The Book of RAM Read online



  Illustrations by the author




  Ramayana’s Protagonist

  Dashratha’s Son

  Vishwamitra’s Student

  Sita’s Husband

  Lakshman’s Brother

  Hanuman’s Master

  Ravana’s Enemy

  Ayodhya’s King

  Vishnu’s Incarnation

  Valmiki’s Inspiration

  Hindutva’s Icon

  A Prayer to Ram


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  Devdutt Pattanaik is a medical doctor by education, a leadership consultant by profession and a mythologist by passion. He has written and lectured extensively on the nature of sacred stories, symbols and rituals and their relevance in modern times. His books with Penguin India include The Book of Ram, Myth=Mithya: Decoding Hindu Mythology, The Pregnant King, Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, and the Devlok series of stories for children. Devdutt’s unconventional approach and engaging style are evident in his lectures, books and articles. To know more visit

  By the same author

  Myth=Mithya: Decoding Hindu Mythology

  The Pregnant King

  Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

  Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana

  Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You


  Any discussion of Ram today is dominated either by academic analysis or political debate. The former thrives on portraying Ram as a patriarchal poet’s fantasy. The latter either asserts Ram or rejects Ram, transforming him into a potent political lever either way. In the din of these discourses of power, the discourse of love is lost. One forgets that for hundreds of years, for millions of people, across history and geography, Ram’s name and Ram’s story has been a window to the divine.

  Ram’s name, the Ram-nam, is repeatedly chanted to tide over a crisis, for the name, Ram, when reversed becomes Mara, which means ‘die’. Ram is the opposite of Mara. Ram is life—with all its demands and desires and destinies. Ram’s calm repose in the face of all adversity, so evident in the Ramayana, has made him worthy of veneration, adoration and worship.

  Ram’s story has reached the masses not through erudite Sanskrit texts but through theatre, song and dance performed in local languages. All of these retellings of the Ramayana have their own twists and turns, their own symbolic outpouring, each one valid in their respective contexts.

  I write this book celebrating the Ram of the common man, the power of his name, the many retellings of his tale, drawing attention to the several layers of metaphors and meanings in the rituals and narratives, bringing forth my own creative insight, well aware that:

  Within infinite myths lies the Eternal Truth

  Who sees it all?

  Varuna has but a thousand eyes

  Indra, a hundred

  And I, only two

  Devdutt Pattanaik


  Ramayana’s Protagonist

  O beloved son of Kaushalya,

  Dawn is about to break,

  O lion amongst men,

  Be pleased to open your eyes.

  And perform the duties of the day

  —From Venkatesa Suprabhatam

  by Prathi Vadhi Bhayangaram Annangaracharyar

  An upright hero

  The Ramayana, one of the most revered texts in Hinduism, tells the story of a prince called Ram.

  Dashratha, king of Ayodhya, had three wives but no children. So he conducted a yagna and invoked the gods who gave him a magic potion that was divided amongst his three queens. In time the queens gave birth to four sons. Ram was the eldest, born of the chief queen, Kaushalya, Bharata was the second, born to Dashratha’s favourite queen, Kaikeyi and Lakshman and Shatrughna were the twin sons of the third queen, Sumitra.

  Ram completed his early education under the tutelage of Rishi Vasishtha. He was then asked to defend Rishi Vishwamitra’s hermitage from attacks by the demons known as Rakshasas. Accordingly, Ram killed many Rakshasas in the time that he spent under Rishi Vishwamitra’s care including a female Rakshasa called Tadaka. Pleased with his actions, Vishwamitra taught him many potent magical chants that transformed ordinary arrows into potent missiles.

  Vishwamitra then took Ram to Mithila, capital of the kingdom of Videha. On the way, they came to the hermitage of Gautam, who had cursed his wife Ahalya to turn into stone because she had been unfaithful to him. Ram placed his foot on the stone that was Ahalya and she was instantly released from the curse, such was the purity of Ram’s character.

  At Mithila, Ram participated in the swayamvar being held by Janaka, the king of Videha. The young prince broke the mighty bow of Shiva that was in the king’s custody and by this display of strength, won the hand of Janaka’s daughter, Sita, in marriage. Sita was no ordinary woman. She had been ploughed out of the earth by Janaka who had then raised her as his own daughter.

  On Ram’s return to Ayodhya, Dashratha decided it was time to pass on the crown to Ram and retire from worldly life.

  Unfortunately, on the eve of Ram’s coronation, the maid, Manthara, poisoned Kaikeyi’s mind against the coronation. Thus influenced, Kaikeyi demanded that her husband grant her the two boons he had promised her years ago when she had saved his life in battle. As her first boon, she wanted her son, Bharata, to be crowned king and for the second, she wanted Ram to live as a hermit in the forest for fourteen years.

  Bound by his word, Dashratha sent for Ram and informed him of the situation. Without any remorse or regret, to the amazement of all, Ram removed his royal robes and left the city of Ayodhya dressed in clothes of bark, as hermits are supposed to, armed only with his bow.

  Despite protests, Ram’s wife, Sita, and his brother, Lakshman, followed him to the forest; Sita, because she refused to leave her husband’s side and Lakshman, because he could not bear to be parted from his brother. Watching the three leave the city, overwhelmed by the calamity befalling his household, Dashratha died of a broken heart.

  Much to Kaikeyi’s disappointment, her son, Bharata, refused to take a kingdom obtained through such trickery. He decided to live as a hermit too, outside the city gates in the village of Nandigram and serve as Ram’s regent until Ram’s return. He placed Ram’s footwear on the throne to proclaim Ram’s undisputed kingship.

  In the forest, Ram, Lakshman and Sita endured the vagaries of nature stoically. Wandering from place to place, through dense forests and over high hills, they never stopped at any one place for too long. Sometimes they took shelter in caves and at others they built themselves little huts using leaves and twigs. Often they fought demons who harassed them and encountered sages such as Atri and Agastya who showered them with gifts and wise words. So passed thirteen years.

  In the fourteenth year of exile, a woman called Surpanakha saw Ram in the forest. Smitten by his beauty, she openly expressed her desire to be his lover. Ram politely refused on grounds that he already had a wife. Lakshman also turned her down as his only desire in life was to serve his brother and his sister-in-law.

  Surpanakha blamed Sita for this rejection and tried to kill her. Lakshman rushed to Sita’s rescue. Raising his sword he cut Surpanakha’s nose and drove her away.

  Surpanakha, who was in fact a female Rakshasa ran to her brother, Ravana, who was the ten-headed king of the Rakshasas. When the demon-king saw his sister’s mutilated face, he was furious. He swore to teach Ram a lesson by abducting Sita and forcing he