How Hundreds Of Ramayanas, Across Languages And Cultures, Relate To Each Other – HuffPost India

Posted: October 10, 2019 at 7:41 pm


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NurPhoto via Getty ImagesAn artist dressed as Ram, performs during the play of Ramleela, in Allahabad on October 11, 2018.

How many Rmyanas? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Rmyanas, a question is sometimes asked: How many Rmyanas have there been? And there are stories that answer the question. Here is one.

One day when Rma was sitting on his throne, his ring fell off. When it touched the earth, it made a hole in the ground and disappeared into it. It was gone. His trusty henchman, Hanumn, was at his feet. Rama said to Hanumn, Look, my ring is lost. Find it for me.

Now Hanumn can enter any hole, no matter how tiny. He had the power to become the smallest of the small and larger than the largest thing. So he took on a tiny form and went down the hole.

He went and went and went and suddenly fell into the netherworld. There were women down there. Look, a tiny monkey! Its fallen from above! Then they caught him and placed him on a platter (thli). The King of Spirits (bht), who lives in the netherworld, likes to eat animals. So Hanumn was sent to him as part of his dinner, along with his vege tables. Hanumn sat on the platter, wondering what to do.

While this was going on in the netherworld, Rma sat on his throne on the earth above. The sage Vasistha and the god Brahm came to see him. They said to Rma, We want to talk privately with you. We dont want anyone to hear what we say or interrupt it. Do we agree?

All right, said Rma, well talk.

Then they said, Lay down a rule. If anyone comes in as we are talking, his head should be cut off.

It will be done, said Rma.

Who would be the most trustworthy person to guard the door? Hanumn had gone down to fetch the ring. Rma trusted no one more than Laksmana, so he asked Laksmana to stand by the door. Dont allow anyone to enter, he ordered.

Heritage Images via Getty ImagesIllustration from the Ramayana by Valmiki, second half of the16th century. Artist: Mir Zayn al-Abidin (active 1570-1580)

Laksmana was standing at the door when the sage Vivmitra appeared and said, I need to see Rma at once. Its urgent. Tell me, where is Rma?

Laksmana said, Dont go in now. He is talking to some people. Its important.

What is there that Rma would hide from me? said Vivmitra. I must go in, right now.

Laksmana said, Ill have to ask his permission before I can let you in.

Go in and ask then.

I cant go in till Rma comes out. Youll have to wait.

If you dont go in and announce my presence, Ill burn the entire kingdom of Ayodhya with a curse, said Vivmitra.

Laksmana thought, IfI go in now, Ill die. But if l dont go, this hot headed man will burn down the kingdom. All the subjects, all things living in it, will die. Its better that I alone should die.

So he went right in.

Rma asked him, Whats the matter? Vivmitrais here.

Send him in.

So Vivmitra went in. The private talk had already come to an end. Brahm and Vasistha had come to see Rma and say to him, Your work in the world of human beings is over. Your incarnation as Rama must now be given up. Leave this body, come up, and rejoin the gods. Thats all they wanted to say.

Laksmana said to Rma, Brother, you should cut off my head.

Rma said, Why We had nothing more to say. Nothing was left. So why should I cut off your head?

Laksmana said. You cant do that. You cant let me off because Im your brother. ThereII be a blot on Rmas name. You didnt spare your wife. You sent her to the jungle. I must be punished. I will leave.

Laksmana was an avatar of esa, the serpent on whom Visnu sleeps. His time was up too. He went directly to the river Saray and disappeared in the flowing waters.

When Laksmana relinquished his body, Rma summoned all his followers, Vibhsana, Sugrva, and others, and arranged for the coronation of his twin sons, Lava and Kua. Then Rma too entered the river Saray.

Hindustan Times via Getty ImagesKhon Ramakien (Masked played Ramayana) Thailand, during International Ramayana festival organised by ICCR at Kamani Auditorium on October 10, 2016, in New Delhi.

All this while, Hanumn was in the netherworld. When he was finally taken to the King of Spirits, he kept repeating the name of Rma. Rma Rma Rma ...

Then the King of Spirits asked, Who are you?

Hanumn.

Hanumn? Why have you come here?

Rmas ring fell into a hole. Ive come to fetch it.

The king looked around and showed him a platter. On it were thousands of rings. They were all Rmas rings. The king brought the platter to Hanumn, set it down, and said, Pick out your Ramas ring and take it.

They were all exactly the same. I dont know which one it is, said Hanumn, shaking his head.

The King of Spirits said, There have been as many Rmas as there are rings on this platter. When you return to earth, you will not find Rma. This incarnation of Rma is now over. Whenever an incarnation of Rma is about to be over, his ring falls down. I collect them and keep them. Now you can go.

So Hanuman left. (1)

This story is usually told to suggest that for every such Rma there is a Rmyana. The number of Rmyanas and the range of their influence in South and Southeast Asia over the past twenty-five hundred years or more are astonishing. Just a list of languages in which the Rama story is found makes one gasp: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan-to say nothing of Western languages. Through the centuries, some of these languages have hosted more than one telling of the Rama story. Sanskrit alone contains some twenty-five or more tellings belonging to various narrative genres (epics, kvyas or ornate poetic compositions, purnas or old mythological stories, and so forth). If we add plays, dance-dramas, and other performances, in both the classical and folk traditions. the number of Rmyanas grows even larger. To these must be added sculpture and bas-reliefs, mask plays, puppet plays and shadows plays, in all the many South and Southeast Asian cultures. Camille Bulcke (1950), a student of the Rmyanas, counted three hundred tellings. Its no wonder that even as long ago as the fourteenth century, Kumravysa, a Kannada poet, chose to write a Mahbhrata, because he heard the cosmic serpent which upholds the earth groaning under the burden of Rmyana poets (tinikidanu phanirya rmyanada kavigala bhradali). In this paper, indebted for its data to numerous previous translators and scholars, I would like to sort out for myself, and I hope for others, how these hundreds of tellings of a story in different cultures, languages, and religious traditions relate to each other: what gets translated, transplanted, transposed.

John S Lander via Getty ImagesKUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA Hanuman at Batu Caves Temple - dedicated to Lord Muruga with ornate shrines.

Obviously, these hundreds of tellings differ from one another. I have come to prefer the world tellings to the usual terms versions or variants because the latter terms can and typically do imply that there is an invariant, an original or Ur-textusually Vlmki s Sanskrit Rmyana, the earliest and most prestigious of them all. But as we shall see, it is not always Vlmkis narrative that is carried from one language to another.

It would be useful to make some distinctions before we begin. The tradition itself distinguishes between the Rma story (rmakath) and texts composed by a specific personVlmki, Kampan, or Krttivsa, for example. Though many of the latter are popularly called Rmyanas (like Kamparmyanam), few texts actually bear the title Rmyana; they are given titles like lrmvatram (The Incarnation of Rma), Rmcaritmnas (The Lake of the Acts of Rama), Ramakien (The Story of Rama) and so on. Their relations to the Rma story as told by Vlmki also vary. This traditional distinction between kath (story) and kvya (poem) parallels the French one between sujet and rcit, or the English one between story and discourse (Chatman 1978). It is also analogous to the distinction between a sentence and a speech act. The story may be the same in two tellings, but the discourse may be vastly different. Even the structure and sequence of events may be the same, but the style, details, tone, and textureand therefore the importmay be vastly different.

Here are two tellings of the same episode, which occur at the same point in the sequence of the narrative. The first is from the first book (Blaknda) of Vlmkis Sanskrit Rmyana; the second from the first canto (Plakntam) of Kampans lrmvatram in Tamil. Both narrate the story of Ahaly.

Seeing Mithila, Janakas whiteand dazzling city, all the sagescried out in praise, Wonderful!How wonderful!

Rghava, sighting on the outskirtsof Mithil an ashram, ancient,unpeopled, and lovely, asked the sage,What is this holy place,

so like an ashram but without a hermit?Master, Id like to hear: whose was it?Hearing Rghavas words, the great sageVivmitra, man of fire,

expert in words answered, Listen,Rghava, Ill tell you whose ashramthis was and how it was cursedby a great man in anger.

It was great Gautamas, this ashramthat reminds you of heaven, worshipped even by the gods. Long ago, with Ahalyhe practised tapas (4) here

for countless years. Once, knowing that Gautama was away, Indra (called Thousand Eyes),acs husband, took on the likenessof the sage, and said to Ahaly:

Men pursuing their desire do not waitfor the proper season, O you whohave a perfect body. Making lovewith you: thats what I want.That waist of yours is lovely.

She knew it was Indra of the Thousand Eyesin the guise of the sage. Yet she,wrongheaded woman, made up her mind,excited, curious about the kingof the gods.

ASSOCIATED PRESSJakarta's National Wayang Secretariat Sena Wangi stage artiste perform the 'Epic of Ramayana' in Chennai, Nov.18, 2007.

And then, her inner being satisfied,she said to the god, Im satisfied, kingof the gods. Go quickly from here.O giver of honour, lover, protectyourself and me.

And Indra smiled and said to Ahaly,Woman of lovely hips, I amvery content. Ill go the way I came.Thus after making love, he came outof the hut made of leaves.

And, O Rma, as he hurried away,nervous about Gautama and flustered,he caught sight of Gautama coming in,the great sage, unassailableby gods and antigods,

empowered by his tapas, still wetwith the water of the riverhed bathed in, blazing like fire,with kua grass and kindlingin his hands.

Seeing him, the king of the gods wasterror-struck, his face drained of colour.The sage, facing Thousand Eyes now dressedas the sage, the one rich in virtueand the other with none,

spoke to him in anger: You took my form,you fool, and did this that should neverbe done. Therefore you will lose your testicles.At once, they fell to the ground, they felleven as the great sage spoke

his words in anger to Thousand Eyes.Having cursed Indra, he then cursedAhaly: You, you will dwell heremany thousands of years, eating the air,without food, rolling in ash,

and burning invisible to all creatures.When Rma, unassailable sonof Daaratha, comes to this terriblewilderness, you will become pure,you woman of no virtue,

you will be cleansed of lust and confusion.Filled then with joy, youll wear againyour form in my presence. And sayingthis to that woman of bad conduct,blazing Gautama abandoned

the ashram, and did his tapason a beautiful Himalayan peak,haunt of celestial singers andperfected beings.

Emasculated Indra thenspoke to the gods led by Agniattended by the sagesand the celestial singers.

Ive only done this work on behalfof the gods, putting great Gautamain a rage, blocking his tapas.He has emasculated me

and rejected her in anger.Through this great outburstof curses, Ive robbed himof his tapas. Therefore,

great gods, sages, and celestial singers,help me, helper of the gods,to regain my testicles. And the gods,led by Agni, listened to Indra

of the Hundred Sacrifices and wentwith the Marut hoststo the divine ancestors, and said,Some time ago, Indra, infatuated,

ravished the sages wifeand was then emasculatedby the sages curse. Indra,king of gods, destroyer of cities,

is now angry with the gods.This ram has testiclesbut great Indra has lost his .So take the rams testicles

and quickly graft them onto Indra.A castrated ram will give yousupreme satisfaction and will bea source of pleasure.

People who offer itwill have endless fruit.You will give them your plenty.Having heard Agnis words,the Ancestors got togetherand ripped off the rams testiclesand applied them then to Indraof the Thousand Eyes.

Since then, the divine Ancestorseat these castrated ramsand Indra has the testiclesof the beast through the powerof great Gautamas tapas.

Come then, Rma, to the ashramof the holy sage and save Ahalywho has the beauty of a goddess.Rghava heard Vivmitras words

and followed him into the ashramwith Laksmana: there he sawAhaly, shining with an inner lightearned through her penances,

blazing yet hidden from the eyesof passersby, even gods and antigods.

(Sastrigal and Sastri 1958, knda 1, sargas 47-8; translated by David Shulman and A.K. Ramanujan)

NurPhoto via Getty ImagesPaintings depicting scenes Hindu epic Ramayana at the Sita Amman Temple (Seeta Amman Temple) in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, on 5 Septermber 2017.

They came to many-towered Mithilaand stood outside the fortress.On the towers were many flags.

There, high on an open field,stood a black rockthat was once Ahaly,

the great sages wife who fellbecause she lost her chastity,the mark of marriage in a house. [Verse 547)

Rmas eyes fell on the rock,the dust of his feetwafted on it.

Like one unconscious coming to,cutting through ignorance.changing his dark carcassfor true formas he reaches the Lords feet,

so did she stand aliveformed and colouredagain as she once was. [548]

Rma then asks Vivmitra why this lovely woman had been turned to stone. Vivmitra replies:

Listen. Once Indra,Lord of the Diamond Axe,waited on the absence

of Gautama, a sage all spirit,

meaning to reach outfor the lovely breastof doe-eyed Ahaly, his wife. [551]

Hurt by loves arrows,hurt by the look in her eyesthat pierced him like a spear, Indrawrithed and cast aboutfor stratagems;

one day, overwhelmedand mindless, he isolatedthe sage; and sneaked into the hermitagewearing the exact body of Gautama

whose heart knew no falsehoods. [552]

Sneaking in, he joined Ahaly;coupled, they drank deepof the clear new wineof first-night weddings;and she knew.

Yet unableto put aside what was not hers,she dallied in her joy,but the sage did not tarry,he came back, a very ivawith three eyes in his head. [553]

Gautama, who used no arrowsfrom bows. could use more inescapablepowers of curse and blessing.

When he arrived, Ahaly stood there,stunned, bearing the shame of a deedthat will not end in this endless world.

Indra shook in terror,started to move awayin the likeness of a cat. [554)

Eyes dropping fire, Gautamasaw what was done,and his words flewlike the burning arrowsat your hand:

May you be coveredby the vaginasof a thousand women!In the twinkle of an eyethey came and covered him. [555]

Covered with shame,laughingstock of the world,Indra left.

The sage turnedto his tender wifeand cursed:

O bought woman!May you turn to stone!and she fell at once

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October 10th, 2019 at 7:41 pm

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