Drawing on the original Sanskrit words of the great poet Valmiki, enhanced with tales from the oral tradition, Vanamali retells the complete Ramayana—the ancient Indian tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—for a modern audience. Detailing the life and dharma of the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, Lord Ramachandra, she explains how Rama became divine through strict adher-ence to dharma, the law of cosmic righteousness. Considered one of the great-est love stories of all time, the Ramayana most famously recounts Rama's heroic journey, with the help of his loyal friend the monkey god Hanuman and his devoted brother Lakshmana, to rescue his beloved wife, Sita, from the demon king Ravana. Rama's battle with the forces of evil provides powerful examples of heroic strength and loyalty, the dangers of spiritual delusion and false attachment, and the power of love, both human and divine.
Capturing the mystical spirit and transcendental wisdom of this immortal story, Vanamali explains how the character of Rama has captivated devotees through the millennia because his story depicts eternal truths that appeal to the best in human nature. She reveals how even though Rama is an avatar of Vishnu, he still possesses many human weaknesses, such as attachments, desires, and anger. His greatness lies in the fact that he rose above these traits, put his spiritual duty above all personal considerations, and perfected himself to become a super human capable of saving those he loved most. Rama's life shows that however weak we may be, each of us is capable of amazing feats through devotion, loyalty, perseverance, and love.
The Ramayana of the sage Valmiki is a literary masterpiece in the Sanskrit language; it excels in beauty, style, and diction. Both the Ramayana and the "Gayatri Mantra" begin with the word that, and it is believed that the twenty-four "seed letters" of the "Gayatri Mantra" are hidden within the Ramayana-the first word of every thousand verses starts, in consecutive sequence, with a word of the Gayatri. The holy Ramayana is believed to be the Veda itself: "Vedah prachethiasath aseed sakshath Ramayanatmana." Spiritual seekers read it as protection against all the problems of life, believing it acts as a shield. Some make a regular practice of reading the fifth book of the Ramayana, "Sundara Kanda," in order to absorb the strength and prowess of Hanuman. No one can fully plumb the depths of meaning in Valmiki's Ramayana.
Usually the reading of the Mahabharata is done in the morning, the Ramayana in the afternoon, and the Sreemad Bhagavatam in the evening. The Sanskrit verse that describes this is as follows: "Good people engage in playing dice in the morning (meaning they read the Mahabharata), talking about women at noon (referring to Sita, wife of Rama, in the Ramayana), and at night, in thievery (meaning the Sreemad Bhagavatam)."
There are many controversies in the Ramayana, such as the absence of Bharata during the coronation of Sri Rama, and Rama's attacking Vali from behind a tree, and finding fault with Vali on trumped-up charges. Valmiki has produced in Rama an aspect of human nature that is impossible to understand-a single person who embodies both the might of God and the frailty of man. This presentation of the ideal man is either totally ignored by devotees or subjected to critical examination. Either way, the Ramayana is a great exercise in disciplining the mind in its attempt to bring God and man together in a single individual. Valmiki often refers to Rama as Narayana-the Supreme God. It is said that in his last moments, Ravana saw Rama as the mighty Vishnu, or god of the universe.
The Ramayana should be studied diligently by everyone, for the dignity of the language in which it is written as well as the depth of the message it conveys. It presents the inscrutable manner in which God works and the fickle nature of all human decisions, thus bringing God to Earth and raising the Earth to heaven. Since this type of blending is inconceivable to human perception, the Ramayana is endlessly interpreted by pundits, storytellers, and scholars.
It is certain that intensive study of the Ramayana will fill the reader's mind with inordinate strength and incalculable blessedness. Valmiki says that the glory of the Ramayana will remain as long as the sun and the moon last. The astounding descriptions of the rule of Rama and his administrative skill may truly reflect the conditions of a life in heaven. Great is the Ramayana. Glory to the courageous and dedicated path of Rama in every branch of life.
Mata Devi Vanamali has done a unique service to the religious community in exploring the complex meanings of the Ramayana text and making it attractive to the modern mind with beautiful English phrasing.
SRI SWAMI KRISHNANANDAJI MAHARAJ (1922-2001) was general secretary of the Divine Life Society for forty years, president of the Sivananda Literature Dissemination Committee, and editor of The Divine Life, the Divine Life Society's monthly publication. He was initiated into the holy order of Sannyasa by Swami Sivananda in 1946 and remained at Swami Sivananda's ashram near Rishikesh, India, until his death in 2001. He was a serious student of Sanskrit scriptures and Advaita philosophy and was particularly devoted to the works of his guru Swami Sivananda. He was the author of forty-one books, including The Realisation of the Absolute, The Study and Practice of Yoga, The Philosophy of Life, and Lessons on the Upanishads.
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