Chapter I – Summary of the Rāmāyaṇa

The celebrated Sage Nārada was known for his austerities and meditative composure.  He was the best of the learned ones, known for his wisdom.  The poet Vālmīki said to him “O’ Great Sage, I have a few questions for you.  Can someone on earth be skilled and powerful, utterly righteous, and steadfast in his determination?  Can the same person have qualities of gratitude? Would he be truthful?  Would he possess the strength of character to serve all, and be learned, handsome and capable at the same time?  Would he be completely self-realized? Would he have conquered his anger?  Would the same person be endowed with divine qualities that he is not jealous of anyone?  Is it possible that all these qualities could be combined in a single person, someone whom the gods would fear if he was upset?”

The wise Nārada responded pleasantly: “Dear Sage, listen!  It is rare to have the qualities that you have described.  I will tell you what I know about a person who did possess such qualities!” 

“He was known as Rāma. He was born the in the clan of the Ikṣvāku.  He was self-controlled and well-built.  He was radiant and forbearing.  He was intelligent, principled, well-spoken and handsome.  He was always victorious in his battles.  With broad shoulders, big bones, strong arms, an upright neck, well-formed chin, and a robust breast, he was an archer par excellence.  He could overcome all obstacles.  His arms hanged long.  He was good-looking with a broad forehead. He was heroic and just.  With well-proportioned limbs, a pleasant complexion, a full chest, and large eyes, he embodied majesty and nobility that coupled with beauty.  He was fully steeped in Truth.  He was righteous, and was always engaged in the welfare of his people. He was reputable, knowledgeable, pure, obedient and always composed. 

“Possessing energy equivalent to that of the Creator, he was the protector of the Earth.  He helped eliminate evil elements. He maintained the safety of life on earth, and secured righteousness for all.  He secured justice for himself, and won it for all his people.  He was knowledgeable in the scriptures and was an expert archery.  He had mastered the sacred books and the epics.  Talented, well-liked, honest, kind and smart, the goodness in him was like the rivers merging into the ocean!  He was respectable, equanimous and always even-tempered. He had the profoundness of the sea and the patience of a mountain.  In valor, he was like Viṣṇu[1].  In grace, he equaled the Moon.   In anger, he was like Fire, and in forgiveness, he was like Mother Earth!  In giving he was like Kubera, and in righteousness he equaled Yama.  He was the eldest son of King Daśaratha and the pleasure trove of his Mother Kauśalyā! His wife Sītā, the daughter of King Janaka, was also endowed with all good qualities.  She was precious to him. He treated her as his own life.    

“Seeing that Rāma was blessed with the qualities that befit the rightful heir as an eldest son, and that he was engaged in the welfare of the people, King Daśaratha was happy to confer the Regency of the kingdom to him.  However, Kaikeyī, one of the other wives of the King, was troubled when she learned of the arrangements of Rama’s installation on the throne.  She made up her mind to ask the King to fulfill a boon that she had been promised earlier.  When King gave his consent, she demanded that Rāma be exiled, and that her son Bharata should assume power. Being bound by his vow, the King had no choice but to dispatch his beloved son Rāma into exile. The heroic Rāma left for the forest.  His dear brother, the humble Lakṣmaṇa, son of Sumitrā, followed him.  Rāma’s devoted wife Sītā also went along.   Sītā was like Rohiṇī following the Moon. 

“King Daśaratha and the citizens of the kingdom followed Rāma for a long distance as he left town. Rāma sneaked through an alternate road to avoid the view of the townspeople.  After going away from the town, Rama took rest at Sṛṁgaverapura village at the outskirts of Ayodhyā.  There he sent back his chariot and the charioteer.  He proceeded forward on foot, accompanied by Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa.  On way, they met the tribal king Guha.  The latter helped them cross the large river Gaṅgā.  On the other side, they reached the hermitage of the Sage Bharadvāja.  Advised by the latter, the party reached the Citrakūṭa mountains further south.  They built a small cottage and lived in those mountains.  They wandered around there happily and freely.  They were like the Gandharva[2]s of yore. 

“In Ayodhyā, the grief-stricken King Daśaratha breathed his last.  Upon his passing, the court counselors appointed Bharata to the throne.  But Bharata did not wish to assume the throne.  He wanted to meet his older brother Rāma.  He helped construct roads to take a royal procession to persuade Rāma to return back. Accompanied by his family, counselors, soldiers and townspeople he undertook the journey.  He learned about Rama’s whereabouts from Sage Bharadvāja and reached the Citrakūṭa mountains after several days.  He humbly submitted to Rāma: “You are the righteous one.  It is only befitting that you should be the King”.  Rāma was equally gracious and noble. Rāma explained that he was bound by the promise of their father, and that he could only return after completing the period of exile.  Upon Bharata’s continued insistence, Rāma gave Bharata his sandals as a symbol, and advised him to return to the kingdom.  Bharata paid respects by prostrating himself at Rāma’s feet. Eventually he returned to the village Nandigrāma on the outskirts of Ayodhyā and ruled the kingdom from there.  He installed the sandals on the throne and waited for Rāma’s return.   

“Rāma felt that the visits by the townspeople were not in the spirit of his father’s vow.  He decided to leave Citrakūṭa and proceed deeper into the Daṇḍakāraṇya forest.  As the party entered the forest, they encountered a Rākṣasa[3] called Virādha.  Virādha gave them trouble.  Rāma killed him and buried him. Rāma then met Sage S’arabhaṅga.  Further on he met Sage Sutīkṣṇa, as well as Sage Agastya and his brother. To Rāma’s delight, Sage Agatsya gifted him a sword and a pair of quivers. The quivers had an ample supply of arrows that originally belonged to Indra[4].  The gifts were very helpful in Rāma’s adventures in the forest.  Later other sages in the forest stopped by, and told him about the mayhem caused by the Rākṣasas.  They requested him to secure the area by eliminating the monsters.  Rāma instinctively resolved to take on the task to protect the sages and the forest residents. 

“The Rākṣasī[5] Sūrpaṇakhā lived in nearby Janasthāna, a holdout for the Rākṣasas.   She had the ability to disguise herself.  She approached Rāma soliciting him to take her as his wife.  Rāma tricked her, and had Lakṣmaṇa disfigure her.  She fled, and relayed the story of her humiliation to Rākṣasa stalwarts like Khara, Triśira and Duṣhana.  In the ensuing battle Rāma killed them all.  He killed fourteen thousand other Rākṣasas who lived in Janasthāna.  Sūrpaṇakhā reported the incident to her brother Rāvaṇa, the King of the Rākṣasas.  Hearing about the slaughter of his people, Rāvaṇa was incensed.  He sought the help of the Rākṣasa Mārīca.  Mārīca counseled Rāvaṇa not to go up against Rāma, but was unable to prevent the latter.  Rāvaṇa forced Mārīca to create an illusion of a golden deer to entice Sītā.  The trick worked.  A long chase followed.  Taking advantage of this opportunity, Rāvaṇa kidnapped Sītā.  He was confronted by the vulture Jaṭāyu.  Rāvaṇa succeeded in clipping the wings of Jaṭāyu in a duel.  He severely wounded Jaṭāyu.

“Jaṭāyu had just enough breath left to report to Rāma that Sītā had been kidnapped.  Rāma was distraught.   He completed the last rites for Jaṭāyu, and then proceeded in search of Sītā.  On the way, he encountered the Monster Kabandha who blocked his path.  Rāma severed Kabandha’s arms to disable him.  The dying Kabandha recognized Rāma from the legends he had heard, and requested that Rāma cremate him.  Kabandha assumed a subtle ethereal form after being cremated.  He gave Rāma clues about where to find Sītā.  He told Rāma about the Matangavana, and the Vānara[6] Chief Sugrīva.  In Matangavana, Rāma met the pious woman S’abarī who offered him hospitality. Thereupon, Rāma went to Pampā Lake to meet Sugrīva.

“On the shores of Pampā, Rāma met the Vānara Hanumān, who escorted him to meet the Vānara Chief Sugrīva. Rāma narrated his travails in full to Sugrīva and told him the story of Sītā. Hearing this, Sugrīva was pleased to befriend Rāma: he lit a fire, and circumambulated it in a vow of friendship.  He confided in Rāma about the enmity of his brother Vālī, and told him about the mischief that Vālī had caused. Rāma promised Sugrīva that he would get rid of Vālī.  Sugrīva wanted to test Rāma’s strength by describing Vālī’s amazing prowess. Sugrīva showed Rāma the carcass of Dundubhi who had been killed by Vālī in a duel.  Sensing the doubts Sugrīva had Rāma chuckled.  He flung the carcass ten yojana[7]s away in a single kick.  To further convince Sugrīva, Rāma shot an arrow, and pierced seven palm trees with it.  Even after passing through the trees, the arrow had enough energy to break through a mountain and enter deep into the ground!

“Reassured, Sugrīva was happy.  He escorted Rāma to the cave where Vālī lived.  At the entrance, Sugrīva roared loudly.  Recognizing the voice, Vālī conferred with his wife Tārā, who tried to restrain Vālī.  But Vālī would not listen.  Vālī engaged in a duel with Sugrīva. True to his word, Rāma used his arrow to kill Vālī.  He then installed Sugrīva as the King of Kiṣkindhā. Sugrīva then convened all the Vānara chieftains and dispatched them to look for Sītā.  

“Instructed by Jaṭāyu’s brother Sampāti, the mighty Hanumān leapt over the ocean, which stretched one hundred yojanas.  He reached the kingdom of Laṅkā, ruled by Rāvaṇa. There he saw Sītā sitting in meditation in an Aśoka orchard. He identified himself to Sītā, and presented her with a ring that he had carried from Rāma. After gaining her confidence, Hanumān felt mischievous and started destroying the garden.  Brahmā had blessed him with a boon that he would not be killed by a weapon, so he went on a rampage. He killed Rāvana’s commanders and several of his ministers’ sons.  Hanumān was eventually trapped, but was then released through arguments by Rāvaṇa’s brother.  Hanūmān proceeded to set fire to the kingdom of Laṅkā.  He returned to Rāma, and gave him a detailed report about Sītā.   

“Accompanied by Sugrīva, Rāma then proceeded to the ocean.  He tried to break open the ocean with his piercing arrows.  The ocean “revealed” itself and “advised” Rāma to build a bridge to get across.  Rāma accomplished this with the help of the Vānara Nala. He then walked his army across the bridge to Laṅkā.  Rāma killed Rāvaṇa in battle, and saved Sītā.  After the rescue, Rāma unfortunately felt a sense of shame, because Sītā had lived in an alien land. Hearing his harsh words, Sītā was hurt. To prove her innocence, she decided to test herself by entering a burning fire. She was unharmed, thus establishing her purity.  Witnessing such a powerful act, all beings, and the Devas and Rishis, were pleased. Rāma was worshipped by all.  He installed the Rākṣasa Chief Vibhīṣaṇa as the King of Laṅkā and prepared to return home. 

“Rāma now had no more remorse, and was happy and joyful.  He was blessed by the gods. Having sent the Vānaras back, Rāma left for Ayodhyā with his family, riding the aerial vehicle Puṣpaka[8].  Reaching the hermitage of Bharadvāja, he sent Hanumān with a message to Bharata. During the journey, he narrated to Sugrīva the story of his exile.  He traveled to Nandigrāma with his party, and there he and his brothers shaved off their matted locks.  He was happy to have rescued Sītā and to have regained his kingdom.  

“Rāma’s assumption of kingship received heavenly blessings: “All the creatures in the world would be happy and jubilant.  They would be well-nourished and would conduct themselves with religious austerities, they would be free from mental or physical ailments.  There would be no drought.  No one would witness the death of a child, no woman would be widowed. All women would be loyal to their husbands.  There would be no worries about fire or drowning, or about fury of nature or sickness; no fear of hunger, or of theft.  The cities and the land would be full of wealth and grains.  Everyone would be joyful and would make a hundred Aśvamedha[9] sacrifices with offerings of plentiful gold and hundreds of cows to learned people.  The King would donate large amount of wealth to the Brāhmaṇas.  The renowned Rāma would promulgate the royal order a hundred times better than before.  The social order would be defined by the categories of four Varṇas, each engaged in its own business.  And after ruling for eleven thousand years, Rāma would ascend to Brahmaloka[10].” 

“This sacred story of Rāma conforms with the Vedas and is pure: he who reads it will be rid of all sins.  The person who reads this life-nurturing narrative will be respected in the heavens, so will be his/her children and grandchildren.  By reading this, a Brāhmaṇa will become eloquent, a Kṣatriya will become a land-holder, the Vaiśya will succeed in trade, and a S’ūdra will beget prominence in his line of work!”

[1] The traditional protector in Indian beliefs.

[2] Heavenly characters skilled in the arts who roam the earth in search of sense pleasures

[3] Human-like creatures with demonic character

[4] An old mythic divine character who protected people.

[5] A female Rākṣasa

[6] A monkey like character with human attributes

[7] An Indian distance measure believed to be eight miles (thirteen kilometers)

[8] An aircraft like structure that flew at tree level.

[9] A ritual where a horse is sacrificed for the community well-being.

[10] Indian culture believes in transmigration of life.  There is no transmigration in Brahmaloka.