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A long time ago an Asura (demon) named Ravana was creating havoc on the planet. In the form of a cow, the mother earth pleads with God Vishnu to save her and her children from the atrocities of this monster. Vishnu consoled her and promised her that he will come to earth in a human avatar and kill Ravana. Relieved by Vishnu's promise, mother earth vowed to help Vishnu's avatar in killing Ravana.
King Dasrath was the ruler of kingdom Ayodhya. He was a noble king, loved by his people. He was a fierce warrior and had fought wars against demons alongside Gods. But one thing was missing from his life. He had no children, no one to continue his values and principles. After years of praying, he finally became a father. His three wives gave birth to four sons. Rama from Kausalya, Bharat from Kaykai, and Laxman and Shatrughan from Sumitra. Rama was the avatar of Vishnu and Laxman the avatar of Sheshnag (the snake on which Vishnu sits).
Mithila was a neighbouring kingdom of Ayodhya. It was ruled by King Janak. He too had recently become a father. He discovered a baby girl in a pit and adopted her as his daughter. This girl was named Sita.
Rama, along with his four brothers, was sent to a Gurukul under Guru Vasistha. Once the students were old enough, Guru Vasistha took them to kill monsters and demons that were terrorizing villages and other sages. In one such expedition, they ventured into the kingdom of Mithila. Janak was about to have a swayamvar for Sita. A swayamvar was an event where the princess chose a prince of her liking to marry. Vasistha took Rama to this event.
The court of King Janak was filled with kings and princes of every kingdom, including the demon king, Raavan. In the middle of the court laid a bow. The bow belonged to the God Shiva and could not be lifted by ordinary humans. Janak had once seen Sita lift the bow amidst her play. Now he had placed the bow as a test for the eligibility of the candidates.
One by one every candidate attempted to lift the bow and failed. Even the arrogant and mighty Ravana failed and left the court in anger. At last it was Rama's turn. He took the blessings of Guru Vasistha and walked towards the bow. To the amazement of the court, he lifted it and settled the marriage.
When Dasrath came to meet Janak for further arrangements, he also arranged the marriages of his remaining three sons with the daughters of Janak and his brother.
Life after marriage was pleasant for both Rama and Sita. Maybe it was the calm before the storm. Dasrath had announced that Rama will be taking the mantle of the king on his 25th birthday.
Manthara, an old servant of Kaikeyi, was a wicked woman. Through her play of words, she convinced Kaikeyi that Bharat was more suitable to sit on the throne. Under the influence of jealousy and hatred, Kaikeyi was about to do something that would change the lives of many.
Years ago, Dasrath had given two boons to Kaikeyi for saving his life on a battlefield. Kaikeyi went to Dasrath and put forth her two demands. Her first demand was to make Bharat the king. Dasrath was shocked but happy to oblige. He knew that Bharat was as good a leader as Rama and that the bond between the brothers was strong enough to survive this decision. But Kaikeyi was not done. She knew until Rama was there in Ayodhya people would not accept Bharat as the true king. Her second demand was to exile Rama for fourteen years. Dasrath was a man of his words. He knew he was doomed to oblige this demand as well. The next day he spoke to Rama and Rama too obliged the decision. He wanted to keep the integrity of his father's words.
Rama was to go alone but Sita and Laxman convinced him to take them as well. Both Sita and Laxman were incomplete without Rama. As they left the kingdom of Ayodhya, they were given a send-off with teary eyes everywhere.
A few days later, King Dasrath passed away due to the pain of separation. Bharat, who was visiting his maternal kingdom came back to this tragic news of losing his father and Rama's exile. Determined to bring Rama back, Bharat started searching for Rama. After many days of travelling, he finally met Rama in a place called Chitrakoot. Bharat informed Rama about the death of their father. He urged him to come back and take his place as the rightful king of Ayodhya. Rama educated Bharat about the importance of their Father's final promise. Bharat suggested that he too will live with Rama in exile. Again Rama reminded him that Ayodhya needed the guidance of a good leader.
Even in exile Rama and Laxman kept doing their duty of keeping the villages safe. They would travel to different places and fight evil creatures. They met many people, both good and bad in their years of travel. After eleven years of travelling, they finally settled in the forests of Panchvati. Here they had built a hut with the help of nearby villagers.
The exile was in its last year. All three of them were still living in Panchvati. Then one day Sita saw a golden buck roaming in the jungle. She asked Rama to hunt it down and bring it to her. Rama started pursuing the deer. Soon Laxman too went away. The buck was not an ordinary animal, it was a distraction created by Ravana. With Rama and Laxman gone, Ravana kidnapped Sita and flew away.
Rama and Laxman started searching for Sita. They found an injured vulture named Jatayu. Jatayu informed them that he had been injured by Raavan while trying to save Sita. Soon after informing them, he passed away from his injuries. Rama kept walking in the direction pointed by Jatayu and met Hanuman. Hanuman was a Vanar- half-human & half-ape. He led Rama to meet the leader of the Vanars, Sugriv.
Sugriv was cast out by his older brother Bali. Sugriv asked Rama for a favour in killing Bali. Rama, being a true friend helped him kill Bali and made Sugriv the king of Kishkindha.
Sugriv kept his promise to Rama and sent multiple units of his apes in multiple directions in search of Sita.
One crew that consisted of Hanuman and Jamvanta (king of bears) went southwards. Here they found a wingless vulture named Sampati. Sampati was the brother of Jatayu. Upon hearing the news of Jatayu's bravery and death, Sampati informed Hanuman and others about Ravan and Lanka. Hanuman and others kept walking southwards and reached a dead end with nothing but the sea in front of them. Hanuman who was the godchild of the God of air (Vayu) flew towards Lanka. He met Sita and gave her the comforting news of Rama. Hanuman wanted to see who Ravana was and hence got caught willingly. When Ravana came to know that Hanuman was Rama's messenger, he ordered his men to burn Hanuman's tail. With his tail on fire, the mighty Hanuman broke free and caused a massive fire in the kingdom of Lanka. He then returned to Rama with the information of her whereabouts.
Rama, along with his army of Vanars, marched towards Lanka. When they came to halt near the sea, Rama prayed to the God of Sea to make a way for his army. The God of the sea pointed Rama to Nal and Neil, two Vanars with great architectural skills. Soon the army started making a bridge of floating stones towards Lanka.
Upon reaching Lanka, they met Vibhisana. Vibhisana was the brother of Ravana but he didn't believe in the cruel ways of Ravana. He was there to help Rama undo the wrongs of Ravana. Even on the verge of battle, Rama decided to send a peace offering to Ravana. Angad, the son of Bali was chosen for the task. Angad informed Ravana that Ram would forgive him if he respectfully returns to Sita. The arrogant Ravana declined the offer. The war was now inevitable.
The troops of Ravana were by no means weak, but they were no match in front of Rama's army. The mighty Hanuman, the fearless Laxman, the indestructible Angad, the sturdy bear Jamvant, and the herculean Sugriv were easily out-powering the men of Ravana.
Amidst this war, Rama only used his arrows against the enormous Kumbhkaran (another brother of Ravana).
Soon all of Ravana's warriors had been slain, including his oldest son, Meghnath. On his last night, Ravana had realized his mistake. The next day he walked out into the battle knowing his fate. Ravana had the blessing of Brahma, he could not die from cutting off his head. Vibhisana knew the weakness of Ravana. He instructed Rama to hit the belly of Ravana, where he stores his elixir. With that one arrow, Ravana fell to the ground. In his last moments, he realized the true form of Rama and apologized. Rama not only forgave him but also did his last rituals. Rama was finally reunited with Sita. Before leaving for Ayodhya he made Vibhisana the new king of Lanka.
Rama had finally returned to Ayodhya with Sita, Laxman, and Hanuman on his side. Hearing the news of Rama's arrival, the people of Ayodhya lit candles in front of their houses. The day of his return is now celebrated as Diwali.
Every character in Ramayana has some lessons to offer. But at the core of Ramayana is the principle of righteousness. Righteousness is the quality of doing the right thing even if it is difficult to do. It all started with Dasrath keeping his promise. Then Rama obeying his father’s words. Sita choosing to share her husband’s pain. Bharat obeying his elder brother’s wish. Jatayu dying fighting for the right cause. Vanars helping Rama despite having no dog in the fight. Vibhisana betraying Ravana for his wrongdoing. And finally, Rama killing Ravana.
Rama is even defined as ‘Maryada Purusottam Rama’, meaning a supreme man of honour and righteousness.