The three companions - Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana - leave Chitrakuta, haunted by the memory of the visitors from Ayodhya. On their journeys, they visit a number of holy men and women (such as the yogini Anasuya and the magnificent rishi Sharabhanga) and slay many wicked rakshasas (such as the terrible Viradha, who was an elf-like being cursed to live as a rakshasa). For ten years the companions move through the forest, visiting asramas. They are welcomed by rishis and establish a happy life for themselves even in the darkest jungle.
When only three years are left of his exile, a rishi named Sutheekshna tells Rama that he must seek out the great sage Agastya and obtain his blessing. Agastya is renowned as a slayer of rakshasas; he managed to defeat two powerful ones that made a habit of eating rishis.
Agastya offers the two princely brothers a number of magical, supernatural weapons, including the powerful bow of Vishnu and armor that cannot be pierced by any weapon. He tells the brothers that they must go to the south to eliminate the rakshasa menace, and sends them to a place called Panchavati. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana follow his orders, heading to this lovely place. They meet Jatayu on the way, a magnificent eagle that can speak in the voice of a human being. He was loyal to Dasaratha, and pledges his service to Rama as well.
Panchavati is a lovely place, but it is only a short while before the travelers are harassed by the rakshasi Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana. She attempts to seduce first Rama, then Lakshmana, and attempts to kill Sita when they rebuff her advances. The princely brothers defeat her easily, chopping off her nose and ears. She flees back to her cousins Khara and Dushana, rakshasa lords who preside over vast armies, and persuades them to go to war over the terrible insult she has received.
Seeing the advancing rakshasa army, Rama sends Lakshmana away with Sita, and faces the army of fourteen thousand rakshasas alone. He defeats them using his magical weapons.
But one of the rakshasas, named Akampana, escapes and brings the news to the court of Ravana on Lanka. Ravana is a terrifying rakshasa with ten heads, and he is thousands of years old. He is a great scholar, irresistible to women, and an undefeated warrior who has been blessed by the gods Brahma and Siva. He is shocked and infuriated by the news that Akampana brings, of a single man who defeated fourteen thousand rakshasas, including his cousin Khara. Akampana suggests that Rama's greatest weakness is his wife Sita; if she were abducted, he would die of a broken heart.
Ravana consults with his uncle Maricha about how best to defeat Rama. Rama defeated Maricha when Rama was only a youth; one of Rama's magical weapons plunged Maricha thousands of miles into the sea. Maricha tells Ravana that Rama will be his doom, but Ravana is determined to seek revenge against the prince.
Ravana's wrath is increased by the appearance of his sister Surpanakha, who had been mutilated by Rama and Lakshmana for attacking Sita. She tells Ravana about the incomparable beauty of Sita, kindling his lust as well as his fury. He cajoles and threatens Maricha until the other raskhasa agrees to assist him, and hatches a wicked plan.
Ravana and Maricha travel to Panchavati, and Maricha transforms himself into a beautiful golden stag. Sita, who loves animals, is utterly enchanted by him as soon as she seems him, and she asks Rama to capture the deer for her. Rama chases after the deer, who leads him deep into the forest. Slowly, Rama realizes that this is no true creature of the forest, but a rakshasa. He shoots the stag with an arrow, and Maricha takes on his rakshasa appearance once again. Before he dies, Maricha calls out for Lakshmana and Sita in a perfect imitation of Rama's voice.
Hearing this terrible cry, Lakshmana plunges into the forest to help his brother, leaving Sita alone in the hut. Ravana takes on the form of a wandering ascetic and approaches her. As soon as he sees Sita, he falls madly in love with her. When he has gained her trust and been invited into the hut, he reveals his true self and demands that she be his queen. Sita refuses, saying that she loves Rama far too much to ever leave him. Ravana grabs Sita and takes her away in his sky chariot, ignoring her screams of protest.
Jatayu the golden eagle sees the princess being captured, and attacks Ravana to try to save her. He injures the rakshasa, but Ravana cuts off his wings and leaves him for dead. Sita takes advantage of this momentary confusion to take off her jewelry and drop it to the earth, leaving a trail for Rama to follow.
Ravana brings Sita far away to his kingdom in Lanka. He demands that she submits to him and become his queen, but she refuses once again. He tells her that she has a one year to consider his love, after which he will kill her and eat her alive. Sita weeps in terror, but refuses to give in.
In Panchavati, Rama and Lakshmana realize that they have been deceived. When they find the hut empty, they realize that Sita has been kidnapped, and they follow the trail south. They find the dying Jatayu, who tells them that Ravana has kidnapped Sita. The two brothers perform funeral rites for Jatayu, and then continue their search for Ravana and Sita.
On the way, the brothers meet a terrible demon named Kabandha, who has the form of a body with no legs or head, only arms and a gaping mouth. After they dispatch him, he explains that Indra transformed him into this ugly shape; formerly, he was a celestial archer. Thankful to be liberated from this terrible punishment, he tells the brothers that they will find victory against Ravana if they seek Sugriva, the prince of vanaras (a magical race of monkeys) who lives in Rishyalooka.
On their way to the monkey king, the brothers meet the female mystic Shabari, who has refused to die until she meets the holy Rama. She offers them her blessings and departs for heaven. Rama weeps for Sita, but Lakshmana consoles him and urges him forward in their quest.
This section of the poem develops the theme of the complex nature of good and evil; these values are opposite, but they are not innate. A number of rakshasas are not really rakshasas at all, but are instead sacred divine beings that are cursed to live in rakshasa form. For example, Viradha is actually a gandharva, an elf-like being, who was cursed by the god Kubera to live as a rakshasa. After Rama slays him, Viradha appears in his gandharva form to explain what has happened and to thank the prince for freeing him from this terrible state. For at least some of these rakshasas, evil is not something innate but rather the result of a curse or error. Becoming a rakshasa is as awful a state as being attacked by a rakshasa. When Rama slays these cursed beings, he returns them to their original state and allows them to move on to a new existence. The fact that some rakshasas are thankful to be killed is informed by the cultural understanding of death and rebirth in Hinduism. In this religion, one's death is not the end of one's story; it's merely an interlude before one is reincarnated into a different form.
One of the qualities that differentiate virtuous humans and un-virtuous rakshasas is control over one's sexual impulses. The rakshasas are full of lust and have no respect for the bounds of marriage; Surpanakha shamelessly tries to seduce Rama in front of his wife Sita, and Ravana steals Sita away from her husband despite her cries of protest. On the other hand, the most admirable people in the Ramayana have great control over their sexual desires: Rama could have any woman he wants, but he is content with his wife Sita. Lakshmana has left his wife behind when he was exiled from Ayodhya, but he never expresses any sort of lust or jealousy.
Rama's martial prowess has grown greatly. He slayed Rakshasas as a young man, but now he is able to stand against an entire rakshasa army and defeat them. His supernatural weapons assist him greatly in this endeavor, but above all it is his true identity as the god Vishnu that enables him to rid the world of this evil. This battle is not mere physical violence; it is also a metaphor for the destruction of evil by the good.
This book of the poem introduces us to Ravana, the primary antagonist. He is immensely powerful, and even the gods send him tribute. He is perhaps the only being living who can defeat Rama. He kindles Rama's fury by kidnapping Sita through deception and trickery.
Again Sita showcases the virtues that make her such an exemplar in South Asian culture. Despite his terrifying appearance, Ravana is irresistible to women; he knows how to be gentle enough with them to gain their trust, and his harem is full of women. Additionally, any woman who becomes his wife has access to immense riches and power. Yet despite Ravana's charm and the wealth that would come with submitting to him, Sita will not betray her beloved but penniless husband.