Ramopakhyana (रामोपाख्यानम्)

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Rama Upakhyana (Samskrit : रामोपाख्यानम्) is a short anecdote (upakhyana) describing the story of Shri Rama and Sitadevi (Ramayana) in Mahabharata Vanaparva in adhyayas 273 to 292. Ramopakhyana in Mahabharata gives us an insight about the tradition of verbal transmission practiced since ages and hence an important anecdote to reflect upon. It is a well known aspect that the events of Ramayana happened in Tretayuga while Mahabharata was in Dvapara Yuga. It is interesting to note that almost a complete recount of Ramayana has been discussed in Mahabharata in the Vanaparva even after a long period of time, one yuga, has elapsed.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Maharaja Yudhisthira while spending his time in the forests along with his brothers and wife Draupadi, once laments with Maharshi Markandeya about his distressing state. During that time Draupadi was abducted by Jayadratha and subsequent to releasing her from his captivity, Yudhisthira is deeply disturbed by such calamities that have befallen on him and his family. Yudhisthira exclaims that no one cannot escape from events due to time or his own deeds else how can Draupadi, born from the yajna, the respected daughter-in-law of Maharaja Pandu face such a humiliation of being abducted by Jayadratha. She has always followed dharma, and behaved respectfully towards elders, brahmanas and rshis and we are distressed that abduction of Draupadi has befallen on us.

अस्ति नूनं मया कश्चिदल्पभाग्यतरो नरः। भवता दृष्टपूर्वो वा श्रुतपूर्वोऽपि वा भवेत्॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 273.13)

asti nūnaṁ mayā kaścidalpabhāgyatarō naraḥ। bhavatā dr̥ṣṭapūrvō vā śrutapūrvō'pi vā bhavēt॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 273.13)

Yudhisthira asks Markandeya whether he has seen or heard about any person who is as ill-fated as us (Pandavas due to the abduction of wife) in this world?[1]

प्राप्तमप्रतिमं दुःखं रामेण भरतर्षभ। रक्षसा जानकी तस्य हृता भार्या बलीयसा॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.1)

prāptamapratimaṁ duḥkhaṁ rāmēṇa bharatarṣabha। rakṣasā jānakī tasya hr̥tā bhāryā balīyasā॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.1)

आश्रमाद्राक्षसेन्द्रेण रावणेन दुरात्मना। मायामास्थाय तरसा हत्वा गृध्रं जटायुषम्॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.2)

āśramādrākṣasēndrēṇa rāvaṇēna durātmanā। māyāmāsthāya tarasā hatvā gr̥dhraṁ jaṭāyuṣam॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.2)

प्रत्याजहार तां रामः सुग्रीवबलमाश्रितः। बद्ध्वा सेतुं समुद्रस्य दग्ध्वा लङ्कां शितैः शरैः॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.3)

pratyājahāra tāṁ rāmaḥ sugrīvabalamāśritaḥ। baddhvā sētuṁ samudrasya dagdhvā laṅkāṁ śitaiḥ śaraiḥ॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.3)

Markandeya describes how Rama faced unbearable pain because Janaki was abducted by a rakshasa. Evil-minded Ravana took her away from the ashrama by deceiving her. Jatayu a vulture tried to protect her. Rama with the help of Sugriva, located her, built the bridge across the sea to Lanka and brought her back.

रामोपाख्यानम् ॥ Story of ShriRama

Markandeya Maharshi in answer to Yudhisthira's question recounts the story of ShriRamachandra who had to live in the forest and had to endure the abduction of his wife Janaki. Here briefly the story is recounted starting from the birth of ShriRama and others.

रामरावणयोर्जन्मकथनम् ॥ Birth of Shri Rama and Ravana

Curious Yudhisthira asks him to explain ShriRama's charitra and all the difficulties he endured. Markandeya starts to recite the anecdote with Maharaja Aja who belonged to the Ikshvaku lineage, who had a son Dasaratha. Dasaratha a pious and learned person, had four sons Rama by Kausalya, Bharata through Kaikeyi and by wife Sumitra he had Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Brahma himself created Sita, as the daughter of Janaka Maharaja of Videha, to be the dear wife of Shri Ramachandra.

वंशम् ॥ Ravana's Family

In Mahabharata we find the details of the lineage of Ravana, described by Markandeya as follows:

Brahma ---- Pulastya (पुलस्त्यः । One of the Manasaputras) ---- Vaishravana (वैश्रवणः। Son born of Gau) and Vishrava (विश्रवस् । Pulastya's form of himself associated with anger) ---- Dashagreeva (Ravana, son of Pushpotkata)

पितामहो रावणस्य साक्षाद्देवः प्रजापतिः। स्वयम्भूः सर्वलोकानां प्रभुः स्रष्टा महातपाः॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.11)

pitāmahō rāvaṇasya sākṣāddēvaḥ prajāpatiḥ। svayambhūḥ sarvalōkānāṁ prabhuḥ sraṣṭā mahātapāḥ॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.11)

पुलस्त्यो नाम तस्यासीन्मानसो दयितः सुतः। तस्य वैश्रवणो नाम गवि पुत्रोऽभवत्प्रभुः॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.12)

pulastyō nāma tasyāsīnmānasō dayitaḥ sutaḥ। tasya vaiśravaṇō nāma gavi putrō'bhavatprabhuḥ॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 274.12)

Brahma, the Creator, himself is the grandfather of Ravana. Brahmadeva had a manasaputra called Pulastya. To Pulastya was born Vaishravana through his wife Gau. Vaishravana however, leaving his father Pulastya, was always engaged in seva (सेवा | selfless service) of his grandfather Brahma. Angered by this action, Pulastya created another form of his from half his body, called as Vishravas.

Vishravas held a deep resentment for Vaishravana and was always looking for an opportunity to attack him. Brahma, however, was highly pleased with the seva of Vaishravana or Kubera (कुबेरः) and bestowed him all the riches and rulership over ganas such as Yaksha, Kinneras, Kimpurushas and others. Making him the ruler of Lanka, he grants him the Pushpaka vimana.

Vishravas begets Ravana, Kumbhakarna, Visbhishana, Khara and Surpanakha through rakshasis named Pushpotkata, Malini and Raakha.

लङ्काधिपत्यम् ॥ Ravana as Lankadhipati

Vishravas and his family were living on the Gandhamadana mountain. Once Kubera came on his vehicle driven by men, to meet Vishravas. On that ocassion, seeing the wealth and pomp of Kubera, Ravana and his brothers, overcame with jealousy. They decide to perform penance to gain powers from Brahma. After a thousand years or rigorous austerities, Brahma pleased with their tapas, grants Ravana invincibility from all beings excluding humans in his wish as he considered them very low beings.

Returning with the boons of Brahma, Ravana defeats Kubera and takes over Lanka and the Pushpaka vimana from him. Unable to challenge Ravana, Kubera leaves Lanka with his Yaksha and rakshasa ganas and goes to live on the Gandhamadhana mountain. Thus defeated by Ravana and forcefully retained of all his riches including the Pushpaka vimana, an angered Kubera spells out a curse on Ravana.

विमानं पुष्पकं तस्य जहाराक्रम्य रावणः। शशाप तं वैश्रवणो न त्वामेतद्वहिष्यति॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 275.34)

vimānaṁ puṣpakaṁ tasya jahārākramya rāvaṇaḥ। śaśāpa taṁ vaiśravaṇō na tvāmētadvahiṣyati॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 275.34)

यस्तु त्वां समरे हन्ता तमेवैतद्वहिष्यति। अवमन्य गुरुं मां च क्षिप्रं त्वं न भविष्यसि॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 275.35)

yastu tvāṁ samarē hantā tamēvaitadvahiṣyati। avamanya guruṁ māṁ ca kṣipraṁ tvaṁ na bhaviṣyasi॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 275.35)

This Pushpuka vimana which you have forcefully taken from me will not carry you. It will be the vehicle of one who kills you in a war. You have no respect for me, who has to be respected by you being your elder brother. Hence very soon you will be destroyed.

Though distressed by Ravana's behaviour, Kubera was pleased with his younger brother, Vibhishana's, character. He makes Vibhishana the commander of the Yaksha and Rakshasa forces.

Ravana with his immense force, ability to take any form and travel aerially to any place as per his wish, started harassing the devatas and took away their extraordinary precious gems and treasures thus creating fear among them.

Avatars of Devatas

All the rshis and devatas then approached Brahma to seek help as Ravana's deeds where unbearable in any world. Brahma pacifies them saying that since Ravana is invincible by devatas and even asuras, he sought the help of Mahavishnu to take the form of a human being on earth, to control Ravana.

Brahma instructs Indra, to take birth on the earth along with the devatas. He instructs them to give rise to strong and capable progeny from female bears and monkeys to effectively support Mahavishnu when he takes birth on the earth. Devatas, Gandharvas, and Nagas took forms on the earth. Brahma instructs a gandharva named Dundubhi (दुन्दुभी) to go down to the earth to play a role in these great events of the devatas.

पितामहवचः श्रुत्वा गन्धर्वी दुन्दुभी ततः। मन्थरा मानुषे लोके कुब्जा समभवत्तदा॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 276.13)

pitāmahavacaḥ śrutvā gandharvī dundubhī tataḥ। mantharā mānuṣē lōkē kubjā samabhavattadā॥ (Maha. Vana. Parv. 276.13)

Dundubhi takes the form of Manthara, the unpleasant deformed maid. Thus was laid the background to build an army of extremely strong army of monkeys and bears, many of which did not even have a house to live in but lived in forests and trees.

ShriRama and Sita's Story

In this section the story of Ramachandra and Sita and events in their life are covered very briefly, as the elaborate story is dealt with in Ramayana. Adhyaya 277-292 of Vanaparva describes the story of Ramachandra until the events of his crowning as the Maharaja of Ayodhya.

As the four children of Dasaratha grew up they followed Brahmacharya ashrama as prescribed and learnt the Vedas and became experts in Dhanurveda. They were married in due time and Dasaratha soon wanting to retire requested his ministers and purohits for an auspicious time to install his first son, Ramachandra, as the Yuvaraja or heir-apparent. Rama's physical qualities and exceptional character had won the hearts of the Maharaja Dasaratha as well as the people of Ayodhya, hence all were in favour of anointing him as their future Maharaja.

As Dasaratha was instructing his purohits to prepare for the anointing ceremonies, Manthara heard his words and instantly reported the same to Maharani Kaikeyi (the dear wife of Dasaratha). Overcome with jealousy, Kaikeyi asks two boons from Dasaratha, one to instill Bharata as the Yuvaraja in place of Ramachandra and second to send Ramachandra to live in the forests. On hearing the boons, Rama to protect the truth of his father's words, leaves to lead a forest life along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. Unable to bear the pain of separation from Rama, Dasaratha leaves his body.

The rest of the story is similar to Ramayana wherein Bharata follows Rama to Chitrakoot only to be instructed to return to Ayodhya and rule on his behalf. Soon Rama enters the dense Dandakaranya forest and there because of Surpanakha, her brothers and rakshasas Khara and Dushana fight and lose against Rama. Ravana gets enraged at the plight of Surpanakha and death of his brother Khara. Ravana then meets Maricha, his previous minister and asks him to take the form of golden deer to attract Sita's attention.

Just as mentioned in Ramayana, Rama follows the golden deer, Lakshmana is pressured by Sita to follow Rama and seeing the deserted ashram Ravana abducts Sita. Jatayu, the vulture, tries to save Sita from his clutches and loses its life in the process. After reaching Lankapuri, Ravana places Sita in the Ashokavana and is guarded by rakshasis.

Meanwhile Hanuman meets Rama and Lakshmana on the banks of Pampa river. Friendship with Sugriva, killing of Vali and restoring the kingdom of monkeys to Sugriva ensues. Search for Sita in all directions is initiated by Sugriva and his vanara army. Hanuman sent to the southern direction, reaches Lankapuri and locates Sita. What follows when Hanuman returns from Lanka with the news of Sita being captive and how Rama and Lakshmana save her from Ravana are well explained here in Mahabharata as in Ramayana.

Markandeya describes how Ramachandra returns with Sita along with the whole army in the Pushpaka vimana and the curse of Kubera is validated. He assures Yudhisthira that Rama has undergone the same kind of fate of abduction of his wife and with his rajadharma and might was able to bring his wife back.

Courtesy: Samskrit Shlokas of Mahabharata from Rashtriya Vidyapeetha, Tirupati.[2]


  1. Pt. Ramnarayan Datt Shastri. Mahabharata, Part 2 (VanaParva, Adhyaya 273 to 292) Hindi Translation. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 1714 - 1770)
  2. Mahabharata Project - Main Page