Simon Brodbeck

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

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Rāmāyaṇa means “The Career of Rāma,” or perhaps “The Going [to the Forest] of Rāma.” The title can be applied to any number of artistic products that take Rāma as their subject, but this article concentrates primarily upon the oldest and most authoritative known version of the story of Rāma, the Sanskrit Rāmāyaṇa attributed to Vālmīki. This text, one of the most influential and consequential texts in human history, is often studied in tandem with the Mahābhārata as a Sanskrit “epic.” Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa comprises seven kāṇḍas (books) of varying lengths. After a brief preface, the first book (Bālakāṇḍa) narrates Prince Rāma of Ayodhyā’s birth and childhood, his adventures and education with Viśvāmitra, and his marriage to Sītā, daughter of King Janaka. In Book 2 (Ayodhyākāṇḍa), Rāma’s father, King Daśaratha, intends to install Rāma as his successor, but his junior wife, Kaikeyī, persuades him to install her son Bharata instead, and to exile Rāma for fourteen years. Bharata refuses to accept the kingship, but nonetheless Rāma—who is actually Lord Vishnu but starts out not knowing this—goes into exile with Sītā and his brother Lakṣmaṇa. In Book 3 (Araṇyakāṇḍa), Rāma occasions the enmity of Rāvaṇa, a powerful, ten-headed rākṣasa (demon) king, who abducts Sītā and takes her to Laṅkā. Book 4 (Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa) describes how Rāma wins an alliance with a community of monkeys who agree to help him find Sītā; in Book 5, (Sundarakāṇḍa), Hanumat (or Hanuman) finds Sītā on Laṅkā, where she is holding out against Rāvaṇa’s sexual advances. In Book 6 (Yuddhakāṇḍa), Rāma and the monkeys wage a successful military campaign against Rāvaṇa and his rākṣasa warriors. Rāma then rejects Sītā because, having lived in another man’s house, her virtue is in doubt, but she proves her innocence to him through an ordeal by fire. Brahmā tells Rāma he is actually Lord Vishnu, and Agni tells him to take Sītā back. His exile over, he returns to Ayodhyā and becomes a paradigmatically good king. Book 7 (Uttarakāṇḍa) begins with a long section in which Agastya tells Rāma details of the careers of Rāvaṇa and Hanumat. When the main narrative resumes, the citizens begin to gossip about Sītā’s purity, and so Rāma has her abandoned in the hinterland, where she gives birth to Rāma’s sons at Vālmīki’s āśrama. Vālmīki teaches them Rāma’s story, and they tell it to Rāma at Rāma’s horse sacrifice: this is the telling we have been hearing. Rāma now seeks to have Sītā publicly prove her innocence, but, reiterating her innocence, she calls upon the goddess Earth and descends into it. Rāma lives out his remaining days in misery, eventually returning to his heavenly abode via the waters of the River Sarayū.

Article.  13692 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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