Ramáyana Synopsis

By John P. Clay

Boyhood (Book One)

Translated by Robert P Goldman

Rama, the crown prince of the City of Ayódhya is a model son and warrior. He is sent by his father the king to rescue a sage from persecution by demons, but must first kill a fearsome ogress. That done, he drives out the demons, restores peace, and attends a tournament in the neighboring city of Míthila; here he bends the bow that no other warrior can handle, winning the prize and the hand of Sita, the princess of Míthila. He and Sita and his brothers and their wives return in triumph to Ayódhya, and are fêted.

Ayódhya (Book Two)

Translated by Sheldon I Pollock

The king decides to abdicate in favor of Rama; but just as the celebrations reach their climax, a court intrigue forces Rama and Sita into fourteen years banishment; they dutifully accept their fate, and go off to the jungle. The other brothers refuse to benefit from his misfortune, which leaves nobody to run the city; eventually one of them is persuaded to act as regent, but only consents to do so on condition that he lives outside the city and acts in Rama’s name.

The Forest (Book Three)

Translated by Sheldon I Pollock

The skies darken for the exiles. First one demon, then another, attempts to harm or corrupt them. When these efforts fail, an army of demons is sent, and then a bigger one, but each time Rama again defeats them. Finally Rávana, the supreme lord of the demons, decides to cripple Rama by capturing Sita; he traps her, and carries her off under heavy guard to the island fortress of Lanka. Rama is distraught by grief, and searches everywhere without success.

Kishkíndha (Book Four)

Translated by Rosalind Lefeber

Rama goes to the monkey capital of Kishkíndha to seek help in finding Sita, and meets Hánuman, the greatest of the monkey heroes. There are two claimants for the monkey throne, Valin and Sugríva; Rama helps Sugríva win the throne, and in return Sugríva promises to help in the search for Sita. The monkey hordes set out in every direction to scour the world, but without success until an old vulture tells them she is in Lanka. Hánuman promises to leap over the ocean to Lanka to pursue the search.

Súndara (Book Five)

Translated by Robert P Goldman and Sally J Sutherland Goldman

After his leap, Hánuman finds and explores the demons’ city, and spies on Rávana; next he seeks out Sita, shows her Rama’s signet ring as proof of identity, and offers to carry her back to Rama. She nevertheless insists that Rama must come himself to avenge the abduction. Hánuman creates havoc and destruction in the demons’ city, before returning to Kishkíndha to tell Rama what has happened.