The Ramayana Summary

The Ramayana is a Hindu epic about the life of the legendary Prince Rama of Kosala.

  • Rama and his wife Sita are exiled from Rama's homeland. While in exile, Rama battles the demon king Ravan, who abducts Sita.

  • Rama defeats the demons and rescues Sita. They return from exile and Rama becomes king. However, false rumors spread about Sita's infidelity, and Rama sends her away.
  • Sita gives birth to Rama's sons and is recalled to his court. When asked to prove her virtue, Sita calls on her mother, Mother Earth, who defends Sita and takes her away to the land of the gods.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1164

King Dasa-ratha of the Kosalas, who keeps his court at Ayodhya, has four sons, though not all by the same mother. According to legend, the god Vishnu, in answer to King Dasa-ratha’s supplications, gave a divine liquor to all of the king’s wives so that they might bring forth sons, each of whom is partly an incarnation of Vishnu. Of the sons, Rama is the handsomest and strongest of all, his mother having drunk more of the magic beverage than any of Dasa-ratha’s other wives.

When Rama has grown to manhood he hears of Sita, the beautiful, talented, and virtuous daughter of King Janak and the earth mother. King Janak is the possessor of a wondrous bow, a mighty weapon that had belonged to the gods, and King Janak resolves that whoever can bend the bow shall have Sita for his wife. The king knows that no ordinary mortal can possibly accomplish the feat.

Rama and his brothers travel to the court of King Janak and are granted permission to try to draw the mighty bow. Rama bends the bow with ease; indeed, his strength is so great that the weapon snaps in two. King Janak promises that Sita shall be Rama’s bride and that each of Rama’s half brothers shall also have a noble bride from among the people of his kingdom.

Sita thus becomes the wife of Rama, and her sister Urmila marries Lakshman, Rama’s favorite brother. Mandavi and Sruta-kriti, cousins of Sita, become the wives of Bharat and Satrughna, the other half brothers of Rama. When all return to Ayodhya, Dasa-ratha, fearing that rivalries among his children might create unhappiness and tragedy in his house, sends Bharat and Satrughna to live with their mothers’ people.

Years pass, and King Dasa-ratha grows old. Wishing to have the time and opportunity to prepare himself for the next life, he proposes that Rama, his favorite son, should become regent. The king’s council and the populace rejoice at the proposal, and plans are made to invest Rama with the regency and place him on the Kosala throne. Before the preparations can been completed, however, Manthara, a maid to Queen Kaikeyi, one of King Dasa-ratha’s wives, advises her mistress that Rama’s succession to the throne should be prevented and that Bharat, Queen Kaikeyi’s son, should become regent. The queen is influenced by this poor advice, and she remembers that her husband has promised her two boons. When King Dasa-ratha comes to her, she asks that he fulfill the boons by making Bharat regent and by sending Rama into exile for fourteen years. King Dasa-ratha is sad, but he has given his word and must honor his promises. A dutiful son, Rama accepts his father’s decision and prepares to go into exile. He expects to go alone, but his wife, Sita, and his brother Lakshman prepare to go with him to share his lonely and uncomfortable life in the dismal Dandak forest. The Kosala people mourn his departure and accompany him on the first day of his journey away from Ayodhya.

Leaving his native country, Rama journeys south. He and his companions cross the Ganges and come to the hermitage of Bharad-vaja, a holy man. After visiting with him, they travel on to the hill of Chitrakuta, where stands the hermitage of Vlmki, a learned and holy man. There they learn that King Dasa-ratha died the day after Rama’s departure from Ayodhya, remembering in his hour of death a curse laid on him by a hermit whose son he had accidentally killed. Rama stays with Vlmki for a time. In the meanwhile, Bharat returns to Ayodhya to become regent, as his mother has arranged. However, he recognizes Rama’s claim to the throne and sets out on a journey to find Rama and ask him to become king of the Kosalas. He finds his brother, but Rama, having given his word, remains in exile as he has vowed to do. Bharat returns to Avodhya, where he places Rama’s sandals on the throne as a symbol of Rama’s right to the kingship.

In order that his kinsmen might not find him again, Rama leaves Vlmki’s hermitage, and after a long journey he establishes his own hermitage near the dwelling of Agastya, a holy and learned man. There Rama, Sita, and Lakshman live in peace until they are disturbed by a demon-maiden who is enamored of Rama. The demon-maiden, having been repulsed in her addresses by both Rama and Lakshman, seeks revenge. She goes to her brother, Ravan, demon-king of Lanka, and asks for his help. Ravan is a powerful being who through asceticism has achieved power even over the gods. His domination, according to legend, can be broken only by an alliance of humans and the monkey people.

Ravan sends a demon in the disguise of a deer to lead Rama astray while on a hunt. When Rama fails to return from hunting, Sita insists that Lakshman go to look for him. In the absence of the brothers, Sita is abducted by Ravan. Rama learns what has happened, and he allies himself with the monkey people in order to make war on the demons and win back his beloved wife. Hanuman, one of the leaders of the monkey people, finds Sita at Ravan’s palace and leads Rama and the forces of the monkey people to Ceylon. There Ravan’s city is besieged and many battles are fought, with combat between the great leaders of both sides and pitched battles between the forces of good and evil. Finally Ravan and his demon forces are defeated, Ravan is killed, and Sita is rescued and restored to her husband. Sita, who remained faithful to Rama throughout her captivity, proves in an ordeal by fire that she is still virtuous and worthy to be Rama’s wife.

Rama, Sita, and Lakshman return in triumph to Ayodhya, where Rama is welcomed and becomes king of the Kosala people. Rumors spread, however, that Sita has not been faithful to her husband, until at last Rama sends his wife away. She goes to live at the hermitage of Vlmki, and shortly after her arrival there, she gives birth to Rama’s twin sons.

More years pass and the two sons grow up, tutored in their youth by the wise Vlmki, who eventually takes his charges to Ayodhya. There Rama, recognizing them as his sons, sends for Sita and has her conducted to his court. Since her virtue has been in doubt, she is asked to offer a token to prove that she has been true to her marriage vows. The earth opens up, and out of a great chasm the earth mother herself rises up on her throne to speak on behalf of Sita and to take her to the land of the gods. Thus Sita is taken away from the husband and the others who have doubted her.

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