The story of Ram and his wife Sita is one of the most important ‘Epic’ in the Hindu Dharm written by Rishi Valmiki thousands of years ago and has been read and re-read everyday in different homes from the time it was written.
It will be found in every Hindu household and the elderly will be reading it everyday, as a form of prayer before getting on with their chores. This ‘Epic’ gives a strange sense of deep satisfaction and peace and became extremely famous after Tulsidas translated it into the vernacular language from Sanskrit in the Sixteenth Century AD. It is the story of a king of Ayodhya who grew up to be a perfect human being and handed down the norms of behaviours to each and every aspect of human relationship, be it to his father, his mother, his brothers, his wife or to the subjects he ruled with love and duty. But those that did ill to others or behaved in an arrogant and disrespectable manner he stood up with strength and valour. Never afraid to fight wrong and uphold truth. He thus laid down rules for the correct behaviour of men and women to each other and made a disciplined and socially alert urban society each one knowing his duty to the other. Ram along with his three other brothers was born to King Dashrath of Ayodhya in North India.
King Dashrath did not have any children for a long time although he had three wife’s and after much prayer and Yagya he was blessed with Ram as the son of his eldest wife Kaushalya, the second wife Keykai was the mother of Bharat and Sumitra became the mother of Laxman and Shatrugan. The brothers grew up lovingly into a kingdom of prosperity and were taught the art of government and war by great rishis like Vishwamitra. Laxman was very attached to Ram while Shatrugan was very fond of Bharat, but Ram was the ideal. He grew up to be a very graceful young man with long limbs and a body to match. He was extremely good looking although dark in complexion and was very well graced in his manners. He and Laxman were taken away by Rishi Vishwamitra to his hermitage when Ram was only 16 years of age — to kill some Rakshas that were troubling the rishis in their daily meditation and havans. These boys were young but the king could not refuse Rishi Vishwamitra as those that gave knowledge to the young and guided the kings in administering their kingdoms, were to be greatly respected and honoured.
The boys went and killed the demon Subahu and drove Marich to the shores of the ocean — these were the Rakshas that troubled the saints. They guarded the ashram very well; Rishi Vishwamitra was able to complete his great ‘Yagna’ which had been polluted by the two rakshas. He was very pleased with the boys and decided to take them to ‘Mithla’, the capital of Raja Janak’s Kingdom of ‘Vedeha’ where Janak’s daughter Sita was to have a Swayamvar and chose a husband for herself. Janak had the bow of Shiva with him and he proclaimed that whoever could string it would get his beautiful daughter Sita as his bride. Sita was very beautiful and lots of kings and princess had come to try their luck. None could even lift the bow which left Janak very sorry for setting such a standard and he lamented that his daughter would remain unmarried. Laxman could bear it no longer and decided to lift it and string it but Vishvamitra signalled to Ram to lift the bow as he was the elder. On trying to string it the bow broke with a resounding sound which brought Purushram the great bhakt of Shiva to the venue.
He was very angry, but he soon realised that Vishnu had come in the form of Ram as he handed his own bow to Ram to string and Ram did so. He soon realised that Ram was a divine being and would also set the Kshyatriyas in order. From then on Purushram vanished. Ram had been seen by Sita in the gardens of the temple of ‘Gauri’ where she had gone to pray and had asked Gauri to grant her such a one as her husband and that came true. So it was that she garlanded Ram and words were sent to Ayodhya about the Swayamvar and the king and all the three queens came for the marriage. Janak got the other three sons of Dashrath also married to his brothers’ daughters and there was great rejoicing and the kingdom of Raja Dashrath was extremely happy. Dashrath decided to give the throne to his eldest son and go into retirement, but his favourite wife Keykai had been given two rash promises when she saved his life in a battle field. Goaded by her maid, Keykai asked the king to make her son Bharat the king and send Ram into exile for fourteen years.
Dashrath could not take back his word and with a bitter heart asked his eldest son as to what he should do. Ram without hesitation took leave of his father and his mother, as he believed in the Aryan theory of ‘life can be dispensed with but not a word of honour’. Sita and Laxman were adamant on going along with him and so the three in garbs of hermits left the kingdom of Ayodhya and travelled towards the south, after taking the blessings of his parents and the subjects. Bharat and Shatrugan had gone to their ‘Nansaal’ (mother family) when all this happened — on his return Bharat found his father dead and his elder brother exiled. He got very angry with his mother, and at once set out to bring Ram back. Nearly all the population of Ayodhya went with him and found Ram near the Ganges just about to cross the river to proceed into the forests of the South with the help of the chief of the boatmen Nishadraj.
Ram refused to come back as he had given his word to his father. Bharat then took his wooden slippers and placed them on the throne of Ayodhya and himself settled in a hut on the outskirts of Ayodhya and lived in the same way as Ram and Laxman and Sita did in the jungle, wearing the clothes of a hermit and sleeping on kusha grass. He ruled from there in the name of his elder brother Ram. Ram, Sita and Laxman made their way into the forests of Central India and stayed in a hut in the ashram of Agastha Rishi on the source of the river Godavari. Panchvati was the name given to their home where a sister of the great king Ravan of Sri Lanka came by chance. She fell in love with Ram and asked him to marry her. He sent her in jest to Laxman — saying that his brother would do so as he himself had his wife with him. Laxman got very annoyed with the woman and cut off her nose.
This infuriated her and she went to her brother Ravan to seek his help. Ravan was livid with rage and as he had himself also gone for Sita’s Swayamvar and could not lift the bow, he carried a great sense of humiliation at the hands of the young prince of Ayodhya and vowed to seek revenge. Ravan was a very learned man and had the knowledge of ten heads, and is depicted with ten separate heads on his body but was an arrogant man having taken a lot of boons from Shiva and Brahma during his great tapasyas. These all went to his head and he became a demon or a rakshas even after gaining so much knowledge and in his desire to teach Ram and Sita a lesson he got Marich to become a golden deer. Seeing the deer Sita wanted Ram to bring his skin to decorate her home.
Ram went after the golden deer which took him very far into the forest. Ram left Laxman to guard his wife and the hut, but as soon as the arrow hit the deer it shouted ‘Laxman’, ‘Laxman’ hearing which Sita got very worried and pestered Laxman to leave her and go to see what had happened to Ram. Laxman did not wish to go but she insisted. Therefore he drew a line with his bow and told her not to cross it come what may and went to look for Ram. In the meantime Ravan dressed as a hermit came to Sita and asked her for alms. She got some fruit etc. from the hut to give it to him but she did not cross the line.
Ravan insisted that he would only accept if she crossed the line as he would not take alms from a person who was bound in this way. Sita hesitated but soon stepped off the line and Ravan becoming himself grabbed her and putting her in his Uran Khatola (aeroplane) he flew towards Sri Lanka. Sita cried and cried, and took off her jewels and threw them on the earth. On the way they met a big bird ‘Jatayu’ who fought Ravan with all his might but was severely wounded and fell to the ground. Ravan then took Sita to his kingdom and put her in a garden retreat outside the town with lots of his women guards to guard her. He would come everyday and ask her to marry him but she refused.
He could not take her by force as in that case he was cursed. His wife tried to persuade him not to take another’s wife but he did not listen to anyone on this issue. Ram and Laxman on finding out that they had been cheated came -to their hut to find Sita gone and were absolutely distraught and just set out to find her.
They found the very injured ‘Jatayu’ who told them that Ravan had kidnapped her and taken her in his Uran Khatola to Sri Lanka. Jatayu died after that. Ram and Laxman then came across a tribe of monkeys hiding in the jungle under the leadership of Sugriv whose brother Bali had turned him out of his kingdom and also taken his wife as his own, though it seemed a misunderstanding.
Bali thought that his younger brother wanted to take away his kingdom which rightly belonged to him as the elder brother but taking the wife of his brother was a crime which could not be condoned. The Chief of Sugriv’s army was Hanuman who became the greatest ‘Bhakt’ of Ram and stayed with him always after they met. This tribe had picked up the jewels of Sita from the jungle and showed them to Ram who asked Laxman to identify them, but since Laxman had only seen the feet of his sister-in-law he could only recognise the payals that Sita wore. The tribe of monkeys first made war on Bali and Ram killed him. Sugriv returned to his kingdom and got back his wife while Bali reached heaven because he had been killed by ‘God’ himself. Now they formed a mighty army and reached the farthest end of Bharatvarsh and stood by the shore of the sea which divided Sri Lanka from the main land.
Ram prayed to ‘Shiva’ and with the help of Nul and Neel who were blessed — that anything they touched would not sink — built a mighty bridge over the ocean of the stones touched by Nul and Neel, the stones did not sink into the ocean. In the meantime Hanuman had been sent to Sri Lanka to inform Sita about Ram being very near and that she would be free soon. Hanumanji could fly being the son of the wind God ‘Pavan’, so flew into her garden resort and dropped the ring that Ram had given him for her to recognise him as his emissary. Hanumanji was very hungry by this time and wanted to eat some fruit from the garden.
In the process he broke down many trees and plants and created great havoc. He was caught by Ravan’s men and as a punishment his tail was tied with oiled clothes and set on fire. Hanumanji increased his tail to such an extent that the fire never reached his body. He jumped all over Sri Lanka burning most of the city of gold. Ram, Laxman and their army also reached there and a great war took place in which Laxman was injured and became unconscious but the main vaid of Ravan was brought from the city by Hanuman and he prescribed a herb Sanjeevni booti which grew only on a mountain of the Himalayas. Hanuman was dispatched and since he could not distinguish the herb, he brought the whole mountain to Sri Lanka. Laxman revived.
Ravan’s brother Vibushan had been insulted by Ravan and he came over to Ram’s camp and told him how to kill Ravan by shooting an arrow into his naval where ‘Amrit’ was stored and only when that was hit and become dry he could be killed. Kumbkaran a sleepy head of a brother of Ravan, and own son Megnath were all killed, alongwith Ravan. A great victory over evil was won. Hanuman was sent to Ayodhya to inform about the victory and the return of Ram, Sita and Laxman and as the fourteen-year period was also over. Twenty days after ‘Dessara’ (the day of Victory) Ram returned to Ayodhya with his brother and wife in the Pushpak Viman (Ravan’s aeroplane) and was crowned king. His rule was so good that even to this day people talk of ‘Ram Rajya’ as the ultimate aim. He listened to every aspect of every problem and even if it was very painful to him. Ram did as a king — he thought ought to do.
He even sent Sita to the ashram of Valmiki when a dhobi was heard telling his wife that he would not keep her after she had lived in another man’s house just like Ram had done. Sita stayed in Valmiki’s ashram and had two sons born to her who became very bright and strong and highly intelligent and as young boys stopped their fathers’ horse when Ram did the Ashvameda yagya to declare himself the highest king of the land. Ram did not marry again and while a wife must be with her husband at the time of the ‘Yagna’ he got a golden image of Sita made. When Ram found his sons and wife, Sita did not return back to him but asked her mother earth to take her back and soon vanished into the earth. She had been found by Janak in a field while he was ploughing and was known as the daughter of the earth and was brought up as his own daughter. So ends one of the greatest ‘Epic’ of India.
Tulsidas Ramayan lays down the rules of conduct for each member of the family and society and this has had such an impact on the lives of people in India that Ram is acknowledged as the perfect human being and God incarnate. Gandhiji always talked of “Ram Rajya”, which he wanted for India. Valmiki’s Ramayan was written while Ram was alive, and Sita was staying in his ashram — which tells the story of Ram more as a human being — who took the Aryan rule into the South of India and was strict in maintaining discipline and did things that were right for him as a King, but not as a perfect human being, but due to the situation of that time, he had to get Sita to go through fire to prove her purity after living in Ravan’s care. Later he sent her to Valmiki’s ashram when a dhobi cast aspersions on her character. He seems to have treated her like a possession and not as a human being. He never married again and lived a life of a celebate although it was the custom to have more wives than one.
His own father had married three and all wives were alive. The rishis advised Ram to do so when Ram did the Ashvamedic Yagya but he got a golden idol of Sita made to sit beside him at the yagna. He loved her beyond compare, but all through the Vedic period women have been treated as such (as said before) and so it fell into place to treat her as a commodity of the king. Ram killed Bali from behind a tree because it suited him to have Sugreev on his side and by helping to win the kingdom of Bali he assured this tribal chieftain’s loyalty and explained to Bali that he killed him surreptitiously because Bali had taken a lawfully wedded wife of Sugreev along with the Kingdom, which actually had belonged to Bali. Sugreev and Hanuman were on his side and it greatly helped him to overrule Southern India. These two incidents stand apart and cannot be explained away except by accepting Ram as a human being who rose to great heights as a king according to the rules required at that time for the establishment of the rule of the Aryans, from north to the south of India, and he accepted the rules.
In his private life also He accepted the rules as laid down by the accepted norms of that time. He rose mightly in the heart of people and became a true incarnation of Vishnu. Later in the sixteenth century Tulsidas translated the Ramayan in his own style. He was absolutely taken up by the character of Ram and could see nothing wrong with him from the very beginning and cutting down a lot of Valmiki’s work wrote the Ram Charit Manas in Hindi where none of the anger or laments shown by Ram as written down by Valmiki are mentioned and Ram is pure God from the beginning.
This ‘Ram Charit Manas’ is now so famous that Valmiki Ramayan is only read by the intellectuals and Tulsidas Ramayan is the one which is in everybody’s heart and soul and has become the true story of Ram and Sita. People in the villages and the orthodox still carry the ancient norms and women remain uneducated and accept their plight as ordained by the Gods. But Ram was a great king and laid the pattern of behaviour in a manner that society became a disciplined lot and seeing their king following the Vedic trends everyone tried to follow suit. Also he had won the whole of South India with its jungle tribes and brought them in the folds of the Aryans. This ‘epic’ has found great favour in the whole of South East Asia and although the population in many countries has turned Muslim — they still remember and respect the story of Ram and Sita.