Rama (or Ramacandra) is the seventh avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. He recounts his adventures in the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the oldest Sanskrit epic, which dates back to the 5th century BCE but with some later additions. He slays the demon king Ravana and tells the story of his adventures in the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata.
Despite being based on a historical figure, Lord Rama, regarded by many Hindus as the most virtuous hero in Hindu mythology, is a picture of purity and marriage devotion, along with his wife Sita. Furthermore, Rama's adventures emphasize the importance and rewards of fulfilling one's pious duty.
Rama, born at the end of the Second Age or Treta-yuga, was the son of King Dasaratha, a prince of the solar race, and his mother Queen Kausalya. The great god Vishnu appeared in a sacrificial fire lit by Dasaratha and gave him a pot of nectar. The pious king then gave it to queen Kausalya. Lord Rama was born with some divine qualities. He had three half brothers - Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna - all with lesser powers than Rama's but still special. His favorite brother and a loyal companion were Laksmana, son of Sumitra, while Hanuman (or Hanumat) became his faithful servant and warrior.
Rama's first journey began when the sage Visvamitra asked for his aid in a battle against a rakshasa. He and Laksmana, who had grown up in Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala, accompanied Visvamitra back to his home and killed Taraka, a fearsome female demon. As a thank you, Rama was given divine weapons and ventured forth on other adventures that eventually led him to Mithila. There Janaka, the king of Videha, warmly welcomed him and made him acquainted with his beautiful daughter Sita (also known as Janaki or Maithili). As part of the courting procedure, the king offered his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever could successfully bend a massive bow that once belonged to Shiva. But Rama didn't only bend it with his divine strength but also broke it into two pieces to win Sita's hand.
Rama's accession to Ayodhya's throne was hindered by his mother's hunchback servant Manthara, who filled Kaikeyi, Dasarathaa's second wife, with jealousy so she could persuade him to name Bharata as heir. Consequently, Rama had to leave the kingdom for fourteen years. He embarked on his journey in the company of Sita and Laksmana, heading south towards the Dandaka forest and Citrakuta.
Upon arriving there, he discovered that Dasaratha had already passed away. Bharata, clearly seeing how wrong it all was, did not assume the throne for himself but went out searching for Rama to bring him back home and restore him to his rightful place. When they met again, Rama refused to return until he had completed his father's decade-long sentence of exile. After much deliberation, they reached a compromise; Bharata would be regent until Rama returned, and thus prove his decision before all Rama's subjects by taking his brother's sandals as a symbol of royal power.
Rama did not remain idle during his exile, as he traveled to meet many sages. Ultimately, he arrived at Panchavati on the banks of the Godavari, an area swarming with demons. Among them was Surpanakha, sister of Ravana, who was enamored with Rama and upon her advances being rebuked attacked Sita in retaliation. Laksmana was prompt to react and lopped off the ears and nose of Surpanakha, who was enraged by this mistreatment. She requested his brother Ravana to take the revenge. Ravana kidnapped Sita while Rann chandra ji was chasing after a deer (which had been Maricha disguised as an animal). Ravana made off with Sita using his chariot and brought her to Lanka, where she remained captive in his Ashoka garden.
Rama pursued his prey and encountered multiple obstacles. First was the headless monster Kabandha, whom he eventually killed - rather than being hindered, his departing soul provided Rama with aid to enlist Sugriva, king of the monkeys, for help. Upon arriving at Kiskindha, Sugriva had lost his kingdom to his brother Balin. Grateful for Rama's aid in reclaiming his throne, Sugriva offered him an army and Hanuman - who could transform into any form and leap vast distances due to being the son of wind gods - as a general. With Hanuman's powerful magic, they reached Lanka, where Nala's skillful rock bridge created a path that later became known as Rama's Bridge.
After a long and arduous series of confrontations, Rama eventually defeated Ravana and reclaimed his beloved wife. Nevertheless, Rama was still in doubt of Sita's faithfulness during her abduction, so she offered to take the test of fire by Agni himself. Sita emerged unscathed from the blazing flames. On arriving in Ayodhya, he was crowned king again as he ushered in a prosperous era of rule.
Rama had not ceased to question Sita's innocence during her captivity whilst in Ravana's clutches, and so banished her to Valmiki where she bore twin sons, Kusa and Lava. When the boys returned to Ayodhya, Rama was consumed with guilt and brought back his wronged wife.
Although the Ramayana marks this as a triumphant ending, in the Uttara Kanda there is more still to it - Sita insisted on proving her chastity and so called upon the Earth itself to bear witness the very ground then opened up beneath her feet, and swallowed her away. Rama was left grief-stricken yet again, determined to follow his wife into heaven, only for Time itself to appear before him as an ascetic, pleading for his stay on earth and to carry out his destiny. Nevertheless, Rama descended into the Sarayu river before being welcomed into Heaven.
Rama is revered throughout India and Southeast Asia. Rameswaram, for example, has a magnificent temple with a columned corridor dating back to the 17th century CE. The Ramanandis are also one of the largest and perhaps strictest Vaishnava monastic orders. In addition to being considered the avatar of Buddha, Rama is also sometimes depicted in Buddhist temple exteriors.
In art, Rama is always youthful, he has green or blue skin, holds a bow and arrows, and wears a yellow robe. He is usually seen with Sita, Laksmana, and Hanuman – collectively referred to as Rama's family or Rama Parivara. Sculptures, wall paintings, and art, in general, are especially popular with Ramayana episodes, especially forest scenes with Rama hunting deer and the epic battle with Ravana.
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