The Ramayana, authored by Sage Valmiki, is perhaps the most well-know epic in India. It relates the story of Lord Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu), prince and later king of Ayodhya, a city in North India. The central message of the Ramayana is to demonstrate to us how to lead a virtuous life that does not violate any law of nature.
Lord Rama is considered to be a paragon of virtue, and is believed to be the only human who possessed the 16 great virtues of a “Mahapurusha” (an enlightened man). The Ramayana is simply a treatise on “Dharmic” way of living.
It is believed that God and the Divine Mother descended to Earth in human forms and underwent extreme human sufferings for two purposes - to save the devout from persecution, and to illustrate to mankind the need to uphold Dharma in the face of all calamities. Since we are their children, God and the Divine Mother incarnated as Rama and Sita to save us from sin.
A brief synopsis of the Ramayana follows. The story begins with the birth of Prince Rama and His three brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna to King Dasharatha in Ayodhya (in the modern day state of Uttar Pradesh in North India). Around the time of Rama's birth, thousands of devout Hindus in the south of India were facing persecution and death at the hands of Ravana, a tyrannical ruler of Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka). Secondly, mankind was in need of instruction on how to lead a virtuous life, so that society as a whole may function efficiently and nobly. God is believed to have incarnated as Rama to end the persecution of His devotees and to demonstrate to us how to lead a virtuous life. Rama grew up to become the people’s beloved and charismatic Prince. His charm, grace, humility and affability made Him everyone's darling. He won the hand of Princess Sita, daughter of King Janaka, one of the most respected Kings of those times. After Rama and Sita got married came the turning point in their lives. Having grown old, Dasharatha decided it was time for Rama to succeed him as the new King of Ayodhya. However, fate and evil minds connived to deprive Rama of what was rightfully his and He was banished to the forests for 14 years of exile. Promptly discarding all royal attachments, Rama left for the forests (in Southern India in those days) along with Sita and one of His brothers, Lakshmana. As a distraught and helpless father, Dasharatha watched his most beloved son leave for the forests and died, unable to bear the shock.
Popular Hindu opinion holds that the strange turn of events leading to the Lord's exile was of His own making. His exile gave Rama an excuse to retire to the South of India, where His devotees were facing persecution. Rama, Janaki and Lakshmana spent 10 years of ascetic life in the forests of Southern India. During this period, the Lord frequently fought and won several wars with the tyrannical forces of Ravana and protected His devotees from persecution. The news of the military defeats enraged Ravana, who decided to punish Rama.
Ravana, the King of Lanka (present-day Sri Lanka), was a powerful but immoral emperor. Having faced defeat by Rama and enamored by Sita's beauty, the immoral Ravana forcefully abducted Sita during Rama’s and Lakshmana’s absence. Taking Her by force to Lanka, Ravana imprisoned Sita to teach Rama a lesson. Throughout Her confinement in Lanka, Sita hardly ate anything and merely meditated on Her husband, beseeching him through prayers to rescue Her from the evil Ravana. Ravana did not realize that Sita was in fact the Divine Mother Herself. To this day, pious Hindu women worship Sita as the symbol of chastity and follow her ideals of love and devotion to their husbands.
Rama was distraught on learning about Sita's abduction. With His brother's support He managed to regain his composure and went in search of Sita. In the process, Rama and Lakshmana met a forest tribe and made friends with them. Gathering a few hundreds of the tribals, Rama entered Lanka for war with Ravana. Rama led his small tribal army against Ravana's mighty Lankan army. A terrible war ensued and in spite of the superiority of Ravana's military, Rama single-handedly vanquished the enemy forces, killed Ravana, and secured Sita. The slaying of Ravana brought an end to the sufferings of thousands of devout Hindus, who were being endlessly persecuted by Ravana and his troops. Both God and His Consort were reunited in their human incarnations to the joy of all Their devotees. Returning to Ayodhya with His wife and brother after His 14 years of exile, Rama ascended the throne and ruled the kingdom for the rest of His life. The period of time when Rama ruled Ayodhya is believed to have been the most prosperous, crime-free era in Hindu history. Rama and Sita led a life of noble values and virtuousness that Hinduism urges all mankind to adopt for the larger well being of mankind.
Key to the reunion of God and the Divine Mother in the Ramayana was a humble and yet highly intelligent person called "Hanuman". Hanuman was one of the leaders of the forest tribe that Rama and Lakshmana befriended. It was Hanuman's valiant efforts that helped Rama win the war against Ravana. To this day, Hanuman a celibate his whole life, and a personification of immense strength is especially the darling of all devotees of Ram.