'Both teller and listener shall be treasurers of wisdom for Rama's tale is mysterious.' Indian saying
The poet Valmiki collected songs and legends connected to Rama, and wrote down his version of the Ramayana in 400 AD. He is said to have invented the verse metre, the sloka, in which he wrote his poem. This metre has influenced Indian poetry ever since. Valmiki wrote 24,000 verses in his Ramayana and arranged the story into 7 books. But there are numerous and diverse versions of the epic throughout India and South Asia. Some notable ones are the 11th Century Tamil version by Kamban etched on palm leaves and the 16th Century version Ramacharita manasa by North Indian poet Tulsi Das. The later version is very much beloved today.
A note on Hindu deities
Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu, God of Protection. Vishnu is one of a trinity of the three most important Hindu gods – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, and Shiva the destroyer. Vishnu has had nine incarnations on earth as different beings. One of these is as Rama. Vishnu will have ten incarnations in all, the tenth is yet to happen!
Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Lakshmi is Vishnu's wife and whenever Vishnu incarnates she incarnates with him.
Teachers might like to look at paintings of Vishnu and Lakshmi, as both gods have specific attributes which are always included in the paintings. The Ramayana begins in heaven as Vishnu and Lakshmi look down and see the earth overrun with demons. They decide to come down to earth to get rid of the demons. They are born as Rama and Sita.
Brief overview of The Ramayana
The birth of Rama and Sita.
The marriage of Rama and Sita.
Rama's banishment in the forest for 14 years. Sita and Lakshman (Rama's brother) go with him into the forest.
Ravana, King of Demons, falls in love with Sita.
Ravana kidnaps Sita and takes her to the Demon Kingdom, Lanka.
Rama and his brother Lakshman enlist the help of the monkeys and the bears to search for Sita. Hanuman the monkey heads the band as its General.The band discover that Lanka is an island in the middle of the ocean. Hanuman leaps to the island. He finds Sita, gives her Rama's ring and promises she will be saved. Hanuman is captured. His tail is set alight by Ravana. Hanuman escapes.
The bears and monkeys build a bridge to Lanka.
Lakshman is fatally wounded.
Hanuman flies to the Himalayas to get the magic healing herb to save Lakshman. Hanuman brings back the whole mountain. Lakshman is saved.
Ravana is killed.
Sita is set free.
Rama doesn't believe that Sita has been faithful to him.
Sita proves her innocence by walking through fire and the flames turn to flowers.
The band go home, crossing the whole of India. As they walk, people leave lamps on their doorsteps to light the path. This is still celebrated today as Divali.
Sugreeva, King of the Monkeys
Hanuman, Monkey General
Jambavan, King of the Bears
Other characters you might come across:
Kumbharkarn, Ravana's giant brother
Indrajit, Ravana's warrior son
Vishnu, God of protection and preservation
Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and fertility
Garuda, the scared flying eagle who always carries Vishnu