The poem Valmiki composed is styled the Ramayana, or "Romance of Rama" in Sanskrit. The shorter of India's two great epic poems - the other being the Mahabharata, or "Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty" - the Ramayana is, nevertheless, of considerable length. In its present form, the Sanskrit version consists of some 24,000 couplets divided into seven books. It's astonishing, then, to think that people beyond count have memorised the entire work, and that at no time, probably, since Valmiki's initial composition, has the Ramayana not enjoyed passionate recitation somewhere in Asia. Today it remains as vital as ever, though television, film and radio have brought it to a wider audience than Valmiki could ever have conceived. It's the favourite story of half the world - and its appeal continues to grow.
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