In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rāmāyaṇa in the Hindu Tradition

  • Introduction
  • Critical Editions of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa
  • Translations of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa
  • Reference Works
  • Selected Journals
  • Other Sanskrit Rāmāyaṇas
  • Buddhist Rāmāyaṇa Texts and Critical Studies
  • Jaina Rāmāyaṇa Texts and Critical Studies
  • The Influence of the Rāmāyaṇa: Literary, Artistic, Performative, Religious, Social, and Political Studies
  • Comic Books

Hinduism Rāmāyaṇa in the Hindu Tradition
Mandakranta Bose
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0166


The epic story of Rāma and Sītā is the most widespread and enduring of all stories in South and Southeast Asian society and culture, with its influence on society unabated to this day. One of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahābhārata, the Rāmāyaṇa is considered to be the older. As viewed in the Indian tradition and by many (though not all) scholars, its probable date is set between 750 and 500 BCE, although the legends constituting it go back farther in time, as Goldman 1984– (Vol. 1, pp. 23, 33; cited under Translations of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa) shows. The relationship between the two epics is rendered problematic by an episode in the third part (the Vanagamana, or Forest Sojourn) of the Mahābhārata titled Rāmopākhyāna, which is a condensed form of the Rāmāyaṇa, and thus raises the question whether that story precedes the Rāmāyaṇa or is borrowed from it. The Rāmāyaṇa relates the story of Prince Rāma and his wife, Sītā, whose lives stand as exemplars of the highest moral and ethical principles. More than three hundred Rāmāyaṇas exist in many languages, as Ramanujan 1991 (cited under Historical and Interpretive Studies) notes, some full, some short, and some of them from outside India. The earliest known Rāmāyaṇa was composed in Sanskrit verse by the sage Vālmīki, who is termed the ādikavi, or the “First Poet,” and his poem, the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa (VR), is believed to be the earliest of all literary works originating in India. Based on the VR, many Rāmāyaṇa tales were retold, performed, painted, and carved, throughout India and beyond, with many additions and alterations. In Southeast Asia, Tibet, and Khotan, the story has taken different turns that reflect local cultural elements, although the basic framework has remained unaltered. But while the VR treats Rāma and Sītā as human beings, Rāmāyaṇas from the medieval era, after the advent of the religious movement known as bhakti (devotion), venerate them as incarnations of Viṣṇu (Vishnu) and Lakṣmī (Lakshmi). There are also many popular and folk versions, as well as sectarian ones, such as Buddhist and Jain Rāmāyaṇas, with new episodes woven into the story to serve particular religious and social ends. Not confined to India, Rāma’s story still circulates through South and Southeast Asia. Scholarly interest, too, has remained unflagging, as much in the Rāmāyaṇa’s transmission history, in its textual and oral dissemination, and its representation in art and performance forms as in its themes, philosophy, and social issues, including questions of politics and gender. There are many editions and translations, scholarly and popular, of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa as well as of regional Rāmāyaṇas. Sculptures from Southern India and miniature paintings from medieval Northern India are rich sources for research, and Rāmāyaṇa plays, dance-dramas, and musical plays draw large crowds. Also popular in India and in the Indian diaspora are tales from the epic presented in fiction, film, television, and comic books.

Critical Editions of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa

The text of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa has come down to us in two regional recensions, the northern (with two subrecensions: northeast and northwest) and the southern. Each has a number of versions whose distinctiveness and editions are discussed in Goldman 1984– (cited under Translations of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, see Vol. 1, pp. 5–6). Critical editions of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa began to appear in the early 19th century, the first by August Wilhelm Von Schlegel in 1829–1838. Partial editions—that is, editions of individual kāṇḍas or of some of their parts—appeared in the early 20th century. An early critical edition of the complete text—that is, a text established by critically comparing multiple versions—was Krishnacharya and Vyasacharya 1982, and it was followed by Mudholkar 1990, with three commentaries, augmented with additional notes by Satkari Mukhopadhyaya. The edition judged to be the most dependable is the Baroda critical edition of Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Bhatt and Shah 1960–1975. Editorially less ambitious but very useful for quick reference to the text is the Śrimadvālmīkīya Rāmāyaṇa 1999–2000, published by the Gita Press. A host of editions serve special scholarly interests by providing introductions and commentaries that emphasize particular aspects of the Rāmāyaṇa, such as theological content in Śrīkṛṣṇadāsa 1935, textual integrity and variants in Krishnacharya and Vyasacharya 1982 and Shastri 1928–1947, close study of the text supplemented by early commentaries in Mudholkar 1990, and commentaries of special interest in Varadachariya 1960–1975. Given the vast body of editorial and exegetic scholarship, the works listed below are selective, judged to be helpful in understanding the transmission of the text and its variance, on the one hand, and in accessing multiple sets of annotations and commentary, on the other.

  • Bhatt, G. H., and U. P. Shah, eds. The Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. Critically edited for the first time. 7 vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1960–1975.

    An elaborate and critical study of the history of the text, with a full explanation of the process and function of recensions. The most dependable text available.

  • Krishnacharya, T. R., and T. R. Vyasacharya, eds. Ṡrimadvālmīkirāmāyaṇam: According to the Southern Recension. 7 vols. Delhi: Sri Satguru, 1982.

    (Originally published in Bombay: Nirnayasagar Press, 1911–1913). As an alternative version of the VR, this is essential to textual research as a collation of texts from South India.

  • Mudholkar, Srinivasa Katti Shastri, ed. Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki. With three commentaries—Tilaka of Rāma, Rāmāyaṇaśiromaṇi of Śivasahāya, and Bhooṣaṇa of Govindarāja. 7 vols. Delhi: Parimal, 1990.

    (Originally published in Bombay: Gujrati Printing Press, 1914–1920). The commentaries and the supplementary editorial material make this necessary reading for a close study of the VR. With an exhaustive introduction and index of verses by Satkari Mukhopadhyaya.

  • Shastri, Vishva Bandhu, ed. Rāmāyaṇa. 7 vols. D. A. V. College Sanskrit Series, nos. 7, 12, 14, 17–20. Lahore: D. A. V. College, 1928–1947.

    The northwestern recension critically edited from original manuscripts. A valuable aid to detailed textual research, especially in juxtaposition with Bhatt and Shah 1960–1975 and Krishnacharya and Vyasacharya 1982.

  • Śrīkṛṣṇadāsa, Gaṅgāviṣṇu, ed. Śrimadvālmīkirāmāyaṇam. 3 vols. Bombay: Lakṣmīveṅkaṭeśvara Mudraṇālaya, 1935.

    With the commentaries of Govindarāja, Rāmānuja, and Mahesvaratīrtha, and the commentary known as Taniśloki. Particularly important for the theological orientation of the commentaries.

  • Śrimadvālmīkīya Rāmāyaṇa. 4th ed. Gorakhpur: Gita, 1999–2000.

    A readily available single-volume edition without critical apparatus or annotations but prefaced by a short introduction, instructions on how to read the Rāmāyaṇa, and a laudatory chapter from the Skandapurāṇa. Convenient for quick references to the text.

  • Varadacharya, K. S., et al., eds. Śrimadvālmīkirāmāyaṇam with Amṛtakaṭaka of Mādhavayogī. 5 vols. Mysore: University of Mysore, Oriental Research Institute, 1960–1975.

    The inclusion of Mādhavayogī’s 17th century commentary, offering a sarcastic treatment of traditional exegesis, makes this edition especially valuable.

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