever attempted to conquer the vanara species. Agastya smiled at Sugriva and began the story of Ravana versus Sugriva’s powerful brother Vali.

Ravana heard one day of a mighty species of monkey called the vanara, who lived in the jungle and decided to the challenge their king, Vali. He found Vali, in the midst of worship and crept up to him. The vanara sensed Ravana’s presence and was ready and turned to clutch Ravana in his armpit. Vali being the pious monkey he was, completed his entire worship with Ravana held in the crook of his arm. Once he was finished, he released the raksasa king. Ravana was amazed by this great monkey and begged for him to swear a friendship witnessed by Agni. Vali agreed and invited Ravana to live in his kingdom for as long as he liked.

Since they were on the topic of vanaras Rama turned his attention to his dear friend Hanuman. He inquired of Agastya as to why Hanuman seemed so humble and unaware of his remarkable powers. Agastya smiled knowingly and proceeded to tell the story of the great monkey.

Hanuman was born from Anjana and Vayu, and from birth, everyone knew that he was a most notable child. He had the amazing ability to fly like no other and a curiosity to match. He was granted many boons from the gods which included being unaffected by most weapons, great knowledge of the scriptures, inability to drown, no death or illness from Yama, everlasting energy in battle, ability to change form, ability to fly to any part of the world and lastly, this monkey would partake in the demise of Ravana of Lanka. Unfortunately, through time, due to his great boons, Hanuman became arrogant and tormented many of the rsis. The rsis decided to curse Hanuman to forget all his powers. They said he would only remember them again to aid the avatara of Visnu.

Book 6: Yuddha Kanda

War Book
Rejean Jenotte

Upon Hanuman’s return from Lanka, he told Rama all about his adventure; including how he had found Sita and reassured her that indeed Rama and Laksmana were on their way to rescue her. Hanuman’s tale of how he routed Ravana’s city was of special interest to all those present and Rama had Hanuman tell all he could about the city of the raksasas so as to be as prepared as possible for the battle that they all knew was coming.
Shortly after, with the vanaras in high spirits and Rama no longer in despair with the hopes of being able to finally find Sita, they all set out for Mahendra and the sea. It was a glorious day with even the weather seeming to feel that a great time for the universe was approaching. Laksmana sensed such omens and helped in reassuring Rama: “My brother, our time is at hand and our destinies will be fulfilled.” But all that seemed to wane in Rama’s mind as they reached the ocean and the realization of the incredible obstacle that still awaited them struck his mind. Lakshmana did his best to console his brother. Rama attempted to quell the despair in his heart and worshipped the Surya Deva.

As Rama and the vanaras were getting themselves set on the beach, Ravana sat in council with all his ministers. Still enraged that a mere monkey had come into Lanka, ransacked the city and set it ablaze, Ravana questioned his ministers as to how they were going to defend themselves against the army that was surely coming, and the impending war they would have to fight when the vanara force led by Rama arrived. Most of Ravana’s closest advisors simply spouted boastings that Ravana wanted to hear; reiterating that Lanka had the greatest army ever assembled and how could a ragtag group of monkeys led by two puny humans ever hope to defeat the mighty Ravana and his raksasas. After listening for a period of time, Ravana’s brother Vibhisana decided enough was enough and that some sense had to be brought to the council. He advised Ravana that he should give Sita back to Rama and avoid being destroyed at the hands of the vanara army and most undoubtedly by Rama himself. Without a word, Ravana then dismissed the council. The next day, Vibhisana went to visit Rama in his private chambers to attempt to talk some more sense into him. But after more pleading, Ravana snapped and yelled, “I will never give Sita up, she will be my queen and no being in this universe is going to take her from me.” With that, Ravana dismissed his brother with another wave of his hand and began making preparations for his sabha council later that day. When the council was assembled, with all the most respected and truly wise raksasas present Ravana began by telling them all of Sita. It was after his story had been told that Ravana’s enormous brother Kumbhakarna admonished him. “Why didn’t you check with all those closest to you before deciding to carry out such a plan? What you have done my brother, is completely against dharma and I am surprised Rama has not yet destroyed.” Despite his doubts, Kumbhakarna reassured Ravana that he would not abandon him. Again, after most of the raksasas had said their piece to help build up Ravana, Vibhisana let Ravana and the council knows that he felt they should return Sita to Rama. It was the last straw for Ravana, and he banished his brother on the spot, telling him to be thankful he was not to be executed. Vibhisana then spoke of only doing his dharmic duty to his brother. Along with four of his most faithful followers, he took off and flew in the direction of Bharatavarsa, where Rama and the vanaras were camped.

Vibhisana arrived at the vanara camp shortly after. Following an initially tense moment with the monkey troops, he was able to talk with Rama; explaining his position against his brother and his wish to join Rama in the fight against Lanka. Seeing the purity in the raksasa’s heart Rama accepted him with open arms; he was grateful to have such an ally because of the strategic advantages it would bring. Then came the task of finding a way to cross the ocean to Lanka. Rama decided to petition the god of the waves to part the waters and allow the vanara army to pass. But after three full days of prayer and no response, Rama felt more drastic measures needed to be taken. Unleashing a fury on the waves that had not been seen before and that frightened even Laksmana, Rama began to dry up the waters with his bow in an unfathomable display of wrath and anger. Varuna Deva, the lord of the ocean, finally appeared and claimed he would allow the army to cross if Rama rid the world of the Abhiras, a tribe that paid no heed to dharma and put the burden of their sins on Varuna Deva. Rama then capitulated, burning the Abhiras out of existence. Varuna rewarded the army with calm and supportive seas that would hold up any bridge that the vanaras would build in order to make the crossing to Lanka. The vanara named Nala was commissioned to have the bridge built. After the building of the bridge, that Nala had tirelessly accomplished, the army made its way over to Lanka across calm seas and with exuberant feelings in their hearts.

Once on the shores of Lanka, and after a peaceful night on the beach, Rama began making plans for the best deployment of the troops in their invasion of Lanka. As they departed for the city gates, Vibhisana noticed two raksasa spies, Suka and Sarana, disguised and in the midst of the vanara ranks. They were captured and told by Rama himself to go back to Ravana, and tell him all they had seen, and to prepare himself for war.

Ravana felt that he had one final chance to make Sita submit him and force Rama to abandon his mission. Using the magic, or maya, he had a perfect replica of Rama’s head created in order to convince Sita that Rama had been killed and that there was no sense in resisting any longer. Upon being shown the severed head, Sita fell into despair. After triumphantly watching her grieve, Ravana was called away; the vanara army had appeared outside the city gates. Following Ravana’s departure from the asokavana, the head vanished and Sita, not being able to contain her grief, passed out from the shock of it all. It was then that a kindly old rakshasi named Sarama, consoled Sita, informing her that the head she had witnessed was not in fact that of Rama but was conjured out of maya and that Rama was indeed alive. Rejuvenated, Sita began to pray that Rama would be granted complete victory.

The vanara army gathered outside of the gates of Lanka, with information gathered by befriended birds, Rama, Sugriva, Laksmana, and the other vanara chieftains surveyed their risks. With Vibhisana’s counsel, they made their final preparations. However, before the battle could begin, Rama decided that Angada should go to Ravana and negotiate for peace one last time, in accordance with the code of kings and dharma. As ordered, Angada took Rama’s message that all will be forgiven and no harm will come to Lanka if Ravana would return Sita to Rama. Completely enraged that Rama would send such a message and that a lowly monkey would bring such a message, Ravana snarled and ordered that Angada be tortured for being so insolent. With that, Angada roared and flew out of Ravana’s court with the guards still clinging to him. Rama clearly saw Ravana’s intentions with the outcome of Angada’s mission. And with a vision of Sita burning in his mind, he made the motion for the charge. Thus, the classic battle of the ages between good and evil began.

The vanara force seemed to be too much for the raksasas to handle after the initial rush but with Ravana’s sons and closest advisors such as Indrajit, Jambumali, Nikumbha, and Virupaksha leading the defense, the raksasas quickly regained their poise. The battle raged on and the vanaras were making heavy advances when Indrajit brought it all down in one fell swoop. Making himself invisible, he flew into the sky, casting down a nagapasa, a snake coil of darkness, upon Rama and Laksmana who were caught unaware. The two princes were bound and sent into a deep sleep. Thinking the war was already won, Indrajit was borne away to the palace to meet with Ravana; all the while being cheered and praised by the raksasa people. After their initial grief at thinking the princes were dead, the vanaras were reassured by Vibhisana that life still glowed in their bodies. Garuda then flew down to Lanka, immediately the serpent coils were loosed and slithered away to the sea. As quickly as he had arrived, the great eagle made his blessings and then flew out of the world to the jubilant cheers of the vanaras.

With their princes healed, the vanaras had renewed strength and enthusiasm. They attacked more viciously than in their first onslaught. With their relentless assaults, they killed many of Ravana’s best warriors, including Dhrumraksha, Vajradamshtra, Akampana and finally Prahastra, the Senapati of Ravana, whom was thought invincible. Upon learning of his best warrior’s demise, Ravana decided to take the field of battle himself. A ruthless battle ensued, in which many vanaras and raksasas were killed. None of the vanaras, Sugriva, and Hanuman included could withstand Ravana’s fury; even Laksmana was no match for the Demon King. It was then that Rama himself joined the fray. Fighting like an entity of another time and dimension he blasted Ravana’s chariot to pieces, leaving the raksasa lying in a heap. It all could have ended right there but Rama lowered his bow and gave some of the most hurtful words that Ravana could have ever been subject to: “Go back to your palace Ravana; I have no wish to kill a tired and helpless enemy.” That show of mercy was worse than death for Ravana. With his spirit broken, he slithered back to palace to try and salvage his pride.

After suffering the humiliation of having Rama defeat him and then adding insult to injury by allowing him to weakly retreat, Ravana sat in his throne-room wondering how a mere man could have bested him in battle so easily. It was at that point that Ravana made the decision to have his brother Kumbhakarna sent into battle. The enormous demon had recently gone for another of his six month slumbers and rousing him would be no easy task. After a series of increasingly more aggressive attempts to wake Kumbhakarna, they were finally able to awaken him by pulling out a few of his thick nose hairs and blowing conches into his ears. A large feast had been laid out for him in order to satisfy the incredible hunger that always overcame him while he was awake. He then made his way to his brother, who told him everything that had happened to that point. Unmoved by Ravana’s despair, Kumbhakarna admonished his brother, telling him that he had been warned and that even though he would gladly go into battle, Ravana should return Sita to Rama. The demon king knew his sins but it was obvious that he was not going to release Sita. It was now for Kumbhakarna to sway the battle in the raksasa’s favor. Like a monster from the worst possible nightmare, Kumbhakarna came fighting. Killing both vanara and raksasa alike, he gorged himself on the flesh of both to satisfy both his insatiable appetite and his fighting spirit. After impressive duels with Angada, Hanuman and several hundred vanaras, he finally captured the vanara king Sugriva. After a remarkable escape, in which he bit the demon on the nose, Sugriva flew back to Rama and the ranks of his army. Finally, Rama made his attack on the seemingly invincible monster. With the power of the vayavya, Rama was able to severe both the raksasa’s arms clean off and then with an arrow of unimaginable power blasted Kumbhakarna head clean off his shoulders, much to the delight of the observing gods.

In his growing despair, Ravana seemed to know that the war was not going in his favor. His seemingly invincible brother had been killed in battle and the resolve of his troops was waning. Six of his sons decided that they needed to take matters into their own hands. Devantaka, Narantaka, Trisiras, Yuddhomanta, Matha, and Atikaya, all decided to head into the war in an attempt to swing the momentum back to the raksasas and restore their father’s confidence. Alas, the day was not to be theirs as they were all systematically destroyed until Atikaya was consumed to white ashes by a brahmasakti from Laksmana.

All hope for victory now seemed to rest on Ravana’s last remaining son, Indrajit. With unimaginable power, Indrajit was able to strike the entire vanara army down with a brahmastra. They were only saved by Rama and Laksmana, who absorbed most of the weapon’s power onto themselves. Thus, they all were dropped into a deep sleep that could conceivably last for eternity. It was only Vibhisana, Hanuman, and Jambavan who escaped the wrath of the brahmastra. In order for the vanara army to be roused, Hanuman had to fly to Osadhiparvata and bring back the four osadhis. With all his power, he ripped the mountain from its foundation and carried it back to Lanka. As soon as the scents of the osadhis filled the air, the army, along with Rama and Laksmana were awoken with renewed vigor. The advantageous outcome of the osadihis for the vanaras was that all the slain raksasas were not revived, since Ravana had all the dead cleared from the battle field and burned. The remaining raksasas had been celebrating the whole time thinking that the vanara army was defeated, thus they were unprepared when Sugriva sent several of his finest warriors to the city, where they set fire to many of the buildings.

In an absolutely livid state at being caught unprepared again, Ravana sent his two nephews, the sons of Kumbhakarna, out to face the vanaras with their legions. These particular skirmishes proved to be ill-fated for the raksasas as well, as both princes of the demon city were killed by Sugriva and Hanuman. Again, it all seemed up to Indrajit, who had a vile plan in store for Rama and his allies. With the power of maya, Indrajit was able to invoke an illusory Sita, which he took to the battlefield and proudly displayed to his enemies. Once he was sure that they knew it was Rama’s wife, he thrust his sword into her chest, killing her. When Rama was informed that as far as anyone could tell, his wife had been murdered he simply fainted from the shock and grief. But Vibhisana knew better. Knowing the dark sorcery, he took a force, including Laksmana, to Nikumbhila to stop Indrajit from completing the yajna, which would make him invincible and doom Rama’s cause.

It was at Nikumbila that one of the epic duels of all time occurred. Once the vanaras arrived, and subdued Indrajit’s force, Laksmana and the raksasa prince squared off against one another. It was Vibhisana who first scorned his nephew for allowing himself to follow in the footsteps of the absolute evil. Rama was on the flip side, the absolute in valor, truth, compassion, and dharma. Indrajit, overcome by fear and rage, attacked with a force most warriors couldn’t even imagine. But Laksmana was completely up to the challenge. Using his chariot, Indrajit was able to take the battle to the air, and Laksmana had the aid of Hanuman, on whose shoulders he stood. With extraordinary skill, the two warriors engulfed one another. The battle turned when Indrajit’s chariot was brought down by a group of vanaras. Once on the ground, Laksmana invoked the aindrastra, relucent ayudha and with a prayer for his brother Rama, severed Indrajit’s head from his body. Laksmana was brought back to Rama as a hero, the battle was described to his brother in complete detail and Indrajit was even praised for his prowess and skill.

Ravana was heartbroken and enraged by the death of favorite son. He was then informed by his last trusted minister, Suparsva that the next day would be amavasya and his power would be at its peak. Hope once again flashed in his eyes. With his chariot prepared and his Mulabala legions behind him, Ravana made his way to the battlefield. The procession to see him off was truly worthy of such a warrior. With his confidence restored and the rage in his heart that was overcoming him, Ravana confronted Rama and the vanara army. When the duel began all that saw were instantly awestruck and rendered motionless. Every vanara and raksasa on the battlefield immediately stopped engaging one another to gaze at the epic confrontation. Using every mantra and astra imaginable, the battle raged, each warrior proving to be up to the challenge of the other. They countered each other’s magic and arrows with ease until finally all the other warriors once again advanced to try to tip the balance of the battle. Laksmana was struck a huge blow when he cut down Ravana’s chariot with the help of Vibhisana. The effect was not as it seemed however. Ravana cast a sakti at his brother and with no regard for himself, Laksmana leaped in the weapon’s path. It struck him down like a thunderbolt. The battle disengaged as Ravana fled from Rama who became almost demonic with rage himself. The task was now to somehow revive Laksmana. Hanuman once again made a flight of salvation. This time he brought the mountain of Sanjivini. With the visalyakarani herb, Laksmana was revived and just in time, for Ravana had returned from the palace to continue the war. This was it. Rama knew that now was the time for complete victory. Rama was given the use of Indra’s own chariot, and he took to the air to vanquish the demon king once and for all. The epic duel continued as none could have reckoned. But the longer it went on, it was clear Rama had the upper hand, as his speed and his youth began to overwhelm Ravana. The human prince finally struck what seemed to be the death blow as he blasted Ravana’s central head from its neck. But another more frightening head emerged from the neck, and the raksasa fought on with renewed strength. Rama, realizing that beheading would not defeat his adversary, invoked the ultimate in all weapons, the brahmastra. With a prayer and all his might, he let loose the astra. It flashed across the sky brilliantly until it smashed into Ravana’s chest, destroying his heart. Rama had triumphed. Ravana was still brilliant, even in death. With respect for his foe, Rama had the raksasa offered tarpana for his death.

Shortly after the war had ended, Hanuman was to return Sita to Rama. He had her cleaned up and brought before her husband. She cried out in joy when she was presented before Rama, but Rama was not receptive. Shockingly, he coldly informed Sita had he merely fought this war for the sake of dharma, and not for her. Then, he even had the audacity to question her chastity and faithfulness to him. Unable to cope with Rama’s words, Sita was overcome by grief. Not wanting to live after her honor had been destroyed by the very man who was supposed to support and trust her, she had Laksmana build a pyre so she could end her life by fire. She stepped into the fire as all those around screamed for her to saved. But no one was prepared for what happened next. Brahma himself appeared before the host that was gathered and in a voice that only the creator can utter, told Rama that he was in fact the avatara of Visnu. Agni, the god of fire, then stepped out of the flames with Sita in his arms, completely unharmed. With her chastity confirmed by the most extreme of tests, Rama burst into tears and embraced his wife. The miracles continued as Dasaratha himself appeared to congratulate his sons and give them his final emotion filled blessing. Everyone rejoiced, victory had come the long journey home could now begin.

Everyone made the journey back to Ayodhya with the ksatriyas. The people of Ayodhya greeted Rama like the magnificent king he soon to become. Happiest of all was Bharata, who had lived like a hermit since Rama’s departure fourteen years earlier. All was forgiven to Kaikeyi, as Rama explained that all people are instruments of fate’s design, and she was simply playing the tune that she was assigned. Rama’s coronation as king followed in a glorious ceremony of that made the heavens envious. It was at that point that the month long celebrations began. After the most perfect month in memory, the homesick guests made their departure, and Rama crowned Bharata his yuvaraja. Thus, Rama’s quest was complete and his glorious reign began, where he ruled for ten thousand years.