"Ramayan" is derived from the name of King Ram and the Sanskrit "ayana", which means "going, advancing". Ramayan, then, translates to "Ram's Journey".
Ramayan is an epic poem of 50,000 lines (24,000 verses) and was authored by Valmiki in Sanskrit, probably between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE. The importance of the epic poem and its author are present in the daily lives of Dharmic adherents today. Valmiki is almost universally accepted as the first poet of ancient India. Verses are written in a 32-syllable metre, known as anushtubh, i.e., each verse consists of four padas of eight syllables each. Vedic literature rests heavily on Valmiki's path-breaking tome.
Ramayan retells the story of King Ram, an incarnation of Vishnu Bhagwan, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Raavan. His vanvaas (or forest exile) and its context, subsequent life in the forest, battle with Raavan, return to Ayodhya and departure from the world are all replete with examples of righteous action in the face of extreme adversity. These examples are the reasons why Ram Bhagwan is often called "maryaada Purushottam" or "the Finest Specimen of a disciplined Human Being".
Thematically, Ramayan explores views on human existence and the concept of dharma. It portrays the duties of relationships through ideal characters: the ideal King (Dashrath); the ideal prince and leader (Ram); the ideal wife (Sita); the ideal brother (Lakshman); the ideal servant (Hanuman). These characters and the demon king, Raavan, are fundamental to the collective consciousness of modern-day India. And, as such, Ramayan is no ordinary story: within it are the ancient teachings of Sages, presented through metaphor and a mix of the philosophical and devotional.
Traditionally, Ramayan is set in Treta Yug and would therefore be held back about 880,000 years. Scholars continue to debate the exact period of occurrence but its influence on the Dharmic ethos is beyond any doubt. Taken together with the smriti (oral tradition) of ancient Sages, one should be satisfied that the epic took place a very long time back and its written form emanated from a period of intense literary pursuit in Vedic India. In the final analysis, the point of the Ramayan is more instructive than anything else. For example, Ram Bhagwan sets the example of an ideal prince and leader through the acceptance of abdicating His right to the throne of Ayodhya and a 14-year vanvaas. He could have invoked his royal status as eldest son to ascend to the throne and refused to obey his father and King, Dashrath, but both He and His father understood that a promise made (by King Dashrath to his second wife's father, the powerful King Aswapati) must be kept, even if it meant deep sacrifices.
The text of Ramayan is set in seven kands or books:
- Bala Kand - from Ram's childhood to the marriage with Sita
- Ayodhya Kand - from the preparations for Ram's coronation to His vanvaas
- Aranya Kand - from early forest life to Sita's abduction by the demon king, Raavan
- Kishkindha Kand - from Hanuman's meeting with Ram to the coronation of Sugreev as king of Kishkinda
- Sundara Kand - from the virtues of Hanuman to His meeting with Sita in Lanka
- Yuddha Kand - an account of the war between the armies of Ram and Raavan
- Uttara Kand - from the birth of Luv and Kush to Ram's final departure from the world
The last 1,000 years have seen three famous recensions of Ramayan: Kamba Ramayanam by Kavichakravati Kamban in Tamil; Krittivasi Ramayan by Krittibas Ojha in Bengali; and Ramcharitamanas by Tulsidas in Awadhi (a dialect of Hindi). This is most likely due to the significant decline in the use of Sanskrit over the same period.
Here, at Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre, the Ramcharitramanas - in part and sometimes, in full - is recited every Saturday at 17:30.