The Grand Epic of Ancient India – Ramayana

Millions of Hindus worldwide made Ramayana an integral part of their lives to a great degree. Written in Sanskrit, it is one of the two most popular epics written from ancient India—the other is Mahabharata. Ramayana is attributed to Sage Valmiki, and it is revered as the Adikavya or the first poem (Aadi means first, Kavya means poem).

Both poems are considered to form the Hindu ltihasa, the history of Hindu. The ltihasa genre has two distinct features. One, events should have witnessed firsthand by the author. Two, teachings are woven into the stories to remain relevant to all generations and eras. In his lifetime, Valmiki witnessed parts of the events of Ramayana.

Ramayana is the tale of ancient traditions, mystics, fantastical feats in great battles, mythical creatures, vivid landscapes, ethics, morals with golden lessons, and the beacon to an ideal way of life.

Unraveling the Epic

The life of Prince Rama, who is given credit as the seventh reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, is chronicled in the 24,000 Sanskrit verses of the epic. Philosophy, ethics, politics, and lessons on morality emerged through various events of Prince Rama’s life. Innumerable perspectives of viewing the Ramayana are at hand, as the feminist draws lessons of equality, valiant sees the courage, and a religious person finds solace in the god-like personas of Rama-Sita. With each reader, the lessons are unique.

First Book – Bala Kanda (Book of Boyhood)

It begins with the conversation of Sage Narada and Valmiki—Valmiki gets divine guidance to compose the epic. This book details the birth of Rama and his brothers to great King Dasharatha and his three queens—Kaushalya, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi—of Kosala Kingdom, with the headquarters located in the present-day Ayodhya in Uttar, India. It also includes their education, Rama’s journey, and his brother—Lakshmana—with Sage Vishwamitra into the forests to safeguard the yagnas or fire sacrifices of sages—a degree of nobility. The journey is centered on Sage Vishwamitra teachings to the brothers and imparting wisdom about philosophy, the art of weaponry, and important legends associated with life and culture.

Second Book – Ayodhya Kanda (Book of Ayodhya)

This book focuses on the importance of honoring one’s words. Rama is chosen by King Dasharatta as the rightful heir, and the kingdom prepares for his coronation. However, his stepmother exercises the two boons offered by his husband. This is the start of the major turning point in Ramayana.

Rama was exiled for 14 years into the forest, accepting his fate without any objections for the sake of keeping his father’s honor. Credit to Lakshmana and Sita, they relinquish the kingdom to accompany Rama.

Third Book – Aranya Kanda (Book of the Forest)

The trio travel miles into the dense forest after settling into a life of exile. There, they meet enlightened sages and hermits. After 13 years of peaceful exile, pivotal incidents occur. As the sister of the demon King Ravana wanders into the forest, she takes a fancy to Rama. This event sets into motion a series of incidents that lead to the eventual abduction of Sita by Ravana and the quest of Rama and Lakshmana to find Sita.

Fourth Book – Kishkindha Kanda (Book of the Kingdom of Vanaras)

The book details the forging of a strategic alliance between Rama and the Vanara army, which was wise investment planning on their part. This enables Rama to form a unit to help in his quest to find Sita. Under the leadership of the Vanara chief and commander, Hanuman and Angada, the Vanaras learn about the location of Sita with the help of the Vulture King, Sampati.

Fifth Book – Sundara Kanda (Book of Beauty)

It tells the adventures of Hanuman, the only one who can cross the Southern Ocean and takes a leap to reach Lanka. Overcoming tremendous barriers and challenges, Hanuman is finally able to find Sita. He comes face to face with King Ravana, who commits a grave crime by giving an order to massacre an envoy. Subsequently, a whole kingdom suffers to a substantial degree for his dastardly act when Hanuman lights all of Lanka on fire and returns to KishKindha with the news.

This is the only part of the book where Rama is not the hero but Hanuman.

Sixth Book – Yuddha Kanda (Book of the War)

This book is generally considered as the greatest of the Kan   das (also the longest book) that details the war between Rama and Ravana, following the construction of Rama Setu (bridge connecting Lanka and Rameshwaram), which the Vanara army uses to cross the ocean. The war goes on for 13 days, describing the battle, weaponry, losses, tragedies, and moments of joy. In the end, Rama defeats demon King Ravana and reunites with Sita—credit to their valor and heroism.

Seventh Book – Uttara Kanda (Book of Answers)

The book is considered a later addition to Valmiki’s Ramayana. It details the final years of Rama and Sita. With the events that unfold, Sita endures another exile into the forest. There, she gives birth to her twin sons—Kusha and Lava—who are brought up in the care of Sage Valmiki in his hermitage.