The Ramayana is an ancient story believed to have been transmitted orally, in Sanskrit, for thousands of years until the great sage Valmiki wrote the story down in the form of a poem (Egenes & Reddy 2). It is believed to be enjoyed by over one billion people around the world and widely considered to be a one of the “great classics of world literature” (Egenes & Reddy 2).
Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is broken down into sections, with the first one being the Prologue – The Qualities of Rama, wherein the great sage Valmiki is told of a man named Rama who has all the heroic qualities to make him the perfect person. Later that day, Brahma, the Creator, comes to Valmiki and tells him that he must tell the story of Rama to the world.
The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is called the Bala Kanda, translated as ‘Childhood Book’, which describes King Dasaratha, his wives, and his sons. King Dasaratha’s firstborn son is named Rama and is the protagonist of the story. Rama has celestial origins and his upbringing has allowed him to flourish as a Dharmic warrior, having been educated in the four Vedas under the direction of the family guru. Rama wins his wife Sita by lifting Siva’s bow, which he is able to do because of his Dharmic nature, proving that he is worthy to be Sita’s husband. Rama and Sita live happily married, in the city of Ayodhya, for 10 years.
The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is the Ayodhya Kanda, translated as ‘City of Ayodhya Book’, which is the story of King Dasaratha beginning to make arrangements for Rama to become king of Ayodhya due to the king’s old age. King Dasaratha announces his plans to his ministers, spiritual advisors, rulers from nearby kingdoms, and all the people of Ayodhya, who are all thrilled at the idea of Rama ruling the kingdom. After being manipulated by her servant, Queen Kaikeyi, King Dasaratha’s third wife, redeems a boon that had been granted to her by the king. Queen Kaikeyi requests that her son, King Dasaratha’s second-born, Bharata, become king and that Rama be exiled to the Dandaka Forest for 14 years. After much grief, and with Rama’s persistence, King Dasaratha follows through with Kaikeyi’s requests. Rama, ever the righteous son, prepares to retreat into the forest, along with his most favoured brother Laksmana, and his beautiful wife Sita. Rama leaving Ayodhya prompts the death of King Dasaratha, and Bharata becomes very upset with his mother for her malicious actions. He goes to the forest to find Rama to beg him to come and reign as king, however Rama does not want to dishonour his father’s request, and therefore declines Bharata’s appeal. Rama, Sita, and Laksmana continue through the forests toward Dandaka, stopping to visit sages along the way.
The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is the Aranya Kanda, translated as ‘The Forest Book’, which describes the many raksasas, or demons, that Rama, Sita, and Laksmana encounter, and the subsequent battles that ensue. Rama and Laksmana being the great warriors that they are, easily win each fight. The forest dwellers, Rama, Sita, and Laksmana, make several stops at different asramas to visit with, and receive guidance from, the various sages and rsis that they meet. Rama and Laksmana receive celestial weapons from some rsis in exchange for making their forest safe from raksasas. One day, a raksasi named Surpanakha, who is described as being the opposite of Rama in every way, happens upon Rama and takes a liking to him. Rama being disgusted by her, turns her down. Surpanakha, embarrassed and angry, goes to attack Sita and Laksmana cuts of the raksasi’s nose and ears. Surpanakha tells her brother Khara what has been done to her and begs him to kill Rama, Sita and Laksmana. Khara sends his 14 strongest warriors to attack the forest-dwellers, however Rama defeats them with ease. Khara then leads fourteen thousand warriors to battle, and after a fierce war, Rama defeats them all using his skill and celestial weapons granted to him from the rsis and the gods. Ravana, the king of the raksasas, and brother to Khara and Surpanakha, hears of Sita’s beauty and Rama’s strength and victory against the other raksasas. Ravana comes up with a plan to make Sita his bride and enlists Marica, a fellow raksasa, to help him. Having lured Rama and Laksmana away from Sita by having Marica disguise himself as a beautiful golden deer, Ravana tricks Sita into believing he is a holy man. He then reveals his true self and attempts to convince her to become his bride and return to Lanka with him. Sita vehemently denies his requests to be his bride and repeatedly professes her love for Rama, which angers Ravana, so he kidnaps her and takes her to his kingdom of Lanka. Upon discovering that Sita is gone, Rama is distraught but determined to find her and rescue her. Sita is adamant that she will remain true to Rama by not giving into Ravana, but she is heartbroken and misses her husband desperately. Finding clues along the way in their search for Sita, the two warriors, Rama and Laksmana make several friends with fellow Dharmic individuals who are able to help them in their quest for revenge against Ravana.
The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is entitled Kiskindha Kanda, translated as ‘Kingdom of the Monkeys Book’. One friend that Rama and Laksmana are guided to meet is Sugriva, the king of the monkeys, who vows to help Rama get Sita back in exchange for Rama’s help in recovering his kingdom. Rama helps Sugriva get his kingdom back and then waits several months for Sugriva’s help. Finally, troops from the monkey army are sent to all corners of the earth in search of Sita. Hanuman, Sugriva’s most trusted advisor, is the one who finds out that Sita is in Lanka, and where to find this kingdom. He makes himself very large and jumps across the ocean to Lanka to find Sita.
The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is the Sundara Kanda which translates to ‘The Beautiful City Book’. Hanuman arrives in Lanka where he finds and approaches Sita cautiously. After earning her trust, he tells her of his mission and assures her that Rama is on his way to rescue her. Her resolve is strengthened once again knowing that her beloved husband has not abandoned her. Before Hanuman leaves Lanka to let Rama know of Sita’s whereabouts, he decides that he must pay Ravana back for taking Sita against her will. First, he destroys the pleasure gardens inside the palace, then he draws out Ravana’s army. He destroys many ministers and generals before being captured and his tail set on fire. Hanuman escapes capture by shifting sizes and sets Lanka ablaze before leaving to return to Rama. Once he returns, Rama has many questions about Sita’s wellbeing and whereabouts, feeling much stronger knowing that she is okay. They begin to devise a plan to get her back.
The next section in Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana is called Yuddha Kanda which translates to ‘The War Book’. Rama has made his way to the ocean, which Hanuman leapt over, but is unsure how he will cross. The monkey army builds a bridge over the ocean so Rama and Laksmana can head to Lanka along with millions of monkeys and other great warriors. Finally, they arrive in Lanka and after some time the war begins. All of Ravana’s troops – his ministers, generals, warriors, raksasas, brothers, and sons – end up killed in the midst of war. Rama’s troops all die as well but they have gathered special herbs that instantly heal any injuries and revive their troops from death. After lasting for many days, the battle is finished when Rama destroys Ravana. When Sita is finally rescued, Rama greets her with harshness and indicates that he cannot believe that Sita has remained virtuous during the entire time that she was with Ravana. Heartbroken, Sita sets herself on fire to prove that she has been devoted to only Rama, and she asks that Agni, the God of Fire, protect her from the flames. Of course, Sita has remained pure and so she is not burned by the flames at all, and Rama discovers that he is actually Visnu incarnate and Sita is Laksmi. Having proven that Sita has been faithful to her husband, they are finally reunited and return to Ayodhya to rule over the kingdom. Everyone is thrilled to see Rama, Laksmana, and Sita, especially Bharata, who had been ruling the kingdom on Rama’s behalf. After being crowned king, Rama and Sita live in happiness in Ayodhya for many years.
In the final section of Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana, the Uttara Kanda, translated as the ‘Epilogue Book’, it is revealed to Rama that the people of Ayodhya question Sita’s purity and faithfulness. Rama must now make a decision between being a Dharmic king or a Dharmic husband. He chooses his kingdom over his wife, and knowing Sita is pregnant, sends her off to the forest to dwell with Valmiki, the great sage, and to never return. Several months later Sita gives birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusa, who are taught the poem of Rama by Valmiki, which he called The Journey of Rama or Ramayana. One day, when the twins are grown, they are in Ayodhya with Valmiki and have the opportunity to perform some of their beautiful poem for Rama. Recognizing the story as his own, he asks them to tell him the whole story, and after several days of them reciting, Rama realizes that these are his sons. Sita is brought back to Ayodhya to prove her purity once more. Sita asks for Mother Earth to swallow her up if she has been faithful to Rama, and with that, the earth opens up and Sita is gone forever. Rama is devastated but after many years he returns to Brahma Loka, or the heavens. His sons, Lava and Kusa remain in Ayodhya where they rule their kingdoms.
The Ramayana is made up of many relatable events and experiences, which appear to fall in line with many stories of old that aim to teach people the basic differences between right and wrong, as well as to teach people how to treat others. The Ramayana has been so popular over so many years because it is a fantastic story containing great battles, super-human powers, struggles, victories, love, and loss. Egenes & Reddy’s version of The Ramayana has been written using beautiful descriptions of the characters’ thoughts and emotions which can allow the reader to really feel involved in the story and feel like they are making decisions along with the character. It can also make the reader feel like they are experiencing the emotions first-hand, which allows the reader to feel more immersed in the story. Rama and Sita, being depicted as such virtuous characters, encourages the reader to want to emulate them and act with more virtue.
With The Ramayana being part of Hindu culture for thousands of years, it makes sense that it has provided women with an image of what they should aspire to in marriage. Sita, who served as an example of the ideal wife, followed her husband Rama into exile, gave up all her belongings for him, and waited in chaste for him to rescue her. This allows women to emulate Sita in their devotion to their husbands. Likewise, with Rama being so dharmic, men also have a role model to look up to when manoeuvring through difficult situations. Rama proves that one can be dharmic even when faced with tough decisions in which many people would struggle to make the dharmic choice, such as when Rama chooses his kingdom over his wife. In this way, Rama provides a roadmap for men to follow and for women to support.
Additionally, The Ramayana provides brothers and friends a character to emulate in Laksmana as he honors and follows Rama into exile, leaving behind his wife in order to do so. Laksmana fights and struggles alongside Rama to the very end, while ensuring that Rama’s needs are taken care of before his own. Laksmana has different dharmic responsibilities than Rama does, allowing a more diverse range of men the opportunity to look up to someone and to help act as a guide in their day-to-day lives.
In many ways, The Ramayana acts as a guidebook showing people how to act in a variety of situations. It illustrates that no matter whether you are a king, a wife, a monkey, or a brother, you should always act in the most dharmic ways possible. It demonstrates that sometimes acting in a dharmic fashion is harder than it may seem because you need to take into account the hierarchy of one’s own responsibilities – but it is always doable. It portrays the idea that true love and honoring your spouse is possible, even when faced with adversity.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Egenes, Linda and Reddy, Kumuda (2016) The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic – Complete and Comprehensive. New York: TarcherPerigee.
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Article written by: Jill Easton (Fall 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.