Category Archives: a. The Ramayana


The origin of Rangoli dates back to many centuries ago and is an important part of Indian festivals. Rangoli is a design that is drawn on the ground with colored powder sometimes even with colored rice. Since Rangoli is mentioned in the Epics, it probably originated from before they were composed. The tradition is said to have come from the story of Chitralakshana. [The son of the highest priestly son dies and is said to be drawn and as the painting is completed the priestly son comes to life] (Dhawan 1). During the beginning of this tradition, it is said in the epic Ramayana after the return of Lord Rama from his exile he was showered with love by the art of Rangoli (Rao 1)

In Hinduism anything that has a deep meaning to it, is taken very seriously among the older generations, such as art of Rangoli. It is not only just used for making the courtyard look pretty but also to avoid the evil spirits from entering the house. This is the reason why most Rangoli designs are made very intricate and detailed. Spirits and negative vibes that are surrounding the house to get intertwined in the intricacy of the design (Ashu 1). The designs are the first thing people see when they enter the house. It allows them to bring more positivity into the house after seeing the Rangoli. The traditional Rangoli were more symmetrical because it was pleasing to look at. Different types of shapes are included when making Rangoli, such as certain religious flowers, drawings of gods, and many other things that have some sort of significance. Mostly white was used in the traditional Rangoli as it was a sense of peacefulness and calmness. Rangoli is made during Diwali (festival of lights) to welcome the Goddess Laksmi (Goddess of wealth). During every festival or any special occasion, the women of the house make the Rangoli. They wake up early as it takes hours for them to complete. The designs are only made once the front yard is fully cleaned with water, as it is a way for the women to cleanse their mind and have a sense of calmness.

In traditional Rangoli making powdered color was not used but colors that were available naturally were used such as haldi, vermillion, and rice flour. Natural powders were used so that birds and other insects would have food. The principle of ‘Vasudaiva kutumbaka’ in Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) meaning ‘the whole world is one big family’ (Sankar 1) is a reason why rice flower and such natural powders were used, so that the insects could feed off of them. Each color has a significant meaning behind it and is different in different parts in India. Now color that has dye in it is mainly used to attract more people and make it look more vibrant and realistic. Modern Rangoli is more focused towards the creativity of it rather then the spiritual aspect of it.

In southern India, there is myth about Lord Thirumal getting married in the Margazhi month, a time of the month that is said to be very auspicious. During this month, the girls get up before sunrise to start drawing Kolams [Rangoli is called kolam in southern India] to welcome the God of Thirumal (Dhawan 1). Going around a dot pattern makes Kolams.

During the month of January the Pongal kolam is made, in which the drawing is left undone until the next day so that they can join them with the neighboring houses.

More then just a design, Kolams is also used for mathematical ideas. They are very particular in using symmetry while making the designs and some even have a pattern that repeats several times. Some kolam are drawn using repetition of patterns in various angles Ascher (57-63). Symbols such as letters or numbers are used to explain the step-by-step way they are made.

Where Kolams are made up of more lines and have a geometrical pattern to them, Rangoli is made with vibrant colors and have many different designs. Each have there own significance and are used in different parts of India. Rangoli requires more intricate work than Kolams. Kolam is used more so in the southern part of India and Rangoli in northern part.

There are many different types of kolam designs; the most popular ones are the line and pulli Kolams. Line Kolams are free handed and are just geometrical lines. Pulli Kolams are designs where the dots are made in a certain sequence and lines are drawn to connect the dots. The pulli kolam has two different ways of making the design, one of which is connecting the dots and the other are twisted chains that are made around the dots Ascher (57-63). One other kind of kolam, called the snake kolam, different from any other Kolam, since it is drawn continuously and ends off where it began.

Rangoli is used in all of India whether it is for making drawing or used for special occasions. It has been passed down from centuries ago and is now being used in different ways and has even moved its way to a different side of it, the mathematical aspect. In the most recent years is when computer scientists have seen the usage of mathematical concepts being incorporated into the designs. As this tradition is passed down to future generations, the meaning and importance will slowly change as well. Slowly the designs will be improved by adding innovative aspects which differ from the past generations.. Rangoli’s is used upon arrivals of guests, family gatherings, and even when there are no special occasions. This allows women to get together and calm their minds down from the household work and provide them with a sense of relaxation from the tedious lifestyle. It is a way to express your happiness and allow others to enjoy the beautiful colors and designs made.


Sankar, Gayatri (2011) “Significance of Rangoli.”

Dhawan, Ashu (2015) “Why do we draw Rangoli? Significance & Importance!” Retrieved from

Subramanian, Ram (2014) “Kolam: A Tradition Combining Art and Geometry to Form Colorful Patterns.” Retrieved from

Ascher, Marcia (2002) “The Kolam Tradition: A Tradition of Figure-drawing in Southern India Expresses Mathematical Ideas and Has Attracted the Attention of Computer Science.” American Scientist 90, no.1: 56-63.

Rao, Venkata V (2006) “What is the origin of Rangoli?” Retrieved from

Hopkins, Dwight N (2001) Religions/Globalizations: Theories and Cases. Durham and London Duke University Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Pulli kolam

Line kolam



Lord Thirumal

Pongal kolam


Snake kolam



Goddess Lakshmi


This article was written by: Preet Parmar (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content. ab

King Dasaratha

King Dasaratha is an important figure in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Dasaratha’s parents, Aja and Indumati have an unusual story; Indumati was a reborn apsara. Apsaras are beautiful nymphs produced during the creation of the Milky Ocean. They are unable to marry gods or demons, so they often visit Earth. Indumati faces rebirth due to a curse placed upon her by the sage, Trnabindu, however, he takes pity upon her and allows her to be born as the princess of Bhoja country. Trnabindu chose Aja to be Indumati’s husband as Aja was pronounced to be a man of the appropriate stature and wealth. Soon after Dasaratha’s birth, Indumati passes away and leaves Aja a widower (Devaky 141-143). Aja’s character is displayed in the manner in which he treats Indumati; he treats her with respect by acknowledging her mind as well as her beauty. Once Dasaratha matures and is able to act as king, Aja abandons an extravagant life and eventually passes away from a disease (Devaky 143). Some individuals say Aja was unable to perform his royal duties due to the sorrow he faced after Indumati’s death, and that he voluntarily starved himself in order to join her (Madan 190).

King Dasaratha of Kosala has three wives, all of whom are unable to conceive (Sivaraman 107). His first and oldest wife, Kausalya, has rights to the throne for her son unlike his second and third wives, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. The love King Dasaratha has for Kaikeyi is comparable to the love his father, Aja had for his mother, Indumati (Madan 191). King Dasaratha’s first two wives are unable to have children, so they are unable to provide a successor to the throne. King Dasaratha believes Kaikeyi is able to conceive and thus promises her father, Aswapati, that her son would be the kingdom’s next king. However, eventually all of King Dasaratha’s wives have sons and due to the seniority of Kausalya as first wife, her son is announced as King Dasaratha’s successor. When Kaikeyi learnt of King Dasaratha’s promise to her father, she asked King Dasaratha to grant her two boons (promises) she had earned when she saved his life.

King Dasaratha had been accompanied by Kaikeyi into battle in the Dandaka forest against Shumbar, the king of Vijayanta and the brother-in-law of a demon, Ravana. When Shumbar killed the chariot driver and broke a chariot wheel, Kaikeyi was forced to drive the chariot in order to save King Dasaratha’s life. When King Dasaratha granted Kaikeyi two boons in reward, she initially refused them until, at his persistence, she asked to save them for later (Mittal: 206-207).

As King Dasaratha was originally unable to have children, he reached out to the gods by performing an Asvamedha, the horse sacrifice, asking them to bestow a child upon him. Collectively, many gods pressured Lord Visnu into manifesting himself into the sons of King Dasaratha in order to defeat the demon, Ravana. However, there is a disagreement over how King Dasaratha received the potion that would ultimately lead to the birth of his sons. Some say Visnu himself presented the potion to King Dasaratha during the sacrifice (Sivaraman 107), while others argue that Agni, the god of fire, presented King Dasaratha with Caru, a sacrificial food (Madan 191). Despite the disagreement on how King Dasaratha gained this magical substance, all three of his wives received portions of it. Instructed to divide the potion between his wives; King Dasaratha gave half to Kausalya due to her seniority and the other half to Kaikeyi due to his fondness for her. Unfortunately, this did not leave any for Sumitra which caused Kausalya and Kaikeyi to each give her half of their portions. Since Sumitra technically received two servings, she bore two sons (Madan 191). Kausalya bore Rama, Sumitra bore twins, Laksmana, and Satrughna, and Kaikeyi bore Bharata.

The story of the Ramayana is heavily influenced by King Dasaratha and his relationships with Kaikeyi, Aswapati, and Rama. When Dasaratha must choose a successor, he chooses Rama but, Kaikeyi soon intervenes. She learns of Rama’s appointment through her maid who convinces her that Bharata should be heir to the throne. Rama happens to be Dasaratha’s favorite son, so it is difficult for her to convince him to change his decision. Kaikeyi is only able to secure Bharata’s position on the throne by reminding King Dasaratha of the two boons promised to her. Kaikeyi uses these boons to remove Rama from the kingdom by banishing him to exile for fourteen years, placing Bharata as successor to the kingdom. Upon hearing this request, Dasaratha becomes highly distraught, yet is unable to break his promise to Kaikeyi. When Rama learns about the exile, he goes to King Dasaratha and agrees to leave the kingdom in order to minimize the guilt his father feels. Despite Rama’s brother, Laksmana’s, and Kausalya’s pleas for him to stay in the kingdom, Rama declares that his dharma or highest duty, is to help his father. Rama informs his wife, Sita, of his departure and asks her to cooperate with Bharata and the rest of his family. Sita, however, believes that her duty as a pati-vrata, (devoted wife), is to follow Rama into the woods for the duration of his exile. Although Rama informs Sita of any and all possible dangers, she is persistent on accompanying him (Winternitz 3). Although Sita’s father, King Janaka of Videha, insisted that Rama compete for her hand in marriage, they were destined to be together. This is shown by Sita’s devotion to Rama despite the fact that they did not know each other before marriage.

Sita did not have a normal birth, as King Janaka had discovered her arising from the Earth while he plowed a field which led him to name her “Sita” which means “furrow”. In order to choose Sita’s husband, King Janaka held a contest containing one task, drawing a special bow designed for the gods. Although many men attempt to draw the bow, they all failed and Rama became the first man able to affect the bow’s structure, he broke it in half. This action made Rama worthy of Sita and led to a happy marriage between them until they both were obliged to leave the kingdom (Winternitz 2).

When Rama and Sita prepare for exile, Laksmana decides to join them and does not sway from this decision, despite his family pleading him to stay. A few nights after their departure, King Dasaratha is unable to sleep and recounts a curse placed upon him in his youth. This curse was placed by the father of a blind child who was mistakenly killed by Dasaratha during a hunting trip. It indicated the manner in which Dasaratha would die, namely, due to the grief of a lost son. A few days after Rama’s departure, this prophecy comes true and Dasaratha passes away. After his death, Bharata is offered the throne but he declines due to the value he places on tradition; Bharata believes Rama should be the next king as he was originally appointed by Dasaratha. Although Rama mourns his father’s death and performs a funeral for him, he refuses to return to the kingdom until he has completed the terms of his exile (Winternitz 4), eventually returning and becoming king (Winternitz 10).

King Dasaratha’s devotion to Kaikeyi ultimately leads to his own demise as well as many of the events in the Ramayana epic. Many scholars believe that Dasaratha’s love for Kaikeyi is relatable to Aja’s love for Indumati. Some refer to Kaikeyi as Dasaratha’s kama (sensory pleasure) (Madan 192). King Dasaratha was easily able to overlook any of Kaikeyi’s flaws and assumes that Kaikeyi’s anger is justified either by being provoked by someone or as a rouse in order to excite him. This love for Kaikeyi had the power to change the fate of the kingdom drastically, however, Bharata and Rama are able to prevent this from occurring. When Kaikeyi asks for her two boons, Dasaratha must grant them in accordance to the promise he made, as well as his love for her. Although Rama decides to leave the kingdom for his exile, Bharata defies his mother and willingly gives up the throne, recognizing that Rama’s seniority as well as superiority makes him a better choice for king (Madan 193-194). Dasaratha’s relationship with Aswapati plays a crucial role in Rama’s exile, because Dasaratha is unable to break his previous promise to Aswapati. If Dasaratha had been able to break this promise, Rama would not have left the kingdom, and a father would not have been separated from his son. This exile ends the close relationship between father and son, resulting in a copious amount of guilt for Dasaratha which coupled with his sorrow, eventually led to his death.

King Dasaratha’s respect for the actions of others, such as the bravery of Kaikeyi in the battle in the Dandaka forest, results in him having a verbal commitment to fulfill any request placed upon him. Those requests coupled with the admiration and love King Dasaratha has for both his wife, Kaikeyi, and his son, Rama, leads to the events in the Ramayana epic as well as his death.



Devaky, E.S. (2006) “Major Female Characters of Kalidasa.” Feminist Readings in Kalidasa’s works. India: University of Calicut.

Madan, T. N. (1988) Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in Honor of Louis Dumont. India: Motilal Banarsidass.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Mittal, J.P (2006) History of Ancient India (a New Version): From 7300 Bb to 4250 Bc. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Raman, V. Varadaraja (1998) Balakanda: Ramayana as Literature and Cultural History. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan.

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. United States of America: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Sankalia, Hasmukhlal Dhirajlal (1982) The Ramayana in the Historical Perspective. Delhi: Macmillan.

Sivarama Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New Delhi: Motilal Banasidass.

Winternitz, Maurice (1927) A History of Indian Literature. New York: Russell & Russell.


Related Topics for Further Research:







Lord Visnu








King Janaka




Noteworthy Websites for Further Research:


Article written by: Crystal Mulik (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kubera: God of Wealth

Kubera holds a variety of titles within Hinduism, most notably being the god of wealth and riches. He is also regarded as the god of fertility, a tutelary household spirit, the protector of sailors and god of the dead (Coulter and Turner 283). In the Satapatha Brahmana, he is the lord of thieves and criminals (Sutherland 63), and these are but a few different titles he possesses. Despite having various titles and responsibilities, he is often associated with having a lesser role in Hindu mythology in relation to other deities (Wilkins 388). However, this does not mean that Kubera does not have a rich history and importance within the mythological realm of the Hindu tradition. One of the main reasons that Kubera is not regarded as being a prominent deity is due, in part, to the lack of images and monuments dedicated to him. When he is depicted in images, which mostly come from the Himalayan regions, Kubera has a large potbelly and he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels when he squeezes it (Buswell). Another way he is depicted is as the guardian of the north and is portrayed as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch, holding a money bag or a pomegranate. He is also sometimes depicted riding on a man (Britannica), which makes him unique in relation to other gods, who usually are mounted on animals. Kubera is a lokapala or “world guardian” (Sutherland 65), deities who are usually illustrated as being mounted on animals such as elephants, whereas Kubera is described as being a naravahana or “one whose mount is a man”(Sutherland 67). Although Kubera is regarded as a god in Hindu mythology, he is also often depicted as a demon. The classification of Kubera being a demon, therefore, cause some discrepancies in his physical appearance, with some illustrations of him depicting a more hideous, monster-type of figure. In these portrayals, Kubera is described as being a pot-bellied, three-legged, one-eyed dwarf with eight snaggle-teeth (McLeish). He is also often illustrated as having ugly, black skin, again with a potbelly and is heavily jeweled, sits cross-legged and holds a purse (Coulter and Turner 283). Despite these more unsightly physical attributes associated with the demonic side of Kubera, many depictions of him offer a gentler, appealing visual of the god, illustrating him with gold coloured skin and studded with gems (McLeish), a visual representation of his role as the lord of wealth and prosperity.

Kubera’s lineage can be a bit confusing, as different sources and literature state different familial lines. In the Artharvaveda, Kubera is said to be the son of Vaisravana. In the Mahabharata, he is son of Vaisravana and Idavida, and brother of Visravas; this is further complicated by the Puranas, which states that Kubera was born to Visravas and Ilibila (Williams 190). He also has a half brother named Ravana, who is the notable demon in the Ramayana (Williams 190). Kubera also has a wife, named Hariti (Werner 51) and a daughter named Minaksi, who becomes one of Siva’s wives (Werner 73). He also had a son, named Nalakubera (Williams 219). In addition to his family, Kubera had a few close companions. Kubera is usually accompanied by two friends named Yaksa and Yaksi (Coulter and Turner 283). He is also associated socially with Charvi, Danava and Rambha (Coulter and Turner 282). According to most accounts, Kubera is said to reside in a palace in the country of Sri Lanka. However, Kubera does not live there permanently, as he is driven out of his palace and the country by his power hungry half-brother Ravana (Britannica). The relationship that Kubera and Ravana have with one another does not prove to be very hospitable and cooperative, as they are often depicted in feuds with each other. This hostile relationship ultimately causes Kubera to relocate to a residence on Mount Kailasa, which is also home to other deities, such as Siva (Britannica).

Kubera is most notably known as being the lord of riches and wealth, which includes the resources and elements that are contained within the earth (Williams 190-191). As the ruling god of wealth and riches, Kubera is responsible for possessing and distributing the wealth, as well as guarding the earth’s treasures (Kinsley 226). He is granted the power to move the earth’s riches from one place to another, and he often brought gems and precious metals near the surface during the rule of righteous kings and hid them during times of wickedness (Williams 190-191).  Kubera exercises this power over the elements when he sides with Rama in the war between Rama and Ravana, Kubera’s half-brother. Kubera decides to align himself with Rama, rather than be loyal to his brother, because Ravana dethrones and exiles Kubera from his palace in Sri Lanka (McLeish). Ravana does this in order to try and win himself a queen and kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, causing there to be a war between the two men (McLeish). Rama wages war on Ravana for the actions taken against Sita, and by the end of the feud, Rama is victorious (McLeish). Kubera, who remained loyal to Rama throughout the feud, is granted the responsibility of being the shepherd of all the precious stones in the world, as a reward for his assistance in the war against Ravana (McLeish). Kubera was, therefore, allowed to dictate over these stones and control their movements (McLeish), which meant he could determine who had access to them.

Among other roles and responsibilities that Kubera was attributed to was being the leader of the yaksas, creatures who dwell in the woods and forests and promote the growth of plants (Kinsley 226). It is understandable that Kubera would be well acquainted with the yaksas as they both have roles associated with prosperity, with the yaksas encouraging the growth of plans and Kubera being a symbol of richness. The yaksas are depicted as being sharp and cunning, with a benevolent earthly temperament, which Kubera is depicted as embodying (Sutherland 64). Kubera exudes this temperament most notably through his physical appearance, which includes a potbelly, a common Asian motif for good luck and more importantly, abundance (Sutherland 64). However, the yaksas also articulate a notion of ethical ambivalence, suggesting that they also possess a more corrupt, evil side (Sutherland 63). This can be associated with Kubera’s more unethical approaches that cause him to not only be classified as a god, but as a demon as well.

Within Hindu mythology, Kubera is depicted as being a rather unforgiving god. In one particular myth in the Padma Purana, Kubera is portrayed as being a devotionalist, who had an abundantly beautiful garden that contained flowers that are utilized in daily temple worship (Williams 153). Kubera had a hired gardener named Hemamali, who tended to the flowers everyday. One day, Hemamali took a trip to Manasasaras, the lake of the gods, and forgot that it was his duty to get the flowers to Kubera for worship. Kubera waited all day at the temple for Hemamali, but he did not show up, which caused Kubera to become very angry. Hemamali was summoned to Kubera’s palace, where he was punished for his absence by being cursed as a leper. To make things even worse, Hemamali was expelled from Kubera’s heaven, Alakapuri (Williams 153). This story illustrates some of Kubera’s less desirable personality traits, as he can be viewed as being an unforgiving and strict ruler. This can further demonstrate how he was often categorized as being a demon throughout different stories in Hindu mythology, as he could be a menacing and merciless god. However, Kubera has a benevolent and softer side to him as well that is revealed through his more noble actions. Through his protective guardianship and distribution of the earth’s secret resources, he is seen as a paternal, manipulatable figure (Sutherland 65). He is also regarded with holding the title of lokapalas, meaning he is a world guardian, as well as being a dikpalas, a guardian of the directions (Sutherland 65).

It is quite apparent that the Hindu god of wealth possesses many different traits and abilities. Kubera can be described as being a noble god, who possesses and distributes wealth and riches, protecting it from the less desirable, corrupt peoples of the world. However, he is regarded as having a more temperamental side showcasing a strict and menacing personality, which sometimes causes him to be depicted as a demon. Because of these dichotomies, it is difficult to fully comprehend what Kubera looked like physically, as he is depicted in many different forms. It is also unclear as to what his familial lineage looks like completely. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that Kubera was an important god in Hindu mythology.



Buswell, Robert E. Jr., and Donald S. Jr. Lopez (eds.) (2013) “Kubera”. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner (2000) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Kubera”. In Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

____(2016) “Kubera”. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Britannica Academic. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Werner, Karel (2005) Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Taylor and Francis E-Library.


Related Topics for Further Investigation





Padma Purana

Mount Kailasa

Satapatha Brahmana






Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic -of-Riches.htm


Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content



Dichotomous legends surround the historical existence of the first poet (adikavi) Valmiki, the believed composer of the Hindu epic Ramayana, or first poem (adikavya) (Eliade 184).  On one hand, folk legend reports that “the sage was born […] of a high- caste brahmin family”, while on the other hand he is surmised to have been a “sinner transformed into a saint” (Eliade 184).  Valmiki’s biography has varying versions, and scholars speculate on which account may indeed be the real one (or perhaps a combination of both).  However, the poetic form, sloka, which is accredited to him, has since been found throughout Hindu and Buddhist liturgy and remains an existent and tangible piece of evidence left by whoever the “legendary sage” truly was (Eliade 184, “Valmiki” n.d.).

The earliest documented mention of the name ‘Valmiki’ is in the Taittiriya Pratisakhya of the Black Yajur Veda school (Leslie 80).  While the exact date of this manual is impossible to determine, as is much early Sanskrit liturgy, it is postulated to have been composed sometime after Panini, but before Patanjali, in the period between c. 350 and c. 150 BCE (Leslie 80-81).  That being said, the name “Valmiki” has not always been connected unequivocally to the poet-saint of the Ramayana (Leslie 80).  However, for purposes here, the focus of the remainder of this article will be centered on the sage-author and sage-character of the epic.

The obstacle for historians is not that of supporting Valmiki’s title of adikavi, but, that of discovering who he actually was amongst the surfeit of lore and myth surrounding the historical grammarian (Leslie 79).  “The historicity of Valmiki is somewhat uncertain because the traditions referring to him are late and unsupported by anything other than still later texts repeating, modifying, or elaborating on the stories” (Sil).  “According to a legend, Valmiki was a robber who one day met a hermit who transformed him to a virtuous being” (Das).  This alludes to the poet-saint figure’s narrative which begins with his escaping from a termite mound to which he is bound and found reciting Rama’s name.  Rsis refer to the metaphorically reborn pupil as Valmiki, whom the god Visnu decrees to be the author of the Ramayana (Leslie 152).  This account of Valmiki seems to concern the earlier portion of his life.  In the first book of the Ramayana, the character Valmiki is presented as a “gifted saint […] from a hermitage in the valley of the river Tamsa”, situated in the northern region of India in the Kaimur Range in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh respectively, several miles south of Ayodhyā in north central India (Sil, “Tamsa River” n.d.).  Within book one, the initial four chapters provide a description of Valmiki in some detail, and begin with presenting him as an ascetic and notably “…the most potent of munis or munipumgava” (Leslie 97).  The Sanskrit translation which is most often applied to Valmiki, varies and can mean “saint, sage, seer, ascetic, monk, devotee, hermit, and so on”. Munis often undertake a vow of silence (maunavrata), therefore rendering a perfect English equivalent nearly impossible (Leslie 80).  That Valmiki is earnestly betrothed to the practice of asceticism is an important and continuous motif in the character and persona of this figure in the Ramayana (Leslie 97).

The second chapter of the epic reveals that Valmiki is an articulate and persuasive speaker as well as a virtuous man who is intelligent and has attracted his own following of devoted men (Leslie 97).  He is described as a “great souled…dvija” or “twice-born rsi” which usually indicated someone of Brahmin status in the epics (Leslie 97).  The third and fourth chapters of the Ramayana follow suit describing Valmiki as “saintly” and “holy”, giving an overall persona of an extraordinary individual – “…muni, rsi, ascetic; high-minded, innately wise, trained in religious ritual, and learned in matters of dharma…worthy of the company of the Gods” (Leslie 99).  It is at this point in the Ramayana that this great and holy man is bestowed with the spiritual vision, attained through meditation and not recitation, of the poetic story of Prince Rama, told eloquently in the epic through some twenty-four thousand sloka verses (Leslie 99, “Ramayana” 2016).  The problem with these rich descriptions is of course the lack of information regarding Valmiki’s early life.

In contrast to the latter descriptions of Valmiki, the Adhyatma Ramayaṇa  (esoteric Ramayaṇa), an anonymous work in Sanskrit, probably written in the fifteenth century, describes a very different person in historical question, and perhaps provides us with a window into the earlier, lesser-known life of this figure (Sil).  This version finds a younger Valmiki who, although Brahmin in status, is a questionable character.  He associates with other dubious characters, and takes to a life of burglary and corruption, even amidst married and parental life (Sil).  This account seems to concern his early life.  Legend describes a young man by the name of Ratnakara, who after a life of corruption, realizes that his family will not be a part of his sins, and thereafter leaves to live as a hermit among hermits, learning the Vedas for redemption (Sil).  “Thereupon the penitent reprobate began chanting Rāma’s name oblivious of time; gradually his body was covered under an anthill (valmika)” (Sil).  Questions have been raised by scholars regarding the class of Valmiki, since his early life does not denote that of a typical Brahmin.  Julia Leslie examines the possibility that he may have been of the Sudra class, or even lower as a dalit, or untouchable, in her in depth analysis of Valmiki (25-35).  Since there is no definitive documentation about this, it is open to interpretation (Leslie 25-35).

Worth mentioning with regard to a proper biography of the great poet Valmiki, is his legacy, the poetic form sloka (Leslie 97-98, “Valmiki” n.d.).  The story from the Ramayana describes perfectly how this form came to be (Leslie 97-98).  Valmiki, so stirred with compassion at the death of an Indian Sarus crane by the hands of a tribal hunter (nisada) bluntly utters a curse (or lament) in the sloka form:

‘May you find no peace, Nisada, for all eternity – because you killed the male of this loving kraunca pair when he was intoxicated by desire!’ (Ram, 1.2.14)

So inspiring is that moment of poetic creation that Valmiki’s delighted disciple promptly commits the verse to memory (v. 18) (Leslie 97-98).  The god Brahma then comes to speak with this man who ‘knows what is right’, addressing Valmiki as “brahmin” and “best of rsis” (Leslie 97-98).  “Brahma is impressed by Valmiki’s eloquence […] and asks him to compose the story of Rama in the form of slokas” (Leslie 97-98).  Thus, the epic the Ramayana was composed (Leslie 97-98).

            Sloka has a distinct and specific form.  It means “sound,” “song of praise,” “praise,” or “stanza”, it is the chief verse form of the Sanskrit epics” (“sloka” 2016).  A fluid meter that works well with extemporization in poetic verse, sloka lays itself out in two-verse lines, consisting of sixteen syllables each (“sloka” 2016).  Accordingly, “the Ramayaṇa is arguably one of the finest works of Sanskrit poetry in respect of both contents and form” (Sil).

What is the significance of this mythical author and his epic the Ramayana? Valmiki’s classic is far reaching and has survived many ages, and “over the centuries, the story of Rama has spread across the world” (Leslie 118).  There are various versions of the Rama story cross-culturally, including “the Pali Dasaratha Jataka of the Buddhist tradition” which is probably derived from Valmiki’s Ramayana (Leslie 118).  Not only is Valmiki’s Ramayana syncretic in nature, it has been translated into numerous vernacular languages as well, including but not limited to Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, and Hindi (Leslie 160). The Ramayana is popular and timeless among Hindus, with its “themes of annyaya (injustice), darpa (arrogance), moha (infatuation), dharma (righteousness), and nyaya (justice) coinciding with the foundations of the Hindu worldview” (Sil).  The west was first exposed to Valmiki’s Ramayana in 1843, by an Italian named Gaspare Gorresio, with the provision of Charles Albert, King of Sardinia (Sil).

Mystery remains around the legendary author and sage Valmiki, the eminent author of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.  “All that the biographer can do is gather traditions which deal with Valmiki, sift them, and study the evolution of his life-story as it becomes revealed in them” (Bulke, via Leslie 79).  While the undoubted importance of the first poet (adikavi) of the Ramayana remains indisputable, we are only able to make biographical sense of this Hindu hero in the present through deduction in myth from the past (Bulke via Leslie 79).



Bulke, Camille (1958) “About Valmiki (Materials for the biography of Valmiki, author of the first Ramayana.” Journal of the Oriental Institute.  8(2):121-131. Baroda.

Das, Subhamoy (2015) “Maharshi Valmiki: The Great Sage & Author of The Ramayana.” Accessed February 6, 2016.

Das, Subhamoy (2014) “The Ramayana: India’s Most Loved Epic.” Accessed February 26, 2016.

Eliade, Mircea Ed. (1987) “Valmiki.” The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 15:184. NewYork: Macmillan.

Leslie, Julia (2003) Authority and Meaning in Indian Religions: Hinduism and the Case of Valmiki. Burlington: Ashgate Pub Ltd.

“Ramayana” (2016) In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Sil, Narasingha P. (2004) “Valmiki.” Great Lives from History: The Ancient World, Prehistory 476 c.e. Editor: Salowey, Christina A. Hackensack: Salem. Accessed February 6, 2016.

“Sloka” (2016) In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from

“Tamsa River” (n.d) In Discovered Accessed February 20, 2016. Retrieved

“Valmiki” (n.d) In Wikipedia. Accessed February 20, 2016. Retrieved from


Related Topics for Further Investigation

muni pumgava

mauna vrata





The Ramayana

Taittiriya Pratisakhya

Black Yajur Veda School

The Mahabharata



The Puranas

annyaya (injustice)

darpa (arrogance)

moha (infatuation)

dharma (righteousness)

nyaya (justice)

Gaspare Gorresio

Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia

Dasaratha Jataka







Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Laura Gunn (Feb – April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.


Variations of the Ramayana

The Ramayana is a traditional Hindu epic that has been orally passed down through many generations in Southeast Asia. It was originally composed in the Sanskrit language.  There are many different versions of the Ramayana, however the first composition of the epic in its full written form is attributed to the sage Valmiki (Rao 222). The Ramayana is a work of poetry split into seven books (kandas) and then further separated into chapters or sargas (Rao 222). Valmiki’s version of the text includes 25,000 verses and is thought to have been composed between 500 B.C.E to 300 C.E. (Olson 341). The Ramayana is still a very prominent part of the Hindu culture in these times as there have been televised performances of the epic in recent years. In the past 2500 years there have been numerous renditions of the Ramayana circulating that have had a great influence on South and South East Asia (Richman 1991:24). One can see the vast influence the Ramayana has had by examining the many languages in which it can be found. These include: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetian as well as Western language translations (Richman 1991:24). The Ramayana has even taken many different forms within India, starting out with Valmiki’s version and more recently the production of the Ramayana as produced by Ramanand Sagar, which was shown on Indian national television (Richman 2001:3). It is quite clear that the influence of the Ramayana is an important part of Indian culture that also reaches far beyond India itself.

Scholars have proposed that the Ramayana is not only a written work by Valmiki but is a prominent aspect of the various folk cultures in South East Asia (Bose 2004: 5). The Ramayana comes not only in the form of a simple narrative but in the form of dance-dramas, plays, sculptures and poetry (Richman 1991:24). Many Southeast Asian cultures like the Chinese, the Thai and the Balinese have developed traditions encompassing the Ramayana and its message into the cultural realms of drama, art and narrative alike (Bose 2004:6). It is thought by some that the Ramayana is meant to be somewhat malleable in order to localize and liken the story to the location where it is being told. Scholars believe that when one group or culture deems their version the only correct version then they are misunderstanding the tradition of the Ramayana (Richman 2001:21). It has been suggested that many of the cultures in South East Asia use the Ramayana as guide for every day conduct and more specifically in India as a guideline for Dharmic behavior (Bose 2004:3). Scholars believe that each regional version of the Ramayana is used to understand aspects of the local world including caste, race and gender (Bose 2004:6). In order for people to better relate to this epic in terms of culture and status they will inevitably add their own twists and turns to the story of Rama to make it coincide with their own experiences.

There are two different models in the scholarly world for studying the Ramayana. The first model is based on the assumption that Valmiki’s version is the authoritative telling of the Ramayana and then looks at other versions and how they diverge from the original telling (Richman 2001:3). This view demonstrates how much influence Valmiki’s Ramayana has had on the many tellings throughout the centuries. The main focus of this model is genealogy in a linear fashion, assuming that Valmiki’s text is the original and all others coming after are branches off of it (Richman 2001: 4). Many scholars believe that this model favors a telling of the Ramayana that was exclusive to the upper three varnas (including Brhamins) who could understand and read the Sanskrit language, excluding the majority of Hindu society (Richman 2001:4).

In contrast to this model, A.K. Ramanujan developed a model called the Many Ramayanas. It is based on the assumption that all tellings of the Ramayana are valid and should not be seen as variants of Valmiki’s Ramayana because that implies that there is only one true Ramayana (Richman 2001:5). Ramanujan stated that each writer or teller of the Ramayana tradition “dips into it [a pool] and brings out a unique crystallization, a new text with a unique texture and fresh context” (Richman 2001:4). This model does not follow a hierarchy and it validates all the many tellings of Rama’s story despite their variations and includes, not only written versions, but those that are performed in dances and dramas, shown visually through art or sculpture and those transmitted orally (Richman 2001:5). These models were developed in order to help scholars pursue the study of the Ramayana in some sort of structured fashion due to the vast number of translations and renditions in various locations.

The main events of the Ramayana that are seen in the majority of tellings are as follows: Rama and Sita marry and are sent into exile in the forest, Sita is captured by Ravana and taken to his kingdom. Rama and his brother Laksmana search for her and enlist the help of an ape-like deity named Hanuman. They eventually retrieve Sita from Ravana’s kingdom and she goes through a fire ordeal to prove her fidelity to Rama (Olson 2007). However, many of the different tellings have other additions and may focus on different events that take place. Some end with Rama and Sita going back to the kingdom and ruling, but other tellings continue with Rama banishing Sita because of the critical eye of the kingdom. She then gives birth to his two sons Lava and Kusa who are trained in the telling of the Ramayana and return to Ayodha to tell their story (Richman 1991:39). The fact that there are so many variations of the Ramayana leads many to believe that they must all be sectioned into parts and studied at once in order to truly understand the meaning of the story of Rama (Bose 2003:2).

Rama and Sita
Depiction of Rama and Sita in Bhaktapur, Nepal


One of the different tellings of the Ramayana is credited to Kampan and is a Tamil version of the Rama story. It is thought that Kampan includes regional folklore traditions, weaving them throughout the Rama story and making them part of the epic (Richman 1991: 31). Through studies of Kampan’s work, it has also been found that, in comparison to Valmiki, Kampan is much more dramatic and uses vivid, meaningful symbols throughout his work (Richman 1991:31). Another notable difference between the two is that in Valmiki’s work, Rama is seen as a combination of God and man who is constrained by his human body. In contrast, Kampan portrays Rama as a pure God who is brought to restore the differences between good and evil (Richman 1991:31). A specific example of variation between the two texts is the seduction of Ahalya. Valmiki portrays the scene as Ahalya willingly being seduced by the God Indra where as Kampan alludes to the fact that Ahalya comprehends that she is doing something wrong but she is unable to resist the illicit joy of the affair (Richman 1991:31). These are a few examples of how Valmiki and Kampan differ in their portrayal of the Rama story.

One telling of the Ramayana that is very unique is the Jaina telling called the Paumacariya (Richman 1991:34). The whole focus of the story shifts away from the Hindu set of values and points out how the Brahmins have mistreated Ravana. The focus of the Jaina telling is Ravana. It is with him that the tale begins, telling of his genealogy and history (Richman 1991:34). The reader is provided with an account of the hardships Ravana has faced, and he is cast as a somewhat tragic character that one is meant to pity and feel compassion for (Richman 1991:34). Another unique part of this telling is that Laksmana and Ravana are the eighth incarnations of Vasudeva and Prativasudeva, who have been destined to fight throughout their many reincarnations, the classic tale of a hero and his nemesis (Richman 1991:34). In this telling Rama will not kill Ravana because he is attempting to attain release and so he leaves the task to Laksmana who will be damned for the killing (Richman 1991:35). This telling also depicts the monkeys as a group of celestials who are actually related to Ravana (Richman 1991:35). This is another example of how the Ramayana can be told in many different ways, depending on the values and culture of the region where it is being told.

One Southeast Asian example is the Thai Ramakirti and many Thai kings have taken the name of Rama due to the story’s revered status in Thailand (Richman 1991: 37). The Thai telling of Rama’s story depicts the banishment of Sita in a highly dramatic scene where the daughter of Surpanakha seeks revenge on Sita and convinces her to make a drawing of Ravana. Upon finding this drawing Rama is furious and orders that Sita be killed, however, Laksmana cannot carry out the act and simply abandons her in the forest (Richman 1991: 38). Hanuman is depicted as a very desirable man who has many women while in other tellings he is thought to be celibate (Richman 1991:39). Along with the Jaina telling, this Thai telling leads the reader to view Ravana’s actions with compassion and understanding that he is kidnapping Sita because of love (Richman 1991: 39).  The focus of the Thai telling is on the war scenes and the weaponry. This is thought to be the result of the Thai history, which is embedded with war (Richman 1991:38).

The South Indian folk telling of the Ramayana that takes the form of song and is told in Kannada, casts Sita as the main heroine in the story and much of the narrative is focused on her birth, her wedding, and her exile (Richman 1991: 35).  In this telling Ravana is known as Ravula. He has an encounter with Siva where he eats a mango. He was supposed to share the mango with his wife Mandodari so that she may become pregnant. Being disobedient Ravula eats the entire mango and he then becomes pregnant (Richman 1991:36). Ravula has disobeyed Siva and he is punished; he gives birth to Sita as a sneeze and is then counseled to wrap her up and leave her in a field (Richman 1991:36) Ravula ends up leaving Sita in Janaka’s field which is where she is found in the soil [This episode of finding Sita in the soil is often seen as the beginning of her life and she is not thought to be the daughter of Ravana in these other tellings.] Sita is seen as Ravana’s daughter in this telling and this can be found in some other tellings as well (Richman 1991:37). This telling of the Ramayana is much more focused on Sita’s genealogy, history and life events (Richman 1991:37). It is clear that the Ramayana has many different meanings and can touch the lives of those who partake in it in various ways (Bose 2003:2).

As all of the previous examples illustrate, there are many variations of the Ramayana seen throughout South and Southeast Asia. It is not only a Hindu epic but a story told in many places all over the world and considered to be relevant today. The Ramayana can be shaped and molded to the culture of the region where it is being told and that is part of the beauty of the tale.



Bose, Mandakranta (2003) The Ramayana Culture: Text, Performance and Iconography. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld Ltd.

Bose, Mandakranta (2004) The Ramayana Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press.

Olson, Carl (2007) Hindu Primary Sources: A Sectarian Reader. London: Rutgers University Press.

Rao, C.R. Anauth (2005) Myth and the Creative Process: A view of Creativity in the Light of Three Indian Myths. Australia: Flinders University.

Richman, Paula (1991) Many Ramayanas. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Richman, Paula (2001) Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Sankalia, H.D. (1982) The Ramayana in Historical Perspective. Delhi: Macmillan India Limited.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

A.K. Ramanujan





Fire ordeal

Forest exile






Ksatriya Dharma









Shloka meter





Treta Yuga


Vedic horse-sacrifice


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Katelyn Hallman (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.


Vibhisana was one of the Raksasas [demons] and the brother of Ravana in the Hinduism epic the Ramayana. Vibhisana was the son of Visravas and Malini and was Ravana’s younger half brother. Ravana was the ten-headed demon king from the Hindu epic Ramayana. Vibhisana also had a half sister named Surpanakha who was the demoness who tried to seduce Rama in the epic Ramayana (Garret 707). Initially, Vibhisana followed his brother, Ravana. Vibhisana and his other half brother, Kumbhakarna, went to devote themselves to Dharma under the leadership of Ravana. They showed complete devotion, which earned them boons from Brahma (Garret 707). Vibhisana did this by eating withered leaves for a thousand years and by continuously engaging in religious practices. When Brahma came to the brothers to give them a boon, Vibhisana asked that his boon be that he always acted righteously. Brahma also granted Vibhisana immortality because of his great dedication (Scharf 259). Once the brothers had received their boons, they returned to their positions under the leadership of Ravana. Ravana took over leadership of Lanka from Kubera, the current ruler. In Lanka, Ravana attacked and killed demons and gods. These acts gave him the name Ravana meaning “he who makes others cry” (Parmeshwaranand 1360). They defeated Kubera enabling Ravana to become the leader of Lanka. Vibhisana stayed with his brother in Lanka and married Sarala, who was the daughter of Sailusa (Parmeshwaranand 1360).

While living in Lanka, Vibhisana and his brother had several altercations.  The first occurred when Ravana ordered Hanuman to be put to death because Hanuman said that Ravana could not be saved from Rama. Vibhisana told his brother not to kill Hanuman because he was an ambassador and they were to be protected. The next altercation was because Vibhisana did not seem to be able to understand what Ravana wanted. Ravana asked Vibhisana to go retrieve Sita. However, there was confusion over whether she was to be bathed. Vibhisana made her bathe, which was not correct. Sita returned with Vibhisana, Ravana became angry at both of them (Richman 209). The final altercation led to Vibhisana leaving Lanka because he wanted Ravana to give back Sita to her husband. This fight is further described in the epic Ramayana (Garret 707). This is the epic where Vibhisana was depicted although its main focus was on Rama.

The Ramayana began in a kingdom ruled by the king, Dasaratha. He had three wives, but had no children. He used a horse sacrifice [asvamedha] in order to have a son. From this ritual, all of his wives became pregnant. Kausalya, the most senior wife had a son named Rama, who would be the heir to the throne. When Rama is almost a man, a rsi came and insisted that Rama come with him to kill a demoness named Raksasi. Rama went with the rsi and successfully killed Raksasi. On their way back to the kingdom, they stopped at a svayamvara [the event where she chose her life partner] for a princess named Sita.  This was where Rama won her hand in marriage. The queen was happy that Rama was selected until her servant persuaded her into thinking Bharata should be king instead. The Queen used a boon given to her from Dasaratha. She asked that Rama be exiled for 14 years. Both Sita and Rama’s brother, Laksmana, went with him into exile.  One day in the forest, a demoness [Vibhisana’s half sister, Surpanakha] tried to seduce Rama, but he would not allow it because he was married to Sita. The demoness was so angry, she threatened Sita, which caused Laksmana to cut off her nose, ears, and breasts. The demoness wanted revenge, so she went to get help from the powerful ten-headed King Ravana, her half brother. Hearing of Sita’s beauty, Ravana decided to abduct Sita because he wanted her for himself (Rodrigues 218-227).

Vibhisana wanted Ravana to return Sita back to her husband. He did not want a war to occur between Rama and Ravana’s armies (Parmeshwaranand 1360).  His brother was extremely angry at Vibhisana for saying such outrageous things and kicked Vibhisana from his chair. Vibhisana was so upset that he left Lanka. Vibhisana’s mother tried to get Vibhisana to stay and take half of Lanka instead of leaving. Vibhisana’s mother, Malini, described the beauty of Lanka to him through song. The song goes “The god of wind sweeps the floor here in Lanka, the rain god sprinkles cow-dung water to keep it clean, the fire god himself cooks in our kitchen, three hundred thirty three million gods take shovels and crowbars and work for us as slaves” (Richman 131).  After Vibhisana left Lanka, he went to his brother Kevera’s court. Siva was there and told Vibhisana he should follow Rama and leave his brother, Ravana. Meanwhile, Rama had just realized Sita had been taken (Rodrigues 218-227). Vibhisana was on his way over to the desert to join Rama’s side. In order to get revenge on his brother, he told Rama all of Ravana’s military plans to ensure that Rama had the upper hand in battle (Garret 707). He tells Rama to go over to Lanka and capture Ravana’s ministers.  Vibhisana leads the troops through the southern entrance of Lanka. They attack the monkey troops and they kill Ravana’s ministers. During the combat, Vibhisana realizes that Rama and Laksmana are unconscious and he revives them using eye salve (Scharf  259). After Rama is revived, he kills Ravana. When Vibhisana sees that his brother is dead, he performs Ravana’s death rituals. Both sides had many casualties with almost every man from Ravana’s family dead or dying (Mittal 246). However, Rama’s armies won the war and took over Lanka. Rama gave Vibhisana Lanka and Vibhisana was crowned as king.

Vibhisana is still seen as the reason for the fall of Lanka (Parmeshwaranand 1361). Rama became the King of Ayodhya after he made Vibhisana king of Lanka. Vibhisana went on a trip to visit Rama at his kingdom, Ayodhya. On this trip, Vibhisana was given a golden chariot with the image of Raganatha on it. This image was to be worship back in Lanka. He was told that the image of Raganatha on the chariot should not touch the ground. However, on his journey back to Lanka, the image was too heavy and Vibhisana ended up having to put it down at Srirangam. After he put it down, he could not lift it back up. From then on the image faced south, instead of facing east, the way it should have (Rodrigues 360).

One day, while Vibhisana was king of Lanka, another battle took place. It began because Candragupta, who was a son of Ravana, abducted Vibhisana’s daughter-in-law.  Vibhisana went and told Rama about what had happened. Vibhisana, Rama, Laksmana, Sugriva, Hanuman, as well as their monkey allies, went to battle in the city of Sahasramukha over the abduction. The fighting lasted three days and ended in the death of all the Raksasas [demons] (Parmeshwaranand 1361).

In conclusion, at the beginning of his life Vibhisana was completely devoted to following under his brother, Ravana. He was so devoted that Brahma granted him boons. As the story progressed, Vibhisana eventually turned his back on his whole family. He betrayed his brother by leaving his leadership, and followed Rama instead. In order to get revenge on his brother, he gave away Ravana’s military secrets which led to the death of almost all of Ravana’s family including Ravana himself (Parmeshwaranand 1361). The most interesting fact about Vibhisana is that the boon he asked for was that he never mediate any unrighteousness and yet his actions didn’t seem very honorable. Perhaps the paradox of his boon was that his family’s actions were not honorable and therefore, Vibhisana could not join them.

Dutt, Romesh (1910) The Ramayana and Mahabharta condensed into English verse. J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd.

Garret, John (1989) A Classic dictionary of India. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Mittal, J.P. (2006) History of Ancient India: From 7300 BC to 4250 BC. India: Atlantic Publishers.

Parmeshwaranand, Swami (2001) Encyclopedia Dictionary of Puranas, Volume 1. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Richman, Paul (1991) Many Ramayanas: the diversity of a narrative tradition in South Asia. California: University of California press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism The eBOOK: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Scharf, Peter (2003) Ramopakhyana: the story of Rama in the Mahabharta. U.S and Canada: RoutledgeCurzon.

Turner, Patricia (2000) Dictionary of Ancient Deities. Oxford University Press.

Venkatesananda, Valmiki (1988) The concise Ramayana of Valmiki. New York: State University of New York Press.





























Article written by: Sarah Edmonds (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.


The Hindu epics are a source of entertainment and religious guidance. Today, Rama, the titular character of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, is seen as the ideal man, who follows dharma to rigid perfection. The Ramayana, one of the two great Hindu epics, continues to have great significance today, despite being originally composed approximately two thousand years ago. While there are thousands of variations of the epic across southern Asia, its original authorship is attributed to the sage Valmiki, who lived sometime between 200 BC and 200 AD. Rama, who is married to the ideal woman, Sita, is portrayed and celebrated today as enacting true dharma in his role as son, brother, husband and member of the ksatriya class. He is also recognized as the “incarnation of Visnu in his role as Supreme God” (Gonzalez-Reimann 203).

The Ramayana is an epic that contains over 20,000 verses. Within these verses are the adventures surrounding Rama, son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, and heir to its throne. Laksmana, Rama’s half-brother and inseparable companion accompanies the hero throughout his many adventures. Both Laksmana and Sita, Rama’s wife, accompany him into a fourteen-year exile to the forests, during which the trio meet with various sages, encounter and defeat demons, and learn the ways of a forest-dweller. Much of Rama’s tale centers on his rescue of Sita from Ravana, a ten headed raksasas. While Rama’s adventures within The Ramayana provide entertainment, it is his action and philosophical reasoning that provide Hindus with direction in regard to dharma.

Rama is portrayed as one who is the “embodiment of…infinite virtues” (Bhattacharji 32). He is the obedient son, ready to “give up the throne and go into exile to redeem his father’s pledge” (Bhattacharji 43). Rama displays great love and faith in his brothers, trusting that Bharata would adhere to duty, caring for his throne during his banishment, and eventually restoring him. Rama’s love for even his wife Sita “became subsidiary and insignificant in comparison with love for the brother” (Bhattacharji 36). Living as a forest-dweller, he killed demons to protect sages, for “as a prince he was obligated to exercise the protective function of the warrior class” (Goldman 34). Ruler of Ayodhya for 11,000 years after his banishment, Rama “was a true warrior hero with a strict code of heroism” (Bhattacharji 43).

Large Rama Statue, Bali

Rama’s fame for his goodness has led to an expectation among readers and followers that he is pure, and acts righteously in all circumstances. Supported and “reinforced by scholars who have…their own expectations” (Stewart et al. 244) of Rama, it is often the case that Rama is seen as a flat divinity, one that is non-complex: he is good, therefore he is dharmic. This however is not the case; Rama is complex, whether portrayed as man or as god incarnate, and strays from the righteous path from time to time. Rama’s slaying of the monkey king Vali from behind a tree “violated the fundamental law of combat by striking at the enemy from behind” (Bhattacharji 36). In killing from behind, undercover, and an individual whom Rama had had no personal conflict with, he sacrificed the ksatriya codes of honor to increase his chances of finding Sita.

Although Sita, as the ideal woman, follows her dharma and willingly stays at her husband’s side and places her complete faith, love and allegiance with him. Rama does not do his wife justice, frequently disregarding Sita’s love for him. He fails to protect her from physical harm and dishonor. Upon his rescue of her, his main goal, he reveals, was not to rescue his beloved wife, “but to ensure the piety of his… lineage” (Bhattacharji 40). Despite unshakeable proof of Sita’s chastity, Rama abandons and humiliates her three times, doubting her devotion to him.

During the rare times that Rama strays from the path of dharma, it is often for his own personal gain and image. Rama kills Vali to gain the help of the monkey king to find Sita, and avenge his tarnished image. He belittles Sita, viewing her as tainted, something that he can no longer enjoy. For his personal and family honor, he doubts her purity thrice, despite receiving ample proof and being reproached by the gods that she has stayed true to Rama alone. While scholars have discussed and critiqued Rama for his cowardly killing of Vali, and his frequent betrayal and abandonment of Sita, no explanation has truly been given that adequately explains these few transgressions from the dharmic path (Goldman 35-36). Despite these few flaws in his righteousness, Rama is still considered today as the example of the ideal man, the incarnate of the god Visnu.

Visnu is one of the most prominent gods in the Hindu tradition. Within Hinduism, Visnu has a tradition of returning to earth in varying incarnations or avatars to carry out or ameliorate dharmic situations. Rama, who, throughout the epic continuously acts dharmically, kills the demon Ravana near the end of the story. This, according to Gonzalez-Reimann, is the main reason for Rama’s assumed divinity within Valmiki’s Ramayana. Rama’s incarnation as “the great god Narayana…Visnu, Krsna and Prajapati” (Gonzalez-Reimann 208) creates an identity that is a “combination of man and god” (Gonzalez-Reimann 210). As an avatara of Visnu, Rama embodies the “protector of society and brahmanical dharma”(Gonzalez-Reimann 207). Because Rama is the representation of dharmic action, and because he is associated with the god Visnu in this way, like Visnu himself (who has a group of followers dedicated primarily to him), Rama today has an important role in some forms of Hindu worship.

Built into the very social structure of society, the Hindu practice of renunciation lays the path to knowing and awareness of the Self and moksa. The practice of devotionalism, or bhakti, can and does take many forms within Hinduism, varying from elaborate to simple offerings, or prayers. Devotionalism can be given to a single or multiple deities. Ram bhakti, which is a movement that was founded by Swami Ramananda in the 16th century, attempts to gain liberation from bondage by transferring “emotional attachments…to the spiritual realm”(Lamb 582). Of the numerous religious texts that have been written on the topic, none have been quite so influential as Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas. A revision of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, the text is immensely popular, and “has ultimately set the tenor for Ram bhakti…providing ideal examples for family and society relationships, for righteous action, and for selfless devotion” (Lamb 580). Followers of Ram bhakti show devotionalism through the chanting of prayers or repetition of Rama’s name. Ultimately, the relationship aspired to between devotees and the Divine is paralleled to the relationship of Rama and Hanuman; the relationship “is one of Ram[a] as lord and master” (Lamb 582).

The main character and hero of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, Rama is the righteous prince of Ayodhya, whom, accompanied by his brother and wife, has many adventures in both fictitious and actual places. Acting always in the right, Rama gives an example to modern followers of the correct way to follow dharma. Despite some of his actions being critiqued as unrighteous and morally wrong in today’s world, such actions were more or less seen as socially acceptable at the time of the epic’s composition, and Rama is still seen as the ideal man, in part due to his role as an incarnation of Visnu. Based on this fact, religious orders such as Ram bhakti have been fashioned after Rama’s example. Despite being created thousands of years ago, Rama still has relevance today, providing entertainment, rules of social etiquette, and religious prescriptions for people around the globe.

Bibliography and Related Readings

Bhattacharji, Sukumari. “A Revaluation of Valmiki’s ‘Rama.’” Social Scientist. 30.½ (2002), pp. 31-49.

Goldman, Robert P. The Ramayana Revisited. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gonzalez-Reimann, Luis. “The Divinity of Rama in the Ramayana of Valmiki.”Journal of Indian Philosophy. 34.1 (2006), pp. 203-220.

Lamb, Ramdas. “Devotion, Renunciation, and Rebirth in the Ramananda Sampraday.” Crosscurrents. Winter (2007), pp. 578-590.

Stewart, Tony K. and Dimock, Edward C. (2001) “Krttibasa’s Apophatic Critique of Rama’s Kingship.” Questioning Ramayanas. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Related Topics





















Related Websites

Written by Lara Ulrich (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


To individuals who are familiar with the Hindu epic Ramayana, the name Ravana has come to mean the main antagonist of the epic, the demon king of Lanka who was manipulated into kidnapping Sita, the wife of Rama. In the epic Ravana is described as the mighty king of the Raksasas with ten heads, twenty arms, and copper-colored eyes, and bright teeth like the young moon (Valmiki, Vol 2: 94-95). He gained control of his kingdom by banishing his half-brother Kubera who was the rightful king. His kingdom was the Kingdom of Lanka, which was said to be at the southern tip of India and some believe that it may be the current state of Sri Lanka as Hanuman, the monkey god, is depicted jumping over a sea to reach the kingdom.

In terms of Ravana’s ancestry, he was a Brahmin by birth as he was born the Visrava, a Brahmin sage and Kaikesi, a Raksasa princess. It is believed that Sumali, Kaikesi’s father who was the king of the Daiteyas, wanted her to marry the most powerful man in the world and chose Visrava as he was the son of Rishi Pulastya, one of the six human sons of Brahma. Ravana also had quite a large number of brothers and sister, the most famous being Surpanakha, who manipulated him into kidnapping Sita because she was insulted by Laksmana and Rama; other siblings are listed as Kumbhkarna, the sleeping giant who was quite skilled at war, Vibhisana, the dharmic Raksasa who eventually helped Rama and older half-brother Kubera, the god of wealth. Even though it is said that Ravana had quite a large of number of queens and a great harem, his favorite queen was said to be Mandodari, a woman of great beauty and wisdom. Mandodari was a pious women who was always apologetic for the misdeeds of her husband. He was the father to several children; Trisiras and Indrajit, who were killed in the battle of Lanka, and Ravani, Aksa, Devantaka, Atikaya, and Narantaka. It is recorded that all of Ravana’s wives performed Sati after his death and died at his funeral pyre.

In terms of Ravana’s kingdom, Lanka was initially ruled by Sumali, Ravana’s maternal grandfather. The ruling was then taken over by Ravana’s half brother Kubera, also known as the god of wealth, who was given the kingdom as a prize because of the austerities he performed to Brahma. Ravana eventually took over the kingdom forcibly, however it is recorded that Lanka flourished under his rule and after Ravana’s defeat; the kingdom was then turned over to his dharmic brother Vibhisana. It is believed that Lanka is the current state of Sri Lanka as the island of Sri Lanka is at the southernmost tip of India. There is also remains of a land bridge that connected Sri Lanka and India, which is known as Rama’s Bridge to this day, and some consider this as proof that Sri Lanka is connected to the Ramayana.

Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India
Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India

In the Ramayana there are many references to Ravana’s wickedness and evilness. First of these can be seen as his defeat of his half-brother to gain control of Lanka. This was not done through normal means as he performed asceticism for Brahma, the god of creation, and a boon was granted to him for his perseverance (Pollock 509). Ravana in turn asked for the ability to defeat gods in battle and with this ability he was able to defeat his half-brother and win his kingdom. Ravana was also well known for forcing himself upon women and it is believed Kubera had cursed Ravana after such a conquest and that is why he was not able to force himself upon Sita. The greatest misdeed of Ravana in the Ramayana is the abduction of Sita who is seen as the image of righteousness. The abduction was caused by Surphanakha’s need for revenge because of Rama’s reaction after her proclamation of love as well as Laksmana cutting off her nose and ears as punishment for insulting Rama. Ravana in turn sent fourteen thousand Raksasas to Rama, Sita, and Laksmana’s dwellings yet they were all defeated. Ravana then decided to take matters further by flying to Rama’s dwellings and abducting Sita after distracting Rama and Laksmana (Kishore 1995: 69-71). As Sita was in captivity for approximately a year, during which time Ravana repeatedly tried make her his wife using many tactics; meanwhile, Rama had prepared an army of monkeys to rescue Sita. This lead to the Battle of Lanka in which the vast army of Raksasas were defeated by Rama’a army and Ravana was slaughtered by Rama himself. However, the demise of the demon king did not come easily, as Rama had to acquire extraordinary weapons in order to slaughter him, the reason for this pertains to Ravana’s boon granted by Brahma.

Even though Ravana is depicted mainly negatively in the Ramayana, there are also positive aspects of his embedded in the epic. He is shown as a great scholar who mastered the Vedas and the arts as well. He was knowledgeable in Brahmin skills as well as Ksastriya skills. Ravana was also a great ruler, which was seen by the prosperousness of Lanka during his reign. When Hanuman first visits Lanka, he was amazed the “splendid yellow-white palaces, like to a city stationed in the sky” (Valmiki, Sundarakandam: 15) He also was said to be a fair ruler and this was cemented by the loyalty of his subjects which is seen many times in the epic. Ravana was a firm devotee of the destructor god, Siva and this devotion seems to stem from his meeting with the god at Kailash. It is said that Ravana may have written a devotional hymn to Siva, the Siva Tandava Stotra. When analyzing the epic the battle of Lanka could be seen as the clash of the two great devotional sects, Saivism and Vaisnavism because of Ravana’s devotion to Siva and Rama being the incarnation of Visnu himself.

When discussing the great demon king, Ravana, one must always consider his positive and negative aspects. Even though he is depicted as evil and wicked in the epic and his effigies are burned even today where as Rama is seen as righteousness, one must realize that for all of Ravana’s negative aspects, positive aspects must be present as well.


Dowson, John (1879) A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature. London: Trübner

Kishore, B.R. (2005) Ramayana. Diamond Pocket Books

Pollock, Sheldon (1984) The Divine King in the Indian Epic. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Richman, Paula. (1991) Many Ramayanas: The diversity of a narrative tradition in South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rocher, Ludo (2006) The Ramayana Revisited. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Roy S.B. (1982) Mohenjodaro and the Lanka of Ravana: a new hypothesis. New Delhi: Institute of Chronology.

Valmiki. Dutt, M.N. trans., Arya, Ravi. Eds. – Ramayana (Volumes I,II,III,IV)I. New Delhi: Parimal Publications.


Life and Character sketch of Ravana.





The Ramayana





Kingdom of Lanka








Bala Khanda

Ayodya Khanda

Aranya Kanda

Kiskindha Kanda

Sundara Kanda

Yudda Kanda

Uttara Kanda


Written by Savini Suduweli Kondage (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.


Tulsidas is one of the most famous and prominent poets of Hindi literature. He wrote 12 books, but is most famous for writing Ramcaritmanas and Vinaya Patrika, both of which are very popular, influential, and significant writings in Hinduism literature. Ramcaritmanas is a recollection of the epic of Ramayana and Vinaya Patrika is an account of a sinner begging for mercy. Tulsidas is thought to be the incarnation of Valmiki and is often compared to him. [Valmiki is a sage and is accredited with writing the famous Ramayana]. Although he was born underprivileged, Tulsidas is considered to be a great sage and is responsible for a wide variety of different miracle actions. He is hugely influential throughout Hinduism and still worshiped and celebrated today.

Although the records of Tulsidas’ life are not completely uniform throughout Hinduism, there are a few versions of his early childhood that were generally accepted to be true. Tulsidas was born in a small village called Rajapur, in the district of Banda in 1532 CE. In his writings, Tulsidas often mentions or implies that he was born into poverty and that his parents did not want him. One variation of his birth account says that Tulsidas was in his mother’s womb for twelve months and that once he was born the elders told his father to get rid of him because his birth was inauspicious (Chaturvedi 21-23). Another version says that after birth his parents were distressed having to feed another mouth and tossed him into the street for him to feed with the dogs (Hawley 145). On all accounts, however, Tulsidas is specifically mentioned to not have cried during his birth and to have been born with 32 teeth intact in his mouth. During his childhood and young adulthood, Tulsidas was known as Ram-Bola. Accounts of his older childhood vary too much to have a singular recollection.

According to legends, once Tulsidas became a renowned Brahmin he was getting endless offers of marriage. He chose to marry a woman named Buddhimati (or Ratnavali) and fell desperately in love with her. It is mentioned in all records that Tulsidas could not bear to be apart from his new wife. Through custom, however, Buddhimati was obligated to go visit her mother’s place as a newly married woman. Ram-Bola, as he was known then, could not tolerate to be away from his wife for even one night and followed her to her mother’s house. When Buddhimati discovered Ram-Bola at her mother’s house she learnt of his obsession with her. She told him that if he worshiped Rama half as much as he worships her body then he would be redeemed for all of his offences. After being hurt so badly by the woman he loved so dearly, Ram-Bola finally opened his mind. He realized that he was a man of God and thanked Buddhimati for showing him his rightful path. From then on he was no longer known as Ram-Bola, but Tulsidas instead. Now he no longer desired the sight of his wife, but instead the sight of Rama (Chaturvedi 29-38).

After seeing the light, Tulsidas wandered all over in search of holiness. He roamed searching for Rama for years and decided that his long life should end in Varanasi. He left his mortal body and entered the Abode of Immortality and Eternal Bliss in 1623 CE, at the age of 91 (Chaturvedi 68).

In one excerpt from legends about his wanderings, Tulsidas runs into a ghost in the place where he washes himself in the mornings. At first this ghost is a monstrous creature, but in time it becomes purified and clean by the left over bathing water that Tulsidas does not use. The spirit begins to speak to Tulsidas, and knowing his devotion to Lord Rama, he tells him where to look for Rama’s follower Hanuman. The ghost tells Tulsidas that Hanuman will be the first to arrive and the last to leave at the readings of Ramcaritmanas. The next time that Tulsidas recites his songs of the Ramcaritmanas he notices an old man that comes early and leaves late. When he approaches this man and asks him who he is the man takes his original form as a monkey and reveals himself as Hanuman. Hanuman tells Tulsidas that he can have anything he wishes. Tulsidas says that the only thing he wants is to see Rama. Hanuman then tells Tulsidas when Rama and his riders will be coming through and Tulsidas waits for him. When the riders come through, however, Tulsidas does not know which one Rama is (Hawley 149-150). This instance in Tulsidas’ travels gives a great view of his devotion to Lord Rama and his passion for finding him.

Tulsidas is often related to and called a great sage. He is even thought to be the incarnation of Valmiki himself. There is an account of Tulsidas that many people refer to when they compare him to a sage. One of his famous books Vinaya Patrika tells the tale of a murderer who went in search of Rama to give him alms for his wrongful actions. When Tulsidas heard these cries his heart felt warm. He offered the murderer prasad and then sang him clean. [Prasad is food that is blessed by first being offered to God]. The Brahmins demanded that Tulsidas explain to them how he could absolve the sins of a murderer and then share food with him. Tulsidas told the Brahmins that although they have read the sacred books, they have not let any of the scriptures touch their hearts. The Brahmins were still apprehensive and insisted that the murderer take a test. The test was to see if Siva’s bull Nandi would eat food offered to him from the criminal’s hands. Tulsidas prayed to Nandi for the murderer, and the bull ate the food from his hands (Hawley 147). This passage is an example of what influence Tulsidas had and how he used that influence.

Another episode that describes Tulsidas’ power and his unending compassion is when he was out one day and ran into a Brahmin woman that he knew. He greeted her by saying suhagavati. [This greeting carries the connotation of “may your husband have a long life”]. The woman became deeply upset being as she was attending her husband’s funeral just then. She explained to him that her husband just passed away and she was going to perform her sati. [Sati is a ritual death of the wife after her husband dies]. However, because she announced that she was going to perform this ritual before actually doing it the ritual was guaranteed not to work and she would not reconnect with her husband on the other side. She was very upset and Tulsidas could not help but feel guilty. He was a firm believer of demonstrating Brahmin beliefs, such as sati, so he took control of the situation. He stated that if the woman truly embraced Rama, her dead husband would rise. She did so and her husband rose (Hawley 147-148).

Tulsidas is seen as a worshiper of Rama, and also as a beneficiary of that worship. Through his worship to Rama he receives many great gifts and aids. In one account of his life, Tulsidas is said to be called on by a great emperor after he heard of Tulsidas raising the dead. Once Tulsidas was in front of the emperor, the emperor demanded that Tulsidas show him a miracle. Tulsidas replied by saying that he had no superhuman power, he just knew Rama’s name. The emperor was infuriated and placed Tulsidas in prison, saying that he will release him only if Tulsidas shows him a miracle. Tulsidas then prayed to Hamuman, a monkey warrior and follower of Rama. When he did this, masses of monkey soldiers burst into the royal court. The emperor became frightened and released Tulsidas from jail. The emperor then understood Tulsidas’ importance (Chaturvedi 58-60).

Although Tulsidas left the mortal world almost 400 years ago, he is still worshiped and given great attention every day. There are several places that one can go to and witness the numerous devotions dedicated to Tulsidas. There is his house in Varanasi where the neighbourhood is now called Tulsi Ghat which means “Tulsi’s Landing”. [Tulsidas is often referred to as Tulsi]. In this house there is a specific spot of worship where it is thought that Tulsidas composed the Ramcaritmanas, which are recited everyday at his house. Another spot of reverence is just down the street from Tulsidas’ house: a temple which more directly celebrates his faith. It is a magnificent marble building called the Tulsi Manas Mandir which means “the temple to Tulsi’s Manas” [The Ramcaritmanas are often referred to as the Manas]. Every year on Tulsidas’ birthday there is a great procession with floats and many followers, all chanting from the Manas (Hawley 155-158). Tulsidas was a very influential poet, sage, and Brahmin whose works are still prominent in modern Hinduism today.


Hawley, John (2004) Songs and the Saints of India. Delhi: Oxford University Press

Chaturvedi, B K (2002) Mystic Saints of India: Tulsidas. Delhi: D.K. Fine Art Press Pvt. Ltd.

Lutgendorf, Philip (1991) The Life of a Text: Performing Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas. Berkely: University of California Press

Bhattacharya, B. (2003) Bhakti: The Religion of Love. New Delhi: Pauls Press

Related Topics


Buddhimati (Ratnavali)


Vinaya Patrika







Tulsi Manas Mandir

Websites Related to Tulsidas

Written by Rachael Strybosch (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content


Sita is the principal female character in the Ramayana, an Indian epic said to have been composed by the sage Valmiki. Her name means “furrow”, a reference to her birth story where her father found her in a field after ploughing. Rama, the hero of the story, won the right to marry Sita when he succeeded in stringing and breaking Siva’s bow. Sita accompanied Rama back to his home and, when Rama was banished to the forest instead of being crowned king, decided to go with him because it was her Dharmic duty to stay with her husband. Rama tried to persuade her to stay at the palace but she persisted and he gave in. They lived in the forest until Sita was captured by a demon king named Ravana. Rama and his brother Laksmana set out to rescue her while Ravana tried to seduce Sita. Rama and Laksmana eventually rescued Sita, with the help of an army of monkeys, but Rama doubted Sita’s purity, having lived with the demon for over a year. Sita endured a trial by fire and proved herself untouched by any but Rama. They went home and Rama became king, but the people did not believe Sita was loyal to their King, so he banished her to the forest. Sita met the sage Valmiki and, while staying with him, gave birth to Rama’s twin sons. At the end of the epic, Sita once again proved her purity and, instead of returning to Rama, was taken into the earth.

Sita’s origins have been the subject of scholarly study. In one version of the Ramayana, Sita is the rebirth of a woman named Vedavati, who had thrown herself into a fire to escape Ravana’s lust and swore revenge (Doniger 22). Many versions of the Ramayana hold Sita as being an incarnation of a goddess or a holy maiden (Singaravelu 239). In other stories, Sita is Ravana’s daughter who was abandoned, put in an urn or a lead box and buried in a field or set afloat on the ocean. Some of the stories also present Sita as being the natural daughter of King Janaka or King Dasaratha (Singaravelu 240).

Sita’s purity has also been the concern of scholars and writers. In the fifteenth century Adhyatmaramayana, the Sita that begs for the deer and is kidnapped by Ravana is not the real girl at all, but a shadow Sita, created by Sita on Rama’s orders to keep her safe. It is this Sita that is kidnapped, rescued and eventually disappears into the fire, upon which time the real woman rejoins her husband (Doniger 23). In this version, Sita’s purity is unquestionable because the genuine Sita never spent any time in Ravana’s home. There are also texts where the shadow Sita survives and goes on to live her own life (Doniger 25).

Sita is supposed to be the ideal woman for the ideal man, the embodiment of right thought and right action. Because Rama is the ideal man, many readers feel that there is something wrong with his treatment of his faithful and loving wife. Sita is forced to prove her chastity not once, but twice in a trial of fire, and when she is taken into the forest, it is by Laksmana, without an explanation from Rama (Hess 2-3). “[M]any devotional Ramayanas from the twelfth century on eliminate the episode of Sita’s abandonment.” and many fans of the Ramayana have expressed discomfort with these episodes when talking to Hess (Hess 3-4).

The word “furrow” not only refers to the act of plowing the earth, but also to the female reproductive organ (Peltier 85). Sita is a fertility goddess, intimately connected with nature, and Sakti, “the energy that inspires the hero Rama to action” (Dimmitt 210-211). Throughout the Ramayana, the plants and animals echo Sita’s moods, and nature is thrown into chaos when she leaves Ayodhya with Rama and Laksmana and again when she is kidnapped (Dimmitt 214). The forest delights Sita, “she is the one who prays to and propitiates the river deities and the holy fig tree. Dwelling places are chosen to please her. The flowers and trees delight her” (Peltier 80).

Sita, though, thought to be a perfect embodiment of womanhood, is not as submissive as we might suspect. “Sita’s first clear act of will” is to insist on going into the forest with Rama. She “is defining for herself just what a devoted wife is, choosing what she sees as the substance rather than just the form of marriage. She is also insisting on her own needs and feelings, her desire to be with Rama” (Peltier 79-80). Sita also demands that Rama capture or kill the golden deer, the demon Marica in disguise, for her. Sita is not reacting as a woman seeing something pretty that she must have, but as an Artemis figure, a goddess of the forest that has dominion over all things in her realm, so the creatures are hers and she has a right to treat them as she pleases (Peltier 84). The golden deer possesses her. “She is a woman enchanted by an image of herself.” Throughout the Ramayana, Sita is described as “doe-eyed” and “golden-skinned” and the “golden deer is an image of her beauty and her forest wildness” (Peltier 84). When Marica, dying, calls out for help in Rama’s voice and Laksmana, convinced that Rama would never be in trouble, refuses to go help him, Sita again has to assert her will. She pleads with Laksmana, accuses him of “having designs on her” and finally threatens to kill herself if Laksmana does not go to Rama’s rescue (Sutherland 75). After being rescued from Ravana, Rama rebukes her and asks her how he can take her back now that she has spent time in another man’s house. “Sita weeps bitterly, then wipes her face and gives a spirited speech. It includes a passionate rebuke of his cruelty and a rational analysis of where moral responsibility lies in the case of violence against women. Not mincing words, she says, “Why do you talk to me like that, oh hero, like a common man talking to an ordinary woman? … You, lion among men, by giving way to wrath and passing premature judgment on a woman, have acted like a worthless man.”” (Hess 6). In the final chapter of the Ramayana, when Rama comes to take Sita back with him, realizing she had bore him two sons, instead of meekly submitting, she chooses her own fate. “After suffering countless insults and rejections, Sita finally takes revenge on Rama in the most aggressive manner she knows. In carrying out her characteristic and oft repeated threat of self-immolation, she brings to a culmination her passive-aggressive response to Rama” (Sutherland 78). She chooses to return to the earth, instead of remaining with a man who has twice abandoned her.

Works Cited

Dimmitt, Cornelia (1982) “Sita: Fertility Goddess and Sakti.” The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India. Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series: 210-223.

Doniger, Wendy (1997) “Sita and Helen, Ahalya and Alcmena: A Comparative Study.” History of Religions 37, no 1: 21-49.

Hess, Linda (1999) “Rejecting Sita: Indian Responses to the Ideal Man’s Cruel Treatment of His Ideal Wife.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67, no.1 (March): 1-32.

Peltier, Mary Damon (1995) “Sita’s Story: In the Valmiki Ramayana.” Journal of Vaisnava Studies 4 :77-103.

Singaravelu, S. (1982) “Sita’s Birth and Parentage in the Rama Story.” Asian Folklore Studies 41, no 2: 235-243.

Sutherland, Sally J. (1989) “Sita and Draupadi: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109, no. 1: 63-79.

Related Terms






Related Resources – wikipedia article on Sita – Website dedicated to Sita – online cartoon of the Ramayana focusing on Sita’s role. – a short text version of the Ramayana with some illustrations.

The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic, by Ramesh Menon- an accessible novelization of the Ramayana.

Written by Sara Kundrik (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.