The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic attributed to the poet Valmiki and an important part of the Hindu canon. The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in seven cantos and tells the story of Rama, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravan.
Like its epic cousin Mahabharata, the Ramayana is not just an ordinary story. It contains the teachings of the very ancient Hindu sages and presents them through allegory in narrative and the interspersion of the philosophical and the devotional. The characters of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharat, Hanuman and Ravana (the villain of the piece) are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of the world.
Morals in Ramayana
The brief narration of the entire Ramayana story by the sage Narada to Valmiki forms the first sarga of Valmiki Ramayana. Narada lists the sixteen qualities of the ideal man and says that Rama was the complete man possessing all sixteen of these qualities. Although Rama himself declares “he is but a man”, and never once claims to be divine, Rama is regarded by Hindus as one of the most important avatars of God Vishnu and an ideal man.
The story of Rama is divided into four parts:
1. Early life of Rama
2. Rama’s exile
3. Abduction of Sita (Rama’s wife) and
4. The slaying of Ravana, the abductor of Sita, and Rama’s coronation.
1. Rama is the hero of this epic tale. He is portrayed as an incarnation of the god Vishnu. He is the eldest and the favorite son of the King of Ayodhya, Dasharatha. He is a popular prince loved by one and all. He is the epitome of virtue. Dasaratha, forced by one of his wives Kaikeyi commands Rama to relinquish his right to the throne for fourteen years and go into exile by his father. While in exile, Rama kills the demon king Ravana.
2. Sita is the wife of Rama and the daughter of king Janaka. She is the incarnation of Goddess Laxmi (Lord Vishnu’s wife). Sita is the epitome of womanly purity and virtue. She follows her husband into exile and there gets abducted by Ravana. She is imprisoned in the island of Lanka by Ravana. Rama rescues her by defeating the demon king Ravana.
3. Hanuman is a vanara belonging to the kingdom of Kishkinda. He worships Rama and helps find Sita by going to the kingdom of Lanka crossing the great ocean.
4. Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama, chose to go into exile with him. He spends his time protecting Sita and Rama. Ravana and Maricha deceive him into believing that Rama was in trouble while Sita gets abducted.
5. Ravana, a rakshasa, is the king of Lanka. He received a boon from Brahma that he will not be killed by either gods, demons or by spirits, after performing a severe penance for ten thousand years. He was also the most intelligent and erudite living being of his time. He has ten heads and twenty arms. After getting his reward from Brahma, Ravana begins to lay waste the earth and disturbs the deeds of good Brahmins. Rama is born a human to defeat him, thus overcoming the boon given by Brahma.
6. Dasharatha is the king of Ayodhya and the father of Rama. He has three queens, Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi, and three other sons, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Kaikeyi, Dasharatha’s favorite queen forces him to make his son Bharata heir apparent and send Rama into exile. Dashatara dies heartbroken after Rama goes into exile.
7. Bharata is the second son of Dasharata. When he learns that his mother Kaikeyi had forced Rama into exile and caused Dasharata to die broken hearted, he storms out of the palace and goes in search of Rama. When Rama refuses to break his exile to return to the capital to assume the throne, he requests and gets Rama’s sandals and places them on the throne. Bharata then rules Ayodhya as a representative of Rama.
8. Vishvamitra is the sage who takes Rama into the forest at the behest of defeating the demons destroying his Vedic sacrifices. On the way back he takes Rama into Mithila where Rama sees and falls in love with Sita.
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