This book began owing to my puzzlement. For years I had heard people refer to E. V. Ramasami's interpretation of the Ramayana in a mocking and dismissive way. When I actually analyzed his reading of the story of Rama, however, I found much of it strikingly compelling and coherent if viewed in light of his anti-North Indian ideology. While I was talking one day with A. K. Ramanujan about my attempts to make sense of this particular reading of the Rama story, he gave me a copy of a paper he had presented entitled "Three Hundred Ramayanas ." I read this piece again and again because it challenges us to look at the Ramayana tradition in a new way. Each contributor to the volume also read Ramanujan's essay, which now comprises Chapter 2 of this volume. Every other chapter can be seen, in some way, as a response to some of the questions that Ramanujan raises.
As individual essays developed, intriguing patterns within the Ramayana tradition were revealed. I encouraged authors to explore the exact ways in which the tellings of the Rama story that they had studied related to particular theological, social, political, regional, performance, or gender contexts. Slowly the book grew in the direction of a study of tellings of the Ramayana that refashion or contest Valmiki's text. I am grateful to Raman for giving us his essay and to each contributor for the many revisions made to ensure the overall coherence of the volume.
A number of scholars encouraged me during the many stages of this book: Michael Fisher, whose initial enthusiasm for the project encouraged me to pursue it and whose advice at every stage I have deeply valued; Clint Seely, who believed in the worth of the endeavor and invited two authors to contribute to the volume; Robert Goldman and Sally Sutherland, who offered both textual and practical advice during the period when I was conceptualizing the volume's overall structure; David Shulman, from whom I have learned a
great deal about the Ramayana tradition and whose suggestions for revising the introduction were greatly appreciated; Philip Lutgendorf and H. Daniel Smith, both of whom shared their knowledge of Ramayana tradition and gave me a number of valuable comments; Sandria Freitag, Wendy Doniger, and an anonymous reader on the Editorial Committee of the University of California Press, whose challenging questions and insightful suggestions for revisions made this book more coherent, complete, and concise; Lynne Withey, my editor, whose intelligence, efficiency, and graciousness have been greatly appreciated; Pamela MacFarland, whose attention to detail has improved this volume in myriad ways. To all these people I express my thanks; I alone am responsible for any shortcomings.
The research, editing, and completion of this book would have been impossible without a great deal of assistance. At Oberlin College's Mudd Library I want to thank Ray English, Kerry Langan, Valerie MacGowan-Doyle, and Anne Zald, and at Western Washington University's Miller Library Evelyn Darrow and Jo Dereske, for tracking down unbelievably obscure works in a number of South Asian languages. Similar feats were performed by James Nye, William Alsbaugh, and Lynn Bigelow in Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago. I am also grateful to Kenneth Logan, Barbara Gaerlan, and Sumathi Ramaswamy for assisting me at the South Asia Center at the University of California, Berkeley. A grant from the Research and Development Fund at Oberlin College made research trips to Berkeley and Chicago possible. Susan Munkres and Daniel Gardiner read drafts of each paper in the volume, making insightful and helpful suggestions for improving clarity. Many of my students during 1989 and 1990 came to share my enthusiasm for the Ramayana tradition; I am grateful for their interest and intriguing queries. Thanks goes to the office of Ira Steinberg, which funded part of the cost of duplicating the manuscript. I appreciate the institutional support provided by William Stoever at Western Washington University during the summer of 1989. Thelma Kime and Terri Mitchell typed innumerable drafts of several of the papers in this volume. I appreciate their patience and dedication.