The story of Ram, the King of Ayodhya, who existed several thousand years ago remains the most popular epic of the world, having acquired the aura of a religious scripture over time, because of the values that this story and the character of Ram propagates for every individual and the society as a whole.
Hinduism is not a religion based on a single book. It is more like a way of life for all. The religious values of Hinduism are often drawn from the lives of great men and women, who by their actions attained the status of divinity. Ram is one such character in Hindu mythology, considered an incarnation of the almighty god himself, who set foot in this world, to show us the way we should lead our lives.....
RAMAYANA or THE STORY OF RAM, is the world's most ancient epic. It describes an era of 4000 to 4500 years ago (two thousand years before Buddha). The original Ramayana was written in Sanskrit, perhaps the oldest of all living Indo-European languages, by saint VALMIKI, who was earlier a criminal, but later changed his ways and devoted his life to learning, knowledge and worship of god.
In Indian religious tradition, usually referred to as Hinduism, the almighty god exists in three forms : BRAHMA, the creator, VISHNU, the preserver and SHIVA, the destroyer.
Together, they form the holy trinity. VISHNU is the most revered form of the Lord in India, along with Lord Shiva. He is said to preserve the universe and all its entities including human beings and other forms of life on earth.
INCARNATION or AVATAAR is an important aspect of Hindu religious philosophy. There is a firm belief that whenever there is too much of anarchy and destruction, whenever the human values are lost in the society, the Lord himself takes a mortal form and joins the world to get rid of the evil, save the world and create an example that the lesser mortals can follow. Vishnu is said to have done this nine times till date, since the beginning of life on earth, in the current cycle of the universe.
In his seventh incarnation, Vishnu is said to have been born as Ram, a prince, whose life has till date remained the ideal for every Indian to follow.
Part One - Ram’s Education & Marriage with Sita
Ram was the eldest son of king DASHRATH of AYODHYA. Dashratha had three wives and four sons from them. All the four brothers, after they reached adolescence, were called upon by sage VISHWAMITRA, who took them to his ASHRAM - the place of learning and meditation of saint scholars. There, all the four princes lived as ordinary students, served the sage as their teacher, and were taught by him. At the end of their education, their teacher took them along to the SWAYAMBAR (competition for choosing the groom) organized by another King JANAK for his four daughters. In the Swayambar, Ram used the ancient bow of Shiva, to win the right to marry SITA, the eldest daughter of Janak. Janak married other daughters with Ram’s brothers. After this all the princes returned to their capital.
Part Two - Dashrath’s Promise to Kaikayee, Ram’s Exile to forest & Death of Dashrath
Traditionally, in India, the eldest son used to inherit the throne of the king. However, Dashrath had once promised his second wife, KAIKAYEE that he will grant her two wishes whenever she wanted, as a reward for having saved his life during a hunting session. When the time came for succession of king’s throne, Kaikayee, reminding the king of his promises, demanded that her son, BHARAT may be made the king and Ram may be exiled to the forest for fourteen years.
King Dashratha belonged to the Raghu dynasty, which was famous for always keeping their word. Thus for Dashratha it became a matter of his ancestor's honour. As a result of Kaikayee's request. he was faced with a great dilemma. He could neither punish his innocent son, nor get back on his word.
When Ram came to know of his father's dilemma, he decided to take the initiative himself fulfil his father's promises. He abdicated the throne and went to the forest. His wife SITA and another step-brother LAKSHAMAN also decided to accompany him to the forest. Dashratha could not stop him, and under the burden of immense sorrow and helplessness, died soon thereafter. Ram was very popular with people, who began to follow him to the forest and would not go back. Finally Ram had to scold as well as request them to go back; only then they could be returned.
When Bharat, his step-brother, who was away during all these happenings, came to know about all this, he scolded his mother and tried to bring back Ram, but Ram refused as he considered it his duty to keep his father's promise and his ancestor's tradition of respecting a promise even at the cost of life.
Part Three - Abduction of Sita by Ravan & Hanuman’s Lanka visit
Later, in the forest, SHOORPANAKHA, the sister of RAVAN, the great and powerful king of LANKA, came across Ram. She was physically attracted to Ram, but Ram was devoted to his wife, SITA and hence politely refused her advances. In anger, she tried to attack and kill Sita, but was stopped and punished by Lakshaman, brother of Ram. Shoorpanakha’s brothers, KHAR and DOOSHAN, came and attacked Ram to avenge her insult, but were killed by the two brothers. To avenge their death, Ravan, planned to abduct Sita by treachery. He sent a golden deer, which attracted Sita's attention. Sita requested Ram to capture the deer for her. When Ram and Lakshaman were away, Ravana abducted Sita and took her to Lanka.
Ram along with his brother, were wandering in the forest looking for his wife, when they came across HANUMAN, the forest warrior belonging to VAN-NAR tribe, (often confused with monkeys because of the use of similar word for monkeys) with great powers, who had heard about Ram, and he became a devoted friend and follower of Ram. Hanuman introduced Ram to his friend SUGREEV, the brother of the their king BALI. Sugreev had been thrown out by Bali, who had taken his wife. Ram promised to kill Bali and in turn, Sugreev promised to help Ram, once he became the king. Subsequently, Sugreev challenged Bali for a wrestling encounter, where Ram killed Bali. Sugreev, who became the king, sent his soldiers looking out for Sita. These soldiers finally came across JATAYU, who had tried to stop Ravana on his way to Lanka, and was badly injured by him. He told them Sita had been abducted by Ravan and taken to Lanka.
At this stage, somebody had to visit Lanka to confirm Sita's presence there, but there is a strip of Sea between Indian mainland and Lankan island of around 90 miles, and no one was capable of going that far in water. Finally, the task was given to Hanuman, the most powerful of them, who went to Lanka, met Sita and assured her that Ram will be coming to rescue her. There he also met VIBHISHAN, Ravan's younger brother, who did not agree with the ways of Ravana, and thought very highly of Ram. Hanuman was attacked by some of the Lankan guards, and in turn he killed many of them including Ravana's son AKSHAY. Later he was captured and taken to Ravan's court, where Ravana first ordered to kill him, but was convinced by his brother Vibhishan that Hanuman cannot be killed as per the dharma (coded of conduct), since he was only a messenger of Ram. So, Ravana ordered that he be insulted by tying a tail on his body and putting it on fire. Instead, Hanuman escaped and spread fire to many places in Lanka, before going back to Ram.
Part Four - Ram Ravan War, Killing of Ravan & Return of Ram to Ayodhya
With the help of Hanuman, and army of the Van-nars, Ram attacked Ravan. Ravan's younger brother Vibhishan, who was kicked out of Lanka for suggesting that a fight with Ram was against the interests of Lankans, also joined Ram. In this war, Ram killed KUMBHKARAN, the giant sized brother of Ravana. During the war, Ravana's son INDRAJIT, one of the greatest warriors of those times, badly injured Lakshaman, and to save him, Hanuman had to bring the herb called SANJEEVANI, from the Himalayas. Finally Lakshaman killed Indrajit and Ram killed Ravan. Vibhishan was made the king of Lanka. As by then, Ram had also completed his fourteen years in exile and having fulfilled the promise made by his father, he then returned to his kingdom, where his brother, Bharat as well as all citizens welcomed him and made him the King.
Ram's tenure as a benevolent king is considered the best ever by any monarch, so much so that the Ram-Rajya (or the rule of Ram) is considered the golden standard that every king should aspire to achieve. Ram was absolutely fair in his approach towards the citizens and always took great pains to ensure their security and happiness. His personal example was one of the biggest motivators for people to follow, and it is said that during his reign, there were no sins as everyone followed the dharma (literally meaning the code of conduct or duty). This made the whole society happy and prosperous, and as a result of which, India became a very prosperous place.
Ram was considered an incarnation of Vishnu and worshipped even during his life-time. His life was a living example of how an ideal human being should strive to be. Ram was an ideal son, an ideal student, an ideal soldier, an ideal husband, an ideal brother, an ideal citizen and finally, an ideal king. His whole life is treated as the domination of good over evil, both within and outside ourselves. His willingness to sacrifice worldly pleasures, material wealth and power for the values he cherished inspired all subsequent generations. His legacy has become an inseparable part and parcel of the Indian culture and civilization and forms one of the strongest pillars of Hindu philosophy of life.
No surprise then that Ramayana, the epic song about the story of Ram’s life, is one religious book that finds a place in almost every home of a Hindu family. The story of Ram has echoed through not only the Indian sub-continent, but also beyond. It is a part of the tradition and culture of many South East Asian countries, and is popular in many countries of Africa and Caribbean too. Wherever you find Indians, there would also be awareness about the legend of Ram.
Though the era of Ram belongs to a very old time, there are many scientific evidences that remain intact even till date. Most importantly, all the places mentioned in the story are there, and at each place there is some memoir or temple suggesting a link with Ram. One of the most compelling historical evidences about the existence of Ram’s existence are the remnants of the bridge made by Ram and his army to cross the PALK STRAIT, the stretch of Sea between India and Sri Lanka. Recently, 2600 year old coins have been excavated with pictures of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman commonly as commonly seen is Hindu temples, suggesting that worship of Ram existed even prior to the birth of Buddha, whose preaching gave rise to Buddhism, and who is considered the ninth avatar or incarnations of Vishnu.
There are three very important festivals of India that are associated with Ramayana. The first of them is DEEPAWALI or DIWALI, the festival of light, which is the anniversary of the return of Ram from his exile. It is said that all citizens of Ayodhya celebrated his return by lighting their homes with candles and other decorative lights. The tradition continues to this day. The second festival is VIJAYA DASHMI, the anniversary of the day on which Ram killed Ravan in the battle field. It is celebrated as the victory of good over evil. The third festival is RAM NAVMI, the birthday of Ram, which is also an important festival especially in North India.
Ram is not just a legend. He is a piece of real life..... may be the link between divinity and humanity .... and a path that we can also follow!!!
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History is usually written as the his story of our historical heroes - individuals, whose eventful lives and achievements make it worth to remember and document them. However, in the process of limiting our history to the stories of such greats, we miss out on the way civilizations organize themselves.