Chapter 1 — Rama’s Initiation (1977 ed.: 7-22; 2006 ed.: 7-21)
This story is an epic, so we will see Rama take a journey to achieve greatness. Be aware that R. K.Narayan’s The Ramayana is only a condensed English translation. Many details and important scenes have been shortened or omitted from the original Sanskrit story. It is based more on the Tamil (South Indian) version of the epic rather than the original, but it is a much more accessible version to a Western audience.
The Ramayana is just one part of a longer epic, The Mahabharatha, which is about as long as six Bibles. Chapter 1 in The Ramayana is essentially a rehash of some of the classic stories from the earlier part of The Mahabharatha, but a few scenes provide some necessary background.
We know that Rama is an incarnation of the god Vishnu (the Preserver). We see Rama first taken into the desert where he is tested by the wise guru Viswamithra. This guru (spiritual guide) shows Rama many wonders of the Hindu world, all wrapped up in a history lesson. Rama is not fully aware that he is a god until later in the story. (Can you tell where Rama first understands his essence?)
Once Rama is tested in the desert, he will be ready to assume greater deeds. One test that Rama has to pass is the test of Thataka, the demoness. Rama is hesitant to kill her because she is a woman, but Viswamithra counsels Rama to view her inner nature. We will see that this difference separates the gods (devas) from the demons (asuras) throughout the narrative.
One such character is Mareecha, who is one of the demons defeated by young Rama in the first chapter. When the demons attempt to disturb the yanga (the sacrifice), Rama and his brother Lakshmana send their arrows upward to protect the holy event below. While Lakshmana’s arrows attack the demons, Rama’s arrows help to deflect the blood and garbage that falls from the sky, thereby preserving the sacrifice, much to the amazement of Viswamithra. Rama’s arrow...