Teacher Training - The Rāmāyaṇa of Válmíki
The Rāmāyaṇa - "The Life of Râma"
The Rāmāyaṇa is an epic tale set in prehistorical India. One of the countries most beloved and enduring legends, it represents historical fact to millions who worship Rama, prince of Ayodhya, as an incarnation of the Hindu deity Viṣṇu. Regardless of their religious orientation, Indian's see it as a great work of literature. The story of a war between good and evil, and as a document prescribing a code of conduct that is still widely regarded today.
Rama is the hero of the legend, and the 'ayana' is his journey, both physical and spiritual.
The Rāmāyaṇa is one of the largest ancient epics in world literature. The Sanskrit poem, held by common consent in India as the very beginning of poetry, follows Prince Râma's quest to rescue his beloved wife Sitâ from the clutches of the King Ravana with the help of an army of monkeys. The Ramayana consists of nearly 24,000 verses and is divided into seven books about 500 chapters.
One of the most important literary works of ancient India, it has greatly influenced art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, with versions of the story also appearing in the Buddhist canon from a very early date. The story of Râma has constantly been retold in poetic and dramatic versions by some of India's greatest writers and also in narrative sculptures on temple walls. It is one of the staples of later dramatic traditions, re-enacted in dance-dramas, village theatre, shadow-puppet theatre and the annual Ram-lila (Rama-play). Scholar Romesh Chunder Dutt writes that "the Ramayana, like the Mahabharata, is a growth of centuries, but the main story is more distinctly the creation of one mind." That is the mind of the inspired sage Valmiki. As you will read later, Sage Valmiki was a contemporary of Prince Râma. They met during Râma's period of exile. Valmiki himself gave shelter to Sita in his hermitage when Râma banished her.
Above: The sage Vālmīki, seated on the left outside his hut, enquires of the divine sage Nārada if there be any person in the world who is endowed with the qualities of heroism, truthfulness, benevolence, virtuosity and strength, one who is noble and truly great. Nārada names Rāmacandra (Rāma) of the Ikṣvāku race, son of King Daśaratha, who has all the attributes of an excellent being, and narrates in brief, the story of the Rāmāyaṇa.
Waterpots scattered around, a sacred fire and Vālmīki’s garb denote his ascetic status, while the vīṇā in front of Nārada, one of the seven great sages of ancient India, indicates his reputation as the originator of music.
C 1, f.1 images © Private Collection, India
The author Ramesh Menon says of the Rāmāyaṇa; "The themes of the Ramayana are timeless and universal. Goodness and love figure in significant ways - a father’s love for his son, a son’s love for his father, four brothers’ love for one another, a husband’s love for his wife and a wife’s for her husband, and, not least, the love of friends for each other - as do avarice, evil, deceit and treachery, nobility of character, and selflessness and devotion. In short, all the experiences and values of the human spirit are woven throughout the legend, though they are rendered in titanic proportions."
According to Hindu tradition – and according to the Ramayana itself – the epic belongs to the genre of 'itihāsa'. The definition of itihāsa is a narrative of past events. According to Hindu tradition, Ramayana takes place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga. Although composed around 500 BCE to 100 BCE, the poem itself tells a story of a time many, many years ago. Perhaps even up to a Million years ago according to some. Historically speaking, the evolution of different human species was around 2 million years ago. Some hindu's argue that this was a time when homo sapiens where not alone in inhabiting the earth. The timeline of human history suggests that it was around 1-2 million years ago that humans first spread from Africa to Asia, adding some weight to their legitimacy of the Rāmāyaṇa.
Academically, scholars say the principal characters who figure in the Ramayan are not historical personages at all, but mere personifications of certain events and circumstances. Sita (the furrow) remarks Professor Weber (Hist, of Ind. Lit), occurs both in the Rig-veda [R. V. IV. 57.6] and in the Grihya ritual as an object of worship, and represents the Aryan agriculture, while he regards Rama as the ploughman personified. The Ramayana has only, he thinks, a historical character in so far as it refers to an actual occurrence, the diffusion of Aryan civilisation towards the south of the peninsula. As for an academic timeIine, Sir William Jones places Rama in the year 2029 BC, Tod in 1100 BC, and Bentley in 950 BC. Gorresio would place him about the thirteenth century before the Christian era. The Rāmāyaṇa text survives in several thousand partial and complete manuscripts, the oldest of which is a palm-leaf manuscript found in Nepal and dated to the 11th century CE.
Excerpted from the Complete Life of Rāma:
"This is the story of the Lord’s descent to Earth as Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, scion of the race of Raghu, pinnacle of human perfection. It is a story that has enthralled the minds of all who have read it, not only in India, the land of its origin, but throughout the world. The story of Rama has spread everywhere, including such places as Tibet, Turkey, Myanmar, and South- and Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. In Bali and Thailand, as in India, Sri Rama is worshipped as God incarnate."
Bālakāṇḍa (The Book of the Childhood) - The First Book
There was a King called Janaka, he had a beautiful daughter named Sitâ. Sita was found in a field; she was a daughter of the Earth. Hindu mythology says she born without parents. The word "Sita" in ancient Sanskrit means the 'furrow made by a plough'. In the ancient mythology of India you will find persons born in the field, and so on - dropped from the clouds as it were. All those sorts of miraculous birth were common in the mythological lore of India. Sita, being the daughter of the Earth, was pure and immaculate. Upon her marriageable age, it was the Prince of Ayodhyâ, Râma who after impressing the King with his masculinity, won the hand of the heavenly Sitâ. It is said that when Rāma came to the city where Sitâ lives, he wandered into a garden, immediately upon seeing the sublime Sitâ, he fell in love with her. Sitâ too, love happened the moment she saw Râma. Their two hearts met ❤️❤️and became as one. Râma knew he was to wed Sitâ. Had Râma married another woman, he would have missed the music of the meeting of two hearts. Râma and Sitâ (pictured below) would be married with much pomp and grandeur and all of India was jubilant.
Above - King Janaka (seated with legs crossed) has vowed that he will give his daughter Sītā’s hand in marriage to a prince who is strong enough to bend the bow of Śiva, given to his ancestor for safekeeping. Suitors continue to arrive from far and near to Janaka’s court (shown above - right), but none so far have been able to even lift the bow, let alone stretch or bend it.
C 42, f.89 images © Private Collection, India
Above - Viśvāmitra asks for Śiva’s bow to be shown to Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, and King Janaka sends for it, stating that if Rāma were to bend it he would gladly betroth Sītā to him. King Janaka, Viśvāmitra, Śatānanda, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are seated in a tented pavilion (top left), while Sītā looks down through a window in the palace (extreme left). The great bow is wheeled in by attendants (lower left) and Rāma first lifts it out of the box. To the astonishment of all present, he raises the bow with one hand, prepares it and then draws it. Rāma is shown thrice in the centre performing these acts. The bow snaps into two and lies broken before him. Lakṣmaṇa is standing next to him while he performs this incredible feat. Courtiers swoon at the thunderous sound emanating from Rāma’s stupendous act (upper right corner). At the top, Janaka’s sacrifice is still being undertaken.
King Janaka and all present are amazed at this magnificent feat of strength. The king bestows his beloved daughter Sītā’s hand in marriage to Rāma.
CSMVS Acc. No. 54.1/16, f.98 images © Trustees, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India), Mumbai, India
Ayodhyâkāṇḍa (The Ayodhyâ Episode) - The Second Book
After much meddling from the queen Kaikeyi (Râma's stepmother), The king (Râma's father) was forced to strip Râma from the throne and send him into exhile. The queen wished for her own son to be heir of the thrown. It was only Rama who was forced in exhile but Sita could not have him leave without her.
When Sita had offered to accompany Rama into the unknown, Rama exclaimed, “How can you, a princess, face hardships and accompany me into a forest full of unknown dangers?” Sita replied, “Wherever Rama goes, there goes Sita. How can you talk of ‘princess’ and ‘royal birth’ to me? I go before you!” So, Sita went.
Araṇyakāṇḍa (The Forest Episode) - The Third Book
Râma and his angelic wife Sitâ, accompanied by his loyal brother Lakshman began travelling. During this time amongst much confusion, Sita is abducted by the demon King Ravana (pictured below). Ravana was so full of ego, he believed it should have been him who married the beautiful Sitâ and not Râma. He kidnapped her in the hope she would one day confess undying love for him. A strange technique by normal standards, but disturbingly, after growing up watching Bollywood movies, this was pretty normal. Sita would not even enter dialogue with Ravana so ashamed was she over his actions, so to punish her, he made her live under a tree, day and night, until she should consent to be his wife.
Above: The King Ravana. Once a scholar and devotee of Shiva, now full of ego and pride.
Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa (The name of the Monkey Kingdom) - The Fourth Book
Hanumān (a great worshipper of Râma) meets the brothers for the first time as they approached the mountain Rishyamukha whilst searching for Sitâ. When Rāma introduced himself, Hanumān recognising Râma as an incarnation of God, prostrates before him. Hanumān offers his friendship and makes an oath to help rescue Sita. Râma, Lakshman and Hanumān are joined by a group of Vanaras (forest dwelling monkeys - ‘Vanaras’ in Sanskrit means monkey-like). They make an alliance and all commit to rescuing Sitâ.
Above - In their desperate search for the abducted Sītā, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa have come to the Pampā lake, which is covered with lotuses and surrounded by flowering trees. It is the spring season and Rāma is continuously reminded by the mating birds and animals and the flowering plants of his lost love. They are seen by the deposed king of the monkeys, Sugrīva, who sits with his advisers on the craggy heights of the Ṛśyamūka mountain above the lake. The monkeys chatter animatedly among themselves. Various trees and large flowers line the bank of the river, in which two cranes stand.
Add. MS 15296(2), f.2r (painting)
Rama and Lakshmana meet Hanuman while searching for Sita. (Water-colour painting from Punjab dating to the early 1700’s, courtesy the Metropolitan Museum.)
Sundarakāṇḍa (beautiful episode/book) - The Fifth Book
In their search for Sitâ, the Vanaras reach the sashore of Southern India. Across the Ocean is the island of Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka). This is where they believed Sitâ was being held captive. Upon encountering the vast ocean, every vanara begins to lament his inability to jump across the water. A seemingly impossible strait stands between them and Lanka. Hanumān too is saddened at the possible failure of his mission, until the other vanaras and the wise Jambavantha begin to extol Hanumān's virtues.
"O Hanumān, all that you seek is already within you." Hanumān, sitting in meditation, suddenly recollects his own powers, "I am the son of Vayu (the wind god), and there is nothing I am not capable of doing. I will cross the sea and in a matter of moments, find Rāma's queen, and bring her back." Râma gave Hanumān his ring to give to Sitâ if he was to find her.
Climbing to the top of the mountain, he concentrated his mind on Râma and his duties as a friend and to the whole of mankind. Our hero then took a flying leap into the air, and in front of the astonished gaze of the monkeys, he sailed across the sky like a thundercloud. Hanumān roared like thunder swinging his tail in the air. The force of the jump uprooted trees, scattering their leaves into the sea.
Hanuman leaps across the ocean and finds Sita seated under a tree, being held captive by Ravana in Lanka.
Upon landing in Lanka, it would take several long days for the noble Hanumān to locate Sitâ. There were many obstacles in his way, but Hanumān had an iron will and his resolve never wavered. Hanumān represents the ideal of service and devotion. He represents leonine courage, striking the whole world with awe. He was not the least bit hesitant in sacrificing his life for the good of Râma and for the good of the world.
Finally, Hanumān found Sitâ. She was sat enclosed and imprisoned in the royal gardens of King Ravana's castle. She sat on the bare grounds, bound in a net of grief, the picture of shattered hope. Sitâ had shed so many tears she had none left, she had reached the end of her endurance and her will to live.
Above - Hanumān is perplexed as to how he can speak to Sītā, surrounded as she is by demon guardians. Perched in his tree, he begins to recite Rāma’s praises. Sītā is at first confused by him and thinks he might be Rāvaṇa in one of his disguises. But she is then comforted by Hanumān, when he reveals himself to her as Rāma’s messenger and gives her Rāma’s ring, and offers to take her with him back to Rāma. Sītā replies that she cannot allow herself to be rescued by him: to her husband alone belong that right and the glory of so doing. She does, however, give Hanumān a jewel as a token for Rāma.
O San 3621, f.4r (painting)
Hanumān approached his queen, avoiding the watch of Ravana's soldiers. Hanumān told Sita he was there to rescue her and take her back to her beloved Rāma. Sitâ told Hanumān that the King, Ravana, had given her 2 months to succumb to his passion or she would surely be killed. But Sita was adamant she would not leave with Hanumān, "If you rescue me O Hanumān, it would bring no credit to Râma. It is only fitting that Râma himself should come and rescue me and restore Dharma (righteousness)." Hanumān gave Sitâ the ring he had been given by Râma and then returned back across the sea.
Upon Hanuman's arrival, Ram would recite:
"If for one month her heart be strong,
Her days of life will yet be long.
But I, with naught to lend relief,
This very day must die of grief.
Come, Hanuman, and quickly guide
The mourner to his darling's side.
O lead me — thou hast learnt the way —
I cannot and I will not stay.
How can my gentle love endure,
So timid, delicate, and pure,
The dreadful demons fierce and vile
"Who watch her in the guarded isle ?
No more the light of beauty shines
From Sita as she weeps and pines.
But pain and sorrow, cloud on cloud,
Her moonlight glory dim and shroud.
O speak, dear Hanuman, and tell
Each word that from her sweet lips fell.
Her words, her words alone can give The healing balm to make me live."
Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are seated on a lion skin outside a cave on Mount Prasravaṇa, having been told by Hanumān of his adventures and discovery of Sītā. Hanumān has given Sītā’s jewel to Rāma, who is overjoyed and full of praise for him and his valiant companions, but greatly distressed at Sītā’s plight. Rāma is comforted by Sugrīva.
IO San 3621, f.13r (painting)
Having received Hanuman's report on Sitâ, Râma who was now full of hope that his beloved Sitâ was still alive.
Lakshman was now radiant and spoke;
"Soon shalt thou turn, thy queen regained,
And impious Ravan's life-blood drained,
In happiness and high renown,
To dear Ayodhya's happy town."
Lankakāṇḍa (Lanka Episode) - The Sixth Book
Râma and Lakshmana proceed with their allies towards the shore of the southern sea. There they are joined by Ravana's renegade brother Vibhishana. Râma's monkeys built a huge bridge, called Setu-Bandha, this was a floating bridge made from stone. The princes and their army crossed over to Lanka. For several months afterwards tremendous war and bloodshed followed.
Finally, Rama saw Ravana alone on the battlefield -
"Rama ceased: and Raghu's son obeyed,
Upon his string the hero laid,
An arrow, like a snake that hissed,
Whose fiery flight had never missed.
He laid it on the twisted cord,
He turned the point at Lanka's lord (Ravana),
And swift the limb-dividing dart,
Pierced the huge chest and cleft the heart,
And dead be fell upon the plainI,
like Vritra by the Thunderer slain."
Hanumān tells Rāma to climb onto his back to attack Rāvaṇa, like Viṣṇu on his eagle mount Garuḍa. The furious Rāma advances into battle on Hanumān’s back and one of his arrows pierces Rāvaṇa’s crown, which falls to the ground. Rāvaṇa is wounded but allowed by the chivalrous Rāma to retire with his army; downcast he marches off. Lakṣmaṇa still lies wounded on the left.
Add. MS 15297(1), f.61r (painting)
At last, this demon king, Ravana, was conquered and killed by Râma. Râma and his beloved Sitâ where finally reunited.
Uttarkāṇḍa (The Finak Years) - The Seventh Book
After the couple's triumphant return to Ayodhya, Sitâ's righteous rule (Ram-raj) inaugurated a golden age for all mankind. But in order to satisfy the demands of the people who believed that maybe Sitâ was now impure, Sitâ was banished, and left to live in the forest. This forest was the hermitage of the sage and poet Valmiki. The sage found poor Sitâ weeping and forlorn, and hearing her sad story, sheltered her in his Âshrama. Valmiki then decided to tell the whole world the dramatic story composed of Sitâ. He would call this poem the Ramayana, he would set it to music and dramatised it to tell the story.
After some time of grief and sorrow, Râma could no longer handle the seperation. He longed to be with his beloved. Sitâ was called and brought back to Râma. Upon returning the old rumours arose once more. Râma was pressured as the king to test Sitâ. Sitâ was asked to prove her purity. Poor Sita was so terribly overcome by the repeated cruel slight on her reputation that it was more than she could bear. She appealed to the gods to testify to her innocence, when the Earth opened and Sita exclaimed, "Here is the test", and vanished into the bosom of the Earth. The people were taken aback at this tragic end. And Rama was overwhelmed with grief.
A few days after Sita's disappearance, Râma was drowning in sorrow. He was broken and lost. It dawned on him that maybe his mission on earth was finished and he was to return to heaven. This period of contemplation brought about to him the recognition of his own real Self. His failures and the lessons learnt. Râma plunged into the waters of the mighty river Sarayu and joined Sita in the other world.
Fan art - Ram and Sita
As in many oral epics, multiple versions of the Ramayana survive. In particular, the Ramayana related in north India differs in important respects from that preserved in south India and the rest of southeast Asia. There is an extensive tradition of oral storytelling based on Ramayana in Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and Maldives. Father Kamil Bulke, author of Ramakatha, has identified over 300 variants of the Ramayana.
Commentary on the Rāmāyaṇa by the great Swami Vivekananda (pictured above) - Delivered January 31, 1900.
"This is the great, ancient epic of India. Rama and Sita are the ideals of the Indian nation. All children, especially girls, worship Sita. The height of a woman's ambition is to be like Sita, the pure, the devoted, the all-suffering! When you study these characters, you can at once find out how different is the ideal in India from that of the West. For the race, Sita stands as the ideal of suffering. The West says, "Do! Show your power by doing." India says, "Show your power by suffering." The West has solved the problem of how much a man can have: India has solved the problem of how little a man can have. The two extremes, you see. Sita is typical of India — the idealised India. The question is not whether she ever lived, whether the story is history or not, we know that the ideal is there. There is no other Paurânika story that has so permeated the whole nation, so entered into its very life, and has so tingled in every drop of blood of the race, as this ideal of Sita. Sita is the name in India for everything that is good, pure and holy — everything that in woman we call womanly. If a priest has to bless a woman he says, "Be Sita!" If he blesses a child, he says "Be Sita!" They are all children of Sita, and are struggling to be Sita, the patient, the all-suffering, the ever-faithful, the ever-pure wife. Through all this suffering she experiences, there is not one harsh word against Rama. She takes it as her own duty, and performs her own part in it. Think of the terrible injustice of her being exiled to the forest! But Sita knows no bitterness. That is, again, the Indian ideal. Says the ancient Buddha, "When a man hurts you, and you turn back to hurt him, that would not cure the first injury; it would only create in the world one more wickedness."
"Sita was a true Indian by nature; she never returned injury. Who knows which is the truer ideal? The apparent power and strength, as held in the West, or the fortitude in suffering, of the East? The West says, "We minimise evil by conquering it." India says, "We destroy evil by suffering, until evil is nothing to us, it becomes positive enjoyment." Well, both are great ideals. Who knows which will survive in the long run? Who knows which attitude will really most benefit humanity? Who knows which will disarm and conquer animality? Will it be suffering, or doing? In the meantime, let us not try to destroy each other's ideals. We are both intent upon the same work, which is the annihilation of evil. You take up your method; let us take up our method. Let us not destroy the ideal. I do not say to the West, "Take up our method." Certainly not. The goal is the same, but the methods can never be the same. And so, after hearing about the ideals of India, I hope that you will say in the same breath to India, "We know, the goal, the ideal, is all right for us both. You follow your own ideal. You follow your method in your own way, and Godspeed to you!" My message in life is to ask the East and West not to quarrel over different ideals, but to show them that the goal is the same in both cases, however opposite it may appear. As we wend our way through this mazy vale of life, let us bid each other Godspeed."
Fragmentary Notes on the Ramayana -
"Worship Him who alone stands by us, whether we are doing good or are doing evil; who never leaves us even; as love never pulls down, as love knows no barter, no selfishness. Râma was the soul of the old king; but he was a king, and he could not go back on his word. "Wherever Rama goes, there go I", says Lakshmana, the younger brother The wife of the elder brother to us Hindus is just like a mother. At last he found Sitâ, pale and thin, like a bit of the moon that lies low at the foot of the horizon. Sita was chastity itself; she would never touch the body of another man except that of her husband. "Pure? She is chastity itself", says Rama. Drama and music are by themselves religion; any song, love song or any song, never mind; if one's whole soul is in that song, he attains salvation, just by that; nothing else he has to do; if a man's whole soul is in that, his soul gets salvation. They say it leads to the same goal. Wife — the co-religionist. Hundreds of ceremonies the Hindu has to perform, and not one can be performed if he has not a wife. You see the priests tie them up together, and they go round temples and make very great pilgrimages tied together. Rama gave up his body and joined Sita in the other world. Sita — the pure, the pure, the all-suffering! Sita is the name in India for everything that is good, pure, and holy; everything that in women we call woman. Sita — the patient, all-suffering, ever-faithful, ever-pure wife! Through all the suffering she had, there was not one harsh word against Rama. Sita never returned injury. "Be Sita!"
- Swami Vivekananda
Beautiful Interpretation of Ramayana - by Osho Rajneesh
‘Ra’ means light, ‘Ma’ means within me, in my heart.
So, Rama means the Light Within Me.
Rama was born to Dasharath & Kousalya.
Dasharath means ‘Ten Chariots’..The ten chariots symbolize the five sense organs & five organs of action. Kousalya means ‘Skill’..The skillful rider of the ten chariots can give birth to Ram.
When the ten chariots are used skillfully, Radiance is born within. So Rama was born in Ayodhya. Ayodhya means ‘a place where no war can happen’. When There Is No Conflict In Our Mind, Then The Radiance Can Dawn.
The Ramayana is not just a story which happened long ago. It has a philosophical, spiritual significance and a deep truth in it. It is said that the Ramayana is happening in Your Own Body.
Your Soul is Rama,
Your Mind is Sita,
Your Breath or Life-Force (Prana) is Hanuman,
Your Awareness is Laxmana,
and Your Ego is Ravana.
When the Mind (Sita), is stolen by the Ego (Ravana), then the Soul (Rama) gets Restless. Now the SOUL (Rama) cannot reach the Mind (Sita) on its own. It has to take the help of the Breath – the Prana (Hanuman) by Being In Awareness (Laxmana). With the help of the Prana (Hanuman), & Awareness (Laxmana), The Mind (Sita) got reunited with The Soul (Rama) and The Ego (Ravana) died/vanished.
In reality Ramayana is an eternal phenomenon happening all the time.
by Osho (Author), Swami Yoga Pratap Bharati (Editor), Ma Prem Maneesha (Editor), B., 1996. Nowhere to Go But in. 3rd ed. India: Rebel Publishing House Pvt.Ltd ,India (Mar. 1996).
Daljit Nagra (Author), D., 2014. Ramayana. 1st ed. India: Faber & Faber; Main - Illustrated cover pb edition (2 Oct. 2014).
Devdutt Pattanaik (Author), D., 2003. Indian Mythology: Tales, Symbols, and Rituals from the Heart of the Subcontinent. 1st ed. India: Inner Traditions; Original ed. edition (24 April 2003).
Ramesh Menon, R., 2004. The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic. 2nd ed. London: North Point Press; Reprint edition (1 May 2004).
Ramesh Dutt, R., 2005. The Valmiki Ramayana. 2nd ed. India: Vijay Goel Publications.Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith, R., 1870. The Rámáyan of Válmíki: Translated Into English Vol 1-7. 2nd ed. London: Trübner and Company.
Swami Vivekananda (Author), S., 1919. Complete Works of the Swami Vivekananda, Part Five (1919). 2nd ed. India: Kessinger Publishing (10 Sept. 2010).
by Vanamali (Author), B., 2014. The Complete Life of Rama: Based on Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Earliest Oral Traditions. 1st ed. India: Inner Traditions; 3 edition (11 Sept. 2014).
by Vanamali (Author), B., 2010. Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God. 1st ed. India: Inner Traditions International (15 May 2010).