The Ramayana

The Ramayana Prologue Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator explains that Kamban's poem begins by describing the land of Kosala, where the story takes place. He describes the people at work on the land, and the animals that live among them. The capital city, Ayodhya, is a fabulous city ruled over by King Dasaratha. Though Dasaratha is a compassionate and well-loved king, he laments that he's childless. One day, he mentions to his mentor that he has no sons to succeed him, and asks his mentor for help.
From the outset, Narayan makes it clear to the reader that he's working very closely with Kamban's version of the Ramayana, and commenting on the text itself while also furthering its story. Dasaratha's plight introduces the idea of familial duty: there's nobody to perform the duty of carrying on the kingship after Dasaratha dies, and Dasaratha hasn't yet performed his duty of having children.
Themes
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
The mentor remembers a vision he had in which all the gods appealed to Vishnu for help in defeating Ravana. The gods explained to Vishnu that they'd promised Ravana extraordinary powers, but Ravana is now using the powers for evil. Neither the gods Brahma nor Shiva can help, as they gave Ravana his powers in the first place. Vishnu promises to reincarnate himself as the human son of Dasaratha, since Ravana never asked a human for help and can therefore be killed by a human. Shiva explains that his conch, wheel, and serpent will also reincarnate as his brothers, and all other gods will reincarnate as monkeys, since Ravana is cursed to be destroyed by a monkey.
Here, Narayan introduces the reader to the binding power of promises. This is a very important element of the story's logic, and this particular instance shows that even the extremely powerful gods aren't able to get around their promises. Vishnu figures out how to allow the gods to technically keep their promises to Ravana while still making sure that good eventually prevails. This shows that though promises are supposed to be binding, they can still be manipulated to fit an individual's needs.
Themes
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
Storytelling, Teaching, and Morality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The mentor keeps the memory of his vision to himself, but instructs Dasaratha to arrange for the sage Rishya Sringa to perform a sacrifice. The mentor explains that this sage will be difficult to fetch, as he currently lives at the court of Agna in luxury. Dasaratha invites the sage to Ayodhya, where he conducts a yearlong sacrifice. At the end of a year, a being emerges from a sacrificial fire carrying a plate of rice. The being places it at Dasaratha's feet and returns to the fire.
The supernatural world is closely linked to the real, day-to-day world in the story, and there's a very strong and ubiquitous relationship between the human characters and the deities they worship. The sacrifices are one way the humans demonstrate their loyalty to the deities, and the deities make good on what's promised from the sacrifices.
Themes
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
The mentor instructs Dasaratha to divide the rice among his three wives, who will then have children. Within the year, Kausalya gives birth to Rama, Kaikeyi gives birth to Bharatha, and Sumithra bears the twins Lakshmana and Sathrugna. Dasaratha dotes on his sons and makes sure they're trained in yoga, philosophy, and combat. Rama is especially considerate and always speaks kindly to the crowd that gathers daily to watch the brothers walk to or from their lessons.
Even as a boy, Rama stands out as being especially kind and magnanimous. Notice, though, that it's not just that Rama likes his father's subjects; they overwhelmingly like Rama in return. Dasaratha performs his fatherly duty by making sure his sons are properly trained in the skills and arts they need to function as royalty in society.
Themes
Heroism Theme Icon
Duty, Honor, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Get the entire The Ramayana LitChart as a printable PDF.
The ramayana.pdf.medium