about the book Ramayana


Overview: Around the world and throughout the ages, most human beings require stability in their personal life and for the society in which they live. Old stories, which sometimes are written down, often serve this function. The most enduring ones, which seek to resolve conflicts and organize our world, tap into fundamental, often-asked concerns. People generally must find answers to the questions on political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental aspects that affect their society.

In this version of The Ramayana, Linda Egenes and Kumuda Reddy (translators) bring to life once again this ancient classic. A love story to the core, The Ramayana covers the abuse of political power, exile, gender roles, the natural environment, personal obligation during difficult times, sacred ideas (such as reincarnation), hope, and more. Rama, the main character, is blissfully married to Sita (later, Lakshmi). But through political intrigue, Rama is banished from the kingdom and must dwell in the forest. A leader, Rama in turn is compelled to cast beloved Sita into the forest. The Ramayana is a story of love lost and regained. This fictional narrative takes the reader on a ride that will likely tap into all of their emotions. The payoff is triumphant, giving us a better understanding of Indian culture and underscores fundamental realities that are part of the human condition.

Goals for this assignment: This written assignment is designed to meet the following objectives: One: to gain familiarity with some of the core ideas of Hinduism; Two: to explore aspects of traditional Indian society; Three: to develop skills useful in the reading, writing and evaluation of spiritual texts for the serious study of history.

Instructions: Even though it’s ideal to read the entire book, I am requiring that you examine only part of it. The core of the book consists of six numbered sections, each of which contains several chapters. (Example: Six, Yuddha Kanda: The War, includes chapters 40-52, pp. 267-356, in this edition). Do the following prep before plunging into the text:

  • Familiarize yourself overall with The Ramayana by reading a brief plot summary, which should identify some of the key characters. The introduction in the Egenes and Reddy edition will furnish this for you, but you might find it difficult to read in places. If so, you are encouraged to seek out another introduction (in print or online) that is clearer to you. This prompt contains a “partial list of characters.”
  • Second, scan the list of “aspects to explore,” as seen in the prompt. You will base your paper on three to four of these questions.
  • Next, take a few minutes to look at each of the book’s six sections (One: Childhood; Two: The City of Ayodha; Three: The Forest; Four: Kingdom of the Monkeys; Five: The Beautiful City; Six: The War) to get a sense of what interests you the most.
  • After picking one of the six book sections that appear above, you will write about three of the chapters in that numbered section. SKIP THE PROLOGUE AND THE EPILOGUE.

Example: Let’s say that your interest is situated squarely in “Four: Kingdom of the Monkeys.” You might want to write about ch. 26, “Rama Meets the Servant of His Heart,” ch. 28, “Rama Slays Bali,” and ch. 30, “The Monkeys Search for Sita.” Or you might wish to choose other chapters. You are under no obligation to choose three consecutive chapters. Whatever you do, write on the chapters you select and ignore the other chapters.

The core of the paper will be in two parts. The first part will be titled, “Summation of contents,” or something similar. In this section of your paper, you will summarize the plot of the three chapters you’ve selected. (For example, if your interest is in book section “Four: Kingdom of the Monkeys,” you might summarize some of the key aspects of chapters 26, 28 and 30. DO NOT try to cover every point, since this will make your paper too long.) Keep this summary to a maximum of 1.5 pages long. Also, for the purposes of historical writing and in order to avoid a very lengthy paper, do not include lengthy excerpts of the poems found at the beginning of each chapter! If you are interested in including any of the poems, do brief direct quotes, or paraphrase these poems. Keep this content to a minimum.

The summations section will be followed by the second and final part of your paper, titled “Analysis and personal reflections” (or something similar). You will answer any three of the questions in “aspects to explore.” Coverage of the “Analysis and personal reflections” will take about half of your paper. Support all parts of your paper with specific examples from The Ramayana. Please read and follow the citation instructions in the document, “Endnote formatting 110A S17,” posted in Course Guides on Titanium.

DUE DATE: no later than Tuesday, March 21, by 6 p.m. After this time and date, it will be considered as late. You may submit the term paper in class, in my office (H-730K) or in the history department office (H-815F). For papers submitted to my office or the history department, you would be well advised to e-mail me to confirm submission. PLEASE NOTE: The history department closes at 5 p.m. Note: extra credit is not available for this assignment.

Partial list of characters:

  • Rama: Title character, son of King Dasharatha, and husband of Sita. Banished into the forest, and compelled to overcome many obstacles. Forced to expel Sita from the realm.
  • Sita (later, Lakshmi): wife of Rama, who’s banished into the forest and perishes temporarily.
  • King Dasharantha: Ruler, father of Rama.
  • Kaikeyi: Step-mother of Rama, who demands power for Bharata and exile for Rama.
  • Brahma: chief Hindu deity, who gives Rama a painful, but necessary, reality check.
  • Hanuman. Monkey deity that helped Rama combat evil.

Aspects to explore (select any three):

  • What passages of The Ramayana reveal the presence of Hinduism’s idea of reincarnation?
  • What passages reveal dharma (moral law/caste-based duties)?
  • What roles, power and challenges did women have in this story?
  • What were some of the struggles that Rama had to overcome?
  • What aspects of the natural environment are revealed in The Ramayana?
  • What does this book reveal about political and military power in ancient India?
  • What were your overall impressions about The Ramayana?
  • To what extent, if any, is this story relevant to your life (experiences/ideas) or to the world today?

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