Indian Mythology

The RĀmĀyana

What is the plot line of the Rāmāyana?

Rama had met Sita at her father King Janaka’s court during a long struggle with Ravana and his allies. Sita had been born miraculously from a farrow in the earth and was discovered by Janaka as he was plowing his fields. Thus, she is a child of Prithvi (Earth). Rama proves himself worthy of Sita as a true hero when he succeeds in bending the great bow of the god Shiva. He also succeeds in bending the bow of Vishnu. Because of promises made to one of his wives, Janaka has no choice but to accede to the exile of Sita and Rama for a period. During the forest exile Ravana kidnaps Sita and imprisons her in his Lanka fortress. Rama must now go on the major quest of his life, the highly symbolic quest for his divine creative energy, his Shakti, which is embodied in Sita. The monkey god Hanuman and his army help Rama to free Sita by building a bridge from India to Lanka (Sri Lanka). Rama kills Ravana, thus fulfilling Vishnu’s higher purpose.

Since Sita could theoretically have been defiled by Ravana, even though, in fact, she is innocent, she must undergo a trial by fire. As Rama’s wife, she must prove her faithfulness by performing sati. That is, she must allow herself to be placed on a funeral pyre. The flames refuse to burn her, so Rama can receive her as the perfect wife. Rama’s doubts revive, however, and the sacrifice of Sita continues when she is exiled to the forest. There she gives birth to twins and stays with the poet Valmiki, who composes the Rāmāyana. Sita finally returns to Rama but asks her mother, Earth, to take her back as proof of her innocence and fidelity. Earth rises up and takes her child to her lap; the earth regains the Prosperity that had been threatened by Ravana. The necessary sacrifice is complete and Rama reigns as king for a thousand years.


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