It was many years after the great battle between Rama and Ravana. Ayodhya was prosperous and thriving under Rama and one day as he sat on his throne, probably contemplating his life and the world around him, one of the rings on his finger slipped loose, fell onto the ground and created a hole into which it disappeared. Surprised Rama summoned his closest aide Hanuman who, given his powers to contract or expand to any size, slipped down the hole to get the ring back. In the meantime, Brahma and Vashistha came to see Rama and they asked to speak to him alone. Also, they said, none should walk into the room while they were there and that a trusted guard should be placed at the door. And if he let anyone in, he would be beheaded. In the absence of Hanuman, the only other person Rama could trust was Lakshmana. And so he summoned his brother and made him stand at the door.
Lakshmana did his bidding but little did he realise that the task was not as simple as he had thought it would be. Nothing really is, he should have known that. Anyway, as he waited at the door, Vishwamitra walked up to him. He had to meet Rama, and immediately. When Lakshmana tried to stall him, Vishwamitra threatened to burn down the entire town of Ayodhya. Despite his best efforts Lakshmana was not able to pacify the angry and hot-headed sage and so he decided, that it was better he lost his head than an entire kingdom perish. Lakshmana walked in to the room and by that time the conversation in the room was over. Brahma and Vashistha were ready to leave having told Rama that his time on earth was over. He should now give up his body and rejoin the gods. Lakshmana showed Vishwamitra in and then asked Rama to cut off his head since he had failed to keep his word. But, Rama protested, that would be an extreme and unwarranted step, he said. Still Lakshmana insisted pointing out that the people would find fault with him for letting his brother off when another man may not have been shown the same mercy. Rama who had exiled his wife because one of his people had raised doubts about her chastity since she had spent so much time in Ravana’s palace saw the logic in his argument and did as told. Now the fact was that Lakshmana who was an avatara of Shesha, the serpent on which Vishnu sleeps, had run out of time in this world. He too had to join the gods and thus, at Rama’s hands, he was delivered to the heavens.
In the midst of all this, Hanuman after a long ride down the hole had found himself in front of a plate full of rings. When he asked what this was meant for, the king of spirits told him that these were the many rings of the many Ramas. Thus there is not just one Rama but many Ramas and not only one Ramayana but many Ramayanas.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal
Source: The Collected Essays of AK Ramanujan
Location: Pan India