“You do not know dharma, or worldly affairs, or the laws governing enjoyment, nor the people's behavior in different conditions and circumstances: and yet you blame me. The whole earth belongs to the kings descended from Manu and therefore my forefather Iksvaku. The present ruler in the dynasty of Iksvaju is my noble brother Bharata. He is the supreme monarch of the whole earth: and I derive my mandate from him, to ensure that all the subjects of that noble emperor observe the laws of virtue.” (p. 190-1)
The Ramayana (ram-EYE-ya-na) and the Mahabharata (ma-ha-BA-ra-ta), the great Indian epics, are among the most important works of literature in South Asia. Both contain important lessons on wisdom, behavior and morality, and have been used for centuries not only as entertainment, but also as a way of instructing both children and adults in the exemplary behavior toward which they are urged to strive and the immoral behavior they are urged to shun. Elements of the stories can be found in South Asian literature, theater, sculpture, dance, music, architecture, film, personal and place names, and even in statecraft.
The Ramayana is the story of Rama, the crown prince of ancient Ayodhya, and an earthly incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu. He is also the hero of the poem, whose focus is the epic telling of Rama's quest. In this lesson, students will read an abridged version of the Ramayana, and will explore the ways in which the story of Rama contains elements, such as the Epic Hero Cycle, that place it within the epic poetry tradition.
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to
The Ramayana is an epic poem that tells the story of Rama, the crown prince of Ayodhya and an avatar (or incarnation) of the Hindu god Vishnu. The narrative follows Rama as he is exiled to the forest, and where his wife Sita is kidnapped by the demon king Ravana. Rama must find and defeat Ravana in order to save Sita, and he is aided along the way by his loyal brother Lakshmana, as well as a monkey army headed by the monkey general Hanuman. Eventually, Ravana is defeated, Sita is saved, and Rama, his exile complete, returns to the throne of Ayodhya.
As with many epic poems or heroic stories, the Ramayana is designed to not only entertain listeners, but also to impart lessons to its audience. In this activity students will investigate what those lessons might be.
Ask students to write a short expository essay on why the Ramayana is considered an epic poem. They should review the definition of epic poetry found at the Glossary of Literary Terms accessible from the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource Internet Public Library, their notes and the chart they filled in on the Ramayana and the Epic Hero Cycle. Students should explain and cite from the text moments in the narrative when the story is fulfilling the criteria of epic poetry. They should answer the criteria contained in the definition of epic poetry including the Epic Hero Cycle and beyond, including questions such as:
In addition, students should complete their Epic Hero Cycle charts with examples from the text of the elements listed in the chart.
Once students have worked together to define what the lessons each character presents to listeners through his or her example, students should write a brief description of the character his or her group discussed, and the lesson that character imparts. Students should support their assertion with at least one example from the text where the character's behavior conveys that lesson.
2 class periods