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Ramayana – The Story of Young Rama and Sage Vishwamitra

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Rama and his three brothers received a very privileged upbringing, as deemed fit for princes. They received extensive training in warfare and became scholars in Vedic knowledge. They were valiant and at the same time interested in the welfare of the world and its people. Right from childhood, Rama & Lakshmana developed a close bond and became inseparable. Time passed by fast as the princes grew up together, delighting King Dasharatha.

When Rama was about 16 years old, sage Vishwamitra came to visit Dasharatha in search of help against rakshsas (demons), who were disturbing his Vedic rituals. He asked King Dasharatha to send Rama for protection against two powerful demons called Maareecha and Subaahu. Considering Rama’s age, King Dasharatha became very upset at the sage’s request and refused to send him. Sage Vishwamitra became very angry but was finally pacified by the intervention of Vasishtha. He convinced Dasharatha to send Rama with Vishwamitra, ensuring him that Vishwamitra’s powers and Rama’s own capabilities would make him successful. Finally, Dasharatha agreed, and Rama and Lakshmana were dispatched with Vishwamitra.

In their course of travel, Vishwamitra imparted a secret knowledge to the young princes called ‘Bala Atibala Vidya’, the practice of which would always keep them vigorous and full of vitality. Rama also received many weapons, after successfully killing the demoness Tataka on the orders of Sage Vishwamitra. Finally, they reached the place where Vishwamitra was to perform his sacred ritual. The young princes safeguarded the ritual for six days and nights. On the last night, the demons Maareecha and Subaahu appeared to foil the ritual. But Rama deftly hit Mareecha, banishing him, and killed Subaahu. After that, the ritual was completed successfully without any problems.

With the completion of the ritual, Sage Vishwamitra traveled to the kingdom of Mithila to attend a ritual and also to see the auspicious bow of Shiva that was being worshipped in the palace of King Janaka from ages. Rama and Lakshmana accompanied Vishwamitra on this journey. Upon reaching the precincts of Mithila, they visited the hermitage of Sage Gautama. Vishwamitra told them about the legend of Ahalya, Gautama’s wife. According to the legend, Indra was infatuated with Ahalya and desired a union with her. She complied with Indra’s desire but Sage Gautama caught them unawares and cursed them both. Ahalya was relegated to a lonely life in the hermitage where she would remain unseen and invisible. Only when Rama entered the hermitage, she was freed from her curse and emerged back into her divine form.  After Ahalya’s redemption, Sage Vishwamitra, along with Rama and Lakshmana reached Mithila and entered the court of King Janaka.

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Ramayana – Birth of Sri Rama and his Brothers Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna

Once upon a time, there lived a great King called Sagara. He is believed to have sixty thousand sons and is considered the originator of the Ikshvaku dynasty. In this illustrious lineage was born King Dasharatha, son of King Raghu and grandson of King Dilipa. He had three wives- Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. He ruled over the prosperous kingdom of Kosala, on the riverbanks of Sarayu, with the city of Ayodhya as its capital.

According to the legend, Ayodhya was built by Manu, the foremost ruler of mankind. That magnificent city had well laid out and well maintained highways, and was surrounded with gateways and arches. It housed all kinds of machinery, weaponry and craftsmen. It had a rich cultural heritage and was overflowing with food and clean water. There was an abundance of livestock and wealth amongst its residents.

King Dasharatha remained childless for a long time and finally decided to perform the Ashwamedha Yagna (a Vedic Horse Ritual) in order to beget heirs to his kingdom. After consulting his ministers, priests and noblemen, it was decided to perform the yagna on the northern banks of river Sarayu. The preparations began under the supervision of the royal priest, Sage Vasishtha. As per the custom, a well-decorated horse was let out with an insignia on its forehead, challenging any king to capture it and to face the wrath of the king releasing it. If someone captured the horse, he would have to fight Dasharatha, else the valor and invincibility of Dasharatha would be well established and he would proceed with the Ashwamedha ritual after a year. So, when the horse came back without being captured, the final rituals of the Ashwamedha yagna, including the Putra Kameshthi yagna were performed.

The Gods were very pleased with the rituals and Vishnu agreed to incarnate as a human, by being born as Dasharatha’s son. During the Putra Kameshthi yagna, Prajaapatya Purusha arose from the sacrificial fire and gave a golden vessel of divine dessert to Dasharatha for distribution to his three queens. Upon consuming the divine dessert, the queens conceived four sons. Rama, the eldest son was born to Kausalya, Bharata was born to Kaikeyi, and Lakshmana and Shatrughna were born to Sumitra.

Ramayana – Sage Valmiki and Origin of the Epic

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The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic scribed by the great Hindu sage Valmiki. It is one of the Smriti scriptures that were composed after the Vedas, around 500 BC. ‘Smriti’ means ‘That which is remembered’. So Smriti literature consists of the memories of wisdom that sages have passed on to their disciples. Smriti includes the six Vedangas, the Ithihasas - Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as, the Puranas. These sacred texts form the second source of Hindu dharma, the first one being Shruti. Dharma designates those behaviors considered necessary for the maintenance of the natural order of things. Therefore dharma is about ideas such as duty, vocation, religion and everything that is considered correct, proper or decent. The Ramayana is principally the story of King Rama who is considered the most virtuous person on the earth and embodies Dharma – fulfills the duties of all relationships like being the ideal son, the ideal father, the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal husband and the ideal king.

In the story of the genesis of Ramayana, the divine sage Narada arrived at the hermitage of Maharshi Valmiki in order to enlighten him and keep him informed of his duty to author the epic scripture. During this meeting, Narada eulogizes the virtues of Rama and provides an outline of Ramayana, highlighting aspects like virtuosity, generosity, morality and chastity, the key characteristics of the epic. It is believed that Valmiki Ramayana has been composed based on each of the twenty-four letters of the Gayatri Mantra. Under the caption of each letter, a thousand verses are organized. Thus, Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses divided into seven kandas (books) and 500 sargas (cantos). The verses are written in a 32-syllable meter called Anustubh.

According to Hindu tradition, the Ramayana took place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga (between 5th and 4th century BC). It is believed that Sage Valmiki was a contemporary of Rama and he scripted the epic parallely but peripherally, as the saga unfolded over several years. He then taught the Ramayana verses to Lava and Kusha, the twin sons of Rama and Sita. The two young boys sing the ballad to an assembly of sages and saints, and win laurels. Rama sees the boys singing on the streets, and unbeknownst to him that they are his own sons, brings them to his palace, and summons all his brothers and ministers to listen to the ballad. Thus begins the narration of the stories of Ramayana.

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