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This is an epic poem of courage, magic and humor. In this story Rama (avatar of the God Vishnu) and his wife Sita have been banished from their kingdom of Kosala for fourteen years, due to a plot by the mother of one of Rama's four brothers to keep Rama from the throne. Rama's brother, Laksmana, accompanies the couple. King Rawana of Ceylon spies the beautiful Sita and creates a plan to abduct her. He sends one of his minions, magically disguised as a golden deer to entice Rama and Laksmana away from Sita. Rama goes after the deer, instructing Laksmana not to leave Sita. Rama brings down the golden deer with his bow and arrow. The golden deer reverts to its original shape and with its dying breath calls out "Help, help, help" in Rama's voice. Sita, hearing Rama's voice, entreats Laksmana to go and help Rama. When he refuses, she goads him into leaving. Laksmana draws a magic circle around Sita and tells her that she must stay inside it until he and Rama return. When Sita is alone, Rawana appears, disguised as an ailing old man, who begs Sita for help. When Sita steps out of the magic circle to aid the old man, the old man changes into Rawana and abducts Sita, telling her that Rama is dead. He rises in the air with her and flies to his Kingdom.
Jatayu, King of the Birds, (also known as Garuda) spies Rawana carrying off Sita and they battle in the air. Rawana delivers a fatal wound to Jatayu who falls to the ground, where he is discovered by Rama and Laksmana. Jatayu is near death and manages to tell Rama of his failure to rescue Sita.
Rama and Laksmana travel onward and enlist the aid of the army of wanaras, a race of huge monkeys. Sugriwa, King of the wanaras, agrees to help Rama rescue Sita in return for Rama's support of Sugriwa's attempt to regain his rightful throne in the land of Guakiskenda. When Sugriwa meets his nemesis, Subali, Rama saves Sugriwa's life with a magic arrow which kills Subali. After Sugriwa is crowned King of Guakiskenda, the white monkey general, Hanuman, is sent to Alengka (Ceylon) to scout the defenses and to deliver Rama's ring to Sita, so that she would know that Rama was alive.
After a narrow escape from the stomach of Wikateksi, the enormous sea monster which guarded the approaches to Alengka, Hanuman kills Wikateksi and flies to the capital of Alengka, the kingdom of the giants. Fortunately, there are many monkeys living among the giants, which provide cover for Hanuman, who reduces his size. He looks everywhere in the city for Sita. Eventually Hanuman finds Rawana's palace and the women's quarters. Hanuman meets Sita in the garden and gives her Rama's ring, which she recognizes at once, and tells her that Rama is on his way to rescue her.
Hanuman, in order to test the strength of the city, resumes his normal size, climbs to the top of a tall building and hurls a challenge to the awestruck crowd below. He begins to destroy the buildings around him by using an uprooted palm tree as a club. He is felled by an arrow shot by the crown prince of Alengka, Hindrajit. Hanuman is shackled in chains and sentenced to die by slow fire. Hanuman appeals to Agni, the god of fire, to save him. A wall of flame springs up between Hanuman and the watching crowd. With a burst of strength, Hanuman breaks his bonds, and swinging a glowing torch picked up from the fire, goes on a rampage which ends in the burning of a large part of the city. Assuring himself that Sita's pavilion is safe, Hanuman leaps into the air and flies back to Guakiskenda.
After hearing of Hanuman's exploits, Rama adopts him as his own son. The army then heads for Alengka, which they find surrounded by a boiling sea. By hurling huge boulders into the sea, the monkey soldiers build a causeway to the island. Rawana learns of the invasion and assembles his generals. Some of the generals resent Rawana's evil rule, but heretofore have lacked the courage to oppose him. Wibisana, Rawana's brother, as spokesman, points out that it was because Rawana abducted Sita that Alengka is now beset by enemy armies. He suggests that Rawana release Sita and avoid bloodshed and loss of life and property. Angered, Rawana strikes Wibisana, who then deserts to Rama's army. Rawana is tempted to murder Sita, but is thwarted by Trijata, Wibisana's beautiful daughter, who has grown to love Sita as a sister. Rawana turns to another brother, the giant Kumbakarna, who although disapproving of Rawana's crimes and baseness, decides to help because they are of the same blood.
After many guerilla attacks by the monkey soldiers, the two armies finally face each other. Two opposing generals, Kumbakarna and Laksmana challenge each other. Kumbakarna is killed by Laksmana's magic arrow. Other duels take place on the battlefield. Rama spots Rawana and pursues him, shooting showers of arrows, which seem to have no effect on Rawana other than to make him back off. Rawana backs in between two unusually formed rocks which snap together and hold him in an inescapable grip. These rocks are inhabited by the souls of two of his daughters, who Rawana had murdered, and who are at last able to avenge themselves on their father.
Rawana's army surrenders and Rama gives the throne of Alengka to Wibisana. Rama and Sita are joyfully united. The fourteen years of exile being over, Rama, Sita and Laksmana return to Kosala, where they are welcomed by all. However, rumors circulate about Sita's virtue. She offers to test her virtue by fire. She enters the ring of fire and emerges unscathed, her faithfulness confirmed. When the rumors persist, she leaves the palace for the spiritual life.
The Ramayana story is especially important to Hindus because it is possible for ordinary people to identify with the characters and situations. The heroes and heroines are emulated for their positive qualities of honesty, devotion, perseverance, fidelity, and bravery. Strongly evident in this story is the portrayal of pure evil and those who have the courage to resist and overcome that evil.
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