Sage Vaalmeeki the earliest author of this Epic called ‘Raamaayana’, through this monumental work, not only opened the gates of development of classical poetry but also conceptualized the idea of a personalized Godhead, called Raama.
The story is so well known that it doesn’t need elaboration. A summary of Raama Epos is given in the “Ekashloki Raamaayana”.
Aadau Raama tapovanaadi gamanam
drishtvaa mrigam kaanchanam
Vaidehi haranam Jataayu maranam
Sugreeva sambhaashanam |
Vaalee nigrahanam samudra taranam
Pashchaad Raavana Kumbhakarna hananam
Etad iti Raamaayanam ||
Lord Vishnu incarnated as Raama, the son of Dasharatha, and married Seeta, the manifestation of Lakshmi who was born as the daughter of Janaka. Raama had three brothers namely Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna. He was accompanied by Lakshmana and Seeta when he was exiled by his father Dasharatha to satisfy the vanity of Kaikeyi, one of three of Dasharatha’s queens (the other two being Kaushalya and Sumitra).
Raama equipoise departed to the forest. In the Dandaka forest, due to a skirmish with Soorpanakha, the Rakshasa King Raavana’s sister, Seeta was abducted by him as an act of revenge. In his pursuit of discovering Seeta, Raama befriended Sugreeva the monkey king, who dispatched, search parties in all directions.
Hanumaan, the devotee of Lord Raama and a trusted Lieutenant of Sugreeva found Seeta in Raavana’s Lanka and after conveying to her of Raama’s march, burnt down the entire Lanka. Raama arrived on the shores of Lanka with the troupe of monkeys to seize Lanka. Vibheeshana, the righteous and saintly younger brother of Raavana, aided Raama in the battle in which all the Rakshasa hordes were vanquished, including Raavana by Raama’s army. Seeta was rescued and Raama was crowned as the king of Ayodhya upon his return with the help of Sugreeva’s minister Hanumaan. the undefeated hero of Ramayana is Indrajit.
This being the broad outline of the epic, the main motto behind the passionate devotion towards the epic as well to the main protagonist lay in the simple message it sent forth. “Live a righteous life like Raama, not like Raavana” (raamaadivat vartitavyam, na cha raavanaadivat) Raamaayana has had a profound impact along with its sister epic Mahaabhaarata on the life and culture of not only India but also in Greater India (comprising S.E. Asian countries, China, Afghan, etc.)
We have many versions of Raamaayana other than that of Vaalmeeki, not only in Sanskrit and almost all major Indian languages but also have adaptations of Raamaayana in Jain and Buddhist religions as well the versions of the epic in Thai (Raamakiyan), Laos (Raamakiret), in China, Burma, etc. Some of the Sanskrit versions of Raamaayana popular in India are Adhyaatma Raamaayana (Philosophical interpretation), Adbhuta Raamaayana (Shaakta influence), Aananda Raamaayana (dwelling more on Uttarakaanda episodes of Raamaayana), and Bhushundi Raamaayana (Version of Raamaayana which is highly influenced by Srimad Bhagavata Purana).
Apart from these Sanskrit versions, we have Kamba Raamaayana in Tamil written by the Great Tamil Poet Kamban, Kruttivasa Raamaayana in Bengali, Raamacharita Maanasa in Hindi written by the Poet Saint of North India by name Tulsidaas to name just a few. With the writing of Ramayana, there was a remarkable change in the literature as well in the practice of religion. The prominence of Vishnu, Shiva, etc. can be one such important contribution of this Epic period.