Ramayana – Epic of Hinduism

The Ramayana (रामायण) is an epic poem, composed by the sage Valmiki. It is the first epic of Hinduism, the other being the Mahabharata. You can find the condensed version of the Ramayana on this site.


This poem contains 24,000 verses, divided into six books, called Kandas, which mean ‘phases’ in Sanskrit. They are:

  1. Bala Kanda – 77 chapters
  2. Ayodhya Kanda – 119 chapters
  3. Aranya Kanda – 75 chapters
  4. Kishkinda Kanda – 67 chapters
  5. Sundara Kanda – 68 chapters
  6. Yuddha Kanda – 131 chapters

The format for citing the Ramayana is [Rama:Book.Chapter.Verse]

The very first verse of this epic is:

तपः स्वाध्याय निरतम् तपस्वी वाग्विदाम् वर।
नारदम् परिपरच्छ वाल्मीकिः मुनि पुंगवम् ॥

The Story

Ramayana literally means, ‘the journey of Rama’. This poem narrates the story of Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Asuras had become all powerful under the leadership of their king Ravana, who was invincible in combat. Emboldened, they disrupted the Yagnas being conducted by the sages, and terrorized mortals, cutting off the flow of Havis to the Gods.

Indra and the other Devas were in terror of their lives. They beseeched Lord Vishnu to save them. He promised to be incarnated as a mortal, the son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya and destroy Ravana. In due course of time, the Lord was born as Rama, as a result of a Yagna conducted by King Dasharatha, who sought to obtain issue by this means.

His three brothers LaxmanaShatrughna and Bharata were also born due to this sacrifice. The four princes were educated as befitting their royal birth by sage Vasishta, the perceptor of their clan. When they had nearly finished their training, the sage Vishwamitra arrived at the court of their father and asked him to send Rama and Laxmana to guard his sacrifice from disruption by the Asuras. The King did not want to send his children and offered his services instead, but the sage was adamant. Finally, Vasishta persuaded the King to let the princes go with Vishwamitra.

As the princes traveled with sage Vishwamitra, he instructed them in the use of many divine weapons. The first real test faced by the Rama and Laxmana was the Yaksha woman TatakaRama hesitated to kill a woman, but when Vishwamitra explained to him that evil has no gender, his doubts were erased and he slew the demoness.

Finally the party reached the site of the Yagna. When the AsuraSubahu and Maricha tried to disrupt the sacrifice, Rama slew Subahu, but Maricha escaped to Lanka. The ritual was completed successfully. Vishwamitra took the princes to Mithila, where King Janaka had declared that he would give his daughter Sita to the prince who strings the heavy bow of Shiva in his possession. Rama strung it with ease; in fact, he broke it into pieces while stringing it. Dasharatha and his retinue came to celebrate the marriage of Rama and Sita. At the same time, suitable alliances were made for this three brothers.

As the wedding party was returning to Ayodhya, Parashurama intercepted them and wanted Rama to string his bow, failing which, he would have to meet him in combat. Rama strung that bow also effortlessly. Humbled, Parashurama gifted that bow to Rama.

Soon, Dasharatha decided that the time had come to crown Rama as his heir-apparent. As the preparations were being made, his youngest wife Kaikeyi (she was the mother of Bharata), reminded him that he had granted her three boons long ago. She asked that her son Bharata should be crowned as the heir, that Rama should go into exile for fourteen years. Kaikeyi used to be very fond of Rama, but her hench-woman Manthara had poisoned her mind against him. The King pleaded with her, but she would not budge. To uphold the truth of his father’s promise Rama gave up the crown and resolved to go into exile. Sita and Laxmana accompanied him. Unable to bear the his separation from his favorite son, Dasharatha died of grief. Bharata had been away visiting his maternal relations during these events. When he learned what his mother had done, he was appalled. He went to the forest and tried to persuade Rama to return, but was could not succeed. So he instead installed the shoes of Rama on the throne and ruled as the regent, waiting for the fourteen years of exile to end.

RamaLaxmana and Sita spent a very pleasant time in their exile, wandering from forest to forest and meeting many sages. One day, Shurpanakha, the sister of Ravana saw Rama and fell in love with him. She turned herself into a beautiful woman and expressed her love to him, but he told her that he was married. Enraged, she tried to attack Sita, but she was stopped by Laxmana. Unwilling to kill her, he cut off her nose and ears instead.

Humiliated, she went to Ravana and exhorted him to seek revenge. She described the beauty of SitaRavana decided to abduct Sita, and sent Maricha to draw Rama from the hermitage. Maricha took the form of a golden stag and pranced in the woods nearby. Sita wanted that stag, and despite Rama‘s pleas, sent him to capture it for her. When the stag was finally shot down, he cried out in Rama‘s voice, prompting Sita to send Laxmana to investigate. Laxmana did not want to leave his sister-in-law unprotected, so he drew a magical line around the hermitage and asked her not to cross it, for she will be protected within it.

Ravana arrived in the guise of a hermit and begged for alms. When Sita crossed the magical line to give him alms, he abducted her in his flying car. Hearing Sita‘s cries for help Jatayu, the king of birds tried to stop Ravana, but in the ensuing battle, Ravana cut of the wings of that bird and left him grievously injured. When Rama and Laxmana returned, they found Sita gone and searched all over the forest for her. They came across Jatayu, who told them of her abduction by the Asura King, and died of his wounds. Rama performed his funeral rites.

While the brothers continued their search, they were met by Hanuman, the friend of the exiled monkey king Sugreeva. The monkeys had seen the flying car and had in their possession the ornaments of Sita, that she had dropped on her way. Sugreeva offered the aid of his followers to Rama, if he could regain his kingdom. His elder brother Vali had usurped his kingdom and exiled him. Though the brothers were evenly matched in strength, Vali emerged victorious because he had obtained a boon that he half the power of his enemy would go to him in combat.

Rama promised his help, and Sugreeva challenged Vali. Unfortunately, since the brothers were so alike, Rama could not tell them apart and stayed out of the battle. Sugreeva barely escaped with his life. In his second attempt, he wore a garland for identification, and Rama killed Vali with an arrow from behind. Sugreeva became the King and Angadha, the son of Vali was made the crown prince.

Sugreeva spent his days in pleasure and nearly forgot his promise to help Rama. Finally, confronted by an angry Laxmana, he sent his men in all four directions to search for SitaRama felt that the southern party, led by Hanuman would have the best chance for success, so he gave Hanuman his ring so that he could win Sita‘s trust when he finds her.

When Hanuman reached the ocean to the south, he was doubted if he could cross it. Sampati, the brother of Jatayu, who happened to be there assured him that he could cross the ocean. Encouraged by other members of his party, Hanuman grew his body to a large size and leaped over the ocean. On the way, a shadow-grabbing Rakshasa woman named Simhika tried to stop him, but he slew her. When he finally reached Lanka, he searched the palace and other buildings for Sita but did not find her. Finally, he found her in a garden named Ashokavana, and gave her Rama‘s ring as proof of his identity. He offered to take her back with him, but Sita wanted her husband to rescue her after taking revenge on Ravana.

Hanuman wanted to test the strength of the Asuras so he created a ruckus by uprooting trees in that garden. When the Asura forces came to capture him, he defeated them easily. Finally, he allowed himself to be taken prisoner by Indrajit, as a mark of respect to the Brahma missile used by that Asura. When produced before Ravana, he warned the Asura king that he should beg Rama‘s pardon and return his wife immediately or else he would be utterly destroyed. Enraged, Ravana ordered that the tail of Hanuman be set on fire. Hanuman broke his bonds and with his tail, he set fire to all the buildings in Lanka and burned most of them to ashes, returning to Rama by crossing the ocean again.

Now that Sita‘s whereabouts were known, an army of monkeys and bears was amassed for the invasion of Lanka. Since they could not all leap over the ocean, they built a bridge across the ocean and reached Lanka using it. As a final attempt to negotiate peace, Angadha was sent to reason with Ravana, but the Asura king would not yield. It was to be war. Vibhishana, the youngest brother of Ravana was a righteous man and warned Ravana to mend his evil ways. In retaliation, Ravana exiled him. Vibhishana then joined the Rama to fight on the side of truth.

The battles were hard fought. The Asuras were past masters in the art of magical warfare. However, thanks to the divine missiles of Rama and Laxmana, the monkey army held their own. Since the battle was going badly for the Asuras, Ravana sent his brave brother Kumbhakarna in battle. Kumbhakarna was slain by Laxmana after a vicious battle. Indrajit, the son of Ravana succeeded in binding the brothers with the help of his Sarpa (snake) missile. Hanuman saved their lives by flying to the Himalayas and returning with a mountain that was full of herbs, which revived Rama and Laxmana. The battle resumed, and Laxmana finally slew Indrajit.

Mahiravana, another son of Ravana succeeded in abducting Rama and Laxmana by trickery, and tried to sacrifice them to the Goddess Kali. With the help of VibhishanaHanuman rescued them from the underground palace where they were being held prisoner. Laxmana slew Mahiravana in the ensuing battle.

Finally Ravana himself came to the battlefield. He fought so well that Rama began to doubt if he could ever win the battle. The Gods and divine sages were who were watching the battle from the skies were also worried. The sage Agastya then appeared before Rama and spoke words of encouragement. He taught him the Aditya Hridayam, a prayer to Surya. After invoking this prayer to the sun God, Rama was invigorated and renewed his combat with Ravana. Finally he slew the Asura king and emerged victorious.

Before he could accept his wife back however, he had to prove to the world that she was chaste. He ordered her to prove her fidelity by a trial of fire. The fire did not harm her, Agni, the fire God brought her out of the flames personally and handed her over to Rama. By this time, the fourteen years were nearing an end. Bharata had threatened to commit suicide if Rama did not return on the day the period of exile ended. Rama sent Hanuman ahead to convey the good news.

Exactly on the fourteenth anniversary of his exile, Rama entered Ayodhya to a triumphant exile. He was finally crowned the King of Kosala. Hanuman became his follower, with the permission of his king Sugreeva.

[The main narrative of the Ramayana ends here, but the story is continued in the Uttara Ramayana.]

Many years passed, and Sita became pregnant. At this time, the spies of Rama brought him news that one of his subjects, a washerman, had refused to take back his errant wife, saying, “I am not like Rama, who took back his wife after she had been abducted by Ravana. I have my prestige to consider.” Rama then sent Sita into exile. She took shelter at the hermitage of sage Valmiki where her twin sons Lava and Kusha were born.

Rama wanted to conduct the Ashwamedha Yagna and the ritual horse was accompanied by his forces led by Bharata. When they reached the forest in which Valmiki‘s hermitage was, they were challenged by the twins, who succeeded in routing the entire army. Rama himself was taken prisoner and produced before Sita. An emotional reunion took place and on the advice of sage Valmiki, all of them returned to the kingdom and lived happily ever after.

Leave a Comment