“The Ramayana” – Love Story, Myth, Epic, Spiritual Parable – The Book that Has It All

“The Ramayana” – Love Story, Myth, Epic, Spiritual Parable – The Book that Has It AllThe Ramayana is the book Ghandi called the worlds greatest. It is well-known world-wide, especially in India and Southeast Asia, but almost unknown in the United States. In northern India, during the annual Ram Lila Pageant, The Ramayana is acted out following a 2000-year-old tradition. Pahari and Rajasthani painters of the 17th and 18th centuries were inspired by the text. The Indian adventure tale is comparable to Homer’s Odyssey, while the Mahabarata, a battle tale, has parallels to his Iliad.

Similar to the Greek epics, The Ramayana is felt to be a fictionalized account based on historical events. Historians feel the texts are derived from the expansion of Aryans from the north and their battles with the Dravidian groups in Sri Lanka in the south. Ma’s India carries a translation of The Ramayana by William Buck written for the contemporary Western reader. His text is particularly adept at capturing the spiritual as well as the martial spirit of the original text.

The main character of The Ramayana is Prince Rama. Hindus believe he is an incarnation of their god Vishnu. The word ‘rama’ is often used as both a prayer and a chant in many Hindu regions. The uniquely devotional paintings by B.G. Sharma, which illustrate the book Ramayana: A Tale of Gods and Demons by Ranchor Prime, give you a feel for the spiritual nature of the text.

A legend surrounds the poet who wrote The Ramayana. According to the legend, the poet originally was a thief who got caught trying to rob a sadhu (a wandering holy man without possessions). The sadhu gave the thief a mantra to say: ‘mara’ (meaning evil). The poet said his mantra over and over – ‘mara mara mara’ – and as time passed he became a better person. One day the poet realized as he ran the words of the mantra together, he was also saying ‘rama rama rama’. In honor of the god who changed his life, the poet wrote The Ramayana. Ranchor Prime’s Ramayana is a more traditional translation of the book in the Indian manner.

The poet’s chief purpose in writing The Ramayana is to demonstrate the proper exercise of the dharma (Hindu “law”). The tale depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal brother (Lakshman), the ideal servant (Hanuman), the ideal wife (Sita) and the ideal king (Rama). They show through their actions how a life can be led in the service of truth. The characters and their raw courage make the story work. Rama, though it may cost him his life, will never break a promise. To honor their relationship with Rama, both Lakshman and Sita leave the palace and follow him into exile. The animals they meet – especially Hanuman, the immortal monkey – are inspired by the love between Rama and Sita and fight ferociously against the more powerful demons who have kidnapped Sita in order to get her back. All the characters obey dharma and their difficult tasks are the moral lessons of The Ramayana.

The entire Ramayana is actually an epic containing several complete stories. One of Hanuman’s stories has been culled out by Vatsala Sperling and made into a children’s book called Hanuman’s Journey to the Medicine Mountain.The book is suitable for ages 6 – 9 and is told in Western fashion with traditional Indian style paintings by Sandeep Johari.

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