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The Ramayana

India's Most Loved Epic

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Rama & Sita

Rama and Sita in Exile in the Panchawati Forest

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The Ramayana is undoubtedly the most popular and timeless Indian epic read and loved by all. The term 'Ramayana', literally means "the march (ayana) of Rama" in search of human values. As a literary work, it combines "the inner bliss of Vedic literature with the outer richness of delightfully profound story telling."

This story of Shri Rama by the great sage Valmiki is referred to as the Adi Kavya or original epic. About the Valmiki Ramayana, Swami Vivekananda has said: "No language can be purer, none chaster, none more beautiful, and at the same time simpler, than the language in which the great poet has depicted the life of Rama."

About the Poet

Universally acclaimed and accepted as the first among Sanskrit poets, Valmiki was the first to discover a metrical expression of epic dimension and vision to match the emotional ecstasy of the story of Rama. According to a legend, Valmiki was a robber who one day met a hermit who transformed him to a virtuous being. Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom was believed to have assured the sage to stand by his side and guide him to visualize the events of Ramayana, and eulogize them with epic dignity and secular simplicity.

Read About the Many Characters of the Ramayana

The Seven 'Kandas' or Sections

The epic poem is composed of rhyming couplets called 'slokas', in high Sanskrit, employing a complex meter called 'anustup'. These verses are grouped into individual chapters or cantos called 'sargas', wherein a specific event or intent is told. The 'sargas' are again grouped into books called 'kandas'. The seven 'kandas' of Ramayana are: Bal Kanda, the boyhood section; Ayodhya Kanda, Rama's life in Ayodhya, until his banishment; Aranya Kanda, Rama's life in the forest and Sita's abduction by Ravana; Kishkindha Kanda, Rama's stay at Kishkindha, the capital of his monkey ally, Sugriva; Sundara Kanda, Rama's passage to Sri Lanka; Yuddha Kanda or Lanka Kanda, Rama's battle with Ravana, the recovery of Sita, and return to Ayodhya; and Uttara Kanda, the section narrating Rama's life in Ayodhya as king, the birth of his two sons, Sita's test of innocence and return to her mother, and Rama's demise or 'jala samadhi' (water-tomb).

Read the Summary of the Ramayana

Time of Composition

There was a long period of oral tradition before the Ramayana was actually written, and the original strand of the story drew upon various pre-existing folk tales about Rama. Like many other classical poems written in ancient times, the exact date and time of the genesis of Ramayana is yet to be determined accurately. The reference to the Greeks, Parthians, and Sakas shows that the time of composition of Ramayana cannot be earlier than the second century BC. But the consensus is that Ramayana was written between the 4th and the 2nd centuries BC with augmentations up to about 300 CE. Linguistically and philosophically, a period just after the Vedic age, would most suit the content of the epic.

Guide Picks: Top 6 Books on the Ramayana

Versions and Translations

The heroic deeds of Rama and his exciting adventures have inspired generations of people, and for centuries, the epic existed only orally in Sanskrit. Other famous versions of Ramayana include Shri Ramcharitmanas in Avadhi or old Hindi by Goswami Tulsidas, Kamban's Kambaraamayanam in Tamil, the Patala Ramayanam in Malayalam, and the Bengali Ramayana by Krittivas Ojha. This monumental work had a deep influence on almost all Indian poets and writers of all ages and languages: Ranganatha (15th century), Balarama Das and Narahari (16th century), Premanand (17th century), Sridhara (18th century), et al. Valmiki's Ramayana was first introduced to the West in 1843 in Italian by Gaspare Gorresio with support of Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia.

Read the Full Text Translation of the Ramayana

Next Page: The Universal Appeal of the Ramayana

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