As in many oral epics, multiple versions of the Ramayana survive. In particular, the Ramayana related in north India differs in important respects from that preserved in south India and the rest of south-east Asia. There is an extensive tradition of oral storytelling based on the Ramayana in Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, and Maldives. Father Kamil Bulke, author of Ramakatha, has identified over 300 variants of Ramayana.
The 7th century CE "bhatti's poem" Bhaṭṭikāvya of Bhaṭṭi is a Sanskrit retelling of the epic that simultaneously illustrates the grammatical examples for Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī as well as the major figures of speech and the Prakrit language.
There are diverse regional versions of the Ramayana written by various authors in India. Some of them differ significantly from each other. During the 12th century, Kamban wrote Ramavataram, known popularly as Kambaramayanam in Tamil. A Telugu version, Ranganatha Ramayanam, was written by Gona Budda Reddy in the 14th century. The earliest translation to a regional Indo-Aryan language is the early-14th century Saptakanda Ramayana in Assamese by Madhava Kandali. Valmiki's Ramayana inspired the Sri Ramacharit Manas by Tulsidas in 1576, an epic Awadhi (a dialect of Hindi) version with a slant more grounded in a different realm of Hindu literature, that of bhakti; it is an acknowledged masterpiece of India, popularly known as Tulsi-krta Ramayana. Gujarati poet Premanand wrote a version of Ramayana in the 17th century. Other versions include Krittivasi Ramayan, a Bengali version by Krittivas in the 14th century; in Oriya by Balarama das in the 16th century; a Torave Ramayana in Kannada by the 16th-century poet Narahari; Adhyathma Ramayanam Kilippattu, a Malayalam version by Tunccattu Ezhuttaccan in the 16th century; in Marathi by Sridhara in the 18th century; in Maithili by Chanda Jha in the 19th century; and in the 20th century, rashtrakavi Kuvempu's Sri Ramayana Darshanam in Kannada.
There is a sub-plot to Ramayana, prevalent in some parts of India, relating the adventures of Ahi Ravana and Mahi Ravana, the evil brother of Ravana, which enhances the role of Hanuman in the story. Hanuman rescues Rama and Lakshmana after they are kidnapped by the Ahi-Mahi Ravana at the behest of Ravana and held prisoner in a subterranean cave, to be sacrificed to the goddess Kali.
Mappillapattu—a genre of song popular among the Muslims belonging to Kerala and Lakshadweep—has incorporated some episodes from the Ramayana into its songs. These songs, known as mappila ramayana, have been handed down from one generation to the next orally. In mappila ramayana, the story of the Ramayana has been changed into that of a sultan, and there are no major changes in the names of characters except for that of Rama which is `laman' in many places. The language and the imagery projected in the mappilapattu are in accordance with the social fabric of the earlier Muslim community.
In the Buddhist variant of Ramayana, Dasaratha was the king of Benares and not Ayodhya. According to Romila Thapar: "Rama and Lakshmana were the siblings born to the first wife of Dasaratha. To protect his children from his second wife, the king sent the three in exile to the Himalayas. Twelve years later, the trio came back to the kingdom with Rama and Sita ruling as consorts. The abduction of Sita did not find a place in this version."
In Guru Granth Sahib, there is description of two types of Ramayana. One is spiritual Ramayana which is actual subject of Guru Granth Sahib, in which Ravan is ego, Seeta is budhi (intellect), Rama is inner soul and Laxman is mann (attention, mind). Guru Granth Sahib also believes in existence of dasavtara who were kings of their times which tried their best to bring revolution in the world. King Ramchandra was one of those and it is not covered in Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Granth Sahib states:
- ਹੁਕਮਿ ਉਪਾਏ ਦਸ ਅਉਤਾਰਾ॥
- हुकमि उपाए दस अउतारा॥
- By hukam (supreme command), he created his ten incarnations,
This version of Ramayana was written by Guru Gobind Singh, which is part of Dasam Granth. In dasam granth, Guru Gobind Singh also explained that he does not believe Ramchandra as a God. He is equating Ramchandra with a common man by calling him insect, though he calls himself insect, too.
He also said that the almighty, invisible, all prevailing God created millions of Ramas, Shivas, Vishnus, Prophets and Brahmas. But they too were caught in the noose of death (KAAL)(Transmigration of soul).
Jain version of Ramayana can be found in the various Jain agamas like Padmapurana (story of Padmaja & Rama, Padmaja being the name of Sita), Hemacandra's Trisastisalakapurusa charitra (hagiography of 63 illustrious person's), Sanghadasa's Vasudevahindi and Uttarapurana by Gunabhadara. According to Jain cosmology,every half time cycle has nine set's of Balarama, Vasudeva and prativasudeva. Rama, Lakshmana and Ravana are the eighth baladeva, vasudeva, and prativasudeva respectively. Padmanabh Jaini notes that, unlike in the Hindu puranas, the names Baladeva and Vasudeva are not restricted to Balarama and Krishna in jain puranas. Instead they serve as names of two distinct class of mighty brothers, who appear nine times in each half time cycle and jointly rule the half the earth as half-chakravartins. Jaini traces the origin of this list of brothers to the jinacharitra (lives of the jinas) by Acharya Bhadrabahu (3–4th century BCE).
In the Jain epic of Ramayana, it is Lakshmana who ultimately kills Ravana and not Rama as told in the Hindu version. In the end, Rama who led an upright life renounces his kingdom, becomes a Jain monk and attains moksha. On the other hand, Lakshmana and Ravana go to hell. However, it is predicted that ultimately they both will be reborn as upright persons and attain liberation in their future births. According to Jain texts, Ravana will be the future Tirthankara (omniscient teacher) of Jainism.
The Jain versions have some variations from Valmiki's Ramayana. Dasharatha, the king of Saketa had four queens: Aparajita, Sumitra, Suprabha and Kaikeyi. These four queens had four sons. Aparajita's son was Padma, and he became known by the name of Rama. Sumitra's son was Narayana: he became to be known by another name, Lakshmana. Kaikeyi's son was Bharata and Suprabha's son was Shatrughna. Furthermore,not much was thought of Rama's fidelity to Sita. According to Jain version, Rama had four chief-queen's: Maithili, Prabhavati, Ratinibha, and Sridama.Furthermore, Sita takes renunciation as a Jain ascetic after Rama abandons her and is reborn in heaven. Rama, after Lakshmana's death, also renounces his kingdom and becomes a jain monk. Ultimately, he attains Kevala Jnana omniscience and finally liberation. Rama predicts that Ravana and Lakshmana, who were in fourth hell, will attain liberation in their future births. Accordingly, Ravana is the future tirthankara of next half ascending time cycle and Sita will be his Ganadhara.
Besides being the site of discovery of the oldest surviving manuscript of Ramayana, Nepal gave rise to two regional variants in mid 19th – early 20th century. One, written by Bhanubhakta Acharya, is considered the first epic of Nepali language, while the other, written by Siddhidas Mahaju in Nepal Bhasa was a foundational influence in the renaissance of that language.
The Ramayana written by Bhanubhakta Acharya is one of the most popular verses in Nepal. The popularization of the 'Ramayana' and its tale, originally written in Sanskrit Language was greatly enhanced by the work of Bhanubhakta. Mainly because of his writing of Nepali Ramayana, Bhanubhakta is also called 'Aadi Kavi' or 'The Pioneering Poet'.
Southeast Asian versions
Phra Lak Phra Lam is a Lao language version, whose title comes from Lakshmana and Rama. The story of Lakshmana and Rama is told as the previous life of the Buddha. In Hikayat Seri Rama of Malaysia, Dasharatha is the great-grandson of the Prophet Adam. Ravana receives boons from Allah instead of Brahma. In many Malay language versions, Lakshmana is given greater importance than Rama, whose character is considered somewhat weak.
The Cambodian version of Ramayana, the Reamker, is the most famous story of Khmer literature since the Funan era. It adapts the Hindu concepts to Buddhist themes and show's the balance of good and evil in the world. The Reamker has several differences from the original Ramayana, including scenes not included in the original and emphasis on Hanuman and Sovanna Maccha, a retelling which influences the Thai and Lao versions. Reamker in Cambodia is not confined to the realm of literature but extends to all Cambodian art forms, such as sculpture, Khmer classical dance, theater known as lakhorn luang (the foundation of the royal ballet), poetry and the mural and bas reliefs seen at the Silver Pagoda and Angkor Wat.
Thailand's popular national epic Ramakien (thai:รามเกียรติ์.,from Sanskrit rāmakīrti,"glory of Rama") is derived from the Hindu epic. In Ramakien, Sita is the daughter of Ravana and Mandodari (thotsakan and montho). Vibhisana (phiphek), the astrologer brother of Ravana, predicts calamity from the horoscope of Sita. Ravana has her thrown into the water, but is later rescued by Janaka (chanok). While the main story is identical to that of the Ramayana, many other aspects were transposed into a Thai context, such as the clothes, weapons, topography, and elements of nature, which are described as being Thai in style. It has an expanded role for Hanuman and he is portrayed as a lascivious character. Ramakien can be seen in an elaborate illustration at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
Other southeast Asian adaptations include Ramakavaca of Bali (Indonesia), Maharadia Lawana and Darangen of Mindanao (Philippines), and the Yama Zatdaw of Myanmar.