Name: Patrick Tiernan
School: Boston College High School
Project Title: Ashrama, Dharma, Moksha: The Ramayana as a Metanarrative for Hindu Cosmology





Story & Summary
















The original Ramayana written by the 4th c. sage Valmiki comprised of seven “kandas” or books. Many scholars question the authorship of the certain passages from the first book (Bala Kanda) and question the authenticity of the last book (Uttara Kanda) for various reasons.

Bala Kanda: “The Book of the Youth,” the boyhood and adolescence of Rama;

Ayodhya Kanda: “The Book of Ayodhya,” the court of Dasaratha and the scenes that set the stage for the unfolding of the story, including the exchange between Dasaratha and Kaikeyi and the exile of Rama;

Aranya Kanda: “The Book of the Forest ,” life in the forest during the fourteen year exile and the abduction of Sita by Ravana;

Kishkindhya Kanda: “The Book of The Empire of Holy Mokeys,” Rama’s residence in Kishkindhya, the quest for Sita, and the slaying of Bali;

Sundara Kanda: “The Book of the Beautiful (Hanuman),” sundara means beautiful, and this portion of the book has passages of lyrical beauty; description of the landscapes over which Rama roams, and the arrival of Rama and his allies in Lanka;

Yuddha Kanda: “The Book of War,” the defeat of Ravana, the recovery of Sita, the return to Ayodhya, and the coronation of Rama; and

Uttara Kanda: “The Book Beyond,” the “later section”, detailing Rama’s life in Ayodhya, the banishment of Sita, the birth of Lava and Kusa, the reconciliation of Rama and Sita, her death or return to the earth, and Rama’s ascent into heaven.


Dasharatha was the King of Ayodhya and had three wives and four sons. Rama was the eldest and his mother was Kaushalya. Bharata was the son of Dasharatha’s second and favorite wife, Queen Kaikeyi. The other two were twins, Lakshmana and Shatrughna whose mother was Sumithra. In the neighboring city the ruler’s daughter was named Sita. When it was time for Sita to choose her bridegroom (at a ceremony called a swayamvara) princes from all over the land were asked to string a giant bow which no one could lift. However, as Rama picked it up, he not only strung the bow, he broke it. Seeing this, Sita indicated that she had chosen Rama as her husband by putting a garland around his neck. Their love became a model for the entire kingdom as they looked over the kingdom under the watchful eye of his father the king.


A few years later, King Dasharatha decided it was time to give his throne to his eldest son Rama and retire to the forest. Everyone seemed pleased, save Queen Kaikeyi since she wanted her son Bharata to rule. Because of an oath Dasharatha had made to her years before, she got the king to agree to banish Rama for fourteen years and to crown Bharata, even though the king pleaded with her not to demand such a request. The devastated King could not face Rama and it was Queen Kaikeyi who told Rama the King’s decree. Rama, always obedient, was content to go into banishment in the forest. Sita and Lakshmana accompanied him on his exile.

One day Rama and Lakshmana wounded a rakshasas (demon) princess who tried to seduce Rama. She returned to her brother Ravana, the ten-headed ruler of Lanka. In retaliation, Ravana devised a plan to abduct Sita after hearing about her incomparable beauty. He sent one of his demons disguised as a magical golden deer to entice Sita. To please her, Rama and Lakshmana went to hunt the deer down. Before they did though, they drew a protective circle around Sita and told her that she would be safe for as long as she did not step outside the circle. After Rama and Lakshmana left, Ravana appeared as a holy man begging alms. The moment Sita stepped outside the circle to give him food, Ravana grabbed her and carried her to his kingdom in Lanka.


Rama then sought the help of a band of monkeys offer to help him find Sita. Hanuman, the general of the monkey band can fly since his father is the wind. He flew to Lanka and, finding Sita in the grove, comforted her and told her Rama would come to save her soon. Ravana’s men captured Hanuman, and Ravana ordered them to wrap Hanuman's tail in cloth and to set it on fire. With his tail burning, Hanuman escaped and hopped from house-top to house-top, setting Lanka on fire. He then flew back to Rama to tell him where Sita was.

Rama, Lakshmana and the monkey army built a causeway from the tip of India to Lanka and crossed over to Lanka where a cosmic battle ensued. Rama killed several of Ravana’s brothers and eventually confronted the ten-headed Ravana. He killed Ravana, freed Sita and after Sita proved here purity, they returned to Ayodhya where Bharata returned the crown to him.



(Story and summary adapted from



This site was created by Patrick Tiernan at the NEH Summer Institute "Cultures and Religions of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2006