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.