All that is good in mankind is concentrated in the deeds of the god-king Ram, the ruler of Ayodhya. This moral man with his moral way of life is the principal character of India's most popular epic, the Ramayana. Written by the sage Valmiki, the Ramayana is the story of Ram's journey through life and is depicted in the manner of a medieval morality play.
The principal story relates to Ram's exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Ram was the heir-aapparent not only on being eldest amongst four siblings (born of three mothers) but also on account of his deeds. However, his father sent him away for 14 years to honour a vow he had made to Ram's stepmotherwho schemed to place her own son, Bharat, on the throne.
While in exile, Ram's wife, Sita, is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. With the help of Hanuman, the monkey god, Ram then launched a campaign against Ravana. In a mighty battle, Ravana is killed (he is supposed to have ten heads, and therefore each of them has to be separately destroyed), a pageant that is today celebrated annually in the festival of Dussehra.
Part of the exploits during the long battle that ensued included, Hanuman setting fire to the city of Lanka with his tail and then flying off to the Himalayas in search of a rare herb with which to revive Ram's brother, Lakshman, and when unable to find it, bringing back the entire mountain!
Over the centuries, the Ramayana has spawned a ton of literature and there are now several editions of the epic. The less popular part of the epic deals with Sita's banishment on suspicion of her conduct voiced by a dhobi (laundry-man), the birth of Ram and Sita's twins in a forest retreat and their discovery of their father who they engaged in battle. The epic ends when Sita pleads with her mother earth to return her back into the womb and the earth's part to absorb her.
In recent times feminists have condemned the serville nature of Sita as depicted in the play and pointed accusing fingers at Ram for banishing his wife just to prevent people from gossiping. Despite this, the enactment of the play every year on the occasion of Dussehra and Diwali all over the country evokes a great deal of interest. Ram the perfect God, his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and attendant Hanuman have a good number of temples dedicated to them in the farthest regions of the country.