Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana is one of the most enduring Sanskrit texts of all time. Throughout the epic, Rama battles gods and mortals, endures exile, and strives to rescue his beloved wife Sita.
Rama, as an avatar of Vishnu, is a human form of deity; he embodies virtue. Ordered into exile by his royal father, while a half-brother serves as regent, Rama must prove himself before assuming the throne. One of his early glorious tasks is winning Sita’s hand in a contest set up by her father. His strength shows his value and his divinity. Once he enters exile, he wants to focus on his devotions, and establishes a hermitage so he can be near the holy man Agastya.
Evil, in contrast, is embodied in Ravana, the demon king who, among other misdeeds, kidnaps Sita. He deceives Rama by assuming the form of a deer. To get back his wife, Rama wages full-out war. He enlists the aid of the monkey people and their leader, Hanuman. Their combined forces lay siege to Ravana’s city-fortress and through many battles, finally win and rescue Sita.
Rama’s virtuous reputation is tainted, however, by jealousy. He wrongly suspects Sita of infidelity, and only through the Earth Mother’s intervention is her purity confirmed. The price, however, is his losing Sita when the Earth Mother reclaims her.