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Illustrative frieze of the Ramayana, Airavatheeswara

The Ramayana ( Sanskrit रामायण rāmāyaṇa , for "the gang of Ramas ") is the second Indian national epic after the Mahabharata . In contrast to the Mahabharata, it is an art poetry (Adikavya), as the author of the oldest and most famous version, Valmiki is guaranteed. The exact time of origin is unclear, it is between the 4th century BC. BC and the 2nd century AD. Its form known today (with seven books) should have reached the Ramayana in the 2nd century AD.

Text history

The Ramayana Valmikis contains seven books with about 24,000 verses ( Shlokas ). It is assumed that the first and seventh books do not go back to Valmiki, but were added later. Only in the first and seventh books is Rama understood as a divine being, as the incarnation of Vishnu, whereas the other books portray Rama as a human hero. In terms of style, the newer books do not achieve the mastery of the older books, but the Ramayana (compared to the Mahabharata) is characterized by a high degree of stylistic unity. The three surviving recitations of the Ramayana differ considerably due to the oral tradition, but contain all seven books. Some believe that around a quarter of the verses that have been preserved can be considered "original" and that much has been added and changed by the reciters. Because of this, the Ramayana is considered an epic by some , although it is attributed to the author Valmiki.

Other versions

There are numerous versions of the Ramayana in Sanskrit, such as King Bhoja's Ramayana Champu , in regional Indian languages ​​and in other languages. A well-known version in Tamil is the Kambaramayanam written by Kamban in the 12th century . In the 16th century wrote Tulsidas in the northern Indian language Awadhi the Ramcaritamanas . A dramatic version of the Kambaramayanam shortened to 3000 verses is based on the religious shadow play Tholpavakuthu of Kerala .

With the spread of Indian culture in Southeast Asia , the Ramayana also found its way into the traditions of Java ( Kakawin Ramayana ), Cambodia ( Reamker ) and Thailand in the course of the first millennium , with several national versions or further developments. One of the best known is the Thai Ramakian , which was written in the late 18th century on the initiative of King Rama II .


The Ramayana tells the story of Prince Rama from the kingdom of Kosala , who was banished from the court of his father Dasharatha to the solitude of the forest and later defeated Ravana , the prince of demons in Lanka .

His father Dasaratha, the king of the city of Ayodhya , decides to offer a horse sacrifice because he has remained childless for a long time. His three wives then give birth to four sons: Koushalya the Rama, Kaikeyi the Bharata, Sumitra the twins Lakshmana and Shatrughana. As the sons grew up, Rama and his brother Lakshmana moved out with the Rishi Vishvamitra at the request of the Rishi Vishvamitra to kill demons. They also come to the court of King Janaka of Videha, who has a daughter named Sita . Janaka places one condition on everyone who wants to woo his daughter: only those who can draw the bow of the family, which an ancestor of Janaka received from the god Shiva, will Janaka give his daughter to wife. Rama faces the test that many have failed before, and can effortlessly draw the bow so that it breaks in two. He gets Sita as his wife, and a great wedding feast is celebrated at the court of Videha after Rama's family arrives. Also the three brothers of Rama married princesses from Janaka's line.

Rama is to be ordained crown prince and co-regent. Here Kaikeyi, his stepmother, intervenes with the help of a hunchbacked slave to make her son Bharata king. Through intrigues she succeeds in getting Rama into exile for 14 years, accompanied by Sita and his brother Lakshmana. Rama does numerous good deeds by destroying demons ( rakshasas ) and monsters.

With the help of a ruse, the demon kidnaps Ravana Sita to Lanka . Rama asks the Monkey King Sugriva for support and he asks his minister Hanuman to help Rama. In the 5th book of the Ramayana Hanuman's legendary leap across the sea to the island of Lanka is described. Hanuman finds out that Sita is in the hands of Ravana in Lanka. Rama worships the water god to help him cross the bridge. He gave him the promise that any stone they would put in the water would stay on the surface and they could set foot on him. So they build a huge bridge to get to the island. After long battles you defeat Ravana and can free Sita.

After the end of the exile, Rama and Sita withdraw, Bharata voluntarily surrenders the crown to them.

However, Rama doubts Sita's loyalty and rejects her. Sita undergoes the ordeal by fire, d. H. she goes to the stake. It passes the acid test and is returned to Rama. This concludes the old poem, which includes books two to six.


  1. Book (bala-kanda, बालकाण्ड , bālakāṇḍa , book of childhood)
  2. Book (Ayodhya-Kanda, अयोध्याकाण्ड, ayodhyākāṇḍa , book of Ayodhya, place of Prince Rama in Northern India)
  3. Book (Aranyaka-Kanda, आरण्यककाण्ड, āraṇyakakāṇḍa , forest book)
  4. Book (Kishkindha-Kanda, किष्किन्धाकाण्ड, kiṣkindhākāṇḍa , Book of Kishkindha, place of the Monkey Prince Valin in South India)
  5. Book (Sundara Kanda, सुन्दरकाण्ड, sundarakāṇḍa , beautiful book)
  6. Book (Yuddha-Kanda, युद्धकाण्ड, yuddhakāṇḍa , book of battle)
  7. Book (Uttara Kanda, उत्तरकाण्ड, uttarakāṇḍa , last book)

The Ramayana has come down to us in several versions, which differ significantly from one another. The seventh book (Uttarakanda) is considered a later ingredient. It tells the story of the demon ( Rakshasa ) Ravana and how Sita falls from grace again and gives birth to twins in the hermitage of Valmiki. Kusha and lava also grow there. During a horse sacrifice, Rama gets to know the sons of Sita when they are reciting the Ramayana. He realizes that Sita is innocent, but wants her to purify herself with an oath. All gods come from heaven. Sita folds her hands, looks at the earth and says that she has never thought of a man other than Rama and that Mother Earth should open up to her. When the vow is taken, a heavenly throne emerges from the earth. Rama asks mother earth to give him back Sita, but in vain. Shortly afterwards, Rama hands over the rule to his sons Kusha and Lava and goes to heaven, where he becomes Vishnu again.

Rama is only seen as the incarnation of Vishnu in later versions of the Ramayana. In the original version, Valmikis, he is portrayed as a completely normal person, but as someone with unusual strength and an exemplary heart.

Rama is the exemplary person according to the ideas of the priests. Sita is considered a role model for marital fidelity. The Ramayana is rich in very poetic episodes and has retained its uniform character, although it has been revised several times.


  • The Ramayana is ... a living force in India. In translations and adaptations and in that diverse way in which traditions and legends spread and become part of the way of life of a people. Jawaharlal Nehru


Text output

  • Vālmīki: Rāmāyaṇa. Critical Edition. Ed. v. GH Bhatt u. Umakant Premanand Shah. 7 vols. Oriental Institute, Baroda 1960–1975.
  • The Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa according to Southern recension . Ed. v. TR Krishnacharya. Kumbakonam 1905. Reprint: 2 vols. Sri Satguru Publ., Delhi 1982
  • Valmiki Ramayana. Ed. v. Gaspare Gorresio. 7 vols. Parigi 1843-1867. New edition: Indian Heritage Trust, Madras 1980–1982
  • The Râmâyaṇa of Vâlmîki. With the commentary (Tilaka) of Râma. Ed. v. Kâśînāth Pâṇdurang. 2 vols. Nirṇaya-Sâgara Press, Bombay 1888. Bombay edition


Secondary literature

  • Mandakranta Bose (Ed.): The Ramayana Revisited. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004
  • John L. Brockington: Righteous Rāma. The Evolution of an Epic. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984.
  • Helmuth von Glasenapp : Two philosophical Râmâyaṇas (= treatises of the Academy of Sciences and Literature. Humanities and social science class. Born in 1951, Volume 6). Verlag der Wissenschaft und der Literatur in Mainz (commissioned by Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden).
  • Hermann Jakobi : The Râmâyaṇa. History and content along with concordance of the printed reviews. Friedrich Cohen, Bonn 1893. Reprint: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1970.
  • Paula Richman (Ed.): Many Rāmāyaṇas. The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkley: University of California Press, 1991. ( Available online )
  • Leendert Antonius van Daalen: Valmiki's Sanskrit (= Orientalia Rheno-Traiectina , XXV). Brill, Leiden 1980.

Web links

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