Mythology is an integral part of religion. It is as necessary for religion andnational culture as the skin and theskeleton that preserve a fruit with its juiceand its taste. Form is no less essential thansubstance. Mythology and holy figures arenecessary for any great culture to rest onits stable spiritual foundation and functionas a life-giving inspiration and guide.Let us keep ever in our minds the factthat it is the Ramayana and theMahabharata that bind our vast numberstogether as one people, despite caste,space and language that seemingly dividethem.
1. THE CONCEPTION
To the north of the Ganga was the greatkingdom Kosala, made fertile by the riverSarayu. Its capital was Ayodhya, built byManu, the famous ruler of the Solardynasty. From Valmiki's description of the capital Kosala, it is clear that ancientAyodhya was not inferior to our moderncities. Even in ancient India citycivilisation had reached a high level.King Dasaratha ruled the kingdomfrom the capital city of Ayodhya. He hadfought on the side of the Devas, and hisfame spread in the three worlds. He wasthe equal of Indra and Kubera. The peopleof Kosala were happy, contented andvirtuous. The land was protected by amighty army, and no enemy could comeanywhere nearIt contained forts with moats aroundthem as well as many defensiveintallations, and true to its name, Ayodhyadefied all enemies. (Ayodhya means thatwhich cannot be subdued by war).Dasaratha had eight wise ministers, everready to advise him and execute hisorders. Great sages like Vasishtha andVamadeva and other Brahmanas taughtthe dharma and performed rituals andsacrifices.Taxes were light and punishment of crime was just and inflicted according tothe capacity of the wrong-doer.Surrounded by the best counsellors andstatesmen, the king's splendor shone as therising sun. Many years rolled smoothlyby. In the midst of all this prosperityDasaratha had one regret; he had no son.One day in early summer he thought of performing a horse sacrifice for progeny.He consulted his religious masters and ontheir advice, got sage Rishyasringa toperform the Yaga. The Yaga was a grandaffair and the invitees included many of the kings of the day. It was no easy thingto perform yagas. The location anderection of the sacrificial platform had tobe attended to in detail strictly accordingto prescribed rules. There were expertswhose guidance was sought in arrangingthings.It meant the building of a new camp-city, capable of accommodating tens of thousands and providing hospitality andentertainment for the invitees whoincluded the princes and sages of the land.In short, yagas in those days weresomething like our present-day State-sponsored big scale conferences andexhibitions.When all arrangements were completethe ceremonies were set in motion strictlyas enjoined by the Shastras.Contemporaneously with the yaga inAyodhya, there was a conference of theDevas in heaven. The Devas complainedto Lord Brahma that Ravana, king of thedemons, drunk with the power acquiredby the boon granted to him by Brahma,was causing them untold misery andhardship. They represented to Brahma: "Itis beyond our capacity to subdue, conqueror kill Ravana. In the security of yourboon, he has grown wicked and insolentand ill-treats all, even women. His desireis to dethrone Indra. You are our only