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Rama


Rama is the main hero of the major Hindu epic Ramayana. The initial core of the epic portrays Rama as a courageous prince following the example of his ancestor Raghu (hence his epithet Raghava). However, in the entire epic and the Puranas Rama is the avatar of Vishnu.

In the highly complex epic Rama is challenged by a series of tests that involve battles with kings and demons. His wife, Sita, is kidnapped by a demon king and carried off in an air chariot to Ceylon. Rama's chastity and faithfulness are tested; battles ensue; there is a happy ending, with Rama restored to the throne of Ayodha, and eventually, after more trials, he and Sita are united not on earth but in celestial abodes. With the arrival of the end of the story Rama and Sita are not only avatars of Vishnu but also exemplars of all the mundane and special qualities, especially model spouses, with which the cosmos is endowed.

Rama is the seventh avatar of Vishnu in his solar aspect; in this sense Rama is important in Hindu astrology. To avoid confusion with the sixth avatar, also Rama (or Rama-with-the-ax, Parasu-Rama), he is known as the Charming, Rama-candra, the Embodiment of Righteousness. His cult, actually a full-fledged religion, developed in comparatively late times and in various places is the dominant form of Hinduism. His chief associate, the monkey-faced demigod Hanuman, is one of the main divinities in northern India. A.G.H.


Sources:

Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions: A Short Encyclopedia of Religions of the Orient, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1978, pp. 293, 295-297
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 795