The Ramayana of sage Valmiki is a literary masterpiece in the Sanskrit language, excelling in beauty, style, and diction. It is said that the twenty-four letters of the Gayatri Mantra are hidden in the Ramayana. The Gayatri starts with the word “tat,” and the Ramayana also starts with the same word. Each word of the Gayatri is found in a consecutive sequence at the beginning of every thousand verses of the Ramayana. It is said that Valmiki enclosed the essence of the Vedas into his mighty epic.
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are known as “Itihasas,” which means that they are history. They are not mythological tales woven out of the prolific imagination of Valmiki and Vyasa, as the English tried to make us believe. They are true historical accounts of the great dynasties and kings that existed in our country seven thousand years ago. Rama was a contemporary of Valmiki, so he wrote what he had seen with his own eyes. The places that Rama traversed over the sub-continent in his journey to Sri Lanka can still be identified. The bridge he built with the help of the vanaras from Bharat to Sri Lanka has been discovered beneath the ocean, which only helps to prove the historicity of Rama.
The Ramayana is the story of the Lord’s descent to earth as Rama, the scion of the Ikshwaku dynasty, in the Surya Vamsha, or line of the sun! It is a story that has enthralled the minds of all those who have read it, not only in Bharat but also in all parts of South-East Asia like Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bali, Malaysia, etc.
One may well marvel at the fact that this story, based on local episodes, has had such a worldwide appeal and why it has continued to cast its spell through the ages. This is because it is based on certain eternal verities that appeal to the best in human nature. The character of Rama has risen above the limits of sect, religion, race, and country.
The Ramayana is an ancient chronicle, yet it has a deep meaning in modern times. We live in an age that is at a loss to know the meaning of human existence, perplexed as to how to act with righteousness in a world that seems to have gone mad – when the meaning of truth, love, and honor cannot be found even in the best of times, when greed and self-interest seem to be the only rule of conduct.
Our lives may well take a turn for the better when we read about the heroic way in which Rama and Sita faced the trials and tribulations of their lives. Valmiki’s Rama is the portrait of a man who became divine by shaking off the limitations of his mortality, by following a strict adherence to truth and honor. He has all the qualities of the average man – the attachments, desires, anger, love, compassion, and serenity. The greatness of his character lies in the fact that he surmounted these obstacles in his character and perfected himself so that he became a superman - one who put his duty above all personal considerations. This type of perfection is available to all of us, however weak we may be. Hence the popularity of the Ramayana.
Another endearing aspect of the Ramayana that appeals to everyone is that it is, above all, a love story, and love is a theme that can never fail to strike a chord even in the hardest of hearts! But it is a love story with a difference. It probes and analyzes all the different types of love which a human being is capable of - both dharmic and adharmic.
The love of a father for his son, the love of the son for his father and mother, the love of a brother, the love of a husband for his wife, and a wife for her husband. Love for a friend and finally even the love which is condemned as adharma – the passion for another man’s wife! All these nuances of love are depicted in the Ramayana in the most exalted manner.
The Ramayana is the first epic poem – adi-kavya, to be written in the world, and Valmiki, the sage who wrote it, is considered as the “adi -kavi” or the very first poet. He was an active participant in the story; hence it can be considered as a firsthand account of the history of this ancient land.
The Ramayana is an epic of love and compassion. It is the story of utter pathos that ascends to sublime heights of glory, the pinnacle of divinity, for no ordinary mortal could be so utterly selfless. An individual who is prepared to sacrifice his personal happiness at the altar of public interest is totally alien to this modern culture, used as we are to politicians who use their office only to feather their nests. Rama based his life on a strict adherence to the implacable law of dharma! It is a blind law that knows no compassion and brooks no disobedience. The whole of Nature follows this law without question. The human being alone digresses from this law for the sake of his personal aggrandizement. Again and again, Rama was placed in controversial situations in which he had to choose between his interest and the universal law of Dharma. It is to his great credit that every time he chose Dharma as against personal interests! No wonder he was deified, for none but a God could act in such a divine manner.
A reading of the Ramayana has the effect of cleansing us of our negative emotions and charging us with the moral fervor and grace of the great characters of this immortal poem. The month of Shravana has been kept aside from ancient times for reading this immortal classic, so that the great truths found therein will be kept alive in the holy land of Bharat! So let us all start our study on this very day.
Jai Sri Rama!