This article is a chapter from the book “Bliss Divine”.
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 all beings”.
Narada replied, “There is such a one, a prince of Ikshvaku’s line named Rama. 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 Parasurama.
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 great devotion.
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 her message.
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.
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.