The Story

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The Ramayana has fascinated audiences since the fifth century BCE. Shown here is a Sanskrit-to-English translation of the scene where Rama realizes that Sita has been kidnapped.

Pollock, Sheldon I. “Rāmāyaṇa III: The Forest.” Book. New York : New York University Press : JJC Foundation, 2006.

Valmiki's Ramayana

As long as mountains and rivers shall endure upon the earth, so long will the story of the Ramayana be told among men.

— “Boyhood” 2.35

The epic begins with Valmiki, a curious sage, seeking to learn about true heroes. The god Brahma gifts Valmiki with all the knowledge and talent needed to write a poem about the life of Rama. 

Valmiki begins his tale in the land of Kosala, ruled by the monarch Dasaratha. Despite having three queens, Dasaratha has no heirs. The gods, meanwhile, have their own concerns. The rakshasa, or demon, Lord Ravana is causing problems, and he is immune to attacks from any supernatural beings. To solve both issues, the gods decide to grant Dasaratha an heir who, as a mortal, will be able to vanquish Ravana. Dasharatha is given four sons, incarnations of the god Vishnu.

As the eldest son and child of Dasaratha's first queen, bold, blue-skinned Rama stands to inherit the throne. But just as Rama is set to become king of Kosala, his aging father is tricked into banishing him for fourteen years. Rama leaves his city of Ayodhya in peace. His beautiful wife, Sita, and loyal brother, Lakshamana, voluntarily join him. The royal band journeys through the forest when their plans is drastically changed by Ravana, who, overtaken by desire, kidnaps Sita. A brutal war ensues, and Ravana is eventually slayed by Rama. His ten thousand year reign is prosperous, and the blue-skinned king passes into legend thanks to Valmiki’s creative efforts.

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This map, created by a modern scholar of the Ramayana, depicts the journeys of three of the main characters throughout India. Hero Rama's route is shown in bright red, monkey warrior Hanumat's route is shown in dark green, and villain Ravana's route is shown in black. Note that although the legend for the map refers to the monkey as "Hanumat," this online exhibit uses the more common "Hanuman." This spelling difference occurs due to varied romanizations of Sanskrit and other non-Roman scripts over the years.

Agashe, Sukanya. “The Search for Rāvạṇa’s Lankā : The Geography of Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa.” Book. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., 2014.

A True Hero