The Rāmacaritamānasa (also spelt as Rāmcaritmānas) is one of the few great religious works that have revived and sustained Hinduism. It has also instilled life and power in the Hindu society of its times.
The immortal author of this monumental epic is Tulasīdāsa (also spelt as Tulsīdās).
According to the popular oral tradition he was born as the son of Ātmārām-dube and Hulasī—a brāhmaṇa couple—at an inauspicious moment (in A. D. 1496, corresponding to the Vikramaśaka 1554) and hence was abandoned by the parents. He was brought up first by an old servant maid and later by a beggar woman. When he was about eight years old, a sādhu (holy man), Narahari Ānanda by name, who saw him and recognised his inherent greatness, took him away to his āśrama (monastery). He named the boy as Rāmbolā and started training him by narrating the story of Rāmāyaṇa. At the time of his upanayana (initiation into Vedic studies and religious life) Rāmbolā was given the new name Tulasīdāsa by his guru and mentor.
Tulasīdāsa was then sent to Kāśī for higher education under Śeṣasanātani, a great scholar and an eminent teacher. After a vigorous course of education in the Vedic lore and allied literature as also training in austere life, spread over fifteen years, Tulasīdāsa returned to Rājpur, his native place.
There, he started spending much of his time in delivering religious discourses based on the Rāmāyaṇa.
He was married to Ratnāvalī, the learned and beautiful daughter of a well-known astrologer Dīnabandhupāṭhaka. He was passionately attached to her. However, this attachment got a rude shock by the very person of his love, who admonished him and advised him to direct his love towards the Lord Śrī Rāma. As a result of this shock-treatment, Tulasīdāsa renounced the world then and there and came to Kāśī. There he started giving discourses on the Rāmāyaṇa which became extremely popular.
At Kāśī, Tulasīdāsa was lucky enough to meet Hanumān (who is supposed to be a cirañjīvi, living eternally in a subtle body) and have the darśan (seeing) of Śrī Rāma.
As per the direction given by Lord Śiva in a vision, he went to Ayodhyā and started writing his magnum opus, the Rāmacaritamānasa (or Rāmcaritmānas), in the local Hindi dialect called Avadhī. It was completed in about two and a half years.
The excellence of this composition roused the jealousy of other scholars who tried their best to harm him but failed miserably.
He now started the real work of his life, of spreading Rāma’s story and his powerful name. He also organised the youth of his times to become strong, both physically and morally, by starting a number of akhāḍas (native gymnasia) and recruiting them. Hanumān was projected as their hero. He also built a number of temples of Hanumān.
He passed away at the ripe old age of 126 years in A. D. 1622 at the Saṅkaṭ-mocan-ghāṭ (a place for bathing) on the bank of the river Gaṅgā in Kāśī.
Apart from the Rāmacaritamānasa, eleven more works were written by him. Among them the following are more well-known. Vinayapatrikā, Kavitāvalī and Dohāvalī.
The Vinayapatrikā is in the form of a petition to the king Rāma seeking protection from the threats of Kali (the Master of the Iron Age).
The Dohāvalī is a work of verses of two lines containing the teachings of the author based on his experiences, interspersed with the story of Rāmāyaṇa.
The Kavitāvalī is in a language which is a mixture of Avadhī and Brajbhāṣā (variants of Hindi). It is based on the main work Rāmacaritamānasa and acts as a supplementary.
There is also a very interesting but recondite work called Rāmājñapraśna aimed at providing solutions to our problems if used in the recommended way.