Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stories of Rama, Ravana, Sita and Hanuman

Recently, the History Department of the Delhi University got into a bit of trouble because ABVP goons had strong objections to a course's reading list that included an essay by the late A.K. Ramanujan titled Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation. Raghu Karnad of Tehelka reports that ABVP found this essay "malicious, capricious, fallacious and offensive to the beliefs of millions of Hindus."

Fortunately, the essay is available online, so you can judge for yourself how much of it is "malicious, etc, etc". It is a celebration of the diversity of "tellings" of the story of Rama -- nearly 300 different versions, apparently, and that's before Ashok Banker wrote a 4-volume book and wrote the script for this animated film! Ramanujan's essay highlights the differences among some of the versions of Ramayana, and meditates about how these 'mutations' might have occurred as the story spread to many parts of Asia. It's scholarly and entertaining.

Here's a fabulous little tale that, Ramanujan says, appears in quite a few Ramayanas:

... To some extent all later Ramayanas play on the knowledge of previous tellings: they are meta-Ramayanas . I cannot resist repeating my favorite example. In several of the later Ramayanas (such as the Adhyatma Ramayana , 16th C.), when Rama is exiled, he does not want Sita to go with him into the forest. Sita argues with him. At first she uses the usual arguments: she is his wife, she should share his sufferings, exile herself in his exile, and so on. When he still resists the idea, she is furious. She bursts out, "Countless Ramayanas have been composed before this. Do you know of one where Sita doesn't go with Rama to the forest?" That clinches the argument, and she goes with him.[11] And as nothing in India occurs uniquely, even this motif appears in more than one Ramayana. ...


  1. Anonymous said...

    Love anything by AKR.

  2. Mohan said...

    Thanks for the link to Ramanujan's essay. It made for a wonderful Sunday reading.

    As for ABVP's protest - will any University in India include a similar essay on "diversity of tellings of the story of Mohammed" which quotes significantly from Satanic Verses? I am not suggesting that we should get into some kind of competitive intolerance, but if you see it from right wing perspective it is that kind of hypocrisy (both by government and by so-called intelligentsia) that they condemn.