- Valmiki Ramayan
- Ram in classical Sanskrut Literature
- Legends of Ram Avatar
- Kaikeyi’s Demand and Ram’s Vanvaas
- Bharat’s Visit
- Encounter with the Rakshas of Dandakaranya
- Ravan Abducts Sita
- Ram’s Grief
- Hanuman meets Ram
- Lanka Expedition
- Sita’s Agnipariksha
- Return to Ayodhya
- Iconography of Ramavtar
Ram, Shri Ram, Ramchandra or Raghav is the seventh incarnation of Viishnu’s Dashavtaras. The hero of the epic Ramayan, emperor of Ayodhya, Ram has greatly influenced Indian culture. He is represented as the ideal man, the ‘Maryadapurushottam’. His wife Sita is denoted as the perfect model of womanhood. Vishnu incarnated himself as Ram to destroy the demon king Ravan, ruler of Lanka. The motive of Ramavatar was to protect the earth from Adharm.
The whole saga of Sri Ram is narrated by sage Valmiki in the epic ‘Ramayan’. It is in a well-organized poetry format which has been inspiring poets, dramatists as well as the common people for thousands of years. Ramayan has portrayed Ram as an ideal son, brother, husband and king. Later on he was deified and recognized as the incarnation of Vishnu. Thus Ramkatha became a holy epic over a period of time.
Ramayan is considered as “Adikavya” (the earliest poem) and Valmiki is considered as “Adikavi” (the first poet).The available Ramayan consists of 7 ‘Kand’(chapters) with a total of 24,000 shlokas.
Ramcharitmanas was composed by saint Tulsidas in the 16th century. It is considered as one of the greatest poems in Hindi literature. Seven chapters depict the life of Ram in devotional form. Composed in Avadhi dialect of Hindi, Ramcharitmanas took the saga of Ram to common people to learn, sing and meditate.
The Medieval period is marked by foreign invasions and warfare. The burden of castes and creed has divided the society. Muslim rulers were encouraging conversions whereas Hindu scholars were busy in philosophic discussions. There was a lack of common goal, ideal and morals before common men. In this situation, Tulsidas composed Ramcharitmanas which depicts a holy as well as a human ideal in Sri Ram. The ‘Bhaktiras’ of his poetry touched the hearts of listeners. It gave an inspiration and showed the dharmic path.
Ram in classical Sanskrut Literature
Ramayan has inspired poets and authors of classical Sanskrut literature since beginning. Kalidas considers Valmiki as his ‘Guru’. Bhas, Bhatti, Bharavi show the influence of Ramayan in their work.
Bhas has compiled his dramas ‘Balcharit’, ‘Abhishek’ and ‘Pratima’ based on Ramayan. In the seventh century CE, Bhavbhuti wrote two plays based of Ram’s life. Those are, ‘Mahaveercharit’ and ‘Uttarramcharit’. Besides, Rajshekhar’s ‘Balramayan’, Jaydeva’s ‘Prasannaraghav’ are some other plays worthy of mention.
Legends of Ramavatar
King Dasharath ruled over Kosal country whose capital was Ayodhya. He had three wives; Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Being childless, he was very upset. Finally, he decided to perform the Ashwamedh sacrifice. The officiating priest Rushyashrung offered some special oblations due to which Dasharath got a boon of begetting four sons.
तेषामपि महातेजा राम: सत्यपराक्रम:
– बालकाण्ड १८.२७
Teshamapi mahateja ramh satyaparakramah
- Balkand 18.27
‘Out of the four brothers, Ram is truly powerful having divine strength.’
At this time, Ravan, the demon king of Lanka was very powerful and proved to be a terror for gods. Hence all the gods prayed to Vishnu to incarnate and destroy Ravan. At the end of the Ashwamedh sacrifice, a divine being appeared in the fire and gave Dasharath a pot of holy ‘payas’ i.e. a sweet made of milk and rice. Dashrath thought it was ‘prasad’ of the yadnya and gave it to all his wives. In due time, he was blessed with four sons, Ram, Bharat, Lakshman and Shatrugn from his three queens Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra.
On the other side, Anjani, a female monkey was performing penance for a son in the jungle. The kite which flew with Kaikeyi’s prasad, dropped it in front of Anjani. She thought it was blessed by gods and had it. After a few days, she gave birth to a son, ‘Hanuman’; the almighty devotee of Sri Ram!
The four brothers grew up together. From infancy, there was a strong affection between Ram and Lakshman. In later life, Lakshman always assisted Ram in all his deeds and stood by him in every situation.
Once sage Vishwamitra came to Dashrath’s court. He wanted to get rid of two demons Marich and Subahu who used to disturb the sages’ sacrifices. At first Dashrath was not willing to send his sons as they were too young to fight with the demons. But finally, Ram and Lakshman set out to destroy the evil demons.
At first, they killed a female demon Tratika. Sages performed the sacrifice and both the brothers kept watch for the demons. With the help of divine weapons and artillery provided by Vishwamitra, Ram and Lakshman could conquer the demons.
After completion of the sacrifice, Vishwamitra left with Ram and Lakshman for Mithila, the capital of Videha where king Janak had arranged a sacrifice. On their way to Mithila, they came to the hermitage of sage Gautam. The place was abandoned. Vishwamitra told Ram about Ahalya; wife of Gautam. The Sage had cursed her to turn into a rock for her adultery with Indra. Though Indra came to her in the guise of her husband, she understood that he was not Gautam. Lust for a moment made her corrupt. Hence Gautam condemned her to be a piece of rock and stay unknown in the forest till Ram would come and redeem her.
Ram upon hearing this, touched Ahalya gently and liberated her. Consequently, sage Gautam also arrived and accepted her back.
King Janak planned the ‘Swayamvar’ of his lovely daughter Sita. This child was found by a farmer in a chest while ploughing the field. He gave her to the king. Janak named her ‘Sita’ (furrow) and raised her as his own daughter. Now, he had arranged her Swayamvar.
He was blessed by god Shiv with his divine bow. The task for the Swayamvar was to bend the bow and string it. No other king was able to do it. Only Ravan tried and he fell down with the bow. On the indication of Vishwamitra, Ram got up and stringed the bow easily. While attempting to do so, it broken into two pieces. Thus, he won the princess. Afterwards, Janak offered his other three daughters to the younger brothers of Ram.
After the wedding, the Royal family left for Ayodhya with a huge procession. Midway, they encountered Parshuram, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu. After knowing that Ram had broken Shiva’s bow, Parshuram got angry and challenged him to bend his bow which once belonged to Vishnu. Ram easily stretched the divine bow and made Parshuram awestruck. He realised that Sri Ram was a divine incarnation of Vishnu. Then Parshuram gifted that bow to Sri Ram.
Kaikeyi’s demand and Ram’s Vanvaas
Dasharath announced that soon Ram would be crowned, being the eldest son. Everyone in the capital was happy knowing this except one person, ie queen Kaikeyi. She was poisoned by her hunchback, wicked maid servant Manthara. This aroused a strong feeling of jealousy against Ram in Kaikeyi’s mind. She had a quarrel with the king. She reminded him that at a moment of great danger, she had helped him and saved his life as well as honour. That time Dasharath had promised her with two boons.
Kaikeyi demanded that Bharat be crowned instead of Ram and that Ram should be exiled to forest for fourteen years. The shocked king thought of dividing the kingdom but Ram stopped him from doing so. He didn’t want his father to break his promise. Also, to obey the mother’s wish he left for the forest. Sita joined him in spite of his discouraging her, because her love and duty as a wife would not let her stay in the palace without her husband. Ram’s younger brother Lakshman too joined him.
Ram, Sita and Lakshman left Ayodhya and their subjects in an ocean of sorrow. This incident shocked Dashrath and he died on the sixth day of Ram’s departure.
When Ram was exiled to the forest, Bharat was at his maternal uncle’s house. He was called to ascend the throne. After coming back, he came to know all the happenings. He got very angry with his mother and went to meet Ram to bring him back. Ram had by then reached the jungles of Chitrakut hill. Bharat met him there and urged him to come back. But Ram didn’t want to break his father’s promise.
Finally, Bharat decided to act as his brother’s vice-regent. He carried back Ram’s pair of shoes as a sign of his supremacy. Bharat treated those shoes ceremoniously with reverence in the absence of Ram.
Encounter with the Rakshas of Dandakaranya
Ram, Sita and Lakshman spent around ten years in jungles. Once they came to sage Agastya’s hermitage. He suggested to them to stay at Panchavati, on the banks of river Godavari. This place was known as Dandakaranya, a dangerous forest full of wild beasts, demons and witches.
The arrival of Ram in Dandakaranya pleased the sages. They were being harassed by the demons while performing sacrifices and teaching pupils. Ram-Lakshman assured them of slaughtering the demons.
Once Ravan’s sister, ‘Shurpankha’ saw Ram in the jungle and fell in love with him. Ram told her that Sita was his wife and he sent her to Lakshman. Lakshman replied that he was the slave of Ram and couldn’t marry her. So she came back to Ram. She knew that Sita was the obstacle to fulfill her wish. Thus she was about to kill and eat Sita. This enraged Lakshman so much that he cut off her ears and nose.
Shurpankha escaped to her brothers ‘Khar’ and ‘Dushan’ and complained to them about Ram-Lakshman. The furious rakshas attacked Ram with an army of demons but they were all slain.
Ravan Abducts Sita
Shurpankha reached Ravan, the chief of rakshasas with her mutilated face and told him everything. He decided to avenge his sister. He ordered Marich to assist him in the task. Marich reminded how he was defeated by Ram when he was a mere boy. He tried to persuade Ravan but Ravan warned that he would be killed if he would not help.
Marich disguised himself as a beautiful deer with golden spots and proceeded to the hermitage to attract Sita. Sita wished to possess the deer’s golden skin for her clothes. She urged Ram so keeping Lakshman to guard her, he went behind it. As Ram shot the animal, it fell down and while dying the demon cried loudly, “Ha Site!”, “Ha Lakshmana!” Sita heard this voice and thought that her husband was caught in some serious problem. She told Lakshman to go to Ram’s help but he was not willing to leave her alone. Finally, before leaving her he made three parallel lines around the cottage and warned her not to cross them in any situation.
Ravan was waiting for an opportunity when Sita would be alone. He suddenly came in the appearance of a hermit and asked for food. Sita came out and tried to give him alms across the lines. But Ravan refused to accept saying she was insulting him. Sending a hermit empty-handed was considered to be a sin in those days. In the end, she crossed the divine ‘Lakshman-rekha’ and came out to give him alms. No sooner she realized what was happening, then Ravan pulled her in his magical chariot and flew towards Lanka across the sea.
Sita wept loudly. Seeing her condition, the vulture king Jatayu attacked Ravan, but the mighty demon cut down his wings. When they reached Lanka, Sita was kept in the Ashok Vatika; a garden of Ashok trees. Horrible demonesses were kept as guards. Ravan tried kind words as well as threats to win her. But she did not accept his proposal. Also she told him that he would not be able to touch her.
When Ram-Lakshman came back, they could not find Sita anywhere. They searched the jungle. Losing her, Ram was almost mad with pain. He wandered calling her name. He asked the trees, rivers and mountains about her. But they all kept mum. Finally, they found some of her ornaments and crushed flowers fallen from her hair. They saw the pieces of arms and armour. Seeing them, Ram thought that the rakshas had killed Sita. He became furious and decided to destroy the whole world. Soon they saw dying Jatayu who told them what happened. Then they met a headless demon ‘Kabandh’ who advised them to take the help of monkey king Sugreev.
Hanuman meets Ram
Ram and Lakshman went to seek Sugreev. When he saw them first, he sent his commander-in-chief Hanuman to know who they were. Hanuman met them and understood the purpose of their arrival. He thought that they might be helpful to his master in regaining his kingdom.
Ram promised Sugreev to kill his brother Vali who had usurped his throne and also his wife. Sugreev accepted to assist him with all his forces in getting Sita back. Then the vanar king fearlessly challenged his brother for combat. Ram slew Vali while they were busy fighting. After the fall of Vali, Sugreev ascended the throne.
Hanuman, devoted to Ram flew to discover Sita in Lanka. He showed her Ram’s ring and assured that very soon Ram will attack Lanka to release her.
The Vanarsena started preparations for war. The main problem before them was crossing the sea. On Ram’s prayer, the sea sent ‘Nal’, the son of divine architect Vishwakarma to build a bridge. All monkeys and bears brought stones as well as huge trees and constructed a bridge to Lanka.
Ravan’s brother Vibhishan understood the divine power of Ram and advised Ravan to return Sita respectfully but Ravan refused to do so. Also he insulted Vibhishan. Depressed Vibhishan left his brother and joined Ram. Soon the monkey forces reached Lanka and the war begun. Hanuman, Jambuvant and Angad were the great fighters in Ram’s force and Ravan’s son Indrajit were very powerful on the other side. Vibhishan became a good support for Ram. His knowledge of magical tricks and witchcraft helped Vanarsena to overcome rakshasas mystic weapons.
After fierce fighting, Ram and Lakshman both got badly wounded by Indrajit. Jambuvant declared that they needed some rare herbs from mountain Dron. Hanuman flew towards the mountain but after reaching there he could not recognize the herbs. With his great powers, he uprooted the whole mountain and came back. The medicinal herbs cured Ram-Lakshman and they joined the war again.
Next day, Lakshman killed Indrajit which made Ravan very angry. He lost his temper and attacked Ram with all his powers. Meanwhile, Ram killed his brother Kumbhakarn along with a number of demons. Ram and Ravan fought a ferocious battle in which even gods came to help Ram. But as many times Ram decapitated Ravan’s head, he would get a new one. Finally, god Brahmha gave Ram a divine missile with the help of which he slaughtered Ravan. Evil was eradicated from the earth.
After the war, Ram declared Vibhishan as the new king and asked him to properly cremate Ravan.
Sita’s Agni Pariksha
After the death of Ravan and Ram’s conquest of Lanka, Hanuman informed Sita that her captor was killed. Vibhishan sent her to Ram in a beautiful palanquin with due respect and honour. But Ram refused to accept her. He declared that a lady, who stays at another’s place for so long, must be corrupt and could not be his wife.
Shocked at this harsh language of her husband, Sita told Lakshman to create a pyre upon which she would end her life. As she entered the fire, Agni, the god of fire himself came out with her and revealed to Ram the truth of Sita’s purity. He said that though staying at Ravan’s place, she was never corrupt. Ram assured him that he never had any doubt about her but society would not have respected her as queen if she would not have passed the Agni Pariksha in front of all.
Return to Ayodhya
Ram destroyed Ravan and ended an evil episode from earth. The gods appeared from heaven to congratulate him. Ram completed his fourteen years exile. Vibhishan gave him Ravan’s ‘Pushpak’ Vimana to go to Ayodhya. On the way back they met sage Agastya. Hanuman went ahead to inform Bharat about the arrival of Ram. Bharat prepared a grand welcome for Ram, Sita and Lakshman. People decorated their houses and city as well. They lit the whole city with lamps on the homecoming of their beloved Prince Ram.
Bharat organized a grand coronation ceremony for Ram. All his friends arrived to attend the ceremony. Ram performed the Ashwamedh sacrifice and established Dharma on the earth. His regime was known as Ramrajya. It was a rule of peace, justice and prosperity. There were neither foreign invasions nor natural calamities. His subjects were free and loyal who trusted their king by all means. Human conduct was pure and governance was keen. This was a rule of success and satisfaction.
Iconography of Ramavtar
Generally, Ram is shown along with Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. But in Dashavatar patta, he is shown alone. Image of Ram should never have more than two hands. He holds bow in his right arm and arrow in his left arm. He should be wearing kirit-mukuta and adorned with ornaments.
The image of Sita should be placed on the right side of Ram adorned with all ornaments. She should be shown holding flower in her left hand and the right hand should be suspended freely.
To the left of Sri Ram, the standing image of Lakshman should be placed. Adorned with all ornaments, Lakshman should look like Ram.
Also, Hanuman, the honest ‘Sevak’ (assistant) of Sri Ram should be shown as standing or sometimes seated on knees in front of Ram. He should be represented with two hands, generally in Namaskar mudra.
Ram Raja Temple, Orcha, Madhya Pradesh
The Ram Raja Temple is very important as well as rare temple of Shri Ram where Ram is worshipped as a king in a palace. A legend says that the Orcha ruler Madhukar Shah dreamt of Ram where the Lord ordered him to build a temple. The king brought an image from Ayodhya, but the construction of the temple was not complete till then. So, the idol was kept in the palace for a time. Later, the king remembered that it was specially instructed that the idol shouldn’t be moved after keeping at a place. Thus, the palace was converted into a temple.
The image of Ram is accompanied by Sita on the left and Lakshman on the right. The image of Ram is shown in sitting position with left leg crossed over the right thigh. He holds a sword in his right hand and a shield in the left. There are also images of Sugreev and Narsing Bhagwan on his right. Images of Hanuman and Jambvant are shown below.
Ramtek is about 40 km northeast of Nagpur in Maharashtra. It is believed that Ram rested here when he was in Vanvaas. The hermitage of sage Agastya was near Ramtek. The sages were annoyed with the disturbance of demons while performing yadnyas. Ram took a vow to destroy all of them. ‘Tek’ means vow in regional language; hence the name, Ramtek means, ‘Vow of Ram’. It is said that Ram’s shoes used to be worshipped in earlier days. Vakatak rulers were devotees of Ram. They had given donations for the maintenance of this temple.
The present temple is situated atop the hill which is believed to have been built by Raghuji Bhosle, ruler of Nagpur. The ‘padukas’ of Ram are being worshipped there since long. At 350 ft long, 10.5ft tall and 11 ft wide, this temple is beautifully decorated with pictures of Ramayan and Krishna leela.
At the foot of the Ram temple, there is a tank, called ‘Ambala Talab’ which is used for Pitru-Puja.
Ram worship became prevalent around 1st century CE. Ram was considered as one of the incarnations of Vishnu. Later Puranas deified Ram. Bhas’s dramas express Ram as an incarnation of Vishnu. From 5th to 9th century CE, the Alwar saints in Tamil country started worshipping Vishnu and his incarnations. Among them, Kulshekhar Alwar was a devotee of Ram. He wrote many poems dedicated to Ram. Rambhakti sampraday gained prominence around 13th century. It is said that Swami Anandteerth brought an image of Ram from Badrikashram and started worshipping it. Saints Ramanuja and Ramanand spear headed Ram worship. Swami Ramanand wrote ‘Adhyatm-Ramayan’ which is believed to be a great work in Rambhakti sampraday. It declares that Ram is the greatest deity of all.
It is believed that Ram was born in the afternoon of Chaitra Shukl Navami (Lunar ninth day of waxing phase of moon). This day is also known as Chaitra Navami. It is one of the very important Hindu festivals.
At some places, this festival is celebrated for nine days known as ‘Shri Ram Navratra’ which culminates on Ram Navami. The continuous recitation of Ramayan or Ramcharitmanas takes place. On the ninth day, an image of infant Ram is kept in the cradle accompanied to songs and bhajans performed by devotees. This ritual is followed by puja and arti. The temples are decorated on this occasion.
In South India, in Bhadrachalam, the day is also celebrated as the wedding anniversary of Ram and Sita. It is called as Sitaram Kalyanam.
Ramleela is a dramatic presentation of the life of Ram. It is performed for ten successive nights of ‘Navratri’ in the month of Ashwin (September-October) and concludes on Vijayadashmi. This day commemorates the victory of Ram over Ravan.
Generally, Ramleela is performed at public places where whole village/city can view it together. Major incidents from Ram’s life are performed during the nine days. On the last day, the final battle takes place. In the evening, huge statues of Ravan, Kumbhakarn and Meghnad are set on fire. This signifies the victory of good over bad, divine over demon and human over inhuman!
Throughout Indian culture, Ram is considered as ‘Maryadapurushottam’. He is an ideal for human beings with all desired virtues. His perfection and sanctity inspired poets, writers and artists for many centuries. The life of Ram is full of virtues to appreciate, learn and follow. Since centuries, mothers of this country have been teaching their kids to be like Ram.
He is an ideal son, who accepts to be exiled in a forest just to keep his father’s word. In the age of polygamy, he was loyal to his single wife and faces all the troubles for her. An exceptional friend who keeps his promise, he helps friends like Sugreev, Vibhishan and Nishad-raj Guh.
Ram was an extraordinary leader who gathered even the monkeys and bears for one motive. He assured them success against a stronger enemy like rakshasas. He was a courageous warrior whose enemies were scared of him since his young age. He vanquished his enemies. Over a period of time, Ram katha crossed the boundaries of India and spread throughout the east.
- Joshi M. 1964. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol.VIII. Pune:Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.
- Ketkar, S. V. 1927. Maharashtriya Dnyankosh, Vol. XXIII. Pune: Dnyankosh Chhapkhana.
- Rao, T. A. G., 1998(Reprint), Elements of Hindu Iconography Vol I, Part I. New Delhi:Motilal Banarasidas.