Despite being the eldest and much loved son of his father King Dasharatha, Rama was forced into a 14 year exile by his father’s jealous wife. As the embodiment of virtuous behavior, Rama humbly accepts his banishment, and his beloved wife Sita and loyal brother Lakshmana choose to join him in the wilderness. As the avatar of Vishnu, Rama’s dharma (or sacred destiny) was to kill the mighty demon king Ravana, who cannot be killed by gods, demons, or spirits. Ravana is definitely the villain in the epic; not only has he angered the gods to the point that Vishnu incarnates as Rama to kill him, but also Ravana challenges Rama on a deeply personal level when the demon king kidnaps Sita. With his brother Lakshmana as his faithful companion and a cohort of animal and demon allies, Rama embarks on a quest to rescue his beloved.

Overview of Hinduism

As the third largest of the major world religions, behind Christianity and Islam, Hinduism dates back to at least the 5th c. BCE in India. Since Hinduism has no identifiable founder and is an amalgamation of a variety of cultural practices and religious rituals, we are limited here to the barest introduction to its theology (religious beliefs) and mythology (religious stories about gods and heroes). Some Hindus acknowledge and worship many gods (polytheism); some acknowledge the existence of other gods, but worship only one (henotheism); and some believe in the existence of only one god (usually Vishnu or Krishna) (monotheism). Hindus believe in Purusartha (the four aspects of human life), samsara (the cycle of reincarnation), and the spiritual “goal” of finding nirvana (the cessation of samsara).

Key Terms

The Pantheon of Hindu Gods

Themes and Motifs


Character Index

Discussion Questions