Sunday, November 20, 2005


At her palace in Ayodhya, Sita draws a portrait of Ravana: a portrait that comes to life in her bedroom. Upon discovering this, Rama seized by jealous rage orders Sita killed. If this bit isn't sufficient to create a safforn riot on blogosphere, here's more.

Sita jumps into Ravana's funeral pyre. Says she before being consumed by the flames:
"You, Rama, rejected me because you fear that my body was defiled by his touch, though you know my heart was pure. This anti-god wanted my heart, even though he knew my body was taken by you. Some day, intelligent people will know who was a nobler lover."

Unbelievable, yet true. These are excerpts from the different forms of ramayana- variously called ramakathas, ramakirtis, ramakiens or ramajatakas- or the story of Rama. From India to South East Asia, the ramayana has taken on countless forms: forms which reflect the religious, linguistic and social traditions of the region. It has been recited and sung in various forms of art and dance and its performances have graced royal courts and lowly huts. From north India to southern Thailand, its stories and events have been extensively rewritten and refashioned. As renowned historian Romila Thapar says of the plurality of the ramayana "The Ramayan does not belong to any one moment in history for it lies embedded in the many versions which were woven around the theme at different times and places."

Many Ramayanas ed. Paula Richman (Univ. of California Press, 1991) is a collection of writings that explores the diversity of this tradition. This epic composed by the poet and sage Valmiki around 600-800 BC is the story of the trials and tribulations of Prince Rama of Ayodhya, his banishment into a forest for fourteen years, the capture of his wife Sita by demons and his war to win her back. Valmiki's narrative has undergone numerous changes and its strong religious overtones altered, depending on the group that appropriated the narrative. From India to Sri Lanka and Thailand, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain variations of Valmiki's story show that apart from the regional variations, there were different versions within each language and region. My favorite is the divergence of the women's oral versions from Valmiki's text.

In women's oral traditions, the ramayana theme, would, unlike Valmiki's text, include domestic matters, games played by Rama and Sita and descriptions of life in a joint family. There is little to no mention of wars and battles. In "A Ramayana of their own" Velcheru Narayan Rao describes the various Telugu versions of the ramayana songs recited by women. It is interesting how these versions extensively incorporate the traditions and lifestyle of these women besides adhering to caste and hierarchical structures. So that while Brahmin women's songs would describe Kaushalya's labor, Rama's birth, his wedding festivites, Sita's wedding gifts, warding of the evil eye etc. the ramayana of non Brahmin women or women of lower castes who often performed menial jobs and worked in the fields was more rooted to the land and nature. The themes here were the life in the forest of Rama and Sita where Sita tended to the animals, cleaned the home and courtyard and cooked. Clothes, ornaments, rituals were almost absent in this version, as were hidden sexuality and description of feminine modesty. This perhaps afforded the space in an hierarchical society for women or lower castes to subvert the authority of patriarchy and tell their own story.

Many ramayanas is divided into three sections: the first section deals with the major refashionings that occurred due to Buddhist and Jain influence while the second section describes the more recent versions such as those composed during the 12-19th century. The last section is devoted to the ramayana of the different Hindu darshanas or philosophical schools.

With the rise of Buddhism from 300 BC and its strong influence on Hindu traditions the ramayana was not left untouched. The compassion and ahimsa of the Buddha could not be reconciled with the blood and gore of battles of Hindu gods and kings. Buddhist jatakas therefore had to deviate from Valmiki's text. The enemy was no longer personified and war and victory became spiritual aspects. A strong Buddhist element in terms of a secular non casteist orientation was also incorporated. The Jain versions, too, avoid descriptions of wars and blood baths and miraculous events. Also Jain monks considered themselves as thinkers, hence these versions also devote equal sections to Sita, Lakshman and Ravana. In short, an effort was made to correct the errors of Valmiki's texts.

This continued with the later versions such as Kampan's Iramavataram composed in Chola courts in the 12th century. Retellings had hitherto experimented with the characterization of the male protagonists. Here for the first time Kampan altered the Surpanakha story. Unlike the traditional Valmiki text where Sita and Surpanakha embody the two extreme forms of womanhood-the former pure, chaste and subordinate and the latter evil, impure and insubordinate-Kampan chose to portray Surpanakha as an exquisitely beautiful and chaste woman. Perhaps her beauty did entice Rama and Lakshman and rejecting their advances could have aroused their anger.

With the advent of the British came the enthusiasm for English and western classics among the educated elite. Milton's Paradise Lost and Homer's Iliad would provide a young Anglicised Bengali, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, a new perpective for a literary refashioning of the ramayana. Dutt's epic poem Meghnadvadha Kavya is a retelling of that episode of the ramayana where Ravana's son Meghnad is killed by Rama's brother Lakshman. Dutt's sympathies clearly lay with Ravana-Ravana and his clan were glorified while Rama and Lakshman by opposing him were shown in a poor light. Clinton Seely's "The Raja's New Clothes: Redressing Ravana in Meghanadavadha Kavya" shows how Dutt affects the reader's response by repeated juxtaposition of Krishna's and Meghnad's tales. His comparison of the deceitful slaying of the sons of the Pandavas with Lakshman's killing of Meghnad in cold blood is intended to win more support for the Ravana camp. Says Seely of Dutt's magnificent work "The master poet has slyly woven his central Ramayana episode so as to suggest heroic raiment for Ravana rather than Rama."

The vast diversity in the narrative of the ramayana is indicative of the cultural complexity and historical variations across regions that have had an Indian influence. These retellings and refashionings probably convey the local political and social views of the times in which they were composed. Religious and social reformers have often retold these stories with emphasis on a more egalitarian ideology. It is indeed unfortunate, that this epic is often presented as a monolithic tradition as the version of the ramayana. Serials on Indian television and other media often advance this one form of ramayana. By doing so we negate the complexity and diversity of the ramayana tradition.

8 Comments:

Blogger Southern Minstrel said...

Is there a version of Ramayana retold from the point of view of Kaikeyi or Manthara?

7:59 AM  
Blogger shampa said...

well there is amreeta syam's poem Kaikeyi and then there is N.R.Navlekar's work. Both these protray Kaikeyi as a flesh and blood woman and highlight the fact that raja Kaikeya her father had given her hand in marriage to Dasaratha under the same conditions as Satyavati's father had in the Mahabharata. That his grandson be made king.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good post. I'm going through many of these issues as well..

my page: Microsoft Office Gratuit

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so interesting! I do not think I've read through something like this before. So wonderful to find another person with unique thoughts on this subject. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

My site Psn Code Generator - -

4:38 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

oakley sunglasses, cheap ugg boots outlet, louis vuitton handbags, burberry outlet online, christian louboutin outlet, ray ban sunglasses, michael kors outlet online, christian louboutin, jordan shoes, nike outlet, louis vuitton, ray ban sunglasses, polo ralph lauren, michael kors outlet online, longchamp handbags, louis vuitton outlet online, michael kors outlet, cheap oakley sunglasses, tiffany and co, ugg australia, nike air max, christian louboutin shoes, longchamp outlet, michael kors handbags, michael kors outlet store, louis vuitton outlet, oakley vault, michael kors outlet online sale, kate spade outlet online, burberry outlet online, nike free, ugg boots clearance, oakley sunglasses, red bottom shoes, louis vuitton outlet, chanel handbags, cheap oakley sunglasses, longchamp outlet online, gucci handbags, ray ban outlet, cheap ugg boots, polo ralph lauren outlet, replica watches

10:52 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

north face pas cher, coach outlet store online, coach purses, ralph lauren uk, true religion outlet, burberry pas cher, north face, hollister uk, longchamp pas cher, coach outlet, mulberry uk, oakley pas cher, nike free, air max, air max pas cher, tn pas cher, kate spade outlet, ralph lauren pas cher, scarpe hogan, nike roshe run, nike free pas cher, nike blazer pas cher, lacoste pas cher, timberland pas cher, nike air max, louboutin, true religion jeans, ray ban uk, nike roshe, converse pas cher, air jordan, ray ban pas cher, abercrombie and fitch, hollister, hermes pas cher, nike air max, nike air force, michael kors uk, michael kors canada, guess pas cher, michael kors, new balance pas cher, coach outlet, longchamp, true religion outlet, true religion, lululemon outlet online, sac vanessa bruno, vans pas cher, michael kors outlet online

10:53 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

north face jackets, hollister clothing store, iphone 6s plus cases, insanity workout, iphone cases, nike air huarache, ghd, north face jackets, valentino shoes, vans outlet, soccer jerseys, birkin bag, wedding dresses, hollister, nike roshe, s6 cases, ralph lauren, abercrombie and fitch, iphone 5s cases, iphone 6 plus cases, oakley, herve leger, louboutin, lululemon outlet, reebok shoes, iphone 6 cases, new balance outlet, iphone 6s cases, jimmy choo shoes, bottega veneta, nike trainers, nfl jerseys, soccer shoes, nike air max, babyliss, timberland boots, mont blanc pens, asics shoes, celine handbags, longchamp, ferragamo shoes, ipad cases, beats headphones, mac cosmetics, baseball bats, p90x workout, instyler ionic styler, giuseppe zanotti, chi flat iron, mcm handbags

10:54 PM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

hollister canada, wedding dress, barbour, pandora jewelry, gucci, ugg, moncler, converse shoes, thomas sabo uk, montre femme, abercrombie, canada goose outlet, canada goose pas cher, air max, moncler, louis vuitton uk, juicy couture, swarovski jewelry, canada goose outlet, coach outlet, replica watches, supra shoes, louis vuitton pas cher, pandora jewelry, moncler outlet, barbour jackets, moncler, louis vuitton, marc jacobs handbags, moncler outlet, canada goose, ugg soldes, canada goose, canada goose, pandora charms, converse, moncler, canada goose, moncler, vans, pandora uk, sac louis vuitton, swarovski uk, karen millen, ray ban, doke gabbana outlet, canada goose outlet, ugg boots, uggs canada, links of london uk

10:56 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home