When Maharsi Valmiki decided to author a historical epic to inspire everyone follow moral uprighteousness, he was advised by Muni Narada to write about Sri Rama, greatest monarch, son of King Dasratha, born in Raghu clan. Similarly, Kalidasa too, authored Raghuvamsama on Raghu dynasty providing details of Sri Rama’s ancestors and successors. Ajanubahu Sri Rama stood 7 feet tall and happened to be a gorgeous / fabulous persona. His contemporary Parasurama happened to be Saktyavesa incarnation i.e. possessing divine faculties of Visnu. There are otherwise 6 orders of Avatara-s as under –
Purusa incarnation — Mahavisnu i.e. Karnodakasayi Visnu, Garbhodakasayi Visnu and Ksirodakasayi Visnu
Guna incarnations — Brahma, Visnu, Siva
Lila incarnations — Vamana, Narsimha, Matsya, Varaha etc.
Manvantara incarnations — Ajita who liberated Gajendra, Yajna etc.
Yuga incarnations — Caitanya Mahaprabhu
Avesa incarnations — Narada, four Kumara-s, Parsurama, Buddha etc.
Rama name was prevalent even before incarnation of Rama. रम् – रमयते (Rama–Ramayate) means state of being engrossed in Ananda i.e. Bliss. Ramyate is the origin of the name ‘Rama’ and Rama is the one who is ever immersed in Ananda and impels others to immerse in it. Ra means rays of enlightenment which together with Rama, constitutes definition of complete and absolute existence.
Ramacandra Rama’s original name is only ‘Rama’. He belongs to Surya dynasty, born at 12 noon. As a child, He once obstinately cried for the moon and that begot Him the name Ramacandra.
Sri Rama ‘Sri’ is one of the virtues of Isvara viz. success, energy, beauty, virtues, generosity, detachment, knowledge and opulence. When Rama returned victorious to Ayodhya with Sita after slaying Ravana and conquering Lanka revealing that He was indeed Isvara incarnate, He was called Sri Rama by residents of Ayodhya. In Valmiki Ramayana, Rama is referred to as Narapungava i.e. Supreme Man and not as Isvara. Similarly, Hanumana is referred to as Kapipungava i.e. Supreme Vanara.
Other Incarnations When Isvara incarnates, other deities too incarnate alongwith Him. So when Sri Visnu incarnated as Sri Rama, other deities that incarnated alongwith Him are as under –
Sri Rama and His family Whose Incarnation ?
Srirama Sri Visnu
Sita Sakti of Sri Visnu
Hanumana Eleventh Rudra of Siva
Sri Rama as ideal son : Though Sri Rama obeyed His parents, He also preached His elders. While departing for forest, He told His parents not to grieve for Him. After He returned after completing 14 years in exile, He offered obeisance to Ma Kaikeyi, very instigator of His exile and spoke to her adoringly as before.
Sri Rama as ideal brother : Mutual love of Sri Rama and Laksmana is an ideal illustration of fratricidal love.
Sri Rama as ideal husband : Sri Rama had only one wife Sita and He was entirely devoted to Her. Even after abandoning her under public indictment, Sri Rama lived as an ascetic. While performing Yajna, He placed Her idol beside Him. He never thought about another wife despite that being a prevalent practice during those days.
Sri Rama as ideal friend : Sri Rama helped Sugriva, Vibhisana etc. during their tumultuous days.
Sri Rama as an ideal King : He ruled over His Kingdom as a measure of Guru–Seva i.e. service unto the Guru as He offered entire Kingdom unto the holy feet of His Guru Vasistha. He believed, only Brahmana-s are entitled to rule over the earth surrounded by oceans. Thereafter, Sri Rama ruled over His kingdom for 11,000 years on behalf of His Guru. That was precisely the reason why His rule became famous as Ram-Rajya, extremely prosperous resembling Satyayuga. He was very prompt in following Raja–Dharma that anointed Him as an ideal monarch.
Sri Rama as an ideal enemy : When Vibhisana refused to perform last rites of his slain elder brother Ravana, Sri Rama told him, “Enmity ceases with death. If you do not perform his last rites, I will. He is my brother too”.
He adhered to all norms of Dharma and He was adored as Maryada Purusottama. He taught Dharma too, to His subjects. Following His teachings, connection between Nivrattimargi-s i.e. those who ceased to participate in worldly affairs and Pravrattimargi-s i.e. those still active in worldly life, was never severed and it led to bliss for every person. He was complete incarnation of Dharma, rather Dharma itself in His human manifest. Thus, Ramarajya is regarded as ideal.
Sri Rama was always true to His word. Once He uttered something, it was the Truth and there was no need for verification. No one ever asked Sri Rama, “Is this true ?”
Sri Rama could strike any target with a single arrow in first attempt itself. He was the greatest marksman ever known.
Sri Rama was generous to the core. When Sugriva asked Sri Rama, “When Vibhisana surrendered, you gifted the Kingdom of Lanka to him. What will you do if Ravana too surrenders ?” Sri Rama replied, “I will gift him Ayodhya, then proceed to live in jungles alongwith my brothers.” He was ever Sthitiprajna i.e. equanimous which revealed His highest order of spiritual advancement. Neither His coronation nor banishment to jungles ever perturbed Him a bit. However, He displayed emotions like human beings as He had assumed incarnation in human form albeit superficially. That established His greatness beyond any iota of doubt.
Rama-Rajya refers to spiritual advancement of a very high order. Due to Sri Rama’s influence, every citizen of Ayodhya was entirely Sattvika like Him. It was literally a spell of Satyayuga in His era and that led to complete absence of conflict, pain, agony throughout the Kingdom of Ayodhya. Thus, it was the influence of His being Sattvika that transformed everyone in Ayodhya into being Sattvika that led to the legend of Rama–Rajya.
Rama Rajya lasted for 11,000 years and in this Rajya, people were healthy, consecrated, contented and entirely peaceful. There were no evils, no wars, no natural calamities and no diseases. Sri Rama ruled over entire earth without resorting to coercive force as all Kings submitted themselves unto Him. He was gifted a rare gem by Rsi Agastya that blessed Him with powers of Indra, Varuna, Yama and Kubera and that strengthened Him to rule over extra-ordinarily. Bharata conquered Gandharva-s on eastern front and ruled over that. Satrughna slew Asura Lavana and founded the city of Mathura.
As many as three hundred versions of Ramayana are known to exist with the oldest version being the Samskrita one attributed to Maharsi Valmiki. Ramayana voyaged beyond our shores, then indigenised or translated in harmony with local cultural ethos. The epic expanded to many Asian countries like Burma, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam and China. An year long exhibition on ‘Ramayana Revisited – Tale Of Love And Adventure’ at Peranakan Museum in Singapore ignited exploration of the role that the epic exerted as a cultural unifier, particularly for the Asian region.
Prominent versions of Ramayana that have emerged outside Bharata are –
Phommachak in Kingdom of Lan Na.
In Laos, the epic is popular as Myongsing Ramayana, Phra Lak Phra Lam and Guay Duorahbi.
In Myanmar, two variants Thagyin and Maha Rama, composed during 18th and 19th centuries respectively, are popular.
Vietnam’s famous dance-drama Lakhon Bassac depicts their variants of the epic.
In Indonesia, the epic was composed in 10th century as Kakawin Ramayana influencing Wayang Kulit, a puppet theatre group. Some variants include Arjuna Pramada elaborating meeting of Sri Krisna, Arjuna with Sri Rama and Laksamana. According to the Pramada, Arjuna shot an arrow towards Alengka i.e. Lanka creating the bridge instantly.
Ramayana is mentioned in Malay Peninsula as Hikayat Maharaja Wana and Hikayat Seri Rama, composed in 16th century. In this variant, Wana i.e. Ravana and Siti Dewi i.e. Sita are biological father and daughter. Hanuman Kera Putih i.e. Hanumana is depicted as son of Seri Rama i.e. Sri Rama, born to Him in his former life as Dewa Berembun i.e. Visnu. Malays also believe that Hanumana constructed the causeway to Langkapuri i.e. Lanka single-handedly and managed to dissuade fish princess, Puteri Ikan from destroying it by marrying her. Interestingly, Hanumana‘s marriage with the mermaid is also mentioned in Thai and Khmer variants of the epic.
Siddhi Ramayana by Mahakavi Siddhidas Mahaju Amatya and Bhanubhaktako Ramayana by Bhanubhakta Acharya in Nepal,
Maharadia Lawana & Darangen of Mindanao in Philippines,
Langka Sip Hor in Tai Lü language.
Ramakein i.e. Ramayana in Thailand was composed in 1798 wherein abduction of Nang Sida i.e. Sita by Thotsakan i.e. Ravana is described as an act of love and his fall from grace is dubbed tragic.
Depiction of various episodes of Reamker i.e. Ramayana in Cambodia on carved reliefs at Angkora Watt Temple, Banteay Srei and Baphuon during 10th century have been studied in detail.
Ramaenna or Ramaensho in Japan wherein character of Hanumana was ignored. Suwa Engi No Koto by Koga Saburo Yorikata in 14th century is the version wherein youngest son is exiled by his brothers. Bontenkoku wherein Tamawaka i.e. Sri Rama, is a flute player who escapes with his abducted wife Himegini i.e. Sita while her captor King Baramon i.e. Ravana is away for hunting. Other Ramayana derived stories in Japan including Kifune No Honji, Onzoshi Shimawatari and Bukkigun, have also demonstrated a deep convergence between the characters of Sri Rama and Ravana.
Earliest Ramayana in China exists in Buddhist text, Liudu Ji Jing that led to creation of fictional King’s character, Sun Wukong i.e. Hanumana, in a 16th century novel Xiyou Ji. Characters of Dasaratha, Sri Rama and Laksmana are also there in a 5th century Chinese text, Shishewang Yuan. Dai ethnic group of south-western Yunnan province know the epic as Lanka Xihe i.e. Ten Heads of Lanka.
The epic also spread to Tibet and Mongolia through Buddhism with a variation that it was Bharata and not Laksmana who accompanies Sri Rama in exile.
Events of Ramayana have been found painted in ancient Italian houses discovered in archaeological excavations. Painting depicting Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, queens of King Dasaratha sharing divine fertility potion to beget illustrious sons has been identified. Sri Rama, Sita and Laksmana walking through jungles in that order described in Ramayana, is a scene existing in ancient Italian homes. Italian archaeologists are bewildered at the prospect of Hinduism being practised in Europe and Italy in that era.
Scholars like Nicholas Roerich in European Russia began to read Ramayana during 19th century in Petersburg. He visited Ceylon with images of palaces and pagodas in his mind “But, after all, only in fragments do Colombo and Ceylon recall the ancient Lanka of Hanumana, Rama, Ravana and other giants,” he wrote in his memoirs. The epic was translated into Russian in 1948 by Alexander Baranikov, an eminent Indologist. It is now available in the country both as children’s Classic also in addition to complete text. Pechnikov’s Ramayana too exists, authored by Natalia Guseva, an eminent Indologist. It was also recorded as a play. Russia’s Deputy Minister of Culture even proposed to film a movie on Ramayana with mixed cast of actors.
Legend of Dasaratha also exists in ancient Egyptian lore. All these establish, European and African countries followed Vedic Dharma in ancient times.
Ramayana is a grand epic of the Vedic world and greatest cultural contribution to the world, imparts highly refined instruction in every aspect of life, in a way highest order of human conduct, having transcended religious and cultural boundaries. It is so righteously declared in Ramayana, “As long as rivers and mountains continue to exist in the world, saga of Ramayana shall continue.”
It is ironical that the epic enjoys far wider acceptance across various countries in the world that drifted away from Hinduism centuries ago than the country of it’s origin and mandatory introduction into school syllabi is dubbed a “communal” act.