(The seventh book is not included in all versions of the Ramayana; it is believed to be a later addition to the text. It is circulated primarily in the north of India.)
Agastya, the great sage, comes to visit the court of Rama and bless the king. He marvels at how Rama was able to defeat Ravana and his evil court, and proceeds to tell him more about the rakshasa king.
After an ancient battle between rakshasas and gods on Lanka, Ravana's father Vaisravana wandered lost through the worlds. The young woman Kaikasi approaches him at an unlucky time while he is meditating, and he curses her, saying that she will have awful demons for sons. However, he relents and says that her third son will be a man of dharma. She gives birth to a child she names Dasagriva, a dreadful infant with a mouth full of fangs. Then Kumbhakarna is born, an enormous baby. After him comes Surpanakha, a hideous daughter. The youngest is a serene and handsome infant named Vibheeshana.
Dasagriva slaughtered animals in the forest and raped women, but he also studied the Vedas (holy texts of Hinduism). He undertook a great tapasya (penance) in which he went without food for ten thousand years, and cut off one of his ten heads every thousand years. Amazed at his discipline, the gods come down and bless him with great strength and protection from death at the hands of any god, demigod, or demon. Dasagriva decides that he will take back Lanka for the rakshasas. He is victorious in this endeavor, striking so much fear into the hearts of the gods that Siva decides to rename him Ravana.
Shortly after this victory, Rama comes upon Vedavati meditating in the woods. She is a powerful holy woman who was determined to marry no man other than Vishnu. Ravana rapes her and she kills herself, vowing revenge. Sita is a reincarnation of Vedavati, and fulfills Vedavati's curse; she is the woman who brings Ravana his death.
In another story told by Agastya, Ravana faces Death himself in battle and emerges victorious.
Agastya also tells tales of the vanaras that Rama has known. Once, Ravana and Vali met in battle; Vali moved so swiftly that even the great Ravana was unable to hurt him, and the two declared a truce. Agastya reminds Rama that he has vanquished both of these once-invincible warriors. Another time, the infant Hanuman thought that the sun was a ripe red fruit. Using the powers of his wind god father Vayu, he vaulted up in the air and nearly grasped the sun, but Indra knocked him down to earth, breaking his jaw. Hanuman's divine father Vayu is infuriated at this injury to his son, so the gods come around and bless Hanuman: Varuna the ocean god promises that he will never die in water, Indra promises that Hanuman will be invincible to all weapons except thunderbolts, and so on. Rama invites the vanaras to a great feast; they rejoice for many days. Shortly afterwards, Sita tells him she is pregnant.
Unfortunately, Rama receives dark news from one of his advisors: the people of his kingdom think Sita is an impure woman after staying so long in Ravana's palace, and they mock Rama for taking back a tainted woman. Rama's people are afraid that their own wives will start being unfaithful to them.
Rama weeps and convenes with his closest advisors. They all saw Sita pass through fire on Lanka, and they know her purity. However, the stability of his kingdom is at stake here. Rama reaches a terrible decision: he will exile Sita, despite her pregnancy. She will live with the rishis on the banks of the Ganga.
With much weeping, Lakshmana leaves her at the asrama on the Ganga. The sage Valmiki finds her and takes her under his wing. Sita lives there, well cared-for but deeply lonely, and gives birth to Rama's twin sons, Lava and Kusa. Rama continues to rule his kingdom with justice and strength.
Many years later, Rama holds a horse sacrifice, inviting people from all lands to attend. Two young singers come to Rama's court and recite a very familiar story: the life of Rama himself, the Ramayana! The sage Valmiki has taught the poem to Rama's sons Lava and Kusa. Stunned, Rama orders his servant to find Sita; if she is pure and will swear by oath that these are his sons, he will accept her back into his life.
Sita arrives, a gaunt but beautiful figure. Valmiki steps up outraged, proclaiming to Rama that it is obvious that these are his sons, and that Sita is the very model of purity. Rama replies that he banished her out of fear of what people were saying about her, because his first duty as a king is toward his people. He claims Lava and Kusa as his sons, and begs Sita to forgive him for this cruel treatment.
Sita speaks. She says she has always loved Rama, and has always been loyal to him. She calls upon her mother Bhumi Devi, the earth, to receive her now, because she does not wish to live anymore. The earth opens and the shining goddess appears on her throne. She draws Sita to her gently, and then vanishes back into the ground.
Rama weeps furiously. He fashions a golden image of Sita, and rules for many more years with it by his throne. He completes thousands of sacrifices to expiate what he sees as an unforgivable sin (banishing his loyal wife), and he never remarries. At the end of his life, after he has accomplished everything he was born for, Rama prepares to leave the world. Surgiva and other loyal companions join him, and together they walk to the river Surayu. Rama wades into the river, and is drawn up into the light of the gods. Sita is waiting there for him.
The seventh book of the Ramayana was likely composed at a later date, synthesizing myths that developed after the initial text was completed. This book is circulated primarily in the north, and offers a different ending to the story of Rama and Sita as well as more background for many secondary characters.
The first part of the book demonstrates how wicked Ravana is. He raped the pure and righteous Vedavati and took pleasure in watching her kill herself, never knowing that her curse would destroy him. It is clear that his very existence is the result of impurity: he was conceived at an inauspicious time. Moreover, the text suggests that there was an ancient, primeval battle between rakshasas and gods long before Ravana or any of the characters of the Ramayana were born. This probably stems from the cyclical idea of time in Hinduism: all things that have happened before will happen again.
The most significant part of the book, however, is the alternate ending of the romance of Rama and Sita. For the modern reader, it is difficult to like the Rama that appears in this book. Despite Sita's steadfast devotion during his exile in the forest and her imprisonment by Ravana, and despite the fact that the god of fire himself found her to be blameless, Rama banishes his wife because people in his kingdom are gossiping about the possibility that she had an extramarital affair.
We can read this situation in a few different ways. One possibility is that Rama is reaping bad karma for his cold-blooded killing of Vali and his role in the thousands of deaths during the battle of Lanka. Another interpretation (one fitting with the historical context) is that Rama's banishment of Sita is another instance of model kingship; Rama does not allow himself to be ruled by his passion for a woman, but instead heeds the voice of his people. Reading the narrative from a female perspective, Sita's cruel treatment may be a commentary on the lives of women: even a lady as pure and perfect as Sita can be the victim of malicious gossip.
It is significant that Sita does not accept her husband's explanation and apology, but instead returns to her mother Bhumi Devi, the earth. In this way, Sita's story follows the narrative of "nature wives" (females that are part woman and part natural creature; examples include the kitsune of Japan, the selkies of Ireland, and many more); they come from the wild and are devoted to their husbands, only to be betrayed by them and to return forever to their native lands.