The Ramayana (Devanāgarī, Rāmāyaṇa) is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is attributed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon . The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahabharata. It depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king.
The name Ramayana is a tatpurusha compound of Rāma and ayana ("going, advancing"), translating to "Rama's Journey". The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in seven books (kāṇḍas) and 500 cantos (sargas), and tells the story of Rama (an incarnation of the Hindu preserver-god Vishnu), whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. Thematically, the epic explores the tenets of human existence and the concept of dharma.
Verses in the Ramayana are written in a 32-syllable meter called anustubh. The epic was an important influence on later Sanskrit poetry and Indian life and culture, particularly through its establishment of the shloka meter. Like its epic cousin the Mahābhārata, the Ramayana is not just an ordinary story: it contains the teachings of ancient Hindu sages and presents them in narrative allegory with philosophical and the devotional elements interspersed. The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India
As in many oral epics, multiple versions of the Ramayana survive. In particular, the Ramayana related in North India differs in important respects from that preserved in South India and the rest of South-East Asia. There is an extensive tradition of oral storytelling based on the Ramayana in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and Maldives. Father Kamil Bulke, author of Ramakatha, has identified over 300 variants of Ramayana.
The seventh century CE "Bhatti's Poem" Bhaṭṭikāvya of Bhaṭṭi is a Sanskrit retelling of the epic that simultaneously illustrates the grammatical examples for Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī as well as the major figures of speech and the Prakrit language.
There are diverse regional versions of the Ramayana written by various authors in India. Some of them differ significantly from each other. During the 12th century AD, Kamban wrote Ramavatharam, known popularly as Kambaramayanam in Tamil. Valmiki's Ramayana inspired theSri Ramacharit Manas by Tulasidas in 1576, an epic Awadhi (a dialect of Hindi) version with a slant more grounded in a different realm of Hindu literature, that of bhakti. It is an acknowledged masterpiece of India, popularly known as Tulsi-krita Ramayana. Gujaratipoet Premanand wrote a version of Ramayana in the 17th century. Other versions include a Bengali version by Krittivas in the 14th century, in Oriya by Balarama Das in the 16th century, in Marathi by Sridhara in the 18th century, a Telugu version by Ranganatha in the 15th century, a Torave Ramayana in Kannada by the 16th century poet Narahari and in 20th century Rashtrakavi Kuvempu's Sri Ramayana Darshnam, Kotha Ramayana in Assamese by the 14th century poet Madhava Kandali andAdhyathma Ramayanam Kilippattu, a Malayalam version by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan in the 16th century.
There is a sub-plot to Ramayana, prevalent in some parts of India, relating the adventures of Ahi Ravana and Mahi Ravana, the evil brother of Ravana, which enhances the role of Hanuman in the story. Hanuman rescues Rama and Lakshmana after they are kidnapped by the Ahi-mahi Ravana at the behest of Ravana and held prisoner in a subterranean cave, to be sacrificed to the goddess Kali.
Mappillapattu—a genre of song popular among the Muslims belonging to Kerala and Lakshadweep—has incorporated some episodes from the Ramayana into its songs. These songs, known as Mappila Ramayana, have been handed down from one generation to the next orally. In Mappila Ramayana, the story of the Ramayana has been changed into that of a sultan, and there are no major changes in the names of characters except for that of Rama which is `Laman' in many places. The language and the imagery projected in the Mappilapattu are in accordance with the social fabric of the earlier Muslim community.
Two versions of Ramayana are present in Nepal. One is written by Mahakabhi Siddhidas Mahaju in Nepal Bhasa. The other one is written by Aadikavi Bhanubhakta Acharya. The Nepal Bhasa version by Siddhidas Mahaju marks a great point in the renaissance of Nepal Bhasa whereas the one of Bhanubhakta Acharya is the first epic of Nepali.
Southeast Asian versions
Many other Asian cultures have adapted the Ramayana, resulting in other national epics. Kakawin Ramayana is an old Javanese rendering;Yogesvara Ramayana is attributed to the scribe Yogesvara circa 9th century CE, who was employed in the court of the Sriwijaya. It has 2774stanzas in manipravala style, a mixture of Sanskrit and Archaic prose Javanese language. The most influential version of the Ramayana is theRavanavadham of Bhatti, popularly known as Bhattikavya. The Javanese Ramayana differs markedly from the original Hindu prototype.
Phra Lak Phra Lam is a Lao language version, whose title comes from Lakshmana and Rama. The story of Lakshmana and Rama is told as the previous life of the Buddha. In Hikayat Seri Rama of Malaysia, Dasharatha is the great-grandson of the Prophet Adam. Ravana receives boons from Allah instead of Brahma. In many Malay language versions, Lakshmana is given greater importance than Rama, whose character is considered somewhat weak.
Thailand's popular national epic Ramakien ("Glory of Rama") is derived from the Hindu epic. In Ramakien, Sita is the daughter of Ravana and Mandodari (T'os'akanth (=Dasakanth) and Mont'o). Vibhisana (P'ip'ek), the astrologer brother of Ravana, predicts calamity from the horoscope of Sita. So Ravana has her thrown into the waters, who, later, is picked by Janaka (Janok). While the main story is identical to that of theRamayana, many other aspects were transposed into a Thai context, such as the clothes, weapons, topography, and elements of nature, which are described as being Thai in style. It has an expanded role for Hanuman and he is portrayed as a lascivious character. Ramakien can be seen in an elaborate illustration at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok.The Cambodian version of Ramayana, the Reamker, is the most famous story of Khmer Literature since the Funan era. It adapts the Hindu concepts to Buddhist themes and shows the balance of good and evil in the world. The Reamker has several differences from the original Ramayana, including scenes not included in the original and emphasis on Hanuman and Sovanna Maccha, a retelling which influences the Thai and Lao versions. Reamker in Cambodia is not confined to the realm of literature but extends to all Cambodian art forms, such as sculpture, Khmer classical dance, theatre known as Lakhorn Luang (the foundation of the royal ballet), poetry and the mural and bas reliefs seen at the Silver Pagoda and Angkor wat.
Other Southeast Asian adaptations include Ramakavaca of Bali (Indonesia), Maharadya Lawana and Darangen of Mindanao (Philippines), and the Yama Zatdaw of Myanmar. Aspects of the Chinese epic Journey to the West were also inspired by the Ramayana, particularly the character Sun Wukong, who is believed to have been based on Hanuman.