- (Ram)Rama is a god worshipped over all of India. He is considered to be an AVATA R or descended form of Lord VISHNU. Rama’s full story is told in the RAMAYANA epic.In that famous epic, the gods ask Vishnu to incarnate in the world as a man, in order to kill the demon Ravana, who was tormenting all the worlds. Ravana has a boon that he cannot be killed by any god or demon, but, in his arrogance, he never imagines he can be killed by a human. Thus the avatar of Rama is arranged.Rama is born to Dasharatha, king of AYODHYA, and his wife, Kaushalya. In his youth Rama is sent to the sage Vishvamitra’s hermitage to help defend it from beings who are trying to disrupt the sacred Vedic rites. There he slays the female being Tataka who was tormenting the sages. He receives certain celestial weapons and is obliged to kill the demons Marica and Subahu.Rama later wins a contest to bend the bow of SHIVA; as his prize he wins the hand of SITA, daughter of the king of VIDEHA. In Ayodhya another wife of Dasharatha, Kaikeyi, plots to have her son, Bharata, put on the throne in place of Rama. As a result Rama is forced into exile for 14 years. His wife, Sita, and his brother, Lakshmana, follow him.Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, with his wife, Sita (right), and his brother, Lakshmana (left) (Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, California)During his exile Rama’s wife, Sita, is abducted by the demon king Ravana and taken to the island of Lanka. Making friends with a group of monkeys, including the faithful HANUMAN, Rama carries out his divine duty in defeating Ravana and winning back his wife. When he doubts her faithfulness, Sita passes a trial by fire. She is taken back, and the rule of Rama begins in all its perfection. Some versions of the Ramayana, such as the Kambaramayanam in Tamil, end at this point.In other versions the story continues. New questions are raised concerning Sita’s faithful-ness, and Rama has his brother Lakshmana take her to the forest. He does not realize that she is pregnant with twins. Rama’s sons Kusha and Lava are born in the forest ASHRAM of Valmiki. Eventu-ally, they end up in a war with Rama’s troops and defeat them.At this point Rama realizes he has sons and wants Sita to return to live with him. She goes before him and in disgust at her two rejections asks the Earth to swallow her up. Rama continues his just rule and dies, as all avatars must, being human forms of the divinity. Rama is worshipped throughout India and celebrated in regional folklore and high culture alike. Sita is always included, and Hanuman and Lakshmana are rarely omitted in any iconographic or pictorial presentation.Further reading: Ashok K. Banker, Prince of Ayodhya (New York: Time Warner Book Group, 2004); P. Ban-nerjee, Rama in Indian Literature, Art and Thought, 2 vols. (Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 1986); Stuart Black-burn, Inside the Drama-House: Rama Stories and the Shadow Puppets in South India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); J. L. Brockington, Righteous Rama: The Evolution of an Epic (Delhi: Oxford Univer-sity Press, 1985); Vidya Dehejia, ed., Legend of Rama: Artistic Visions (Bombay: Marg, 1994); Frank Whaling, The Rise of the Religious Significance of Rama (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.