Rāmāyana of Vālmīki
Śrīmad Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa - an English translation of which you can read online following the links below – is the oldest Epic of the Hindu literature and philosophy, far more ancient as the famous Mahābhārata Epic, which is much later work. According to traditional narrative Rāmāyaṇa describes events which have taken place in the Tretā Yuga, second of the four eons (yugas) of Hindu chronology.
Rāmāyana is not just an ancient legend; it is one of the root Hindu religious texts portraying ideal and divine characters and society for which to strive and resemble.
Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki consists of 6 parts:
The central hero of Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa is Śrī Rāma, the ideal men, ruler, husband and spiritual ideal. He is considered to be the Seventh Avatara, the embodiment, incarnation of God Viṣṇu – born on earth in Solar dynasty of Ikṣvāku kings in Ayodhyā – to lead the mankind and all beings on the path of Dharma and relieve them from all possible troubles.
His wife Sītā exemplifies the ideal of womanhood and wife, very devout and trusted to her divine husband Rāma, a true embodiment of heavenly Mother Lakṣmī, the Goddess of good fortune and plenty. Sītā is the dear daughter of the king Janaka from the Mithilā (present day Janakpur, Nepal, about 123 km south-east of Kathmandu, 20 km from the Indian border)
In Rāmāyaṇa you will meet also the heroic monkey-men (Vānara) Hanuman – the embodiment of enormous strength, health and trust, the ideal servant of his Lord Rāma. According to the story of Rāmāyaṇa Hanuman plays an important role in liberation of princess Sītā from captivity in Śrī Lanka, when she was abducted by evil demons (Rākṣasa) .
One of the main events described in Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki is the abduction of the Mother Sītā by the evil Rākṣasa (demon) king from Lanka – named Rāvaṇa – who brought the young wife of the Lord Rāma to his fortified castle on the island of Lanka (Ceylon).
After performing severe penance for ten thousand years Rāvaṇa had received a boon from the creator-god Brahma that he could not be killed by gods, demons or spirits. He is portrayed as a powerful demon king who disturbs the penances of rishis.
Vishnu incarnates as the human Rāma to defeat Rāvaṇa, thus circumventing the boon given by Brahma.
Among other important characters you will meet the 3 younger brothers of Rāma - Lakṣmaṇa, Bhārata and Śatrughna – the personifications of ideal brotherly love and trust.
Lakṣmaṇa is the younger brother of Rāma who chose to accompany and serve him when Rāma is sent into exile to Daṇḍakāraṇya forest (the Punishment’s Forest) due to anger of queen Kaikeyi. He spends his time caring and protecting Rāma and Sītā in the forest and against the demons on their way to Liberate Sītā from demons.
Bhārata was the other son of Daśaratha and Kaikeyi, chosen by parents to rule over the Kingdom of Ayodhyā. But when he heard that his brother Rāma, the lawful heir of the throne according to Dharma Śastra, has been sent into exile – Bhārata didn’t doubt for long – he went to the forest in search of lord Rāma to invite him back to the castle and rule over Ayodhyā....When he, however, refuses to do so against the will of their royal parents, Bhārata returns, places the sandals of Rāma on the throne as a sign of the real king, and in meanwhile rules as a regent for fourteen years until the return of Rāma and Sītā.
The royal father of Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Bhārata – the king Daśaratha – dies heartbroken soon after Rāma goes into exile.
But not all characters in Rāmāyaṇa are good – there are also those evil Rākṣasas (demons) from the family of Rākṣasa king Rāvaṇa who are acting not according to the holy Dharma but of their own desires, ambitions, greed and jealousy...
Among them - Kumbhakarṇa – the brother of Rāvaṇa - famous for his eating and sleeping. He would sleep for months at a time and would be extremely ravenous upon waking up, consuming anything set before him. His monstrous size and loyalty made him an important part of Rāvaṇa’s army. During the war he decimated the Vānara monkey army before Rāma cut off his limbs and head.
Indrajit was the son of Rāvaṇa who twice defeated Lakṣmaṇa in battle, before succumbing to him the third time. An adept of the magical arts, he coupled his supreme fighting skills with various stratagems to inflict heavy losses on the Monkey army before his death.
There was also Sūrpanakhā - Rāvaṇa’s demoness sister who fell in love with Rama and had the magical power to take any form she wanted.
But not all were destined to extinction of the Rāvaṇa’s kin, some Rākṣasas were able to change – represented here in Rāmāyaṇa by the younger brother of Rāvaṇa – Vibhīṣaṇa – who was against the kidnapping of Sītā, and after Rāvaṇa’s refusal to return Her to Rāma, Vibhīṣaṇa joined the forces of Rāma. His knowledge of Lanka was pivotal to successful outcome of the war, and later he was crowned as the King of Lanka after the fall of Rāvaṇa.
During the 14 years of his exile in Daṇḍakāraṇya forest, the lustrous divine personality of Rāma had to overcome many challenges and difficulties, but he also earned many loyal friends among the forest inhabitants- vānaras – the monkeys.
We already mentioned the most devoted servant of Rāma- the monkey-men Hanuman. But there was also Sugrīva – the king of monkey kingdom, who with his monkey army came to save princess Sītā from Rāvaṇa.
Rāmāyaṇa also tells the story how the monkey army built the bridge from India to the island of Lanka from stones in a very short time, named Rāma Sethu. It was a 30 km long bridge connecting the Rameshwaram island near the coastline of India and the island of Śrī Lanka. It was reportedly passable on foot until the 15th century until storms deepened the channel: temple records seem to say that Rama’s Bridge was completely above sea level until it broke in a cyclone in AD 1480.
After the liberation of Sītā from the hands of evil Rākṣasas in Lanka, when Rāma had spent 14 years in exile in Daṇḍakāraṇya forest – the divine couple with all their loyal friends and helpers happily returned to Ayodhyā, where they were they were warmly received by Bhārata.
Rāma was crowned as a King of Ayodhyā and ruled over the kingdom of Ayodhyā according to Dharma for 11 thousand years. During his rule all citizens of Ayodhyā were happy, there was a plenty of everything and morals of all people were very high.