Ramayana Sanskrit epic by Valmiki, based on the story of Rama or ramachandra, son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. The epic is divided into seven episodes or parts. Episode one, Balya, is about Rama's birth and early life; the second episode, Ayodhya, describes his life in Ayodhya till his banishment; the third episode, Aranya, describes the life of Rama, his brother Laksmana and his wife, sita, in the forest and the abduction of Sita by Ravana, the king of Lanka; the fourth episode, Kiskindhya, describes Rama's alliance with Sugriva, the king of the monkeys; the fifth episode, Sundar, narrates Rama's journey to Lanka with his troops; the sixth episode, Labka, describes the war between Rama and Ravana, Ravana's defeat and destruction along with his family, Rama's rescue of Sita and his triumphant return to Ayodhya with his troops after making Ravana's brother, Bibhisana, king of Lanka. The seventh and final episode describes Rama's rejection of Sita, the birth of their twins, Lava and Kusha, the reunion of Rama and Sita and their deaths. The epic is composed in anustapa metre and contains 24,000 to 43,000 shlokas or verses.

There is some controversy regarding the date of the Ramayana. Traditionally, the epic was believed to be five thousand years old. Today, however, it is generally agreed that the epic in its present form was composed between 400 BC and AD 200.

The Ramayana has been rendered into many regional languages of India. The Ramayana in Hindi by Tulsidas (1533-1624), known as Tulsidasi Ramayana or Ramcharita Manas, deserves particular mention, as it was widely popular in north India. krittivas ojha's 14th-century translation, known as Krittivasi Ramayana, was the first rendering into Bangla. In the 16th century, the Assamese poets Madhav Kandali and Shankardev jointly rendered the Ramayana into old Assamese, somewhat akin to Bangla. In the 17th century Adbhut Acharya (Nityananda) composed the version known after him as Adbhutacharya Ramayana. Though this version became quite popular in north Bengal, it did not surpass that of Krittivasi Ramayana. The 17th century saw many other Bengali poets translating the Ramayana, including Dvija Laksman, Kailas Basu, Bhabani Das, Kavichandra Chakravarty, Mahananda Chakravarty, Gangaram Datta and Krsnadas. In 1792 Ramananda Ghosh translated the Ramayana, describing himself an apostle of the Buddha. In 1790 Jagatram Banerjee of Bankura and his son, Ramprasad Banerjee, jointly composed another Bangla Ramayana. The Bangla Ramayanas are far more than translations and merit recognition in their own right as original creations. The Krittivasi Ramayana in particular stands out. Despite deviating from the original text in certain areas, its influence on Bengali Hindu society is abiding.

The sanskrit Ramayana not only tells a tale, but also contains valuable information about the society of ancient India, its culture, politics, economics, religion, philosophy and education. Similarly, the Krittivasi Ramayana, while narrating the story of Rama and Sita, also provides rich information about ancient Bengal.

The Ramayana is also a religious book of the Hindus. Each of the Ramayana's principal characters, Rama, Sita, Laksmana, and Bharat, stands for an ideal such as filial piety, caring for subjects, loyalty to one's husband, love for one's brother and dedication to the Creator etc. Thus Ramayana is not only an epic and a tale of heroes, it also provides guidelines for Hindus of all walks of life.

The influence of the Ramayana on the languages and literatures of India, including Bangla and Sanskrit, is considerable. Innumerable writers and artists have been inspired by it to produce poems, plays, paintings and stories. The epic is also read in many countries outside India. It is very popular in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia where many of the traditional dances and pictorial art are based on stories from the epic. [Sambaru Chandra Mohanta]