An article by
Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society
The Ramayana of Valmiki is perhaps the most
ancient and glorious epic in the world. It is known as the Adikavyam,—the
first poem. Ramayana exercises a great moulding power on the life of man. It
contains object lessons for husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers
and sisters, friends and enemies.
Valmiki once asked Narada, "O Venerable
Rishi! Please tell me whether there is a perfect man in this world who is at
once virtuous, brave, dutiful, truthful, noble, steadfast in duty, and kind to
Narada replied, "There is such a one, a
prince of Ikshvaku's line named Rama (sarve ramanthi iti rAmah - means
one who gives happiness to all). He is virtuous, brave, gentle, and wise. He is
a great hero. He loves his subjects immensely. He is a protector of Dharma. He
is firm and steadfast. He is just and liberal. He is well-versed in the Vedas
and in the science of arms. He is unique in the possession of virtues and
matchless in beauty. He is an obedient son, a kind brother, loving husband, a
faithful friend, an ideal king, a merciful enemy, and a lover of all living
beings. All people adore him".
Valmiki, reflecting over this flowing
description, was walking along the banks of the river Tamasa. He happened to see
a pair of Kraunchas (birds) sporting with each other in love. Suddenly the male
bird was shot dead by a cruel fowler and the female, seeing her mate rolling on
the ground in the agony of pain, screamed out most pitifully her lamentations.
The sage felt great pity at the sight of the fallen bird and his grieving spouse
and burst forth in the exclamation: "Never, O fowler, shalt thou obtain
rest, as thou hast killed a Krauncha in the midst of his love". These words
came out spontaneously in the form of a musical verse having four feet of eight
syllables each (Anushtup metre).
Then Brahma himself, the Creator of the world,
appeared before the poet and said, "Sing Rama's charming story in the same
melodious metre. As long as this world endures, as long as the stars shine in
heaven, so long shall thy song spread among men". So saying Brahma
vanished. He inspired the poet with the knowledge of Sri Rama's whole story;
whereupon Valmiki sat down in meditation and saw every event in Sri Rama's story
in detail in his Yogic vision. Then he began to write the Ramayana. The melody
of Ramayana was born from a heart of love and pity for the wounded bird. When
applied to Ramayana, the verse of Valmiki sung out of pity for the Krauncha, can
be interpreted thus: Sri Rama and Sita represent the two Kraunchas. Ravana
represents the cruel hunter. Sita was cruelly separated from Rama by the cruel
hunter Ravana. There is a slight similarity in these cases. The hunter's cruel
act was a forerunner to Valmiki's inspiration to narrate the Ramayana.
Valmiki Ramayana contains 24,000 verses which
have been grouped into 500 Chapters and that again into seven Kandas or
sections, viz., Bala, Ayodhya, Aranya, Kishkindha, Sundara, Yuddha and
the Uttara Kandas. In contains genuine classical Sanskrit poetry. Rama's young
sons, Kusa and Lava, were the first reciters to the world, who sang to music
this reputed work. They came in the garb of ascetics from the hermitage of their
teacher Valmiki, and sang the wonderful poem in the presence of their father
Rama and other heroes of the story.
The Ramayana is a marvellous book which
contains the essence of all Vedas and all sacred scriptures. It is a treasure
for man. It is a reservoir which contains the nectar of Immortality. It
delineates the character of a son who kicks off the throne and the pleasures of
the senses and the world to fulfil the words of his father and lives in the
forest for a period of fourteen years. It depicts the character of a father who
sends even his most beloved son in exile in order to keep up his word. It
delineates the character of an ideal, chaste wife who is devoted to her husband
till the end of her life, shares his adversities, and serves him untiringly in
the forest, and who also regards her husband as God. Above all, it also points
out the character of a brother, who places brotherly affection above everything
else in this world and follows his brother in the forest leaving all pleasures
of the palace and leading the way to ward off all dangers. The description of
nature in Ramayana is most sublime and beautiful. One can actually feel that the
hills, the rivers, the trees, and the birds are really one with human joys and
sorrows. The description of battle-scenes is magnificent. The chief
characteristic of Ramayana is simplicity. Pathos and tenderness run through the
whole poem. Poetry and morality are charmingly united. There is loftiness of
moral tone. The Ramayana has a historical basis. It is a book of antiquity. It
is not a mere allegoric poem. It is a marvellous inspiring book for all times,
that has loomed large for centuries over the destinies of millions of people and
will certainly continue to do so for ages to come.
In Bala-Kanda the Incarnation of Sri Rama and
his childhood life are described. Rama helps Visvamitra by guarding his
sacrifice. He slays ogress Tataka and Subahu. He frees Ahalya from her curse. He
breaks the bow of Siva and marries Janaki and annihilates the pride of
In Ayodhya-Kanda preparations are made for
installing Rama as heir-apparent. His step-mother Kaikeyi stands in the way and
sends him in exile for fourteen years. Rama's brother Lakshmana and wife Sita
follow him. Raja Dasaratha (father) becomes very much afflicted at heart on
account of his separation from Rama and dies due to grief. Rama, Lakshmana, and
Sita are entertained by Guha, a hunter-chief. They cross the Ganga and meet
Rishi Bharadvaja. They go to Chitrakuta on the advice of the Rishi. They build a
cottage made up of grass and leaves (Parna Kutir) there. Then Bharata (another
devoted brother) goes to the forest and insists Rama to return to the country
and finally takes Rama's sandals alone. He places the sandals on the throne and
rules the kingdom in the name of Sri Rama. Bharata himself lives at Nandigrama.
In Aranya-Kanda, Viradha, a giant, attacks Rama
and Lakshmana in the Dandaka forest. Rama kills him. Thereafter, they pay a
visit to the Rishis Sarabhanga, Sutikshna, and Atri. Anasuya, wife of Atri,
gives an inspiring discourse on the duties of a wife to Sita. Then they meet
Rishi Agastya. Rama receives celestial weapons from him. They encounter the
giantess Surpanakha in the Panchavati forest. She is disfigured by Lakshmana.
Lakshmana cuts her nose and ears. Khara and Trisiras (along with fourteen
thousand giants), brothers of Surpanakha, are very much enraged. They fight
against Rama. They are slain in the battle.
Surpanakha goes to Lanka and complains to her
brother Ravana. Under Ravana's plan, Maricha, uncle of Ravana, assumes the form
of a golden deer and appears before Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. Sita requests
Rama to get the deer for her. Rama proceeds to catch the deer and kills it. In
the mean time, Ravana carries away Sita in the absence of Rama and Lakshmana.
Jatayu, the king of vultures, challenges Ravana, but he is mortally wounded.
Rama obtains all information about Sita from the dying Jatayu. He is very much
afflicted at heart. Subsequently, Rama and Lakshmana kill Kabandha near the lake
Pampa. Then they meet the pious Sabari. She offers them roots and fruits with
In Kishkindha-Kanda Rama meets Hanuman on the
banks of Pampa. They proceed to Mount Rishyamuka and make an alliance with
Sugriva. Sugriva kills Vali with the help of Rama. Sugriva is crowned as the
king of Kishkindha. Rama consoles Tara, wife of Vali. Thereupon, Hanuman with a
party of monkeys proceeds in search of Sita. He takes with him the ring of Rama
as token. He makes a vigorous search and is not able to find out Sita. Jambavan
(chief of bears) finds out Sampati, brother of Jatayu, in a cave, who gives out
facts. Hanuman climbs up the top of a hill by his direction and from there he
leaps across the ocean to Lanka.
In Sundara-Kanda Hanuman's exploits are
described. During his aerial journey, Mainaka, an island peak, invites Hanuman
to rest on its top at the request of the ocean. Afterwards, Simhika, a monstress
living in the ocean, drags him down by catching his shadow. Hanuman kills her.
Then he gets a distant view of Lanka and enters the city at night. He finds out
Sita in the Asoka grove. He gives her Rama's token and message. Hanuman destroys
the Asoka grove. The Rakshasas imprison Hanuman. Hanuman frees himself and sets
fire to Lanka. He returns back to the place where Rama is staying and gives
Sita's gem to Rama. Rama is highly delighted when he receives Sita's token and
In Yuddha-Kanda, Nala (one of the
monkey-chiefs) builds a bridge across the ocean by the advice of the ocean. The
heroes with a large army of monkeys cross the ocean and reach Lanka. Vibhishana
(brother of Ravana) joins them and tells them how to destroy Ravana and his
army. Kumbhakarna, Indrajit, and Ravana are killed in battle. During the battle,
both the parties of Rama and Ravana use Astras or weapons charged with Mantras.
Rama sends an Astra on Ravana's' party. All Rakshasas appear as Rama. They kill
one another. Ravana discharges on Rama, Nagastra (arrow that becomes serpents
full of poison). The arrows have their mouths like serpents and vomit forth fire
all around. The Rama discharges Garudastra. The arrows becomes Garudas and cut
off the serpent arrows on all sides. Garudas are the enemies of serpents. Rama
uses Brahmastra to kill Ravana. Sita is rescued. Sita's honour is tested in the
fire. She comes out more glorious and effulgent than ever. Vibhishana is then
crowned as king in Lanka. Sri Rama with his party returns to Ayodhya in the
flying car called Pushpaka. Rama is crowned as Emperor. The people of his
kingdom feel extremely happy.
In Uttara-Kanda, Sri Rama's reign is described
as Rama-Rajya. There is righteousness everywhere. Everywhere there are plenty
and prosperity. There is neither disease nor sorrow. There are neither dacoits
nor thieves. Life and prosperity are quite safe. The four Varnas duly observe
their Dharmas. Sri Rama goes back to His Supreme Abode (Saketa-Puri or Dhama)
after a long and prosperous rule.
The esoteric meaning of Ramayana is this:
Ravana represents Ahankara or egoism. His ten heads represent the ten senses.
The city of Lanka is the nine-gated city of the physical body. Vibhishana
corresponds to the intellect. Sita is peace. Rama is Jnana (wisdom). To kill the
ten-headed Ravana is to kill the egoism and curb the senses. To recover Sita is
to attain the peace which the Jiva (individual) has lost on account of desires.
To attain Jnana is to have Darsana of Rama or the Supreme Self.
thIrthvA moharnvam hatvA raga dveshAdi
yogI sAnthi samAyukthah AtmA rAmo virAjate
(by Sri Sankaracharya)
He who crosses this ocean of Moha and destroys
the Rakshasas,—Raga and Dvesha (likes and dislikes),—is a Yogin who is
united with Santi or Peace, ever rests in Atman, and enjoys the eternal bliss.
Sri Rama stands for the 'Good' (Sattva); Ravana for the 'Evil'. Sri Rama and
Ravana fought with each other. Eventually Sri Rama became victorious. The
positive always overcomes the negative. Good always overcomes evil.