Ramayan is one of the two epics of Hinduism written thousands of years ago and predates the other epic, the Mahabharat. It is a 24,000 verse poem with 500 chapters written in ancient Sanskrit by sage Valmiki and spread out over 5 books in the least.
Ramayana means the journey of Rama, the main hero of this epic. The purpose of this epic is to teach good values and impart wisdom, within the context of a story.
Ramayan speaks to individual strength and frailties, and how everyone has their own personalized dharma (duty). We may agree or not with some of the actions of the characters, but what Ram’s journey lays out to us is that we all are heroes and we all are villains. It depends on the perspective. There is no single character in Ramayan who can be blamed for being malicious or for not doing their duty. They all did what they were convinced was the right thing to do.
Ramayan teaches us to be tolerant towards others. Even as we may not agree with others sense of morality, we need to restrain ourselves from judging them. (Quick tip: As soon as you get in the judgement mode, distract yourself by singing a song, or chanting). We all will get our due depending on our actions, and its best to accept everyone as they are.
Ramayan elaborates on duty amongst relations, and virtues that constitute ideals – an ideal father, an ideal mother, an ideal king, an ideal brother, an ideal wife, an ideal friend, an ideal country, and ideal behaviors. It talks about grief and the overcoming of it. It talks about reverence towards elders and guests, amongst others.
It highlights the importance of building alliances. Of bestowing favors on others. You never know when you might need them. Even if you don’t need them, its a good deed done.
This epic covers all the four goals of Hinduism, namely Kama (Desire, Pleasure), Arth (Wealth), Dharma (Duty) and Moksha (liberation).
Here is a story of Ramayan in a nutshell:
Rama, a prince, goes to exile in the forest for 14 years with his wife Sita and younger brother Lakshman to keep a promise made by his father to Rama’s step mother, Kaikeyi.
Kaikeyi wants her younger son Bharat to be coronated as prince regent instead of Rama, who is the eldest and most loved. Traditionally, the eldest son became the king.
While living in the forest, during the 13th year, Rama’s wife Sita gets abducted by a demon Ravan who flies her to his country, Lanka.
Rama, with the help of his friend a monkey king and his monkey army, his loyal devotee Hanuman who is part of that army and the demon Vibhishan, defeats Ravana and brings home Sita.
The day Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman, return to Ayodhya, is the day of celebration of the festival of Diwali.
The residents of Ayodhya, Rama’s home town are so happy on his return, that they light up with diya’s (small candles in a clay pot) their entire city.