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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Ramayana: The Indian Ancient Epic

Written stories or articles play a vital role in every country or region’s history. It does not only sets a record, but it also showcases the rich culture and preserves the norm of society. 

Aside from its unique array of sceneries like the Taj Mahal, its appealing food, and colorful festivity, India is known for its virtuous literature. It does not only display a story of significant battles, mythical creatures, and brilliant landscapes, but it is a guiding light in life for millions of Hindus across the globe. It presents teachings from ancient Hindu, interspersing philosophical and ethical elements alongside golden lessons that can bind people to an ideal life. One of the two famous epics written in Sanskrit from ancient India, The Ramayana. 

Image: India Today

An Epic traditionally ascribed to the Maharishi (a Sanskrit word indicating the highest order of Indian sages popularly known in India as seers) Valmiki (also known as Lal Beg or Bala Shah, is celebrated as the harbinger-poet in Sanskrit literature). Ramayana, along with Mahābhārata, is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. It forms the Hindu Itihasa (collection of written descriptions of important events in Hinduism or narrative of past events). The name is a sandhi compound of the words Rama and Yana (journey or the journey of Rama) 

Being one of the largest ancient epics in the literary world. Ramayana consists of nearly 24 000 verses, mostly Shloka/Anustubh (poetic forms used in Sanskrit). It is divided into five Kandas: the ayodhyakāṇḍa, the araṇyakāṇḍa, the kiṣkindakāṇḍa, the sundarākāṇḍa, and the laṅkākāṇḍa with two additional Kandas, the uttarākāṇḍa, the bālakāṇḍa. Sometimes Balakanda is considered the main epic, and to many, Uttarakhand is the later interpolation. Thus, it is not attributed to the work of Valmiki. It also consists of about 500 Tsargas (chapter). Ramayana is also considered to be the Adi-kavya (first poem). Because of its significance, Ramayana has many versions in the Indian language. It has some adaptations or versions in Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia (Reamker), Indonesia (Kakawin Ramayana and Balinese Ramakavaca), Philippines (Maharadia Lawana), Thailand (Ramakien), Laos (Phra Lak Phra Lam), Myanmar (Yama Zatdaw), and Malaysia (Hikayat Seri Rama).

There were some attempts to unravel the historical growth of the epic and compositional layers. Recent scholars believed that the earliest stage of the text range from the 7th to 4th centuries BCE, and the oldest stage might extend up to the 3rd century CE. 

(Kingdom of Kosala)
Image: Wikipedia

Was Ramayana based on a real historical persona?

Ramayana narrates the life of Rama, the legendary prince of the kingdom Kosala. An illustration of his 14 exiles by his father King Dasharatha (descendant of the Raghuvanshi-Ikshvaku-Suryavansha dynasty and the Maharaja of Koshala Kingdom) as requested by his step-mother Kaikeyi. Prince Rama, being the 7th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It also tells his travel in the forest in Bharath with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana and the kidnapping of Sita by the King of Lanka, Ravana. It then resulted in a war wherein Prince Rama seek help from Hanuma, head of Vanara, the ape-men army (see Adam’s Bridge). Prince Rama returned to Ayodhya (city and administrative headquarters of Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh, India) and crowned King amidst euphoria and celebration. 

It also unravels lessons on morality, ethics, philosophy, and even politics. It shows how the noble sees the courage, the feminist lures the lessons of equality, and people draw comfort from the God-like facade of Rama-Sita. Thus it presents the teachings of ancient Hindu sages. 

Image: India Today

Regarded as one of the most important literature of ancient India, Ramayana has an insightful influence on the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asian art and culture except Vietnam. It inspired much secondary literature in various languages, Telugu language (Dravidian language spoken by Telugu people living in Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Yanam district of Puducherry) Molla Ramayanam by poet Molla (Telugu poet who authored the Telugu-language Ramayana) another is Ranganatha Ramayanam (one of the most famous adaptations of Ramayana in Telugu) by poet Gona Budda Reddy, 14th century, Kannada (a Dravidian language spoken by people of Karnataka in the southwestern region of India) poet Narahari’sNarahari’s Torave Ramayana and 15th century Bengali (Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group native to Bengal region in South Asia) poet Krittibas Ojha’sOjha’s (medieval Bengali poet) Krittivasi Ramayan, as well as the 16th century Awadhi version, Ramacharitamanas (an epic poem in Awadhi language), written by Tulsidas (also known as Goswami Tulsidas a Ramanandi Vaish ava saint and poet) and, Kambaramayanam (Tamil epic) by Tamil poet Kambar (medieval Tamil Hindu poet) of the 12th century. 

In the 8th century, Ramayana became popular in Southeast Asia; it was then represented in literature, dance, theatre, and temple architecture. Ramlila is a dramatic enactment across India and someplace across the world within the Indian diaspora (non-resident Indians or people with Indian origin who live outside India).

Indeed Ramayana have had influenced and preserved the cultural way of living and serves as a beacon of ancient Indian tales. It is believed to demonstrate the righteous path (dharma) for all living beings on earth. 


The epic is not just seen as just a literary testament but serves an essential part of Hinduism. It holds high regard that the mere reading or hearing a certain passage is believed by the Hindus to free them from their sins and bless the reader or the listener.

With the things that have been going on in our world, the bustle and hustle in every corner, countless religious manifestations, and vibrant festivals that are part of human life, getting back to the cultural roots will make some realizations about how life should be lived.

With every curious eye that tries to question and understand every tradition that comes in its way, Ramayana, the ancient Indian tale, will live in its honor in the memory of every people. 
By Kris De Vera Estrella, IFY Books

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