The cultural region where the myth of Rama (Ramayana means the adventure of Rama) (Gaer 1954: vii), originates is India, which is largely Hindu. The widely popular and epic myth dates all the way back to 1500 B.C. (Narayan 1972: ix). Hindu is the third largest religion in the world, behind Christianity and Islam. There are countless versions of the myth, depending on where in India one is, for example in Southern India, the Alu Kurumbas tribe enjoys their own special version of the myth, which deviates slightly from the classic version (Kapp 1989: 123-140). The myth Ramayana goes hand in hand with another Indian myth, Mahabharata, which was written after Ramayana (Patil 1976: 70). We will largely be focusing on Northern India, and their adaptations of the popular myth.
The city which is believed to be the birthplace of Rama is called Ayodhya, and is located in Northeastern India. The myth takes place in Ayodhya, and so the city maintains a special connection to the myth. The Sarayu River, which runs through Ayodhya has significance in many versions of the myth of Rama. Ramayana has often been compared to Homer’s Iliad, because of the parallels between the two myths. Both Rama and Odysseus are working to get their wives back, both were made to suffer extended exiles, and both are successful in battle and return home with their wives to live happily (Dodson 2000: 68-73). Ramayana is often referred to as the Indian Iliad because of these similarities (Gaer 1954: vii).
Ramayana is a myth about a prince, Rama, who was the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu (Gruenwald, Johri N.d.: 1). Rama’s father, Dasharatha was a beloved king. He had three wives and four sons, Rama being the eldest, and his favorite. One day a sage, Rishi Viswamitra convinced Dasharatha to let him take Rama to the forest to help him kill demonic beings called Rakshasas. Dasharatha was reluctant to let his son go, but he eventually gave in. Rishi knew that no harm would come to Rama because he was an incarnation of Vishnu. Rama and his favorite brother, Lakshmana accompanied Rishi to defeat the Rakshasas. Rishi taught Rama mantras that helped him to acquire sacred weapons that would help him defeat his enemies. With the help of his new weapons, Rama helped Rishi defeat the Rakshasas.
They entered the neighboring kingdom, the city of Mithila. Here, the admirable King Janaka was ruler, and had a beautiful daughter, Sita. Rama married Sita and brought her back to Ayodhya where they lived happily for some time. This was until Rama’s stepmother, Kaikeyi convinced her husband, Dasharatha to exile Rama for 14 years and to make her son, Bharata king. Dasharatha loved Rama, and was saddened by his wife’s request. Rama and Sita, accompanied by Lakshmana went to the forest for exile. While they were in exile, Sita was kidnapped by the evil king of a neighboring kingdom, Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana gathered an army to defeat Ravana, and to rescue Sita. In the end, Rama and Lakshmana defeated Ravana’s army, and rescued Sita. They returned home where Rama became king, and they lived a prosperous life.
Call to adventure/ Supernatural aid
Rama’s call to adventure began when the sage Rishi Viswamitra asked his father, King Dasharatha if Rama could accompany him to the forest to help him defeat the Rakshasas, or Hindu mythological demonic beings. The Rakshasas were disturbing the sage’s rituals, and he knew that because Rama was an incarnation of the great god, Vishnu, that he would be able to help him defeat them. Reluctantly, Dasharatha allowed Rama along with his brother Lakshmana to help the sage defeat the Rakshasas. The three men ventured out into the Dandaka forest for this purpose. Another call to adventure was when Queen Kaikeyi had Rama exiled for 14 years. This forced him, Lakshmana and Sita into the forest once again where they encountered many adventures.
While in the Dandaka forest, the sage Rishi helped Rama to learn several mantras, or divine chants which were to help him to acquire sacred weapons through meditation. These powerful, sacred weapons made it effortless to defeat the Rakshasas. Rishi explained to Rama that these weapons would not only help him to kill his enemies, but they would also fill them with fear and cause them to lose their discipline to fight. Rama would call on these powers throughout the myth to help him defeat his enemies.
Road of Trials/ Meeting of the Goddess
Ever since Rama left the comfort of his home at age 15, he faced many different challenges. Firstly, he was called upon by the sage, Rishi Viswamitra to help him to kill the Rakshasas. This was a challenging experience for such a young man, but it prepared Rama for the adventures ahead of him. Next, Rama was exiled from his home in Ayodhya and banished to the Dandaka forest. Following this, his wife, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana. Rama was forced to wage war on Ravana to rescue Sita. The battle was a long and bloody one, but he his army finally defeated Ravana’s, and he was reunited with his beloved Sita.
While Rama was helping Rishi Viswamitra, he met Sita, the beautiful daughter of King Janaka. She was the most beautiful woman in the land, and every man wished her to be his wife. Only the strongest and bravest man would be allowed to marry her. Janaka insisted that any man that wanted to marry Sita must first prove himself by stringing the great bow of Lord Siva. Many men tried and failed, but Rama accomplished this task with ease. Rama and Sita were therefore happily married.
Refusal of the Return/ Freedom to Live
When Rama was banished to the Dandaka forest in exile, his brother Bharata found him and informed him of the terrible news of their father’s death. He pleaded with him to return to Ayodhya and take his rightful place on the throne, apologizing for what his mother had done. Rama gallantly refused, claiming that he must respect his banishment from Ayodhya, and that he intended to complete the 14 year exile. Saddened, Bharata took Rama’s slippers home with him and placed them on the throne, showing that he was ruling Ayodhya in his brother’s name until his return. Bharata made Rama promise that he would return to Ayodhya and rule after his 14 year exile was complete.
Once his exile was over, and Rama finally won the war against Ravana, he rescued his beloved Sita. Together Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned to Ayodhya where Rama took his place on the throne of his father. Rama became a prosperous ruler, beloved by the people, and by his wife and family. He and Sita lived happily in marriage throughout their life together.
Ramayana is a myth that has been passed down through the centuries by the Indian people, and remains a cherished piece of history to this day. To be a mythological hero, one must be brave, strong, dignified, caring, and fair. Rama possess all of these qualities to the fullest, and this is why he remains such a cultural hero among the Indian people. The story of Ramayana is full of adventure, love, companionship, and brotherhood, making it a heartfelt and exciting tale from start to finish. Myth can often be difficult to define, but author David Leeming does a great job in his book entitled, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology: “Myths are for the most part religious narratives that transcend the possibilities of common experience and that express any given cultures literal or metaphorical understanding of various aspects of reality.” (Leeming 2005: xi). Despite the antiquity of the myth of Ramayana, it is to be sure that the story will live on for many centuries to come, as it has done so for generations.
By Sophie O’Connell
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Featured image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayodhya