Ramayana: An epic(al) depiction (Part 1)
Auspicious Beginnings In the first of a series explaining The Ramayana, this is the story of how Valmiki was picked to write it, how Narada described Lord Rama to him and how the epic came into existence
My 10-year-old granddaughter, Kanak Vanam who lives in Redwood City, San Francisco, USA is a voracious reader even at this tender age. On seeing me writing Ramayana in Telugu whenever I come to the USA, she asked me to render the tale in lucid English so that she too can read and understand the Ramayana. The same question was raised to me by my other granddaughters, Mihira and Medha. Thus, I decided to give my best in writing the epic in English while keeping it as simple as possible. I made Kanak read the first couple of paragraphs and confirmed that she understood them. Hence, this weekly serial for her and for children of her age group.
The Ramayana, authored by the Great Sage Valmiki, is undoubtedly the greatest and best of all the epics and classics. The lead role and the central character of Sri Ramayana, namely Sitadevi is none other than Goddess Laxmi Devi. The hero of the classic, Sri Ramachandramurthy, is again the Maha Vishnu himself. The incarnation of both of them in the era of Treta Yug was precisely for the purpose of annihilating the sinners and safeguarding the virtuous and innocent people, thereby establishing dharma – the path of righteousness. Had Valmiki not authored this story, future generations would have lived in utter darkness and perhaps turned out to be sinners!
The Ramayana was authored by Sage Valmiki in Sanskrit (an ancient language from India) and was composed in verses called shlokas which were difficult for many to read and understand. Though many translated editions existed, they too were verbose and advanced in language, making them equally difficult to understand. In English as well, there have been a few translations which have been difficult to read. This is precisely my purpose for writing this in simple, lucid and easy to understand form of English. The Ramayana as a book was introduced in six parts known as Kandas in Sanskrit, namely Bala, Ayodhya, Aranya, Kishkindha, Sundara and Yuddha, besides one postscript known as Uttara Kanda.
The reason as to why at the end of Treta Yuga (the era) Lord Srimannaarayana had a conversation in his abode, Vaikunta with his wife Laxmi Devi and other saints on the subject of annihilating the sinners and safeguarding the virtuous and innocent people, was the monster king Ravana. Subsequently, Lord Srimannaarayana, in order to accomplish his vow to King Dasharatha who worshipped him in his previous birth, was born as his sons – Srirama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. This was the desire of the Lord.
Lord Maha Vishnu, in accordance with his will, took birth in four forms as sons to King Dasharatha. In the form of Srirama, he committed himself to the words of his father. As Lakshmana, he was always at the behest of Rama and abided by his command. In the form of Bharata, he was always obedient to his brother Rama and as Shatrughna, he served his elder brother Bharat right from his childhood.
Lord Brahma, was of the opinion that the story of these four forms must be preserved for the generations to come. He passed on this responsibility to Sage Narada and his compatriots. Brahma further proceeded and directed Sage Narada to instruct and enlighten Valmiki, an ardent devotee of Srirama, to author it for the benefit of the inhabitants of the planet. Thus, the Ramayana was penned by Valmiki on behest of Lord Brahma.
One day, Sage Narada at the behest of Lord Brahma went to the hermitage of Sage Valmiki. He, having understood Valmiki's world view, tutored him on the story of Sri Sitarama, coupled with the Gayatri mantra. Later, he informed Lord Brahma about what he did. Brahma, in turn, put Goddess Saraswathi, the personification of all knowledge and learning, on the tongue of Valmiki and directed him to take up the writing of Sri Ramayana. Brahma also empowered him to do so in the form of a great legendary testament. With that strength bestowed on him by Brahma, Valmiki commenced writing Sri Ramayana. Valmiki's Ramayana is said to have been composed based on each of the twenty-four letters of the Gayatri mantra and a thousand verses are arranged into one book under the caption of each letter.
One day Narada, the professor of theology and spirituality and also a leading Yogi, went to Valmiki. Valmiki, who was in search of a suitable teacher, bowed to him and elicited from him whether there was any person who was truly virtuous and righteous in all aspects.
Valmiki wanted to know about a person who had the qualities of being- appropriate in disposition, interested in the welfare of all beings, adept and able, uniquely pleasant to look at, self-composed, brilliant, non-jealous and whom even the gods would fear when provoked to war.
Replying to Valmiki, Narada said that, "Oh! Great Sage! The righteous traits that you narrated are unparalleled and extraordinary. In each of these traits, implicitly there are many more such traits and thus they are doubled and tripled. These are seldom found in ordinary human beings. However, I will reveal the name of the person in whom all these great manners, behaviors and qualities do exist. Please listen. In the family lineage of Ikshvakas dynasty where God has been prayed to incessantly and relentlessly, Ramachandramurthy whom the whole world addresses as Rama was born. In him, all the qualities and traits that you are expecting are in abundance".
Narada described Rama as the one who is with a controlled self, who was highly valorous, resplendent, steadfast, a controller of his own senses, wise, moralistic, eloquent, glorious, a destroyer of enemies, a preserver of his own righteousness and a scholar in the essence of Vedas. While lauding Rama, Narada gives an outline of Ramayana, truly highlighting those aspects that are the keynotes in this epic.
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