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The original Ramayana, related by Lord Brahma in one billion verses, is an account of the pastimes of Lord Ramacandra. That Ramayana was later summarized by Narada and related to Valmiki, who further presented it to mankind so that human beings could attain the goals of religiosity, sense gratification and economic development. Therefore, when we speak of the authoratative Ramayana, we are specifically referring to Valmiki Ramayana.
It is important to note from the outset that while there are many renditions and so-called interpretations of Ramayana, or histories of Lord Ramacandra's activities, some of them are not actually authoritative. Sometimes Lord Ramacandra's activities are described in terms of one's own imaginations, speculations or material sentiments. But the characteristics of Lord Ramacandra should not be handled as something imaginary.
Shrila [NKd1]Prabhupada comments, SB 9.10.3, "Modern Raksasas, posing as educationally advanced merely because they have doctorates, have tried to prove that Lord Ramacandra is not the Supreme Personality of Godhead but an ordinary person. But those who are learned and spiritually advanced will never accept such notions; they will accept the descriptions of Lord Ramacandra and His activities only as presented by tattva-darsis, those who know the Absolute Truth. In Bhagavad-gita (4.34) the Supreme Personality of Godhead advises:
tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah
"Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth."[NKd2] Unless one is tattva-darsi, in complete knowledge of the Absolute Truth, one cannot describe the activities of the Personality of Godhead. Therefore although there are many so-called Ramayanas, or histories of Lord Ramacandra's activities, some of them are not actually authoritative. While describing the history of Lord Ramacandra, Sukadeva Gosvami told Maharaja Pariksit, "You have already heard about the activities of Lord Ramacandra." Apparently, therefore, five thousand years ago there were many Ramayanas, or histories of Lord Ramacandra's activities, and there are many still. But we must select only those books written by tattva-darsis (jnaninas tattva-darsinah), not the books of so-called scholars who claim knowledge only on the basis of a doctorate. This is a warning by Sukadeva Gosvami."
All quotes and footnote references are from The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International.
Shrimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.22, states: "In the eighteenth incarnation, the Lord appeared as King Rama. In order to perform some pleasing work for the demigods, He exhibited superhuman powers by controlling the Indian Ocean and then killing the atheist King Ravana, who was on the other side of the sea."
Shrila Prabhupada comments, "The Personality of Godhead Shri Rama assumed the form of a human being and appeared on the earth for the purpose of doing some pleasing work for the demigods or the administrative personalities to maintain the order of the universe. Sometimes great demons and atheists like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu and many others become very famous due to advancing material civilization by the help of material science and other activities with a spirit of challenging the established order of the Lord. For example, the attempt to fly to other planets by material means is a challenge to the established order. The conditions of each and every planet are different, and different classes of human beings are accommodated there for particular purposes mentioned in the codes of the Lord. But, puffed up by tiny success in material advancement, sometimes the godless materialists challenge the existence of God. Ravana was one of them, and he wanted to deport ordinary men to the planet of Indra (heaven) by material means without consideration of the necessary qualifications. He wanted a staircase to be built up directly reaching the heavenly planet so that people might not be required to undergo the routine of pious work necessary to enter that planet. He also wanted to perform other acts against the established rule of the Lord. He even challenged the authority of Shri Rama, the Personality of Godhead, and kidnapped His wife, Sita. Of course Lord Rama came to chastise this atheist, answering the prayer and desire of the demigods. He therefore took up the challenge of Ravana, and the complete activity is the subject matter of the Ramayana. Because Lord Ramacandra was the Personality of Godhead, He exhibited superhuman activities which no human being, including the materially advanced Ravana, could perform. Lord Ramacandra prepared a royal road on the Indian Ocean with stones that floated on the water. The modern scientists have done research in the area of weightlessness, but it is not possible to bring in weightlessness anywhere and everywhere. But because weightlessness is the creation of the Lord by which He can make the gigantic planets fly and float in the air, He made the stones even within this earth to be weightless and prepared a stone bridge on the sea without any supporting pillar. That is the display of the power of God.
Due to His causeless mercy upon all living entities within the universe, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, along with His plenary extensions, appeared in the family of Maharaja Iksvaku as the Lord of His internal potency, Sita. Under the order of His father, Maharaja Dasaratha, He entered the forest and lived there for considerable years with His wife and younger brother. Ravana, who was very materially powerful, with ten heads on his shoulders, committed a great offense against Him and was thus ultimately vanquished.
Lord Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His brothers, namely Bharata, Laksmana and Satrughna, are His plenary expansions. All four brothers are visnu-tattva and were never ordinary human beings. There are many unscrupulous and ignorant commentators on Ramayana who present the younger brothers of Lord Ramacandra as ordinary living entities. But Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the most authentic scripture on the science of Godhead, clearly states that His brothers were His plenary expansions. Originally Lord Ramacandra is the incarnation of Vasudeva, Laksmana is the incarnation of Sankarsana, Bharata is the incarnation of Pradyumna, and Satrughna is the incarnation of Aniruddha, expansions of the Personality of Godhead. Laksmiji Sita is the internal potency of the Lord and is neither an ordinary woman nor the external potency incarnation of Durga. Durga is the external potency of the Lord, and she is associated with Lord Siva.
The Vishnu-dharmottara describes that Lord Ramacandra and His brothers-Laksmana, Bharata and Satrughna-are incarnations of Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha respectively. The Padma Purana, however, says that Lord Ramacandra is an incarnation of Narayana and that the other three brothers are incarnations of Sesa, Cakra and Sankha. Therefore Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhusana has concluded, tad idam kalpa-bhedenaiva sambhavyam. In other words, these opinions are not contradictory. In some millenniums Lord Ramacandra and His brothers appear as incarnations of Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, and in other millenniums They appear as incarnations of Narayana, Sesa, Cakra and Sankha. The residence of Lord Ramacandra on this planet is Ayodhya. Ayodhya City is still existing in the district of Hyderabad, which is situated on the northern side of Uttar Pradesh."
Lord Ramacandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared in the Treta-yuga1 millions of years ago. In each yuga, or age, a particular method of God realization is prescribed. For self-realization, the people in Satya-yuga, the golden age, were able to perform prolonged meditation. Next, in Treta-yuga, self-realization was attained by performance of great sacrifice. Then in the Dvapara-yuga, self-realization was attained by temple worship of the Lord. Finally, in the present age, or Kali-yuga, with the maximum duration of life being one hundred years and ever combined with various difficulties, the recommended process of self-realization is that of hearing and chanting of the holy name, fame, and pastimes of the Lord.
The sages of Naimisaranya began this process in a place meant specifically for the devotees of the Lord. They prepared themselves to hear the pastimes of the Lord over a period of one thousand years. By the example of these sages one should learn that regular hearing and recitation of the Bhagavatam is the only way for self-realization. Other attempts are simply a waste of time, for they do not give any tangible results. Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu preached this system of Bhagavata-dharma, and He recommended that all those who were born in India should take the responsibility of broadcasting the messages of Lord Shri Krishna, primarily the message of Bhagavad-gita. And when one is well established in the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, he can take up the study of Shrimad-Bhagavatam for further enlightenment in self-realization.
In the introduction to the First Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Shrila Prabhupada states, "Shri [NKd3]Chaitanya Mahaprabhu advented Himself on the Phalguni Purnima evening of 1407 Sakabda, and it was by the will of the Lord that there was a lunar eclipse on that evening. During the hours of eclipse it was the custom of the Hindu public to take bath in the Ganges or any other sacred river and chant the Vedic mantras for purification. When Lord Chaitanya was born during the lunar eclipse, all India was roaring with the holy sound of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. These sixteen names of the Lord are mentioned in many Puranas and Upanisads, and they are described as the Taraka-brahma nama of this age. It is recommended in the sastras that offenseless chanting of these holy names of the Lord can deliver a fallen soul from material bondage. There are innumerable names of the Lord both in India and outside, and all of them are equally good because all of them indicate the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But because these sixteen are especially recommended for this age, people should take advantage of them and follow the path of the great acaryas who attained success by practicing the rules of the sastras (revealed scriptures).
"[NKd4]The simultaneous occurrence of the Lord's appearance and the lunar eclipse indicated the distinctive mission of the Lord. This mission was to preach the importance of chanting the holy names of the Lord in this age of Kali (quarrel). In this present age quarrels take place even over trifles, and therefore the sastras have recommended for this age a common platform for realization, namely chanting the holy names of the Lord. People can hold meetings to glorify the Lord in their respective languages and with melodious songs, and if such performances are executed in an offenseless manner, it is certain that the participants will gradually attain spiritual perfection without having to undergo more rigorous methods. At such meetings everyone, the learned and the foolish, the rich and the poor, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Englishmen and the Indians, and the candalas and the brahmanas, can all hear the transcendental sounds and thus cleanse the dust of material association from the mirror of the heart. To confirm the Lord's mission, all the people of the world will accept the holy name of the Lord as the common platform for the universal religion of mankind. In other words, the advent of the holy name took place along with the advent of Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu."
Shrila Prabhupada further comments in SB 1. Creation, "Many devotees of Lord Chaitanya like Shrila Vrndavana dasa Thakura, Shri Locana dasa Thakura, Shrila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, Shri Kavikarnapura, Shri Prabodhananda Sarasvati, Shri Rupa Gosvami, Shri Sanatana Gosvami, Shri Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami, Shri Jiva Gosvami, Shri Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, Shri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami and in this latter age within two hundred years, Shri Visvanatha Cakravarti, Shri Baladeva Vidyabhusana, Shri Syamananda Gosvami, Shri Narottama dasa Thakura, Shri Bhaktivinoda Thakura and at last Shri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (our spiritual master) and many other great and renowned scholars and devotees of the Lord have prepared voluminous books and literatures on the life and precepts of the Lord. Such literatures are all based on the sastras like the Vedas, Puranas, Upanisads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and other histories and authentic literatures approved by the recognized acaryas. They are unique in composition and unrivaled in presentation, and they are full of transcendental knowledge. Unfortunately the people of the world are still ignorant of them, but when these literatures, which are mostly in Sanskrit and Bengali, come to light the world and when they are presented before thinking people, then India's glory and the message of love will overflood this morbid world, which is vainly searching after peace and prosperity by various illusory methods not approved by the acaryas in the chain of disciplic succession."
Thus, through the statements of these recognized acaryas, the authenticity of Ramayana is firmly established. Lord Ramacandra is a full incarnation with six opulences in full, and He is therefore kalesah, or the master of all opulence.
Again, Shrila Prabhupada comments, "Now the question is why the Lord, who is omnipotent, comes here to diminish the burden created upon the world by the unscrupulous kingly order. Certainly the Lord does not need to come here personally for such purposes, but He actually descends to exhibit His transcendental activities in order to encourage His pure devotees, who want to enjoy life by chanting the glories of the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.13-14) it is stated that the mahatmas, great devotees of the Lord, take pleasure in chanting of the activities of the Lord. All Vedic literatures are meant for turning one's attention towards the Lord and His transcendental activities. Thus the activities of the Lord, in His dealings with worldly people, create a subject matter for discussion by His pure devotees.
"When [NKd5]the Lord appears in this universe in the form of a human being, He has two purposes, as stated in Bhagavad-gita (4.9)-paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam: to destroy the demons and protect the devotees. To protect the devotees, the Lord not only satisfies them by His personal presence but also teaches them so that they will not fall down from devotional service. By His personal example, Lord Ramacandra taught the devotees that it is better not to enter married life, which is certainly followed by many tribulations. As confirmed in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.45):
yan maithunadi-grhamedhi-sukham hi tuccham
kanduyanena karayor iva duhkha-duhkham
trpyanti neha krpana bahu-duhkha-bhajah
kandutivan manasijam visaheta-dhirah
"Krpanas[NKd6], those who are not advanced in spiritual knowledge and who are therefore just the opposite of brahmanas, generally take to family life, which is a concession for sex. Thus they enjoy sex again and again, although that sex is followed by many tribulations. This is a warning to devotees. To teach this lesson to devotees and to human society in general, Lord Shri Ramacandra, although the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, underwent a series of tribulations because He accepted a wife, mother Sita. Lord Ramacandra underwent these austerities, of course, only to instruct us; actually He never has any reason to lament for anything.
"Another aspect of the Lord's instructions is that one who accepts a wife must be a faithful husband and give her full protection. Human society is divided into two classes of men-those who strictly follow the religious principles and those who are devotees. By His personal example, Lord Ramacandra wanted to instruct both of them how to fully adopt the discipline of the religious system and how to be a beloved and dutiful husband. Otherwise He had no reason to undergo apparent tribulations. One who strictly follows religious principles must not neglect to provide all facilities for the complete protection of his wife. There may be some suffering because of this, but one must nevertheless endure it. That is the duty of a faithful husband. By His personal example, Lord Ramacandra demonstrated this duty. Lord Ramacandra could have produced hundreds and thousands of Sitas from His pleasure energy, but just to show the duty of a faithful husband, He not only rescued Sita from the hands of Ravana but also killed Ravana and all the members of his family.
"Another aspect of the teachings of Lord Ramacandra is that although Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His devotees may apparently suffer from material tribulations, they have nothing to do with such tribulations. They are mukta-purusas, liberated persons, under all circumstances. It is therefore said in the Chaitanya-bhagavata:
yata dekha vaisnavera vyavahara duhkha
niscaya janiha taha paramananda-sukha[NKd7]
A Vaishnava is always firmly situated in transcendental bliss because of engagement in devotional service. Although he may appear to suffer material pains, his position is called transcendental bliss in separation (viraha). The emotions a lover and beloved feel when separated from one another are actually very blissful, although apparently painful. Therefore the separation of Lord Ramacandra from Sitadevi, as well as the consequent tribulation they suffered, is but another display of transcendental bliss. That is the opinion of Shrila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura."