Valmiki's Ramayana, is the oldest edition of Ramayana and is the source of all Ramayana’s that is relevant in various cultures. This text survives in numerous complete and partial manuscripts; the oldest existing is dated from the eleventh century AD. The current text of Valmiki Ramayana has come down to us in two local versions from north and south of India. Valmiki Ramayana has been traditionally divided into seven books, dealing with the life of Rama from his birth to death.
Ramayana is undoubtedly the most popular and timeless Indian epic read and loved by all. The term "Ramayana", literally means "the march of Rama" in search of human values. As a literary work, it combines "the inner bliss of Vedic literature with the outer richness of delightfully profound story telling." This story of Sri Rama by the great sage Valmiki is referred to as the "Adi Kavya" (Original Epic). About the Valmiki Ramayana, Swami Vivekananda has said: "No language can be purer, none chaste, none more beautiful, and at the same time simpler, than the language in which the great poet has depicted the life of Rama."
Valmiki universally acclaimed and accepted as the first among Sanskrit poets, was the first to discover a musical expression of epic dimension and vision to match the emotional ecstasy of the story of Rama. According to a legend, Valmiki was known as Ratnakar a robber who one day met a hermit who with good advice on human values transformed him to a virtuous being. Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom was believed to have assured this hermit to stand by his side and guide him to visualize the events of Ramayana, and honour them with epic dignity and worldly simplicity.
It is important to know that there is not one Ramayana in India. In reality, the original composition in Sanskrit by Valmiki is left over with the elderly citizens and rarely read these days. The most common Ramayana’s are in the vernacular Indian languages. For example, the Ramayana of Kamban, written in Tamil in the eleventh century win through in south India; in north India it’s the Ramayana of Tulsidas, called the Ramacharitamanasa is been celebrated. Even among the Hindus living in far-flung places of the Indian Diaspora, such as Fiji and Trinidad, the Ramacharitamanasa is the devotional text of Hinduism par excellence.
In the Bengali version of the story, Rawana is turned into the hero; and this description was again taken up by the nineteenth century Bengali writer, Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73), whose own epic retelling of the Ramayana portrays Rama as a weak and womanish figure representing an earlier stage of innocence. It is no surprise that one American scholar, Paula Richman, has written of the "many Ramayana’s" in a book by the same title.
The Ramayana, originally authored by Valmiki, consists of 24,001 verses in six cantos; some say seven including the Uttarakhanda. Ramayana tells the story of Rama a prince of Ayodhya, whose wife Seetha is abducted by the King of Lanka, Rawana. The Valmiki Ramayana is not dated precisely but from 500 BC to 100 BC. As with most traditional epics, since it has gone through a long process of interruptions it is impossible to date it correctly.
In the original Valmiki Ramayana, Valmiki wrote that Rama was nothing more than an ideal human being. However, Brahmanical rewriting of Ramayana finally introduced Rama as a supreme deity.
* The first stage includes the composition of books 2 - 6 sometime in the fifth century BCE and their oral transmission up to and including the fourth century BCE. Rama is presented as an basically human hero.
* The second stage extends from the third century BCE to the first century CE, during which time those five books were reworked and expanded. This period brings greater status for the king. For most of this period, Rama is viewed as a principled human.
* The third stage extends from the first to the third century CE, bringing with it the addition of book 1 (‘the book of childhood’) and the somewhat later book 7 was an epilogue. This stage is marked by the presentation of Rama as an avatar of Vishnu. This stage also produced a pronounced emphasis on Varna- Dharma (Caste System). It also classifies the caste differences. i.e. Sambuka, the Sudra ascetic, is killed by Rama in order to bring a Brahmin boy back to life.
The epic contains the following books:
* Bala Kanda – the boyhood and adolescence of Rama
* Ayodhya Kanda – the court of Dasaratha, and the scenes that set the stage for the unfolding of the story, including the exchange between Dasaratha and Kaikeyi, and the exile of Rama
* Aranya Kanda – life in the forest and the abduction of Seetha by Rawana
* Kishkindha Kanda – Rama’s residence in Kishkindha, the quest for Seetha, and the slaying of Bali
* Sundara Kanda – description of the landscapes over which Rama roams, and the arrival of Rama and his allies in Lanka; Sundara means beautiful, and this portion of the book has passages of lyrical beauty
* Yuddha Kanda – also known as the Lanka-Kanda: the book of war: the defeat of Rawana, the recovery of Seetha, the return to Ayodhya, and the coronation of Rama
* Uttarakhanda – details Rama’s life in Ayodhya, the banishment of Seetha, the birth of Lava and Kusa, the reconciliation of Rama and Seetha, her death or return to the earth, and Rama’s ascent into heaven.
Ramayana’s narration operates at many levels:
- It depict the society of the time: vast empires, the life of a prince destined to become the next king, the contest between mothers and stepmothers, the bond of love and faithfulness among brothers, contest to win the hand of a princess, male chauvinism, etc.
- It describes how a just human being and a leader of men behave himself at all times, facing circumstances with calmness, raise to occurrences to lead his people independent of his own personal calamities and limits, humanizing love and admiration of his people.
- It is a story of the seventh manifestation of Lord Vishnu, incarnating as a human this time, fighting evil, bring back justice in the land, fully aware of his divinity and yet resorting to using his superhuman powers when it was absolutely needed.
By tradition, Ramayana is attributed to a solitary author, Valmiki. Textual scholar Robert P. Goldman conclude that, in the face of undisputed Indian custom and the consistent character of much of the work, there is no reason doubt that Valmiki wrote the main portion of the Ramayana. However, the work now known is believed that many have added on a much later date than the original kernel of the work. The Ramayana was "grew with centuries, but the basic is the creation of one mind."
The primary source of the life and journey of Rama is described in the epic Ramayana as composed by the Rishi Valmiki. However, other scriptures in Sanskrit reflect the life of Ramayana. For example, the Vishnu Purana also narrates Rama as Vishnu's seventh avatar and in the Vayu Purana; a Rama is mentioned among the seven Rishis of the 8th Manvantara. Additionally, the tales of Rama are respectfully spoken of in the later epic, the Mahabharata. Another significant shortened account of the epic in Sanskrit is portrayed in the Aadhyaatma Ramayana.
The epic had many versions across India's regions. For example, vernacular versions of the Ramayana which include the life, deeds and divine philosophies of Rama are elaborated in the epic poem Kambaramayanam by the 12th century poet, Kamban in Tamil and Ramacharitamanasa, a Hindi version of the Ramayana by the 16th century Tulsidas. Other dialect versions also exist in most major Indian languages. Contemporary versions of the Ramayana include Sri Ramayana Darshanam by Kuvempu in Kannada and Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu by Viswanatha Satyanarayana in Telugu, both of which have been awarded the Janapith Award. The epic has transformed across the varied regions of India, which boast their own unique languages and cultural traditions.
The essential tale of Rama has also spread across South East Asia, and evolves into unique interpretations of the epic - incorporating local history, folktales, religious values as well as unique features from the languages and literary discourse. The Kakawin Ramayana of Java, Indonesia, the Ramakavaca of Bali, Hikayat Seri Rama of Malaysia, Maradia Lawana of the Philippines, Ramakien of Thailand (which calls him Phra Ram) are great works with many unique characteristics and differences in accounts and portrayals of the legend of Rama. The legends of Rama are witnessed in elaborate illustration at the Wat Phra Kaew Buddhist temple in Bangkok. The national epic of Myanmar, Yama Zatdaw is essentially the Burmese Ramayana, where Rama is named Yama. In the Reamker of Cambodia, Rama is known as Preah Ream. In the Pra Lak Pra Lam of Laos, Buddha is regarded as an incarnation of Rama.
The Ramayana speaks of how the Goddess Bhumidevi, came to the Lord Creator, Brahma begging to be rescued from evil kings who were greedy of her possessions and destroying life through bloody wars and evil behaviour. The Devas also came to Brahma terrified of the rule of Rawana, Emperor of Lanka. Rawana had overpowered the Devas and now ruled the heavens, the earth and the netherworlds. Being a powerful monarch but was arrogant, destructive and a supporter of evil doers. He had boons that gave him immense strength and was invulnerable to all celestial beings, except man and animals.
Brahma, Bhumidevi and the Devas worshipped Vishnu, the Preserver, for liberation from Rawana's tyrannical rule. Vishnu promised to kill Rawana by incarnating as a man - the eldest son of king Dasaratha. His eternal consort, Lakshmi took birth as Seetha and was found by king Janaka of Mithila while he was ploughing a field. Throughout his life, no one, except him and a few select sages as Vasishta, Sharabhanga, Agastya and Vishwamitra knew of his destiny. Rama was continuously revered by the many sages as he encounters through his life but only the most learned and exalted knew of his true identity. At the end of the war between Rama and Rawana just as Seetha passes her Agni Pariksha, Lord Brahma, Indra and the Devas, the celestial sages and Lord Shiva appear out of the sky. They affirm Seetha's purity and ask him to end this terrible test. Thanking the Avatara for delivering the universe from the grips of evil, they reveal Rama's divine identity upon the conclusion of his mission.
Foreigners authored Vishnu Purana, Skanda Purana, and Ramayana. Vishnu Purana states that Vishnu waged war with the Sri Lankan Kings Iraniya and Makuta, and describes its populace as greatly civilised which is confirmed in the Skanda Purana and Ramayana. According to the Uttarakhanda Ramayana Malyavantha, Sumali and Sukesha of the Raksha clan governed Sri Lanka. However, according to Vishnu Purana and Buddhavansha it was Iraniya who governed Sri Lanka.
The ones referred in Ramayana headed the first inhabitants of this Island. Malyavantha had seven sons: Vajramushti, Virupaksha, Dhurmuka, Supthagna, Yangnakopa, Maththa, Unmaththa, and the daughter were Anala. Sumali had ten sons, Prahastha, Akampana, Vikata, Kalimukha, Dhumaraksha, Dhanda, Suparshva, Sangradhi, Pragasa, Basakarna, and were Sumali’s ten sons and the daughters were Rakha, Pushpothkata, Kaikesi and Kumbinasi and Mali’s sons were, Anala, Anila, Hara and Sampathi.
These three brothers and their sons crossed over to India and began to harass the Deva clan. Vishnu listening to the woes of the Deva clan agreed to help them and defeat the Raksha clan invaders. Mali was killed in the battle. Malyavantha and Sumali went into the underworld. This ousted the Raksha rulers in Sri Lanka.
Vaisrawana who was residing in Vishvagiriya [present Vessagiriya] made this the opportunity to overrun the Raksha Dynasty in Lankapura. The inscription located in a cave in Mihintale as ‘Diparakdha’ would be referring to King Malyavantha the pre – historic ruler of Sri Lanka. The inscription ‘Dhammarakdha’ at Bowaththegala, Ruhuna has to be explored as it may be referring to the descendents of King Sumali.
Ramayana is based on a factual occurrence but consist literary exaggerations. Can it be classified as a legend because it carries literary exaggerations? Isn’t it more fitting to note the facts that bond the oral and recorded history? Emperor governed vast part of the globe but it lacks significant proofs, as most historians have not researched into the pre-history. Archaeological evidences are always not available as it would have been erased, buried or not explored. An attempt is made to produce the available data to answer most questions that had been debated before.
Sri Lankans are much interested of the Rama Rawana trails; its dealings pertaining to Sri Lanka and it has become a part of their national consciousness. The certainty of it is spotlighted by the huge number of places in Sri Lanka linked with it either through name, legend or tale. It would be useful for the interested people to know where these locations are and as to how they connect the incident.
However, it should be taken into serious consideration that most tales pertaining to Rama Rawana sites have sprung up in the recent past and most of them have no connection to it whatsoever. Presently it has become a tradition connect geographical locations as Rama Rawana sites just because the names of these places begins with Rawana, Rama and Seetha for which many examples can be quoted.
Indian pre history is based on Ramayana and Mahabharata. Though the origin of Ramayana is India, it accounts mainly of an invasion of Lanka by Rama and plays a vital part in the national awareness of India. However, it’s a pity to note that most researches on Ramayana still not have identified that Rawana was a Brahmin. This gives us an indication that most of them are of them are narrow-minded of Rawana.