Ramayana is one of the oldest Sanskrit literature in India. It is also one of the two great Indian epics, the other is Mahabharata (Macdonell, 1900). Ramayana is a story united by themes of adventure, love, family and Hindu philosophy. The moral teachings that it poses can be applied in our world today, even if it is written thousands of years ago. The moral themes are interlaced with the story of problems and difficulties of the main characters and their response to these difficulties. In the execution of these problems and solutions, the characters are given two choices in the simplest form. They are to choose whether to do what is right or to do what is wrong. These choices made the story revolve around the moral themes, consequently giving lessons and initiates critical thinking and analysis of the character’s situations. This paper shall discuss and analyze literary and social developments in that period, context, characters, themes, and philosophical ideas.
Ramayana was written approximately between the 6th and 1st century BC. Ramayana together with the Mahabharata was passed on orally from one generation to another and was transformed and edited until reaching its final form down to the 4th century AD (Knapp, n.d.). It was credited to the Hindu first poet Adikavi named Valmiki. Talking about its technical aspects, the Ramayana literally means “Rama’s Journey”. It consists of 24,000 verses in seven books, each verse written in a 32-syllable meter called Shloka. This was an important influence in the Hindu poetry and culture. Basically, the story talks about Rama – an incarnation of the Hindu-god Vishnu- and his wife, Sita being abducted by a demon named Rakshasam king of Lanka, Ravana (Knapp, n.d.).
The oral transition of Ramayana was during the 8th century BC and later than Mahabharata whose period is 9th century BC (Knapp, n.d.). Furthermore Goldman’s analysis of the kind of Sanskrit used and the society it represents suggests that Ramayana precedes Mahabharata (qtd. By Sharma, 23). Further analysis of the technicalities of the story, names of the characters (Rama, Sita, Dasharatha, Janaka, Vasishta, Vishwamitra) are identified in the Vedic literature as the Brahmanas which are older than the Valmiki Ramayana (Murty, n.d.). Although there are these similarities, the plots and themes of the Vedic literature and Ramayana was completely different. According to modern scholars, Brahma and Vishnu as portrayed in Ramayana are not Vedic deities. He further discussed that books two to six are the oldest parts of the epic, while the first book and seventh book are just additions to the original plot (Goldman, 15-16).
The story revolves around Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Ravana. Rama is the hero of the story. He represents the seventh incarnation of the Hindu-god Vishnu. He portrays a man of virtue. In the story, Dasharatha, his father, forced Rama to abandon his rights to the throne and go into exile. Sita, the wife of Rama, is portrayed as an incarnation of goddess Lakshmi. She portrays a woman of purity and virtue. In the story, she follows Rama in his exile and is later abducted by Ravana. She was rescued by Rama and then, she gave birth to Lava and Kusha, the heirs to the throne. Lakshmana is Rama’s younger brother who joined him in his exile. He protected Sita and Rama with all that he can. However, Sita was deceived by a demon, and he was forced to leave her. Thus, Sita was abducted by then. Ravana is king of Lanka. He received a warning from Hindu-god Brahma that a god will be able to defeat him. In this context, this is Rama in the persona of Vishnu. Other characters are Hanuman – a devotee of Rama, Dasharatha – Rama’s father, Bharata – brother of Rama who acknowledged his true position, and Shatrughna – youngest brother of Rama.
Ramayana consists of seven books which chronologically tell about the life and journey of Rama. The first book, Bala Kanda, talks about the birth of Rama, his youth, his growing years and his marriage with Sita (Keshavadas, 1988). Ayodhya Kanda, second book, talks about Rama’s preparation for his coronation, and his forced exile (Goldman, 1990). Aranya Kanda, third, illustrates Rama’s life in exile and the abduction of Sita (Goldman, 1990). Kishkinda Kanda, fourth, illustrates Rama meeting Hanuman, the destruction of Vali and the coronation of his younger brother Sugriva to the kingdom of Kishkindha (Buck and Nooten, 2000). Sundara Kanda, fifth, talks about the bravery and courage of Hanuman, and his meeting with Sita. Yuddha Kanda, sixth, pictures the battles between Rama and Ravana. Lastly, Uttara Kanda describes the birth of his two children, their coronation and his final departure from the world.
The oral style Ramayana was survived by many versions in many different countries including Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, and Maldives. Specifically, in the Southeast Asia, many cultures have adapted the Ramayana (A different song, 2005). For example, in Thailand, Ramakien, a popular national epic which is based from Ramayana. There are many other cultural, artistics and literature influences of Ramayana, which is why it is a very important literature piece.
Study of Ramayana makes generations appreciate the values, moral issues and teachings that the world perceives. Ramayana proved to be an example that no religion stands between these important points, be it Buddhism, Taoism, or Hinduism. They share same moral values and teachings towards family, courage and love. The most important teaching in the story is that the decisions we make, shapes and moulds us to the persons and the place that we are now.