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Two Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation

This paper was originally written for the Conference on Comparison of Civilizations at the University of Pittsburgh, February 1987. I am indebted to the organizers of the conference for the opportunity to write and present it and to various colleagues who have commented on it, especially V. Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Paula Richman.

1. I owe this Hindi folktale to Kirin Narayan of the University of Wisconsin. [BACK]

2. Several works and collections of essays have appeared over the years on the many Ramayanas of South and Southeast Asia. I shall mention here only a few which were directly useful to me: Asit K. Banerjee, ed., The Ramayana in Eastern India (Calcutta: Prajna, 1983); P. Banerjee, Rama in Indian Literature, Art and Thought , 2 vols. (Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 1986);J. L. Brockington, Righteous Rama . The Evolution of an Epic (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984); V. Raghavan, The Greater Ramayana (Varanasi: All-India Kashiraj Trust, 1973); V. Raghavan, The Ramayana in Greater India (Surat: South Gujarat University, 1975); V. Raghavan, ed., The Ramayana Tradition in Asia (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1980); C. R. Sharma, The Ramayana in Telugu and Tamil: A Comparative Study (Madras: Lakshminarayana Granthamala, 1973); Dineshchandra Sen, The Bengali Ramayanas (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1920); S. Singaravelu, "A Comparative Study of the Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai and Malay Versions of the Story of Rama with special reference to the Process of Acculturation in the Southeast Asian Versions," Journal of the Siam Society 56, pt. 2 (July 1968): 137-85. [BACK]

3. Camille Bulcke, Ramkatha : Utpatti aur Vikas (The Rama story: Origin and development; Prayag: Hindi Parisad Prakasan, 1950; in Hindi). When I mentioned Bulcke's count of three hundred Ramayanas to a Kannada scholar, he said that he had recently counted over a thousand in Kannada alone; a Telugu scholar also mentioned a thousand in Telugu. Both counts included Rama stories in various genres. So the title of this paper is not to be taken literally. [BACK]

4. See Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978). [BACK]

5. Through the practice of tapas —usually translated "austerities" or "penances" —a sage builds up a reserve of spiritual power, often to the point where his potency poses a threat to the gods (notably Indra). Anger or lust, however, immediately negates this power; hence Indra's subsequent claim that by angering Gautama he was doing the gods a favor. [BACK]

6. Srimad Valmikiramayana , ed. by K. Chinnaswami Sastrigal and V. H. Subrahmanya Sastri (Madras: N. Ramaratnam, 1958), 1.47-48; translation by David Shulman and A. K. Ramanujan. [BACK]

7. The translation in the body of this article contains selected verses from 1.9, the section known in Tamil as akalikaippatalam . The edition I cite is Kampar Iyarriya Iramayanam (Annamalai: Annamalai Palkalaikkalakam, 1957), vol. 1. [BACK]

8. C. H. Tawney, trans., N.M. Penzer, ed., The Ocean of Story , 10 vols. (rev. ed. 1927; repr. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1968), 2:45-46. [BACK]

9. See, for example, the discussion of such views as summarized in Robert P. Goldman, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 15. For a dissenting view, see Sheldon I. Pollock, ''The Divine King in the Indian Epic," Journal of the American Oriental Society 104, no. 3 (July-September 1984): 505-28. [BACK]

10. A. K. Ramanujan, trans., Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Visnu by Nammalvar (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 47. [BACK]

11. Adhyatma Ramayana , II.4.77-78. See Rai Bahadur Lala Baij Nath, trans., The Adhyatma Ramayana (Allahabad: The Panini Office, 1913; reprinted as extra volume 1 in the Sacred Books of the Hindus , New York: AMS Press, 1974), 39. [BACK]

12. See S. Singaravelu, "A Comparative Study of the Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai and Malay Versions of the Story of Rama." [BACK]

13. Santosh N. Desai, "Ramayana—An Instrument of Historical Contact and Cultural Transmission Between India and Asia," Journal of Asian Studies 30, no. 1 (November 1970): 5. [BACK]

14. Critical Study of Paumacariyam (Muzaffarpur: Research Institute of Prakrit, Jainology and Ahimsa, 1970), 234. [BACK]

15. Rame Gowda, P. K. Rajasekara, and S. Basavaiah, eds., Janapada Ramayana (Folk Ramayanas) (Mysore: n.p., 1973; in Kannada). [BACK]

16. Rame Gowda et al., Janapada Ramayana , 150-51; my translation. [BACK]

17. See A. K. Ramanujan, "The Indian Oedipus," in Oedipus: A Folklore Casebook , ed. Alan Dundes and Lowell Edmunds (New York: Garland, 1983), 234-61. [BACK]

18. Santosh N. Desai, Hinduism in Thai Life (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1980), 63. In the discussion of the Ramakirti to follow, I am indebted to the work of Desai and Singaravelu. For a translation of the Thai Ramayana, see Swami Satyananda Puri and Chhaoen Sarahiran, trans., The Ramakirti or Ramakien: The Thai Version of the Ramayana (Bangkok: Thai Bharat Cultural Lodge and Satyanand Puri Foundation, 1949). [BACK]

19. Desai, Hinduism in Thai Life , 85. [BACK]

20. Kampar Iyarriya Iramayanam , vol. 1, selected verses from I. I, in the section known as nattuppatalam . [BACK]

21. See David Shulman, "Sita and Satakantharavana in a Tamil Folk Narrative," Journal of Indian Folkloristics 2, nos. 3/4 (1979): 1-26. [BACK]

22. One source for Peirce's semiotic terminology is his "Logic as Semiotic," in Charles Sanders Peirce, Philosophical Writings of Peirce , ed. by Justus Buchler (1940; repr. New York: Dover, 1955), 88-119. [BACK]

23. Dineshchandra Sen, Bengali Ramayanas . [BACK]

24. Robert P. Goldman, ed., The Ramayana of Valmiki , 7 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984-). [BACK]

25. Personal communication from V. Narayana Rao. [BACK]

26. I heard the Telugu tale to follow in Hyderabad in July 1988, and I have collected versions in Kannada and Tamil as well. For more examples of tales around the Ramayana , see A. K. Ramanujan, "Two Realms of Kannada Folklore," in Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India , ed. Stuart H. Blackburn and A. K. Ramanujan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), 41-75. [BACK]

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