The story of Rama – Based on Valmiki Ramayanam
One of the fundamental facets of Hinduism is the faith that God descends to earth as an Avatar at appropriate times for the benefit of humanity; He comes to eradicate evil doers and safeguard good and pious people, to uplift dharma (righteous living), to curtail adharma (anarchy), to give divine bliss to His earnest devotees and to preach dharma suited to the times of the arrival and to the imminent generations to come.
Out of the human forms of Avatar that Lord Vishnu had taken according to Hindu scriptures, Rama Avatar that took place in Treta Yuga and Krishna Avatar that happened later in Dwapara Yuga are considered to be the two greatest avatars, wherein divinely qualities of the Avatara purushas (incarnated persons) were exhibited in a vast measure.
Treta Yuga was a time period in Hindu belief that dates back to several thousands of years and it is the second yuga after Satya Yuga. Unlike Satya yuga when people in earth were mostly leading highly righteous lives, Treta yuga saw a gradual deterioration in the practice of dharma; it is said that in Treta yuga, three quarters of the people in earth were righteous and a quarter of the population followed unrighteous ways in life. And it was at appropriate time in Treta Yuga that Lord Vishnu descended on earth as Rama Avatar. Ramayanam is the life story of Rama, a very revered king of Ayodhya, whose very life exemplified dharma. Ramayana was originally written in twenty-four thousand Sanskrit verses by Saint Valmiki, who was a contemporary of Rama and a caretaker of Sita, Rama’s wife, during her exile to forest. Ramayanam is one of the two great itihas (epics of historical happenings) of Hindu scriptures.
The purpose of Rama Avatar was primarily to eradicate the evil Asura (demonic) king Ravana and his associates. However, In this process, Lord Rama lead such an exemplary life — as a youth, as a prince, as a house holder, as a devoted son, as an affectionate brother, as a loving husband wedded to just one woman, as a humble and spiritually evolved human being, as a great and powerful warrior, as a great king and as a non-compromising stickler to dharma — that throughout his very life, he set innumerable examples on righteous living for people to emulate.
The Beauty and Greatness of Rama
Another striking feature of Rama’s life is that despite his innate awareness that he was an Avatar with a divine mission, Rama (except on a very few occasions) opted to live just as a human being, exhibiting human nature and human emotions, always trying to hide his divinity and insisting on being just ‘Rama, the son of Dasaratha’. This is in total contrast to his next Avatar in the following Dwapara Yuga where he came as Krishna and openly demonstrated his divinity through extraordinary display of unearthly powers at every occasion of need. Unlike Krishna, Rama did very little preaching of dharma, but lived it in day to day life. The beauty of Rama avatar does not end with Rama alone. There are so many relatives and associates of him that too lead lives of stellar values and extraordinary human qualities worthy of inspiration for generations to come.
Let us now briefly see Rama’s wonderful life story as narrated in Valmiki Ramayana. The story spreads through 6 major chapters (Cantos), called Kandams.
Part 1 BALA KANDAM (Boyhood of Rama)
King Dasarata was a very reputed king of the Sun Dynasty, who ruled the kingdom Kosala from its capital Ayodhya in the northern part of India. He had three queens — Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi was the youngest and was particularly the sweetheart of king Dasarata. The king had no offspring.
As the king advanced in age, he was tormented by worry about the lack of progeny. He consulted his ministers, priests and sages and he was advised to conduct a grand Ashwameta Yaga (Horse sacrifice ritual) as a “Putra Kameshti Yaga” — a sacred fire sacrifice aimed pleasing celestial Gods specifically to get a boon of children. He invited a famous saint Rushyasringa to conduct the yaga. A very grand yajnya (yaga – fire sacrifice) was conducted inviting kings, priests and brahmins from all over the sub-continent. People were fed sumptuously and gifts were given lavishly. The fire sacrifice was conducted faultlessly as per rules of the scriptures, to the satisfaction of all.
Ravana the Demon king – the Cause of the Avatar
During that period, down south in the country Lanka (now Srilanka), Ravana, an extremely powerful demonic king was ruling the country. He was born with 10 heads (and hence known as Dasagriva). Early in his life, he did intense austerities by undertaking total fasting for many years aimed at pleasing Lord Brahma; by cutting off his heads one by one and sacrificing them into the fire, he did terrific tapas (penance). Pleased, Lord Brahma appeared before him and gave him the boon he wished: no being in earth, in heavens or in nether worlds (excluding a human beings, whom he thought too insignificant to pose a threat to him) could ever kill him. Brahma also restored his 10 heads and voluntarily gave him the power to assume any physical form he liked.
Having acquired such unearthly powers , Ravana became extremely arrogant, unlawful and adharmic (unrighteous). He was an incurable war monger and whomsoever was known to be very powerful in all the three worlds, he would challenge them for fight . He grew into such a big threat that he attacked and conquered many celestial Gods, many rulers in the higher worlds ,earth and the nether world and killed many saints and sages. He was a womanizer too and he captured beautiful women from all the worlds for his enjoyment.
As the celestial Gods with their king Indra could not bear the onslaught of Ravana any longer, they, along with Lord Brahma, met Lord Vishnu (the Lord of protection) and poured out their woes. Hearing their plight, lord Vishnu said “I shall take birth as the son of King Dasarata at appropriate time and annihilate Ravana; Don’t worry”.
As King Dasaratha’s Yagna was brought to a successful completion by saint Rushyasringa through the chanting appropriate mantras and offerings to the fire precisely as stipulated in the scriptures , an effulgent divine messenger sent by Lord Vishnu emanated from the sacrificial fire. He handed over a golden pot containing sweet pudding to Dasarata and said “Please give this pudding to your wives and they will bear children for you”.
Very pleased, Dasarata gave half the contents in the pot to his first wife Kousalya to drink. He shared the balance equally and gave to Sumitra and Kaikeyi to consume. Noticing some pudding still sticking to the pot, he wiped it and gave it to Sumitra again.
The Birth of Rama and his three brothers
Soon the three wives became pregnant . In due course, Kousalya gave birth to Rama, followed by Kaikeyi who gave birth to Bharata. Shortly soon, Sumitra ,who got the sweet pudding twice, gave birth to twins who were named Lakshmana and Shatrughna . The royal family and the entire people of the country were overwhelmed with joy upon the arrival of the divinely children.
The four royal children were very beautiful and charming. They were of very refined manners, intelligent and obedient. The first son Rama was rather dark skinned, but his aura was so powerful that everyone who came to contact with him felt instantly attracted by his charm, pleasing manners, humility and poise. The children underwent formal education, scriptural study and also in practice of armory and weaponry under Saint Vasishta. Rama particularly excelled in archery. King Dasara’s love on Rama was very intense. Right from early childhood, Rama and Lashmana became very close to each other and likewise, Bharata and Shatrughna always sought each other’s company.
Saint Vishwamitra’s request
Some time before Rama reached his 16th age, a very revered sage Vishwamitra visited Ayodhya. King Dasarata received him at his palace with lots of respect and reverence. The purpose of visit of the sage was to seek a help from the king and Dasaratha promised to offer him whatever Vishwamitra asked for. The sage wanted help to protect a Yaga (fire sacrifice) he was conducting at the forest which was frequently disturbed by Asuras (demons) and he asked for Rama to be sent with him to fight the demonic forces and protect his yaga. This request was rather shocking and unpalatable to Dasaratha, as he could not bear getting separated from Rama even for a short while; he was also concerned that the young boy may not be equipped enough to fight with demons and he offered his own services instead.
But the sage was adamant and was getting angry about Dasarata’s refusal to send Rama. Vasishta, the saintly minister intervened immediately and counseled Dasaratha that he should keep his promise and that the saint’s request was indeed a blessing in disguise for Rama. He made the king agree to send Rama with Vishwamitra. The king summoned Rama and Lakshmana. Lakshmana, as his wont, accompanied Rama whom he could not get separated from. The young princes soon departed with the saint after paying obeisance to parents and elders.
On their way they stayed at the banks of River Sarayu for the night and the sage taught 2 mantras — Bala and Athibala to Rama that could give him lots of strength even when he had to go without food or water for days.
Killing of Tataka, the woman giant
On their way through a very dense forest, they encountered a female giant called Tataka who loved devouring human beings . She and her son son Maricha were constant trouble makers to hermits and the Saint Vishwamitra wanted Rama to kill her. Rama was reluctant at first, because he did not want to kill a woman, as a matter of principle ordained in dharma.
Tataka ferociously charged towards all of them and rained huge boulders over them . Rama sent powerful arrows to thwart the boulders and chop her limbs with the intention of crippling her totally without the need of killing her. However, Tataka had occult powers to take any form she liked ; chopping off her limbs had no effect on her. The saint advised Rama that it was indeed a dharma to kill such a horrendous female devil and Rama consented; he sent another powerful arrow that pierced through her chest and killed the woman giant. The sage appreciated Rama for his valor.
As they travelled further, stopping at various hermitages en route, the sage gave Rama several Divyastras (powerful celestial arms which were used as missiles that can cause varying degrees of destruction when deployed in a warfare ) and taught the specific Mantras to activate each of them. This way he equipped Rama to face powerful demons whom he had to face very soon. Based on Rama’s request, he also taught mantras on how to restrain the missiles once they were deployed.
Protecting Vishwamitra’s Yaga
Finally they reached Vishwamitra’s hermitage in the forest known as Siddhasramam, a very holy and sacred place where Lord Vishnu in his previous incarnation as Vamana had stayed there for long years and done austerities. All the hermits received Rama and Lakshmana with love. The saint decided to start the Yaga meant for the welfare of the mankind immediately, which would go on over 6 days and nights continuously. As Rama and Lakshmana kept a wakeful vigil, the Rakshasas lead by two demons Maricha and Subhahu arrived at the scene on the sixth day, floating high on the sky. They had brought flesh, bones and blood to be dropped on to the sacrificial fire and mar the holy proceedings.
Rama and Lakshmana started their fight with the Rakshasas using their bows and diyastras (power packed arrows). With a mighty knock Rama hit Maricha and sent him skywards in exile miles and miles beyond the seas. He killed Maricha on the spot with another arrow. Rama and Lakshmana then killed all the other evil rakshasas and ensured that the yaga was completed successfully without any hitch.
Saint Vishwamitra and his associates were extremely happy and they profusely showered their praises on Rama and Lakshmana for their dedication, alertness and valor.
Right at that time, in the city Mithila, the capital of the country of Vidheha, the saintly king Janaka was preparing to conduct a grand Ashamedha Yaga ; Viswamitra decided to attend the grand ceremony along with his fellow hermits and he wanted Rama and Lakshmana to accompany them. He was desirous of showing to Rama a very holy Danus (Bow) of Lord Shiva that king Janaka possessed which no human being was ever able to lift. En route, they stayed at the banks of holy river Ganga and also at several other holy places. To keep the young boys entertained, Vishwamitra told them several mythological stories including the story of Himavan and his two daughters Uma and Ganga. He also told the elaborate story of how the holy river Ganga came to earth by the untiring efforts of king Bhagiratha.
Vishwamitra also told the famous mythological story of churning of milky ocean by Devas and Asuras together to get the nectar of immortality.
Rama resurrects Ahalya, the cursed wife of saint Gautama
As they reached the outskirts of Mithila, Rama noticed a deserted Hermitage on their way. Vishwamitra told him that it was once a holy ashram of Saint Gautama who lived there with his beautiful wife Ahalya and practiced austerities. The king of devas, Indra once got lured by the captivating beauty of Ahalya; One day at predawn hours, when the sage was away for his early morning ablutions,Indra came to the ashram in the disguise of the sage Gautama. He lured Ahalya to have a sexual union with him, and Ahalya, in a moment of mental weakness yielded to him, though she sensed that it was Indra, the celestial chief who had come in the guise of her husband.
The saint came to know of the happenings and he cursed his wife to remain there incognito for years; however, he told her that her sin would be washed away when Rama would visit the hermitage in the distant future.
As Rama walked in there, suddenly a lady sprang up to life. She was indeed Ahalya. Rama and Lakshmana paid their respects to the saint lady and she extended her hospitality to the princes. Saint Gautama too appeared there and paid his respects to Rama. Purified of her sin, Ahalya got reunited with her husband. The visitors bade farewell to the saintly couple and proceeded to enter Mithila.
Rama Lakshmana at Mithila
As they arrived at Mithila, they were pleased to notice that very elaborate arrangements had been made for the comfortable stay of visitors who had arrived there to attend the king’s grand yaga. King Janaka came personally along with his minister Satananda to pay respects to Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra introduced Rama and Lakshmana to the king Janaka.
Satananda was the son of Saint Goutama and he felt extremely pleased to learn that his mother Ahalya was resurrected by Rama and got reunuited with his father; he could immediately grasp that Rama was a divine personality. Satananda felt that Rama was indeed very blessed to get the association, guidance and blessings of Saint Vishwamitra and he took the opportunity to narrate to Rama the captivating life history of Vishwamitra (a former king who through his unceasing practice of severe austerities amidst so many trials and tribulations attained the knowledge of Brahman).
The next day, king Janaka invited his distinguished guests to his palace. Upon Vishwamitra’s request, he narrated how his ancestors got the possession of Shiva Danus.
He continued, “Years ago, when I ploughed a piece of land as a preparatory ritual for conducting a Yagna there, my furrow got stuck and as I dug the spot I noticed a box buried there that contained a very beautiful and live female infant there. I was overjoyed to get the baby as a divine gift to be my daughter and named her Sita (furrow). Knowing that she had divine qualities, I wanted to get her married only to a truly valiant King. I made an announcement that anyone who can lift up the Shiva danus and tie the bow-string to it can get married to my daughter. Kings from far and wide came to my court and none of them could lift the bow. In fact I had earned the wrath of many kings on account of it and waged very taxing and tiring wars against them to drive them away”.
Rama breaks Shiva danus and weds Sita
“Would you please arrange to bring the bow of Shiva to the Yagnya Hall so that the princes of Dasarata and the various kings and guests arrived here could have a look?” asked Vishwamitra.
The king ordered for it immediately. The sacred bow, kept in a large iron box fitted with 8 wheels was rolled in to the Yagnya Hall, pulled strenuously my numerous soldiers. King Janaka announced that anyone in the gathering was welcome to try lifting and tying the string to the holy bow and the one who succeeds could get wedded to Sita.
“Rama, you can try and see whether you can succeed” said Vishwamitra.
Rama got up, sought the blessings of the saint and went near the bow. He bent and picked up the mighty bow with his left hand as if it is a child play. As the whole gathering watched with abated breath, Rama held one end of the bow with his toe fingers, bend the bow and pulled the string so as to tie it to the other end. Suddenly the bow broke at the middle with a thunderous noise. Cries of cheer from the whole gathering rent the air. Vishwamitra beamed joyously and king Janaka went speechless, shedding tears of joy, for he had now got the right match for his beloved daughter Sita.
After getting Vishwamitra’s consent, king Janaka despatched fast travelling envoys to Ayodhya to inform king Dasaratha of the joyful happenings at Mithila, seek his consent for the marriage and invite the king, his royal family and all other distinguished guests to come to Mithila and conduct Rama’s marriage in their presence with their blessings.
After eight days, King Dasarata arrived at Mithila with all his family members, priests and ministers ; they were given a grand and royal reception. The Ashwamedha Yaga was also completed successfully by that time. Considering the greatness of the lineage of the two emperors, elders discussed and decided that along with Rama’s marriage, the marriage of the other three princes too were to be conducted then and there; brides of right age and beauty from the royal family of Janaka were indeed available as if by divine dispensation. It was decided to marry king Janaka’s (second) daughter Urmila to Lakshmana; Janaka’s younger brother Kushadhvaja’s elder daughter Mandavi to Bharata and the younger daughter Srutakirti to Shatrughnan.
Without delay, the grand marriage function was arranged. With moist eyes, king Janaka took the hand of his daughter Sita to gave to Rama’s hand and solemnized the marriage saying “Here is my dear daughter Sita, who will share the sacred duties of your life; she is blessed; please accept her hand and take care; she will be most faithful to you as wife and follow you as your shade; “. The marriage of the other three princes too were solemnized next.
Having accomplished his divine task, Vishwamitra bid farewell to one and all and departed to the northern mountains. Soon it was time for King Dasaratha’s family to depart. King Janaka gifted his daughters lavishly with gold, jewels, servant maids and so on and honored the all the guests.
Rama subdues Parashurama
As the journey towards Ayodhya was going joyfully, suddenly the sage Vashishta noticed some bad omens. A storm rose up, uprooting trees and whipping up dust. And right in front of the caravan, there stood Parashurama (considered as another Avatar of Vishnu, in the role of a destroyer), the notorious slayer of numerous kings and destroyer of the ruling class.
Saint Vashishta extended a formal reception to the Brahmin. Ignoring the formalities, with his famous weapon axe hanging on his right shoulders and a mighty bow on his left hand, Parashurama, the son of saintly Brahmin Jamadagni addressed Rama “Hey Rama, I heard the news that you broke the bow of Shiva at Mithila. Yeons ago, the celestial Architect Vishwakarma once made two identical bows and presented to Lord Shiva and Vishu. Do you know that it was that bow that Lord Shiva discarded after he failed in a combat against lord Vishnu? The bow used by Vishnu is here with me which is far more powerful. Now show me your real valor by holding this bow and shooting an arrow from it!”
Dasaratha, gripped in fear said, “Oh mighty Brahmin; I have heard that you had stopped your killing spree, donated the kingdoms won by you to saint Kashyapa and retired to Mahindra hills to engage in austerities. I beg you not to harm my son and if done, none of us would live any longer”.
However, totally unperturbed, Rama accepted the challenge. He picked up the Vishnu Danus with ease from the hand of Parashurama, mounted the arrow, pulled the string and aimed it against Parashurama. With words brimming with anger, Rama addressed Parashurama: “Now I have done what you have challenged me to do. The arrow mounted and drawn on this great bow shall not go waste without hitting a target. Great Parashurama, tell me what should I hit with it; I don’t want to kill you because you are a Brahmin and hence respectable; with this I can either destroy the power you have attained to be a deathless and swift wanderer or the privilege of higher worlds you are entitled to enjoy gained by you through your austerities”
Parashurama stood stupefied; his pride thus crushed by Rama, he became sober; he immediately understood that the person who handled Vishnu Danus with such an ease was none other than lord Vishnu in human form. He prayed to Rama: “Hail, hail, Oh Vishnu, the lord of all Gods! I wish to retain my prowess to be a swift wanderer on this earth. You may please destroy my path to reach the higher worlds with arrow!” Rama shot the arrow and destroyed the fortune of higher worlds and Parasurama. After reverently circumambulating Rama, Parashurama swiftly left the place to return to Mehendra hills where he was meditating earlier.
The marriage party soon returned to Ayodhya. A grand reception awaited them there.
Happy life at Ayodhya
The newlywed royal couples settled in their palaces in Ayodhya and enjoyed their life thoroughly. Sita, who was verily the incarnate of Lakshmi ( the consort of Lord Vishnu) showered love on Rama with her beauty, behavior and words; She was so much tuned to Rama that she could read Rama’s mind and act according to his wish without the need of words. Rama with his pleasing manners and manly personality loved Sita from the bottom of his heart.
After some days passed, Yudajith, the maternal uncle of Bharata visited Ayodhya with the intention of taking Bharata with him to his father’s kingdom Kekeya. Accompanied by Shatrughna, Bharata bid farewell to parents and brothers and left for Kekeya.
Rama assisted his father in the administrative aspects of Government. King Dasaratha was captivated by Rama’s maturity, mental poise, care and concern for the welfare of citizens and so on. King Dasaratha seemed to be the happiest of all.
End of Bala Kandam.
To be continued in Part:2 Ayodhya Kandam