The Ramayana


R. K. Narayan

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The Ramayana Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on R. K. Narayan's The Ramayana. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan was one of six boys and two girls in his family. His father was a school headmaster and due to frequent moves, Narayan's grandmother cared for him for parts of his childhood. His family spoke primarily English, and Narayan read a number of books by British authors as a child. Narayan's experience of higher education was difficult; he failed his university entrance exams the first time, and when he was finally accepted, it took him a year longer than expected to finish his bachelor's degree. While at university and directly after, Narayan wrote book reviews and stories for English newspapers. In 1933, Narayan met and married his wife, Rajam, who was 15 years old when they met. Two years later, Narayan finally published his first novel, Swami and Friends, which he finished writing before he married. Rajam died in 1939 of typhoid, which sent Narayan into a period of depression. He published the book that's now considered his masterpiece, The Financial Expert, in 1951. Narayan began working on his translation of the Ramayana in the mid 1960s to fulfill a promise he made to his uncle years earlier, and he published his condensed translation of the Mahabharata in 1978. He spent the later years of his life traveling, writing, and dabbling in farming. He stopped giving interviews after a photo shoot to accompany an interview in Time magazine landed him in the hospital for several days. Narayan died in the hospital, after asking his publisher to purchase him a specific notebook in which to start another novel. While Narayan translated the Ramayana, he did not write the original. Valmiki is considered the “first poet” in Sanskrit literature, and probably wrote the original Ramayana. Because the Ramayana has been changed and embellished so much over the years, it's impossible to date either Valmiki's life or when he wrote the Ramayana. Scholars believe now that Valmiki and the Ramayana can be dated to between 500 BCE to 100 BCE. However, many believe that Valmiki was actually a contemporary of Rama's, and gave Sita shelter when Rama banished her the second time.
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Historical Context of The Ramayana

As a religious text, the Ramayana provides a basis for understanding the guiding principles of Hinduism. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion and the three most important deities are Shiva, the destroyer of evil; Brahma, the creator; and Vishnu, the protector. It's these gods that orchestrate Rama's victory over Ravana. The Ramayana also hinges on the logic of Dharma, which refers to a universal order, practical morality, and the correct way of living. The laws of Dharma govern why, for instance, Rama must abide by his father's decision to banish him; had Rama allowed himself to be crowned, he would've upset both his own Dharma and that of his father.

Other Books Related to The Ramayana

Valmiki is celebrated as the first Sanskrit poet. The Mahabharata, another ancient epic, was written by the sage Vyāsa around the same time. Together, these two epic poems form the Itihāsa (translated as "history") of the Hindu religion, and function in much the same way that the Bible does in Christianity. As an ancient epic poem, the Ramayana also shares a number of similarities with other works that fall under the same umbrella genre, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Sundiata, and the Odyssey. The Ramayana has remained an endless source of inspiration for Southeast Asian authors and artists; some version of the Ramayana exists in every Southeast Asian country, and in some cases has been adapted to fit the guiding principles of either Jain or Buddhist religions. One of the most recent retellings of the Ramayana is Samhita Arni's 2011 graphic novel Sita's Ramayana, which tells the story from Sita's point of view.
Key Facts about The Ramayana
  • Full Title: The Ramayana (originally called Kaavyam Ramayanam Kritsnam Sitaayaas Charitham Mahat)
  • When Written: Valmiki probably wrote the original Ramayana between 500 and 100 BCE
  • Where Written: Kosala Kingdom
  • When Published: The edition used in this LitChart was published in 1972
  • Literary Period: Classical Sanskrit; Post-Vedic
  • Genre: Epic Poem
  • Setting: The Kosala Kingdom of ancient India and the island of Lanka
  • Climax: When Rama kills Ravana
  • Antagonist: Ravana, various other rashakas and demons
  • Point of View: Third person, though the author occasionally addresses the reader directly.

Extra Credit for The Ramayana

The First Poet. Valmiki is credited with inventing the shloka meter of verse poetry, which is the most common meter in classical Sanskrit poetry. Legend has it that he uttered the first shloka in grief and anger when he saw someone suddenly shoot a mating duck.

Squirrel. R. K. Narayan only mentions squirrels in passing, but Valmiki's Ramayana states that Rama stroked a squirrel in thanks for his help building the bridge to Lanka. The path of Rama's three fingers formed the three white stripes that run down the backs of Indian palm squirrels.