What is the background of the Rāmāyana?
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The second of the two great Indian epics, the Rāmāyana, is always attributed to Valmiki, the second of the Indian “Homers.” In fact, the epic was gradually compiled from various legends and folktales between 500 B.C.E. and 200 C.E. Like the Mahabharata, it is not only a story but an allegorical or symbolic record of Hindu ideas. As an avatar of Vishnu, the epic’s hero, Rama, embodies dharma (duty and order). His wife Sita, an avatar of Vishnu’s wife, Lakshmi, is Prosperity. In their exile in the forest, Rama and Sita stand not only for the perfect husband and wife but also for the preparation for the necessary sacred sacrifice that will be necessary to defeat evil in the world, evil represented by the terrible demon Ravana.