The Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic, composed some time in the 5th century BCE, about the exile and then return of Lord Rama, prince of Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh, India). It was composed in Sanskrit by the sage Valmiki, who taught it to Rama’s sons, the twins Lava and Kush. At about 24000 verses, it is a rather long poem and, by tradition, is known as the Adi Kavya (adi = original, first; kavya = poem). While the basic story is about palace politics and battles with demon tribes, the narrative is interspersed with philosophy, ethics, and notes on duty. While in that other Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the characters are presented with all their human follies and failings, the Ramayana leans more towards an ideal state of things: Rama is the ideal son and king, Sita the ideal wife, Hanuman the ideal devotee, Lakshman and Bharat the ideal brothers, and even Ravana, the demon villain, is not entirely despicable.
The Ramayana was composed in Sanskrit. Over the years of re-tellings, several vernacular versions emerged that embellished the story, added regional touches, and inserted explanations and justifications for those bits that showed the hero, Rama, in a not-too-heroic light. The Ramavataram, composed by the Tamil poet Kamban in the 12th century CE, is popular in the southern parts of India. In the north, the Ramacharit Manas, composed by the Awadhi poet Tulsidas, is extremely popular. Other variations exist in Bengali, Malayalam, Telegu, Kannada, and other Indian languages.