Some Implications of our Analyses
In the essays that follow we make no pretense of giving an exhaustive survey of all the Ramayanas in India nor do we believe that such is feasible. We thus acknowledge that many significant tellings of Rama's story—such as the Sakta Ramayanas , in which Sita slays Ravana, or the South Asian Persian Ramayanas —go unrepresented here. Our goal has been to be suggestive, rather than comprehensive. Nor have we attempted an analysis of the Ramayanas of each major region in India. Rather, our aim has been to elucidate the compelling logic of a number of intriguing Ramayanas , delineate their context, and juxtapose telling with telling to reveal wider patterns within the Ramayana tradition.
Clearly, each contributor to this volume adds to our knowledge of specific Ramayanas in India and Thailand. For example, Shulman shows how the portrayal of Rama's repudiation of Sita in the Iramavataram has been shaped by the assumptions of Tamil bhakti ; Lutgendorf considers why scholars have neglected rasik tradition; Blackburn points out that the Kerala puppet plays include an antiheroic interpretation of certain events in Rama's story; Reynolds identifies both Hindu and Buddhist elements in the Ramakien . In addition to reflecting specifically on individual tellings of the story, moreover, these essays reveal certain patterns across Ramayanas .
The essays collected here also testify to the validity of Ramanujan's claims about the Ramayana tradition. Ramanujan argues that the Ramayana has become "a second language of a whole culture area," and we have found it to be an extraordinarily eloquent language. The Ramayana provides Kampan with the language to express the complex relationship between god and devotee; it furnishes the Ramnamis with quotations to use in sophisticated debate; it lends Dutt the ability to articulate the colonial dilemma of cultural ambivalence; it provides Thai kings with the vocabulary of political legitimacy. Sita's trials give Telugu Brahmin women a way to talk about a husband's neglect, while Ravana's situation enables E. V. Ramasami to polemicize about Tamil separatism. Theological, sexual, and political discourse: all emerge from the great pool of Ramayana tradition.
The cultural uses of the Ramayana are manifold and ever changing. Particular groups at particular times in history develop an elective affinity for specific characters. Valmiki currently attracts the affection of certain jatis of sanitation workers, Sita has traditionally elicited the empathy of long-suffering wives, and the proponents of a separate Tamil state have iden-
tified with Ravana. Clearly, the significance of the Ramayana goes beyond specific texts to encompass twin processes that lie at the heart of culture. Thus some tellings of the Ramayana affirm the hierarchy found in social, political, and religious relations, while other tellings contest that hierarchy.
Contesting often coalesces around the figure of Ravana. Seely reveals how Dutt has glorified Ravana and his fellow raksasas (demons), presenting them in a sympathetic way, while simultaneously portraying Rama and his followers in a poor light. The same elevation of Ravana predominates in the telling of the Ramayana assumed in E. V. Ramasami's interpretation, but within a political context. There Ravana stands as a paragon of South Indian virtue.
Even if Dutt and Ramasami were the only ones who presented Ravana in this way, their telling would be significant. But they are not. Many "non-mainstream" groups have laid claim to Ravana at different times in history and in different parts of India. Ramanujan's essay outlines how certain Jain Ramayanas portray the story from Ravana's perspective. The Dalits, a group of militant Mahars (considered Untouchables by higher jatis ) in Maharashtra, have embraced Ravana as one of their heroes. The Nadars, a low jati that was composed primarily of impoverished toddy-tappers until some of its members converted to Christianity, claimed Mahodara (Ravana's prime minister) as their ancestor. A number of Dravidian tribals and lower jatis of southern and central India have caste traditions that connect them with Ravana and/or Lanka.
Our conclusions about Ravana suggest ways of looking at other Ramayana characters as well. In a male-dominated society, Telugu Brahmin women's songs present Sita as finally victorious over Rama. The same songs also tell of Surpanakha's revenge on Rama. Perhaps someday Surpanakha will be claimed as a symbol of the physical violence that has been unjustly perpetrated upon women who seek independence from constraining social norms. Similarly, several characters in the Kerala puppet play express the anger of those low in the social hierarchy against those in positions of power and decision making. In the oppositional tellings of the Ramayana , then, we encounter the traditions of those set apart from the mainstream by religious persuasion, social location, or gender, who struggle against an understanding of themselves as presented through the lens of a religious text. Non-Hindu males, men labeled "low-caste," and women of many communities have created and maintained counter-Ramayanas . These groups take the story of Rama and use it to express their own perception of "the way things are."
In addition to resistance expressed through nontraditional perspectives on characterization, other groups have contested dominant Ramayana traditions by selectively dismembering particular tellings of the story of Rama. In such cases, less is often more. When, for their own reasons, particular groups metonymize, appropriate, or abridge parts of the Rama story, these incidents
gain power and richness. For these groups, to use the Ramayana is to claim specific portions of the story as expressing the essence of their ultimate concerns.
A most concise kind of reduction emerges from metonymy, the selection of one small part of the text as representing the essence of the whole; this is what we find among the rasiks analyzed by Lutgendorf. For them, the dalliance of Rama and Sita constitutes the esoteric essence of the Ramayana , their religious elaboration on this section of the text affording them rich meditative experience. The Srivaisnava commentarial process likewise employs highly selective appropriation but yields another kind of fruit. Commentators search through the Ramayana , find incidents that seem to them pregnant with theological meaning, and then assist in the birth of that meaning. These radically decontextualized incidents yield Tenkalai writers tremendously powerful imagery for salvific instruction. When the Ramnamis cull the Ramcaritmanas and create personalized texts, they affirm their commitment to egalitarian ideology, gaining a power that continues m increase with their ever-growing attainment of literacy. Literacy gives them the ability to reject passages praising Brahmins and caste structure and to stress verses that assert Rama's love for all people and the benefits of chanting Rama's name. The Ramnami abridgment of the Manas is yet one more example of the process of recasting the story in consonance with a particular worldview.
The essays in this volume have highlighted that recasting process again and again—the manner in which particular authors, performers, commentators, and communities have embraced the Rama story but have told it in distinctive ways in order to make it their own. Together, the essays in this volume bear witness to the plurality of Ramayana tradition. It is a multivoiced entity, encompassing tellings of the Rama story that vary according to historical period, regional literary tradition, religious affiliation, genre, intended audience, social location, gender, and political context. The Ramayana tradition can be seen as indicative of the range and complexity of narrative traditions from South Asian culture, both in India proper and in spheres of Indian cultural influence. We hope we have revealed something of South Asian culture's diversity, and emphasized its richness and power, through our study of many Ramayanas .