views updated May 23 2018


RĀMA , the hero of the Rāmāyaa, an epic of ancient India, is the figure most celebrated in literature, music, and art throughout India and Southeast Asia. Vālmīki's Rāmāyaa is the earliest known source of Rāma's heroic biography. Many modern scholars agree that in the central part of Vālmīki's epic Rāma is depicted as a secular hero. The first and the sixth books of the Vālmīki text, however, depict Rāma as an incarnation of Viu, who comes down to the earth as a human warrior to kill the menacing demon Rāvaa. Medieval devotional Rāmāyaa s developed this theme, making Rāma the god himself. In this view, Rāma's wife, Sītā, is the goddess Śrī, and his brother Lakmaa is perceived as the human incarnation of the snake diśea, on top of whom Viu sleeps. Rāma and Lakmaa are perceived as inseparable brothers, identical even in physical appearance except for their skin color: Rāma is blue, Lakmaa is golden yellow.

Rāma is described as perfect: He is self-controlled, eloquent, majestic, and capable of annihilating all his enemies. Above all, he is truthful and totally devoted to only one wife. Similarly, Sītā is described as the ideal in chastity, devoted to Rāma in thought, word, and deed.

The idealizations of Rāma and Sītā are not totally free of problems, particularly for the authors of bhakti texts. Several events described in Vālmīki's text tarnish Rāma's character. For instance, after his wife is abducted by Rāvaa, Rāma makes a pact with the monkey king Sugrīva to kill the latter's brother Valin in return for Sugrīva's help in finding Sītā. To keep his part of the contract, Rāma, hiding behind a tree, kills Vālin. This act violates all norms of justice and valor. A second such incident occurs later, when Rāma wages a battle against Rāvaa. Rāma succeeds in killing the demon king, but refuses to take Sītā back because she has lived in another man's house. To prove her innocence, Sītā has to go through the fire ordeal. Later, Rāma again abandons Sītā (who is now pregnant) when the people of Ayodhyā spread vicious talk about her stay in Rāvaa's house.

Buddhist texts transform Rāma from a martial hero into a spiritually elevated person. In the Dāśaratha Jātaka, Rāma is depicted as a bodhisattva figure. In this version there is no mention of Rāvaa, and Sītā is not abducted. Indeed, Sītā is depicted as Rāma's sister. The intrigues of their stepmother make their father, Daśaratha, send Rāma, Sītā, and Lakmaa into the forest for twelve years. At the end of twelve years Rāma returns and is crowned king. He rules with Sītā for sixteen thousand years. Other Jātaka stories also incorporate the Rāma theme, with some variations.

If Buddhists made Rāma a bodhisattva, Jains transformed him into one of their sixty-three śalākāpurua s. In Jain retellings, prominent among which is Vimalasūri's Paumacariya (written in Prakrit in the early centuries of the common era), Rāma eats no meat, performs no sacrifices involving animals, and wins his battle by wit rather than by violence. Jain Rāmāyaa s include the story of Rāma up to the birth of his twin sons. Other Rāmāyaa texts of the Jain community include Hemacandra's Jaina Rāmāyaa and Nāgacandra's Rāmacandracarita Purāa, both of the twelfth century. In these versions Rāma eventually enters the Jain order as a monk and finally achieves liberation through heroic mortifications.

Rāma's story is mentioned in a number of Purāas. The Śaiva Purāas, such as the Liga Purāa and Śiva Purāa, make Rāma a devotee of Śiva, while the Bhāgavata Purāa and other Vaiava Purāas describe him as an incarnation of Viu.

In about the twelfth century, the Vaiava theology, particularly that of Rāmānuja, gave rise to a cult of Rāma. Numerous Vaiava commentators on the Rāmāyaa interpret Rāma as the manifestation of the divine among human beings. In keeping with Vaiava influences, the bhakti Rāmāyaas make Rāma the god (Viu) incarnate exercising his līlā ("divine play") with his consort, Sītā.

A late fourteenth-century text, Adhyātma Rāmāyaa, uses the narrative form to provide an advaita (nondualist) philosophical orientation to the teachings of the Rāma cult. In this book, presented as a conversation between Śiva and Pārvatī, Rāma is brahman, the Absolute itself, which takes a human shape as a pretext to accomplish his divine purposes. Sītā, in this text, is the eternal consort of the Lord. In keeping with this logic, the events leading to the abduction of Sītā, her later abandonment, the birth of her two sons Lava and Kuśa, and the final separation of Sītā and Rāma are significantly altered to represent the reuniting of the couple in Vaikuha, Viu's heavenly abode.

Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas (composed around 1574) adopts ingenious themes to free Rāma's biography of its problems. In this text all the characters of the Rāmāyaa, including Rāvaa and all the demons whom Rāma kills, are described as Rāma's devotees. According to the devotional theory presented here, even an enmity to God is one of the means of reaching God. For human beings, however, the model of devotion is said to be set by Hanumān, the monkey servant of Rāma, who attends upon his master with intense devotion. Bhakti Rāmayanists also borrow elements of stories about Ka, especially relating to the god's childhood, to describe the child Rāma.

The figure of Rāma remains prominent in many bhakti cults. There, devotees believe that chanting Rāma's name and reflecting upon the main incidents of his biography ultimately lead them to reach God.

See Also

Līlā; Rāmāyaa; Tulsidas.


Bulcke, Camille. Rāma-katha (1950). 2d ed. Allahabad, 1962.

Goldman, Robert P., trans. The Rāmāyaa of Valmiki, vol. 1, Balakanda. Princeton, N. J., 1984.

Hill, W. Douglas P., trans. The Holy Lake of the Acts of Rāma (1952). Reprint, Oxford, 1971.

Smith, H. Daniel. Reading the Rāmāyaa: A Bibliographic Guide for Students and College Teachers. Syracuse, N.Y., 1983.

New Sources

Blank, Jonah. Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana through India. Boston, 1992.

Buck, Harry Merwyn. The Figure of Rama in Buddhist Cultures. Bhubaneswar, 1995.

Velcheru Narayana Rao (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated Jun 27 2018

Rāma, also Rāmacandra. The hero of the major Hindu epic, Rāmāyaṇa. The initial core of the epic portrays Rāma as a courageous prince following the example of his ancestor Raghu (hence his epithet Rāghava). But in the full epic and the Purāṇas, Rāma is an avatāra (manifestation) of Viṣṇu, the seventh and almost equal in importance to Kṛṣṇa. Rāma and his wife Sītā are the model spouses for Hindus. Vālmīki traces the spiritual path of Rāma in Yoga-vasiṣtha, and to him also is ascribed the central part of Rāmāyaṇa. The present work is in seven kāndas, sections, of which (ii)–(vi) tell of Rāma's birth (celebrated in the festival Rāma Navami) and childhood; his life in Ayodhyā and his banishment; his life in the forest and Sītā's abduction by Rāvaṇa; Rāma's life with his monkey allies; his crossing over the bridge to Śri Lankā; the battle, the defeat of Rāvaṇa (celebrated in the festival of Daśarā) and the rescue of Sītā; his life in Ayodhyā, Sītā's banishment and return, their death and ascent to heaven. (i) and (vii) contextualize the narrative by glorifying Rāma as an avatāra of Viṣṇu. To read the epic is to be associated with Rāma. The same is effected by repeating Rāma's name in the ear of a dying person. Rām as a mantra is held, especially by Vaiṣṇavites, to contain the universe, and from that mantra all languages have emerged.


views updated Jun 11 2018



The nearly 700 Rama Indians live in the Atlantic-coast region of Nicaragua, in the departments of Zelaya Norte, Zelaya Sur, and Río San Juan. Only 15 or 20 people now speak the Rama language, although many more speak Rama Cay Creole.

The social dislocations caused by the wars of Spanish Conquest produced a mixed group of Voto, Suerre, and Guetar Indians, and out of this mixed group was formed the modern Rama people. The Miskito Indians, allies of the English, conquered and then dominated the Rama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Rama were among the many victims of the Nicaraguan military and political fighting of the 1980s. They have lived in an autonomous political zone since 1987.


Centro de Investigaciones y Documentación de la Costa Atlántica, ed. (1987). Ethnic Groups and the Nation State: The Case of the Atlantic Coast in Nicaragua. Edited by CIDCA/Development Study Unit. Stockholm: University of Stockholm, Department of Social Anthropology.

Vilas, Carlos Maria (1989). State, Class, and Ethnicity in Nicaragua: Capitalist Modernization and Revolutionary Change on the Atlantic Coast. Translated by Susan Norwood. Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner Publishers.


views updated Jun 08 2018


Rama, or Ramachandra, is the hero and main character of the Ramayana, one of the most famous epics in Hindu literature. The story of Rama's life and adventures figures prominently in this text. As the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu*, Rama inherited part of Vishnu's supernatural power. The son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya and his wife Kausalya, Rama was chosen by the gods to kill the evil demon Ravana.

Rama married Sita, whom Hindu people consider to be the perfect wife. Rama and his brother Lakshmana defeated an army of Rakshasas, a race of evil demons. One of these demons, Ravana, kidnapped Sita and took her to his kingdom in Sri Lanka. With the help of the monkey god Hanuman, Rama and Lakshmana defeated the Rakshasas and killed Ravana.

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

incarnation appearance of a god, spirit, or soul in earthly form

supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous

Rama and Sita were reunited and returned to Ayodhya, where Rama took the throne and ruled for many years. Toward the end of his reign, Sita disappeared into a crack in the earth. In despair at the loss of his wife, Rama walked into the river Sarayu and ended his life. The god Brahma* welcomed him to heaven.

See also Hinduism and Mythology ;Ramayana ;Vishnu.


views updated May 17 2018

Rama Hero of the Ramayana. A chivalrous husband, obedient to sacred law, he was considered to be the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. His name became synonymous with God.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Rama the hero of the Ramayana, husband of Sita. He is the Hindu model of the ideal man, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, and is widely venerated, by some sects as the supreme god.