Many Ramayanas


1.     Importance of the Ramayana

a.     nahi janta ki sita ram ki patni hai?’

b.     Television series: began 1987.  Over 80 million people watched weekly (most people don’t own TV’s.

c.     Sanitation workers (sweepers, untouchable) all over India strike over 7th book, government sponsors to avert health crisis;

d.     Toward climax of battle, people journeyed long distances to plead for Ravana’s life;

e.     Response to Rama’s image on screen as if an icon in a temple – bathing before watching, garlanded TV set, considered viewing as darsan.

2.     The problems with privileging a single version as authoritative

a.     Television series: Intellectuals and policy makers struggled to come to terms with political significance. Entire population united into a single activity: a mainstream national culture?

b.     Criticisms: one version should not dominate tellings of Ramayana;

3.     Many Ramayanas

a.     Rmyna doesn’t belong to any one moment in history – a history of many versions

b.     Geographical spread: India, Java-Sumatra, Cambodia (Angor Wat), Thailand, Burma.

c.     Appropriation of the story by a multiplicity of groups, generating multiplicity of versions, reflecting many concerns, ideologies, aspirations.  Including Jain and Buddhist retellings.

d.     Diversity of forms: performance (Ramlila: theatrical recreations, self-staged divine “sport”), puppetry (Wayang); sculptuary (Angor Wat);  devotional songs and poetry (Kabir), television, celebrations (Dipavali –countless lamps to celebrate homecoming of Ram and Sita to Ayodhya)

e.     many textual traditions, beginning with Valmiki followed by hundreds of reinterpretations (most significantly in light of bhakti movement)

4.     Three major Ramayanas

a.     Valmiki Ramayana low-born robber transformed into sage by Ram, wrote Ram’s narrative during his hero’s lifetime, Treta Yuga, adi-kavi “first poet”. 24K couplets (shlokas).  First and last Kandas probably added later.

b.     Iramavataram: first major vernacular Rmyna, South Indian (Tamil, 11th C. poet Kampan).

c.     Ramcaritmanas: Tulsidas, late 16th C. First major North Indian Ramayana in vernacular Hindi (Avadhi) (most popular religious text in North India)

d.     Most important trend = reinterp in light of bhakti; preference for local languages, make teaching accessible, irrespective of caste.  From earthly prince to full-fledged divinity (the divinity).

5.     Two overarching themes in the Ramayana

a.     Dharma: Cosmic order; human duty

                                      i.     Vishnu descends to battle with the forces of evil; establishes and maintains the cosmos.  Overthrows demonic enemies; an ordering of chaos; an infusion of the stabilizing influence of dharma;

                                    ii.     Duties of a king: taming untamed regions and bringing them under control of a just and righteous king.  Son, father, wife.

b.     Passion: sorrow of separation / dangers of unity (especially sexual)

                                      i.     Consider tradition of Ramayana’s origin: Valmiki visited by Rishi Narada, tells story of Ram.  Valmiki and disciple at river, hunter kills crane, mate wails.  Curses hunter, so creates poetic verse (shloka).  Poetic form born of loss and sorrow. Writes the Ramayana. Sentiment of grief that pervades the Ramayana.

                                    ii.     Other passions: rage, desire.