Maharishi Valmiki described the pastimes of Rama in great detail. He was a siddha mahatma, a realized soul. Popular stories say that in his previous life he was a dacoit, and he used to kill people for his living. One time he met Narada Rsi and, by that meeting, his heart was transformed and he became a sadhu. According to the scriptures, Valmiki was actually the son of a great rsi. He performed austerities for a long time and by that he became perfect. One of his disciples, a very famous rsi, was named Bharadraja. Once they both went to bathe in the river. After Valmiki took his bath, he saw a male and female kraunch-bird sitting in a tree. A hunter struck the male bird with his bow, killed him, and the bird fell out of the tree. Valmiki became angry and spontaneously cursed this hunter, “How cruel you are! How could you do this? May all your happiness go away, and may you never be happy again in your life.”
When Valmiki returned to his asrama, he thought, “Why did I become so angry? I am supposed to be a rsi and have control over my senses. Life and death are very temporary, so why did I get disturbed seeing this? And how did these particular words come out of my mouth?” His words were very special. They had four gerands – four lines with the same meter as the slokas in Ramanyana. He therefore wondered why these particular words and this particular meter came out from his mouth.
Lord Brahma then appeared and said, “You should write the pastimes of Lord Rama, using verses which are in this meter.” Valmiki replied, “How can I do that?” At that time Narada Muni appeared and initiated Valmiki. He said, “You should meditate upon the pastimes of Lord Rama in samadhi, and by bhakti all those pastimes will manifest in your heart. Valmiki followed those orders and, as the pastimes manifested in his heart, he began writing the Ramayana.
On the banks of the Sarayu River stood the beautiful city of Ayodhya , the capital of Kosala. In the city there were magnificent palaces decorated with precious stones. Spiresof great temples rose above the city as if to touch the sky. For protection, the city wassurrounded by a great moat. The people of Ayodhya were peace-loving and happy. No one was ignorant or poor.
Yet, all was not well in Ayodhya. Dasaratha, the king was unhappy. Although he was veryold, he had no son to inherit his throne.
One day the king called upon his priest Vasistha.”Vasistha,” he said. “I am growing old. I long for a son, a son who will take my place on the throne.” The priest knew all too well that his king needed to have a son. He replied,”Dasaratha, you will have sons. I shall perform a sacred rite to please the gods.
He was childless for a long time, and anxious to produce an heir, he performs a fire sacrifice known as Putra-Kameshti Yagna.
At the same moment many of the gods were growing more and more angry with Ravana, theruler of the rakshasas, or demons. Ravana was no ordinary looking demon. He had ten heads and twenty arms. He also had remarkable powers. Vishnu decided to be born as a human who could kill Ravana.
Vishnu sent a messenger to king Dasaratha with payasam, a sweet made of milk and rice, laced with a special potion. The messenger said, “Give each of the three wives this drink. It is a boon that will bring sons.” Then the messenger disappeared. The king gave each of his wives part of the drink. No sooner had his wives finished, than each shone with the glow of a divine being in their womb. There was great rejoicing in the city when four sons were born to their king. Their names were Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Satrughna.
All four sons grew to be intelligent men. They learned the holy scriptures well. They were devoted to the welfare of others. Dasaratha was finally happy.
One day the sage, or wise man, Vishvamitra came to Ayodhya to see the king.
The sage said, “I have come to ask you a favor.”
“How can I help? No wish is too great to ask,” the king responded.
“It pleases me to hear those words from you, ” said Vishwamitra.
I have been trying to perform an important sacred rite which is again and again being interrupted by Ravana’s demons. My vows prevent me personally from fighting these demons.”
The king listened intently.
“I pray, Dasaratha, that you allow me to take Rama with me to protect my sacred rite.” “But Rama is only a child. He is but sixteen years of age. I have a better idea. I shall send you my armies to battle these demons. I will even accompany you. I shall figh tthese demons with my own hands. But please do not take Rama. Without Rama I cannot live even a few minutes.”
The king began to weep. Vishwamitra understood the king’s pain. But the sage also had no choice. He knew that Rama was an avatar, or incarnation of Vishnu on earth. He also knew that only Vishnu in human form could kill Ravana.
The king told Rama about Vishwamitra’s request. Rama understood and willingly went with the sage. “I shall go, too, father,” declared Lakshmana. The king did not protest. Rama and Lakshmana, weapons slung over their shoulders, and followed the sage along the Sarayu River bank.
They journeyed until they reached the foot of a frightening forest. They paused. The sage said, “This was once a beautiful and prosperous country. Now the terrible she-demon, Tataka, lives here. She attacks and kills anyone who enters.”
Neither Rama nor Lakshmana were afraid.
The sage turned to Rama and said, “Now it is up to you to rid this forest of these demons. By doing so, you will restore the land to the prosperity and the peace it once enjoyed.”
Rama clutched his bow and removed arrows from his quiver. Rama and Lakshmana followed Vishwamitra into the forest. They heard many strange and frightening sounds. Each step they took brought them deeper into the forest.
Suddenly there was an unearthly roar. The three men stopped. From nowhere a huge rock came hurling out of the sky heading straight for Rama. He slipped an arrow in place and drew his bow. He fired just as the rock was about to hit him. The arrow split the rock in two. The pieces fell harmlessly to earth.
Then appearing out of between two trees, Rama saw a horrible sight. It was the hideousf orm of the demon, Tataka. She was enormous. Around her neck was a human skull. She hadsharp claws on her hands. She looked at Rama and made a growling noise. Lakshmana decidedto wait no longer. He fired his arrow and gravely wounded the demon. A strange look came over her face as she felt the arrow pierce her flesh. Placing her hand to the wound she moaned, “What mortals have wounded me?” Then taking careful aim, Rama fired his arrow into Tataka’s heart killing her.
No sooner had the she-demon died, than the gods in heaven rained lotus blossoms down on Rama blessing him. The three continued on their journey deeper into the forest. Along theway, Rama and Lakshmana killed many demons.
The sage told Rama: “I am delighted with you. I shall give you even greater weapons to defeat any enemy.”
He knew that Rama’s work was far from complete. There was still the powerful Ravana to deal with. It was one thing to kill Ravana’s demons; it was another to kill Ravana himself.
The three finally left the forest. They headed for Mithila to visit King Janaka.
Janaka was the king of Mithila. One day, a female child was found in the field by the king Janaka in the deep furrow dug by this plough. Overwhelmed with joy, the king regarded the child as a “miraculous gift of god”. The child was named Sita, the Sanskrit word for furrow. Sita grew up to be a girl of unparalleled beauty and charm. When Sita was of marriageable age, the king decided to have a swayamvara which had a contest. The king placed a heavy bow, presented to him by god Shiva and anyone who could wield the bow would marry Sita. The sage Vishwamitra attends the swayamvara with Rama and Lakshmana. Only Rama wields the bow and breaks it. Marriages are arranged between the sons of Dasarahta and daughters, nieces of Janaka. The weddings are celebrated with great festivity at Mithila and the marriage party returns to Ayodhya.
After Rama and Sita have been married for twelve years, Dasharatha who had grown old expresses his desire to crown Rama, to which the Kosala assembly and his subjects express their support.
Kaikeyi, the last and youngest of the king’s three wives, had heard of the decision to make Rama king while Dasaratha was still living. This decision pleased her.
But Manthara, a maid-servant, did not want Rama to be king. If she could some how convince Kaikeyi to change the king’s mind, her position at the palace would be secure.
That evening, she spoke to Kaikeyi in secret. “If Rama takes the throne, you would lose all your control over the king. If Rama is crowned, his mother will control of the kingdom Your rule will come to an end. Awake. Act now. You must convince Dasaratha that it is your son who should be king.”
Kaikeyi believed Manthara. She decided to see Dasaratha.
She tried everything to convince Dasaratha to listen to her.
Dashratha had once promised his second wife, KAIKAYEE that he will grant her two wishes whenever she wanted, as a reward for having saved his life during a hunting session. When the time came for succession of king’s throne, Kaikayee, reminding the king of his promises, demanded that her son, Bharata may be made the king and Rama may be exiled to the forest for fourteen years.
The heartbroken king, constrained by his rigid devotion to his given word, acceds to Kaikeyi’s demands. Rama accepts his father’s reluctant decree with absolute submission and calm self-control which characterizes him throughout the story. He is joined by Sita and Lakshmana. When he asks Sita not to follow him, she says, “the forest where you dwell is Ayodhya for me and Ayodhya without you is a veritable hell for me.”
The people of Ayodhya wept as Rama, Sita and Lakshmana passed from the city. As the chariot went from sight, Dasaratha cried, “Rama! Rama! Do not leave me.”
In time, Dasaratha lost the will to live. His heart simply gave out. Ayodhya mourned the loss of their king.
Several days had passed. Lakshmana, while hunting in the forest, heard the pounding of a thousand hooves. He climbed a tree to see whose army was approaching. To his amazement,he saw the lead horseman carrying the flag of Ayodhya. Bharata had found his brothers. Lakshmana was sure that his brother had come to kill them.
Lakshmana called to Rama: “A great army is approaching led by our brother, Bharata. I will kill him with my own hands.”
“Don’t be a fool,” Rama said. “He is our brother and he is the king. We must welcome him.”
Bharata embraced his brothers. He cried, “My heart is filled with grief and shame.Grief for the loss of our noble father. Shame for being offered the throne that you rightfully deserve. Come back to Ayodhya and be our king.”
“That cannot be done,” Rama said. “I gave my word and I shall stay herefor fourteen years and no less. Then and only then will I return.”
Nothing could sway Rama.
“Rama, my brother,” Bharata declared, “as long as you are in exile, no one shall be king. To ensure this give me your sandals. I will place them on the throne. For the next fourteen years I will serve our land in your name. And, if after those fourteen years, you do not return, I shall walk into a fire and die.”
Bharata took the sandals, mounted his horse and left the forest. In Kosala, Bharata put Rama’s sandals on the red and gold Ayodhya throne.
Rama, Sita and Lakshmana journeyed southward along the banks of river Godavari , where they built cottages and lived by what the forest had to offer. At the Panchavati forest, they are visited by rakshasa woman, Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana. She was physically attracted to Rama, but Rama was devoted to his wife, SITA and hence politely refused her advances. In anger, she tried to attack and kill Sita, Lakshmana took his gold-handled knife from his belt and cut off the she-demon’s nose and ears. Her brothers, KHAR and DOOSHAN, came and attacked Rama to avenge her insult, but were killed by the two brothers.
Shurpanakha watched in horror as her brothers and their army were destroyed. She hurried to Lanka to see her brother, Ravana.
“Oh, Ravana. Khar and Dushan have been killed by humans. All their warriors are dead, too,” Shurpanakha cried.
Ravana rose from his throne. The crowns on his ten heads glistened. He raised his ten left arms pointing to his disfigured sister and said, “And how many thousands of humans fought so well?”
“There are but two, my lord.” answered Shurpanakha weeping.
“Two!” roared Ravana, his voice echoing through the palace.
“The two banished princes from Ayodhya. They have done this alone,” his sister said.
“What gods are on their side?” Ravana wondered.
“One more thing,” Shurpanakha added. “Rama’s wife, Sita, is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She would make a lovely queen.”
“Sita,” said Ravana.
“Whoever Sita embraces as her husband will out gain the gods in happiness,”she added.
“Perhaps there is a way to revenge my sister’s wounds and avenge the loss of my two brothers,” Ravana thought. “Maybe I can punish Rama in a way he will never expect.”
With the aid of rakshasa Maricha. Maricha—who assumes the form of a golden deer.
He sent a golden deer, which attracted Sita’s attention. Sita requested Rama to capture the deer for her.
Lakshmana looked carefully at the creature. He told his brother, “This deer is too beautiful. It is too perfect. I have never seen a deer like that before. Brother, approach it with caution.”
“Stay with Sita, ” Rama told Lakshmana.
No sooner had Rama taken a step toward the deer than it darted into the woods. It was taking Rama farther and farther from the hut. Then deep in the forest, the deer paused. Rama moved closer to it. As he did so, the deer changed into the form of Mareech.
“Lakshmana was right,” cried Rama. His heart was filled with fear. He ran as fast as he could.
Then he heard a voice that sounded exactly like his own cry out, “Lakshmana! Helpme!”
Before he left, he drew a circle around the entrance to the hut.
“Sita,” he said, “do not step beyond this magical circle. Inside of it you will be safe.”
Lakshmana grasped his quiver and ran in the direction of Rama’s voice.
From behind a tree, Ravana watched his plan unfold perfectly.
In an instant, he changed himself into a sanyasi, an old wise man, clutching a begging bowl.
Seeing this common sight, and knowing it was her duty to feed the poor, Sita offered the man fruit. Then Ravana noticed the magical circle. He knew that as long she remained within the circle, he could not get her. He had to get Sita outside of it.
Sita hesitated. She had always helped the poor. How could she ignore this man? Disregarding Lakshmana’s warning, Sita stepped beyond the circle.
Then like a tiger springing from high grass, Ravana grabbed Sita and placed her in his chariot.
Sita screamed, but it was too late. The chariot rose into the sky and sped off toLanka.
As Ravana headed south, Jatayu, the great eagle, saw Sita. Jatayu spread his huge wings and flew up to the chariot. “Free Sita,” Jatayu declared “or I shall kill you.”
Ravana ignored the threat. Jatayu tore off one of the chariot’s railings. He gently removed Sita from the chariot and set her on the earth.
In blind fury, Jatayu attacked tearing off Ravana’s arms and heads. Blood spurted from Ravana’s mutilated body. As fast as Ravana lost an arm or head, it grew back. Jatayu was growing tired from the fight. Sensing this, Ravana drew his sword and cut off both of Jatayu’s wings. The brave bird fell to the ground dying. Sita caressed Jatayu.
Rama and Lakshmana learn about Sita’s abduction from Jatayu, and immediately set out searching for Sita.
They entered Kiskindha, the kingdom of the monkeys. Kiskindha was located south of Kosala. Soon they came to a mountain where Sugriva lived. He was the ruler of the monkey kingdom.
Rama and Lakshmana meet Hanuman, the greatest of monkey heroes and a adherent of Sugriva, the banished pretender to the throne of Kishkindha. Rama befriends Sugriva and helps him win over his brother Vali and regain the kingdom of Kiskindha . In exchange for the help received from Rama, Sugriva sends search parties to the four corners of the earth, only to return without success from north, east and west. The southern search party under the leadership of Angad and Hanuman, learns from a vulture named Sampati, that Sita was taken to Lanka.
At this stage, somebody had to visit Lanka to confirm Sita’s presence there, but there is a strip of Sea between Indian mainland and Lankan island of around 90 miles, and no one was capable of going that far in water. Finally, the task was given to Hanumana, the most powerful of them, who went to Lanka, met Sita and assured her that Rama will be coming to rescue her. There he also met VIBHISHAN, Ravana’s younger brother, who did not agree with the ways of Ravana, and thought very highly of Rama. Hanumana was attacked by some of the Lankan guards, and in turn he killed many of them including Ravana’s son AKSHAY. Later he was captured and taken to Ravana’s court, where Ravana first ordered to kill him, but was convinced by his brother Vibhishan that Hanuman cannot be killed as per the dharma (coded of conduct), since he was only a messenger of Rama. So, Ravana ordered that he be insulted by tying a tail on his body and putting it on fire. Instead, Hanuman escaped and spread fire to many places in Lanka, before going back to Rama.
With the help of Hanumana, and army of the VAN NARS, Rama attacked Ravana. Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishan, who was kicked out of Lanka for suggesting that a fight with Rama was against the interests of Lankans, also joined Rama. In this war, Rama killed KUMBHKARAN, the giant sized brother of Ravana. During the war, Ravana’s son INDRAJIT, one of the greatest warriors of those times, badly injured Lakshaman, and to save him, Hanuman had to bring the herb called SANJEEVANI, from the Himalayas . Finally Lakshaman killed Indrajit and Rama killed Ravana. Vibhishan was made the king of Lanka. As by then, Rama had also completed his fourteen years in exile and fulfilled the promise made
Once back in Ayodhya, Rama seemed troubled. Many people in the city expressed doubt about Sita’s faithfulness while in Lanka. One day a messenger came to Rama and said, “I fear that the people of our kingdom have lost faith in your wife’s virtue. Ravana, they say, made her unfit to be your queen. Even the lowest men whisper, ‘How can Rama forget that Sita lived with another man?”
Rama stood at the window of his room and looked out upon Ayodhya. Sorrow filled his heart.
Lakshmana came to see his brother. Rama turned to him and asked, “What is a king? Kings cannot be blamed or ridiculed. They are above all other men. They are beyond doubt.”
“I know of what you speak of, ” his brother replied. “I have heard the ugly rumors and lies.”
“I have tried to think of a way to deal with this problem. I cannot rule Ayodhyaand not have my people respect my queen. Therefore, with great sorrow and resolve, I have made a decision. Before dawn tomorrow you and Sumantra will take Sita back to the forest. Leave her there and return.”
“But she will die.”
“This is the nature of the world,” Rama said. “This is what I must do.”
Lakshmana said sadly, “The dharma law is difficult to know and sometimes more difficult to follow. This act is wrong. There is no way that Sita would ever have disobeyed you or done what the people say. I know this in my heart.”
“Do as I say, my brother.”
Before sunrise, Ayodhya was shroudded in dense fog. It semed as if the sun refused to show itself this fateful day.
Sumantra, Lakshmana and Sita crossed the river in a small fishing boat. Lakshmana sat at Sita’s side. Sita could see him crying.
“What is wrong?” she asked.
“My brother, your husband has listened too long and too well to the words of the people of Ayodhya. They say you were unfaithful to Rama. And to avoid any more disgrace, our king has ask me to escort you back to the forest.”
Sita turned to Sumantra. “Do not look for reason here,” he said. “This act is beyond men’s knowing. Rama will live alone from this day forth.”
“Why must this be so?” cried Sita.
Sumantra continued: “All the universe is a sign to be read rightly. War and peace, love and separation are hidden gateways we must pass to get to other worlds. Let us not grow old thinking that truth is what most people see or say it is.
Sita, you will get back to Rama only by entering this forest. This world is like a breath on a mirror. It does not last. Have patience.”
Sumantra and Lakshmana returned Sita to the forest.
Sita smiled and said, “Good-bye, Sumantra. You have touched my heart with your wise words and given me new hope. Good-bye Lakshmana, my borther-in-law. Be well.”
Sita stood on the river bank as Sumantra and Lakshmana’s boat crossed the glistening river. Then she heard the soft voice of the river goddess say, “Let life go, Sita. Do not outlive life. Come home. Come home. Dive into me.”
Sita was about to step into the river when she heard the voice of an old man.
“Do not enter the river,” he said.
Sita looked at the shaggy old man and asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Valmiki, a poet and a hermit. I live in this forest. Make my homeyours.”
He led Sita to his home in the forest.
There Sita gave birth to Rama’s twins sons, Kusa and Lava. For the next twelve years she and her sons lived with Valmiki. Valmiki rishi taught both of them the shastras and the art of using weapons. A knowledge of weapons was a must for all Kshatriyas, especially the sons of a King.
Meanwhile on the banks of the river Gomti, Shri Ram began an Ashwamedh Yagna. To perform the yagna rituals Shri Ram needed Sitaji. In her absence, he placed a golden murti of Sitaji next to him in the yagna. It was a ritual tradition that for the successful completion and fruits of the yagna Shri Ram had to send a fine horse all over the land. Whoever tied the horse would have to fight with the army accompanying it. If he won, then he could have the horse owner’s kingdom.
Kush was in the forest collecting firewood. Lav saw the horse. His eyes twinkled at the sight of such a beautiful animal. He had seen many animals in the forest, but never such a fine creature. Guruji had described a horse to both boys. From this Lav was convinced that this was a horse. He then read the words on the golden medallion shining on the horse’s forehead: “Whoever does not accept Ayodhya’s regent as his king should tie this horse and fight with its army.”
Lav burst into laughter. He thought, “This horse has come to disturb the freedom of guruji’s ashram. Well! Let me see how strong he is.”
He then grabbed the horse’s reins firmly and in an instant tied them to a nearby tree.
Just then, Shri Ram’s army reached the ashram, led by Lakshman. The soldiers saw Lav with the horse and dismounted. They approached Lav. “O little one! This is not a game. One who ties this horse has to fight with us. You are just a kid. Set the horse free. We won’t do you any harm.”
Lav answered courageously, “I have tied it knowing what is required to be done. This is a rishi’s ashram. Nobody can ruin its freedom. I am ready to fight!” He then strung an arrow on his bow.
The soldiers in the army, too, were ready with their bows. Before they could shoot off a single arrow, Lav shot an arrow known as Jrumbhkastra at them. They fell down in a heap in deep sleep! Far away, Lakshman, the commander, saw the little child’s awesome archery and was dumbfounded. He just stared at the child, not knowing how to deal with him. He was suddenly filled with awe and admiration for Lav. He approached Lav.
“O young child! I am immensely impressed by your archery. I am so pleased that I forgive your attack on my soldiers. So now release the horse.”
Just then Kush arrived. He stood next to Lav and asked, “Who are you to bestow forgiveness on us?” Lakshman could not bear Kush ’s sarcastic remark. So he told the twins to prepare to fight. Both twins readied their bows and stood firmly in the centre of the field.
From his army, Lakshman ordered Sugriv and Hanuman to defeat the kids. Hanuman lengthened his tail and wrapped it around Lav. Kush rushed to free him. Sugriv uprooted a huge tree with which he stopped Kush . But by this time, Lav set himself free and punched Hanuman in the chest, knocking him unconscious!
This boosted Kush who picked up Sugriv with the tree and thumped him on the ground. He, too, fell unconscious! Both brothers then grabbed Hanuman’s tail and dragged him to the ashram, to show their bravery to Sitaji.
When Sitaji saw the boys, she recognized Hanuman. “O dear ones! What have you done?” she asked horrified.
Lav answered joyfully. “O Mother! This monkey arrived with a big army and this horse. I tied the horse. Then the army commander ordered him to fight. So we fought in return. They tried hard to frighten us. Mother, do you know what they did? They upooted a massive tree to show us their strength. Then they rushed with it to fight with us. But the tree remained in his hand and we showed them one or two things!” beamed Lav, winking at Kush . Kush nodded in agreement.
Sitaji fell into deep thought and insteatly realized that the stallion belonged to none other than Shri Ram. So she said to the boys, “This horse belongs to your father. This is Hanumanji. He is your father’s sevak. Release him, as well as the horse.”
“But Mother!” pleaded Lav. “We only behaved according to our Kshatriya dharma (duty). We were challenged so we gave a fight. If they don’t wish to fight now, they can have the horse back.”
Just then Valmiki rishi returned. Sitaji narrated the events. Valmiki then took Lav and Kush to the stallion and by their hands returned it to the army. The army happily marched on.
The boys Lav and Kush went with Lakshman, quite unaware of who he was and who the king they were going to meet.
In Ayodhya, Lakshman led the boys to the royal palace, where Ram was holding court, surrounded by his ministers, advisers and friends. There, in front of the entire assembly, the two young boys began to sing.
They sang of Ramayana, Ram listened, spellbound. He realised that the two young boys could be no other than his own sons. He was overjoyed, and overwhelmed with sorrow at the same time. He held the boys close, and asked them about their mother Sita.
Lav and Kush were almost too amazed to answer. They couldn’t believe that they had found their father, that the king whose horse they had stopped was Ram himself!
‘I need to find your mother now,’ he told his sons. ‘Both she and I have done penance enough, and it is time she came back to Ayodhya and took her rightful place by my side.’
Lav and Kush returned with Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and the royal entourage to Valmiki’s ashram. There Valmiki waited for them. He had known, through his powers, that Ram would come with his sons. Sita waited too, to see her sons safe with their father.
‘Come back to Ayodhya with me, Sita, and take your rightful place as my wife and queen,’ said Ram.
But Sita refused. ‘My only wish was to see my sons safe with their father,’ she said. ‘I have now seen that happen. All that I now desire is to return to my mother, the Earth.’ So saying, Sita folded her hands, and called upon her mother to take her within her. All at once the earth opened beneath Sita’s feet, and before the astonished gaze of the King of Kosala and his court, Sita vanished from this world forever.
Ram was heartbroken. But he returned to Ayodhya with his sons Lav and Kush . Ram ruled Kosala for many years more, with Sita’s golden image forever by his side. Lav and Kush were taught all the arts of kingship, and when they were old enough, Ram built two capital cities – the city of Shravasti for Lav and that of Kushavati for Kush . Ram then left his throne and his kingdom in the joint care of his twin sons. His days on earth were over, and it is said that very soon after he walked into the river Sarayu, to be welcomed by Brahma and to be absorbed into his being as Vishnu.