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Asian Variations in Ramayana (Papers presented at the International Seminar on 'Variations in Ramayana in Asia : Their Cultural, Social and Anthropological Significance' : New Delhi, January 1981)

Asian Variations in Ramayana (Papers presented at the International Seminar on 'Variations in Ramayana in Asia : Their Cultural, Social and Anthropological Significance' : New Delhi, January 1981)
Item Code: IDD959
Author: K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar
Publisher: Sahitya Akademi, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 8126018097
Pages: 370 (B & W Illus: 6)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.8" X 5.8"

I felt honoured, if also embarrassed, when I was asked to edit the papers presented at Sahitya Akademi’s Second International Ramayana Seminar in New Delhi in January 1981. I had participated in the earlier Ramayana Seminar of 1975, but I didn’t attend the more recent one; and this was doubtless a handicap. And, besides, stenographers’ reports of the actual discussions were not available. Accordingly, what is here brought. Together is by no means a complete record of the proceedings of the Seminar.

The savants who took part in the Seminar were drawn from different parts of India and Southeast Asia, and the spellings of proper names in some of the papers conform to local usage. Such surface variations are a bye-law of the ground of under- lying unity, and no attempt therefore has been made here to impose a cast-iron uniformity. Further, owing to the long distances involved, it has not been possible to enter into any detailed correspondence with the concerned scholars.

In my Introduction, I have tried to present an integrated summary of both the Sahitya Akademi Seminars in the broader context of Ramayana studies.

Two of the eminent participants—Prof. Jean Filliozat and Dr. C. Sivaraman1urti——passed away while the volume was in the press. This is a great loss indeed to the world of Ramayana studies and Indological scholarship.

I am happy to record my gratitude to Dr. S. S. Janaki, Director, Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute, Madras, for ready help and advice, and especially for shouldering the burden of proof- reading and seeing the book through the press. I may add that she had also helped to see through the press the earlier volume, The Ramayana Tradition in Asia, edited by the late Dr. V. Raghavan.

Nor should I fail to add a word of thanks to the Diocesan Press, Madras, for their expertise in printing and producing this volume.


SEVBN years ago, from 8 to 10 December 1975, Sahitya Akademi (in association with the Union Ministry of Education) held an International seminar on ‘ The Ramayana Tradition in Asia', in celebration of the 400th year of the composition of Tu1sidasa’s Ramacharitamanasa. An earlier International Ramayana Seminar had been held in Indonesia in 1971, followed next year by the First International Sanskrit Conference in Delhi. Although the Ramayana and the Adi-Kavi needed no special boost, it was nevertheless gratifying that remembrance and appreciation and gratitude took such cooperative and purposive forms. Some of the asseverations, indeed, must have both startled and deeply satisfied the attentive listeners. Thus, for example, Dr. Amin Sweeney of the University of Malaya :

The characters of the Lord Rama, his lady Sita, and their loyal followers still come to life nightly on the shadow screens of the north-west Malaysia where the performance of at good dalang can still draw a larger audience than a local open- air cinema showing the latest in Hollywood coco-cola culture.’

And thus U. Thein Han, Chairman of the Burma Historical Com- mission :

‘It (the Ramayana) is not only a literary treasure but also a source of ennobling influence on the relationships of men as parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, relations and friends, teachers and pupils, and rulers and the ruled.

If Malaysia with its dominant Muslim and Burma with its Buddhist population can still respond thus to the influence of the Ramayana, this ambience is clearly something that transcends mere region, race, religion, language or the vicissitudes of time and local history.-

The 1975 Seminar on ‘The Ramayana Tradition in Asia had ‘eleven sessions (including, the Inaugural) and nearly 50 delegates participated in its deliberations. The welcome speech by the President, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, the inaugural address by Prof. Nurul Hasan, and Dr. V. Raghavan’s words keyed to the occasion defined the scope and set the tone of the Seminar. Whether or not the Ramayana of Valmiki constitutes in some measure a factual record of what had once happened, this much is a continuing fact of our national experience: the exile of Rama from Ayodhya on the eve of his expected coronation, the poignant meeting of Rama and, Bharata at Chitrakuta, the abduction of Sita, the Vali-Sugriva fratricidal conflict, Hanuman’s flight to Lanka and the finding of Sita, the ensuing war and the killing of Ravana, and Sita’s trial by fire and reunion with her Lord and their coronation in Ayodhya are closer to reality in the popular imagination than any expanse of recorded history. And Rama, Sita, Lakshmana: Bharata, Guha 2 Anasuya, Sabari: Vali, Sugriva Hanuman: Ravana, Vibhishana, Indrajit: Tara, Mandodari: Trijata——these are not just a poet’s creations but verily apocalyptic projections of humanity’s deepest intuitions and ecstasies.

What is, perhaps, even more astonishing than the universal vogue and nectarean role of the Ramayana in India is the general diffusion of the story all over the world. Even as, in India, the Hindu, Buddhist, Jaina and other Ramayana versions vary from one another, just as the numberless folk renderings and evocations in the plastic and the performing arts reveal a tantalising versatility in the handling of the Rama—Sita-Ravana theme, the legend has likewise undergone countless variations in the process of diffusion or transplantation abroad to the several far-Hung countries of Asia. Like the Purusha’s 1000 heads, or 1000 feet, equally defying enumeration or comprehension are the thematic changes, adaptations, elaborations, deviations, transmigrations and even Bottom-like ‘translations’ of the original Ramayana legend. But there is also, defying all the alterations and the aberrations, the electrifying unifying essence, the home-of-all powerhouse-of all in the Adi- Kavi’s poetic testament. What the distinguished assembly of scholars, savants and Rasikas gathered in New Delhi in the 400th year of Tulsidasa’s Ramacharitamanasa tried to do was to study this uniquely fascinating phenomenon of the Ramayana story`s transmission, proliferation and transmutation, and its lodgement in hundreds of millions of human hearts and sensibilities. The papers presented at the Seminar comprised evaluations of the Ramayana recensions, versions or traditions in Sanskrit, in the Jataka tales, in the Jaina works, in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam in Hindi, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Punjabi, in Assamese, Manipuri, Bengali, Oriya, in Nepal, Mongolia, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, as also in inscriptions, sculptures, paintings and the performing arts. Speaking in general terms, Suniti Kumar Chatterji declared that the Ramayana, in some local version or another, had become established in the countries of Southeast Asia ‘almost as a national epic as much as in India’. Lokesh Chandra added: ‘The Ramayana has become the lyric of the men of Asia from Siberia to Indonesia, filling their unbounded Self with ecstasy, with an ocean of bliss.’“ Harry H. Buck confessed that, for 15 years, he had been ‘fascinated by Rama}, V und declared further: ‘Ramayana to me is human experience’. Of the Ramayana’s wholly salutary impact on the people of India, Fr. C. Bulcke said:

‘The popularity of the Valmiki Ramayana and the voluminous Rama—Literature of many centuries is a monument to the idealism of India, its high esteem of moral values and its belief in the ultimate of good over evil. In the same way, the enthusiastic response of the millions of northern India to the message of Ramacharitamanasa testifies to the deep—seated religious belief and spontaneous piety of the soul of India

And thus Kapila Vatsyayan, on the beneficial vogue of the Ramayana beyond India’s borders

‘The story of Rama seems to have bewitched and hypnotised generations of Asians belonging to countries with different religious, literary and cultural traditions... Its popularity has not been confined to the traditional framework, but has impregnated a variety of modern media, such as comics, film strips, feature films, documentaries and the rest."

On the last day of the Seminar, l2 December 1975, the Organizing Committee resolved that the Proceedings should be published in due course, and further that a central repository of Ramayana materials be built up, classified and catalogued under Sahitya

Akademi’s auspices ‘so that the same could be supplied through microfilms or other means to Ramayana scholars all over the world’; and also that a Project be undertaken with international cooperation in respect of a concordance and variorum of Ramayana characters, episodes and motifs’.

The papers presented at the 1975 Seminar—forty-four in all- have since been published, as edited by the late Dr. V. Raghavan, with the title The Ramayana Tradition in Asia (1980). In the meantime, Sahitya Akademi undertook on behalf of the Union Academique International the formidable but worthwhile project of compiling a critical inventory of Ramayana studies-‘Invent- taire raisonne des Etudes du Ramayana’—in the world. In furtherance of this project, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations sponsored a tour by Dr. R. S. Kelkar, Secretary of Sahitya Akademi, from 1 to 14 March 1980, enabling him to visit universities and cultural organizations, and establish contacts with Ramayana scholars in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. During his tour, Dr. Kelkar visited Hindu and Buddhist temples, studied modes of worship, learnt of local history and of the interaction of Indian and Thai or Malaysian or Indonesian culture, saw paintings and sculptures in museums and private galleries, held meaningful discussions with Ramayana scholars, gathered valuable information relating to possible preliminary regional inventories of Ramayana material, witnessed performances with a mythological slant, and be it at Bangkok, Djakarta, Bali, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur made the most of his stay to further the objective of the tour It was also a preparation for the Second International Ramayana Seminar.


Sahitya Akademi’s Second International Ramayana Seminar that was held in New Delhi from 8 to 10 January 1981 was, as it were, another significant step in the great and unique work in progress to gather, assess and conserve the many-limbed diverse-splen-doured Ramayana heritage, and to stimulate further purposeful diffusion of the glory and grace of the Ramayana in its varied forms, facets and formulations. The theme of the Seminar—‘Variations in Ramayana in Asia: Their Cultural, Social and Anthropological Significance’-was an invitation to probe the wide-spread Rama- A Yana phenomenon in its racial origins, its susceptibility to local religious beliefs and social mores, and its yet deeper filiations with geography and circumambient Nature. The Seminar participants numbered about twenty-five, and there were six sessions (besides the Inaugural) when over 20 papers were presented. Welcoming the delegates, Prof. Umashankar Joshi, President of Sahitya Akademi, pointed out that, of the five great Indian classics that have travelled abroad ‘where they eventually got more or less adopted and adapted’, Panchatantra and Brihatkatha have gone mainly to the Western world, and Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Jataka-kathas have turned to the Eastern world. And Rama-charita is also Sita—charita whose adhara-sruti is the poignant cry of the bereaved female krauncha bird moaning the sad music of humanity:

‘This cry, at the heart of the Ramayana, is what has made it so appealing a poem to peoples of various regions and lands.’ In his Inaugural Address, Justice M. Hidayatullah, Vice—President of India, pointed out that, notwithstanding the variations in the process of transmission, ‘ the central theme of the epic, however, has remained the same—the upholding of Dharma, which alone can save mankind from error and extinction’. He laid stress on the role of a classic like the Ramayana in times like ours:

‘When stress is laid nowadays on the study of sciences, pure and applied, a study of the classics raises the quality of public judgement and conduct, and reconciles the disorders of modem life.’

And, in particular, the Ramayana ‘gives to our youth the fundamentals of our culture . .it contains a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations’.

Of the 2l papers presented during the six sessions, five were on the Ramayana versions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsa, and Hindi; one on a manuscript of Ramacharitamanasa with illustrations, and another on Ramayana reliefs in stone in Rajasthani temples ; one on Emperor Akbar’s manuscript of the Persian `Ramayana; one each on the Rama theme in Nepali art and in Tibet ; one on Ramayana inscriptions, mainly in India, and another on the Ramayana in Southeast Asia epigraphy and iconography; a general survey of the Ramayana in Southeast Asia. followed by two papers relating to Laos, two to Cambodia, two to Malaysia, one to Indonesia, and one to China and Japan. The coverage is Southeast Asia as a whole, and more specifically India, Tibet, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Japan. Serious literature, folk lore, epigraphy, iconography, the plastic and performing arts, all come within the purview of the learned papers, and the opulent and variegated Ramayana heritage is seen in relation to the different lands and their peoples, and vistas of comparative -appreciation are thrown open, and the obscure processes of cultural cross-fertilization are exemplified by the ramifications of the Rama story in the many Southeast—Asian countries. Twenty—one scholars: twenty-one more or less diversified themes: yet the ensemble doesn’t fail to make a cumulative appeal of its own insinuating the glory of the Ramayana diapason.

Like Dr. V. Raghavan’s comprehensive survey ‘The Ramayana in Sanskrit Literature "at the earlier Seminar, Dr. A. N. Jani’s paper on the different Ramayana versions in Sanskrit takes a wide sweep, shows how the story finds mention in one way or another——in longer or shorter form——in the Mahabharata (at four different places), in religious literature (say, Pancharatra works like Agastya Samhita), in certain Upanishads, and in several Puranas; main and subordinate. Of the independent versions, pointed attention is drawn to Yoga Vasishtha, Adhyatma Ramayana, Adbhuta Rama, yana, Bhusundi Ramayana, Maha Ramayana and Vedanta Ramayana. Dr. Raghavan had remarked earlier that to attempt to describe the Ramayana in Sanskrit literature would be like attempting to describe the immanence of God in creation ’." Dr. Jani’s is a gallant attempt to accomplish the impossible, and is accordingly weighted with detailed information about the diverse Ramayanas in Sanskrit, and the abundant Ramayana fall-out on the expanses of religious writing in Sanskrit and classical Sanskrit literature.

Again, like Sri V. M. Kulkarni’s ‘Jain Ramayanas and their; source’ in the 1975 Seminar, Dr. Umakant P. Shah’s ‘Ramayana in. Jaina Tradition’ is an admirably comprehensive review of the entire corpus; from Vimala Suri’s Pauma—chariya in Ardha—magadhi ‘(3rd or 4th century A.D.), Jaina Ramayanas appeared in steady succession for almost 1500 years, but both Kulkarni and Shah agree that the Jaina but followed the Hindu Ramayana tradition.

Kulkarni had said: ‘Chronologically the Jain versions come definitely later than the Hindu Ramayana"’; Shah remarks, if more guardedly: ‘. . .it is fairly certain that all the Jaina sources an available today are later ‘ than the Hindu sources ’. Shah also agrees with Kulkarni in not accepting D. E. Sen’s view regarding an independent Southern or Dravidian tradition of the Ramayana story making a hero, not of Rama, but of Ravana. Shah refers too to Jaina Ramayanas in ‘Kannada, like Pampa Ramayana by Nagachandra (11th century). The Jain versions seem to mini-mise the supernatural, humanise the Vanaras and the Rakshasas (both are Vidyadharas!), and make Kaikeyi, Vali and Ravana rather less unattractive than in the Sanskrit versions. There is of course the Jainistic bias, but not to the point of making the story unrecognisable.

In his paper ‘The Prakrit and Apabhramsa Ramayanas’, Mr. H.C. Bhayani refers to possible ‘Brahmanic’ or Hindu (i.e., non-Jaina) Ramayanas in the Prakrit and Apabhramsa languages, and mentions in particular one version by Caumuha (Chatur- mukha) of the 7th or 8th century but adds:

‘As the works of Chaturmukha and others of the Brahmanic tradition are lost, nothing can be said about their departures, if any, from Valmiki’s version."

As regards the spirit and atmosphere pervading the Jaina Ramayanas, Bhayani makes the following points:

‘Omission of the typically Brahmanical episodes like the legends of Vasishtha and Visvamitra, Agastya, etc.; addition of anti-Brahmanical legends pertaining to the origin of sacrifice and Ravana’s destruction of Narutta’s sacrifice; addition of episodes implying devotion to and veneration for Jaina religion; interspersing the narrative with sermons of Jain monks, as worshipping Jaina shrines and holy places; describing past and future births of the characters wherein the functioning of the Law of Karma is, given Jainistic prominence; the emphasis throughout on the doctrine of ahimsa: all these create a characteristic Jain atmosphere.’

On the other hand, great literature. transcends doctrinal adhesions. And soars in the higher regions and appeals to universal humanity. For the rest, responding to the twists and turns of place, time and predicament, changes come about mainly in the externals, and a great story like the Ramayana just takes these in its stride.

About the Book:

Sahitya Akademi's Second international Ramayana Seminar that was held in New Delhi from 8 to 10 January 1981 was, as it were, another significant step in the great and unique work in progress to gather, assess and conserve the many-limbed diverse-splendoured Ramayana heritage and to stimulate further purposeful diffusion of the glory and grace of the Ramayana in its varied forms, facets and formulations. The theme of the Seminar - 'Variations in Ramayana in Asia : Their Cultural, Social and Anthropological Significance' - was an invitation to probe the widespread Ramayana phenomenon in this racial origins, its susceptibility to local religious beliefs and social mores, and its yet deeper filiations with geography and circumambient Nature. The Seminar-participants numbered about twenty-five, and there were six sessions (beside the Inaugural) when over 20 papers were presented.

Ramayana Seminar of 1981 was a milestone in Ramayana studies, like the earlier Seminar in 1975. The home of origins, the ultimate reservoir, is the Indian subcontinent with its own several living languages and literatures and rich local traditions.

This collection of the Seminar papers is presented here by Prof. K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar with his comprehensive introduction.


International Ramayana Seminar : Programme (8 to 10 January 1981) vii
Welcome Address by Umashankar Joshi21
Inaugural Address by M. Hidayatullah26
1.Different Versions of Valmiki's Ramayana in Sanskrit by A.N. Jani29
2.Ramayana in Jaina Tradition by Umakant P. Shah57
3.The Prakrit and Apabhramsa Ramayana by H.C. Bhayani77
4.Hindi Versions of the Ramayana by B.D. Tiwari83
5.The Ram Story in Indian Folklore : Some Significant Innovations by Vidya Nivas Misra100
6.A Folk Painted Manuscript of the Ramacaritamanasa by Niranjan Goswami108
7.Ramayana Relief's in Stone in Rajasthan Temples by C. Margabandhu124
8.Notes on the Emperor Akbar's Manuscript of the Presian Ramayana by A.K. Das144
9.The Ramayana Theme in Nepalese Art by N.R. Banerjee154
10.The Story of Rama in Tibet by J.W. de Jong163
11.Ramayana in Inscriptions by C. Sivaramamurti183
12.The Ramayana in South-East Asian Sanskrit Epigraphy and Iconography by Jean Filliozat192
13.The Ramayana in South-East Asia : A General Survey by H.B. Sarkar206
14.Indo-Chinese Geography as Described in the PHRA LAK PHRA LAM : A Laotian Version of the Ramayana by Sachchidanand Sahai221
15.Socio-cultural and Anthropological Background of the Ramayana in Laos by Kamala Ratnam230
16.Ramakertian Studies by Saveros Pou252
17.The Reamker by F. Bizot263
18.The Literary Version of the Rama Story in Malay by S. Singaravelu276
19.Ramayana Brach Stories in the WAYANG SIAM Shadow Play in Malaysia by Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof 296
20.The Glory of Rama's Crown by Soewito Santoso324
21.Rama Stories in China and Japan : A Comparison by Minoru Hara340

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