The Ramayana is an epic story of the life of Rama, a prince in a kingdom of ancient India and an avatar of Vishnu (god in form, sent to restore balance). There are many versions of the epic tale. The original was told by Valmiki using his yogic vision. While Valmiki was visited by Rama, their time together physically was brief. He later wrote this epic poem about Rama’s life and taught it to Rama’s sons, who Rama didn’t then know existed (it’s complicated).
To give a sense of the scale of the story, it took 300 episodes to tell as a TV series.
Part of the epic tale is his instruction by the court sage Vasishtha. The entire court, subjects and even devas came to hear this teaching. This section is known as the Yoga Vasishtha and I’ve written several articles about the teaching stories used. (one story was about events several thousand years later)
Recently, I’ve read a new translation of the epic story: The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic – Complete and Comprehensive by Linda Egenes and Kumuda Reddy. As this text is half the size of the abridged Yoga Vasishtha, we know it is very heavily abridged. In fact, the teaching above is just a passing mention in this version. Instead, the writing is focused on the major events in Rama’s life.
The full text goes into a lot of detail, like how each shop is decorated, food presentation, the look of flowers, and so forth. It is thus straightforward to shorten it and get the main points of the journey. However, I’ve found the quality and clarity of translations varies widely.
For example, I’ve mentioned the animated film Sita Sings The Blues, an interpretation of the story from Rama’s wife’s perspective. I can’t say this interpretation is very good, but it’s beautifully done.
The authors of the new book were involved with All Love Flows To The Self, a beautifully illustrated and presented translation of some key stories from the Upanishads (key excerpts from the Vedas). This is my favorite translation of the stories so I had high hopes for their Ramayana. They didn’t disappoint.
The new translation, mainly from the original Valmiki, is uncluttered and very well written. The descriptions are still rich but focused on the unfolding main events. It includes parts of the story I was not as familiar with.
As soon becomes clear, even the enlightened who have achieved equanimity in pleasure and pain still experience the full range of emotions. Occasionally they have to be reminded not to get lost in their drama. This is in the nature of being human.
For a westerner, the responses to events may occasionally seem over the top. But India is a culture where emotions are freely expressed. And the challenges the protagonists face are profound.
Also notable that even Rama doesn’t know his destiny.
It’s fascinating to see how the cycles of time affect everything. While Rama overcomes the great demon and brings peace and prosperity to the world for a long time, he does so in a specific circumstance.
Rama restores balance and becomes king but with a descending group consciousness. The people continued to doubt the purity of their queen despite proof and are thus denied the divine feminine in form. This state continues to this day. (There are several people who embody the divine mother but they are not full embodiments.)
Also worth mentioning that gods and demons were well known to humans then (this was also true in the west). Further, demons then lived in luxury and could choose a spiritual path. Some were even beautiful, had won boons, and upheld dharma. But with the descending age, some gods went to sleep, and the demons fell into greater darkness.
For context, the story comes from a time about 7,000 years ago (based astronomically) when the world was descending out of a Silver age into the lower Bronze age. Krishna came later, during the descent from the Bronze to the Iron age. We’re now (roughly) into a rising Bronze (energy) age.
Those who read or hear the Ramayana
gain blessings from nature.
Those who listen to these verses with devotion
live in heaven forever.
Whosoever recites or listens
to the story of Rama daily
with reverence and devotion
banishes all sins
and attains a long life.
– Uttara Kanda 111.19 (closing verse of the Ramayana)