“Ramayana” means the story of Rama and according to Hindu beliefs it was the first epic written in Sanskrit by a great sage called Valmiki , who was a contemporary of Rama.
Valmiki was a hunter who was transformed in to a sage by sage Narada. The restless Valmiki wanted to write an epic and sage Narada requests him to write about Rama. He agrees and Lord Brahma blesses him saying that he would be by his intuition able to see every incident that took place in the life of Rama. He was confused as to which metere he should adopt for writing this great book. One day he sees a hunter killing the male bird of a bird couple and the female bird cries for its mate .Valmiki is moved and tells a poem
Maa Nishada Pratistham Tvam agamah sāsvati Samaa
Yat Krauncha mithunaad ekam Avadhi Kaamamohitam
Oh hunter, you killed one of the pair of Krouncha birds in love,
And so for years to come you would never be alive.
In the Anushtup metere.. And this poem (curse) born out of intense sorrow becomes the model for the entire epic of Ramayana. Naturally the first chapter of Ramayana , is the story of Rama in a nutshell as told by Narada called Samkshepa Ramayanam . The entire story of Rama is divided in to six books (kanda) and each Kanda is further divided in to Sargas.
- Bala Kanda ( Book of Youth) [77 chapters]
- Ayodhya Kanda (Book of Ayodhya) [119 chapters]
- Aranya Kanda (Book of Forest ) [75 chapters]
- Kishkindha Kanda (The Empire of Holy Monkeys) [67 chapters]
- Sundara Kanda ( Book of Beauty ) [68 chapters]
- Yuddha Kanda ( Book of War ) [128 chapter)
The chapters in these books have many slokas(verses) all written in Anushtup meter. The chapters are of differing length and so too are the books. There are 24,000 slokas in the Ramayana. The shortest book with about 2000 slokas is the Bala Kanda and the biggest book is Yudha Kanda with nearly 6000 slokas . Sage Valmiki is an expert in use of Simile and metaphor and almost throughout the narrative , these are used .Valmiki also tells every incident in great detail as he loves to describe. The description of the four seasons in the forest, the great description that Sugreeva gives his monkeys about the path that they have to follow in search of Sita, the descriptions of the fauna and flora throughout the path of Rama are examples of these. Sage Valmiki prefers to concentrate on the story that he is telling about and rarely relates us stories within stories. The exceptions to this is the story of Ganges and birth of Lord Subramanya in the Bala Kanda, stories of the lineage of certain sages like Viswamithra , Rama himself , Ravana etc. It is interesting also note that for valour , Valmiki most of the times quotes Indra or the Trivikrama or Narasimha as the model. He never mentions the great wars which sage Parasurama another incarnation of Vishnu fought. The poet rarely tells in any part of the book about Rama being an incarnation of Vishnu or Lakshmana as an incarnation of Adhisesha etc or refer to for one chapter except in the BalaKanda and another chapter in the Yudha Kanda. Both these chapters do not properly merge with the narrative and are contradicted immediately . Valmiki prefers to cut off reference to a character which he thinks as not important. For example , not a single word in the entire epic is spoken by the wives of Lakshmana, Bharatha or Sathurugna and Sumithra, the mother of Lakshmana rarely speaks. Not much is spoken by Kaikeyi after Dasaratha dies and so on. He also uses different styles of expression for the characters of his narrative. For example even Rama and Lakshmana do not talk in the same style. The Talk of Sita is always sharp and impetuous and so on. Valmiki is supposed to have composed this epic in the Treta Yuga ie 869113 years ago . It is clearly mentioned in the Ramayana that the sage taught it to Lava and Kusha, who were the sons of Rama who were living with him and these two lads sing it in the assembly hall in front of Rama. But modern scholars think that Valmiki Ramayana was written only in the 3rd or 4th century BC. In the book itself the author claims that it is the first epic ever written.
He has also written in Yudha Kanda
Whichever person of this world reads or listens to this first book which is endowed with Dharma Would be blessed with fame and longevity and it would fetch victory to the kings and this first book was written by sage Valmiki. 128.107-128.108
Any person hearing about the crowning of Rama, if he needs son he will get son, if he needs wealth he will get wealth, the king would win over earth and would become a master over his enemies.128.109
Like Kausalya having Rama, Sumithra having Lakshmana, Kaikeyi having Bharata , women would become mothers to long living sons and they would be always happy and live with sons and grandsons. 128.110-128.111
Any one hearing Ramayana would get very long life and one who reads about victory of Rama will never fail in any of his actions. 128.112
He who hears this epic which was composed long ago by sage Valmiki with attention and with control over anger would be able to cross over all difficulties with ease.128.113
He who hears this epic which was composed long ago by sage Valmiki would meet all his relatives after a long journey and would become happy with their relatives.128.114
By the grace of Raghava, all the boons that they pray for would be realized and all gods would be pleased with those who listened to it. 128.115
To those living in their home, all obstacles would be removed, a king would win over earth and a man who lives outside his home would become comfortable.128.116
“Menstruating women hearing this would get matchless and excellent sons and one who worships it and reads it gets relieved of all sins and would live long. 128.117
The Kshatriyas with bent head should salute and listen to it and the Brahmins should read it every day regularly and there is no doubt that the listener and reader of the entire Ramayana will get immeasurable wealth and birth of a son. 128.118-128.119
Rama is indeed Lord Vishnu who is eternal. Rama, the chief of Raghu clan is the primeval God, the very strong Hari, the lord Narayana and Lakshmana is Adhisesha. Rama would always love you on reading this. 128.120
Please narrate this great story which occurred long- long ago without any fear. You would be safe. Let the power of Lord Vishnu increase. 128.121
By analyzing and listening to this epic all Devas would become happy with you and by listening to Ramayana, your manes would get pleased. 128.122
To those persons who write this collection on Rama written by great sages with devotion, residence in heaven is assured. 128.123
By listening to this auspicious work of literary merit one gets increase in family prosperity, increase in wealth, grains, superior women, great happiness and acquisition of wealth in this earth. 128.124
This great work should be listened to by good people seeking wisdom, long life, heath, fame, love from brothers, intelligence, welfare and splendour. 128.125
Read more: Introduction to my translation