Lord Rama: history and legend

RamaRama Navami is the Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Rama. While not as exuberantly celebrated as Diwali (which is centered on the return of Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya after a period of exile), it is still a major festival, celebrated with great devotion by millions. This year, Rama Navami falls on Saturday 20th April. The following is an article honouring Lord Rama, India’s greatest cultural hero.

Only a few figures in the course of history have had an epic fame enduring for many thousands of years. Of these perhaps the best known is Rama of Ayodhya, whose fame has endured to the present day, sustained by millions of devotees across the world. Rama lived at a very ancient period, long before Christ, Buddha, Moses or Krishna. A date of around 4500BC has been given for him, reaching back into one of the earliest eras of human civilisation.

Rama’s life is set forth in a great epic poem called the Ramayana, filled with magic and spirituality as well as high and mighty ethics, morals and ideals. It remains one of the most endearing and inspiring epics in world literature. It includes such extraordinary characters such as great yogis with occult powers, powerful demons and magical animals like Rama’s great monkey companion, Hanuman. Yet Rama also appears as an historical figure in one of the great dynasties of ancient India, the solar dynasty of Kosala, and is included among the detailed genealogies of ancient Hindu kings. There are at least 60 kings recorded between Rama and the time of the Buddha (c. 500 BC).

In mainstream Hinduism, Rama honoured as the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu, the aspect of the Divine or Pure Consciousness that protects and preserves the universe. Rama was known for his fearlessness, compassion, courage and wisdom. He is called upon as the form of God who saves us from difficulties and danger. Rama as a name means “he who gives light, joy and peace”. Rama is called Bhagavan Rama or Lord Rama to show respect for his divinity. The name of Rama is one of the most important Sanskrit names for God, perhaps second only to Om in frequency of use. Like Om it is called Taraka, the mantra of deliverance, taking us beyond the ocean of birth and death.

Rama’s fame is not limited to Hinduism. He is mentioned in Buddhist literature as an enlightened individual, and the name of Rama is one of the main Sikh names for God. Ramacand his worship go far beyond India. The kings of Thailand to the present day are named Rama, and their capital city, Ayuttha is named after Rama’s own capital Ayodhya. The story of Rama is commonly told in Indochina. It is performed regularly in Indonesia, where a large statue of Rama can be found in the capital city Jakarta, and represents the older Hindu tradition of the country which many people still follow. Smaller indigenous communities in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Borneo are devotees of Rama. The walls of temples from Pakistan to Ankor Wat in Indochina portray scenes from the life of Rama. Indeed the story of Rama is the most popular and enduring story of South Asia. Rama is the greatest cultural hero of the region, combining the strength of Hercules with the compassion of Buddha. To the West, the name Rama occurs as a name of God in ancient Persian literature, the Zend Avesta of the Zoroastrians, as well as in artifacts as far as in Syria and Egypt. This suggests that the story of Rama may have been known over a far greater region in ancient times.

The story of Ram reflects the spiritual view of life found in Yoga and Vedanta, the practice and philosophy of Self-realisation. According to the Hindu view, God is the Infinite Bliss and Wisdom that dwells within our hearts to which we must eventually return, whatever we may do and however far we may stray. Rama is an incarnation of joy, compassion and strength. Devotion to him counsels us to return to our true Self-Nature. Its message is not doom and gloom or threats of punishment, but that we contain within ourselves an ocean of delight and awareness that transcends all time, space and causation which we can access to fulfill our inner destiny (God-realisation) and overcome the bonds of karma. Rama himself abides within us as the Divine Will that is master of everything, which we can manifest through surrender of our thought and actions to God.

Many great teachers of modern India have been devotees of Rama, including Mahatma Gandhi, who died with the name of Rama on his lips. Perhaps most notable among recent teachers is Neem Karoli Baba, who was considered to be a manifestation of Rama’s companion, Hanuman. Another great Rama devotee of modern India was Papa Ramdas of South India. A number of westerners are now devotees of Rama, through the influence of such teachers. Quite recently the national television network of India produced a television series based on the Ramayana, that mesmerised the country. All business and government activity and even the trains stopped during the telecast because no one wanted to miss it. No ancient epic, not even Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey has remained as popular through the course of time. The story of Rama appears as old as civilisation itself and has a fresh appeal for every generation. The oldest form of the story of Rama is the Ramayana of Valmiki, one of the greatest seer-poets of India. It remains the main version of the Ramayana, though other versions do exist, differing from it in certain detains of the story.

Acknowledgement: This article is largely based on / derived from the introduction to the book “Oracle of Rama” by David Frawley. I would highly recommend this book as an absolute joy to read perhaps the best “simplified Ramayana” one can find to read, revere and enjoy (even though that is not the author’s purpose of the book ; the author intended it as in introduction to the use of the story of Rama as a tool of divinisation / astrology).


    Many people express their own estimations arbitrarily without providing any documentary proof. Some people say Ramayana was held 5000 years ago without ay basis. Ramayana composed by Valmiki has the answer, particularly in Rama Pattabhishek sarga. Rama ruled for 11,000 years. In Sanskrit, it is said dasa varsha sahasrani, dasa varsha satanicha (Ten times to thousand and ten times a hundred). One may argue how is it possible for a man to live for 11,000 years. Thousands of years ago, longevity of man was high and age of ancient man should not be equated to the modern man. If we add his 14 years of exile to forests and life at Ayodhya, it can be around 40 yrs. Anyhow, we can approximate his longevity was around 11,000 years. One cannot be sure whether Treta Yug ended with the end of Rama. Anyhow, Dwapar Yug followed, the exact time period of which is not known. It can be several thousands of years. Next, Kali Yug entered. One is not sure how many years are already over till now. But it can be few thousands of years. Considering all these periods, Rama’s or Ramayana’s period should be over 11,000 years ago.

    My research into Valmiki Ramayana unfolds King Rama, who ruled a portion of North India called Kosala desa (kingdom) with Ayodhya as capital, existed more than 11,000 years ago. Hindus broadly named the period as Treta Yug. Traditionally, historians seek archeological evidences such as fossils, coins, vessels etc on Rama, and if they find evidences in or around Ayodhya, then only they agree on Rama’s existence. But, our archeologists have not made serious efforts to find such evidences, if any, at Ayodhya, so none should jump into a hasty conclusion that Rama never existed. Some people argue that Valmiki Ramayana does not reflect Rama’s history. Instead, it is mistaken by western scholars as mythology, and fiction, while some others say it is nothing but an epic. My years of research into Valmiki Ramayana revealed that Valmiki has written it mainly as the history of King Rama, because he has found extraordinary abilities and nobilities in him. Valmiki became the first historian, much before the word ‘history’ was coined. Ramayana also described with unprecedented details about civilizations of humans, Vanara, Gradru, and Rakshasa. He has correctly mentioned Nuwara Eliya Hills of Sri Lanka as trikuta parvat as congregation of three mountain ranges, when facilities of areal survey was unavailable.

    Nala Sethu visibly seen as a road from Rameswaram in India to Sri Lanka is the definite marine archeological evidence on existence of Rama, Vanaras, and Rakshasa civilizations. Valmiki Ramayana clearly mentioned that under the command of Crown Prince Rama, crores of Vanaras, Golanguls and Rukshyas have built the road just in 5 days. Incredibly, they have built on 200 meters deep sea. A rough estimate shows that it is around 60 km long and 5 km wide. During British rule, number of attempts were made at various places to see whether a passage to ships can be made through Nala Sethu. Since it became a huge unbreakable fossil, it was not possible to make a passage, as a result a chain of islands are seen visibly and also through satellite.

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