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One Introduction: the Diversity of the Ramayana Tradition

In working out the ideas for this introduction I received invaluable aid from many individuals. I am grateful to Wendy Doniger, Michael Fisher, Rich Freeman, Sandria Freitag, Charles Hallisey, Philip Lutgendorf, Patricia Mathews, Sheldon Pollock, Sumathi Ramaswamy, Clinton Seely, David Shulman, H. Daniel Smith, and Sandra Zagarell for their comments and suggestions.

1. While an article in India Today titled "Epic Spin-offs" (15 July 1988, 72) men-

tions an audience of sixty million, other sources give the higher number cited here. It is difficult to obtain exact figures, because in the case of very popular programs like the Ramayana , the number of viewers watching a single television set appears to increase dramatically. See the Illustrated Weekly of Iadia's article titled "The Ramayan" (8 November 1987), 9. [BACK]

2. This book includes an account of Sita's stay at Valmiki's forest hermitage, after she is banished by Rama. According to one tradition, Valmiki is said to have been an outcaste; several North Indian jatis of street sweepers (usually referred to by the euphemistic title "sanitation workers") claim descent from him. The possibility that the television Ramayana might conclude without portraying the episodes dealing with Sita and their purported ancestor upset a number of sanitation workers greatly. For an account of this incident and the political factors that led to the continuation of the serial, see "The Second Coming," India Today (31 August 1988), 81. [BACK]

3. Philip Lutgendorf, "Ramayan: The Video," The Drama Review 34, no. 2 (Summer 1990): 128. [BACK]

4. Romila Thapar, "The Ramayana Syndrome," Seminar , no. 353 (January 1989), 74. [BACK]

5. For a historical discussion of Ramayana patronage, see Philip Lutgendorf, "Ram's Story in Shiva's City: Public Arenas and Private Patronage" in Culture and Power in Banaras: Community, Performance, and Environment. 1800-1980 , ed. Sandria B. Freitag (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), 34-61. [BACK]

6. Thapar, "The Ramayana Syndrome," 72.

7. Ibid. [BACK]

6. Thapar, "The Ramayana Syndrome," 72.

7. Ibid. [BACK]

8. For an account of the extraordinary new market for books on the Ramayana created by the television serial, see "Epic Spin-offs," 73. In addition, Lutgendorf notes a scholarly trend to pay more attention to Rama, who was earlier neglected in favor of studies on Krsna. See pp. 217-18, this volume. [BACK]

9. The phrase "the Ramayana tradition" is used in this essay to refer to the many tellings of the Rama story as a whole, rather than to Valmiki's telling or some other specific telling limited to a particular region or particular time. [BACK]

10. As Robert P. Goldman, general editor of a new English translation of Valmiki's Ramayana , says, "Few works of literature produced in any place at any time have been as popular, influential, imitated, and successful as the great and ancient Sanskrit epic poem, the Valmiki Ramayana " ( The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984], x). For an up-to-date overview of the history of Valmiki's text and the scholarship concerning it, consult the introductory essays to this seven-volume translation (vol. 1: Balakanda , trans. Robert P. Goldman, 1984; vol. 2: Ayodhyakanda , trans. Sheldon I. Pollock, 1986; vol. 3: Aranyakanda , trans. Sheldon I. Pollock, 1991; remaining four volumes, forthcoming). [BACK]

11. The reader who immediately wants to learn about a competing telling of Rama's story that differs in religious affiliation, literary form, characterization, and overall message should turn ahead to the essay by Frank Reynolds, which discusses the Pali Dasaratha Jataka , an early Buddhist telling of the story of Rama. Although less popular than Valmiki in South Asia, this telling has had substantial influence on the Ramayana tradition in Southeast Asia. For an English translation of this telling, see E. B. Cowell, ed., The Jataka ; or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births , 7 vols. (1895-1913; repr. London: Luzac and Co. for the Pali Text Society, 1956), 4:78-82. See also

Richard Gombrich, "The Vessantara Jataka, the Ramayana and the Dasaratha Jataka," Journal of the American Oriental Society 105, no. 3 (July-September 1985): 427-37. [BACK]

12. Shulman describes Kampan's Iramavataram thus: "Perhaps the supreme achievement of Tamil letters, and certainly one of the great works of the world's religious literature, is Kampan's version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana . No creation of Tamil poets has ever been so passionately loved as Kampan's Iramavataram ." See "The Clicheé as Ritual and Instrument: Iconic Puns in Kampan's Iramavataram ", Numen 25, no. 2 (August 1978): 135. For a recent English translation of the Aranyakanda of Kampan's poem, see George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz, trans., The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), which also contains an introductory essay that includes a comparison of Valmiki and Kampan. For studies of the uniqueness of Kampan's rendition of the story, see David Shulman, "The Cliché as Ritual and Instrument"; "The Crossing of the Wilderness: Landscape and Myth in the Tamil Story of Rama," Acta Orientalia 42 (1981): 21-54; and ''The Anthropology of the Avatar in Kampan's Iramavataram ," in Gilgul: Essays on Transformation, Revolution, and Permanence in the History of Religions , ed. Shaul Shaked, David Shulman, and Gedaliahu Stroumsa (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1987), 270-87. [BACK]

13. There are many studies of Jain Ramayanas , among which the following are especially helpful: V. M. Kulkarni, "The Origin and Development of the Rams Story in Jaina Literature," Journal of the Oriental Institute of Baroda 9, no. 2 (December 1959): 189-204, and no. 3 (March 1960): 284-304; K. R. Chandra, A Critical Study of Paumacariyam (Muzaffarpur: Research Institute of Prakrit, Jainology and Ahimsa, 1970); and D. L. Narasimhachar, "Jaina Ramayanas," Indian Historical Quarterly 15, no. 4 (December 1939): 575-94. [BACK]

14. For other studies of the Ramayana tradition that use the psychoanalytic method, see J. Moussaieff Masson, "Fratricide among the Monkeys: Psychoanalytic Observations on an Episode in the Valmikiramayanam," Journal of the American Oriental Society 95, no. 4 (October-December 1975): 672-78; "Hanuman as an Imaginary Companion," Journal of the American Oriental Society 101, no. 3 (July-September 1981): 355-60. [BACK]

15. For a discussion of the geography—physical and emotional—of classical Tamil poetry, see A. K. Ramanujan, The Interior Landscape (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967). [BACK]

16. Especially noteworthy is the research of V. Raghavan, whose commitment to exploring the many Ramayanas in Asia led to a number of works including The Greater Ramayana (Varanasi: All-India Kashiraj Trust, 1973); The Ramayana in Greater India (Surat: South Gujarat University, 1975); and Some Old Lost Rams Plays (Annamalainagar: Annamalai University, 1961).

It is understandably beyond the scope of this essay to give a complete bibliography of works that analyze the Ramayana tradition, but especially useful are: Romila Thapar, Exile and the Kingdom: Some Thoughts on the Ramayana (Bangalore: The Mythic Society, 1978); V. Raghavan, ed., The Ramayana Tradition in Asia (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1980); K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, ed., Asian Variations on the Ramayana (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1980); J. L. Brockington, Righteous Rama: The Evolution of an Epic (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984); P. Banerjee, Rams in Indian Literature, Art

and Thought , 2 vols. (Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 1986); Amal Sarkar, A Study on the Ramayanas (Calcutta: Rddhi-India, 1987).

     Recent work includes Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger and Laurie Sears, eds., The Boundaries of Tradition: Ramayana and Mahabharata Performances in South and Southeast Asia (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1990); Monika Thiel-Horstmann, ed., Contemporary Ramayana Traditions: Written, Oral, and Performed (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1991); Brenda E. F. Beck, "Core Triangles in the Folk Epics of India," and John D. Smith, "Scapegoats of the Gods: The Ideology of the Indian Epics," both in Stuart H. Blackburn et al., eds., Oral Epics in India (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), 155-75 and 176-94.

     For bibliographies, see N. A. Gore, Bibliography of the Ramayana (Poona: By the author, 1943); H. Daniel Smith, Reading the Ramayana: A Bibliographic Guide for Students and College Teachers—Indian Variants on the Rama-Theme in English Translations , Foreign and Comparative Studies, South Asian special publications no. 4 (Syracuse: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1983); H. Daniel Smith, Select Bibliography of Ramayana-related Studies , Ananthacharya Indological Series, no. 21 (Bombay, 1989); and Sudha Varma, Tulsidas Bibliography (forthcoming). [BACK]

17. See Goldman, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda , 14-29, for an overview of this scholarship. [BACK]

18. Both Ramanujan, in his essay for this volume, and Kamil Zvelebil, in the introduction to his Two Tamil Folktales: The Story of King Matanakama and the Story of Peacock Ravana (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987), suggest a set of motifs that appear only in the southern versions. In addition, it is important to remember that Valmiki's "version" is itself many versions. [BACK]

19. Recent scholarship on the Ram Lila of Banaras has demonstrated the vitality and social significance of performance traditions in North India. See, among others, Linda Hess and Richard Schechner, "The Ramlila of Ramnagar," The Drama Review 21, no. 3 (September 1977): 51-82; Philip Lutgendorf, The Life of a Text: Performing the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991); Anuradha Kapur, "The Ram Lila at Ramnagar: A North Indian Drama" (Ph.D. diss., University of Leeds, 1980). For an analysis of variety within the Ramayana performance tradition, see the discussion of the Nakkatayya festival, a rambunctious festival in Banaras based upon Surpanakha's mutilation, in the section entitled ''Cutting Off of the Nose" in Nits Kumar, "Popular Culture in Urban India: The Artisans of Banaras, c. 1884-1984" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1984), 261-94; Sandria Freitag, "Behavior as Text: Popular Participation in the Story of Ram," presentation to the Society for Cultural Anthropology, Santa Monica, California, May 1990. [BACK]

20. Rama's role as exemplar is especially evident in the Ayodhyakanda of Valmiki's Ramayana . Pollock shows that Valmiki portrays Rama as a moral paradigm rather than a developing character whose actions are a mixture of good and bad: "Rama and the others are evidently designed to be monovalent paradigms of conduct." See Sheldon I. Pollock, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 2: Ayodhyakanda , 50-51. As if to attest to the success of Valmiki's efforts, readings that attempt to rationalize away

Rama's moral rough spots recur frequently in devotional, apologetic, and scholarly writing. V. Raghavan himself wrote a devotional treatise extolling the virtues of Rama and vilifying Ravana for his lust and greed: see his The Two Brothers: Rams and Lakshmana (Madras: Ramayana Printing Works, 1976). In this slim book, which differs from many of his other writings in its personal quality, he discusses Rama's deeds entirely in terms of his absolute adherence to dharma, never once even referring to Rama's killing of Valin. Consider, as well, the way another author contrives to maintain Rama's reputation.

But this episode [the killing of Valin] has another redeeming side. . . . The very fact that this one incident has raised such a huge cry of criticism is itself an acknowledgement of Rama's superhuman excellence in all other respects. Therefore, this one stain only adds to the beauty of the portrait as the srivatsa mark [chest ornament] on the person of Visnu.

See Swami Siddhinathananda, "Sri Rama—Dharma Personified," Prabuddha Bharata 77, no. 8 (September 1972), 395. Also see Frank Whaling, The Rise of the Religious Significance of Rama (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980), 39-48. [BACK]

21. In "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama" ( Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 [August 1979]: 653), David Shulman assesses one of the most notorious of the morally ambiguous actions performed by Rama, namely, his murder of Valin. [BACK]

22. For a discussion of how scholars have often overlooked the ambiguity of Sita's behavior, see Sally J. Sutherland, "Sita` and Draupadi: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics," Journal of the American Oriental Society 109, no. 1 (January-March 1989): 63. [BACK]

23. Gloria Goodwin Raheja, "Subversion and Moral Evaluation in North Indian Women's Songs" (paper presented at the 41st annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Washington, D.C., March 1989), 2. [BACK]

24. Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Reco very of Self Under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), 20. [BACK]

25. Philip Lutgendorf, "The View from the Ghats: Traditional Exegesis of a Hindu Epic," Journal of Asian Studies 48, no. 2 (May 1989): 272-88. [BACK]

26. It is intriguing that E. V. Ramasami produced this decidedly regional interpretation at the same time that another Madrasi, C. Rajagopalachari, broadcast his telling of the Ramayana as a "national epic." See Joanne Punzo Waghorne, Images of Dharma: The Epic World of C. Rajagopalachari (Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1985), 133-55. Perhaps the two—the regional and the national—help to constitute each other. Arjun Appadurai notes their interrelatedness in his recent article entitled "How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India" ( Comparative Studies in Society and History 30, no. 1 [January 1988]: 3-24): "The idea of an 'Indian' cuisine has emerged because of, rather than despite, the increasing articulation of regional and ethnic cuisines" (21). I am indebted to Charles Hallisey for pointing out this parallel to me. [BACK]

27. That enormous task has barely been begun, but W. L. Smith has made a major contribution for Bengali, Oriya, and Assamese Ramayanas : see his Ramayana Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, and Orissa (Stockholm: Department of Indolo-gy, University of Stockholm, 1988). See also Asit K. Banerjee, ed., The Ramayana in

Eastern India (Calcutta: Prajna, 1983). Other regional studies include C. R. Sharma, The Ramayana in Telugu and Tamil: A Comparative Study (Madras: Lakshminarayana Granthamala, 1973); A. Pandurangam, "Ramayana Versions in Tamil," Journal of Tamil Studies 21 (June 1982): 58-67. [BACK]

28. See Mark Juergensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982), 169-80. [BACK]

29. Although Narayana Rao's article in this volume deals only with Telugu women's songs, the emphases and perspectives characteristic of these songs seem to occur elsewhere in Indian women's Ramayana traditions. For example, some of the same emphasis on Rama's neglect of Sita and the importance of her twin sons is found among Maharashtran women: see Indira Junghare, "The Ramayana in Maharashtran Women's Folk Songs," Man in India 56, no. 4 (October-December 1976): 285-305. See especially the songs translated on pp. 297-301 of this article. [BACK]

30. Nirad C. Chaudhuri, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 188. [BACK]

31. V. T. Rajshekar, Aggression on Indian Culture: Cultural Identity of Dalits and the Dominant Tradition of India (Bangalore: Dalit Sahitya Akademy, 1988), 13. [BACK]

32. Robert Caldwell, The Tinnevelly Shanars: A Sketch of Their Religion and Their Moral Condition and Characteristics as a Caste (Madras: Christian Knowledge Society Press, 1849), 27-28. According to Bishop Caldwell's account, the Nadars celebrated the day on which Ravana carried Sita to Lanka as one of their religious festivals. [BACK]

33. James Ryan, "Ravana, Tirukkural, and the Historical Roots of the Philosophy of Periyar" (paper presented at the 11th Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, November 1982). [BACK]

34. Goldman likewise calls attention to the tradition of producing abridged ( samksipta ) versions of Valmiki's text: The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda , 6, n. 10; 274. [BACK]

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