Valmiki, the sage-poet and ascetic, was lost in thought when devarshi Narada the sage of the sages, the master of the vedas, the knower of the past, present and future appeared before him. Valmiki, upon being asked by Narada, the reason for his perturbation, spoke thus: "O Narada, master of vedic lore and messenger of gods, I have been contemplating on the nature of things and wondering if there is one in this world who possesses all the qualities of the perfect man?Is there a person who embodies goodness, righteousness, who is beautiful and strong of body, mind and character, yet humble, kind and benevolent? A person, who is firm in his beliefs and vows who has studied and understood the precepts of the vedas and applies them in life without compromise? A person, who is learned and wise and whose prowess in war even the gods fear, but is yet without a trace of arrogance? A person, who knows not what envy is, but is given to gratitude? A person, who has conquered anger and all the ignoble passions, who is conscientious in his duty and is full of understanding, love and compassion for all living creatures? A person, who represents and propagates righteousness and all that is truthful and merits comparison with the gods in heaven? A person, who is worthy of worship, yet is himself humble in performing worship and offering of prayers? A person, who is sought and revered by all for his transcendent qualities, who is an inspiring leader, loved by friends and feared by foes? A person, whose noble appearance spreads tranquility, in whose presence love sprouts and blossoms? Whose brow is as noble as his heart, whose face and limbs reflect the grace and beauty of his soul? O Narada, tell me, for you alone can answer my question. Have you found a person endowed with these qualities?

Narada, the possessor of profound and comprehensive knowledge of the three worlds, responded thus: "Verily, O great sage, it is not easy to find a person endowed with all the virtues mentioned by you. However, there comes to my mind just one such person. He is Rama, born into the family of the Ikshvaku.He is fair of face and just of nature. He is broad shouldered and strong with a tapering waist and hips like the lion, yet he is gentle of speech and manner. His charm is captivating, yet he strikes terror in the bosom of his foes. He is an expert archer and wields a huge bow. His gait is regal and graceful. He has a noble brow, large limpid eyes and a neck that is as beautifully contoured as a conch. He is learned and wise, versed in the scriptures, sciences and all arts and crafts, yet not boastful or vain. He is the defender and embodiment of dharma endowed with all the virtues worth extolling. Yet he is not impatient with or scornful of those less endowed than he is. He is a prince amongst men and kings, yet a servant and beloved of his subjects. He is as mighty and valorous as Visnu, truthful as dharma, generous as Kubera, and steadfast as the Himalayas and his countenance is as serene as the moon. None can equal him in observance of filial duty or respect for elders. Love emanates and radiates from his person and his profundity is comparable to the ocean. His patience is as immense as that of mother earth, yet his wrath, if incurred, is cataclysmic. Indeed, there is none to rival him. He is Rama, the paragon of all virtues, the delight and pride of Kausalya, his mother. No less did his father, Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya, rejoice in the perfection of his first-born and rightly chose him to be his successor. But even as the preparations for the consecration of Rama as crown prince were underway, his stepmother, Kaikeyi, remembered the two boons that were granted to her, but long forgotten by king Dasaratha. She demanded that, in fulfillment of the first boon, Rama to be exiled for fourteen years, and in fulfilment of the second boon, her own son Bharata, be declared heir apparent instead of Rama. Caught in the snare of his plighted word, Dasaratha could not but bow to Kaikeyi's wishes and exiled Rama the delight of his life, for fourteen years.

To please his stepmother and to uphold his father's word, the dutiful son submitted without rancor to his father's wishes and agreed to spend fourteen years in exile. Rama's devoted brother Lakshmana, decided to accompany him into exile. Rama's graceful consort Sita, the daughter of worthy Janaka, a woman virtuous beyond compare, peerless as Deva Maya herself, also followed her lord into exile like Rohini trailing the moon. As the noble couple together with Lakshmana set out, the people of Ayodhya crowded around them and walked along the chariot that carried them. King Dasaratha, unable to part from his son, also accompanied the entourage far on its way.

At Sringiberapura, on the banks of the river Ganga, Rama asked his charioteer to return to Ayodhya: He spent the first night of exile with Guha, the king of Nishada, with whose help the illustrious travelers then crossed the mighty Ganga on the morrow. They then traversed kingdoms, passed through many forests and crossed many fords, streams and mighty rivers and finally, upon the advice of sage Bharadvaja, came to the mountain Chitrakuta and built themselves a hut with loam and leaves. Here in the midst of nature they lived in bliss and happiness akin to that of devas and the gandharvas.Dasaratha unable to bear the pangs of separation from his beloved son died in g rief.

The court priest Vasishta, who then along with the other Brahmins implored Bharata to become the king, recalled Bharata, who all this while was with his maternal uncle, Yudhajit, to Ayodhya. But Bharata had no desire to rule the kingdom and was firm in declining the honour, which he held to be Rama's alone by right. This worthy prince then set out for the Chritrakuta Mountain. When Bharata reached Rama's dwelling, he fell at this brother's feet and asked forgiveness for the unpardonable wrong done unto him and asked him to return to Ayodhya and ascend the throne. But virtuous Rama, bound by his father's word, declined the crown and kingdom. Instead he entreated Bharata to uphold the promise given by their father to his mother. But Bharata remains firm in his resolve, asked for Rama's sandals as surrogate for his sovereignty and returned to Ayodhya to rule in Rama's name. Downcast at not being able to achieve what he had desired to do Bharata nevertheless touched his noble brother's feet and acquiesced to his wishes. Having sworn to enter Ayodhya only with Rama, he placed Rama's sandals upon the throne in Nandigrama, from where he ruled in the name of his righteous and steadfast brother, fervently awaiting his return. Fearing that even now the people from Ayodhya would throng to him in Chitrakuta, Rama resolved to move deep into Dandaka forest, which was infested with rakshasas. The very first act of Rama upon entering the Dandaka forest was the slaying of the Rakshasa, Viradha. He then met the sages Sarabhanga, Sutikshna and Agastya.Immense was Rama's joy at receiving from Agastya the mighty bow of lord Indra, two quivers that could supply an inexhaustible number of arrows and also a beautiful sword.

As Rama settled down amidst the beautiful and bountiful nature of Dandakaranya, the sages and Rishis approached him with a request. They implored Rama to end their persecution at the hands of the rakshasas. He pledged them his word, to rid them of the tormenting presence of these evil forces. Rama and Lakshmana first disfigured the rakshasa woman, Surpanakha, sister of Ravana, who lived at Janasthana and who possessed the power to change her form and shape at will.Incensed at this humiliation meted out to her, Surpanakha persuaded the rakshasas Khara, Dushana and Trishira to march with hordes of their demons against Rama. But Rama annihilated them all and rid Janasthana of the fourteen thousand rakshasas.

Ravana was livid with rage upon hearing about the slaughter of the rakshasas and was bent on avenging their death. He sought the assistance of the rakshasa Maricha who tried his best to dissuade Ravana from pursuing his objective, saying that challenging mighty Rama would augur nothing but ill for him. But Ravana, spurned by his fate and anger, did not heed either Maricha's warning or his counsel. So Maricha, the master of magic spells and illusions, accompanied Ravana to Rama's hermitage with the help of Maricha's art, they lured both the princely brothers far away from their abode. They then slew Jatayu, the king of eagles, and bore Sita away. Rama on learning of his wife's abduction from dying Jatayu was beside himself with grief and lamented aloud. He then cremated Jatayu and embarked on his search for Sita. While searching the forest for Sita, Rama chanced upon the rakshasa Kabandha, who in reality was the son of Kubera and had been cursed to become a rakshasa. Rama slew Kabandha in a fight and then cremated him, so that his soul might go to heaven. Kabandha, before ascending to heaven, advised Rama to visit his devotee, the rare ascetic woman Sabari. Resplendent Rama, the unrelenting destroyer of his foes, was ever submissive to the devotion of his devotees. He visited Sabari's hermitage where he was received by her with full honors and due obeisance.

After leaving Sabari's hermitage, Rama made the acquaintance of a monkey, Hanuman on the banks of the river Pampa who offered to introduce Rama to Sugriva. Upon Hanuman's advice Rama agreed to meet and be friend Sugriva, the king of monkeys. Rama confided in him and Hanuman, his story and about the abduction of his dear wife Sita. In the presence of the god of fire, Sugriva then entered into a pact of friendship with Rama and unburdened to him the tale of his feud with his elder brother Vali, the powerful king of Vanaras. Rama vowed to slay Vali, but Sugriva was not convinced of Rama's prowess to kill Vali and described to Rama the might and strength of Vali. To test Rama's strength, he then pointed to the gigantic heap of skeletal remains of Dundubhi. Rama smiled and, with his big toe, tossed the remains ten yojanas away. He then let fly an arrow that pierced through seven Sala tress, cleaved a hill, penetrated even the nether world, Rasatala, and returned unharmed to its quiver.

Now convinced and confident of Rama's prowess, Sugriva conducted him to the city of Kishkinda, which was in a great cave. Upon reaching the city, Sugriva, the best of monkeys, his yellow coat effulgent as gold, roared his challenge to Vali, the king, until he appeared. In vain did Tara, Vali's wife, try to dissuade her husband from accepting Sugriva's challenge as Vali and Sugriva grappled in combat, Rama let fly his arrow and killed Vali, thus fulfilling the promise he had made to Sugriva.

Rama then crowned Sugriva as the king of Vanaras. Sugriva mobilized the vanaras and sent them in all directions to discover the whereabouts of Janaka's daughter.Hanuman following the counsel of the eagle Sampati turned towards Lanka, the kingdom of Ravana, which was a hundred yojanas across the ocean. In a single leap, he cleared the ocean and landed in Lanka. After looking everywhere for Sita, he finally discovered her, held captive in Ashokavana, the pleasure garden of Ravana, lost in the meditation of Rama. When Sita became aware of Hanuman's presence, he dutifully handed her Rama's ring as a token of recognition and apprised her of all that had happened. After comforting Vaidehi and reviving her hopes, Hanuman left the Ashokavana. While leaving he shattered the outer gate of the garden. In the ensuing battle, Hanuman killed five commanders of Ravana's army, the sons of seven ministers and the brave Akshaya Kumara, son of Ravana, before allowing himself to be captured by the astra given by Brahma to Indrajit, another son of Ravana. Hanuman let himself be bound, subjected himself to the taunts and jeers of the rakshasas and suffered indignities at their hands, all just to realize his objective of seeing Ravana. Besides, he was secure in the knowledge that he could free himself at will by means of a boon given to him by Brahma, his grandfather.

Thus securely trussed, Hanuman was brought before Ravana and his court. Here he shook himself free of his ropes and set fire to the entire city, sparing only the Ashokavana, where Sita was held captive by Ravana and sped forth to tell Rama that he had seen Sita. He then narrated of what had happened to him during his expedition to Lanka.

Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Sugriva set forth to invade Lanka. When they reached the seashore, the ocean would not allow Rama and his followers to cross it. Aroused to anger, Rama released arrow upon arrow, which flew like the burning rays of the Sun from his bow and generated a tempest so fierce that the mighty ocean trembled in fear. Unable to withstand this onslaught, Samudra, the king of the ocean, the master of rivers, appeared before Rama and paid obeisance to this mighty warrior. He then advised Rama to build a bridge across the ocean. Rama acted on Samudra's counsel and had a bridge constructed. It was over this bridge that Rama then marched into Lanka, slew Ravana in the fierce battle that ensued and rescued Sita. He installed Vibhishana, Ravana's brother as king of Lanka.

Though now united with Sita, Rama was unhappy, for he questioned the chastity of "a woman, who had lived for so long in the house of another." Smitten by doubt, he spoke harsh words to Sita. This virtuous and chaste daughter of Janaka leapt into the burning flames of Agni to prove her innocence and came out unscathed. Thus convinced by Agni's testimony of Sita's piety, Rama accepted Sita with immense joy. All animate and inanimate beings in the three worlds, all devas and sages were delighted at the fall of Ravana and adored Rama. Rama, having accomplished what he had set out to do, was relieved and happy.Devas showered him with boons. With these boons, he brought to life all the monkeys that had fallen in the battle and flew back to Nandigrama in the celestial flying chariot, pushpaka, halting a while at the hermitage of Bharadvaja before proceeding on their way. While at the heritage, Rama sent ahead Hanuman as his messenger to Bharata to inform him of his homecoming. Having arrived at Nandigrama, blameless and noble Rama and his brothers cut off their matted locks to signify the end of their life as ascetics. Rama became the king of Ayodhya and ruled with Sita as his consort. Thus Rama regained his wife and his kingdom.

The entire world rejoiced to see Rama on the throne. The contented people followed the path of righteousness and grew from strength to strength. Soon, as adharma abated and dharma flourished the people of Ayodhya could not recall want, sickness or any of the mental or physical afflictions that had previously plagued them. Droughts and floods, famine and deaths, thieving and plundering were unknown during the rule of Rama. Women were chaste, faithful and never widowed. The fields produced an abundance of crop and nowhere, neither in cities nor in villages, was there dearth of any kind felt. Such was the glory of Rama's kingdom.

Narada concluded his narration by saying that Rama performed a hundred ashvamedhas, gifted hundreds of thousands of cows to the Brahmins as prescribed in the scriptures, re-established the royal dynasty a hundred times more and set the four castes to do their respective work. Rama would return to Brahmaloka after ruling for eleven thousand years and establishing the rule of dharma on earth.

The story of Rama is as propitious as the vedas and whosoever reads or listens to it will be cleansed of his sins, lead a long and happy life on earth and be assured of a place in heaven. A Brahmin will gain eloquence, a Kshatriya will be able to rule the earth, a Vaisya will reap great profits in his trade and even a lowly Sudra will attain greatness.