Ramayana: A Synopsis

The original Sanskrit version of the Ramayana is some 25,000 verses long.  See my table here comparing its length to other religious texts.  At this length, I doubt many of my visitors will read the Ramayana so for them I offer this nice three-paragraph synopsis by B.A. van Nooten.  B.A. van  Nooten was himself a translator of the Ramayana, and this synopsis appears in the Introduction of William Buck’s retelling of the Ramayana (sources).  I will add more links in this synopsis as I write posts related to that area of the tale and at the bottom, I supply links to other summaries I find.

The Synopsis

Ravana abducts Sita (HT)

Prince Rama of Ayodhya is the hero.  He is born into a noble family of rulers, but treacherous machinations of his stepmother force him to abdicate his claim to the throne of Ayodhya in favor of his half-brother, Bharata.  Rama himself withdraws into the forest for thirteen years accompanied by his faithful wife Sita and his devoted half-brother, Lakshmana.  Here they move in a strange world, part mythical, part spiritual, populated by gentle, God-seeking sages, but also by grim ogres and vicious demons who try to disturb Rama’s tranquil life and thwart his noble intentions.  In that world, a conflict develops between on the one hand the righteous Rama, a scion of the illustrious ancient solar dynasty, and on the other hand the legions of the dark, the Rakshasas or demons with ugly, menacing, repulsive forms who stalk the forest in search of mischief.  Thanks to Rama’s gallantry, he, Sita, and Lakshmana overcome the demonic powers until great calamity befalls them: Sita is abducted by the monstrous demon king Ravana.  He flies with her to Lanka, his capital, but she never yields to him, reminding him steadfastly of her vow to Rama, her one and only lord.

Hanuman Leaps to Sri Lanka

Meanwhile Rama and Lakshamana search frantically for signs of life from Sita, going from one witness to another to learn of her whereabouts.  Finally, they ally themselves with an army of talking monkeys and bears under the generalship of the mighty monkey Hanuman.  The animals discover the place where Sita is kept prisoner, an island not far from India, probably prosperous Lanka, now known as Ceylon, or Sri Lanka.  Hanuman with a tremendous bound leaps across and visits Sita.  After setting fire to the city he returns to Rama who decides to rescue his wife by force.  Thousands upon thousands of monkeys help to build a causeway across to the island, the remains of which are still visible–or so traditions goes.  A frightful battle ensues.  Hosts of monkeys and demons are slaughtered, the heroes use not only conventional weapons, but also divinely inspired arms and magic tricks.  The demons can change shape at will by virtue of their maya, or magical power, and often succeed in deceiving the heroes.  Rama and his allies perform feats of incredible fortitude, lifting up huge rocks and even mountains and suffering injuries beyond comprehension.  In the end, as can be expected, the good are victorious and it is at this point that Rama discovers his divine antecedents.  He is an incarnation of the great god Vishnu who has come on earth to save mankind from oppression by demonic forces.

Ram and Sita

Rama and Sita return to the capital of their country, Ayodhya, where Rama is crowned king.  For many years their rule is glorious but then evil tongues spread rumors about Sita’s abduction by Ravana long ago.  Was she really as pure as she professed to be?  Had the handsome Ravana really never touched her?  In deep sorrow Rama asks Sita to leave for the forest and never to come back.  No just ruler can live under a cloud of immoral conduct, even if it is no more than suspected misbehavior.  Sita goes to the forest and gives birth to Rama’s two children, Kusa and Lava.  The great poet-sage Valmiki takes care of them and in time teaches them the great story of Rama’s exploits, The Ramayana.

Other Synopsises/Summaries:


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

3 responses to “Ramayana: A Synopsis

  1. That is fascinating about the banishing of Sita, purging out even the most spurious appearances of unrighteousness at whatever cost in order to preserve the image of purity. It is quite the contrast from the Jewish God, who sends evil spirits into people like King Saul (1 Samuel 18), and entices people to do “evil” like Kind David (2 Samuel 24).

  2. Santiago

    Have you watched Sita Sings the Blues? Quite beautiful.

  3. exrelayman

    Too bad mere whisperings are allowed to effect the banishment of Sita. Particularly when in the prologue to the story she chose to self immolate rather than accompany Ravana.

    I don’t much like how women get the short end of the stick from many religious traditions. The burning of widows at the funeral pyre comes to mind when I think of Hinduism. The caste system is not a high point either.

    The Ramayana failed to maintain my interest, but along the way the comparative importance of Indra to the traditional trio of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu caused me to spend a lot of time trying to sort this out. Vast, vast, quantities of differing and evolving beliefs in Hinduism. Maybe a bit like the 30,000 plus Christian denominations. Leading to one of my neologisms: the problem with isms is schisms.

    Anyway, enjoying your blog. Thought this little monkey chant relating to the Ramayana might be enjoyable to some who visit here – maybe you could enlighten us a bit about its meaning:

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