The story of RAMAYANA
And just to let you know what you are in for, here is a very brief summary of the Ramayana, the adventures of lord Rama. Rama is the son of King Dasaratha, but he is also an incarnation of the god Vishnu, born in human form to do battle with the demon lord Ravana. Ravana had obtained divine protection against other demons, and even against the gods - but because he scorned the world of animals and men, he had not asked for protection from them. Therefore, Vishnu was incarnated as a human being in order to put a stop to Ravana. King Dasaratha has three other sons besides Rama.
There is Lakshmana, who is devoted to Rama. There is Bharata, the son of Dasaratha's pretty young wife Kaikeyi, and there is Satrughna, who is as devoted to Bharata as Lakshmana is to Rama. When Dasaratha grows old, he decides to name Rama as his successor. Queen Kaikeyi, however, is outraged. She manages to compel Dasaratha to name their son Bharata as his successor instead, and to send Rama into exile in the forest. Rama agrees to go into exile, and he is accompanied by his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana. When their exile is nearly over, Sita is abducted by the evil Ravana who carries her off to Lanka city (on the island of Sri Lanka). Rama and Lakshmana follow in pursuit, and they are aided by the monkey lord, Hanuman, who is absolutely devoted to Rama. After many difficulties and dangers, Rama finally confronts Ravana and defeats him in battle. What happens after that is a matter of some dispute in the different versions of the Ramayana. Did Rama accept Sita back into his household? Or did he send her away because she had been in the possession of another male? You will see different versions of the ending of the story in the books that you will read for this class.
A Digression About Time:
In historical terms, the events of the Ramayana precede the events of the Mahabharata. The time periods of Hindu mythology are called "yugas", and the world as we know it goes through a cycle of four yugas. Sometimes these four yugas are compared to a cow standing on four legs. In the "Best Age," the Krita Yuga, the cow is standing on all four legs. In the next age, the Treta Yuga, or "Age of Three," the cow is standing on only three legs and is slightly teetering: the world is slightly corrupted. In the next age, the "Age of Two," or Dwapara Yuga, there is only half as much righteousness in the world as there used to be, like a cow standing on only two legs. This is followed by the worst age, the Kali Yuga, where there is only one-fourth of the world's original righteousness remaining. The world has become extremely corrupt and utterly unstable. The cow is standing on just one leg.
The events of the Ramayana take place in the Treta Yuga, when the world is only somewhat corrupted. The events of the Mahabharata take place much later, at the end of the Dwapara Yuga, the "Age of Two," when the world is far more grim and corrupt than in Rama's times. The violent and tragic events at the end of the Mahabharata mark the end of the Dwapara Yuga and the beginning of the Kali Yuga, the worst age. We are living in the Kali Yuga, in case you were wondering...