RAMAYANA is the story of RAMA(the ideal of virtuousness). The story of Rama is full of stories of how an ideal man is supposed to behave, how an ideal king is supposed to perform etc. The life story of Rama, which is written in the epic Ramayana is briefly presented below:
Once upon a time in the king called Dasaratha, who used to rule the province of Ayodhya. Being issueless, he decided to peform a huge sacrifice for begetting a son. As a result of this, he was given a fruit to be given to his wives to bear a son. King Dasaratha divided it equally between Kausalya, the eldest wife, and Kaikeyi, his favourite queen. But both Kausalya and Kaikeyi were fond of the queen Sumitra. So they each gave halg of their portions to Sumitra and in turn the queens gave birth to four princes, Kausalya to the eldest Rama, Kaikeyi to the second Bharat, and Sumitra having gotten two shares, to younger Laxman and Shatrugna. All four princes grew up in the tutelage of sages and turned out into fine warriors. Laxman was very attached to Rama since childhood.
During their travels with sage Vishwamitra, once they came to Mithila, where king Janaka had pronounced a swayamvar(groom hunt ceremony) for his daughter Sita. Sita was Laxmi incarnate into this world, and was destined to marry Rama. The condition at the swayamvar, was that whoever could lift the heavy bow, which was presented to him by Shiva, could win the hand of Sita in marriage. One by one, the kings who came for the swayamvar failed in their attempts. When Rama went and lifted the bow, it lifted easily. Hence Rama was wed to Sita in Mithila and they returned to Ayodhya a happy family.
But happiness was not to last long. From an early incident in life of King Dasaratha, he had once been given the gift of life by his favourte queen Kaikeyi, who saved his life from a tiger. Then he had granted her two boons to be granted to her. But at that time Kaikeyi took a rain check on the boons and was reminded now by her evil servant maid Manthara, who incited her to use the boons to get her son Bharat the throne instead of Lord Rama. Her mind poisoned by evil Manthara, asked King Dasrath of two boons - (1). Bharat to be made the king and (2). Rama to be banished to the forest for fourteen years. Dasratha died shortly after Rama left for the forest.
Rama, heeding on the words of his Dad, left for the forest soon after that with his wife Sita and his favourite brother Laxman accompanied him too to the forest. Bharat, who was away at a relatives house, came to learn of this and went to the forest and requested his brother Rama to come back. But Rama refused to go back on the promise of his Dad. Then Bharat took the slippers of Rama and placed them on the throne and ruled virtually at Ayodhya till Lord Rama's return from the banishment.
There are lots of exciting tales durng the fourteen years of banishment of Rama. They went through different forests, different ashrams(hermitages) of various rishis, and lived on the fruits from the forest. During these years they fought a lot of wars with asuras (demons) to save the sages, and help the sages in carrying on their prayer which was being constantly disturbed by the asuras. The high point of their Vanvaas(banishment) was the long war fought with the king of the asuras, Ravana.
Ravana's sister, Surpanakha was enamored by Rama's beauty when she saw him once passing by the forest of panchavati,near Nasik, and wanted to marry Rama. Rama refused her and asked her to go to Laxman. Laxman too refused and this angered her. She thought of Sita as the main reason behind this and tried to harm Sita upon which Laxman cut off her nose and ears.
Angered, she went back and came again with her brother Khara to fight Rama. But Rama and Laxmana defeated and killed Khara too. she then fled and took refuge of Ravana, the mighty king of asuras, who was given the boon of immunity by Lord Shiva, from the gods,asuras and all creatures except human beings whom he thought to be too menial. Hence Lord Vishnu had to incarnate as a human to kill Ravana. Ravana had his desire for Sita for a long time. And in the rage of the moment, decided upon a plan to abduct Sita.
With the help of his uncle Maricha, who was a magician he set out. Maricha disguised himself as a beautiful deer and wandered near the whereabouts of Rama and Sita and laxman. On seeing the beautiful deer, Sita was attracted to the deer and asked Rama to go after it. Rama then left Laxman in gaurd of Sita, and then went after Maricha in the form of the deer. After a while, Laxman and Sita heard the cries of Rama for help. It was a ruse by Maricha to distract Laxman and Sita. Sita was worried and requested Laxman to go and see what the matter was. But at the same time Laxman did not want to leave Sita alone. On much insistence by Sita, he then made a line and asked her not to cross the line, popularly called as "Laxman Rekha", in modern days to represent limits of decent behavior and moral conduct. He advised that she should not cross the Laxman Rekha or else she could be in danger.
Soon after he left, Ravana who was waiting for this opportunity, came disguised as a beggar and asked for a donation from Sita. Sita went inside to get some grains to donate to the beggar. As she stepped outside she told the beggar to come and get it as she could not cross the Laxman Rekha. The beggar acted as if offended and Sita, thus crossed the line to give him alms, and Ravana, against her wishes dragged her into a chariot and took her to his home town of Lanka against her wishes. As she was going along the way she dropped her jewels so that Rama could trace her route.
Rama and Laxmana, on returning were very depressed on not finding Sita when they returned. They went miles and miles in search of Sita. They came ultimately to the kingdom of Kishkindha. This was then ruled by the monkey king Bali, who had banished his brother Sugreeva. Rama and Laxmana reached the hill where the banished Sugreeva and his friend Hanuman were living. Hanuman at once fell at the feet of Lord Rama and showed him the jewels which Sita had thrown at them when on the way to Lanka. Rama helped Sugreeva overthrow his brother Bali out of Kishkindha and become the king. In return, Rama got the entire army of monkeys of Sugreevas including Hanuman to help him out in the search for Sita.
Hanuman, while searching wide and afar, happened to cross over to Lanka across the sea and recognised Sita there. He then passed on the message of having found Sita to Rama. Rama then declared war on Ravana to get Sita back. Vibhishana, who was the brother of Rama, came over to Rama's side and became Rama'a devotee. The monkey army led by Sugreeva and Hanuman, formed a huge bridge across from mainland to Lanka. Then Rama got along with his army to Lanka and staged a full fledged war.
Ravana was defeated in the end and Rama brought back Sita to his home and then in the process their Vanvaas(banishment period) was over and they came back to rule Ayodhya as a righteous king and spread Ram-Rajya(ideal rule) in Ayodhya.
There are stories of Sita's banishment and her giving birth to Lava and Kusa later in life in the ashram of Valmiki. These form the part called Uttar Ramayana, which is considered a sequel to the main Ramayana.