RĀMA , the hero of the Rāmāyaṇa, an epic of ancient India, is the figure most celebrated in literature, music, and art throughout India and Southeast Asia. Vālmīki's Rāmāyaṇa 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 Viṣṇu, who comes down to the earth as a human warrior to kill the menacing demon Rāvaṇa. Medieval devotional Rāmāyaṇa s developed this theme, making Rāma the god himself. In this view, Rāma's wife, Sītā, is the goddess Śrī, and his brother Lakṣmaṇa is perceived as the human incarnation of the snake Ᾱdiśeṣa, on top of whom Viṣṇu sleeps. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are perceived as inseparable brothers, identical even in physical appearance except for their skin color: Rāma is blue, Lakṣmaṇa 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 Rāvaṇa, 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 Rāvaṇa. 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 Rāvaṇa'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 Rāvaṇa, 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 Lakṣmaṇa 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 śalākāpuruṣa 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 Rāmāyaṇa s include the story of Rāma up to the birth of his twin sons. Other Rāmāyaṇa texts of the Jain community include Hemacandra's Jaina Rāmāyaṇa and Nāgacandra's Rāmacandracarita Purāṇa, 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 Purāṇas. The Śaiva Purāṇas, such as the Liṅga Purāṇa and Śiva Purāṇa, make Rāma a devotee of Śiva, while the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and other Vaiṣṇava Purāṇas describe him as an incarnation of Viṣṇu.
In about the twelfth century, the Vaiṣṇava theology, particularly that of Rāmānuja, gave rise to a cult of Rāma. Numerous Vaiṣṇava commentators on the Rāmāyaṇa interpret Rāma as the manifestation of the divine among human beings. In keeping with Vaiṣṇava influences, the bhakti Rāmāyaṇas make Rāma the god (Viṣṇu) incarnate exercising his līlā ("divine play") with his consort, Sītā.
A late fourteenth-century text, Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa, 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 Vaikuṇṭha, Viṣṇu'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 Rāmāyaṇa, including Rāvaṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa, 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.
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Goldman, Robert P., trans. The Rāmāyaṇa 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 Rāmāyaṇa: A Bibliographic Guide for Students and College Teachers. Syracuse, N.Y., 1983.
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)
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.
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.