Lessons of the Indian Epics: The Ramayana

Rama replied:
“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
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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.

Guiding Questions

What makes the Ramayana an epic poem?

How does this story fit the Epic Hero Cycle?

 

What lessons are taught through the examples- both good and bad- of the Ramayana's characters?

Learning Objectives

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to

Retell the basic narrative of the Ramayana, and be able to identify the main characters.

Identify elements of the Ramayana that fulfill the required elements of an epic poem.

 

Understand the poem as a tool for teaching proper behavior through the examples of Rama and Sita.