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.

हिंसा च मृगजातीनां वनौकोभिर्वनौकसाम्। ज्ञातिभिर्विप्रवासश्च मिथ्याव्यवसितैरय[रिय]म्॥ 3-273-12

अस्ति नूनं मया कश्चिदल्पभाग्यतरो नरः। भवता दृष्टपूर्वो वा श्रुतपूर्वोऽपि वा भवेत्॥ 3-273-13

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]

रामरावणयोर्जन्मकथनम् ॥ Birth of Shri Rama and Ravana

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, in brief as follows.

प्राप्तमप्रतिमं दुःखं रामेण भरतर्षभ। रक्षसा जानकी तस्य हृता भार्या बलीयसा॥ 3-274-1

आश्रमाद्राक्षसेन्द्रेण रावणेन दुरात्मना। मायामास्थाय तरसा हत्वा गृध्रं जटायुषम्॥ 3-274-2

प्रत्याजहार तां रामः सुग्रीवबलमाश्रितः। बद्ध्वा सेतुं समुद्रस्य दग्ध्वा लङ्कां शितैः शरैः॥ 3-274-3

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.

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॥ 3-274-11

पुलस्त्यो नाम तस्यासीन्मानसो दयितः सुतः। तस्य वैश्रवणो नाम गवि पुत्रोऽभवत्प्रभुः॥ 3-274-12

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 in 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 services 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.

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 and he excludes humans in his wish as he considered them very low beings.

गन्धर्वदेवासुरतो यक्षराक्षसतस्तथा। सर्पकिन्नरभूतेभ्यो न मे भूयात्पराभवः॥ 3-275-25

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॥ 3-275-34

यस्तु त्वां समरे हन्ता तमेवैतद्वहिष्यति। अवमन्य गुरुं मां च क्षिप्रं त्वं न भविष्यसि॥ 3-275-35

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 precious gems and treasures which were extraordinary from them, thus creating fear among them.

Devatas take human forms

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. Dundubhi takes the form of Manthara, the unpleasant 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.

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