Preferred Citation: Richman, Paula, editor. Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft3j49n8h7/


cover

Many Ramayanas

The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia

Edited by
Paula Richman

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford
© 1991 The Regents of the University of California

To Doris and Nathan Richman



Preferred Citation: Richman, Paula, editor. Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft3j49n8h7/

To Doris and Nathan Richman

PREFACE

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


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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.

PAULA RICHMAN
OBERLIN, OHIO


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A NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION

Except where noted, standard scholarly transliteration systems have been used for each South Asian language. Authors whose papers deal primarily with Hindi materials have decided to drop the final short a of syllables in order to reflect Hindi usage most faithfully. (For example, Sanskrit Rama becomes Hindi Ram.) Place names, such as Lanka and Ayodhya, are given without diacritical marks.


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PART ONE
LARGER PATTERNS


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One
Introduction: the Diversity of the Ramayana Tradition

Paula Richman

In January 1987 viewers in India began to tune in each Sunday morning for a Hindi television serial based on the Ramayana story. Observers estimate that over eighty million people watched the weekly broadcasts.[1] In a land where most people do not own televisions and electricity remains in short supply, many gathered at the homes of relatives or at local tea shops to view the epic, while engineers worked overtime to supply adequate current. In some places entire villages joined together to rent a television set. It was not just that people watched the show: they became so involved in it that they were loath to see it end. Despite the fact that Doordarshan, the government-run network, had only contracted with the producer for a year's worth of episodes, the audience demanded more. In fact, sanitation workers in Jalandhar went on strike because the serial was due to end without depicting the events of the seventh, and final, book of the Ramayana .[2] The strike spread among sanitation workers in many major cities in North India, compelling the government to sponsor the desired episodes in order to prevent a major health hazard. Quite apart from such militant enthusiasm, the manner in which viewers watched the serial was also striking. Many people responded to the image of Rama on the television screen as if it were an icon in a temple. They bathed before watching, garlanded the set like a shrine, and considered the viewing of Rama to be a religious experience.

The size, response, and nature of the television Ramayana's audience led Philip Lutgendorf, a scholar of Hindi Ramayana traditions, to comment:

The Ramayan serial had become the most popular program ever shown on Indian television—and something more: an event, a phenomenon of such proportions that intellectuals and policy makers struggled to come to terms with its significance and long-range import. Never before had such a large percentage


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of South Asia's population been united in a single activity; never before had a single message instantaneously reached so enormous a regional audience.[3]

Throughout Indian history many authors and performers have produced, and many patrons have supported, diverse tellings of the Ramayana in numerous media. Perhaps not surprisingly, enthusiasm welcomed this new entrant into what has been an unending series of Ramayanas in India and beyond.

The televised Ramayana did, however, disturb some observers, who worried that the Doordarshan version might come to dominate other tellings of the story. Romila Thapar, a noted scholar of Indian history, is among such observers. When the state acts as patron of the arts, argues Thapar, it often favors social groups that wield relatively great influence in that society. In Thapar's analysis, Doordarshan presented a Ramayana telling that reflected the concerns not of the vast majority of Indians but of what she calls "the middle class and other aspirants to the same status.[4] For Thapar, the television Ramayana possessed a dangerous and unprecedented authority. In the past, many performances of the Ramayana have been sponsored by those in political power, but never before had a Ramayana performance been seen simultaneously by such a huge audience through a medium which so clearly presented itself as authoritative.[5] In addition, its broadcasters were self-consciously presenting their version of the story as an expression of mainstream "national culture." Through such a presentation, would something of the Ramayana tradition's richness be lost?

In her critique of the television production, Thapar calls attention to the plurality of Ramayanas in Indian history: "The Ramayana does not belong to any one moment in history for it has its own history which lies embedded in the many versions which were woven around the theme at different times and places.[6] Not only do diverse Ramayanas exist; each Ramayana text reflects the social location and ideology of those who appropriate it:

The appropriation of the story by a multiplicity of groups meant a multiplicity of versions through which the social aspirations and ideological concerns of each group were articulated. The story in these versions included significant variations which changed the conceptualization of character, event and meaning.[7]

Thapar emphasizes that, traditionally, local references and topical remarks play crucial roles in many performances of the Ramayana . Were the television Ramayana and the broadly distributed videocassette tapes of it to achieve widespread acceptance as the version of the epic, Thapar warns of possible negative effects for Indian culture. The homogenization of any narrative tradition results in cultural loss; other tellings of the Ramayana story might be irretrievably submerged or marginalized.

The contributors to this volume desire an opposite fate—that the public discourse and scholarship stimulated by current interest in the Ramayana


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draw even greater attention to the manifold Ramayana tradition in India.[8] We take the popularity of the televised Ramayana not as heralding the demise of other tellings but as affirming the creation of yet another rendition of the Ramayana , the latest product of an ongoing process of telling and retelling the story of Rama. In order to illuminate the nature of this process, our essays analyze an array of tellings, the better to display the vitality and diversity of the Ramayana tradition.[9]

Synopsis of the Rama Story

Scholars familiar with the Ramayana story will want to move on to the next section of this introduction. Meanwhile, for other readers, it is useful to provide an outline of the story's basic events. Such an enterprise, however, is fraught with difficulties, for "the story" is inseparable from the different forms it takes, forms which reflect differences in religious affiliation, linguistic allegiance, and social location. Nonetheless, those who are not Ramayana specialists need at least a skeletal knowledge of incidents, characters, and locations in the Ramayana tradition in order to appreciate the essays in this volume, which analyze different ways in which the Ramayana has been told.

I have therefore chosen to present a synopsis of the story of Rama based on Valmiki's Ramayana . Most scholars would agree that Valmiki's Ramayana , the most extensive early literary treatment of the life of Rama, has wielded enormous influence in India, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Many later Ramayana authors explicitly refer to it either as an authoritative source or as a telling with which they disagree. For centuries it has been regarded as the most prestigious Ramayana text in many Indian circles. It has also drawn the most attention from Western scholars.[10]

However, I present Valmiki's rendition here not as an Ur -text but only as the story of Rama with which the majority of Western Ramayana scholars are most familiar. My goal is not to privilege Valmiki's Ramayana but to give the nonspecialist reader some necessary background, since in explaining the components of other tellings of the story the contributors to this volume often take a knowledge of Valmiki for granted. In addition, to tell other Ramayanas here would be to preempt the work of the rest of this volume.[11]

In order to maintain our perspective on Valmiki's telling as one of many Ramayanas rather than as the authoritative Ramayana , I will summarize the story in as neutral a way as possible, avoiding, for example, moral evaluation of the characters and their actions. My aim is to present readers with the plot of an extremely influential Ramayana without encouraging them to view as normative the events, characterizations, and particular ideological commitments of Valmiki's Ramayana .

As the story opens the ruler of Lanka, the demon Ravana, has gained apparent invincibility by winning a promise from the gods that he cannot be


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destroyed by any divine or demonic creature: he is vulnerable only to human beings, who are too weak to be of account. Meanwhile in the city of Ayodhya, we learn, King Dasaratha has no male heir. In order to remedy this problem his ministers urge him to perform a special sacrifice, which causes his three wives to conceive sons. Firstborn among them is Rama, son of Queen Kausalya; then come his three half-brothers, Bharata, son of Queen Kaikeyi, and Laksmana and Satrughna, the twin sons of Queen Sumitra. Rama begins his career as a warrior while still a youth, when he defends a sage's sacrifice by killing the demons that threaten its success. Subsequently, Rama wins his bride, Sita, by stringing an enormous divine bow.

When King Dasaratha decides to retire, he chooses as his successor Rama, beloved among Ayodhya's citizens for his wisdom and compassion. Soon, however, the king's youngest queen, Kaikeyi, becomes convinced that if Rama were to become the sovereign, her fortunes and those of her son, Bharata, would suffer disastrous consequences. So Kaikeyi calls for the king to redeem two boons that he awarded her when once she saved his life on the battlefield: she asks first that Rama be banished to the forest for fourteen years and, second, that her own son, Bharata, be crowned in his place. Rama willingly accepts his fate, vowing to honor his father's wishes, and sets off at once for the forest, accompanied by his wife, Sita., and his half-brother Laksmana. When Bharata returns from a visit to his uncle and hears of the events that have transpired while he was away, he goes to the forest to persuade Rama to return. Rama, however, adheres to his vow, whereupon Bharata installs Rama's sandals on the royal throne, agreeing only to serve as regent until Rama's return from exile.

In the forest the threesome meet ascetic sages, travel through both beautiful and frightening landscapes, and eventually settle in a little hermitage. One day there appears a demoness named Surpanakha who falls in love with Rama and boldly offers herself to him in marriage. When Rama refuses her offer, she deems Sita the obstacle to her plan and prepares to eat her. In response, Laksmana mutilates Surpanakha, prompting the demoness to flee to her brother, Ravana. When she complains of the cruelty of the two princes and tells of the extraordinary beauty of Sita, her words arouse in Ravana a passionate desire for Sita. By enlisting the aid of another demon, who takes the form of a golden deer, Ravana lures first Rama and then Laksmana away from their hermitage. Then, posing as a wandering holy man, Ravana gains entrance to the dwelling and carries Sita off to his island kingdom of Lanka.

In the course of his attempt to determine where Sita has been taken and then to gather allies for the fight against Ravana, Rama becomes involved in the politics of a monkey kingdom. There Rama meets Hanuman, who becomes his staunch devotee, and Sugriva, an exiled prince who, like Rama, has also suffered the loss of wife and kingdom. Sugriva and Rama make a pact: if Rama will help Sugriva win back his wife and throne—both currently under the control of his brother, Valin—then Sugriva will aid Rama in his


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search for Sita. During a battle between Sugriva and Valin, Rama conceals himself behind a tree and shoots Valin from this position of hiding, an act that violates the warrior's code. Some time later Sugriva sends his warriors off in every direction seeking news of Sita's whereabouts. Finally they learn that Sita has been imprisoned in Lanka.

Hanuman crosses the ocean to Lanka and locates Sita, dwelling under guard in a grove near Ravana's palace. After he watches Ravana alternately threaten her life and attempt to seduce her, he gives her Rama's signet ring, assuring her of imminent rescue. Then, when he allows himself to be brought to Ravana's court, his tail is set afire. Escaping his captors, he sets the city on fire and then returns to help Rama's forces prepare for war, adding the intelligence about the walled city of Lanka that he has gathered to information provided by Vibhisana, a brother of Ravana who has repudiated him to join Rama. The monkeys build a bridge to Lanka so that the army can cross. The ensuing battle sees great losses on both sides. Rama ultimately kills Ravana in one-to-one combat, whereupon Rama makes Vibhisana the new ruler of Lanka.

Rama at first refuses to take Sita back, since she has lived in the household of another man. After she successfully undergoes a trial by fire, however, he deems her worthy to take her place by his side. But continuing rumors questioning his wife's chastity cause Rama to banish Sita—who is now pregnant—from his kingdom. Banished, she finds refuge with the venerable sage Valmiki, to whom the composition of the Ramayana is traditionally attributed, and in the shelter of his hermitage gives birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusa. Eventually, Sita abandons this world to return to the bosom of the earth, whence she came. Bereft by the loss of his wife, Rama finally ascends to heaven with members of his retinue.

The Assumptions and Goals of this Volume

Along with Valmiki's Ramayana , there are hundreds of other tellings of the story of Rama in India, Southeast Asia, and beyond. In confronting the diversity of the tradition, we are challenged to find ways of articulating relationships among these Ramayanas . In the lead essay of this volume, Ramanujan takes up the challenge by looking at five different Ramayanas : Valmiki's Sanskrit poem, summarized above; Kampan's Iramavataram , a Tamil literary account that incorporates characteristically South Indian material;[12] Jain tellings, which provide a non-Hindu perspective on familiar events;[13] a Kan-nada folktale that reflects preoccupations with sexuality and childbearing;[14] and the Ramakien , produced for a Thai rather than an Indian audience.

Ramanujan's exploration of these texts suggests several ways to conceptualize the relations between Ramayanas . He urges us to view different tellings neither as totally individual stories nor as "divergences" from the "real" version by Valmiki, but as the expression of an extraordinarily rich set of re-


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sources existing, throughout history, both within India and wherever Indian culture took root. Like the set of landscape conventions of classical Tamil poetry, the elements of the Ramayana tradition can be seen as a source on which poets can draw to produce a potentially infinite series of varied and sometimes contradictory tellings.[15] Ramanujan likens the Ramayana tradition to a pool of signifiers that includes plot, characters, names, geography, incidents, and relations, arguing that each Ramayana can be seen as a "crystallization":

These various texts not only relate to prior texts directly, to borrow or refute, but they relate to each other through this common code or common pool. Every author, if one may hazard a metaphor, dips into it and brings out a unique crystallization, a new text with a unique texture and a fresh context.

Creation of Ramayanas , Ramanujan's metaphor implies, involves both constraints and fluidity: while certain sets of codes structure expression, the fluidity of tradition accounts for the diversity of tellings. Like Thapar, he also calls attention to the fact that Ramayana tellings take shape in particular contexts. They may be influenced, for example, by the beliefs of individual religious communities, the literary conventions of regional cultures, and the specific configurations of social relations.

In responding to Ramanujan's suggestion that we explore Ramayana tellings in light of their structure, diversity, and context, the contributors to this volume have both reconsidered familiar Ramayanas and explored lesser-known tellings of the story. Those familiar with Ramayana scholarship will recognize the extent to which we have used and built upon the careful research of earlier studies that trace the historical and literary peregrinations of Rama's story. We are grateful to those who preceded us, scholars of extraordinary patience who meticulously charted the many tellings of the tale. [16] Our present goal is somewhat different: to consider the logic that informs, and the relations that exist between, selected tellings of the Ramayana , as well as the cultural contexts of those tellings.

The essays share five assumptions about the plurality of Ramayana tradition in India and Thailand. First, we deem all the incidents connected with the story of Rama and Sita equally worthy of our attention. Philological scholarship on Valmiki's Ramayana has argued that the Balakanda (the first book, which tells of Rama's youth) and the Uttarakanda (the last book, which tells of the events that transpire after Rama's rescue of Sita, including her banishment to the forest) are "late" additions.[17] Their status as possible interpolations into Valmiki's text, however, has had little effect on the popularity of their contents in Indian culture. Whether these events from Rama's early life and from the end of the story were original to Valmiki's text or not, the contributors to this volume treat them in the same way as they treat incidents from other periods in Rama's life.


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Second, we accept the idea of many Ramayanas and place Valmiki's text within that framework. Some scholars assume, either implicitly or explicitly, that Valmiki has written the definitive Ramayana . Hence, the diverse non-Valmiki Ramayanas —the "other Ramayanas "—have often been assessed against that standard, according to their angle of divergence from Valmiki's version. While Valmiki's importance is undeniable, we learn more about the diversity of the Ramayana tradition when we abandon the notion of Valmiki as the Ur -text from which all the other Ramayanas descended.[18] We need instead to consider the "many Ramayanas ," of which Valmiki's telling is one, Tulsi's another, Kampan's another, the Buddhist jataka yet another, and so forth. Like other authors, Valmiki is rooted in a particular social and ideological context. His text represents an intriguing telling, but it is one among many.

Third, in part to offset the prevalent attitude toward Valmiki, the contributors seek to foreground non-Valmiki Ramayana texts in order to set out the key assumptions informing different tellings of the story. For example, although in many cases Valmiki and Kampan adhere to the same basic outline of events, Kampan's rendition of particular incidents is shaped by the Tamil bhakti tradition, which gives radically different religious nuances to those events. Kampan's Ramayana is not a divergence from Valmiki; the two are different tellings. Their differences intrigue us because they testify to the diversity of Indian culture, indicating that throughout history multiple voices were heard within the Ramayana tradition.

Fourth, in addition to analyzing textual diversity, we want to emphasize the diversity and significance of renderings of the Ramayana in other genres. Recent scholarship on Indian Ramayana dramas and public culture testifies to the vitality and social significance of epic-related performances.[19] Building on this research, this volume highlights Ramayana tellings found in puppet theater, debate, song cycles, and iconographic traditions. These tellings possess their own logic, their own intended audience, and their own richness.

Finally, we seek to demonstrate that the telling of the Ramayana in India has included stories that conflict with one another. It is true that particular tellings have attained various degrees of dominance and/or popularity (Valmiki, Tulsi, the televised Ramayana ). Nonetheless, there have always been contesting voices. Where Hindu Ramayanas have predominated, Jain and Buddhist Ramayana poets have criticized or questioned those texts by producing their own tellings. Where male dominance has been prescribed in textual traditions, women's Ramayana songs have expressed alternative perspectives that are more in keeping with women's own concerns. Our essays suggest that the Ramayana tradition permits endless refashioning of the story, sometimes in actual opposition to the ways in which the story has previously been told.

The influence of two competing sets of religious tellings of the Rama story are examined in the essay by Reynolds. He points out that, despite wide-


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spread privileging of Hindu tellings of the Ramayana , Buddhist tellings of the story form an ancient, continuous, and coherent tradition in South Asia and beyond. He then goes on to show how both Hindu narrative elements and Buddhist values have influenced the composition of the complex and sophisticated Thai Ramakien , shedding light on the ways in which that text has been shaped by the multireligious diversity of the South Asian Ramayana tradition.

Tellings as Refashioning and Opposition

Despite the widespread belief that Rama acts as the embodiment of righteous action, certain deeds that he performs have troubled various authors of Ramayana texts over the centuries.[20] Because the textual treatment of these morally ambiguous deeds often involves dealing with them in creative ways, the study of such incidents can reveal some of the sources of diversity within the Ramayana tradition.[21] In Part Two of this volume, Kathleen Erndl and David Shulman examine how these incidents can be seen as nodes of narrative capable of generating different tellings, each pursuing its own logic.

A number of authors and commentators have puzzled over the ethically problematic way that Rama and Laksmana treat Surpanakha, Ravana's sister. In her chapter for this volume, Erndl brings structural analysis to bear on the mutilation of Surpanakha, an event which ultimately leads to Sita's abduction. The incident's ambiguities stem in various texts from the way that Laksmana contravenes the prescription that a warrior must never harm a woman; from Surpanakha's status as demoness and disguise as a beautiful woman; and from the attempts of Rama and Laksmana to tease and trick her. By examining the portrayal of this incident in a selected set of Sanskrit, Tamil, and Hindi Ramayana texts, Erndl demonstrates how its moral ambiguities have generated a whole array of renditions and commentaries. In doing so, she reveals a fascination within the Ramayana tradition for Surpanakha, a woman who moves about the forest independent of a male protector and boldly articulates her passionate feelings, as a kind of alter ego of Sita, often considered the model of the chaste and submissive wife.[22]

Shulman's essay considers another nodal incident in the narrative, the scene in which Rama repudiates Sita and then is informed by the gods that he is divine. Shulman juxtaposes Valmiki's account of the incident with Kampan's rendition, examining the fundamental motivations of each telling by considering two foci of ambiguity and literary creativity. One dilemma concerns Rama's relationship to his wife, now returned from a sojourn in another male's house: her ambiguous status—there is no proof that she remained chaste—dismays Rama's supporters. Rama's response to her return also raises issues about his own hybrid status as a deity in human form. Valmiki's account of the incident explores the extent to which Rama has


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forgotten his divine identity; in contrast, Kampan's account raises questions about the limited extent to which human beings can know the divine and attain union with him. Shulman brings to light both the differences in the two accounts and the ways in which these differences are embedded in different theological contexts.

If Erndl and Shulman focus upon diversity within the Ramayana tradition inspired by moral ambiguities, that tradition also encompasses ways of telling the story that contest the character portrayals, values, and concerns of dominant Ramayanas . Jain and Buddhist writers are not alone in this endeavor. Other tellings that oppose influential Hindu tellings (which I have labeled "oppositional tellings") exist as well. Two papers in Part Two explore the specific ways in which certain texts resist a dominant presentation of the story.

Narayana Rao's essay for this volume, an account of folksongs collected from Telugu women, focuses on a Ramayana tradition that contests the prevailing ideology of male dominance. Narayana Rao sees these songs as statements against what he calls "the public Ramayanas ," pointing out that the latter glorify "the accepted values of a male-dominated world," whereas the Telugu songs relate a story in which public events (coronation, war) are displaced by domestic ones such as Kausalya's morning sickness or Rama getting bathed by his mother. The overall emphasis in these songs differs as well. While Valmiki's Ramayana , for example, concentrates on the virtues of Rama, several of the women's folksongs question Rama's integrity and foreground the theme of the suffering that husbandly neglect causes a wife. Gloria Raheja, an anthropologist studying North Indian women's songs, has cautioned against assuming that "the identity and self-perceptions of Hindu women depend heavily on the set of male-authored mythic themes [such as wifely devotion, subservience to in-laws, and suppression of desire for marital intimacy] condensed into the figure of Sita.[23] Narayana Rao's analysis gives us another perspective, a way to hear another set of voices singing about the relationship between Sita and Rama.

Oppositional tellings of the Ramayana also emerged from the colonial context in South Asia, as Clinton Seely's paper about Michael Madhusudan Dutt shows. Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya reflects the complexity of contact between Indian and British culture. Dutt adored Milton, converted to Christianity, embraced blank verse, and composed some major poems in English. Yet he loved Hindu mythology and created a whole new tradition in Bengali writing. Both the rejections and the acceptances in his telling of the Ramayana reveal much about its author and his colonial context. As Seely points out, Dutt based the plot of his epic upon that of the dominant Bengali Ramayana by Krttivasa. Yet at the same time he subtly subverted the image of Rama by carefully interweaving three additional stories that serve to identify Ravana with heroic figures. As a result, the perplexed reader, expecting a


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more conventional characterization, often ends up admiring or feeling sympathy for the expected villain of the story. Dutt admitted to a friend that his character portrayal was the result of his contempt for traditional Hindu values like asceticism and his admiration for the enjoyment of possessions and power that was associated with colonial Calcutta.[24]

Such oppositional texts demonstrate the potential plurality of characterization and plot in the Ramayana tradition; analysis of kinds of audience in performance reveals another component of the tradition's diversity. Stuart Blackburn's essay examines a shadow-puppet tradition in present-day Kerala (based on Kampan's twelfth-century Tamil Iramavataram ), focusing on the play's "internal" audience. Unlike the Ram Lila of Banaras, performed before huge crowds, the spectators at the Kerala puppet plays are few—and those few often doze off soon after the performance begins. As a result, the puppeteers perform principally for one another. Aficionados of the genre, they strive to outdo each other in voluminous commentary and witty remarks, incorporating into the telling of the Ramayana verbal treatises on grammar, local references, and satire of pious ideals. This internal audience has thus shaped the many layers and frames of the drama, giving rise to yet another kind of diversity within the Ramayana tradition.

Tellings as Commentary and Programs for Action

Ramayana tellings provide a set of resources on which people have drawn—in their own way and for their own purposes—in order to accuse, justify, meditate, debate, and more. The papers in the final section of the volume, Part Three, explore how and why people select particular incidents from the Ramayana to express their view of reality. Such selective tellings—ones which adopt a nontraditional perspective on otherwise familiar features of the tale—have proved an effective means for conveying political views and for inculcating religious teachings. In Indian exegesis as well as tellings, the diversity of Ramayana tradition makes itself known.[25]

Paula Richman's paper analyzes the logic of E. V. Ramasami's exegesis of the Ramayana . In an oft-reprinted pamphlet intended for a popular readership, he argues that morally ambiguous episodes such as the killing of Valin, Rama's harsh treatment of Sita, and the mutilation of Surpanakha constitute the real core of the Ramayana . Using these incidents to guide his assessment of Ramayana characters and their values, he scathingly attacks Hinduism—especially the worship of Rama—as a North Indian way of subjugating South Indians, while glorifying Ravana, whom he identifies with the values of "Dravidian" culture.[26] Labeling the sanctity accorded the Ramayana , as well as the high status of the Brahmins that the Ramayana seeks to justify, as forms of North Indian domination, he exhorts fellow South Indians to liberate themselves by rejecting belief in Rama both as moral para-


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digm and as god. Such a reading of the Rama story functions as a clarion call to cultural separatism.

Medieval Srivaisnava commentators used their own form of Ramayana exegesis to explain a different kind of freedom: spiritual liberation. Patricia Mumme's paper shows how Tenkalai Srivaisnavas regard the actions of Ramayana characters as revealing truths about the relationship between the devotee and the divine Lord. In contrast to theologians from the rival Vatakalai sect, who wrote primarily for an elite audience of learned Brahmins, the Tenkalais addressed themselves to a broader lay audience that included women and non-Brahmin men, edifying this diverse group by incorporating incidents from the Ramayana . In their exegesis, the Tenkalai commentators select what other tellings usually regard as minor incidents, remove them from their usual narrative context, and use them in unexpected ways as parables to thwart the expectations of their audience. Such incidents shock hearers into questioning their ordinary assumptions about the nature of salvation, preparing them to accept Srivaisnava theological claims.

Selectivity generates another kind of power in the rasik sampraday based in Ayodhya, a sect whose religious beliefs and meditational practices Philip Lutgendorf analyzes in his essay. The theology and practices of the rasik tradition assume a telling of the Ramayana that foregrounds the time right after the wedding of Rama and Sita, when the couple savors the pleasures of love in their golden palace. The Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas (generally known by the shorter title Manas ) portrays this incident only briefly and discreetly; yet members of the rasik tradition elaborate on this account, prescribing various means to identify meditatively with the companions and servants of Sita and Rama during this period. Here we find not the heroic Rama but the erotic one, not the long-suffering Sita but one engaged in exploring life's pleasures. Rasik adepts say that the traditionally emphasized events—exile, war, coronation—constitute the conventional Ramayana , which is easily known; in contrast, true devotees seek the transcendent Ramayana of the love play between Rama and Sita, revealed only to initiates. Their interpretation of the Ramayana enables adherents to actualize heavenly play on earth through meditation.

If selectivity enables rasiks to attain their meditative goals, it is also, as Ramdas Lamb shows in his essay, key to the telling of the Ramayana among the Ramnamis, a militant Untouchable sect of the Chhattisgarh region in eastern Madhya Pradesh. Although the Ramnamis view the Manas as their official text, they reject some sections and stress others, reducing the text of 24,000 stanzas to a corpus of some four to five hundred individual verses. In addition, through ritual chanting and debates, members of the sect continue to personalize their Ramayana text, embellishing it with verses that usually then become part of the corpus. Lamb traces this process, showing how the Ramnamis began by viewing the Manas as inviolate but gradually came,


14

self-consciously, to cull the text for material consonant with their own beliefs. His research and that of Lutgendorf attest to another kind of fluidity within the Ramayana tradition, showing how even a single, apparently fixed text can be refashioned and thus appropriated to diverse ends.

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.[27] 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,[28] Sita has traditionally elicited the empathy of long-suffering wives,[29] and the proponents of a separate Tamil state have iden-


15

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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] A number of Dravidian tribals and lower jatis of southern and central India have caste traditions that connect them with Ravana and/or Lanka.[33]

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


16

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.[34] 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 .

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

A. K. Ramanujan

How many Ramayanas ? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas , a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been? And there are stories that answer the question. Here is one.

One day when Rama was sitting on his throne, his ring fell off. When it touched the earth, it made a hole in the ground and disappeared into it. It was gone. His trusty henchman, Hanuman, was at his feet. Rama said to Hanuman, "Look, my ring is lost. Find it for me."

Now Hanuman can enter any hole, no matter how tiny. He had the power to become the smallest of the small and larger than the largest thing. So he took on a tiny form and went down the hole.

He went and went and went and suddenly fell into the netherworld. There were women down there. "Look, a tiny monkey! It's fallen from above? Then they caught him and placed him on a platter (thali ). The King of Spirits (bhut ), who lives in the netherworld, likes to eat animals. So Hanuman was sent to him as part of his dinner, along with his vegetables. Hanuman sat on the platter, wondering what to do.

While this was going on in the netherworld, Rama sat on his throne on the earth above. The sage Vasistha and the god Brahma came to see him. They said to Rama, "We want to talk privately with you. We don't want anyone to hear what we say or interrupt it. Do we agree?"

"All right," said Rama, "we'll talk."

Then they said, "Lay down a rule. If anyone comes in as we are talking, his head should be cut off."

"It will be done," said Rama.

Who would be the most trustworthy person to guard the door? Hanuman had gone down to fetch the ring. Rama trusted no one more than Laksmana,


23

so he asked Laksmana to stand by the door. "Don't allow anyone to enter," he ordered.

Laksmana was standing at the door when the sage Visvamitra appeared and said, "I need to see Rama at once. It's urgent. Tell me, where is Rama?"

Laksmana said, "Don't go in now. He is talking to some people. It's important."

"What is there that Rama would hide from me?" said Visvamitra. "I must go in, right now."

Laksmana said, "I'11 have to ask his permission before I can let you in."

"Go in and ask then."

"I can't go in till Rama comes out. You'll have to wait."

"If you don't go in and announce my presence, I'll burn the entire kingdom of Ayodhya with a curse," said Visvamitra.

Laksmana thought, "If I go in now, I'll die. But if I don't go, this hotheaded man will burn down the kingdom. All the subjects, all things living in it, will die. It's better that I alone should die."

So he went right in.

Rama asked him, "What's the matter?"

"Visvamitra is here."

"Send him in."

So Visvamitra went in. The private talk had already come to an end. Brahma and Vasistha had come to see Rama and say to him, "Your work in the world of human beings is over. Your incarnation as Rama must now he given up. Leave this body, come up, and rejoin the gods." That's all they wanted to say.

Laksmana said to Rama, "Brother, you should cut off my head."

Rama said, "Why? We had nothing more to say. Nothing was left. So why should I cut off your head?"

Laksmana said, "You can't do that. You can't let me off because I'm your brother. There'll be a blot on Rama's name. You didn't spare your wife. You sent her to the jungle. I must be punished. I will leave."

Laksmana was an avatar of Sesa, the serpent on whom Visnu sleeps. His time was up too. He went directly to the river Sarayu and disappeared in the flowing waters.

When Laksmana relinquished his body, Rama summoned all his followers, Vibhisana, Sugriva, and others, and arranged for the coronation of his twin sons, Lava and Kusa. Then Rama too entered the river Sarayu.

All this while, Hanuman was in the netherworld. When he was finally taken to the King of Spirits, he kept repeating the name of Rama. "Rama Rama Rama . . ."

Then the King of Spirits asked, "Who are you?"

"Hanuman."

"Hanuman? Why have you come here?"


24

"Rama's ring fell into a hole. I've come to fetch it."

The king looked around and showed him a platter. On it were thousands of rings. They were all Rama's rings. The king brought the platter to Hanuman, set it down, and said, "Pick out your Rama's ring and take it."

They were all exactly the same. "I don't know which one it is," said Hanuman, shaking his head.

The King of Spirits said, "There have been as many Ramas as there are rings on this platter. When you return to earth, you will not find Rama. This incarnation of Rama is now over. Whenever an incarnation of Rama is about to be over, his ring falls down. I collect them and keep them. Now you can go."

So Hanuman left.

This story is usually told to suggest that for every such Rama there is a Ramayana .[1] The number of Ramayanas and the range of their influence in South and Southeast Asia over the past twenty-five hundred years or more are astonishing. Just a list of languages in which the Rama story is found makes one gasp: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan—to say nothing of Western languages. Through the centuries, some of these languages have hosted more than one telling of the Rama story. Sanskrit alone contains some twenty-five or more tellings belonging to various narrative genres (epics, kavyas or ornate poetic compositions, puranas or old mythological stories, and so forth). If we add plays, dance-dramas, and other performances, in both the classical and folk traditions, the number of Ramayanas grows even larger. To these must be added sculpture and bas-reliefs, mask plays, puppet plays and shadow plays, in all the many South and Southeast Asian cultures.[2] Camille Bulcke, a student of the Ramayana , counted three hundred tellings.[3] It's no wonder that even as long ago as the fourteenth century, Kumaravyasa, a Kannada poet, chose to write a Mahabharata , because he heard the cosmic serpent which upholds the earth groaning under the burden of Ramayana poets ( tinikidanuphanirayaramayanadakavigalabharadali ). In this paper, indebted for its data to numerous previous translators and scholars, I would like to sort out for myself, and I hope for others, how these hundreds of tellings of a story in different cultures, languages, and religious traditions relate to each other: what gets translated, transplanted, transposed.

Valmiki and Kampan: Two Ahalyas

Obviously, these hundreds of tellings differ from one another. I have come to prefer the word tellings to the usual terms versions or variants because the latter terms can and typically do imply that there is an invariant, an original or


25

Ur -text—usually Valmiki's Sanskrit Ramayana , the earliest and most prestigious of them all. But as we shall see, it is not always Valmiki's narrative that is carried from one language to another.

It would be useful to make some distinctions before we begin. The tradition itself distinguishes between the Rama story (ramakatha ) and texts composed by a specific person—Valmiki, Kampan, or Krttivasa, for example. Though many of the latter are popularly called Ramayanas (like Kamparamayanam ), few texts actually bear the title Ramayana ; they are given titles like Iramavataram (The Incarnation of Rama), Ramcaritmanas (The Lake of the Acts of Rama), Ramakien (The Story of Rama), and so on. Their relations to the Rama story as told by Valmiki also vary. This traditional distinction between katha (story) and kavya (poem) parallels the French one between sujet and recit , or the English one between story and discourse.[4] It is also analogous to the distinction between a sentence and a speech act. The story may be the same in two tellings, but the discourse may be vastly different. Even the structure and sequence of events may be the same, but the style, details, tone, and texture—and therefore the import—may be vastly different.

Here are two tellings of the "same" episode, which occur at the same point in the sequence of the narrative. The first is from the first book (Balakanda ) of Valmiki's Sanskrit Ramayana ; the second from the first canto (Palakantam ) of Kampan's Iramavataram in Tamil. Both narrate the story of Ahalya.

The Ahalya Episode: Valmiki

Seeing Mithila, Janaka's white
     and dazzling city, all the sages
cried out in praise, "Wonderful!
     How wonderful!"

Raghava, sighting on the outskirts
     of Mithila an ashram, ancient,
unpeopled, and lovely, asked the sage,
     "What is this holy place,

so like an ashram but without a hermit?
     Master, I'd like to hear: whose was it?"
Hearing Raghava's words, the great sage
     Visvamitra, man of fire,

expert in words answered, "Listen,
     Raghava, I'll tell you whose ashram
this was and how it was cursed
     by a great man in anger.

It was great Gautama's, this ashram
     that reminds you of heaven, worshiped even
by the gods. Long ago, with Ahalya
     he practiced tapas[5] here


26

for countless years. Once, knowing that Gautama
     was away, Indra (called Thousand Eyes),
Saci's husband, took on the likeness
     of the sage, and said to Ahalya:

'Men pursuing their desire do not wait
     for the proper season, O you who
have a perfect body. Making love
     with you: that's what I want.
That waist of yours is lovely.'

She knew it was Indra of the Thousand Eyes
     in the guise of the sage. Yet she,
wrongheaded woman, made up her mind,
     excited, curious about the king
of the gods.

And then, her inner being satisfied,
     she said to the god, 'I'm satisfied, king
of the gods. Go quickly from here.
     O giver of honor, lover, protect
yourself and me.'

And Indra smiled and said to Ahalya,
     'Woman of lovely hips, I am
very content. I'll go the way I came.'
     Thus after making love, he came out
of the hut made of leaves.

And, O Rama, as he hurried away,
     nervous about Gautama and flustered,
he caught sight of Gautama coming in,
     the great sage, unassailable
by gods and antigods,

empowered by his tapas , still wet
     with the water of the river
he'd bathed in, blazing like fire,
     with kusa grass and kindling
in his hands.

Seeing him, the king of the gods was
     terror-struck, his face drained of color.
The sage, facing Thousand Eyes now dressed
     as the sage, the one rich in virtue
and the other with none,

spoke to him in anger: 'You took my form,
     you fool, and did this that should never
be done. Therefore you will lose your testicles.'
     At once, they fell to the ground, they fell
even as the great sage spoke


27

his words in anger to Thousand Eyes.
     Having cursed Indra, he then cursed
Ahalya: 'You, you will dwell here
     many thousands of years, eating the air,
without food, rolling in ash,

and burning invisible to all creatures.
     When Rama, unassailable son
of Dasaratha, comes to this terrible
     wilderness, you will become pure,
you woman of no virtue,

you will be cleansed of lust and confusion.
     Filled then with joy, you'll wear again
your form in my presence.' And saying
     this to that woman of bad conduct,
blazing Gautama abandoned

the ashram, and did his tapas
     on a beautiful Himalayan peak,
haunt of celestial singers and
     perfected beings.

Emasculated Indra then
     spoke to the gods led by Agni
attended by the sages
     and the celestial singers.

'I've only done this work on behalf
     of the gods, putting great Gautama
in a rage, blocking his tapas .
     He has emasculated me

and rejected her in anger.
     Through this great outburst
of curses, I've robbed him
     of his tapas . Therefore,

great gods, sages, and celestial singers,
     help me, helper of the gods,
to regain my testicles.' And the gods,
     led by Agni, listened to Indra

of the Hundred Sacrifices and went
     with the Marut hosts
to the divine ancestors, and said,
     'Some time ago, Indra, infatuated,

ravished the sage's wife
     and was then emasculated
by the sage's curse. Indra,
     king of gods, destroyer of cities,


28

is now angry with the gods.
     This ram has testicles
but great Indra has lost his.
     So take the ram's testicles

and quickly graft them on to Indra.
     A castrated ram will give you
supreme satisfaction and will be
     a source of pleasure.

People who offer it
     will have endless fruit.
You will give them your plenty.'
     Having heard Agni's words,

the Ancestors got together
     and ripped off the ram's testicles
and applied them then to Indra
     of the Thousand Eyes.

Since then, the divine Ancestors
     eat these castrated rams
and Indra has the testicles
     of the beast through the power
of great Gautama's tapas .

Come then, Rama, to the ashram
     of the holy sage and save Ahalya
who has the beauty of a goddess."
     Raghava heard Visvamitra's words

and followed him into the ashram
     with Laksmana: there he saw
Ahalya, shining with an inner light
     earned through her penances,

blazing yet hidden from the eyes
     of passersby, even gods and antigods.[6]

The Ahalya Episode: Kampan

They came to many-towered Mithila
and stood outside the fortress.
On the towers were many flags.

 

There, high on an open field,
stood a black rock
that was once Ahalya,

 

the great sage's wife who fell
because she lost her chastity,
the mark of marriage in a house.



547


29

Rama's eyes fell on the rock,
the dust of his feet
wafted on it.

 

Like one unconscious
coming to,
cutting through ignorance,

 

changing his dark carcass
for true form
as he reaches the Lord's feet,

 

so did she stand alive
formed and colored
again as she once was.



548

In 550, Rama asks Visvamitra why this lovely woman had been turned to stone. Visvamitra replies:

"Listen. Once Indra,
Lord of the Diamond Axe,
waited on the absenceLord of the Diamond Axe,

 

of Gautama, a sage all spirit,
meaning to reach out
for the lovely breast
of doe-eyed Ahalya, his wife.




551

Hurt by love's arrows,
hurt by the look in her eyes
that pierced him like a spear, Indra
writhed and cast about
for stratagems;

 

one day, overwhelmed
and mindless, he isolated
the sage; and sneaked
into the hermitage
wearing the exact body of Gautama

 

whose heart knew no falsehoods.

552

Sneaking in, he joined Ahalya;
coupled, they drank deep
of the clear new wine
of first-night weddings;

 

and she knew.

 
 

Yet unable

 

to put aside what was not hers,
she dallied in her joy,
but the sage did not tarry,
he came back, a very Siva
with three eyes in his head.





553


30

Gautama, who used no arrows
from bows, could use more inescapable
powers of curse and blessing.

 

When he arrived, Ahalya stood there,
stunned, bearing the shame of a deed
that will not end in this endless world.

 

Indra shook in terror,
started to move away
in the likeness of a cat.



554

Eyes dropping fire, Gautama
saw what was done,
and his words flew
like the burning arrows
at your hand:

 

'May you be covered
by the vaginas
of a thousand women!'
In the twinkle of an eye
they came and covered him.





555

Covered with shame,
laughingstock of the world,
Indra left.

 

The sage turned
to his tender wife
and cursed:

 

'O bought woman!
May you turn to stone!'
and she fell at once

 

a rough thing
of black rock.


556

Yet as she fell she begged:
'To bear and forgive wrongs
is also the way of elders.
O Siva-like lord of mine,
set some limit to your curse!'

 

So he said: 'Rama
will come, wearing garlands that bring
the hum of bees with them.
When the dust of his feet falls on you,
you will be released from the body of stone.'





557

The immortals looked at their king
and came down at once to Gautama
in a delegation led by Brahma
and begged of Gautama to relent.

 

31

Gautama's mind had changed
and cooled. He changed
the marks on Indra to a thousand eyes
and the gods went back to their worlds,
while she lay there, a thing of stone.





558

That was the way it was.
while she lay there, a thing of stone.
From now on, no more misery,
only release, for all things
in this world.

 
 

O cloud-dark lord

 

who battled with that ogress,
black as soot, I saw there
the virtue of your hands
and here the virtue of your feet."[7]




559

Let me rapidly suggest a few differences between the two tellings. In Valmiki, Indra seduces a willing Ahalya. In Kampan, Ahalya realizes she is doing wrong but cannot let go of the forbidden joy; the poem has also suggested earlier that her sage-husband is all spirit, details which together add a certain psychological subtlety to the seduction. Indra tries to steal away in the shape of a cat, clearly a folklore motif (also found, for example, in the Kathasaritsagara , an eleventh-century Sanskrit compendium of folktales).[8] He is cursed with a thousand vaginas which are later changed into eyes, and Ahalya is changed into frigid stone. The poetic justice wreaked on both offenders is fitted to their wrongdoing. Indra bears the mark of what he lusted for, while Ahalya is rendered incapable of responding to anything. These motifs, not found in Valmiki, are attested in South Indian folklore and other southern Rama stories, in inscriptions and earlier Tamil poems, as well as in non-Tamil sources. Kampan, here and elsewhere, not only makes full use of his predecessor Valmiki's materials but folds in many regional folk traditions. It is often through him that they then become part of other Ramayanas .

In technique, Kampan is also more dramatic than Valmiki. Rama's feet transmute the black stone into Ahalya first; only afterward is her story told. The black stone standing on a high place, waiting for Rama, is itself a very effective, vivid symbol. Ahalya's revival, her waking from cold stone to fleshly human warmth, becomes an occasion for a moving bhakti (devotional) meditation on the soul waking to its form in god.

Finally, the Ahalya episode is related to previous episodes in the poem such as that in which Rama destroys the demoness Tataka. There he was the destroyer of evil, the bringer of sterility and the ashes of death to his enemies. Here, as the reviver of Ahalya, he is a cloud-dark god of fertility. Throughout


32

Kampan's poem, Rama is a Tamil hero, a generous giver and a ruthless destroyer of foes. And the bhakti vision makes the release of Ahalya from her rock-bound sin a paradigm of Rama's incarnatory mission to release all souls from world-bound misery.

In Valmiki, Rama's character is that not of a god but of a god-man who has to live within the limits of a human form with all its vicissitudes. Some argue that the references to Rama's divinity and his incarnation for the purpose of destroying Ravana, and the first and last books of the epic, in which Rama is clearly described as a god with such a mission, are later additions.[9] Be that as it may, in Kampan he is clearly a god. Hence a passage like the above is dense with religious feeling and theological images. Kampan, writing in the twelfth century, composed his poem under the influence of Tamil bhakti . He had for his master Nammalvar (9th C.?), the most eminent of the Srivaisnava saints. So, for Kampan, Rama is a god who is on a mission to root out evil, sustain the good, and bring release to all living beings. The encounter with Ahalya is only the first in a series, ending with Rama's encounter with Ravana the demon himself. For Nammalvar, Rama is a savior of all beings, from the lowly grass to the great gods:

By Rama's Grace

Why would anyone want
     to learn anything but Rama?

Beginning with the low grass
     and the creeping ant
with nothing
     whatever,

he took everything in his city,
     everything moving,
     everything still,

he took everything,
     everything born
of the lord
     of four faces,

he took them all
     to the very best of states.
          Nammalvar 7.5.1[10]

Kampan's epic poem enacts in detail and with passion Nammalvar's vision of Rama.

Thus the Ahalya, episode is essentially the same, but the weave, the texture, the colors are very different. Part of the aesthetic pleasure in the later poet's telling derives from its artistic use of its predecessor's work, from ring-


33

ing changes on it. 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 AdhyatmaRamayana , 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 .

Now the Tamil Ramayana of Kampan generates its own offspring, its own special sphere of influence. Read in Telugu characters in Telugu country, played as drama in the Malayalam area as part of temple ritual, it is also an important link in the transmission of the Rama story to Southeast Asia. It has been convincingly shown that the eighteenth-century Thai Ramakien owes much to the Tamil epic. For instance, the names of many characters in the Thai work are not Sanskrit names, but clearly Tamil names (for example, Rsyasrnga in Sanskrit but Kalaikkotu in Tamil, the latter borrowed into Thai). Tulsi's Hindi Ramcaritmanas and the Malaysian Hikayat Seri Ram too owe many details to the Kampan poem.[12]

Thus obviously transplantations take place through several mutes. In some languages the word for tea is derived from a northern Chinese dialect and in others from a southern dialect; thus some languages, like English and French, have some form of the word tea , while others, like Hindi and Russian, have some form of the word cha(y) . Similarly, the Rama story seems to have traveled along three routes, according to Santosh Desai: "By land, the northern route took the story from the Punjab and Kashmir into China, Tibet, and East Turkestan; by sea, the southern route carried the story from Gujarat and South India into Java, Sumatra, and Malaya; and again by land, the eastern route delivered the story from Bengal into Burma, Thailand, and Laos. Vietnam and Cambodia obtained their stories partly from Java and partly from India via the eastern route."[13]

Jaina Tellings

When we enter the world of Jains tellings, the Rama story no longer carries Hindu values. Indeed the Jaina texts express the feeling that the Hindus, especially the Brahmins, have maligned Ravana, made him into a villain. Here is a set of questions that a Jaina text begins by asking: "How can monkeys vanquish the powerful raksasa warriors like Ravana? How can noble men and Jaina worthies like Ravana eat flesh and drink blood? How can Kumbhakarna sleep through six months of the year, and never wake up even


34

though boiling oil was poured into his cars, elephants were made to trample over him, and war trumpets and conches blow around him? They also say that Ravana captured Indra and dragged him handcuffed into Lanka. Who can do that to Indra? All this looks a bit fantastic and extreme. They are lies and contrary to reason." With these questions in mind King Srenika goes to sage Gautama to have him tell the true story and clear his doubts. Gautama says to him, "I'll tell you what Jaina wise men say. Ravana is not a demon, he is not a cannibal and a flesh eater. Wrong-thinking poetasters and fools tell these lies." He then begins to tell his own version of the story.[14] Obviously, the Jaina Ramayana of Vimalasuri, called Paumacariya (Prakrit for the Sanskrit Padmacarita ), knows its Valmiki and proceeds to correct its errors and Hindu extravagances. Like other Jains puranas , this too is a pratipurana , an anti- or counter-purana . The prefix prati , meaning "anti-" or "counter-," is a favorite Jaina affix.

Vimalasuri the Jains opens the story not with Rama's genealogy and greatness, but with Ravana's. Ravana is one of the sixty-three leaders or salakapurusas of the Jaina tradition. He is noble, learned, earns all his magical powers and weapons through austerities (tapas ), and is a devotee of Jaina masters. To please one of them, he even takes a vow that he will not touch any unwilling woman. In one memorable incident, he lays siege to an impregnable fort. The queen of that kingdom is in love with him and sends him her messenger; he uses her knowledge of the fort to breach it and defeat the king. But, as soon as he conquers it, he returns the kingdom to the king and advises the queen to return to her husband. Later, he is shaken to his roots when he hears from soothsayers that he will meet his end through a woman, Sita. It is such a Ravana who falls in love with Sita's beauty, abducts her, tries to win her favors in vain, watches himself fall, and finally dies on the battlefield. In these tellings, he is a great man undone by a passion that he has vowed against but that he cannot resist. In another tradition of the Jaina Ramayanas , Sita is his daughter, although he does not know it: the dice of tragedy are loaded against him further by this oedipal situation. I shall say more about Sita's birth in the next section.

In fact, to our modern eyes, this Ravana is a tragic figure; we are moved to admiration and pity for Ravana when the Jainas tell the story. I should mention one more motif: according to the Jaina way of thinking, a pair of antagonists, Vasudeva and Prativasudeva—a hero and an antihero, almost like self and Other—are destined to fight in life after life. Laksmana and Ravana are the eighth incarnations of this pair. They are born in age after age, meet each other in battle after many vicissitudes, and in every encounter Vasudeva inevitably kills his counterpart, his prati . Ravana learns at the end that Laksmana is such a Vasudeva come to take his life. Still, overcoming his despair after a last unsuccessful attempt at peace, he faces his destined enemy in battle with his most powerful magic weapons. When finally he


35

hurls his discus (cakra ), it doesn't work for him. Recognizing Laksmana as a Vasudeva, it does not behead him but gives itself over to his hand. Thus Laksmana slays Ravana with his own cherished weapon.

Here Rama does not even kill Ravana, as he does in the Hindu Ramayanas . For Rama is an evolved Jaina soul who has conquered his passions; this is his last birth, so he is loath to kill anything. It is left to Laksmana to kill enemies, and according to inexorable Jaina logic it is Laksmana who goes to hell while Rama finds release (kaivalya ).

One hardly need add that the Paumacariya is filled with references to Jaina places of pilgrimage, stories about Jaina monks, and Jaina homilies and legends. Furthermore, since the Jainas consider themselves rationalists—unlike the Hindus, who, according to them, are given to exorbitant and often bloodthirsty fancies and rituals—they systematically avoid episodes involving miraculous births (Rama and his brothers are born in the normal way), blood sacrifices, and the like. They even rationalize the conception of Ravana as the Ten-headed Demon. When he was born, his mother was given a necklace of nine gems, which she put around his neck. She saw his face reflected in them ninefold and so called him Dasamukha, or the Ten-faced One. The monkeys too are not monkeys but a clan of celestials (vidyadharas ) actually related to Ravana and his family through their great grandfathers. They have monkeys as emblems on their flags: hence the name Vanaras or "monkeys."

From Written to Oral

Let's look at one of the South Indian folk Ramayanas . In these, the story usually occurs in bits and pieces. For instance, in Kannada, we are given separate narrative poems on Sita's birth, her wedding, her chastity test, her exile, the birth of Lava and Kusa, their war with their father Rama, and so on. But we do have one complete telling of the Rama story by traditional bards (tamburidasayyas ), sung with a refrain repeated every two lines by a chorus. For the following discussion, I am indebted to the transcription by Rame Gowda, P. K. Rajasekara, and S. Basavaiah.[15]

This folk narrative, sung by an Untouchable bard, opens with Ravana (here called Ravula) and his queen Mandodari. They are unhappy and childless. So Ravana or Ravula goes to the forest, performs all sorts of self-mortifications like rolling on the ground till blood runs from his back, and meets a jogi , or holy mendicant, who is none other than Siva. Siva gives him a magic mango and asks him how he would share it with his wife. Ravula says, "Of course, I'll give her the sweet flesh of the fruit and I'll lick the mango seed." The jogi is skeptical. He says to Ravula, "You say one thing to me. You have poison in your belly. You're giving me butter to eat, but you mean something else. If you lie to me, you'll eat the fruit of your actions yourself."


36

Ravula has one thing in his dreams and another in his waking world, says the poet. When he brings the mango home, with all sorts of flowers and incense for the ceremonial puja , Mandodari is very happy. After a ritual puja and prayers to Siva, Ravana is ready to share the mango. But he thinks, "If I give her the fruit, I'll be hungry, she'll be full," and quickly gobbles up the flesh of the fruit, giving her only the seed to lick. When she throws it in the yard, it sprouts and grows into a tall mango tree. Meanwhile, Ravula himself becomes pregnant, his pregnancy advancing a month each day.

In one day, it was a month, O Siva.
In the second, it was the second month,
and cravings began for him, O Siva.
How shall I show my face to the world of men, O Siva.
On the third day, it was the third month,
How shall I show my face to the world, O Siva.
On the fourth day, it was the fourth month.
How can I bear this, O Siva.
Five days, and it was five months,
O lord, you've given me trouble, O Siva.
I can't bear it, I can't bear it, O Siva.
How will I live, cries Ravula in misery.
Six days, and he is six months gone, O mother,
in seven days it was seven months.
O what shame, Ravula in his seventh month,
and soon came the eighth, O Siva.
Ravula was in his ninth full month.
When he was round and ready, she's born, the dear,
Sita is born through his nose.
When he sneezes, Sitamma is born,
And Ravula names her Sitamma.[16]

In Kannada, the word sita means "he sneezed": he calls her Sita because she is born from a sneeze. Her name is thus given a Kannada folk etymology, as in the Sanskrit texts it has a Sanskrit one: there she is named Sita, because King Janaka finds her in a furrow (sita). Then Ravula goes to astrologers, who tell him he is being punished for not keeping his word to Siva and for eating the flesh of the fruit instead of giving it to his wife. They advise him to feed and dress the child, and leave her some place where she will be found and brought up by some couple. He puts her in a box and leaves her in Janaka's field.

It is only after this story of Sita's birth that the poet sings of the birth and adventures of Rama and Laksmana. Then comes a long section on Sita's marriage contest, where Ravula appears and is humiliated when he falls under the heavy bow he has to lift. Rama lifts it and marries Sita. After that she is abducted by Ravana. Rama lays siege to Lanka with his monkey allies,


37

and (in a brief section) recovers Sita and is crowned king. The poet then returns to the theme of Sita's trials. She is slandered and exiled, but gives birth to twins who grow up to be warriors. They tie up Rama's sacrificial horse, defeat the armies sent to guard the horse, and finally unite their parents, this time for good.

One sees here not only a different texture and emphasis: the teller is everywhere eager to return to Sita—her life, her birth, her adoption, her wedding, her abduction and recovery. Whole sections, equal in length to those on Rama and Laksmana's birth, exile, and war against Ravana, are devoted to her banishment, pregnancy, and reunion with her husband. Furthermore, her abnormal birth as the daughter born directly to the male Ravana brings to the story a new range of suggestions: the male envy of womb and childbirth, which is a frequent theme in Indian literature, and an Indian oedipal theme of fathers pursuing daughters and, in this case, a daughter causing the death of her incestuous father.[17] The motif of Sita as Ravana's daughter is not unknown elsewhere. It occurs in one tradition of the Jaina stories (for example, in the Vasudevahimdi ) and in folk traditions of Kannada and Telugu, as well as in several Southeast Asian Ramayanas . In some, Ravana in his lusty youth molests a young woman, who vows vengeance and is reborn as his daughter to destroy him. Thus the oral traditions seem to partake of yet another set of themes unknown in Valmiki.

A Southeast Asian Example

When we go outside India to Southeast Asia, we meet with a variety of tellings of the Rama story in Tibet, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Java, and Indonesia. Here we shall look at only one example, the Thai Ramakirti . According to Santosh Desai, nothing else of Hindu origin has affected the tone of Thai life more than the Rama story.[18] The bas-reliefs and paintings on the walls of their Buddhist temples, the plays enacted in town and village, their ballets—all of them rework the Rama story. In succession several kings with the name "King Rama" wrote Ramayana episodes in Thai: King Rama I composed a telling of the Ramayana in fifty thousand verses, Rama II composed new episodes for dance, and Rama VI added another set of episodes, most taken from Valmiki. Places in Thailand, such as Lopburi (Skt. Lavapuri), Khidkin (Skt. Kiskindha), and Ayuthia (Skt. Ayodhya) with its ruins of Khmer and Thai art, are associated with Rama legends.

The Thai Ramakirti (Rama's glory) or Ramakien (Rama's story) opens with an account of the origins of the three kinds of characters in the story, the human, the demonic, and the simian. The second part describes the brothers' first encounters with the demons, Rama's marriage and banishment, the abduction of Sita, and Rama's meeting with the monkey clan. It also describes the preparations for the war, Hanuman's visit to Lanka and


38

his burning of it, the building of the bridge, the siege of Lanka, the fall of Ravana, and Rama's reunion with Sita. The third part describes an insurrection in Lanka, which Rama deputes his two youngest brothers to quell. This part also describes the banishment of Sita, tile birth of her sons, their war with Rama, Sita's descent into the earth, and the appearance of the gods to reunite Rama and Sita. Though many incidents look the same as they do in Valmiki, many things look different as well. For instance, as in the South Indian folk Ramayanas (as also in some Jaina, Bengali, and Kashmiri ones), the banishment of Sita is given a dramatic new rationale. The daughter of Surpanakha (the demoness whom Rama and Laksmana had mutilated years earlier in the forest) is waiting in the wings to take revenge on Sita, whom she views as finally responsible for her mother's disfigurement. She comes to Ayodhya, enters Sita's service as a maid, and induces her to draw a picture of Ravana. The drawing is rendered indelible (in some tellings, it comes to life in her bedroom) and forces itself on Rama's attention. In a jealous rage, he orders Sita killed. The compassionate Laksmana leaves her alive in the forest, though, and brings back the heart of a deer as witness to the execution.

The reunion between Rama and Sita is also different. When Rama finds out she is still alive, he recalls Sita to his palace by sending her word that he is dead. She rushes to see him but flies into a rage when she finds she has been tricked. So, in a fit of helpless anger, she calls upon Mother Earth to take her. Hanuman is sent to subterranean regions to bring her back, but she refuses to return. It takes the power of Siva to reunite them.

Again as in the Jaina instances and the South Indian folk poems, the account of Sita's birth is different from that given in Va1miki. When Dasaratha performs his sacrifice, he receives a rice ball, not the rice porridge (payasa ) mentioned in Valmiki. A crow steals some of the rice and takes it to Ravana's wife, who eats it and gives birth to Sita. A prophecy that his daughter will cause his death makes Ravana throw Sita into the sea, where the sea goddess protects her and takes her to Janaka.

Furthermore, though Rama is an incarnation of Visnu, in Thailand he is subordinate to Siva. By and large he is seen as a human hero, and the Ramakirti is not regarded as a religious work or even as an exemplary work on which men and women may pattern themselves. The Thais enjoy most the sections about the abduction of Sita and the war. Partings and reunions, which are the heart of the Hindu Ramayanas , are not as important as the excitement and the details of war, the techniques, the fabulous weapons. The Yuddhakanda or the War Book is more elaborate than in any other telling, whereas it is of minor importance in the Kannada folk telling. Desai says this Thai emphasis on war is significant: early Thai history is full of wars; their concern was survival. The focus in the Ramakien is not on family values and spirituality. Thai audiences are more fond of Hanuman than of Rama.


39

Neither celibate nor devout, as in the Hindu Ramayanas , here Hanuman is quite a ladies' man, who doesn't at all mind looking into the bedrooms of Lanka and doesn't consider seeing another man's sleeping wife anything immoral, as Valmiki's or Kampan's Hanuman does.

Ravana too is different here. The Ramakirti admires Ravana's resourcefulness and learning; his abduction of Sita is seen as an act of love and is viewed with sympathy. The Thais are moved by Ravana's sacrifice of family, kingdom, and life itself for the sake of a woman. His dying words later provide the theme of a famous love poem of the nineteenth century, an inscription of a Wat of Bangkok.[19] Unlike Valmiki's characters, the Thai ones are a fallible, human mixture of good and evil. The fall of Ravana here makes one sad. It is not an occasion for unambiguous rejoicing, as it is in Valmiki.

Patterns of Difference

Thus, not only do we have one story told by Valmiki in Sanskrit, we have a variety of Rama tales told by others, with radical differences among them. Let me outline a few of the differences we have not yet encountered. For instance, in Sanskrit and in the other Indian languages, there are two endings to the story. One ends with the return of Rama and Sita to Ayodhya, their capital, to be crowned king and queen of the ideal kingdom. In another ending, often considered a later addition in Valmiki and in Kampan, Rama hears Sita slandered as a woman who lived in Ravana's grove, and in the name of his reputation as a king (we would call it credibility, I suppose) he banishes her to the forest, where she gives birth to twins. They grow up in Valmiki's hermitage, learn the Ramayana as well as the arts of war from him, win a war over Rama's army, and in a poignant scene sing the Ramayana to their own father when he doesn't quite know who they are. Each of these two endings gives the whole work a different cast. The first one celebrates the return of the royal exiles and rounds out the tale with reunion, coronation, and peace. In the second one, their happiness is brief, and they arc separated again, making separation of loved ones (vipralambha ) the central mood of the whole work. It can even be called tragic, for Sita finally cannot bear it any more and enters a fissure in the earth, the mother from whom she had originally come—as we saw earlier, her name means "furrow," which is where she was originally found by Janaka. It also enacts, in the rise of Sita from the furrow and her return to the earth, a shadow of a Proserpine-like myth, a vegetation cycle: Sita is like the seed and Rama with his cloud-dark body the rain; Ravana in the South is the Pluto-like abductor into dark regions (the south is the abode of death); Sita reappears in purity and glory for a brief period before she returns again to the earth. Such a myth, while it should not be blatantly pressed into some rigid allegory, resonates in the shadows of the tale in many details. Note the many references to fertility and rain, Rama's


40

opposition to Siva-like ascetic figures (made explicit by Kampan in tile Ahalya story), his ancestor bringing the rivet Ganges into the plains of the kingdom to water and revive the ashes of the dead. Relevant also is the story of .Rsyasrnga, the sexually naive ascetic who is seduced by the beauty of a woman and thereby brings rain to Lomapada's kingdom, and who later officiates at the ritual which fills Dasaratha's queens' wombs with children. Such a mythic groundswell also makes us hear other tones in the continual references to nature, the potent presence of birds and animals as the devoted friends of Rama in his search for his Sita. Birds and monkeys are a real presence and a poetic necessity in the Valmiki Ramayana , as much as they are excrescences in the Jaina view. With each ending, different effects of the story are highlighted, and the whole telling alters its poetic stance.

One could say similar things about the different beginnings. Valmiki opens with a frame story about Valmiki himself. He sees a hunter aim an arrow and kill one of a happy pair of lovebirds. The female circles its dead mate and cries over it. The scene so moves the poet and sage Valmiki that he curses the hunter. A moment later, he realizes that his curse has taken the form of a line of verse—in a famous play on words, the rhythm of his grief (soka ) has given rise to a metrical form (sloka ). He decides to write the whole epic of Rama's adventures in that meter. This incident becomes, in later poetics, the parable of all poetic utterance: out of the stress of natural feeling (bhava ), an artistic form has to be found or fashioned, a form which will generalize and capture the essence (rasa ) of that feeling. This incident at the beginning of Valmiki gives the work an aesthetic self-awareness. One may go further: the incident of the death of a bird and the separation of loved ones becomes a leitmotif for this telling of the Rama story. One notes a certain rhythmic recurrence of an animal killed at many of the critical moments: when Dasaratha shoots an arrow to kill what he thinks is an elephant but instead kills a young ascetic filling his pitcher with water (making noises like an elephant drinking at a water hole), he earns a curse that later leads to the exile of Rama and the separation of father and son. When Rama pursues a magical golden deer (really a demon in disguise) and kills it, with its last breath it calls out to Laksmana in Rama's voice, which in turn leads to his leaving Sita unprotected; this allows Ravana to abduct Sita. Even as Ravana carries her off, he is opposed by an ancient bird which he slays with his sword. Furthermore, the death of the bird, in the opening section, and the cry of the surviving mate set the tone for the many separations throughout the work, of brother and brother, mothers and fathers and sons, wives and husbands.

Thus the opening sections of each major work set into motion the harmonics of the whole poem, presaging themes and a pattern of images. Kampan's Tamil text begins very differently. One can convey it best by citing a few stanzas.


41

The River

The cloud, wearing white
on white like Siva,
making beautiful the sky
on his way from the sea

 

grew dark

 

as the face of the Lord
who wears with pride
on his right the Goddess
of the scented breasts.




2

Mistaking the Himalayan dawn
for a range of gold,
the clouds let down chains
and chains of gleaming rain.

 

They pour like a generous giver
giving all he has,
remembering and reckoning
all he has.




15

It floods, it runs over
its continents like the fame
of a great king, upright,
infallible, reigning by the Laws
under cool royal umbrellas.





16

Concubines caressing
their lovers' hair, their lovers'
bodies, their lovers' limbs,

 

take away whole hills
of wealth yet keep little
in their spendthrift hands

 

as they move on: so too
the waters flow from the peaks
to the valleys,

 

beginning high and reaching low.

17

The flood carrying all before it
like merchants, caravans
loaded with gold, pearls,
peacock feathers and rows
of white tusk and fragrant woods.





18

Bending to a curve, the river,
surface colored by petals,
gold yellow pollen, honey,
the ochre flow of elephant lust,
looked much like a rainbow.





19


42

Ravaging hillsides, uprooting trees,
covered with fallen leaves all over,
the waters came,

 

like a monkey clan
facing restless seas
looking for a bridge.



20

Thick-faced proud elephants
ranged with foaming cavalier horses
filling the air with the noise of war,

 

raising banners,
the flood rushes
as for a battle with the sea.



22

Stream of numberless kings
in the line of the Sun,
continuous in virtue:

 

the river branches into deltas,
mother's milk to all lives
on the salt sea-surrounded land.



23

Scattering a robber camp on the hills
with a rain of arrows,

 

the sacred women beating their bellies
and gathering bow and arrow as they run,

 

the waters assault villages
like the armies of a king.


25

Stealing milk and buttermilk,
guzzling on warm ghee and butter
straight from the pots on the ropes,

 

leaning the marutam tree on the kuruntam
carrying away the clothes and bracelets
of goatherd girls at water games,

 

like Krsna dancing
on the spotted snake,
the waters are naughty.



26

Turning forest into slope,
field into wilderness,
seashore into fertile land,

 

changing boundaries,
exchanging landscapes,
the reckless waters

 

roared on like the pasts
that hurry close on the heels
of lives.



28


43

Born of Himalayan stone
and mingling with the seas,
it spreads, ceaselessly various,

 

one and many at once,

 

like that Original
even the measureless Vedas
cannot measure with words.



30

Through pollen-dripping groves,
clumps of champak,
lotus pools,

 

water places with new sands,
flowering fields cross-fenced
with creepers,

 

like a life filling
and emptying
a variety of bodies,

 

the river flows on.[20]

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This passage is unique to Kampan; it is not found in Valmiki. It describes the waters as they are gathered by clouds from the seas and come down in rain and flow as floods of the Sarayu river down to Ayodhya, the capital of Rama's kingdom. Through it, Kampan introduces all his themes and emphases, even his characters, his concern with fertility themes (implicit in Valmiki), the whole dynasty of Rama's ancestors, and his vision of bhakti through the Ramayana .

Note the variety of themes introduced through the similes and allusions, each aspect of the water symbolizing an aspect of the Ramayana story itself and representing a portion of the Ramayana universe (for example, monkeys), picking up as it goes along characteristic Tamil traditions not to be found anywhere else, like the five landscapes of classical Tamil poetry. The emphasis on water itself, the source of life and fertility, is also an explicit part of the Tamil literary tradition. The Kural —the so-called Bible of the Tamils, a didactic work on the ends and means of the good life—opens with a passage on God and follows it up immediately with a great ode in celebration of the rains (Tirukkural 2).

Another point of difference among Ramayanas is the intensity of focus on a major character. Valmiki focuses on Rama and his history in his opening sections; Vimalasuri's Jaina Ramayana and the Thai epic focus not on Rama but on the genealogy and adventures of Ravana; the Kannada village telling focuses on Sita, her birth, her wedding, her trials. Some later extensions like the Adbhuta Ramayana and the Tamil story of Satakanthavana even give Sita a heroic character: when the ten-headed Ravana is killed, another appears with a hundred heads; Rama cannot handle this new menace, so it is Sita


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who goes to war and slays the new demon.[21] The Santals, a tribe known for their extensive oral traditions, even conceive of Sita as unfaithful—to the shock and horror of any Hindu bred on Valmiki or Kampan, she is seduced both by Ravana and by Laksmana. In Southeast Asian texts, as we saw earlier, Hanuman is not the celibate devotee with a monkey face but a ladies' man who figures in many love episodes. In Kampan and Tulsi, Rama is a god; in the Jaina texts, he is only an evolved Jaina man who is in his last birth and so does not even kill Ravana. In the latter, Ravana is a noble hero fated by his karma to fall for Sita and bring death upon himself, while he is in other texts an overweening demon. Thus in the conception of every major character there are radical differences, so different indeed that one conception is quite abhorrent to those who hold another. We may add to these many more: elaborations on the reason why Sita is banished, the miraculous creation of Sita's second son, and the final reunion of Rama and Sita. Every one of these occurs in more than one text, in more than one textual community (Hindu, Jaina, or Buddhist), in more than one region.

Now, is there a common core to the Rama stories, except the most skeletal set of relations like that of Rama, his brother, his wife, and the antagonist Ravana who abducts her? Are the stories bound together only by certain family resemblances, as Wittgenstein might say ? Or is it like Aristotle's jack knife? When the philosopher asked an old carpenter how long he had had his knife, the latter said, "Oh, I've had it for thirty years. I've changed the blade a few times and the handle a few times, but it's the same knife." Some shadow of a relational structure claims the name of Ramayana for all these tellings, but on closer look one is not necessarily all that like another. Like a collection of people with the same proper name, they make a class in name alone.

Thoughts on Translation

That may be too extreme a way of putting it. Let me back up and say it differently, in a way that covers more adequately the differences between the texts and their relations to each other, for they are related. One might think of them as a series of translations clustering around one or another in a family of texts: a number of them cluster around Valmiki, another set around the Jaina Vimalasuri, and so on.

Or these translation-relations between texts could be thought of in Peircean terms, at least in three ways.

Where Text I and Text 2 have a geometrical resemblance to each other, as one triangle to another (whatever the angles, sizes, or colors of the lines), we call such a relation iconic .[22] In the West, we generally expect translations to be "faithful," i.e. iconic. Thus, when Chapman translates Homer, he not only preserves basic textual features such as characters, imagery, and order of incidents , but tries to reproduce a hexameter and retain the same number


45

of lines as in the original Greek—only the language is English and the idiom Elizabethan. When Kampan retells Valmiki's Ramayana in Tamil, he is largely faithful in keeping to the order and sequence of episodes, the structural relations between the characters of father, son, brothers, wives, friends, and enemies. But the iconicity is limited to such structural relations. His work is much longer than Valmiki's, for example, and it is composed in more than twenty different kinds of Tamil meters, while Valmiki's is mostly in the sloka meter.

Very often, although Text 2 stands in an iconic relationship to Text ! in terms of basic elements such as plot, it is filled with local detail, folklore, poetic traditions, imagery, and so forth—as in Kampan's telling or that of the Bengali Krttivasa. In the Bengali Ramayana , Rama's wedding is very much a Bengali wedding, with Bengali customs and Bengali cuisine.[23] We may call such a text indexical : the text is embedded in a locale, a context, refers to it, even signifies it, and would not make much sense without it. Here, one may say, the Ramayana is not merely a set of individual texts, but a genre with a variety of instances.

Now and then, as we have seen, Text 2 uses the plot and characters and names of Text 1 minimally and uses them to say entirely new things, often in an effort to subvert the predecessor by producing a countertext. We may call such a translation symbolic . The word translation itself here acquires a somewhat mathematical sense, of mapping a structure of relations onto another plane or another symbolic system. When this happens, the Rama story has become almost a second language of the whole culture area, a shared core of names, characters, incidents, and motifs, with a narrative language in which Text 1 can say one thing and Text 2 something else, even the exact opposite. Valmiki's Hindu and Vimalasuri's Jaina texts in India—or the Thai Ramakirti in Southeast Asia—are such symbolic translations of each other.

One must not forget that to some extent all translations, even the so-called faithful iconic ones, inevitably have all three kinds of elements. When Goldman and his group of scholars produce a modern translation of Valmiki's Ramayana , they are iconic in the transliteration of Sanskrit names, the number and sequence of verses, the order of the episodes, and so forth.[24] But they are also indexical, in that the translation is in English idiom and comes equipped with introductions and explanatory footnotes, which inevitably contain twentieth-century attitudes and misprisions; and symbolic, in that they cannot avoid conveying through this translation modern understandings proper to their reading of the text. But the proportions between the three kinds of relations differ vastly between Kampan and Goldman. And we accordingly read them for different reasons and with different aesthetic expectations. We read the scholarly modern English translation largely to gain a sense of the original Valmiki, and we consider it successful to the extent that it resembles the original. We read Kampan to read Kampan, and we judge him on his own terms—not by his resemblance to Valmiki but, if any-


46

thing, by the extent that he differs from Valmiki. In the one, we rejoice in the similarity; in the other, we cherish and savor the differences.

One may go further and say that the cultural area in which Ramayanas are endemic has a pool of signifiers (like a gene pool), signifiers that include plots, characters, names, geography, incidents, and relationships. Oral, written, and performance traditions, phrases, proverbs, and even sneers carry allusions to the Rama story. When someone is carrying on, you say, "What's this Ramayana now? Enough." In Tamil, a narrow room is called a kiskindha ; a proverb about a dim-witted person says, "After hearing the Ramayana all night, he asks how Rama is related to Sita"; in a Bengali arithmetic textbook, children are asked to figure the dimensions of what is left of a wall that Hanuman built, after he has broken down part of it in mischief. And to these must be added marriage songs, narrative poems, place legends, temple myths, paintings, sculpture, and the many performing arts.

These various texts not only relate to prior texts directly, to borrow or refute, but they relate to each other through this common code or common pool. Every author, if one may hazard a metaphor, dips into it and brings out a unique crystallization, a new text with a unique texture and a fresh context. The great texts rework the small ones, for "lions are made of sheep," as Valery said. And sheep are made of lions, too: a folk legend says that Hanuman wrote the original Ramayana on a mountaintop, after the great war, and scattered the manuscript; it was many times larger than what we have now. Valmiki is said to have captured only a fragment of it.[25] In this sense, no text is original, yet no telling is a mere retelling—and the story has no closure, although it may be enclosed in a text. In India and in Southeast Asia, no one ever reads the Ramayana or the Mahabharata for the first time. The stories are there, "always already."

What Happens When You Listen

This essay opened with a folktale about the many Ramayanas . Before we close, it may be appropriate to tell another tale about Hanuman and Rama's ring.[26] But this story is about the power of the Ramayana , about what happens when you really listen to this potent story. Even a fool cannot resist it; he is entranced and caught up in the action. The listener can no longer bear to be a bystander but feels compelled to enter the world of the epic: the line between fiction and reality is erased.

A villager who had no sense of culture and no interest in it was married to a woman who was very cultured. She tried various ways to cultivate his taste for the higher things in life but he just wasn't interested.

One day a great reciter of that grand epic the Ramayana came to the village. Every evening he would sing, recite, and explain the verses of the epic. The whole village went to this one-man performance as if it were a rare feast.


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The woman who was married to the uncultured dolt tried to interest him in the performance. She nagged him and nagged him, trying to force him to go and listen. This time, he grumbled as usual but decided to humor her. So he went in the evening and sat at the back. It was an all-night performance, and he just couldn't keep awake. He slept through the night. Early in the morning, when a canto had ended and the reciter sang the closing verses for the day, sweets were distributed according to custom. Someone put some sweets into the mouth of the sleeping man. He woke up soon after and went home. His wife was delighted that her husband had stayed through the night and asked him eagerly how he enjoyed the Ramayana . He said, "It was very sweet." The wife was happy to hear it.

The next day too his wife insisted on his listening to the epic. So he went to the enclosure where the reciter was performing, sat against a wall, and before long fell fast asleep. The place was crowded and a young boy sat on his shoulder, made himself comfortable, and listened open-mouthed to the fascinating story. In the morning, when the night's portion of the story came to an end, everyone got up and so did the husband. The boy had left earlier, but the man felt aches and pains from the weight he had borne all night. When he went home and his wife asked him eagerly how it was, he said, "It got heavier and heavier by morning." The wife said, "That's the way the story is." She was happy that her husband was at last beginning to feel the emotions and the greatness of the epic.

On the third day, he sat at the edge of the crowd and was so sleepy that he lay down on the floor and even snored. Early in the morning, a dog came that way and pissed into his mouth a little before he woke up and went home. When his wife asked him how it was, he moved his mouth this way and that, made a face and said, "Terrible. It was so salty." His wife knew something was wrong. She asked him what exactly was happening and didn't let up till he finally told her how he had been sleeping through the performance every night.

On the fourth day, his wife went with him, sat him down in the very first row, and told him sternly that he should keep awake no matter what might happen. So he sat dutifully in the front row and began to listen. Very soon, he was caught up in the adventures and the characters of the great epic story. On that day, the reciter was enchanting the audience with a description of how Hanuman the monkey had to leap across the ocean to take Rama's signet ring to Sita. When Hanuman was leaping across the ocean, the signet ring slipped from his hand and fell into the ocean. Hanuman didn't know what to do. He had to get the ring back quickly and take it to Sita in the demon's kingdom. While he was wringing his hands, the husband who was listening with rapt attention in the first row said, "Hanuman, don't worry. I'll get it for you." Then he jumped up and dived into the ocean, found the ring in the ocean floor, brought it back, and gave it to Hanuman.

Everyone was astonished. They thought this man was someone special,


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really blessed by Rama and Hanuman. Ever since, he has been respected in the village as a wise elder, and he has also behaved like one. That's what happens when you really listen to a story, especially to the Ramayana .

Three
Ramayana, Rama Jataka, and Ramakien: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Buddhist Traditions

Frank E. Reynolds

In the history and literature of religions few stories have been told as many different times in as many different ways as the story of Rama. For at least two thousand years—and probably longer—various versions of the story have been told in India and Sri Lanka; for over a thousand years—and probably much longer still—these and other versions have been told in Central and Southeast Asia, in China and Japan. Now, increasingly, the story is being told in the West as well.[1]

The story of Rims has been recited, sung, and commented on by bards, priests, and monks. It has been dramatized and danced in royal courts and in rustic villages. It has been depicted in the sculpture and art of innumerable temples in capital cities and faraway provinces. Its characters have been the subjects of worship, and the events that the story recounts have been associated with famous places that mark the geography of various locales.

What is more, certain episodes in the story have been singled out, taking on special significance in particular contexts. Segments of the story have been presented in order to evoke religious devotion, to glorify royal sponsors (often in direct opposition to other royal competitors), to inculcate moral values, to express and cultivate aesthetic sensitivities, and—perhaps most of all—simply to provide popular entertainment. Particular segments of the story have also been performed for other less obviously related purposes. For example, in certain very popular rituals in southern Thailand the enactment of certain episodes from the Rama story (most notably that in which Rama kills Ravana) serves as a substitute for the performance of animal sacrifice.[2]

For the most part the story of Rama has been presented and interpreted as a Hindu story told primarily in Hindu contexts. And there is some justification for this emphasis. Certainly it is within Hinduism that the Rims story has had its most elaborated and sophisticated tellings and has exercised its


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greatest popular appeal. This emphasis, however, tends to throw into the shadows the possibility, already raised in Ramanujan's essay, that the story of Rama is better understood as an Indian/Southeast Asian story that has been crystallized (to use his image) in the context of a variety of religious traditions including, but not limited to, Hinduism.[3]

I propose here to consider the religious structure of the classical Rama stories belonging to the Hindu tradition, and the parallel but contrasting religious structure of the classical Rama stories that belong to the tradition of Theravada Buddhism.[4] With this background established, I will go on to raise a fundamental question concerning the great tradition of Rama narratives that has been prominent in Thailand at least since the late eighteenth century. Is this so-called Ramakien (Glory of Rama) tradition essentially Hindu in character, as many scholars have presumed? Or is it—as one might expect given its sitz im leben in Thailand—essentially Buddhist? It is my hope that by exploring this question we will gain a better understanding not only of the relevant literary texts but of the correlated forms of dance, sculpture, and painting as well.[5]

Rama Traditions in Hinduism

Although the Rama story is not, as such, a Hindu story, Hindu versions are very ancient. They have been a prominent element in Hindu religious life over the centuries and continue to play a prominent role in contemporary Hinduism. Moreover, certain dominant features in many Rama traditions— both in India and in Southeast Asia—can be clearly identified as Hindu.

Most of the literary versions of the classical Hindu Rama story are attributed to an author recognized as a religiously inspired sage or poet. In some cases the reputed author (for example, Valmiki) seems from our perspective more or less a mythic figure. In other cases the reputed author is a relatively identifiable historical personage (for example, Tulsidas). Either way, the author is considered to be a Hindu virtuoso possessing special religious insight and poetic inspiration.

For the most part, these Hindu crystallizations set the story of Rama in a primordial time situated at or near the beginning of the present eon when the gods are very much involved in human affairs and the character of the world as we know it is just being established.[6] At a certain moment, the proper order in the cosmos and society is challenged by a countervailing force that threatens to disrupt the world with injustice and disharmony. In order to prevent this situation from getting out of hand, a prominent god (usually Visnu) becomes incarnate in the person of Rama, a prince of a northern kingdom usually identified with the city of Ayodhya in northeastern India. In his incarnation as Rama Visnu is surrounded by a host of companions and helpers, many of whom are themselves the embodiments or descendants


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of members of the Hindu pantheon—although the particular deities and the relationships involved vary significantly from one account to another. In some Hindu versions Rama and his companions are presented in a way that highlights Rama's divinity and thus evokes devotion directed toward him. In other versions Rama and his companions are depicted as semidivine exemplars who embody the virtues that Hindus are expected to cultivate. In still other versions a greater degree of moral ambiguity is evident.

In most classical Hindu accounts Rama is denied his rightful succession to the throne through the machinations of one of his father's wives, who seeks the throne for her own son. But the primary opponent of Rama and his illustrious companions—the figure around whom the forces of disorder are most fully marshalled—is Ravana, the ruler of the kingdom of Lanka in the south. Like most of the major characters in the story, Ravana is usually depicted as the embodiment, descendant, or assistant of one of the Hindu gods, generally one not in particularly good favor with the tellers of the tale. As for Ravana himself, he is a more or less demonic figure who acts in ways that generate disorder in the cosmos and turbulence in society. In some tellings of the tale Ravana is presented as a thoroughly evil character with no redeeming virtues. In others he is more a kind of flawed hero whose demise, though necessary and appropriate, is not devoid of truly tragic dimensions.

According to most classical Hindu versions, the battle between the forces of order and disorder, between Rama and his companions on the one hand, and Ravana and his allies on the other, is fully joined when Ravana becomes desirous of Rama's wife, Sita, and kidnaps her. But, after winning the initial round of his battle with Rims, Ravana is twice defeated—first by Sita, who, despite her position as a powerless captive, rebuffs his advances, and then by Rama, who invades Ravana's capital, overcomes his armies, and finally kills him in personal combat. Thus the forces of disorder and injustice that were threatening the cosmos and society are destroyed. With his mission accomplished, Rama returns to Ayodhya with Sita at his side and takes the throne that is rightfully his.

Rama Traditions in Theravada Buddhism

Like the Hindus, Theravada Buddhists have, over the centuries, crystallized their own classical versions of the Rama story, ones whose religious structure clearly establishes their Buddhist identity.[7] The basic components of this Buddhist structure parallel the basic components of the Hindu pattern, but they differ in fundamental respects.

Within the Buddhist context there are two classical crystallizations of the Rama story that need to be considered. The first is the Dasaratha Jataka , a relatively well known text. Some scholars have argued that this text (which they date to the pre-Christian era) is actually the first crystallization of the


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Rama story that we possess; others contend that it was written after Valmiki's version. Either way—and my own view is that the evidence is not conclusive—there is general agreement that the Dasaratha Jataka is a very ancient Buddhist crystallization of the Rama story.[8]

The second Buddhist-oriented Rama tradition is much more complex and in many respects much more interesting, though far less widely known and studied than the Dasaratha Jataka . Dating from medieval times, this Buddhist Rama tradition has had a widespread distribution through an area we might call greater Laos, from Yunan in the north through Laos and northeastern Thailand to the borders of Cambodia in the south. The most extensive text that we now possess is the Laotian Phra Lak/Phra Lam (the Laotian names for Laksmana and Rama) which has been published in a two-volume edited version that runs to more than nine hundred pages.[9] In addition, there are a number of "sister texts" that are clearly a part of this same classical tradition.[10]

Within Buddhist tradition, the author to whom the various literary crystallizations of the Rama story are attributed does not vary from text to text. In each instance the "author," in the sense of the first teller of the tale, is said to be the Buddha himself. The Dasaratha Jataka is included in a lengthy jataka commentary that presents itself as a collection of jataka stories (stories of events in the previous lives of the Buddha) that the Buddha preached during his stay at the Jetavana monastery. The classical Rama texts of the Laotian tradition are not included in any of the collections traditionally attributed to the founder. However, each of these independent texts quite explicitly presents itself as a sermon preached by the Buddha during the course of his ministry.

Like the classical Hindu versions, the various Buddhist crystallizations are situated in a special time that is clearly set apart from the present day. In both the Dasaratha Jataka and the Laotian tradition, this time is located in the distant past, when the Buddha was living one of his more eventful previous lives. The Laotian texts also make clear that these previous lives took place at or near the beginning of the present cosmic epoch, at a time when the gods were closely involved in human affairs and the conditions of our present existence were being established. Their account draws heavily on the classical Theravada cosmogony that appears in the Pali Tipitaka, most fully in the Aggañña Sutta. [11]

The Phra Lak/Phra Lain cosmogony begins with the descent of two brahma deities, a male and a female, from the heavens (where they had escaped the destruction of the old world) to the new earth that is taking shape out of the waters.[12] Having been tempted into tasting the "savor of the material world," the two brahma deities lose their divine powers and are unable to return to the heavenly realm. Living now on earth, they found the city of Inthapatha on the banks of the Mekong River and establish a dynastic suc-


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cession that divides into two lines. One line—which continues to rule in the original kingdom of Inthapatha—runs from the original divine couple to a great grandson named Ravana. The other line—which founds its own royal city further to the north on the site of the present Laotian capital of Vientienne—runs from the original divine couple to two other great grandsons named Phra Lak and Phra Lam.

In this cosmogonic account Indra, who is an especially important deity within the Theravada tradition, plays a very significant role. Specifically, he facilitates the rebirth processes that result in the birth of Ravana as Ravana and of Rama as Rama. Having been impressed with the intellectual erudition of a deformed child, Indra sees to it that the child's physical deformity is healed and that he is ultimately reborn as Ravana. Later, as Indra becomes aware of the threat to the proper order that Ravana's activities are posing, he sees to it that a bodhisatta (a future Buddha) is reborn as Rama.[13]

As one might expect, virtually all the Buddhist crystallizations of the story identify Rama and his companions as the rebirth precursors of the Buddha and his family or faithful disciples.[14] In the Dasaratha Jataka this is the only source for the sacrality of the major figures in the story, whereas in the Phra Lak/Phra Lain tradition the leading figures often simultaneously participate in the sacrality associated with divinities central to Buddhist cosmology. Even here, however, the primary emphasis is placed on the rebirth connection between Rama and his companions on the one hand and the Buddha and his companions on the other.[15]

These two Theravada Buddhist traditions also interpret the exact identity of the disrupting forces that Rama must overcome rather differently. In the Dasaratha Jataka the enemy is not personified, and the "victory" is purely spiritual. In this distinctive crystallization of the Rama story, the enemy is the kind of desirous attachment that binds persons to this-worldly life; and the victory comes when the exiled Rama confronts the news of his father's untimely death with an appropriately Buddhist attitude of equanimity and an appropriately Buddhist commitment to compassionate activity. In the later Phra Lak/Phra Lam tradition, the enemy appears in his familiar guise as Ravana, and the narrative shares with the Hindu versions many key episodes of encounter and conflict.[16] But in the Phra Lak/Phra Lam context, Ravana, like the companions of Rama, is closely associated with a figure who plays a role in the life of the Buddha. In some cases Ravana is identified as an earlier form of Mara, the personalized embodiment of desire and death whom the Buddha defeats again and again during the course of his final life as Gotama. In other cases he is identified as the rebirth precursor of Devadatta, the Buddha's angry and desire-driven cousin and archenemy who repeatedly challenges him but finally succumbs in the face of the Buddha's superior wisdom and compassion.[17]

Finally, both tellings culminate with the triumphant return of Rama to his


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own country and his installation as the legitimate successor to his father. In religious terms, proper order is restored, and a ruler imbued with Buddhist virtues reclaims the throne. In the Dasaratha Jataka Rama returns to Banaras, where his father had been king, and establishes his wise and benevolent rule. In the Phra Lak/Phra Lam tradition Rama returns to and establishes his wise and benevolent rule in the Laotian city of his birth. In both instances, the basic theme is the same: a dynasty that embodies and supports Buddhist values has carried the day and is now firmly in charge.

Rama Traditions in Thailand: the Texts

Thus far, we have characterized two quite distinctive classical Rama traditions, one clearly Hindu and one clearly Buddhist. With that background in mind, we can now turn to our question concerning the Ramakien tradition established in Thailand in the late eighteenth century. Is it Hindu or Buddhist? Or is it a new kind of crystallization that combines elements of both?

Although modern Thai versions of the Rama story show definite affinities with South Indian, Javanese, and Khmer (Cambodian) versions, there is simply no basis for determining with any degree of precision when, from where, or in what form the story was introduced into the central Thai context.[18] The fact that certain episodes of the Rama story have been geographically localized at sacred sites around the city of Lopburi suggests that the Rama story may have been prominent there during the late centuries of the first millennium C.E. , when Lopburi was the capital of a major Mon kingdom, and/or during the first centuries of the second millennium C.E. , when it was a major provincial center of the Khmer empire ruled from Angkor.

The fact that the most important ruler of the early Thai kingdom of Sukothai took the name Ramkemheng (Rama the Strong) indicates that by the late thirteenth century some form of the Rama story was well established in the area, and that it had already been taken up by the Thai. And it is certain that a classical version of the Rama story played a significant role in the religion and culture of the Thai kingdom that dominated central Thailand from the fourteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. It is not by chance that the capital of this kingdom was named Ayudhya (the Thai name for the city of Rama) and that several of the kings who ruled there took names that included the name of Rama. But the destruction and sacking of Ayudhya in the mid eighteenth century has made it impossible to reconstruct the pre-modern tradition in any detail.[19]

When, in the late eighteenth century, a stable new dynasty was established with its capital at Bangkok, one of the prime concerns of King Rama I was to reconstruct the religious and cultural life of the country. One of the major components in that reconstructive effort was his own specifically


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ordered and personally supervised composition of a new crystallization of the Rama story called the Ramakien . This classic text was then supplemented by episodes written by King Rama II (reigned 1809-1824) and by King Rama VI (reigned 1925-1935).[20]

Any reader of these Ramakien texts will be immediately impressed by the Hindu character of the narrative. From the outset the Hindu gods dominate the scene. In the background is Siva as the preeminent deity, the creator of the world, and the continuing presence under whose aegis the narrative unfolds. More in the foreground of the action is Visnu, who at Siva's behest becomes incarnate in the person of Rama in order to save the world from the threat of social and cosmic disorder. The Hindu gods continue to play a role throughout the narrative, and Hindu figures continue to dominate the action.

Conversely, the most crucial elements of the earlier Buddhist versions of the story are simply not present. There is no suggestion whatsoever that the Buddha was the original teller of the tale, and, although there is a clear cosmogonic dimension to the narrative, there are no indications that a distinctively Buddhist version of the cosmogony had any influence on the presentation. And—what is certainly most important—the story is not presented as an incident in a previous life of the Buddha.

But before we jump to the seemingly obvious conclusion that we are dealing with an unambiguously Hindu crystallization of the story, several additional factors need to be taken into account. First, the primary Ramakien text was produced by (and widely associated with) an "author" who was not only a Buddhist king but one especially noted for his support of Buddhism. Second, during the period when the principal Ramakien text was being composed, Thai Buddhists were actively engaged in encompassing and assimilating Hindu elements. This was the period, for example, when authoritative Buddhist texts were being written in which Siva and Visnu were explicitly included among the deities who populate the three worlds of the Buddhist cosmos.[21] Third, since various hierarchical, brahmanical, and dualistic elements that characterize some Hindu versions of the story are not prominent in the Rarnakien , much of the narrative is quite compatible with Buddhist sensibilities. Fourth, a careful reading discerns distinctively Buddhist emphases in the text. For example, Indra plays a more prominent role than in most Hindu tellings, karmic explanations are more common, and Buddhist attitudes toward life are given greater play.[22]

But the strongest argument against viewing the Ramakien as an unambiguously Hindu text (or perhaps even a Hindu text at all) comes from the epilogue attached to the original composition by King Rama I himself. "The writing of the Ramakien, " he asserts, "was done in accordance with a traditional tale. It is not of abiding importance; rather, it has been written to be used on celebrative occasions. Those who hear it and see it performed should


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not be deluded. Rather, they should be mindful of impermanence."[23] The Thai word that Rama I uses to convey the notion of delusion is lailong —a direct translation of the Pali moha , a technical term that refers to one of the three preeminent Buddhist vices (delusion, anger, and greed); and the word that he uses when he urges his readers to be mindful of impermanence is anitchang —the Thai transliteration of the Pali technical term anicca (impermanence). Thus in his epilogue Rama I very explicitly highlights his own conviction that those who participate in the Ramakien tradition can and should approach the Ramakien story in a way consistent with Buddhist teachings and insight.[24]

It is clear that both during and after the time of Rama I some participants in the Ramakien tradition were—in his terms—"deluded" by the story and "unmindful" concerning the reality of impermanence. During Rama I's own reign Ramakien performances that pitted dancers associated with Rama I (representing Rama) against those associated with his brother who held the position of "second king" (representing Ravana) occasionally led to pitched battles that resulted in the deaths of some of the participants.[25] It is also true that many participants in the Ramakien tradition, especially in more recent times, have adopted a skeptical attitude toward the Hindu structure of the story, but on the basis of their secular, rather than Buddhist, orientation. However Rama I's notion that the Ramakien is a rendition of a traditional tale that can and should be approached with specifically Buddhist sensibilities has never been totally forgotten.[26]

Rama Traditions in Thailand: the Dynastic Cult

Like other classical versions of the Rama story, the Ramakien tradition has been expressed not only in literature and artistic performance but in sculpture and in painting as well. These visual representations of the tale have almost always existed in temple settings, and it is probable that most of them had, at one time or another, specific associations with cultic practice. Insofar as these practices are historically remote, the character of the relevant cult is impossible to reconstruct. In the case of the Ramakien tradition, however, we are dealing with a relatively recent cult established by Rama I, the same king who sponsored the primary Ramakien text. And, like that text, it remains a vital part of religious and cultural life in contemporary Thailand.

For our purposes the most important iconic expression of the Ramakien tradition is one intimately associated with the so-called Holy Emerald Jewel or Emerald Buddha that King Rama I brought to Bangkok from the Laotian capital of Vientienne, and with the closely related dynastic practices that he subsequently established when he became king and built his new capital at Bangkok.[27] Although there had almost certainly been similar images and dynastic cults in the old central Thai capital of Ayudhya, Rama I bypassed


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any Ayudhyan precedents and drew on the heritage of another region, ultimately founding a tradition distinctive to the Bangkok kingdom and its Chakri rulers.

Evidence strongly suggests that the image of the Emerald Buddha and t he rituals associated with it in Vientienne were Buddhist transformations of a Saivite "Holy Jewel" and corresponding dynastic cult established in the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor in the early centuries of the second millennium C.E. Through a long and fascinating process, this originally Saivite tradition was appropriated and transformed by the Theravada Buddhist reformers who subsequently came to dominate the religious life of the area.[28] Although the early phases of this process are hard to trace in any detail, it is certain that thoroughly Buddhized forms of the image and its cult were well established in the northern Thai kingdom of Lannathai by the late fifteenth century. They were transported to the Laotian capital of Luang Prabang in the middle of the sixteenth century and a few years later taken to the Laotian capital of Vientienne.

During this northern Thai-Laotian period, the image and the practices associated with it were closely affiliated with different Buddhist dynasties. There is strong evidence that the image itself served as the palladium of Buddhist kings in each of the three capitals mentioned above, and that the cult was a central element in the ritual structure that legitimated their rule. There is also strong evidence that the stories told about the image and the activities surrounding it involved a wide variety of Buddhist symbols that signified various aspects of royal authority and power. These include notions of the king as a cakkavatti , as an Indra, as a bodhisatta , and (though in proper Theravada fashion this always remained ambiguous) as a Buddha.

When Rama I installed the Emerald Buddha in his new royal temple in Bangkok, the image became the palladium of his dynasty and kingdom, the cultic activities associated with it were regularly performed, and all the earlier associations with Buddhist notions of royal power and authority were retained. But what is especially interesting for our purposes is that Rama I added an important component which, as far as I have been able to discover, had not previously been connected with the image.[29] Along the galleries surrounding the central altar of the royal temple, Rama I commissioned the painting of a set of murals that depicted episodes from the Ramakien . When celebrations associated with the image of the Emerald Buddha were held, he saw to it that performances of episodes from the Ramakien story were included. In visual and ritual terms a clear message was being sent. The "Glory of Rama" had now been incorporated into the Buddhist ideal of royal power and authority manifested in the Emerald Buddha on the one hand and in the reigning dynasty on the other.

As in the literary and performance strand of the Ramakien tradition, so in the iconographic and ritual strand: the pattern established by King Rama I has persisted to the present day. The Emerald Buddha has continued to


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serve as the palladium of the kingdom; the Buddhist cult associated with the image has continued to legitimate the rule of the Chakri dynasty; and the iconic version of the Ramakien story has continued to play a central symbolic role. Thus, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the dynasty, the Ramakien murals painted on the walls of the gallery in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were refurbished by King Rama III.[30] On the one hundredth anniversary they were refurbished by King Rama V, and on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary by King Rama VII. During the 1980s, to mark the two hundredth anniversary, they were refurbished once again, this time by the present monarch, King Rama IX.

Concluding Comments

When the literary, performative, iconic, and cultic aspects of the Ramakien tradition are all taken fully into account, it is necessary to conclude that this rendition of the Rama story—at least since its reformulation in the late eighteenth century—tilts more toward Buddhism than Hinduism. In fact, I would go still further and claim that the Ramakien crystallizations generated by King Rama I and his successors represent a third classical type of Buddhist-oriented Rama story that should be considered alongside the first type presented in the Dasaratha Jataka and the second type represented by the Phra Lak/Phra Lam tradition.

To be sure, the Ramakien versions of the Rama story do not exhibit the full-fledged Buddhist structure characteristic of earlier Buddhist tellings. Nowhere is the story attributed to the Buddha or presented as an account of events associated with one of his previous lives, nor does it occur in the kind of cosmogonic context that Buddhists traditionally affirm.[31] However, it is a tradition which self-consciously sets the Rama story in explicitly Buddhist contexts, thereby giving it an explicitly Buddhist significance. In the literary and performative strand of the tradition, the Buddhist significance remains relatively muted and largely audience-dependent. In the iconic and cultic strand, the vision of Rama as a royal hero who embodies Buddhist values is vividly portrayed for all to see. Coexisting and subtly interacting, these two strands of the Ramakien tradition have, over the past two centuries, maintained the story of Rama as an integral, Buddhist-oriented component in Thai religion, culture, and politics.

PART TWO
TELLINGS AS REFASHIONING AND OPPOSITION


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Four
The Mutilation of Surpanakha

Kathleen M. Erndl

The Rama story, more than any other sacred story in India, has been interpreted as a blueprint for right human action. Although the Ramayana is a myth that can be approached on many levels, it is the human level that has had the most profound effect on the Indian people.[l] Certainly Rama, much more so than Krsna, Siva, Durga, or other popular Hindu deities, has been held up as the exemplary ethical deity, as dharma personified.

Nonetheless, Western scholars of Indian mythology have until fairly recently neglected to examine the ethical implications even of those texts which cry out for such examination, as Jeffrey Masson has pointed out, chiding them for their detached and impersonal approach to Sanskrit texts.[2] Members of the Indian interpretive tradition—authors of Ramayana texts and commentators on them—have not been nearly so squeamish and have found fault with Rama's behavior in several episodes. Or rather one might say that they have been sufficiently uncomfortable with these episodes as to feel the need to explain them, usually in order to make them fit in with the picture of Rama as a dharmic character. Two frequently cited examples are Rama's killing of the monkey-king Valin in an unchivalrous manner from behind his back (Kiskindhakanda ) and his repudiation of Sita (both in the fire ordeal of the Yuddhakanda and in the banishment of the Uttarakanda ).[3]

A third such episode, the subject of this essay, is the mutilation of Ravana's sister, Surpanakha, in most tellings carried out by Laksmana at Rama's behest, after she has proclaimed her love and made sexual advances to Rama at Pancavati (Aranyakanda ).[4] From a narrative point of view, this episode proves a crucial turning point in the story, the catalyst which sets off a chain of events, notably Ravana's abduction of Sita, around which the remainder of the epic in turn revolves. It is also crucial from an ethical point of view, for it sheds light on Rama's character and on attitudes toward female sexuality


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in Indian culture. The authors and commentators of various Ramayanas have handled the episode in various ways, reflecting a deep ambivalence in the tradition concerning the actions of Rama, Laksmana, and Surpanakha herself. On the one hand, there is the desire to show Rama as a fair, chivalrous protector of women and other weak members of society. On the other hand, there is a deep suspicion of women's power and sexuality when unchecked by male control. On the one hand, there is an effort to evade the question of whether Rama's behavior in teasing and goading Surpanakha before having her mutilated was appropriate. On the other, there is in many tellings the not-so-subtle suggestion that Surpanakha, as an immodest would-be adulteress, deserves whatever treatment she receives.

At this point I feel compelled to take up Masson's challenge and state that my approach to the Surpanakha episode does not reflect mere antiquarian curiosity. Nor do I aspire to complete objectivity. I became fascinated with Surpanakha when first reading Valmiki's Ramayana , feeling both sympathy for her plight and admiration for her forthrightness and independence. It seemed to me that she, like Rama's stepmother Kaikeyi, had gotten a raw deal in a world where the rules were made by men.[5] I wondered how other Ramayanas depicted the episode and began to collect various tellings. The more I collected, the more ambiguity I saw, an ambiguity which also surrounds many of the dichotomies critical to Indian culture, such as the opposition of good and evil, pure and impure, auspicious and inauspicious, divine and human, male and female.

I will discuss the implications of this episode in several versions of the Ramayana , allowing each version to shed light on the others so that common patterns can emerge. I have chosen to focus mainly on selected Hindu Ramayanas from the epic (itihasa ) and devotional (bhakti ) traditions. These are:

Ramayana (Valmiki), in Sanskrit (roughly 2nd C. B.C.E. -2nd

C. C.E. ) Iramavataram (Kampan), in Tamil (12th C.)

AdhyatmaRamayana , in Sanskrit (15th C.)

Ramcaritmanas (Tulsidas), in Avadhi or "Old Hindi" (16th C.)

RadhesyamRamayan , in modern Hindi (20th C.)

Following Lévi-Strauss, I will treat all tellings and interpretations of the story as equally valid; unlike an orthodox structuralist, however, I will take into account not only the structural features of the stories but also their content and the ideological positions explicitly taken by the authors.[6] Although I begin by summarizing the episode as it occurs in the Valmiki Ramayana and use it as a basis for the subsequent discussion, I do so only because it is the earliest complete literary version, one with which the composers of the other versions were surely familiar. My intention is not to privilege it as the normative or Ur -text: authors of the later literary versions, though drawing on the Valmiki Ramayana , also drew on their own local oral traditions, as well as on


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their creativity and personal ideologies. As A. K. Ramanujan so delightfully illustrates in chapter 2 of this volume, the Rama story constitutes a universe so vast that it cannot be defined by a single text or even by a group of texts. Because of this, every interpretation is also a telling, and every telling also an interpretation.

The Surpanakha Episode

Valmiki Ramayana (Aranyakanda 16-17)

The Va1miki Ramayana is so famous that it needs no introduction here. Scholars generally concur that the bulk of the text, including the Aranyakanda , portrays Rama as an epic hero with human rather than divine status.

The scene in which Surpanakha is mutilated opens with Rama, Laksmana, and Sita living an idyllic existence in exile at Pancarati, practicing austerities and telling stories. One day a raksasi named Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana, happens to pass by. Seeing Rama's beauty, she is instantly infatuated. The poet contrasts her appearance with Rama's:

His face was beautiful; hers was ugly. His waist was slender; hers was bloated. His eyes were wide; hers were deformed. His hair was beautifully black; hers was copper-colored. His voice was pleasant; hers was frightful. He was a tender youth; she was a dreadful old hag. He was well spoken; she was coarse of speech. His conduct was lawful; hers was evil. His countenance was pleasing; hers was repellent. (16.8-9)[7]

Seized with desire, Surpanakha approaches Rama, saying, "Why have you, while in the guise of an ascetic wearing matted locks, accompanied by a wife and bearing bow and arrows, come to this spot which is frequented by raksasas ?" (16.11). In response, Rama introduces himself, his brother, and his wife. He then asks her about herself, adding, in some versions of the text (though not the Critical Edition), "You have such a charming body that you appear to be a raksasi ."[8] She replies that she is a raksasi named Surpanakha, able to change her form at will (kamarupini ), and has been roaming the Dandaka forest alone, frightening all living beings.

This exchange raises many questions. How did Surpanakha really appear to Rama? Was she beautiful or ugly?[9] If, as a raksasi , she was able to take on any form she pleased, why did she appear ugly? Was Valmiki describing her "true" form rather than her "apparent" form? If Rama did in fact comment on her beauty, was his comment serious or sarcastic? As we shall see, other versions have tried to clarify or otherwise interpret this ambiguity, in some cases adding to it.

Surpanakha goes on to describe her brothers, King Ravana, the hibernating Kumbhakarna, the virtuous Vibhisana, and the heroic Khara and his


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general, Dusana, saying that she could overcome all of them.[10] She then declares her love to Rama and invites him to become her husband, offering first to devour Sita, that "ugly, unfaithful, hideous, potbellied" woman, and then Laksmana. With those two out of the way, she argues, they could wander the Dandaka forest together forever, taking in all the sights. Rama laughs and says:

I am married, O lady, and cherish my wife. For women like you, the presence of a co-wife would be unbearable. Here is my brother Laksmana, virtuous, good-looking, gentlemanly, and virile. He is unmarried. Not having a wife, he is eager [for marriage], and since he is so handsome, he will make an appropriate match for one of your beauty. So, O wide-eyed, shapely one, attend upon him unencumbered by a co-wife, as the sunlight upon Mount Meru. (17.2-5)

Commentators have debated the significance of these lines at great length. If, as is said, Rama never tells a lie, then why does he say that Laksmana is a bachelor? The simplest explanation would seem to be that what is spoken in jest cannot be considered a lie, but the reading in the Critical Edition indicating that he spoke in jest (svecchaya ) is uncertain.[11] Moreover, given that the word svecchaya can connote self-indulgence, one wonders as to the purpose of such a potentially cruel jest. Was he taunting his brother affectionately, or was he having fun at Surpanakha's expense? In contrast, some text-historical critics have taken Rama's statement seriously, using it as one argument among others to prove that the Balakanda —in which Laksmana is married to Sita's sister, Urmila—is an interpolated book.[12]

A third, and by far the most ingenious, interpretation has been advanced by P. S. Subramanya Sastri in an essay entitled "Telling a Lie or Otherwise by Rama at Panchavati." He argues that the word akrtadara ("unmarried") can also mean "one whose wife is not with him" or "one who is not using his wife." He also says that the verses following that statement are a double entendre (slesa ) which can be read simultaneously to mean that Laksmana has had no opportunity to enjoy conjugal pleasures and thus needs Surpanakha, or that Laksmana has shown unprecedented behavior in leaving his wife to suffer pangs of separation in the prime of youth.[13] If there is indeed a play on words, it is a very strained one. My point, however, in citing this argument is not to quibble over Sanskrit tropes but rather to illustrate another way in which the problematic nature of this and similar verses has spawned attempts at reconciliation.

The story continues with Surpanakha making a similar proposal to Laksmana, who smiles and says that as he is Rama's slave, he cannot be a suitable husband for her, and that she should instead turn to Rama and become his junior wife. Soon, he argues, Rama will abandon that "ugly, unfaithful, hideous, potbellied old" wife and attend upon her alone. Surpanakha takes Laksmana's words at face value, "not being aware of the joke," and says that she will devour Sita on the spot to be rid of her rival.


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Note that Laksmana, mockingly engaging in a joke at Surpanakha's expense, uses the same adjectives to describe Sita that Surpanakha herself used earlier. Reading additional meaning into the statement, presumably in an effort to redeem Laksmana's character, a note to the Hindi translation of the Gita Press edition again suggests a double entendre:

The meaning from Surpanakha's point of view has been given above [in the Hindi translation of the Sanskrit text], but from Laksmana's point of view, these adjectives are not critical but laudatory. Thus, virupa (ugly, deformed) means one with a visistarupa (distinguished form); asati (unfaithful, unvirtuous) means one who is unsurpassed in virtue; karala (hideous, horrible) means one whose limbs are high and low with respect to body structure; nirnatodari (potbellied) means thin-waisted; vrddha (old) means advanced in wisdom. Thus, the verse could also read as, "Having gotten rid of you, he will attend upon Sita [who has said qualities]."[14]

The argument here is similar to that of P. S. Subramanya Sastri noted above.

Another scholar, K. Ramaswami Sastri, in an essay entitled "The Riddle of Surpanakha," offers the following commentary:

The Surpanakha episode is one of the many examples of the wonderfully creative inventiveness of Valmiki's imagination. The story of her lasciviousness is a cleverly contrived prelude to the story of the lustful abduction of Sita by Ravana and gives ample scope to the poet to make the best of a situation which could afford him an ample opportunity for comic portrayal. Rama and Laksmana crack jokes at her expense. The poet says there is no humour in her mental composition (parihasavicaksana). He probably suggests that the cruel and egoistic Rakshasas were not capable of humour.[15]

The suggestion here is that Surpanakha had no sense of humor because she was a rsksasi rather than a human female, not because she was a woman blinded by infatuation—although one wonders whether Surpanakha would have found the joke funny in any case. The construction of Surpanakha as "other," as nonhuman, is particularly appropriate, since she really is other than human. Indeed, one purpose for Rama's presence in the forest is to rid it of the raksasas who torment the human ascetics.

To continue with Valmiki's account: Surpanakha, then prepares to pounce on a frightened Sita, whereupon Rama angrily grabs Surpanakha, saying to Laksmana, "One should never joke with cruel, ignoble people. . .. Mutilate this ugly, unvirtuous, extremely ruttish, great-bellied raksasi " (17.19-20). At this, Laksmana cuts off Surpanakha's nose and ears with his sword. Screaming loudly and bleeding profusely, she runs to her brother Khara and tells him what happened. Intending to avenge the insult, Khara, Dusana, and Trisiras wage battle against Rama, who defeats them singlehandedly. Ravana is first informed of these events by his minister, then by Surpanakha herself. Hearing of Sita's beauty, Ravana decides to gain revenge by abducting her.


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The immediate reason for Surpanakha's disfigurement thus seems to be her attempt to devour Sita. However, the implied reason is her attempt at adultery, which, as we shall see, is made more explicit in other tellings. Disfigurement of a woman is not unknown elsewhere in Valmiki's text. In the Balakanda (26.18), Rama kills the raksasi Tataka for her crimes against tile sage Visvamitra, after Laksmana first cuts off her hands, nose, and cars as punishment. Similarly, there is a multiform of the Surpanakha episode later in the Aranyakanda . (69.17), in which Laksmana kills the raksasi Ayomukhi for making lustful advances toward him.

Modern Indian students of the Ramayana , like the traditional commentators, have been faced with the problem of reconciling episodes such as the mutilation of Surpanakha with the concept of Rama as the perfect human being or as an incarnation of Visnu. Some argue that the inclusion of such episodes "proves" the historicity of the text, for why would Valmiki report an unflattering deed of the hero if it were not true?[16] Another approach is the apologetic, inspired by pious devotionalism (bhakti ), often in reaction to what is perceived as antireligious criticism. Thus C. Rajagopalachari remarks in a footnote to his retelling of the Valmiki Ramayana :

There are some people who pose as critics of our holy books and traditions, saying "This hero killed a woman. He insulted and injured a woman who offered him her love. He killed Vaali from behind. . . . He unjustly banished Sits...."All such criticisms are based on a mentality of hatred. We have unfortunately plenty of barren, heartless cleverness, devoid of true understanding. Let those who find faults in Rama see faults, and if these critics faultlessly pursue dharma and avoid in their own lives the flaws they discover in Rama, the bhaktas [devotees] of Sri Rama will indeed welcome it with joy.[17]

In the Uttarakanda (23-24), which is considered to be of later composition, more information is given concerning Surpanakha's background. She is said to have been the hideous daughter of Visravas, the grandson of Brahma, and the raksasi Kaikasi. Her brother Ravana is said to have married her to Vidyujjihva, the king of the Kalakas, but Ravana then killed her husband accidentally in Asmanagara while conquering the netherworld. Surpanakha came to him and censured him, whereupon he sent her to live in the Dandaka forest with her brother Khara and his general Dusana. Although Surpanakha's status as a widow does not figure at the forefront of Valmiki's tale, it is prominent in other tellings, as we shall see.

Iramavataram (patalam 5)

Kampan's Ramayana , written in Tamil in the twelfth century, is a poetic work renowned for both its aesthetic and religious merit.[18] That it was greatly influenced by Vaisnava devotional (bhakti ) movements is evident even from its Tamil title, Iramavataram , which means "Rama, the incarnation [of Visnu]." There are a great many differences between Valmiki's and Kampan's


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tellings of the Rama story, and not surprisingly the Surpanakha episode is no exception. In fact, Kampan's portrayal of Surpanakha is unique among Hindu Ramayanas . It is so compelling that Rajagopalachari, while largely following Valmiki in his English retelling, chose to append Kampan's version of this particular episode as well. One immediately striking difference between the Sanskrit and Tamil tellings is that while in Valmiki the episode is a single encounter related in 51 slokas , Kampan dwells lovingly upon the scene, which now extends over a two-day period, in 143 verses of various metres. Unlike Valmiki, Kampan not only describes Surpanakha's appearance as beautiful but expresses considerable sympathy for her plight. I cannot hope to reproduce the beauty of his language here, but will be content to provide a summary with occasional quotations from the excellent translation by George Hart and Hank Heifetz.

The episode begins with a description of Rama, Sita, and Laksmana settling in the beautiful Pancavati grove near the Godavari river. Into this idyllic scene wanders Surpanakha, whom the poet describes immediately as the one fated to bring about Ravana's destruction. Seeing Rama alone, she falls in love with him at once, captivated by his beauty, and wonders how to approach him.

As the love in her heart swelled higher than a flooding river or even the ocean, as her wisdom disappeared, her purity waned like the fame of a man who hoards up wealth and gives nothing with love as his reward for praise! (26.2854.)[19]

Purity (karpu , also translated "chastity") is a significant quality for the Tamils, for it is believed to provide women with great power.[20] Kampan's introduction of the concept here reinforces the foreshadowing he has already employed: if Surpanakha lacks purity, then all her other powers will ultimately fail.

Knowing her own appearance to be forbidding, Surpanakha visualizes the goddess Sri seated on a lotus, utters a magic spell (mantra ), and becomes a radiantly beautiful woman:

Beautiful as Sri on her flower flowing gold,

 
 

like a streak of lightning

 

fallen, never to vanish, out of the sky,

 
 

with her jewelled chariot

 

fresh as that of a young girl

 
 

and softly clothed,

 

and her shining face, the swords of her eyes,

 
 

like a lovely myna bird,

(32.2860)

she came as if a peacock were coming,

 
 

with eyes like a deer,

 

of a sweet, abundant beauty, with a perfumed

 
 

honey of words

 

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that would draw out desire for her who had taken

 
 

a body just like the valli,

 

glowing vine of heaven, given its life by the tall

 
 

and fragrant Wish-Granting Tree.

(33.2861)[21]

In this beautiful form she introduces herself to Rama as the virgin Kamavalli, granddaughter of Brahma and sister of Kubera and Ravana, whereupon Rama asks her how she can have such a form even though she is a demoness and why she has come there alone. She replies that her beauty was a result of her good character and penances and that she has spurned the company of unvirtuous raksasas . She then proposes marriage to Rama, who meets her proposal with several objections. First, he argues, a Brahmin woman cannot marry a Ksatriya, to which she replies that she is not really a Brahmin, since her mother is of royal descent. Deciding to have some fun, Rama says that it was not fitting for a human man to marry a raksasi . She replies that she has managed to cast off that unfortunate birth. Rama then says that he will take her only if her brothers will give her to him in marriage, but she insists that they have a gandharva rite, as is prescribed by the Vedas when a man and woman fall in love. Her brother will assent after it has taken place, she tells Rama, adding that with her as his wife, he will no longer need to fear harassment from the raksasas . Rama laughs, saying that would be a blessing indeed.

At that moment Sita returns from her bath. Surpanakha, seeing Sita's beauty and not thinking that Rama, in his ascetic garb, would be accompanied by a wife, wonders who she is and warns Rama that Sita must he a shape-shifting raksasi who has come to deceive him. Rama teasingly agrees. When Sita becomes frightened, Rama senses danger and, sending Surpanakha away, enters the hut with Sita.

Surpanakha spends the night pining for Rama, almost dying with the intensity of her love:

When the water she bathed in began boiling, she was terrified

in fear of the flames burning away her life and

 
 

the body that she so cherished and she thought,

 

"Where can I hide from the roaring ocean

 
 

or the cruel arrows of love?"

(79.2907)[22]

Wondering how her suffering will ever vanish, she contrasts herself with Sita: "Would he look at me as well, I who am so impure? . . . That woman is all purity, she is beautiful, and she is the mistress of his broad chest" (87.2915-88.2916).[23] In the morning, seeing Sita alone, she approaches her with the idea of snatching her, hiding her away somewhere, and taking on her form, but Laksmana, who did not witness the previous day's exchange, pushes her down and cuts off her nose, cars, and nipples. As Surpanakha lies writhing in pain, crying out to her brothers to take revenge, Rama appears and asks who


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she is. She says that she is the same woman who appeared the day before, but "when a woman has lost her nipples, her cars with their earrings, her nose like a vine, . . . . isn't her beauty destroyed?" (119.2947).[24] When Laksmana explains that she was about to attack Sita, Rama orders her to leave.

Surpanakha still does not give up, saying that if she were to tell her brother what had happened he would destroy Rama and his race, but that she will save him from this fate if he accepts her. She argues that a strong woman like herself, who could protect him in battle, is better than the delicate Sita. She also accuses Rama of having her nose cut off to make her undesirable to other suitors, but offers to create it again, if he wishes. Rama replies that he and his brother are capable of slaying the raksasas without her help. He tells her to leave, but she persists until Laksmana asks Rama for permission to kill her. At this point she goes to find Khara.

The attack of Khara and Dusana proceeds as in the Va1miki Ramayana . However, even after their defeat, Surpanakha cannot rid herself of her love for Rama. She goes to Ravana and describes Sita's beauty in such detail that he hallucinates an image of her and falls in love with her. Surpanakha confesses her love for Rama to her brother, saying that when Ravana takes Sita as a wife, she will have Rama to herself.

Besides the differences in tone mentioned above, there are a few details of plot on which Kampan's Ramayana differs from Valmiki's. In this version, although Rama still jokes with Surpanakha, he does so in a gentler and more urbane fashion. He does not crudely suggest that she approach Laksmana, as he does in Valmiki's telling. Furthermore, Laksmana bears full responsibility for her mutilation: Rama only finds out about it afterward. All this is in keeping with Kampan's generally more "chivalrous" approach to Sita's abduction, in which Ravana picks up the earth around her rather than subject her to the indignity of having her body touched. On the other hand, Laksmana cuts off her nipples as well as her nose and ears. In Tamil culture, the breasts are symbolic of a woman's power, so mutilation of them is a harsh indignity.[25] On the whole, then, Surpanakha, like Ravana, is portrayed in a far more sympathetic light than in Valmiki, even though the tactics she employs arc far more devious.

Adhyatma Ramayana ( Aranyakanda 5)

The Adhyatma (or "spiritual") Ramayana , a Sanskrit text dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth century, is an important document in the development of the Rama cult in North India and is the sacred scripture of the Ramanandi sect.[26] Integrating various Vedantic, Puranic, and Tantric elements, it tends to view the human events and characters of the Rama story as divine allegory. Thus, Rama is an incarnation of Visnu, Laksmana is the cosmic serpent Sesa, and Sita the goddess Laksmi.

The Surpanakha episode follows the basic pattern of the Valmiki telling


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but is much briefer and has some differences in emphasis. Surpanakha is not described as ugly, as in the Valmiki version, nor is she said to take on a beautiful form, as in the Kampan version: she is merely said to be capable of assuming diverse forms at will. She falls in love with Rama when she sees his footprints in the earth, which bear the divine marks of the lotus, thunderbolt, and goad. She approaches him but he directs her to Laksmana, saying only that she would not want Sita as a co-wife: he does not say that Laksmana is unmarried. She turns to Laksmana, who argues that as he is Rama's devoted slave, he is not fit to take a wife and that she should turn w Rama, "the Lord of all." Angry at being sent back and forth, Surpanakha says she will eat Sita up. The story proceeds as in the Valmiki Ramayana , with Laksmana cutting off her nose and ears. She appeals to Khara and Dusana, who fight Rama and are defeated. She then goes to Ravana, saying that she was mutilated when she attempted to bring Sita to him to be his wife. Ravana realizes that Rama is not merely a man but decides: "If I am killed by the Supreme Lord, I shall enjoy the kingdom of heaven. Otherwise, I shall enjoy the sovereignty of the raksasas . I shall therefore approach Rama."

Although the narrative is similar to that of the Valmiki Ramayana , the events are given a context very different from that of the heroic epic. Thus the perspective is changed: what was a battle between two opposing forces becomes a search for salvation through death. In the bhakti tradition, any intense emotion directed toward God is a form of devotion, and so, as Ravana understands, being killed in battle by God is a sure way to attain salvation. There is also an aura of playfulness (lila ), events being enacted according to a predetermined divine plan with everything coming out all right in the end. This playful quality allows many of the moral questions to be glossed over. Thus, in this version, it is only a phantom (maya ) Sita who is abducted, not the real Sita, and Rama is aware of the outcome of everything beforehand. [n fact, in the Balakanda portion of the AdhyatmaRamayana , Rama is depicted as a playful and mischievous child, much like the child Krsna. In this context, the Surpanakha episode can be seen as a childish prank, ultimately imbued with grace, as is all divine play.

Ramcaritmanas (Aranyakanda 16-18 )

The Ramcaritmanas , which means "The Lake of the Acts of Rama," was written by Tulsidas in the old Hindi dialect of Avadhi in the sixteenth century.[27] It is the most popular form of the Ramayana in North India, to the point that in Hindi-speaking regions the term Ramayana is synonymous with the Tulsidas version. It is first and foremost a bhakti text, full of discourses on devotion to Lord Rama.

The Surpanakha episode more or less follows that of the Valmiki and AdhyatmaRamayanas , but the rhythm of the narrative emphasizes certain points and the extensive interpretive comments give it a flavor of pious didac-


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ticism that is absent in other versions. This portion of the story is narrated by Kak Bhusundi, the devotee crow, to Garuda, the giant bird who is Visnu's mount. I summarize it as follows:

Rama spends his days at Pancavati preaching discourses to Laksmana on the nature of disinterested devotion. One day Ravana's sister Surpanakha, "foul-mouthed and cruel as a serpent," happens by and falls in love with both Rama and Laksmana. At this point the narrator interjects, "At the sight of a handsome man, be he her own brother, father, or son, O Garuda, a woman gets excited and cannot restrain her passion, even as the sun-stone emits fire when it is brought before the sun" (16.3).[28]

This interjection sets the tone for the rest of the episode, in which the emphasis is placed not so much on Surpanakha's raksasa nature as on her female nature. She has fallen in love with both brothers, since they are both handsome, not just Rama: like all women, she lacks self-control.[29]

As the story continues, she assumes a charming form and proposes to Rama, saying that there is no other man like him and no other woman like her, that theirs is a match made in heaven, and that she has remained a virgin just for him. The Lord casts a glance at Sita and says only, "My brother is a bachelor" (16.6).[30] Surpanakha then goes to Laksmana, who, knowing her to be their enemy's sister, says that he is Rama's slave and sends her back to Rama. Rama sends her again to Laksmana, who remarks, "He alone will wed you who deliberately casts all shame to the winds" (16.9).[31] She then reveals her true form, frightening Sita. Laksmana cuts off her nose and ears, "thereby inviting Ravana to a contest through her as it were" (17.0).[32] She flees to Khara and Dusana, who challenge Rama and are defeated, attaining eternal bliss by crying out his name at death. Surpanakha then goes to Ravana, scolds him for allowing this to happen, and describes Sita's beauty. Deciding that the easiest way to "cross the ocean of mundane existence" is to be killed by Rama, Ravana abducts Sita—actually a phantom, the real Sita waiting in a sacrificial fire.

The comments made about the allegorical aspects of the AdhyatmaRamayana apply here as well, where the devotional overtones are even more pronounced. Rama and Laksmana do not even go through the motions of asking Surpanakha who she is, for, being divine, they already know. Thus, although the goading of Surpanakha is retained as the essential catalyst of the story, it is less extravagant and, as is implied by Rama's glance at Sita, who is present the whole time, Sita is let in on the joke. While an atmosphere of divine play again pervades the episode, Tulsidas has also attempted to justify the brothers' actions on ethical grounds, Laksmana's moralizing reaching a degree unprecedented in any of the previously mentioned versions. However, not all commentators on the Ramcaritmanas are convinced by such moral justifications. Hindi literary scholar Mataprasad Gupta, for example, resorts to an aesthetic interpretation of Rama's actions:


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There are two episodes that do not fit with the greatness of this character: (1) disfiguring Surpanakha and (2) killing Bali with deceit. But some people try to justify both actions completely. However, it is perhaps necessary to point out that the objections raised in these connections are from the point of view of morality, while we are concerned with these actions from a literary point of view, too, that is how far do these blemishes prove helpful in enhancing the beauty of this poem.[33]

Two additional points: Surpanakha, as in Kampan but not the other versions, states that she is a virgin. Also, she is sent back and forth between the brothers an extra time.

Radhesyam Ramayan ( sankhya 10)

The RadhesyamRamayan was composed in the mid twentieth century in simple modern Hindi verse.[34] Written in a lively, colloquial tone, it is available in cheap editions and is much easier for the average Hindi speaker to read than the Ramcaritmanas , which is written in a more archaic and flowery language. Interspersed with songs, the RadhesyamRamayan is also a major source for the Ram Lila performances in some towns in North India.

The story begins, as in other tellings, with Surpanakha falling desperately in love with Rama after happening upon the pleasant abode where he dwells with Sita and Laksmana. I translate the rest of the episode as follows:

She said, "In the midst of the world, there is no other woman as beautiful as I, nor is there a beautiful man like you anywhere. Our mutual beauty is as if the Creator had planned it. The maker of the moon has also made the sun. Give me shelter, O Forest-dweller; fulfill the aspiration of the Creator. I command you to marry me in the gandharva fashion."

Sita thought, "Let my heart not be shattered. If the sun and the moon have truly met, then for me there is complete darkness." Smiling to himself, the husband of Sita said, "Forgive me, desirable one, you cannot be with me. I am not a bachelor, but am married and vow to remain faithful to one woman. Forget about me. I consider all other women to be mothers and sisters. Therefore, I can never accede to your request. I am a noble man and can never break the code of honor."

The demoness listened, and when he had stopped talking, she turned from him and cast her eyes on Laksmana. She said to Laksmana, "Why are you looking at me and quietly snickering? He is married, but you seem to be a bachelor. Well then, don't give me a harsh answer as he did. If you are willing, and I am willing, then there is nothing wrong with our union."

Laksmana had always had a somewhat fierce nature. He could not bear the demoness's behavior. He said, "Aren't you ashamed to say these things? You should have died before saying these things, O sinful one! This is the first time in my life I have ever seen such shamelessness! Because I have seen


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such shamelessness, this is an inauspicious day. O demoness, O disgracer of your family! If you have not yet been married, then tell your guardian to get you married somewhere. Marriage should be noble, performed according to righteous means. Don't consider it a bargain in the marketplace. Its proper goal is not the fulfillment of pleasure, but rather the fulfillment of duty. If you have already been married, then serve your own husband! He is your god and should be worshiped. Wish only for his happiness. But if you are a widow, then be a renunciant for the sake of your own husband. Become a true ascetic for the purpose of serving your family, caste, and country. Work toward instructing and improving your own sisters; this is your proper course of action. Remain steadfast in this way, in the midst of the world, remembering your own dear husband. Why do you bring shame upon yourself, uselessly going here and there in this way? O adulteress, you are drowning the good name of your father and husband."

Laksmana's tirade in this version makes his moralizing in the Ramcaritmanas seem mild. His message is clear: For a woman, there are three possible statuses, unmarried daughter, wife, or widow—and none of these permit a woman to go about choosing her own sexual partners. A family's honor is invested in the chastity of its women. There is a very modern tone to this passage, reflecting the concern of conservatives in a rapidly changing twentieth century India. The poet seems to be telling his audience that he does not approve of the recent fashion of "love marriages," lest someone think they are permissible as the modern equivalent of the ancient gandharva rite. (His remark about the marketplace is unintentionally ironic, since in fact many modern arranged marriages are driven by pecuniary considerations.) Similarly, he reiterates the traditional ideal that a wife should worship her husband as a god, attaining salvation only through him. His remarks about widows have a modern application, since widow remarriage among the upper castes is still a controversial issue, in spite of a relaxation of the ban in some communities. The references to serving one's country and to the educational uplift of women also have a modern, nationalistic ring to them.

The story continues:

Hearing this teaching of the forest ascetic, she was even more agitated. The pure water slid off her as off a slippery pitcher. Then she thought, "This won't work with him. He's a regular preacher and won't change his ways. Yes, the dark lotus-mouthed one seems comparatively gentle to me. But he has his wife with him. Because of her, he won't accept me. So I will assume my horrible form and eat that lovely one. In that way, I will get rid of that thorn in my path in a moment."

As she assumed a horrible form, her garland, which had been a mass of flowers, immediately became a mass of spears. She approached Sita, but when she opened her mouth wide, Laksmana could no longer bear her antics.


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Who has the nerve to torture a mother in front of her son? How can someone harm a mistress in front of her servant? At that moment, the eyes of Laksmana became red. At the same time, the Ksatriya's arms became horrible weapons of death. He thought, "I will twist her neck and rid the earth of her. With my kicks and fists, I will pulverize her in a flash." When Rama realized the fierce sentiment in Laksmana's heart, he signaled to Laksmana, "Don't kill her; mutilate her." Laksmana could not ignore Rama's order, so he immediately cut off the demoness's nose and ears.

When that evil one had left, crying in pain, the Beloved of Sita said to Laksmana: "You were ready to kill her, but I did not think it was right. On this occasion, I considered it appropriate not to kill a weak woman. So I had you mutilate her so that she would become ugly. Never again will she be able to make such an obscene proposition."

Laksmana said, "You have abided by the warrior code. But even killing her would not have been a wrong action. The guru of whom we were disciples [Visvamitra] and who increased our zeal had us kill Tataka in our childhood. He used to say, 'It is not a sin to kill a fallen woman. It is not a sin to rid the earth of heinous things.'"

Laughing, Sita said, "You could have killed her, but your brother is an ocean of mercy and forgiveness!" Hearing the lovely one's irony, Rama became embarrassed. Laksmana also burst out laughing, covering his mouth with his hand.

This version is an interesting combination of black humor and didacticism. Rama and Laksmana do not toy with Surpanakha in quite the same manner as in other versions. For example, Rama does not tell Surpanakha that Laksmana is unmarried; she assumes it herself. Laksmana's lecture is also an innovation, perhaps inspired by the much shorter one in Ramcaritmanas . The Radhesyam Ramayan also makes it clear that the motive for mutilation is not only punishment but deterrence. Much later, in the sequel to this text, Rama's sons Lava and Kusa are reciting the story of Rama. When they get to the Surpanakha episode, they say, "Who would have thought . . . that [Rama] would have Laksmana cut off this woman's nose and ears? But it was really a matter of his duty to punish the wicked. He disfigured Surpanakha in order to keep her away from sin."[35] In other words, Rama is doing her a favor by preventing her from sinning again. After she leaves, the three of them have a good laugh over the whole thing.

The rest of the story is similar to the Ramcaritmanas version. When Surpanakha confronts Ravana with what has happened, she says, "If my nose is gone, it is gone. Now you better look after your nose." In colloquial Hindi, to lose one's nose (nak ) means to lose one's honor. Ravana pretends to become angry, but, as in other devotional versions, he seizes upon this chance to attain salvation.


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As a counterpoint to the apologetic tone of the Radhesyam Ramayan , I present here a roughly contemporaneous critique of the mutilation of Surpanakha, that offered by Arvind Kumar in A Study in the Ethics of the Banishment of Sita .[36] It was originally written as a legal defense of his poem, "Ram ka Antardvandva" (Rama's internal conflict), which appeared in 1957 in the popular Hindi magazine Sarita . The poem was banned after a public uproar and could not be published in the book since the ban was still in effect.

In both the poem and the book, Kumar questions Rama's loyalty to Sita, broadly hinting that Rama was attracted to Surpanakha. Kumar describes his poem as a monologue in which Rama looks back over the events in his life while trying to decide whether to banish Sita. It shows Rama doubting Sita's faithfulness and admitting that he too was once tempted by Surpanakha, and even now remembers her beauty. In the essay, Kumar says that Rama has adopted many poses in his life, one of which was his treatment of Surpanakha: "Rama knows that he is telling a lie. Laksmana has been married to Urmila and before going to the jungle has lived with her for twelve years. Is this not a pose to say the least?"[37] He also criticizes the goading of Surpanakha:

The propriety of Rama's joking in a ribald manner has also been questioned. Would an upright man, with nothing otherwise in his mind, ask a woman who has openly come to him with such an invitation, to go to his younger brother? Rama does not refuse Surpanakha directly. He only says, "Of course, you would not like to share me with a rival wife." Then, both Rama and Laksmana join in the game and make Surpanakha fly like a shuttlecock from one end to the other.[38]

The public outrage produced by Kumar's original poem and subsequent essay defending it shows that criticism or satire involving religious figures can be just as inflammatory in Hinduism as in Christianity (the film The Last Temptation of Christ ) or Islam (Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses ). Rama's status as moral exemplar is so central to Indian culture that to impugn his motives has become essentially an act of heresy.

Mutilation as A Punishment for Women

Three interrelated themes or motifs thus seem to emerge from the Surpanakha episode, all of which figure significantly in the broader context of Hindu mythology and culture. The first of these, mutilation as a punishment for women, is a standard feature of the Surpanakha story. In the majority of Ramayana tellings, it is Surpanakha's nose and cars that are cut off. In some versions, it is her nose alone, whereas others add her breasts, hands, feet, or even hair.[39] As we have seen, in South India, especially Tamilnadu, the breasts are seen as a symbol of female power; thus, cutting them off is a


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humiliating punishment which deprives a woman of her power. The nose is a symbol of honor; in all versions of the story its removal signifies the loss of honor. In the Radhesyam Ramayan , as we have seen, this is made explicit when Surpanakha warns Ravana that he had better watch out for his nose— meaning, of course, that his honor is at stake. Since honor is especially associated with the sexual purity of women, the cutting off of the nose has traditionally been a punishment reserved for women.

Most Indian legal texts forbid killing a woman, even as punishment for a serious crime, though the practice is not unheard of.[40] For example, in tile Balakanda of Valmiki's Ramayana , Rama kills the demoness Tataka at the behest of the sage Visvamitra, after Laksmana first disfigures her. Generally, however, women and men receive different punishments for the same crime. Disfigurement of the woman is the most common punishment for crimes of a sexual nature, such as adultery—or even attempting to poison one's husband—and Indian mythology and folklore abound with examples of the motif.[41] Interestingly, such incidents are often presented in a humorous light.[42] Thus, in many North Indian Ram Lilaq performances the Surpanakha episode is a kind of burlesque, to which the (predominantly male) audience responds with ribald jokes and laughter, perhaps again betraying a certain male anxiety about female sexuality.[43]

Sexuality and Austerity in the Forest

The mythologies of Siva and of Krsna allow a free interplay between eroticism and asceticism: though the two are in tension, full expression is given to both. In the character of Rama, however, sexuality appears to be almost completely suppressed. There is some tension between the ascetic and the householder way of life, but the conflict is always presented in terms of dharma, that is, in terms of which duty he should fulfill, rather than in terms of the indulgence or suppression of erotic desires. According to the traditional interpretation, during his exile Rama is a vanaprastha , a forest-dwelling ascetic accompanied by his wife. This stage of life is rife with complications, as it is an "unsatisfactory compromise" between two mutually exclusive modes of existence, the householder and the ascetic.[44] According to tradition, Rama and Sita refrained from sexual activity for the fourteen years of their exile, although Valmiki, at least, is ambiguous on this point.

In the Sanskrit aesthetic tradition represented by Abhinavagupta, the major theme of the Ramayana is summed up by the story, recounted early in Valmiki, of a hunter sinfully killing a bird, thereby interrupting its lovemaking with its mate.[45] In the Rama narrative proper, a somewhat similar interruption of marital bliss is created first by Surpanakha and then, more disruptively, by Ravana. This is a common motif in Hindu mythology: when Siva


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and Parvati were interrupted in their lovemaking, for example, disastrous consequences ensued.[46] At the same time, in keeping with the ambiguous character of the vanaprastha mode, the Surpanakha episode resembles the myth of Kama's interruption of Siva's austerities. The Ahalya story follows a similar pattern: Indra disrupts the marital bliss of the forest-dwelling couple Gautama and Ahalya, but at the same time interrupts their austerities, for which both he and Ahalya are cursed. The narration of the Surpanakha episode generally begins with a twofold description of idyllic domesticity and the performance of austerities. Surpanakha is punished for her display of unrepressed sexuality, which is harmful to both domesticity and asceticism.

Sita, and Surpanakha as Alter Egos

Sita and Surpanakha exemplify two types of women who appear almost universally in folklore and mythology: Sita is good, pure, light, auspicious, and subordinate, whereas Surpanakha is evil, impure, dark, inauspicious, and insubordinate. Although male characters also divide into good and bad, the split between women is far more pronounced and is always expressed in terms of sexuality.[47] Similarly, when a woman such as Surpanakha performs a wrong deed, it is typically ascribed to her female nature, whereas Ravana's evil deeds, for example, are never said to spring from his male nature. It is also worth noting that in the bhakti -oriented Ramayanas , in which the evil-doings of the male characters are recast as devotional acts leading to eventual salvation, Surpanakha's salvation is not mentioned.[48]

Sita is the chaste good woman; Surpanakha the "loose" bad woman. The good woman is one who remains controlled, both mentally and physically, by her husband (or, in his absence, her father, brother, or son) and whose sexuality is channeled into childbearing and service to her husband. The scriptures make frequent references to a man's duty to unite himself with such a woman in order to produce sons and thereby fulfill obligations to the ancestors. According to an oft-quoted injunction, a woman must obey and be protected by her father in youth, her husband in married life, and her sons in old age; a woman should never be independent (Manusmrti V.147, IX.3). The good woman, however, is far from weak and powerless. She is a source of power, sakti .[49] In other words, it is her auspiciousness and nurturing that keep things going, but her power must be controlled to suit the purposes of a patriarchal society. Thus Sita comes to the forest as a companion to her husband, and she is watched over and protected every step of the way. Otherwise, she would not be allowed to set foot out of the palace.

The bad woman is one who is not subject to these controls. In contrast to Sita, Surpanakha is unattached and wanders about freely. In Valmiki, she describes herself as a strong woman who goes where she likes under her own


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power. It is not surprising that she is said to be a widow, since widows are considered dangerous and inauspicious, circumstances having rendered them unable to bear children. Their chastity is also suspect, since they are no longer under the control of a husband, and women are believed to have insatiable sexual appetites. In Hindi, Panjabi, and other North Indian languages, the word suhagin or sumangali , signifying auspiciousness, is used for a married woman whose husband is alive, while the word randi can mean both a widow and a whore.[50] Surpanakha's unmarried state is thus the major source of her evil nature; being a raksasi is at best a contributing factor. After all, Mandodari, also a raksasi , is praised for her virtue, chastity, and devotion to her husband, Ravana. Accordingly, it is Surpanakha's status as an independent woman which is denounced. But the loose woman, while perceived as dangerous, also holds a certain fascination for the male imagination, which is perhaps why Rama and Laksmana linger a bit, egging her on rather than banishing her immediately.

It is revealing that Rama uses Sita as the excuse for Surpanakha's mutilation: the "bad woman" is punished in order to protect the "good woman," or perhaps to serve as an example of what would happen to the "good woman" if she decided to go "bad"—for the division of women into two types in fact reflects a basic mistrust of all women. One could even argue that if the beautiful and virtuous Sita is Laksmi, the goddess of prosperity and auspiciousness, then the ugly and unvirtuous Surpanakha must be her sister Alaksmi, the goddess of misfortune and inauspiciousness. In festivals honoring Laksmi, her sister Alaksmi is often driven away by lighting lamps, but in a Bengali Laksmi festival, an image of Alaksmi is made and ritually disfigured by cutting off its nose and ears, after which an image of Laksmi is installed in order to ensure good luck and prosperity in the coming year.[51] The structural similarity between this popular ritual and the Surpanakha episode is striking.

The analysis of a single episode as it appears in selected tellings and interpretations can thus provide a telling glimpse into the dynamics of the Ramayana as a whole. The mutilation of Surpanakha is significant to the Rama story from multiple perspectives. From a narrative point of view, it serves as the catalyst for the key events: only after Surpanakha reports her disfigurement to Ravana does he decide to abduct Sita. From an ethical point of view, the episode raises complex questions about Rama's supposedly exemplary character, questions which authors and commentators have attempted to resolve in diverse ways. From a cultural perspective, the episode sheds light on Hindu attitudes toward female sexuality and its relationship to such polarities as good and evil, pure and impure, auspicious and inauspicious. However, the final word on Surpanakha has not been voiced: her story is sure to fascinate and inspire hearers, tellers, and interpreters for generations to come.


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Five
Fire and Flood: The Testing of Sita in Kampan's Iramavataram

David Shulman

Even perfection has its problems. Especially vulnerable are those unfortunates who have to live beside or in relation to some paragon. No doubt Rama, exemplary hero that he is in the major classical versions of the story from Valmiki onward, attracts the love and utter loyalty of nearly everyone with whom he comes in contact, especially the members of his immediate family. As Kampan, the twelfth-century author of the Tamil Ramayana , puts it:

Just as Rama is filled with love
of many kinds
for all the living beings of this world,
so, in so many ways, do they
love him.[1]

And it is, of course, no ordinary love: elsewhere we are told—this is Sita speaking to Laksmana—that "those who have known him for even a single day would give their lives for him" (III.8.13). Still, statements such as these by no means exhaust the range of emotions generated by Rama's presence. Moreover, in at least two contexts this idealized model of humanity is explicitly problematized by the Ramayana tradition: first, in the painful case of his cowardly and unfair slaying of the monkey-king Valin; and second, in his relations with Sita after the war and her restoration to him.[2] The latter context is even, in a sense, doubled. Rama initially rejects Sita in Lanka, requiring her to undergo a test of fire (agnipariksa ), which she passes. Only later, in the seventh book, the Uttarakanda , does Rama take the more drastic and apparently final step of exiling his wife in response to continuing slanderous rumors about her faithfulness to him during her stay at Ravana's court. The Indian literary tradition has explored the tragic dimension of Rama's action and has offered various solutions to the problems it raises—since there is no


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doubt that Sita's punishment is entirely unmerited, as Rama himself clearly knows.[3]

Modern Indological scholarship has, since Jacobi, tended to attack the problem by a characteristic act of stratigraphy: the Uttarakanda is declared later than the "central core" of books 2 through 6, so Rama's final repudiation of Sita is reduced to the status of an accretion. For reasons that I cannot develop here, I feel that this "solution" is unacceptable.[4] In any case, our present concern is with the earlier trial, in Lanka, primarily as it appears in Kampan's Tamil version. In Kampan this is the only such moment of overt hostility on the part of Rama toward Sita, for the Tamil work concludes with Rama's happy return to Ayodhya; there is no Uttarakanda .[5] The Tamil poem thus achieves an outwardly pacific closure—which should not, however, mask the inherent turbulence of its emotional universe. Reading Kampan, one should never be wholly taken in by surface idealizations. Still, the relationship between Rama and his wife is generally idealized in the Tamil text; thus Sita's ordeal by fire, with its bitter overtones, acquires an intriguing singularity. In many ways, this is a critical and culminating moment in the narrative.

We will study this episode as a particularly revealing illustration of certain basic themes and tensions embedded within Kampan's poem, and also as a striking condensation of the cultural distinctiveness of this Tamil Ramayana , especially vis-aà-vis the earlier text of Valmiki. By way of introduction, let me say merely that, however we may seek to understand Rama's status in the Sanskrit text, there is no question that for Kampan he is God in visible and earthly form. Kampan rarely lets us forget this identification—though, as we shall see, its implications for the hero's own consciousness are rather different than in the case of Valmiki's presentation of the avatar. The Tamil Ramayana is a devotional kavya , replete with the poses and values of Tamil bhakli religion and marked by the general cultural orientations of the Kaveri delta during the Chola period, when it was composed. This means, among other things, that it has the power of subtlety as well as the volatile movement of internal complexity; and that it builds, in sometimes surprising ways, on the earlier foundations of Tamil poetry with its inherited modes of classifying the world and its typical understandings of human identity and experience.

The Cost of Self-Knowledge:Valmiki's Vision

We begin with an overview of the episode in Valmiki's text. The great war is over, and Ravana slain. Vibhisana, Ravana's righteous brother, has been crowned king of Lanka and, at Rama's magnanimous insistence, has performed the funeral rites for his dead brother. Now Sita, who has heard from Hanuman the happy news of her deliverance, is brought into Rama's presence by Vibhisana. This is the beginning of the trial. Even before any direct


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contact can be made between the two separated lovers, an unseemly and somewhat inauspicious commotion breaks out. Clearing a way for Sita, Vibhisana's servants violently push aside the curious crowd of bears, monkeys, and demons—these are, after all, the constant witnesses of Rama's career—at which they clamor indignantly. Rama, too, is indignant: these are his , Rama's, people now, he informs Vibhisana; they should not be injured. Moreover, there is absolutely no harm in their seeing Sita directly, for women can be seen in the context of disasters, wars, a bridegroom choice, sacrifices, and weddings. There is therefore no need to protect Sita— especially, he notes, "in my presence" (VI.117.28).[6] Hanuman, Laksmana, and Sugriva quite rightly detect a sinister note in this speech. They are disturbed, afraid that Rama is somehow unhappy with Sita; and indeed the poet-narrator has already indicated to us that Rama is filled with conflicting emotions at this point, specifically joy, misery, and anger (harso dainyam ca rosas ca , 117.16).

Sita now stands before him, her eyes raised hopefully to his face. She is a little embarrassed and hides her face with the edge of her sari. She is weeping, repeating over and over, "My lord" (aryaputra ). It should be a moment of joyful reunion, but to everyone's shock Rama proceeds to speak his "innermost thought" (hrdayantargatam bhavam , 118.1), articulated in a speech that is horribly cold, formal, and aloof. "So I have won you back by defeating my enemy; I have acted as a man should, wiped out the insult to my honor, revealed my prowess. Today I have fulfilled my promise and can control my life. Your misfortune in being carried off by that fickle demon, as fate (daiva ) decreed, has been overcome by me, a mere mortal" (118.2-5). As an afterthought, he adds that the heroic feats performed by Hanuman and Sugriva, as well as Vibhisana's decision to abandon his wicked brother, have also been vindicated by this success.

Sita appropriately bursts into tears at this unexpected welcome. Looking at her, Rama becomes still angrier, like a fire fed by oblations of butter. (Some manuscripts add that he is afraid of public opinion, and that his heart is split in two.)[7] He launches into an outright attack on his wife: she should know that he fought not for her sake but simply in order to remove the insult to himself and his famous family. Now there is some doubt as to her conduct (caritra ) during this period, and as a result she is repugnant to him, like a lamp to a person whose eyes are diseased. "Go, then, with my permission, wherever you may wish. The world is open before you; but I will have nothing to do with you, nor have I any attachment to you any more. How could I take you back, straight from Ravana's lap?"

It is a brutal outburst, perhaps calculatedly so, if we adopt the perspective that the Ramayana tradition often proposes, and that Valmiki himself may finally hint at. In any case, the listener, no doubt like Sita herself, reels under the impact of the simile Rama chooses for himself: he is like a man half-blind


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in the presence of a lamp.[8] Certainly, Rama does appear at this point quite unable to perceive the truth. So Sita replies, choked and weeping, in words of protest that are, at least at first, strikingly restrained: "Why are you speaking to me so harshly and inappropriately, like a common man to a common woman? I am not as you imagine me; you must believe me, I swear to you. Because of the conduct of some lowly women, you cast doubt on the entire sex. Put aside this doubt; I have been tested! I could not help it if my body was touched by another, but there was no desire involved; fate is to blame. That part of me that is wholly under my control—my heart—is always focused on you. Can I help it if the limbs of my body are ruled by others? If, after our long intimacy, you still do not know me, then I am truly cursed forever." She marshals a trenchant argument: If Rama were determined to repudiate her, why did he bother sending Hanuman to find her when she was a prisoner? Had he so much as hinted at his intention, she would have killed herself at once, in Hanuman's presence. This would surely have saved everyone a good deal of trouble and risk! Sarcasm is creeping into her speech; it seems she is getting angry after all, to the point where she allows herself one truly biting line: "By giving in to anger like a little man, you, my lord, have made being a woman altogether preferable" (tvaya. . . laghuneva manusyena stritvam evam puraskrtam , 119.14).

Rama reacts to all this with silence, and Sita takes command. Turning to Laksmana, she demands that he light a pyre for her. Entering the fire is, she says, the only medicine for this illness; she will not go on living if her husband is dissatisfied with her virtue. Deeply distressed, Laksmana looks to Rama for a sign and gets the equivalent of a nod. So the fire is lit; Sita quietly circumambulates her husband—who will not even raise his head to look at her—bows to the gods and Brahmins, and, calling on the fire, the witness of all that happens in the world, to protect her, leaps into the flames. The whole world, including all the gods, is watching; the monkeys and demons scream.

The moment of terror contains its own redemption. Rama, the embodiment of dharma (dharmatma ), is thinking (dadhyau ), his eyes clouded with tears. He must, in fact, have rather a lot to consider: has his life, with its unwavering commitment to dharmic ideals, inevitably brought him to this painful point? Such moments of reflection in the context of disaster are often points of transformation in the Sanskrit epics: one thinks of Yudhisthira's final act of bewildered reconsideration (vimarsa ) in hell, where he has just discovered his brothers and his wife.[9] And Valmiki does indeed seize upon this juncture to effect a powerful and integrative transition, which brings us back to the frame of the Ramayana as a whole and to one of the central issues of the text. For, as Rama meditates on the situation, the gods swoop down upon Lanka, crying out to him in sentences that must strike him as wholly surrealistic and confused: "How can you, who are the creator of the entire world and the most enlightened being, ignore Sita as she is falling into the


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fire? Don't you know yourself, best of all the gods?" At this, Rama, clearly unsettled, turns to the gods with an impassioned plea: "I know myself as a human being, Rama, son of Dasaratha. Who am I really? To whom do I belong? Whence have I come? Let the Lord [Brahma] tell me!"

The questions are by no means trivial or accidental, nor does it help to see them as the interpolations of a later generation interested in Rama only as avatar.[10] "Who am I really?" In a way, this latent cry has pursued Rama through the whole of his story. The Ramayana is the portrait of a consciousness hidden from itself; or, one might say, of an identity obscured and only occasionally, in brilliant and poignant flashes, revealed to its owner. The problem is one of forgetting and recovery, of anamnesis: the divine hero who fails to remember that he is god comes to know himself, at least for brief moments, through hearing (always from others) his story.[11] This is what happens now: responding to his cry, Brahma tells him the "facts" of his existence. He is none other than Narayana, who is the imperishable Absolute; he is supreme dharma, Krsna, the Purusa, Purusottama, the world's creator, the sacrifice, and so forth. As to the more immediate circumstances, Sita is Laksmi and Rama is Visnu, who has entered into human form for the purpose of killing Ravana. Now that this has been accomplished, Rama can return to heaven.

Note the course of development through this passage: Rama sends for Sita and addresses her harshly; she responds by denying his insinuations and protesting his repudiation, and jumps into the fire; the world clamors in outrage, and Rama is led to reflect upon matters and to inquire as to his "true" identity; Brahma then reveals the mythic and metaphysical components of his nature and the cause of his human incarnation. The sequence is carefully worked out and saturated with meaning. If one feels, as I do, that the issue of Rama's self-awareness is basic here (as it is in related episodes, such as the scene in the Uttarakanda when Sita at last returns to Rama, only to disappear forever), then one discovers that Sita's trial by fire is actually more a testing of Rama than of her. By undergoing this ordeal, she precipitates the momentary switch in levels that presents the hero with his own divinity. His anamnesis proceeds directly from her suffering, the cost of his obsession with dharma as defined, rather narrowly, in wholly normative and human terms. Of course, this is only a temporary recovery of knowledge on his part—if not on ours (the listeners outside the text) or on the part of other participants in the story (within it). For now Agni, who has heard Brahma's hymn to Rama as Visnu, can appear in visible, embodied form, holding in his hands the radiant, golden Sita, unsinged and unscarred, even her garlands and ornaments as fresh as before. He speaks the obvious moral of this passage: Sita is pure, totally devoted in word, thought, and sight to Rama; she maintained this purity throughout her time in Lanka, as Ravana's prisoner, despite all threats and temptations; Rama should take her back. He does so readily, and


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now he, too, breaking his silence for the first time since the revelation by Brahma, can offer an excuse. People would have blamed him as foolish and ruled by desire (kamatma ) had he taken Sita back without purifying her (avisodhya ); it was all meant simply to establish her faithfulness before the eyes of the world (pratyayartham tu lokanam trayanam , 121.16); he, Rama, could no more abandon her than he could abandon his own fame (kirti ), for he knows that she remained true, protected by her innate radiance (tejas ). Ravana could not touch her.

How much of this is post facto rationalization? The text gives no clear indication, although the language is, once again, eloquent: Rama's kirti is precisely what is in question, both here and in his later decision to send Sita away. It is easy for the tradition to take at face value the hero's assertion that he was only staging a dramatic public vindication by ordeal. But however we might see this, it is clear that a reintegration has taken place—first, of the two separated lovers; then, on another plane, of their mythic counterparts, Visnu and Laksmi, and, internally, of Rama with his divine self. The spectators and listeners witness this as well. The whole epic drama has reached a point of (still temporary) closure, which is reinforced by the immediate aftermath to Sita's trial. Dasaratha, Rama's father, descends from heaven and is reunited with his sons. He expresses this sense of happy closure: "Those words uttered by Kaikeyi, which meant exile for you, have remained in my heart until now when, seeing you well and embracing you together with Laksmana, I have been freed from sorrow, like the sun emerging from fog." Dasaratha restates the conclusion proffered earlier by Brahma as to Rama's mythic identity; he reminds both Laksmana and Sita that Rama is the highest god and begs Sita not to be angry because of the ordeal she has been put through, which was for her own purification. This scene of family reunion not only heals one of the bitterest wounds opened up by Rama's story—that of Dasaratha's grief and premature death—but sets the pattern for yet another closing of the circle. When Indra, before returning to heaven, offers Rama a boon, Rama asks that all the monkey warriors who died for his sake in the battle of Lanka be revived. They immediately arise, as if from sleep. The Ramayana , true to its ideal vision and in cogent contrast to the Mahabharata , reverses death itself and leaves behind a living, restored, reintegrated world—even if the shattering tragedies of the Uttarakanda still lie ahead.[12]

Let us sum up the main lessons of this passage, so beautifully and carefully articulated by the Sanskrit poet. At the center lies the revelation to Rama by the gods, with the consequent transformation of his consciousness through the momentary recovery of a lost, other self. Sita's trial produces doubt and confusion in Rama and outrage on the part of the world, whereupon the gods intervene with the shocking message of Rama's mythic identity. Sita's restoration can follow only upon this epistemic intervention. This theme relates directly to the Ramayana frame story, where we find Rama listening intently to his own story as sung by his as yet unrecognized sons, Kusa and Lava.


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We, the listeners, know Rama as god, but he clearly lacks this knowledge, which comes to the surface only in exceptional moments of crisis and breakthrough. The basic Ramayana disjunction between the text's internal and external audiences sustains this play with levels of self-awareness. Sita's trial is one such critical moment, and thus, as we noted, the test is really more Rama's than hers. It remains unclear just how calculated and premeditated his initial statements are; the issue of "testing" in this sense—Rama's wish to demonstrate Sita's faithfulness publicly and also, apparently, to purify her by passing her body through fire—is expressed but never fully resolved. Her own response to his angry words is relatively restrained, though there are flashes of sarcasm and irony as well as one impassioned assertion of women's superiority. The passage concludes with a generalized reintegration and healing: Rama is at peace with Sita, Dasaratha is reunited with his sons, the slain monkeys are revived. The tensions that produced the avatar and generated conflict within the cosmos have been eased, and, on this metaphysical level at least, and for the moment, harmony is restored. On all these counts, Kampan's Tamil version presents us with radical contrasts.

Kampan: The Metaphysics of Reunion

"Can good fortune give rise to lunacy?" (pakkiyam perum pittum payakkumo , VI.37.26). This, according to Kampan, is Sita's response to Hanuman when he brings her the news of her deliverance. At first she is too moved to speak, and he is forced to ask why she is silent: is it because of an excess of joy, or does she doubt the messenger? She answers with the above question, followed by a beautiful set of verses in which she speaks of her inability to reward this messenger in any commensurate way. Note the important theme of silence because of a sensed inadequacy of language in the face of strong emotion. But Sita's first, rhetorical question might almost serve as a motto for the entire highly charged episode to come. Pillu , "lunacy," is not too strong a word for the confrontational experience awaiting her, especially after the hundreds of earlier verses in which the idyllic relations between the two figures of Rama and Sita have been set forth. It is almost as if the orderly progression of this story, so closely linked in Kampan to the examination and enactment of orthodox social ideals, had to proceed through a zone of "crazy" inversion before the end. We might also remember Kampan's own proclaimed identification with this same notion of lunacy in one of the introductory verses (avaiyatakkam ) to the Iramavataram , where, as is customary, he apologizes to the connoisseurs and great Tamil poets for his supposedly flawed or inferior work:

I would say something to those superior poets
who have properly studied the ways of Tamil:
who would study closely


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the utterances of madmen, fools,
or of devotees?[13]

The poet, by implication, has something of all three: he is, in his own eyes, a madman and an idiot and, above all, explaining all, a devotee. His devotion breaks out of any sane limit; moreover, much of Kampan's text will be devoted to exploring the operation and limitations of this same unruly, "mad" quality, based on flooding feeling, in the terrestrial career of his god.

Sita's question sounds a note that will continue to echo through the description of her ordeal. Let us see how Kampan chooses to present her situation. Here the setting, if not quite lunatic, is at least suitably lurid. Sita is brought before her husband as he stands, still, on the battlefield—so beloved of Tamil poets—where he has generously arranged a feast of corpses to assuage the hunger of the kites, vultures, and demons (paruntotu kalukum peyum , 55). Against this stark backdrop Sita gets her first glimpse, after so many months of separation, of her husband, with his dark body, mouth red as coral, his bow in his hand. The poet reminds us first of her earlier feelings, during the period of loss and captivity: this is the same flawless woman who had thought, "My body is polluted; my life's breath has gone; there is nothing I want any more" (57). These were suicidal thoughts, born of despair; yet now, as Sita stands before Rama, they are strangely echoed by the metaphor the poet summons to describe her state, a metaphor grounded in the notion that the physical body alone is always potentially impure and subject to the inherent confusions of sensory experience:

As when the false body

 

that has lost the breath of life

 

sees it, and reaches out

 

to steal it back again,

 

she touched the ground

 

as she unveiled her face.

58

By seeing Rama, she is reclaiming, "stealing back," the life that she lost. She expresses her feeling in a single verse:

Even if I must be born again,

 

or if I leave forever

 

the great suffering of being born;

 

if I forget,

 

or if I fall and die

 

in some other way,

 

still all is well

 

now that I have worshiped

 

this husband,

 

this lord.

59


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She still has reason to be afraid—not only of rebirth and dying, but also, we might note, of forgetting—but at least this moment of reunion promises to relieve the cumulative burden of anxious anticipation and potential despair. The sight of her husband induces in Sita an illusion of closure and containment. Meanwhile, he sees her too, pregnantly described as "that queen of chastity" and also "like merciful dharma that had been separated from him" (60). This is essentially all we are given before Rama's tirade: having caught sight of her, he at once begins to abuse her, "like a snake raising its hood." Before we pursue this speech, though, let us notice the way Kampan has introduced the major metaphysical and psychological themes of this section in these three simple, hard-hitting verses.

Most salient is the image of life separated from and rejoining the body. Indeed, this image may be said to condense the entire issue of union and separation, so basic to Kampan's poem (as to all Tamil bhakti ). It is not by chance that Kampan opens the episode with just this simile: this moment that ends the period of separation also recalls, perhaps deliberately, the very instant of its beginning, its first intrusion into the hero's consciousness. When Rama races back to the hut in the forest where Laksmana has so reluctantly left Sita alone and finds it empty—for Ravana has meanwhile abducted her, as the audience well knows—he is compared to "the breath of life that has been separated from its containing body (kutu ) and has come in search of it, but cannot find it" (III.8.158).[14] If we apply the metaphor literally, in both cases Rama is compared to the breath of life (uyir ), while Sita is like the body; in the forest, the uyir panics at the loss of its corporeal container, while in Lanka the body reaches out to recover its lost vital force (as Sita glimpses Rama). The separation that informs so large a part of the epic story is thus, metaphorically and also metaphysically, the shattering of a longed-for and necessary symbiosis on the level of the composition of the human individual. This symbiosis is not that of body and soul, inert matter and spiritual substance (and thus the temptation to allegoresis is easily resisted for the Iramavataram ); indeed, it is not truly dualistic at all. Rather, it reflects the interlocking relationship between two dynamic, equally living and substantial entities that together create a unity of perceived experience.

This unity of body and life-force has, in Kampan, several associated characteristics and implications that are invoked at points throughout the lramavataram when this recurrent metaphor breaks through the text. It is, first of all, a unity based on flux, resistant to stasis and stable definition. The fluid quality that pervades the relation of life to body is nowhere clearer than in the introductory canto to the poem as a whole, the Arruppatalam or "Chapter on the River." This opening replaces the entire Ramayana frame story as given in Valmiki; in its stead, we have a striking description of water flooding own from the Himalayas, violently jumbling together the elements of hitherto distinct landscapes:


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Turning forest into slope,
field into wilderness,
seashore into fertile land,

changing boundaries,
exchanging landscapes,
the reckless waters

roared on like the pasts
that hurry close on the heels
of lives.[15]

The rushing water is translated into the register of rushing lives (with their burdens of past deeds and memories), a metaphoric conjunction that becomes even more powerful as the description reaches its climax:

Like a life filling
and emptying
a variety of bodies,
the river flowed on.[16]

Uyir again, the vital breath that moves endlessly through one body after another, always seeks but then separates from these partial vessels. The life-force clearly enjoys an ontological superiority of sorts—it is the "false body" that reclaims its lost uyir in the verse describing Sita's glimpse of Rama—yet this animating power can never dispense with embodiment, even as it can never be entirely contained by it. This is the second characteristic to be stressed, one directly relevant to Sita's situation in Lanka: the unity of life and body is always unfinished. No final integration is called for; the restless flux has no teleology beyond its own process. The body that reclaims its uyii , as we are told Sita wishes to do, will doubtless lose it again. Sita's emerging confrontation with Rama thus fits naturally into the underlying metaphysics of flux, in which separation is no less necessary than union. A jarring narrative episode inherited from Valmiki is integrated into a conceptual constellation specific to the Tamil literary and philosophical universe. The prevalent Tamil bhakti characterization of the relation between god and his human devotee as troubled, even tormented, also fits this pattern, and it is thus not surprising that in Kampan, too, one "regains" Rama only to be immediately rejected by him.

But the potential for union is also crucial to this set of images, especially insofar as it includes the dimension of loving emotion. Thus when Rama and Sita first catch sight of one another in Mithila, before they are married, they become

one breath of life

 

in two different bodies.

 

When the two lovers separated

 

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from their bed on the dark sea

 

found each other again,

 

was there need for words?

(I. 10.38)

Uyir is unitary, even as it flows in and out of an endlessly fragmented series of distinct bodies; when two embodied beings feel love for one another, they experience this underlying unity of the life-force. In the case of Rama and Sita, there is also a mythic dimension, evident in this passage, hovering somewhere in the background of awareness—for the two lovers are Visnu and Laksmi, who have become separated from one another and from their proper cosmic setting, the serpent-couch floating upon the "dark sea" of milk. They find one another again, in moving silence, when Rama and Sita fall in love.

And having found one another, they then proceed to lose each other, to experience at great length the impatient longings and confusions inherent in separation, ultimately to confront one another again, in our scene at Lanka. We begin to see why this meeting must have something of the quality of the uyir's unstable meeting with the body. Dynamic flux, instability, emotional excess and imbalance, the flooding of memory, the mingling of past and present, an inner experience of potential unity, the hesitations of language— this is the range of associations that Kampan calls up at the outset of Sita's ordeal.[17] Schematically stated, this episode is made to embrace three forms of movement along a thematic continuum: an oscillation between separation and union, on the most fundamental experiential and metaphysical level; an interplay of speech and eloquent silence, on the external linguistic level; and an unfolding tension between forgetting or lack of feeling and memory or intuitive understanding, on the cognitive and epistemic level. The opening verses already bring these issues to the fore.

Now comes Rama's speech, which is even more cruel to Sita, and more outspoken, than in Valmiki's text:

You took pleasure in food,

 

you didn't die

 

for all your disgrace

 

in the great palace of the devious demon.

 

You stayed there, submissive,

 

wholly without fear.

 

What thought has brought you here?

 

Did you imagine that I

 

could want you ?

(VI.37.62)

Kampan's male heroes have the somewhat unpleasant habit, at difficult moments, of blaming their women for not dying (thus Dasaratha to Kaikeyi, II.3.222). Rama will return to this theme, as he does to the oral obsession with which the whole diatribe begins:


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You abandoned us.

 

All this while, you have been relishing

 

the flesh of living beings,

 

sweeter than ambrosia,

 

and happily drinking strong liquor.

 

So you tell me: what proper feasts

 

are in store for me now?

(64)

A nice inversion: Sita is held responsible for having "abandoned us." The kidnapping has become irrelevant, and the focus is on her hedonistic delight in the carnivorous cuisine of Lanka. Can a wife so corrupted ever serve the fastidious Rama another meal? (South Indian vegetarian values have by this point superseded any dim memories of Rama's habitual Ksatriya diet of game!) To make things crystal clear, Rama also informs her, as he does in Valmiki's version, of the real reason for his campaign:

It was not to save you

 

that I dammed the sea,

 

cut off at the root

 

these demons with their gleaming weapons,

 

and overcame their enmity:

 

it was to redeem myself from error

 

that I came here, to Lanka.

(63)

Pilai , "error," is also a lack or deficiency, or some more serious mistake, even a crime. Rama speaks with the hero's egoistic concern for his own honor, and without intentionally implying that he is now enacting a mistake of greater magnitude than any previously connected with his story. His attack gathers force, becoming more and more personal and unfair: Sita was, after all, born not in a family distinguished by goodness but, like a worm (kitam pol ), from the soil (65; here Kampan has lifted a theme from Sita's speech in Valmiki, intensified it, and placed it in Rama's mouth).[18] It is no wonder, then, that

womanhood, greatness,

 

high birth, the power

 

known as chastity,

 

right conduct,

 

clarity and splendor

 

and truth:

 
   

all have perished by the mere birth

 

of a single creature such as you,

 

like the fame of a king

 

who gives no gifts.

(66)

Sita has become the total antithesis to the exemplary figure Rama had always recognized in her. Her survival alone is enough to impeach her: wellborn women in her situation would have embarked on a regimen of rigorous


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austerities; and if disgrace (pali ) came, they would wipe it out by wiping out their lives (67). (Again, the male complaint at his wife's refusal to disappear.) Now Rama can conclude (again rendering Valmiki's formulation more extreme):

What is the point of talking?

 

Your conduct has destroyed forever

 

all understanding.

 

The thing to do

 

is to die—

 

or, if you won't do that,

 

then go somewhere,

 

anywhere,

 

away.

(68)

The demand for death is Kampan's innovation, to be seized upon at once by Sita. But this verse also introduces, for the first time in this episode, the important concept of unarvu, the intuitive, felt understanding that is the normal medium of connection between individuals and, across existential levels, between human beings and the god. It is this form of communicative understanding that Rama claims Sita has destroyed through her conduct; her survival is beyond his unarvu , and she should therefore die or disappear. We shall soon see how Sita takes up this important statement and develops it in crucial and suggestive ways.

So far we notice an impressive exacerbation of the bitterness inherent in Rama's speech as set out in Valmiki. Rama lashes out at Sita with horrific accusations, ridicules her miraculous birth, and even tells her she should die. This extreme heightening of tone continues into Sita's reply, as we shall see. But before she begins to speak, her inner state is summed up in another graphic metaphor:

Like a deer

 

on the point of death,

 

tortured by terrible thirst

 
 

in the middle of a desert

 
 

thick with kites,

 

who sees a lake

 

just beyond reach,

 

she grieved at the barrier

 

that rose before her.

(71)

Perhaps most striking here is Kampan's use of imagery drawn from classical Tamil love poetry, the akam or "inner" division structured around conventionalized landscapes with their associated emotional states. A Tamil reader immediately identifies this verse as a palai or wilderness poem caring up a sense of traumatic separation.[19] The image of the predatory kite, which helps to specify the landscape, also points to something in the dramatic situation—


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no doubt something in Rama's menacing attitude and conduct. Sita's inner reality is indeed a palai experience at this moment: she has entered a wilderness zone of rejection and loss. This suggestive use of the classical conventions is a constant element in Kampan's art. Seen in relation to the central story of Rama and Sita's common fate, the entire lramavataram might well appear as an extended love poem in the bhakli mode.[20] Like earlier Tamil bhakti poets, Kampan conflates heroic or panegyric themes (puram ) with akam or "interior" elements, largely subordinating the former to the latter in nonexplicit ways. But in Kampan the narrative follows the prescribed structure of the Sanskrit epic, with the result that the classical love situations of Tamil poetry—premarital courtship and stolen union, the several forms of separation and longing, as well as later quarreling and conflict—are now scattered somewhat unpredictably, without orderly sequence, throughout the text. They emerge from time to time, usually with very powerful implications: thus Rama's crossing of the wilderness as a young man recalls palai themes; premarital passion, kalavu , is suggested in Mithila; Sita, pining in Lanka, appears as the impatient heroine of the neytal coastal landscape; and here the palai atmosphere is again present at the moment of reunion. In itself, this is instructive, for palai , the landscape of separation at its most severe, embodies that aspect of the love experience felt to inhere in all others, including union.[21] Love, even in union, is largely predicated on the sense of separateness and separation. We can see how appropriate this classical element is to the underlying metaphysics of Sita's encounter with Rama—an encounter structured around rejection—and we observe the delicate and calculated artistry of the poet who, following Nammalvar and other Vaisnava bhakli poets in Tamil, turns the ancient conventions to his devotional purpose.

Tirade and Trial

Sita's response is of a different order altogether than in Valmiki. It resumes and extends themes that have already been broached by the Tamil text, and it does so in the context of a complaint aimed directly at Rama, both as husband and, implicitly, as god. Irony is the least of Sita's weapons. More than in any other passage of the Iramavataram , she blasts Rama directly and with literal intent.[22] To those familiar with the Tamil tradition, she calls up the image of the bereaved Kannaki from the classical kavya Cilappatikaram (especially cantos 18 and 19)—a woman crying out bitterly against an unjust fate. But, closer to home, there are also affinities between her outburst and Kampan's major formulation of the problem of theodicy in the outraged speech by the dying Valin, shot by Rama from an ambush.[23] Like Valin, Sita is both angry and bewildered; she feels betrayed, and wholly justified in her own prior actions, which have nonetheless led to this unacceptable conclusion; her anger is entirely focused on Rama, its compelling, proper target.


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One feels from the fury and precision of her words that the poet is largely speaking for himself through her mouth.

It is not a long speech. She begins by mentioning Hanuman, who came to Lanka, saw her, and promised her that Rama would soon arrive. Did he not then inform Rama of her dreadful suffering? Next she addresses Rama's preposterous claim that she, Sita, had ruined the world's finest ideals, especially those relating to womanhood, simply by being born:

All that I suffered,

 

all the care

 

with which I kept my chastity,

 

my goodness,

 

and at what cost,

 

and for so long a time—

 

all this seems crazy now,

 

a futile waste,

 

since you, O best of beings,

 

don't understand it in your heart.

(VI.37.74)

Pittu , lunacy, again: her earlier, unwitting prophecy, couched as a rhetorical question, has come true. Tidings of good fortune have led unexpectedly to this taste of madness. She preserved her precious chastity, karpu , with such scrupulous, even ferocious, care, but it was all for nothing, a futile waste (avam ), a kind of mistake (pilailtatu , echoing Rama's term, pilai , above). As impressive as this conclusion is the logic behind it: the true failure is Rama's, on the level of feeling and understanding (unarvu , again echoing Rama's earlier statement). Lacking unarvu , he—the god—can make only aberrant and inhuman claims; and the effect is to translate human notions of right or goodness into lunacy.

This question of knowledge or understanding becomes more and more central:

The whole world knows

 

that I'm a faithful wife (pattini ):

 

not even Brahma on his lotus

 

could change my foolish mind.

 

But if my lord, who is like the eye

 

that sees for everyone,

 

should deny this,

 

what god could teach him otherwise?

(75)

Everyone knows the truth except Rama, who should be able to see it outright, for he is the universal eye, kannavan —punning, perhaps, on kanavan , husband, as well as on Kannan, or Krsna. The pun takes up Rama's simile—the diseased eye squinting in the light of a lamp—in the Sanskrit text. The god sees without really seeing, and surely Sita is right: there is no


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god above him to teach him otherwise. Her own stubborn mind, intent on faithfulness as an act of inner autonomy, is thus truly foolish (petaiyen; petai can also mean simply "woman")—the second quality, after lunacy, that Kampan seems to claim for himself in the introductory verse we examined.[24] The coordinates laid out in that verse are uncannily retraced in this one; only devotion, bhakti , is still missing.

Having laid the blame where it belongs, Sita can conclude with an arnbiguous eulogy of womanhood (again following Valmiki's Sita). The trimurti , Brahma, Siva, and Visnu—called, no doubt sardonically, dharmamaurti , the incarnation of dharma—might be able to see the whole universe "like a myrobalan in the palm of the hand," but "can they know the state of a woman's heart?"[25] Obviously not, judging by her own husband's conduct— and he is that Dharmamurti himself. All that is left is for her to execute Rama's command: there is nothing better now, she says, than dying.

She asks Laksmana to light the fire; he does so "as if he had lost his own life" (79), after receiving a sign from Rama's eyes. As Sita approaches the pyre, the world goes into crisis: not only the gods, all other living beings, and the cosmic elements, but also the four Vedas and Dharma cry out in horror. She worships her husband and demands that Fire burn her if she has erred in thought or word. Then

as if she were going home

 

to her palace on the lotus

 

that rises up from the flooding waters,

 

she jumped in;

 

and as she entered, that fire was scorched

 

by her burning faithfulness (karpu ),

 

as milk-white cotton

 

goes up in flame.

(85)

She is, after all, the goddess Laksmi/Padma, who reigns in state upon the lotus. For her, the experience inside the pyre is drenched in watery associations, as if she had plunged not into fire but into a flood. But for the unfortunate god of fire, Agni, who has to receive her, the moment is one of excruciating, fiery torment. This is yet another innovation in Kampan: Fire is burned by Sita's fire. Karpu —chastity, self-control, faithfulness—is no abstract ethical virtue but a substantial and dynamic reality that suffuses the woman's inner being. The effect of the trial is thus even more dramatic than in Valmiki. Not only does Sita emerge unsinged, but she actually scorches the god of fire himself, who screams out in pain and protest (pucal itt' ararrum , 86) to Rama. Lifting Sita in his hands, Agni points out that the beads of perspiration, formed on her body by her anger at her husband (utiya cirrattal , 87), were not dried up by his flames, while the flowers she wears in her hair still drip honey and are filled with bees, "as if they had been steeped in water." Sita's ordeal has been something akin to a refreshing bath, but


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Agni's eye detects the still evident traces of the rage that drove her to undergo this test. In terms of Tamil poetics, the confrontation has become an instance of utal , the lovers' quarrel, heightened to an almost lethal degree.

Now Agni is angry at Rama: "You did not think about this divine flame of karpu , and so you have destroyed my power; were you furious with me, too?" This prompts another cutting statement from Rama, for whom the test is still, clearly, not over: "Who are you, appearing in this fire, and what are you saying? Instead of burning this vile woman (punmai cal orutti ), you praise her!" (90) He insists on Sita's mean and lowly character, even at this late stage. Agni must therefore spell out the truth for him, first presenting his credentials: "I am Agni; I came here because I could not bear the blazing fire of faithfulness in this woman. People get married before me, resolve their doubts before me." And, at last, a verse no less biting than Rama's:

Didn't you hear

 

when the gods and sages

 

and all that moves and is still

 

in the three worlds

 

screamed, as they struck their eyes?

 

Have you abandoned dharma

 

and resorted to misery instead?

(94)

Rama accused Sita of "abandoning us"; Agni throws the expression back at Rama and, in a manner that goes far beyond anything in Valmiki, illuminates the real import of Rama's attitude. This god incarnate has "abandoned dharma" and, in the gloss of one modern commentator, resorted to adharma.[26] The consequences are, according to Agni, potentially disastrous:

Will rain fall,

 

will the earth still bear its burden

 
 

without splitting in two,

 

will dharma go the right way,

 

or can this universe survive

 

if she becomes enraged?

 

If she utters a curse,

 

even Brahma on his lotus

 

will die.

(95)

To the moral issue is now added an overriding argument from identity. Sita is the great goddess herself—though Rama hardly seems to know this. He does, however, bow to Agni's verdict and accept Sita back, welcoming her with a surprisingly laconic, almost grudging acknowledgment:

You [Agni] are the imperishable witness

 

for this whole world.

 

You spoke words I can't condemn.

 

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You said she is wholly

 

without blame.

 

Blameless, she must not

 

be sent away.

(97)

That is all: Rama does not address Sita directly. Still, Kampan gives Rama an epithet here: he is karunaiy ullattan , a man whose heart is compassion. Has a transformation taken place? Or has the underlying compassion of the god been released, at last, back into the world? Or is the poet simply enjoying the irony he has built into this context?

Let us briefly take stock before we turn to the final section of the narrative. There is no doubt that this couple's reunion is far more embittered, in the Tamil text, than in its Sanskrit prototype. They speak to one another with shocking verbal abandon. Rama's doubts and suspicion have turned into a violent denunciation, an a priori pronouncement of guilt that focuses on Sita's alleged hedonism and lowly birth. Her reply incriminates him: he stands condemned, in her eyes, for a terrible failure of understanding that has led to blatant injustice. The ordeal itself assumes a watery rather than fiery character for Sita, while Agni, tortured by her superior power, becomes her advocate. As such, he still has to argue with Rama about Sita's purity of character; somewhat reluctantly, or at any rate uneffusively, Rama gives in. There is as yet no hint at all that the entire scene is only a trial to persuade an external audience (the world, or Rama's subjects) of something Rama already knows. On the contrary, his lack of unarvu—the knowledge that is a form of feeling, of empathetic understanding—is a major issue, still unresolved, and one which has implications on tile divine level, where Rama as god is implicitly accused of acting against dharma. Finally, and perhaps most conspicuously, the logical sequence of the Sanskrit narrative has been disturbed. There, Agni appears with Sita in his hands only after the revelation by Brahma of Rama's divine identity. It is the revelation, with its dramatic epistemic consequences for the hero, that breaks through the calculations and anxieties that have constrained him and paves the way for Sita's restoration. Here, however, Sita is restored, on Agni's pleading, before Brahma speaks. Why this reversal? How does it fit into the overall transformation that Kampan has worked on this passage?

The Silence of a God

In the Tamil text, it is not Rama who provokes the revelation with agonized questions about his identity, but the gods who decide to do so for their own inscrutable reasons: "The time has come to tell Rama the truth" (98). Brahma speaks, addressing Rama—as have many others, at various points throughout the text—by a clear epithet of Visnu's, netiyoy ("Long One"


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= Trivikrama). He utters fourteen verses of the familiar stotra type—a short hymn of praise, again like others scattered through the poem. Perhaps most remarkable, in comparison with the epiphany described in Valmiki, is the largely impersonal content of these verses: they are an exercise in the application of orthodox cosmological and philosophical categories, drawn especially from Sankhya, to the bhakti context of worship. The type is familiar from other South Indian bhakti narratives, especially the Bhagavata Purana and its vernacular descendants.[27] Thus the incarnate god, Rama in this case, is repeatedly identified with the Vedantic absolute. "Do not think of yourself," Brahma— says, "as a man born into an ancient royal family; you are no other than the truth spoken as the conclusion of the Vedas" (i.e., Vedanta, 99). Similarly, Rama is told that he is the primeval Purusa, the twenty-sixth tattva , higher than all the evolutes of matter (pakuti=prakrti ), the supreme truth (paramartha , 101); he cannot be measured by the usual criteria of knowledge, and sensual perception is no use, but the Upanisads proclaim his existence (105-6); those who are sunk in the illusion of having parents, who do not know their own selves, suffer endlessly, but those who know Rama as father achieve release (103). It is Rama's illusion, mayai , that produces the world, though he himself, like others, does not fully understand this state (99); he also preserves the world with his own form (as Visnu) and destroys it (as Siva). A single verse introduces the avatar concept: he comes to destroy pride, to rout the demons, and to make the gods take refuge with him. All this leads up to the practical conclusion, which is something of a non sequitur: "This being the case," Brahma says, "do not hate our mother (Sita), who gave birth to us and to the triple world and who has demonstrated the glory of married life" (112).

Perhaps the argument is wholly based on this affirmation of identity: as the goddess, Sita is hardly to be judged by human social standards, and Rama must in any case take her back. But the hymn does not quite suffice, for now Siva also puts in an appearance (though there is no precedent for this in Valmiki) in order to present the message more forcefully and more simply. "It seems," he says, "that you do not know yourself (unnai niy onrum unarntilai ); you are the primordial deity (murtti ), and this Sita, mother of the three worlds, resides upon your breast" (113). Siva's intervention thus confirms the mythic identity of Rama as Visnu and reiterates the notion of his ignorance. For good measure, Siva adds that if one errs with respect to the goddess who gave birth to the worlds, many living beings will die; Rama should thus forget the aversion or scorn (ikalcci ) he has felt for her. On this note of recommended forgetfulness, the divine revelation abruptly ends.

And Rama is silent. He makes no acknowledgment whatsoever of all that has just been said. Indeed, he will have nothing more to say until, somewhat later, Dasaratha asks him to name his boon. Here, in fact, it is Dasaratha alone who makes the important statement—to Sita—that the ordeal was


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meant only to demonstrate publicly her chaste character, "as one passes gold through fire to reveal its purity" (123).[28] Rama utters nothing to this effect. Silence has engulfed him, despite the tremendous announcement he has just heard. In Valmiki's version, we may recall, the revelation is followed by Agni's restoration of Sita and then, immediately, by a voluble, self-justifying outburst by Rama, who wants to make clear to everyone that he acted only pratyayartham tu lokanam —to establish Sita's innocence in the eyes of the world. But in the Tamil text, where a dialogic loquaciousness is something of the rule,[29] the hero who has just been told he is God offers no response at all.

It is a pregnant silence, well suited to the subtleties and tensions of the moment, as Kampan sees it. In a reunion that proceeds via rejection and renewed separation, speech easily issues into silence. Clearly, the fundamental theme of loss and recovery has taken a new form in Kampan's poem. Anamnesis—the hero's regaining of memory through perceiving his divine identity—is not, for Kampan, the essential point. In fact, it is in a sense quite beside the point: the embodied god's consciousness of himself as god is never what is at stake in the Tamil text. When Siva tells Rama that he does not know himself, he is pointing to a very different content of unknowing than that intended by Valmiki in this same context. On closer inspection, we find this pattern—Rama recognized as God and praised as such in a stotra like that sung by Brahma, which elicits nothing but silence from its divine object—recurring frequently in the Iramavataram .[30] Each time it happens, Rama ignores the eulogies showered upon him. It is always as if the text shifts levels, for a passing moment, opening up the dimension of discovery and celebration of explicitly recognized divinity before reverting, after the hymn, to the ongoing narration. Or as if, once the intimation of Rama's divinity is externalized, once it is articulated in language (usually by one of his victims), Rama's own task is finished. One wonders if he even hears the stotra that others offer to him. This aspect of his awareness—the god-hero's own recognition of his "true" identity, apparently veiled by his humanity— is not presented to us by Kampan and seems not to constitute one of this poet's concerns.[31]

We might formulate this observation somewhat differently. What we see in Kampan is a shift away from the psychology of recovery and the play of memory to a different thematic, which seeks to map out in detail the actual human experience of the god in the world. This works both ways: many passages in Kampan explore the god's own experience of human limitations, and above all of human emotions, generally those of loss, shame, helplessness, but also occasionally of wonder and joy. If he forgets, it is not so much his identity that becomes hidden as some much more immediate and interpersonal concern—Sita's sufferings, for example, although at times the problem is quite the opposite, when Rama evinces a very human inability to


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forget some troubling anxiety or hurt. (Thus, as we saw, Siva begs him to learn forgetfulness, 114.) But in the episode of Sita's trial, as so often in this poem, the real center lies in our response—in the experience that we, as devotees, as listeners, have of Rama's nearness. The god acts or speaks, and the world around him somehow assimilates his presence. It is, almost by definition, a frustrating and often enigmatic presence, marked by strong tendencies on the part of the god to withdraw into silence, to block connection, to toy capriciously with those around him, to hide.

And the result can be angry protest. In our episode, Sita speaks like any of Rama's other victims. She has reason to be angry: his conduct seems perverse to the point of cruelty, even if he is axiomatically a hero of compassion, as the text so often states. She protests a real failing on the level of unarvu , the god-man's capacity to feel and understand what she, or any other human being, must know or undergo. She says that Rama does not truly know what she has suffered and is suffering now, and that without this knowledge on his part her endurance becomes an exercise in futility. Since Rama is no ordinary husband—since Sita knows, on some level, his cosmic and mythic identity[32] —she is expressing a frustrated demand that the god share fully our essential perceptions and our sorrows. But in contrast to the Valin episode, where the revelation of Rama's own broken heart turns the tide of Valin's bitterness (IV.7.118), here he unfortunately fails to comply with this all-too-human expectation. Again a transformation has taken place, from the notion of a clouded and temporarily forgotten self-knowledge, in Valmiki, to the god's actual unfeeling ignorance, in Kampan. The content of the missing knowledge is quite different in each case. In Kampan, Sita speaks of a failure of the divine imagination, a failure that informs, at this moment, her own experience of Rama. (It is also striking that, from this point onward, Sita has very little to say in Kampan's text.) On another level, by not expressing Sita's truth publicly, by allowing the ordeal to proceed out of an apparent lack of feeling, Rama demonstrates again the inherent asymmetry in the relations between the divine and the human. This imbalance in the intensity and content of unarvu is surely part of what Siva is referring to when, in the Tamil text, he tells Rama that he does not know himself. The process of discovery has also been, in a sense, reversed: whereas Valmiki's hero is a man who finds himself to be god by hearing and living out his story, and is graced by moments of anamnesis, Kampan's protagonist is a god who discovers repeatedly, often to his own amazement, the painful cognitive and emotional consequences of being human.

Silence, separation, and the failure to feel or to understand: these are the undercurrents surging through the story of Sita's trial in Kampan's text. Like other points in this great love poem, this episode highlights the conflicts rather than the serenities or certainties of passionate feeling. In this way, the


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final meeting of Rama and Sita follows the more general paradigm of the lovers' thorny career in Tamil poetry and its extensions into the sphere of bhakti devotionalism. Lovers, like devotees, are not meant to be at peace.

But this is by no means the only conclusion to be drawn from Kampan's treatment of this passage, for the two versions we have examined reveal outstanding contrasts in theme and structure. In addition to Kampan's careful exploitation of the conventionalized language of Tamil love poetry (especially as reformulated by Nammalvar), there are four major points of divergence and transformation:

1. In Valmiki, the real test is Rama's, while Sita's ordeal is proclaimed a show for the benefit of a skeptical world. In Kampan, her trial seems altogether real: her love and commitment to Rama, despite his verbal hostility, and her readiness to die for her truth, are put to the test—and Sita wins, like the devotee who so often triumphs over the god.

2. Her rejection is thus equally real in tile Tamil text, which offers no space for the notion of a public demonstration or trial until Dasaratha's late commentary on the events. Rama himself never mentions this possibility. More important still, his repudiation of Sita has metaphysical implications: union, whether of lovers or of a devotee with god, presupposes separation.

3. Valmiki's sequence is overturned in Kampan: Agni restores Sita before Rama hears Brahma's revelation of his, Rama's, divinity (which thus serves no pressing function as far as Sita's status is concerned; she has already been reintegrated into Rama's life, and no great upheaval in consciousness is required to facilitate the move). The sense of this change in sequence, as of Rama's subsequent silence in the face of the gods' impressive news, becomes clear from the contrasting axiology and problematics of Kampan's text. The central thematic concern of the episode in Sanskrit—the transition in Rama's self-awareness in the face of Sita's suffering and his own responsibility—is almost irrelevant to Kampan's discourse. There is no point at which Rama has to ask himself, "Who am I?" Instead, the Rama of the Iramavataram , who is clearly god for the Tamil poet, for his audience, and probably for himself, is caught up in the emotional complexities of human experience: this is what he must come thoroughly and intimately to know, as others come to perceive him through their responses to his embodied presence and puzzling deeds. Sita's ordeal is yet another richly articulated opportunity for this course of asymmetrical mutual exploration.

4. Finally, Valmiki's description of the ordeal returns us, together with the epic hero, to the frame of the work, in which the themes of the hero's self-awareness and self-forgetfulness are so subtly and powerfully embedded. The glimpses he gets of his divine nature develop logically out of the structure of that frame. But this frame is wholly absent from Kampan's work, which opens instead with vivid images of flux—of rushing water, and of lives.


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Significantly, the Tamil poet reverts to these images as he begins to narrate the episode of the ordeal, and they spring to mind again with the oxymoronic depiction of Sita's fire as a cool, liquid bath. Kampan's poem has traced a course from the initial deluge to a culminating fire that is itself another kind of flood. These metaphors are imbued with meaning. If in Valmiki, Sita's trial by fire sparks the flash of recovered memory in Rama, in Kampan it re-presents the experience of the divine river of life flowing mysteriously through and out of bodies, playing with awareness, infusing and transcending these fragile vessels. The god both propels this movement onward— perhaps through the elements of his unknowing (98)—and overflows with it himself into and beyond human form. He also remains paradoxically subject to the concomitant law of continuous separation, with the inevitable ensuing sensation of recurrent, indeed continuous, loss. Perfection is a process, magical, unfinished, flawed.

Six
A Ramayana of Their Own: Women's Oral Tradition in Telugu

Velcheru Narayana Rao

As a boy growing up in a Brahmin family in the northeastern district of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, I used to hear my mother humming in the mornings:

levesitammamayamma muddulagumma leve bangaru bomma leve
leci ramunilepave vegamuledikannuladanaleve
     tellavaravaccenu

Wake up Sita, my mother, my dear, you are my golden doll
Wake up yourself and wake up Rama, you have the eyes of a doe
     It is morning!

She had a notebook in which she had written down a number of songs, many of them on the Ramayana theme, which she would sing on occasions when women gathered at our house. The notebook my mother carried is lost now, but those songs and many others like them are still sung by women in Andhra Pradesh. They tell a Ramayana story very different from the familiar one attributed to Va1miki.[1]

The Ramayana in India is not just a story with a variety of retellings; it is a language with which a host of statements may be made. Women in Andhra Pradesh have long used this language to say what they wish to say, as women.[2] I shall discuss two separate groups of songs, those sung by upper caste Brahmin women and those sung by lower caste women, although my major focus will be on the former. I shall demonstrate that while the two groups of songs represent a distinctly female way of using the Ramayana to subvert authority, they are still very different from each other, both in the narratives they use and in the specific authority they seek to subvert.


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Some Background

While upper caste men in Andhra associate the Ramayana with the Sanskrit text attributed to the legendary Valmiki, the Andhra Brahmin women do not view Valmiki as authoritative. Va1miki appears in their songs as a person who was involved in the events of Sita's and Rama's lives and who composed an account of those events—but not necessarily the correct account. Like most of the participants in the tradition, these women believe the Ramayana to be fact and not fiction, and its many different versions are precisely in keeping with this belief. Contrary to the usual opinion, it is fiction that has only one version; a factual event will inevitably have various versions, depending on the attitude, point of view, intent, and social position of the teller.

The events of the Ramayana are contained in separate songs, some long and some short. These are sung at private gatherings, usually in the backyards of Brahmin households or by small groups of older women singing for themselves while doing household chores. Altogether, about twenty-five of them are especially popular, which together constitute a fairly connected story of the epic.[3] Most of these songs, especially the longer ones, are also available in printed "sidewalk" editions, although the oral versions vary in small details from the printed versions.[4]

Since it is difficult for a man to be present at women's events, I could not record all the songs myself. With the help of two female colleagues, however—Kolavennu Malayavasini of Andhra University, Waltair, and Anipindi Jaya Prabha of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, both of whom are Brahmins—I was able to acquire a number of Ramayana songs on tape. The few songs I was able to record were sung by Malayavasini and Jays Prabha, who demonstrated singing styles to me while reading the words from a printed book. My information about the context of singing, the singers, and their audience comes partly from my childhood experience and partly from Malayavasini and Jays Prabha.

Brahmins are perhaps the most widely studied community in India with the result that South Asian anthropological literature offers considerable ethnographic information about Brahmins in general. However, the Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh have not been that well studied, and in particular little is known about Brahmin women of Andhra. Unfortunately, the following brief sketch cannot be intended as a full ethnographic study of Brahmin women, but it will at least provide the background for my conclusions in this paper.

Brahmins (Telugu: brahmanulu or, more colloquially, brahmalu ) is a cover word indicating a cluster of endogamous groups in Andhra. These groups have independent names,[5] but in terms of the fourfold hierarchical order of Hindu society, they are all placed in the highest category, namely, the brahmana . Vegetarian and considered ritually pure by virtue of their birth,


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Brahmins have held the highest level of social respect in Hindu society for centuries. Brahmin families have a very high percentage of literacy, and the men have traditionally been scholars, poets, and preservers of learning both religious and worldly. Brahmins have thus set the standards of Sanskritic culture, and their dialect is considered correct speech. Other castes imitate this dialect in order to be recognized as educated.

In Andhra, women of Brahmin families are segregated from men, though they are not veiled as arc women of North India, nor are they kept from appearing before men in public, as arc women of the landed castes. But they are encouraged to live a sheltered life. In premodern Andhra, before the social reform movements and legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Brahmin girls were married before puberty to a bridegroom arranged by their parents. He was often much older than the bride, and the Brahmin wife was not allowed to remarry if her husband died. Even today widows are considered inauspicious and undesirable; they cannot, for instance, bless young brides at weddings. They are also denied access to ornaments, colored clothes, bangles, turmeric, and the red dot on the forehead, which are symbols of auspiciousness. In some families, especially those belonging to the Vaidiki subdivision of the caste, widows have to shave their heads. However, older widows are respected for their age, especially if they have raised a family, and younger women look up to them for guidance and help. They arc repositories of caste lore and often good at singing songs. Auspicious women, in contrast to widows, are treated with affection. They arc looked upon by their men as sources of family prosperity, and their rituals are considered sacred and valuable. Men are expected to facilitate such rituals by staying away from them but providing all the necessary resources: until recently, a woman was not allowed to own property, except gold given to her as a gift by her parents or husband.

Proper behavior on the part of a wife requires that she obey her husband and parents-in-law, as well as her husband's older brothers and older sisters. Any disobedience is severely punished, and defiant women are disciplined, often by the mother-in-law. In a conflict between the mother and the wife, a son is expected to take his mother's side and punish his wife. In fact, a man is often ridiculed as effeminate if he does not discipline his wife into obedience. Female sexuality is severely repressed; a proper Brahmin woman has sex only to bear children, who should preferably be male. Pursuit of sexual pleasures is offensive to good taste, and a woman is severely punished for any deviance in word or deed. Women should be modest; an interest in personal appearance or a desire to be recognized for physical beauty is discouraged. Women should not even look into a mirror except to make sure that they have put their forehead dot in the right spot. According to a belief popular in Brahmin families, a woman who looks into a mirror after dusk will be reborn as a prostitute. However, women often guide their husbands from behind the


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scenes in decisions that have a bearing on family wealth and female security, which suggests that this code of obedience, if creatively manipulated, can be a source of power.

Brahmin women who sing the Ramayana songs discussed in this essay generally come from families relatively less exposed to English education and urbanized styles of life, in which singing such songs is going out of fashion. They are literate in Telugu, but most of them are not formally educated. Their audience consists of women from similar backgrounds, usually relatives and neighbors, and may also include children, unmarried young women, or newly married brides visiting their mother's house for a festival. Often a marriage or similar event provides an occasion for a number of women to gather. The audience does not generally include women of other castes. While adult men are not supposed to be present at such gatherings, young boys stick around. Nonetheless, men do hear these songs, or more precisely overhear them, even though they tend to pay no attention to them, as it is "women's stuff," not worth their time.

Not every singer knows all of the approximately twenty-five popular Ramayana songs. There is a general recognition, however, that a certain person knows the songs; such a person is often called upon to sing. Some singers have learnt certain songs well, but when a singer does not know a song adequately, she uses a notebook in which she has recorded the text. Singers do not need special training, nor do they consider themselves experts. No musical instruments accompany the singing of these songs, and the tunes are simple, often monotonous. At least one song has refrains, govinda at the end of one line and govinda rama at the end of every other line, suggesting that it may be used as a work song[6] Some of these songs only take about twenty minutes to half an hour to sing, but others are very long, taking several hours to sing.[7]

The precise age of the Ramayana songs is not easy to determine. While they are accepted as traditional, and therefore must be fairly old, there is no reliable way of dating them since oral tradition has a tendency to renew the diction while keeping the structure intact. It is also difficult to determine to what extent the songs are truly oral compositions. All are orally performed, but at least some of them were written by a single individual. Several songs contain a statement of phalasruti (the merit which accrues from listening to the song), some of which include the author's name, and a few even mention an author in the colophon.[8] That the singers as well as the authors of the songs are acquainted with literary texts is beyond doubt: many songs have references to writing and written texts. However, the singing styles are passed down from person to person, and the performance is often from memory—though, as we noted, a singer does not mind also using a book. In short, we do not know whether these songs were composed orally and then preserved in writing, or were originally written compositions.

Nearly every scholar who has studied these songs has either assumed or


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concluded that their authors were men. Only Gopalakrishnamurti has suggested that many of these songs were composed by women, and I am convinced he is right.[9] Judging from the feelings, perceptions, cultural information, and the general attitudes revealed in the songs, it seems likely that all of them—except one minor song, a waking-up song for Sita, which happens to mention a male author—were women's works. Certainly, the songs are intended for women: many of the songs mention the merit women receive from singing or listening to them.

Even a cursory look at the subject matter of the songs indicates that female interests predominate among the themes. Together they comprise a very different Ramayana than that told by Valmiki or other poets of literary versions.

1. Ramayana in summary, narrated with Santa (Rama's elder sister) as the central character

2. Kausalya's pregnancy, describing her morning sickness

3. Rama's birth

4. A lullaby to Rama

5. Bathing the child Rama

6. Sita's wedding

7. Entrusting the bride Sita to the care of her parents-in-law

8. Sita's journey to her mother-in-law's house

9. Sita's puberty

10. Several songs describing the games Rama and Sita played

11. Sita locked out

12. Sita describing her life with Rama to Hanuman in Lanka

13. Incidents in Lanka

14. Sita's fire ordeal

15. Rama's coronation

16. Urmila's sleep

17. Sita's pregnancy

18. The story of Lava and Kusa, Sita's twin sons

19. Lava and Kusa's battle with Rama

20. Laksmana's laugh

21. Surpanakha's revenge

Significantly, these songs do not mention many of the familiar Ramayana events. Dasaratha's glory, the rituals he performed in order to obtain children, Visvamitra's role in training Rama as a warrior, the Ahalya story, the events in the forest leading to the killing of demons, Rama's grief over Sita's loss, Rama's friendship with Sugriva, the killing of Valin, the search for Sita, the exploits of Hanuman, and the glories of the battle in Lanka—none of these incidents receive much attention in these songs. On the other hand, events of interest to women are prominently portrayed and receive detailed


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attention: pregnancy, morning sickness, childbirth, the tender love of a husband, the affections of parents-in-law, games played by brides and grooms in wedding rituals. Moreover, significant attention is given to the last book of the Ramayana , the Uttarakanda : some of the longer songs in my recorded collection as well as in the printed book relate to the events of the Uttarakanda , especially Sita's abandonment and Lava and Kusa's battle with Rama.

The Songs

As the saying goes among men in Andhra, "The news of the birth of a son is pleasant but not the process of the birth." Men are not very interested in the details of pain women undergo in childbirth. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, literary Ramayanas in Telugu describe Rama's birth in glorious terms. They relate how the king and his kingdom were delighted by the news, and describe in eloquent phrases the festivities celebrated all over the city of Ayodhya and the gifts given to Brahmins. Only in the women's song versions of the Ramayana do we find a description of Kausalya in labor, graphically depicting the pain associated with it. The song describes how the child is delivered while the pregnant woman stands upright, holding on to a pair of ropes hung from the ceiling.[10]

Now call the midwife, go send for her.
The midwife came in royal dignity.
She saw the woman in labor, patted her on her back.
Don't be afraid, Kausalya, don't be afraid, woman!
In an hour you will give birth to a son.
The women there took away the gold ornaments,
They removed the heavy jewels from her body.
They hung ropes of gold and silk from the ceiling.
They tied them to the beams, with great joy
They made Kausalya hold the ropes.
Mother, mother, I cannot bear this pain,
A minute feels like a hundred years.

Attention to ritual is common in many Ramayanas , but the rituals are the grand Vedic rituals, in which Brahmin priests play the leading part. Rituals in the women's songs pertain to more domestic matters, in which women are prominent. The only man present is usually the bridegroom Rama, and as the bridegroom in women-dominated rituals, he is controlled by and subservient to the demands of the women surrounding him. In addition to the rituals, the songs also describe various games Sita and Rama play during the wedding and in the course of their married life in the joint family. In all such games Sita comes out the winner. Rama even tries to cheat and cleverly escape defeat, making false promises of surrender.

Another point repeatedly stressed in the songs is the auspicious role


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women have in Brahmin households as the protectors of family prosperity. Women are personifications of the goddess Laksmi, the goddess of wealth, and it is a well-known belief that the women of a household bring prosperity to the family by their proper behavior and ruin it by improper behavior. In these songs the bride enters the house of her new husband, always with her auspicious right foot first. It is the women who perform all the appropriate actions to remove the evil eye from the newborn baby. Women, again, serve a delicious feast to the Brahmins and the sages who come to bless the newborn. The ceremonies described in these songs—the naming ceremony and the ceremony of placing the boys in new cribs (especially made for the occasion, their designs and decorations described in detail)—show how important women are on all those occasions . Even the humor is feminine: when Kausalya gives the women boiled and spiced senagalu (split peas) as a part of a ritual gift, they complain among themselves that the senagalu were not properly salted.

A song about Sita's wedding presents a reason—not found in the Sanskrit text of Valmiki—why Sita's father Janaka decides on an eligibility test for Sita's future husband. In her childhood, Sita casually lifted Siva's bow, which was lying in her father's house. Janaka was amazed at her strength and decided that only a man who could string that bow would be eligible to marry her. Only a hero can be a match for a hero. Several literary Ramayana texts, including Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , also give this explanation, which is therefore not unique to women's Ramayana songs. But this event gains a special significance in the context of women's hopes for a husband who is properly matched to them. In an arranged marriage, where the personal qualities of the future husband are often left to chance, women dream of having a husband who loves them and whom the), love. Significantly, therefore, the song describes Sita's feelings for Rama, whose charms have been described to her by her friends. Sita falls in love with him and suffers the pangs of separation (viraha ) from him. Closely following the conventional modes of love in separation, the song delicately presents Sita's fears that Rama might not succeed in stringing the bow. She prays to all the gods to help him to string it.

The song then describes how Rama falls in love with Sita. He arrives and sees the bow. He has no doubt that he can easily break it. But he wants to make sure that Sita is really beautiful. He asks his brother Laksmana to go and see Sita first. In his words:

If a meal is not agreeable, a day is wasted
But if the wife is not agreeable, life is wasted.

He asks Laksmana to make sure that Sita has a thin waist, that her skin is not too dark, that her hair is black and her feet small. The breaking of the bow itself, which is prominently and powerfully described in literary Ramayanas , is presented in an almost perfunctory manner in the women's songs: it is the


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mutual love between Rama and Sita that is prominent in the song. All too often, women in this community find that there is little real love between them and the husband who has been chosen for them. An elaborate description of the mutual love and desire of Rama and Sita thus serves as a wish fulfillment. The wedding festivities that follow are seen through women's eyes—every detail related to women's roles in the wedding ceremony is carefully described, even the saris the women wear. Toward the end, an incident that portrays Sita as an innocent girl is narrated. Rama shows her a mirror. Seeing her image in the mirror, Sita thinks that it is a different woman, to whom Rama has already been married. Why did Rama marry her if he has a wife already? Has he not vowed to live with one wife and no other? Rama quietly moves closer to the mirror and stands by her side. Sita, seeing Rama's reflection also in the mirror, recognizes her innocence and shyly bends her head down.

A song entitled "Sita Locked Out" describes a delicate event in which Sita is delayed in coming to bed because she has work to finish in the house. Rama waits for her, but, growing impatient, closes the bedroom door and locks it from inside. Sita arrives and pleads with him to open the door. He stubbornly refuses.[11] Sita quietly informs Kausalya, who has already left for Dasaratha's bedroom. Kausalya comes out, knocks on Rama's door, and admonishes him for locking Sita out. Rama has to obey his mother: Sita knows how to manipulate the situation in her favor by enlisting Kausalya's help. Kausalya is represented here as the ideal mother-in-law every daughter-in-law dreams of in a joint family, a mother-in-law who shows warmth and support for her daughter-in-law and who helps to bring her closer to her husband.[12]

Men's Ramayanas have no great use for Santa, who is sometimes nominally mentioned as Dasaratha's foster daughter and who is married to Rsyasrnga. But for women she is a very important person in the Ramayana story. In Brahmin families, an elder sister is allowed to command, criticize, and admonish her younger brother. As Rama's elder sister, Santa often intervenes on behalf of Sita in these songs.

Santa's importance in women's Ramayanas is best represented by a long song called "Santagovindanamalu," which describes Santa's marriage. A striking feature of this song, which narrates most of the early part of the Ramayana , is the importance women have in all the events: at every important juncture, women either take the initiative themselves and act, or advise their husbands to take a specific step. Men's position is presented as titular; the real power rests with the women.

The story tells how Laksmi, Visnu's consort, decides to be born on the earth to help Visnu, who will be born as Rama. She descends to the earth and is born as Sita on a lotus flower in Lanka. Ravana finds her and gives her to Mandodari. When Sita is twelve years old, he wants to marry her as his


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second wife. The Brahmins, however, advise Ravana that Sita will destroy Lanka and that therefore she should be cast into the sea. The song then moves on to narrate other events leading to Rama's birth.

The two most significant stories in the early books of Valmiki's Ramayana are the birth of Dasaratha's sons and Kaikeyi's evil plot to send Rama away to the forest. In the first story women have no role to play except as passive bearers of children; in the second, the evil nature of women is highlighted in the descriptions of Kaikeyi's adamant demands to have her son Bharata invested as the heir to the kingdom and to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years.

The narrative in "Santagovindanamalu" ingeniously transforms both these events so that women acquire the credit for the birth of sons and the evil nature of Kaikeyi's demand is eliminated. First, according to this song, Kausalya advises Dasaratha that they should adopt Santa as their daughter. This daughter will bring good luck to the family and they will have sons. This is a powerful change indeed. The usual Brahmin family belief is that the firstborn should be a son. A firstborn daughter is greeted with disappointment, though it is not always openly expressed. This story suggests that a firstborn daughter is actually preferable because she, as a form of the goddess Laksmi, blesses the family with prosperity, which then leads to the birth of sons. Moreover, it is significant that the whole strategy is planned by a woman—whereas in the Valmiki Ramayana , for example, the sage Rsyasrnga performs a sacrifice for Dasaratha which leads to the birth of sons. What is interesting here is that Dasaratha listens to his senior queen's advice. Kaikeyi, however, initially refuses to go along because she will gain nothing from the plan. But Sumitra convinces Kaikeyi, who finally accepts the plan on the condition that Bharata, her son, will inherit the kingdom. Santa is duly adopted and brought to Ayodhya with great honors, where she is received as the very goddess of wealth. When she grows of age she is married to Rsyasrnga, again on the advice of Kausalya. The song then describes in fine detail the festivities of the wedding and the harmonious atmosphere of the palace, where the women are in control.

The innocence, fun, love, and gentle humor of the songs come to an end and serious problems in Sita's life begin with the events of the later portion of the Ramayanaevents that take place after Sita is brought back from her captivity in Lanka. But the women described in these songs are far from meek and helpless: they are portrayed as strong, quite capable of protecting their position against the unfair treatment meted out to them by Rama.

One song depicts how, after abandoning the pregnant Sita, Rama decides to perform a sacrifice. Since ritual prescribes that he have a wife present, he has a golden image of Sita made, to be placed by his side at the ritual. The image has to be bathed, and the person to do the bathing must be Rama's


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sister, Santa. However, when Santa is called to perform the bathing, she refuses because she was not consulted before Sita was abandoned.

A more serious situation develops when Rama's sacrificial horse is captured by his sons, Lava and Kusa. He does not know that Sita is still alive and being taken care of by the sage Valmiki in his forest hermitage, nor does he know that Lava and Kusa arc his sons. Appeals by Laksmana and Rama to the young boys fail to convince them to surrender the horse. In fact, they will not even reveal their identities. In the inevitable battle that ensues, all of Rama's best fighters, including Hanuman and Laksmana, get killed. Finally, Rama himself goes to battle, and even he is killed. When Sita comes to know about this, she grieves and chastises her sons for killing their father and their uncle. Valmiki, of course, comes to the rescue and brings everybody back to life.[13]

Even then, the boys insist that Rama bow to their feet before he gets his horse back. Is he not the cruel husband who banished his pregnant wife? Rama, realizing now that Sita is alive and that these boys are his sons, wants to see her, and so Valmiki arranges for Sita to be brought before him. Sita dresses in her best jewelry to meet Rama, but Lava and Kusa run into the hermitage to prevent their mother from meeting him. How can she go to a husband who has treated her so cruelly? To resolve the problem, all the gods appear on the scene, Brahma, Siva, and Indra in the company of their wives. The gods take Rama's side, while their wives support the boys. Siva's wife, Parvati, advises the boys not to surrender, while Brahma's wife, Sarasvati, makes the boys insist that Rama should bow to them first. The gods advise the boys to accept the arbitration af the Sun god, but the boys reject that idea: Rama belongs to the solar dynasty, so the Sun will not be impartial. How about the Moon god? No, Visnu saved the Moon when Rahu and Ketu swallowed him. Therefore, the Moon's arbitration cannot be trusted. Nor is Indra an acceptable arbiter because he owes favors to Visnu, who cheated the demons out of their share of ambrosia and gave it all to him. Valmiki's name is suggested, but even he is not impartial, since he wrote the Ramayana in praise of Rama. Brahma, Siva, and .Rsyasrnga—all are rejected one after the other. Rama has no choice. He decides to fight the boys. Parvati opposes this idea, suggesting instead that Rama bequeath Ayodhya to the boys and go to the forest. Ultimately, a compromise is reached: Rama should bow to the boys, intending thereby to honor his parents. So Rama bows to his sons' feet, uttering Kausalya's name, and thus the dispute is resolved.

Finally the family is reunited, and Rama embraces Lava and Kusa. But even then the boys refuse to go to Ayodhya, for they feel that they cannot trust a father who planned to kill his sons while they were in the womb. Only after much pleading do the boys agree to go with their father. Soon after they reach Ayodhya they demand to see the "grandmother" (Kaikeyi) who


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banished Sita to the forest! They announce that Sita is under their protection now and nobody can harm her anymore.

Among the male characters, Laksmana receives very affectionate treatment in these songs. He is closer to Sita, understands her problems, supports her, and even protects her in her time of troubles. In Valmiki, Rama banishes Sita to the forest under the pretext of fulfilling her desire to see the hermitages, instructing Laksmana to leave her in the woods and return. According to the women's version, Rama orders Laksmana to kill her. Laksmana takes her to the forest but, realizing that she is pregnant, decides not to kill her. He kills a hare instead and shows its blood to Rama as evidence. Rama then prepares for her funeral and asks Laksmana to go to the hermitages and invite the sages' wives to the ceremonies. When Laksmana goes to the forest, Sita asks him if Rama is preparing for her funeral. To spare her further pain, Laksmana tells the lie that they are performing a special ritual to rid the palace of evil influences. Laksmana's wife, Urmila, protests against her husband's cruelty in killing Sita. She demands that she be killed too, as does Santa. Unable to stand their anger and their determination, Laksmana tells them the truth: Sita is alive, pregnant, and will deliver soon. Laksmana goes to the forest to visit with her after she has delivered.

Another song in this collection concerns Urmila, whom Valmiki barely mentions. What happens to Urmila when Laksmana leaves for fourteen years to accompany his brother to the forest? According to the women's version, Urmila and Laksmana make a pact: they trade their sleeping and waking hours. Urmila will sleep for the entire fourteen years while Laksmana will stay awake so that he can serve his brother without interruption. Fourteen years later, when Rama has been successfully reinstated on the throne and Laksmana is serving him at the court, Sita reminds Rama that Laksmana should be advised to go visit his wife, who is still sleeping. Laksmana goes to Urmila's bedroom and gently wakes her up. Urmila does not recognize him, however, and thinks that a stranger has entered her bedchamber. She questions him, warning him about the sin of desiring another man's wife.

If my father Janaka comes to know about this,
he will punish you and will not let you get away.
My elder sister and brother-in-law
will not let you escape with your life.

As a proper wife she does not even mention the name of her husband. Instead, she refers to him indirectly:

My elder sister's younger brother-in-law
will not let you live on the earth.

Then she tells him how, in the past, men who coveted others' wives suffered for their sin.


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Did not Indra suffer a disfigured body
because he coveted another man's wife?
Was not Ravana destroyed along with his city
because he desired another man's wife?

That the sleeping Urmi1a could not possibly have known about Ravana kidnapping Sita and his eventual death at Rama's hands is immaterial.

Laksmana gently identifies himself, whereupon Urmila realizes that he is none other than her husband. The rest of the song relates in loving detail how affectionately they embrace each other. Kausalya receives them, prepares a bath for them, and feeds them a delicious meal. Laksmana and Urmila sit side by side—as husband and wife rarely do in conventional Brahmin families—and the members of the family tease them. When they are sent to the bedroom Laksmana combs and skillfully braids Urmila's hair while Urmi1a asks him about all the events of the past fourteen years. How could Ravana kidnap Sita when a man like Laksmana, courageous as a lion, was present? Laksmana relates the story of the golden deer, telling her how Sita spoke harsh words to him and forced him to leave her alone and look after Rama instead. All the major events of the epic have now been narrated briefly, and the song ends wishing all the listeners and singers a place in heaven.

A related song also takes as its starting point Laksmana and Urmila's pact. When the goddess of sleep visits Laksmana in the forest, he asks her to leave him alone for fourteen years and go to his wife instead. She can come back to him exactly fourteen years later, when he returns to Ayodhya. Sure enough, as Laksmana is serving Rama in the court hall after their return from Lanka, the goddess of sleep visits him. Amused at her punctual return, Laksmana laughs. Laksmana's sudden laugh amidst the serious atmosphere of the court makes everybody wonder. The song describes how each person in the hall thinks that Laksmana laughed at him or her. Thus Siva, who is present in the court, thinks that Laksmana laughed at him because he brought a low caste fisherwoman (Ganga, actually the river Ganges) and put her on his head, while Sesa, the ancient snake, thinks that Laksmana was ridiculing him because he served Visnu for a long time but is now serving Visnu's enemy, Siva. Angada assumes that Laksmana was laughing at him for joining the service of his own father's killer, Rama. Sugriva has his insecurities too: he had his brother killed unfairly and stole his brother's wife. Vibhisana revealed the secrets of his brother's kingdom to Rama and thus caused the ruin of Lanka. Hanuman is bothered by the fact that he, a mighty warrior, was once caught by a young soldier, Indrajit. Bharata and Satrughna, too, have something to be ashamed of: they were given the empire as a result of their mother Kaikeyi's cunning plot, which deprived Rama of his position as future king. Even Rama thinks that Laksmana laughed at him


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because he, Rama, has taken back a wife who has lived in another man's house—while Sita thinks that Laksmana laughed at her for having lived away from her husband. Furthermore, she was the one who suspected Laksmana's intentions when he insisted on staying with her to protect her in the forest. She spoke harshly to him, forcing him to leave her alone and go help Rama, who appeared to be in danger from the golden deer—thus causing the chain of events that led to the battle of Lanka. Everyone in the court has a secret shame, and Laksmana's laugh brings their insecurities to the surface. In this skillful way the song suggests that no character in the Ramayana is free from blemishes.

Angry at Laksmana for his improper act of laughing in court, Rama draws his sword to cut off his brother's head, at which point Parvati and Siva intervene. They suggest that Laksmana should be asked to explain his reasons for such irreverent behavior: he is young and should not be punished harshly. When Laksmana explains, Rama is embarrassed at his rash and uncontrolled anger. He asks Vasistha how he, as a proper king, should expiate his sin of attempting to kill his innocent brother. Vasistha advises Rama to massage Laksmana's feet. So a bed is made for Laksmana, and, like a dutiful servant, Rama massages his feet as Laksmana sleeps comfortably. When Laksmana wakes up and sees what Rama is doing, he dutifully dissuades his glorious elder brother, the very incarnation of god Visnu, from serving him.[14]

Ravana's sister Surpanakha's role in the women's Ramayana songs is especially noteworthy. Rama and his brothers are living happily in Ayodhya when Surpanakha happens to see them. She desires to avenge her brother Ravana's death, but she is a woman. If only she were a man, she could have fought against Rama and killed him—but as a woman, she can only disrupt his happiness. So she decides to plant suspicions in Rama's mind about Sita's fidelity. Taking the form of a female hermit, Surpanakha goes to the palace and asks to see Sita. Although Sita hesitates, surprised that a forest hermit has come to see her, after some persuasion she consents to see her. The hermit asks Sita to paint a picture of Ravana, but she replies that she never set eyes on the demon's face; she looked only at his feet. So the hermit asks Sita to paint the feet, and Sita draws a picture of Ravana's big toe.

Surpanakha takes the drawing and completes the rest of the picture herself—strong ankles, thighs, and the rest. She then asks Brahma, the creator god, to give life to the image so she can see her dead brother again. When Brahma does so, Surpanakha brings the picture back to Sita, drops it in front of her, and runs away saying, "Do what you want with this picture." When the image of Ravana starts pulling at Sita, asking her to go to Lanka with him, Sita grows perturbed. Urmila, Santa, and all the other women in the palace try to get rid of the picture. They make a big fire and throw the picture in, but it does not burn. Then they throw the picture into a deep well,


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but it comes back up. By no means can they destroy it. Finally Sita utters Rama's name, which temporarily subdues the image.

Suddenly Rama enters the house. Not knowing what to do with the picture, Sita hides it under her mattress. Rama approaches Sita and embraces her, wishing to make love to her. He unties her blouse, but Sita is distracted. Puzzled, Rama tries to show his affection by describing in many words how he loves her. When he takes her to bed, however, Ravana's picture under the mattress throws him off the bed. Thinking that Sita threw him off, Rama is angered. He turns around and sees Ravana's picture. This convinces him that Sita is really in love with another man and that women are unreliable.

He decides to banish Sita to the forest along with her picture, but all the women of the palace protest. They explain to Rama how a certain hermit made Sita draw Ravana's picture; they tell him that Sita is pure, but Rama does not listen. In his anger, he speaks rudely to his mother, Kausalya, who pleads in favor of Sita. When Sumitra, Laksmana's mother, intervenes, he tells her that she could have Sita as her daughter-in-law, suggesting thereby that Sita could be Laksmana's wife. Ordering that Sita be killed in the forest, he leaves the house for the royal court. Urmila, Mandavi, and Srutakirti, the wives of Rama's three brothers, go to Rama to protest his unfair punishment of Sita. One after another they assure Rama that Sita was not at fault. Finally, Srutakirti tells him:

We are all born in one family,
married into one family.
Our sister is not the only one
who loves Ravana now.
We all love him together
so kill us together.
Because we are women
who stay within the palace,
your actions pass without check.

This united front only makes Rama more angry. He commands Laksmana to take Sita away to the forest, cut off her head, and bring the sword back (thus setting the stage for the events described above).

The Structure of The Songs

The structure of these songs, which open with praise of Rama before moving on to the story at hand, might appear somewhat commonplace, but becomes significant in relation to the time and place of their performance. The songs are usually sung in the late afternoon, after the midday meal, when the men of the family have all retired to the front part of the house to take a nap or chat on the porch, the younger among them perhaps playing cards. Having


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been served a good meal, they now want to be left alone, to relax and rest, until evening. Their daily chores completed, the women arc now free from marital and family obligations, at least for the moment. This is their own time, during which they can do what they please—provided, of course, that they don't violate the norms of good behavior. Very much like the place in the house where the songs are sung, then, this time period is largely insulated from the demands of the men, for whom women must otherwise play their dutiful roles.

A Brahmin house is divided into three areas. The front is where the men sit, conduct business, receive guests, or chat among themselves. Except when they arc called for meals or when they retire for the evening, men do not usually go into the interior of the house, and when they do, they indicate their arrival by coughing or calling to one of the women from outside, who then comes into the middle part of the house to receive them. The middle part of the house is a relatively neutral area, where men and women meet together. In the back of the house are located a kitchen and a verandah opening into the backyard, often with a well in it. It is here that women gather. Women visitors, servants, and low caste men use the back entrance of the house to converse with the women.

At the front of the house, the conventional male-dominated values reign supreme, but the back part of the house, and to a somewhat lesser extent the interior, are primarily the women's domain. Women arc relatively free here from the censuring gaze of their men, and thus enjoy some measure of control over their own lives. Men are even ridiculed for lingering in the back of the house, although male relatives of the wife's family may enter, as can the husband's younger brothers if they are much younger than the wife.

The structure of the songs precisely replicates the structure of the house. Each song begins with a respectful tribute to Rama, the king. Rama in these songs is not only God, as in bhakti Ramayanas , but also the yajamani , the master of the house—albeit a master who is not entirely in control. This opening dutifully made, the song moves toward the interior—and the people who inhabit the interior of the songs are mostly women. Much like certain male relatives, however, some men are allowed to enter this area: Laksmana, the younger brother-in-law; and Lava and Kusa, the young twins.

Sitayana

Women in these songs never openly defy propriety: they behave properly, even giving themselves advice that the male masters of the household would accept and appreciate. The tone of the songs is innocently gentle, homely, and sweet—no harsh or provocative language, no overt or aggressive opposition to male domination. Daughters-in-law thus take great care to observe the conventions in addressing mother-in-law Kausalya and sister-in-law


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Santa. Likewise, on several occasions proper behavior is preached to young brides, as when Sita is told to:

Be more patient than even the earth goddess.
Never transgress the words of your father-in-law and mother-in-law.
Do not ever look at other men.
Do not ever speak openly.
Do not reveal the words your husband says in the interior palace,
even to the best of your friends.
If your husband is angry, never talk back to him.
A husband is god to all women: never disobey your husband.

While proper respect is always paid to authority, what follows on the heels of that respect can seem strikingly different. There are polite but quite strongly made statements that question Rama's wisdom, propriety, honesty, and integrity. However, Sita herself never opposes Rama or her other superiors: as a new bride, Sita is coy, innocent, and very obedient to her husband and the elders of the family. Rather, criticism against Rama is leveled only by women who have the authority to do so, like Rama's mother, Kausalya, or his elder sister, Santa, a mother surrogate. Rama's brothers' wives question Rama, too, but in order to do so, they need the support of Santa. Rama's young sons, Lava and Kusa, are also permitted to criticize their father, provided they are acting in their mother's defense.

Both the affections and the tensions of a joint family come out clearly through these songs. Beneath the apparent calm of the house, joint family women often suffer severe internal stress. The songs reveal a similar atmosphere in their use of language. The general style of the language is deceptively gentle. Very few Sanskrit words are used, the choice of relatively more mellifluous Dravidian words lending to the texture of the songs an idyllic atmosphere of calm and contentment. However, the underlying meanings reveal an atmosphere of subdued tensions, hidden sexuality, and frustrated emotions. On occasion, even the gentle words acquire the sharpness of darts, hitting their targets with precise aim. Under the pretext of family members teasing each other, every character is lampooned. No one's character is untainted; no person loves another unconditionally. Even Sita's chastity is open to doubt: the picture episode suggests that Sita harbors a hidden desire to sleep with Ravana, her drawing of Ravana's big toe making veiled reference to his sex organ. The final picture that emerges is not that of the bhakti Ramayanas , with an ideal husband, an ideal wife, and ideal brothers, but of a complex joint family where life is filled with tension and fear, frustration and suspicion, as well as with love, affection, and tenderness.

The Ramayana songs also make a statement against the public Ramayanas , the bhakti Ramayanas , which glorify the accepted values of a male-dominated world. In the songs, it is the minor or lowly characters who come out as


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winners. Urmila, Laksmana, Lava and Kusa, Santa, and even Surpanakha have a chance to take their revenge. Sita does not fight her own battle alone: others fight it for her. She even enjoys the freedom she acquires by the (false) report of her death; for once, she can exist without living for Rama. As Rama prepares for her death ceremonies, burdened by the guilt of having her killed unjustly, Sita gives birth to twins and awaits her final victory over Rama, won through her agents, her sons. In the final analysis, this is her Ramayana , a Sitayana .

Non-Brahmin Songs

A similar strategy of subverting authority while outwardly respecting it is found in the Ramayana songs sung by non-Brahmin women. These are not as long as the Brahmin women's songs, nor are they as prominent in the non-Brahmin women's repertoire as they are in Brahmin women's. Although the Ramayana is often alleged to be universally, popular in India, closer examination will, I believe, reveal that the epic's popularity increases with the status of the caste. At any rate the number of Ramayana songs sung by non-Brahmin women that are available in published collections is relatively small, though the songs are by no means less interesting. My information regarding these songs comes almost entirely from these published collections, and as such my use of the data is rather constrained.

The label "non-Brahmin" masks more than it reveals. Unfortunately, the published information about these songs does not record the precise caste of the singer. As Ganagappa informs us, the songs are sung by women when they are working in the fields, grinding flour, or playing kolatam (a play of music and dance in which the players move in circles as they hit wooden sticks held in each other's hands). Female agricultural labor in Andhra largely comes from Malas, a caste of Untouchables, and other castes of very low status. Women of these castes work in the fields with men, make their own money, and thus live relatively less sheltered and controlled lives. Separation of the sexes is not practiced to the same extent as among the upper castes, although women are seen as inferior to men, paid lower wages, and given work which is supposed to require less skill, like weeding and transplanting, as opposed to ploughing, seeding, and harvesting. Women also work in groups, which are often supervised by a man. The household chores that these women perform are also distinct from those of the men, but the separation is not as clear cut as it is among upper castes. Lower caste men, for example, do not consider it demeaning to feed children and take care of them.

Women of these low castes have the same kinds of family responsibilities as Brahmin women do: raising a family, bearing (male) children, being sex-


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ually faithful to their husbands, and obeying their husbands and mothers-in-law. But the low-caste women are not as dependent on their husbands as are Brahmin women. Widows are not treated as inauspicious, nor are their heads shaved; and they are not removed from family ritual life. Among some non-Brahmin castes widows even remarry.[15]

The Ramayana songs sung by non-Brahmin women reflect this difference. These songs also concentrate on women's themes: Sita's life in the forest, Urmila's sleep, Sita's request that Rama capture the golden deer, Ravana's kidnapping of Sita, and the battle between Rama and his sons, Kusa and Lava. But there is little interest in descriptions of woman's role in ritual, in their wish for importance in family decisions, or in saris and ornaments, nor is there much allusion to the inner conflicts of a joint family. Also significantly absent are hidden sexuality, feminine modesty, and descriptions of games played by husband and wife.

Interestingly, there is a song describing how Rama grieves when Laksmana swoons in battle and how Hanuman brings the mountain with the life-giving herb samjivini . Another song describes how Vibhisana advises his brother Ravana in vain to surrender Sita and how he deserts Ravana to join Rama. Their mother advises Vibhisana to take half of Lanka and stay. Describing the glory of Lanka she says:

The god of wind sweeps the floor here in Lanka.
The rain god sprinkles cow-dung water to keep it clean.
The fire god himself cooks in our kitchen,
     cooks in our kitchen.
Three hundred thirty-three million gods take
shovels and crowbars and work for us as slaves,
     all the time, work for us as slaves.

It is fascinating to see how the song reverses the hierarchy and relishes the description of gods working as slaves, for in truth it is the low-caste women and men who must work as slaves for their masters, the "gods on earth." The chores of sprinkling cow-dung water in the front yards and cooking are women's work, while digging earth for the landed masters is the work of low-caste men. The song thus refers jointly to the tasks of both men and women of the low castes, opposing their situation to that of the upper castes.

Another short song in this collection describes the glory of houses in Lanka where Ravana and his brothers live.

Steel beams and steel pillars, whose palace is this?
Lovely Srirama [Sita], this is Kumbhakarna'spalace.
Teak beams and teak pillars, whose palace is this?
Lovely Srirama, this is Indrajit's palace.

Silver beams and silver pillars, whose palace is this?
Lovely Srirama, this is Ravana's palace.[16]


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Sung during kolatam play, this group song, its lines repeated again and again, enchants the listeners with its play on words and sound, the increase in value of the house keeping pace with the increase in the tempo of singing. Here, it is Ravana, not Rama, who is described in glorious terms befitting a king. We hear of Rama more as a name in the devotional refrain than as the hero of the epic story.

Among the other male characters Laksmana again receives affectionate treatment as Sita's younger brother-in-law. As surrogate father he takes care of Sita's sons. He puts oil on their scalps, feeds them milk, and they urinate on his clothes. Laksmana loves it; his face glows like the full moon.

The joint family does merit a favorable description in a song depicting Sita's answer to the demon women guarding her in Lanka.

Cool lemon trees and fine ponna trees all around
have you seen, Sita, Ravana's Lanka.
Time and again you think of Rama,
who is this Rama, Sita of Ragavas
Rama is my man, Laksmana, my maridi .
Barta and Satrika are my younger maridis .
Kausalya is my real mother-in-law,
Kaika, the elder one and Saumitri, the younger.
Urmila and I are daughters-in-law.
All the world knows, Janaka is my father.
All the directions know, Dasaratha is my father-in-law.
All the earth knows, the earth goddess is my mother.[17]

So Sita is neither alone nor unprotected. When threatened by an alien power, she can count on all the members of her extended family to come to her support.

An incident that makes Sita look somewhat childish in the upper-caste Ramayanas is her demand for the golden deer, even though Rama tells her that the animal is a demon in magical disguise. In the Ramayana of the low-caste women, though, Sita does not insist on getting the animal like a spoiled child; she says instead:

You give me your bows and arrows
I will go right now and get the animal.

His ego hurt, Rama rushes forth to capture the golden deer.

These songs are sung in rice fields and play areas—not in the private backyards of houses as the Brahmin songs are. Interestingly, songs collected from the fields where women sing as they work begin with a straightforward narration but end almost abruptly; they seem rather unfinished. One wonders if the open structure of the work songs does not reflect the low-caste women's lack of interest in finishing what really does not belong to them. Rather than indicating an inability to produce a finished song, the songs' structure is thus an expression of rejection: like the open fields where they


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work, the story of the Ramayana , with its regal settings and brahminical values, really belongs to others. The same women can, moreover, sing beautifully finished songs when the theme interests them, as, for example, the kolatam play song describing the glory of the houses Ravana and his brothers live in. And there is that devotional mention of Rama's name, perhaps a thin facade covering the actual lack of interest in Rama's stature as a hero.

Conclusions

Why do women sing these songs? Edwin Ardener has proposed a theory of muted groups, who are silenced by the dominant structures of expression.[18] India's lower castes and women fall in this category. However, muted groups, according to Ardener, are not silent groups. They do express themselves, but under cover of the dominant ideology.

The contents of the women's Ramayana songs do not make their singers or listeners feminists. If anything, the Brahmin women to whom I talked consider singing these songs an act of devotion, a proper womanly thing to do in the house. Nor have men who have listened to these songs or read them in print objected to their use by the women of their households. None of the scholars (of both sexes) who have written on the Brahmin Ramayana songs perceive in them a tone of opposition to the public Ramayanas , the "male" versions.[19]

Do the women consciously follow the meaning of the songs when they sing them for themselves? They have so routinized their singing that they seem to receive the meaning subliminally, rather than self-consciously. Furthermore, the very same women who sing these songs also participate in the public, male Ramayana with all the devotion appropriate to the occasion. Does the contrast between what they sing at home and what they hear outside the home receive their attention? Do they discuss these issues among themselves? The texts women sing are not esoteric. Their language is simple, their message clear; they protest against male domination. I believe it is the controlled context of their performance that makes their use properly "feminine." Perhaps the value of the songs consists precisely in the absence of conscious protest. The women who sing these songs have not sought to overthrow the male-dominated family structure; they would rather work within it. They have no interest in direct confrontation with authority; their interest, rather, is in making room for themselves to move. It is this internal freedom that these songs seem to cherish. Only when such freedom is threatened by an overbearing power exercised by the head of the household do the women speak up against him, even then subverting his authority rather than fighting openly against him. These songs are a part of the education Brahmin women receive, a part of brahminic ideology, which constructs women's consciousness in a way suitable to life in a world ultimately controlled by men.


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In sharp contrast to the Brahmin women's songs, the songs sung by the low-caste women seem to reflect their disaffection with the dominant upper-caste masters for whom they work rather than with the men of their own families. As low-caste women, these singers are doubly oppressed. As women, they share some of the feelings of the upper-caste women, and to that extent they understand Sita's troubles. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the lack of interest in Rama and the attention shown instead to Ravana and Lanka, in an apparent rejection of Rama. But again, as in the Brahmin women's songs, the rejection is not open and confrontational, but subtle and subversive.

Seven
The Raja's New Clothes: Redressing Ravana in Meghanadavadha Kavya

Clinton Seely

Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873) stated quite candidly:

People here grumble that the sympathy of the Poet in Meghanad is with the Raksasas. And that is the real truth. I despise Ram and his rabble, but the idea of Ravan elevates and kindles my imagination; he was a grand fellow.[1]

This confession—really more a proud declaration—appears in a letter to Raj Narain Bose during the period when Dutt was writing his magnum opus, MeghanadavadhaKavya (The slaying of Meghanada), a poem retelling in nine cantos an episode from the Ramayana , composed in Bengali and published in 1861. Unlike more traditional Rims tales, the poem begins in medias res and focuses on Ravana's son Meghanada, telling of his third and final fight in defense of the raksasa clan, his demise, and his obsequies. If one analyzes Dutt's characters closely, one finds that the main protagonists—Rama, Laksmana, and Ravana—are consonant with those characters as found in the most widely known Bengali Ramayana , composed in the fifteenth century by Krttivasa. Likewise, the events are fundamentally those narrated in one portion of Krttivasa's Ramayana : Ravana's two sons, Virabahu and Meghanada, are slain, the latter by Laksmana; Ravana slays Laksmana; Laksmana, with help of a special herb procured by Hanuman, is revived. Nothing in MeghanadavadhaKavya leads the reader to assume any other conclusion than that Ravana will eventually die at the hands of Rama, as happens in the Ramayana . But despite Dutt's rather remarkable adherence to traditional characterizations and events (remarkable, given his declared contempt for Rama and his rabble), his poem engenders in the reader a response vastly different from that produced by the more traditional Rama story. Nirad C. Chaudhuri may have put it most succinctly:


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We regarded the war between Rama and Ravana, described in the Ramayana , as another round in the eternal struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. We took Rama as the champion of good and the Demon King Ravana as the champion of evil, and delighted in the episode of Hanumana the Monkey burning Lanka, the golden city of Ravana. But Dutt would be shocking and perplexing us by his all too manifest sympathy for the Demon King, by his glorification of the whole tribe of demons, and his sly attempts to show Rama and his monkey followers in a poor light. . .. He had read Homer and was very fond of him, and it was the Homeric association which was making him represent a war which to us was as much a struggle between opposites and irreconcilables as a war between rivals and equals. When we were thinking of demons and of gods (for Rama was a god, and incarnation of Vishnu himself), Dutt was thinking of the Trojans and the Achaeans. Ravana was to him another Priam, Ravana's son Meghanad a second Hector, and Ravana's city, which to us was the Citadel of Evil, was to Dutt a second Holy Troy.[2]

If both the characterizations and the events in Dutt's poem correspond, by and large, to the Ramayana's core story, how did Dutt manage to "shock" and "perplex" people such as Chaudhuri? Other readers, moreover, take an even more extreme position and conclude that Dutt did not render Rama and Ravana as equals (as is the case with the Iliad's arch foes, Achilles and Hector) but reversed their conventional roles altogether, fashioning Ravana as the hero—the epitome of the sympathetic and respected raja, beloved by his subjects, as well as a devoted brother, husband, and father.[3] How can a work that purports to have as its template a rather predictable story skew the reader's perception of its protagonists so effectively? The answer is complex, for the talented and skillful Dutt employed various literary strategies to accomplish his ends. Elsewhere I have discussed how Dutt used similes to subvert the reader's preconceptions about the traditional epic tale by consistently aligning the raksasas with various heroes of Hindu Indian literature. By the process of elimination Rama and Laksmana, the nominal heroes of the Ramayana , become associated with the opposers of these heroic exemplars. In what follows, I extend my earlier argument, moving from the level of simile to that of storytelling, and argue that Dutt's epic poem tells not one tale but four tales simultaneously, with the three subordinate stories—three of the most prominent tales in Bengali Hinduism—running counter to and subtly undermining the dominant Rama story.[4] As this essay's title suggests, at one level MeghanadavadhaKavya is a tale about the invisible, almost subliminal, cloaking of Ravana in the finery of heroism, while "Ram and his rabble" go about stripped of their traditional garb of glory. But first a bit of background for those unfamiliar with Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Bengal of the nineteenth century. And like Dutt's opus, we begin at a beginning, but not necessarily the beginning.


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Background: Multiple Traditions

In 1816 a group of the leading Indian residents of Calcutta established Hindoo College, which opened its doors to Hindu students the following year, expressly "to instruct the sons of the Hindoos in the European and Asiatic languages and sciences."[5] Hindoo College proved to be the intellectual incubator for an amorphous group known as Young Bengal—youths eager to assimilate new and progressive ideas as well as to denounce what they viewed as superstitious, obscurant practices among their fellow Hindus. Starting in 1833, when he was nine years old, Dutt attended the junior department of this college.[6] He had been born in a village in Jessore district (now in Bangladesh) into a fairly well-to-do Hindu family. Dutt's father commanded Persian, still the official language of British India's judicial system, and was employed in Calcutta's law courts. It was to Calcutta that the senior Dutt brought young Madhusudan for his education.

Even outside institutions of formal education, there was at this time considerable enthusiasm for English and for knowledge of all kinds. Various periodicals helped satisfy this need, as did a number of societies. One of these, the Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge, came into being in 1838 with a membership of around 150 of Calcutta's educated elite, including one "Modoosooden" [Madhusudan] Dutt.[7] With such a supportive environment at Hindoo College and within the upper echelons of society (epitomized by the Society), it is not surprising that Madhusudan Dutt began his literary career writing in the English language. English, after all, was the language of the literature he had been taught to respect, the literature for which he had cultivated a taste. As his letters to a classmate make clear, he dearly loved English literature and wanted fiercely to become a writer in English. Boldly he sent off some of his poetry to a couple of British journals, identifying himself to the editor of Bentley's Miscellany , London, in this way:

I am a Hindu—a native of Bengal—and study English at the Hindu College in Calcutta. I am now in my eighteenth year,—"a child"—to use the language of a poet of your land, Cowley, "in learning but not in age."[8]

Of his fantasies there can be no doubt, as a letter to his friend Gour Dass Bysack reveals:

I am reading Tom Moore's Life of my favourite Byron—a splendid book upon my word! Oh! how should I like to see you write my "Life" if I happen to be a great poet—which I am almost sure I shall be, if I can go to England.[9]

In 1843, the year after he wrote the above letters, Dutt went even further in his acceptance of things Occidental: he embraced Christianity, in the face of very strong opposition from his father. As a Christian, Dutt could no longer attend Hindoo College and so transferred to Bishop's College, where his cur-


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riculum included Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.[10] At the start of 1848, he left Bengal suddenly, going south to Madras, where he secured employment as a schoolteacher and married, within his profession, the daughter of a Scottish indigo planter. Early on during his sojourn in Madras, the first signs appear of a shift in aspirations from that of becoming a noted poet in English to that of devoting his creative energies to writing in his mother tongue, Bengali.

A year after he arrived in Madras, Dutt published "The Captive Ladle," a very Byronic tale (the epigram for the first canto came from "The Giaour") in two cantos of well-modulated octosyllabic verse. One reviewer—J. E. D. Bethune, then president of the Council of Education, whose opinion Dutt personally sought—advised Dutt to give up writing in English and put his talents to work on Bengali literature. Wrote Bethune to Dutt's friend Bysack, who concurred and passed the advice on to Dutt:

He might employ his time to better advantage than in writing English poetry. As an occasional exercise and proof of his proficiency in the language, such specimens may be allowed. But he could render far greater service to his country and have a better chance of achieving a lasting reputation for himself, if he will employ the taste and talents, which he has cultivated by the study of English, in improving the standard and adding to the stock of the poems of his own language, if poetry, at all events, he must write.[11]

Bethune went on to say that from what he could gather, the best examples of Bengali verse were "defiled by grossness and indecency." He suggested that a gifted poet would do well to elevate the tastes of his countrymen by writing original literature of quality in Bengali, or by translating. Dutt's biographer points out that such counsel was not reserved for Dutt alone but offered by Bethune to the assembled students of Krishnagar College.[12] Given Bethune's stance, it seems safe to assume that he was not simply judging literary merit in the case of "The Captive Ladie." (The piece is actually quite effective poetry.) Rather, he wanted to encourage the writing of Bengali literature, not just good literature per se. It should be noted, moreover, that the following year Bethune was among the founders of the Vernacular Literature Society.[13]

Bysack rephrased parts of that letter and then encouraged Dutt to heed Bethune's words:

His advice is the best you can adopt. It is an advice that I have always given you and will din into your ears all my life. . .. We do not want another Byron or another Shelley in English; what we lack is a Byron or a Shelley in Bengali literature.[14]

The precise impact of Bethune's and Bysack's advice cannot be known with certainty. In an off-cited letter to Bysack a month later, Dutt boasted of a nearly impossible daily regimen of language study: "Here is my routine; 6


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to 8 Hebrew, 8 to 12 school, 12-2 Greek, 2-5 Telegu and Sanskrit, 5-7 Latin, 7-10 English." He added that "I devote several hours daily in Tamil" and concluded, with rhetorical panache: "Am I not preparing for the great object of embellishing the tongue of my fathers?"[15]

Earlier that year, though, even before Bethune's unexpected, unenthusiastic reception of "The Captive Ladie," the first signs of Dutt's impending conversion to his mother tongue for creative writing had already shown themselves, well before "The Captive Ladie" had even been published. He wrote Bysack, asking him to send from Calcutta two books. The books requested were the Bengali re-creations (not really translations) of India's Sanskrit epics and were among the first books printed in Bengali, published from the Baptist missionaries' press at Serampore. The stories and characters from these two epics, known to Dutt from childhood, provided about half the raw material for what he would write in Bengali, including Meghanadavadha Kavya .

In 1856, at the age of thirty-two, Dutt returned to Calcutta. Between 1858 and 1862, when he finally got an opportunity to go to England (to study law), Dutt wrote and published in Bengali five plays, three narrative poems, and a substantial collection of lyrics organized around the Radha-Krsna theme. Along with all this, he found time to translate three plays from Bengali into English.

By the latter half of the nineteenth century, the original ideals of the Young Bengal group—an earnest, enlightened quest for knowledge coupled with a rejection of what they viewed as demeaning superstition—had been misinterpreted by some to mean aping the British and flouting social norms. In particular, patronizing dancing girls, meat-eating, and the drinking of alcohol (taboo among devout Hindus), along with speaking a modicum of English, came to symbolize for some their "enlightenment." Quite otherwise was Dutt's embrace of things Occidental. He had a good liberal education, was a practiced writer (although much of that practice had been in English), and had drunk deeply from European and Indian literature. Of a fellow writer Dutt wrote in 1860:

Byron, Moore and Scott form the highest Heaven of poetry in his estimation. I wish he would travel further. He would then find what "hills peep o'er hills"—what "Alps on Alps arise!" As for me, I never read any poetry except that of Valmiki, Homer, Vyasa, Virgil, Kalidas, Dante (in translation), Tasso (Do) and Milton. These kavikulaguru [master poets] ought to make a fellow a first rate poet—if Nature has been gracious to him.[16]

There was little or no doubt in his mind that in his case Nature had indeed been kind. And by the end of the 1850s he felt himself prepared "for the great object of embellishing the tongue of my fathers." The pattern—of beginning one's literary life writing in English and then switching to one's mother


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tongue—was not an uncommon one. R. Parthasarathy, himself an Indian poet who also writes in English (not his mother tongue), refers to Dutt as "the paradigm of the Indian poet writing in English . . . torn by the tensions of this 'double tradition.'"[17] But it was in Bengali that Dutt made his lasting literary contributions, foremost among them Meghanadavadha Kavya .

The Text: Epic Departures

To reiterate, Meghanadavadha Kavya tells of the third and decisive encounter between Ravana's son and Rama's forces, wherein Meghanada is slain by Rama's brother Laksmana. In the first of his nine cantos, Dutt introduces us to Ravana and Meghanada on the day prior to the slaying; at the epic's conclusion, Ravana performs Meghanada's obsequies, a scene that dramatically unifies Dutt's narrative while also foreshadowing the closure of the Ramayana's larger conflict, Rama and Ravana's battle over Sita. The reader can assume that events following Meghanada's demise will largely correspond to those found in the traditional Ramayana , since Dutt's narrative throughout has conformed in essence to that epic. But Rama's story is merely the warp, if you will, of Dutt's poem; three other tales form the woof of this Ramayana fabric, interweaving with Rama's tale to create texture and, most importantly, to subvert the main narrative's purport—the aggrandizement of Rama.

Complex narrative structuring was by no means introduced into Indian literature by Dutt. Sanskrit boasts a type of multisemic narrative which, if read one way, tells a certain tale (of Krsna, for instance) and, read another way, tells a different story (of Rama, for example). The two—or more—tales are simultaneously present in the same text, but, depending on choices the reader makes, one or the other story becomes manifest. Sanskrit, by its very nature, allows for ambiguous reading, and certain poets exploited that ambiguity for artistic effect. Owing to euphonic assimilation (sandhi ), word boundaries can become difficult to discern. A string of phonemes can be variously divided to produce diverse words; different parsings of a sentence can thus produce diverse readings. On the simplest level, to take an example from the Ramayana itself, we have the mantra-like utterance by Ratnakara, a thief who, thanks to the purifying nature of a spell, becomes Valmiki, devotee of Rama and author of the Ramayana . A penitent Ratnakara is directed to chant the name of Rama, but he demurs, claiming he is too vile a sinner. So Ratnakara is instructed to speak the word mara , meaning dead. By chanting mara mara continuously—maramaramara—Ratnakara does in fact say Rama's name, by virtue of the contiguity of the two phonemes ra and ma . Divide the phonemes one way and one gets "dead"; divide them another way and Rama springs to life.

In his survey of Sanskrit literature, A. B. Keith mentions somewhat more


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sophisticated examples. In a poem entitled the Raghavapandaviya "we are told simultaneously the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata ," while another work, the Rasikaranjana , "read one way, gives an erotic poem, in another, a eulogy of asceticism." And yet a third narrative, the Raghavapandaviyayadaviya , narrates the tales of Rama, of Nala, and of the Bhagavata Purana simultaneously, using the same phonemes in the same order.[18]

Written Bengali, in which word boundaries are more recognizable and permanent, does not lend itself as readily as Sanskrit to such linguistic virtuosity. Though individual words may, apropos of kavya or poetic literature, have more than one meaning, whole sentences or paragraphs cannot be construed to contain certain words in one reading and different words in another. Nevertheless, in the tradition of his Sanskrit poetic forefathers, Dutt creates in Meghanadavadha Kavya a multistory narrative. On the denotative level, it is simply an episode out of the Ramayana , but read another way, primarily through its similes, Meghanadavadha Kavya dons the clothing of Krsna to tell Krsna's tale. Read even differently, Dutt's poem alludes to the Mahabharata and its internecine struggle between Kurus and Pandavas. And read from yet one more perspective, the fabric of Meghanadavadha Kavya glitters with the myth of Durga and her annual autumnal visit to Bengal, when Bengali Hindus celebrate Durga Puja [worship], the grandest public festival of the Hindu year.

All the subsidiary interwoven stories are present in one and the same reading of Meghanadavadha Kavya , albeit in far less narrative detail than Rama's story, just as the threads in fine cloth can be discerned but tend to blend into the total design. Because all are manifest and thus not only can but must be read and apprehended simultaneously, each tale affects the reader's understanding of all the other tales. As one reads of Meghanada's demise and Rama's impending victory—a joyous event for any Hindu—one also reads the more dolorous tale of Krsna, who grew up in bucolic Vraja, delighting the cowherd maidens, but who then had to leave, never to return. The conflation of characters, in this case Krsna and Meghanada, serves to confuse the reader's response: is the reader made uncomfortable by the departure of Krsna or by the death of Meghanada? The resulting subversion of the main story by a secondary tale leads at least some readers, as Chaudhuri attests, to react with shock and perplexity. Have the raksasas been glorified beyond what they are in more traditional Ramayanas ? Well, no, not directly. Has Rama been shown in a poor light? Not exactly. These characters are precisely what they have always been. But Dutt's submerged tale of Krsna has complicated matters for the reader. In similar fashion, as one reads the episode drawn from the Ramayana , one is also presented with a vignette from the Mahabharata as well as the mythic tale of Durga, each bittersweet stories, each in its own way countering the emotional impact of Meghanadavadha Kavya's main story line.


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Let us examine the three substrata stories more closely. The tale of Krsna is told entirely through similes, all of which compare him with Meghanada. These similes are drawn from two periods in his life. According to his hagiography, Krsna was born in Mathura (also called Madhupura) but taken immediately after his birth to Vraja (Gokula) to escape the wrath of King Kamsa, his uncle. In Vraja, by the banks of the Yamuna, Krsna grows up to become the lover of the gopis , the local cowherds' wives, Radha chief among them. There comes a time, however, when the idyll must end. Krsna leaves Vraja and returns to Mathura, there to slay his wicked uncle. That done, he moves on to the city of Dvaraka. But for Bengali Vaisnavas, it is the time Krsna spent in Vraja with his gopi lovers that is most cherished.

Dutt's Krsna similes are by no means randomly scattered throughout his poem. In the first half of Meghanadavadha Kavya , while Meghanada is still living with his fellow raksasas , the Krsna similes refer to Vraja in the happy days when the deity resided there. Early in the first canto, for example, a passage describing Ravana's sumptuous court runs: "Constant spring breezes delicately wafted scents, gaily/transporting waves of chirping, ah yes! enchanting as the/flute's melodic undulations in the pleasure groves of/ Gokula."[19] Toward the end of the same canto, we find Meghanada, first compared to the moon (lord of night) and then to Krsna (the herdsman). at ease. He has defeated Rama in open warfare not once but twice and assumes, reasonably enough, that the raksasas have won the war.

That best of champions dallied with
the maids of shapely bodies, just as the lord of night sports
with Daksa's daughters, or, O Yamuna, daughter of the
sun, as the herdsman danced beneath kadamba trees, flute to
lips, sporting with the cowherds' wives upon your splendid banks!  (1.648-53)

Alerted to the danger facing his father (for Rama is not dead as the raksasas suppose), Meghanada leaves his wife behind in that country retreat and returns to the walled city and his father's court. We see in the opening lines of canto 3 that young Pramila—who is likened to Radha, the maid of Vraja—does not react to the separation from her beloved husband with equanimity.

In Pramoda Park wept Pramila, youthful Danava

 

daughter, pining for her absent husband. That tearful moonfaced

 

one paced incessantly about the flower garden

 

like the maid of Vraja, ah, when she, in Vraja's flower

 

groves, failed to find her yellow-dad Krsna standing beneath

 

kadamba trees with flute to lips. That lovelorn lady would

 

from time to time go inside her home, then out, just like a

 

pigeon, inconsolable in her empty pigeon house.

(3.1-9)

Donning warrior's garb, Pramila marches with her legion of women (a borrowing by Dutt from the Asvamedhaparva of the Bengali Mahabharata )


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through Rama's ranks—Rama grants her passage—and rejoins her husband in the walled city. Then in canto 5, Meghanada is awakened by doves on the morning of the day he is to do battle once again. He wakes Pramila, kissing her closed eyelids: "Startled, that woman rose in haste—as do the cowherds' wives/at the flute's mellifluous sounds" (5.387-88). Later that same morning he leaves Pramila, who watches him walk away from her for, unbeknownst to her, the last time.

Wiping her eyes, that chaste wife departed—as cowherds' wives,
about to lose their lover, bid farewell to Madhava
on Yamuna's shores, then empty-hearted return to their
own empty homes—so, weeping still, she entered her abode. (5.604-7)

Just as Krsna (Madhava) left pleasant Vraja to slay the evil Kamsa, so Meghanada leaves, intending to slay Rama. Neither one will return. Krsna goes to Dvaraka; Meghanada dies. The remaining two Krsna similes are set during the time after Krsna has gone away.

Meghanada is slain in canto 6. Though at that moment his death is known only to Laksmana and Vibhisana, it affects the three individuals emotionally closest to him: his father's crown falls to the ground; his wife's right eye flutters, an inauspicious sign; and his mother faints. "And," adds Dutt, "asleep in mothers' laps, babies cried/a sorrowful wail as Vraja children cried when precious/Syama [Krsna] darkened Vraja, leaving there for Madhupura"(6.638-41). It is not until the ninth and final canto that another Krsna simile occurs, once more depicting Vraja after Krsna's departure. As the funeral cortege for Meghanada files out of the walled city of Lanka toward the sea, "that city, now emptied, grew dark like Gokula devoid of Syama" (9.308-9). Again, the Krsna woof, created here with similes, is woven into the Ramayana story. If the two tales typically evoked the same audience response, then the anticipated reaction would simply be intensified. But in this case, the traditional audience responses are discordant: sadness at the loss of Krsna; glee over Rama's triumph.

Similar subversion of the expected reader response to Rama's victory is fostered by the Mahabharata woof. The Mahabharata is a compendium of stories, a far more eclectic text than the Ramayana ; the many Mahabharata similes in Meghanadavadha Kavya are drawn from diverse episodes. One set of these similes, however, focuses on the specific tale of the ignominious slaughter of the Pandavas' sons by Asvatthaman. This particular episode takes place at the end of the war, after the outcome is clear. Although both sides have sustained heavy losses, the five Pandavas have won. The Kaurava Duryodhana, the great enemy of the Pandavas, lies dying, his hip broken. At this point Asvatthaman, a cohort of Duryodhana's, decides to slip into the Pandava camp and slay the five Pandava warriors out of spite. Under cover of darkness, Asvatthaman and his accomplices proceed to the victors' bivouac, at the gate of which stands the god Siva, as Sthanu (a veritable


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pillar). Asvatthaman manages to get by Siva and penetrate the enemies' camp. Once inside, he kills those he takes to be the senior Pandavas but who are in fact their five young sons. Pleased with himself, Asvatthaman hastens to tell the senior Kaurava, Duryodhana, what he has done.

The first canto of Meghanadavadha Kavya contains a reference to the encampment of the Pandavas, couched in a series of similes describing Ravana's grand court. "Before its doors/paced the guard, a redoubtable figure, like god Rudra [Siva]/trident clutched, before the Pandavas' encampment's gateway" (1.53-55). This same Mahabharata episode is alluded to again in canto 5 when Laksmana, preparing to slay Meghanada, must first proceed to the Candi temple situated in a nearby forest. As he approaches, his way is blocked by a huge Siva, whom he must pass in order to enter the woods. Laksmana circumvents Siva and overcomes several other obstacles in his path before successfully reaching the temple. It is there that Laksmana is granted the boon of invisibility for the following day so that he may enter the raksasas ' walled city undetected. Just as Asvatthaman had first to bypass Siva before entering the Pandavas' camp under cover of darkness in order to slay what turned out to be their sons, so Laksmana must get past Siva, then penetrate under the cloak of invisibility the raksasas ' stronghold to slay Ravana's son Meghanada.

In the very next canto, Laksmana does slip into the raksasas ' city and kill Meghanada. As Laksmana and his accomplice flee the walled city, Dutt describes their action with a combination of two similes, one natural, the other based on the same episode from the Mahabharata :

The two left hurriedly, just as a hunter, when he slays

 

the young of a tigress in her absence, flees for his life

 

with wind's speed, panting breathlessly, lest that ferocious beast

should suddenly attack, wild with grief at finding her cubs

 

lifeless! or, as champion Asvatthaman, son of Drona,

 

having killed five sleeping boys inside the Pandava camp

 

in dead of night, departed going with the quickness of

 

a heart's desire, giddy from the thrill and fear, to where lay

 

Kuru monarch Duryodhana, his thigh broken in the

 

Kuruksetra War.

(6.704-13)

And like Asvatthaman, who ran to tell Duryodhana what he had done, Laksmana runs to Rama to bring him news of the slaying. Here again, two tales simultaneously told, one from the Mahabharata and the other from the Ramayana , produce contrary effects: delight when Laksmana slays Meghanada; disgust at Asvatthaman's heinous act. Small wonder the reader is perplexed.

Yet a third tale is woven into Meghanadavadha Kavya , that concerning goddess Durga's annual puja . According to myth, on the sixth day of the waxing


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moon of the autumn month of Asvin, Durga arrives at her natal home, there to stay until the tenth day, when she must return to her husband Siva's home on Mount Kailasa. Her short visit is the occasion for Bengal's greatest public Hindu festival, the Durga Puja, during which she is worshiped in the form of the ten-armed goddess who slays Mahisasura, the buffalo demon. On that tenth day, called the vijaya (victorious) tenth, she as the victorious one is bid farewell for another year as she leaves to rejoin her spouse. Durga's departure is, as departures tend to be, a somewhat bittersweet affair, for although she wants to return to her husband's side, she is sad to leave her parents and friends. Her mythic parents, Menaka and Himalaya, are loath to let their daughter go. The eighteenth-century Bengali poet Ram Prasad Sen, a devotee of the mother goddess in all her sundry manifestations, sang eloquently and passionately of the plight of Menaka (or any mother), who had to say goodbye to her daughter for yet another year. Those songs, called vijaya songs, were no doubt sung in Dutt's time and can still be heard today. Dutt captures this bittersweetness, setting an unexpected tone for his poem in the very first canto when he describes Laksmi—she who must leave Lanka—with a simile drawn from the Durga Puja. Laksmi is the goddess of good fortune; as Rajalaksmi, she is the raja's luck or fortune. Lanka's grandeur (a feature common to all Ramayanas , not just Dutt's) attests to the presence of good fortune in Ravana's realm, but with the advent of Rama, Laksmi must soon leave Lanka.

With face averted, moon-faced Indira [Laksmi] sat

 

glumly—as sat Uma [Durga] of the moonlike countenance, cheeks

cradled in her palms, when the tenth day of the waxing moon

 

of Durga Puja dawned, with pangs of separation at

 

her home in Gaur [Bengal].

(1.502-5)

In one way or another both the warp and woof of Meghanadavadha Kavya narrate departures and death. Krsna left Vraja. The Pandavas won the war but lost their sons and kinsmen. Every year, on the tenth day of the waxing moon of Asvin, Durga must depart. And Meghanada is slain. The first three are attended by sorrow; the fourth should be a cause for joy, were it not for the subversion wrought by the other three.

In the concluding canto, Dutt again accentuates the Durga Puja theme. As the cortege exits the city gates, Pramila's horse is led riderless while Meghanada's war chariot goes empty:

Out came the chariots moving slowly, among them that

 

best of chariots, rich-hued, lightning's sparkle on its wheels,

 

flags, the colors found in Indra's bow, on its pinnacles—

 

but this day it was devoid of splendor, like the empty

 

splendor of an idol's frame without its lifelike painted

 

image, at the end of an immersion ceremony.

(9.251-56)


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On the tenth lunar day of the Durga Puja the iconic representation of the goddess, in all her ten-armed splendor, slaying the buffalo demon is immersed in the Ganges. It is then that the life-force of the deity, which entered the idol several days before and has been present throughout the celebrations, leaves and travels back to Mount Kailasa. The images are made from straw tied around bamboo frames; the straw is covered with clay, which when dry is painted, and the image meticulously clothed to represent the supreme goddess. When such an icon is immersed in the river, the clay eventually washes away, leaving a stick and straw figure exposed. Just so appears Meghanada's chariot without its vital warrior.

When the funeral procession reaches the seashore, a pyre is built of fragrant sandalwood, onto which is placed Meghanada's corpse. Pramila mounts the pyre and sits at her dead husband's feet—the decorated pyre being likened to the goddess's altar during Durga Puja (9.375-76). From Mount Kailasa Siva now commands Agni, god of fire, to transport the couple to him: like Durga after the immersion of her icon, Meghanada and Pramila will travel directly to Siva. Dutt invites—nay, forces—his reader to feel toward Meghanada and Pramila what they feel toward Durga on the day of her departure. The loss of a traditional enemy becomes, by the subversive power of Durga's tale, a cause for lamentation.

When the funeral fire is finally out, the raksasas purify the site with Ganges water and erect there a temple. To wash away some of the pollution which attends death, they then bathe in the sea. Dutt concludes his epic poem as follows:

After bathing in waters of the sea, those raksasas

 

now headed back toward Lanka, wet still with water of their

grief—it was as if they had immersed the image of the

 

goddess on the lunar tenth day of the Durga Puja;

 

then Lanka wept in sorrow seven days and seven nights.

(9.440-43)

The Durga Puja similes in the first and final cantos not only lend symmetry to Meghanadavadha Kavya but also, more than any of the other tales, presage Ravana's death. In Bengal, it is the Durga Puja that Hindus celebrate during the waxing Asvin moon, coming to an end on the tenth of that month, the victorious tenth. In some parts of India, however, the Ram Lila, a reenacting of Rama's divine play is performed in that season, culminating on the very same tenth of Asvin with the slaying of Ravana by Rama.[20] Thus, the Durga Puja similes in Dutt's text not only relate in part the tale of Durga's annual leaving but also imply the story of Rama's victory over Ravana, for Durga's and Rama's tale occur simultaneously in mythic time. If the substratum story, Durga's tale and her departure, effect a bittersweet response, then the elation at Rama's triumph—when the two tales are perforce read together—cannot but be vitiated. That was unquestionably Dutt's intent, for, as we


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recall, he had declared his dislike for Rama and his admiration for Rama's foe. But dislike Rama or not, Dutt kept his Rama character true to the Ramayana tradition, preferring to let his similes and simultaneously told secondary tales complicate his reader's response.

The Reception: Mixed Blessings

Different audiences received Meghanadavadha Kavya differently, though in general it met with approbation and congratulations. Dutt himself, no disinterested judge, tells us through his letters that his poem was gaining acceptance almost daily.

The poem is rising into splendid popularity. Some say it is better than Milton—but that is all bosh—nothing can be better than Milton; many say it licks Kalidasa; I have no objection to that. I don't think it impossible to equal Virgil, Kalidasa and Tasso. Though glorious, still they are mortal poets; Milton is divine.

Many Hindu Ladies, I understand, are reading the book and crying over it. You ought to put your wife in the way of reading the verse.[21]

Even before the entire work had been published (cantos I through 5 appeared first), a man of letters of the day and patron of the arts, Kali Prosanna Singh, understood the importance of Dutt's accomplishment and felt it essential that Dutt should be honored. This was done under the aegis of the Vidyotsahini Sabha (Society for Those Eager for Knowledge), one of various private organizations formed during the nineteenth century by educated Bengalis in Calcutta. Singh's letter of invitation to a small circle of guests read in part:

Intending to present Mr. Michael M. S. Dutt with a silver trifle as a mite of encouragement for having introduced with success the Blank verse into our language, I have been advised to call a meeting of those who might take a lively interest in the matter.[22]

Following the ceremony, Dutt wrote to Raj Narain Bose:

You will be pleased to hear that not very long ago the Vidyotsahini Sabha—and the President Kali Prosanna Singh of Jorasanko, presented me with a splendid silver claret jug. There was a great meeting and an address in Bengali. Probably you have read both address and reply in the vernacular papers.

On the whole the book is doing well. It has roused curiosity. Your friend Babu Debendra Nath Tagore [Rabindranath's father], I hear, is quite taken up with it. S— told me the other day that he (Babu D.) is of opinion that few Hindu authors can "stand near this man," meaning your fat friend of No. 6 Lower Chitpur Road [where Dutt resided], and "that his imagination goes as far as imagination can go."[23]


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And still later, writing to the same friend:

Talking about Blank-Verse, you must allow me to give you a jolly little anecdote. Some days ago I had occasion to go to the Chinabazar. I saw a man seated in a shop and deeply poring over Meghanad. I stepped in and asked him what he was reading. He said in very good English—
"I am reading a new poem, Sir!" "A poem? I said, "I thought that there was no poetry in your language." He replied—"Why, Sir, here is poetry that would make any nation proud."[24]

And again:

I have not yet heard a single line in Meghanad's disfavour. The great Jotindra has only said that he is sorry poor Lakshman is represented as killing Indrojit in cold blood and when unarmed. But I am sure the poem has many faults. What human production has not?[25]

Jotindra Mohan Tagore's reservation aside, few if any readers (and it should be noted that "readers" implies the educated elite who could in fact read this erudite work) took umbrage at Dutt's iconoclasm. As Pramathanath Bisi, a contemporary literary scholar, tells us:

Disgust toward "Ram and his rabble," the sparking of one's imagination at the idea of Ravana and Meghanada—these attitudes were not peculiar to Dutt. Many of his contemporaries had the very same feelings. What was native seemed despicable; what was English, grand and glorious. Such was the general temperament. . . . Dutt cast Ravana's character as representative of the English-educated segment of society.[26]

We may not choose to accept all of Bisi's statement at face value, but history forces us to conclude that Dutt's attitudes were indeed not peculiar to him alone. Meghanadavadha Kavya did not go unappreciated: by the time Dutt died in 1873, his epic poem had gone through six editions.

Four years after Dutt's death, Romesh Chunder Dutt (not a relative), one of the most respected intellectuals of the day, wrote in his The Literature of Bengal :

Nothing in the entire range of the Bengali literature can approach the sublimity of the Meghanad Badh Kabya which is a masterpiece of epic poetry. The reader who can feel, and appreciate the sublime, will rise from a study of this great work with mixed sensations of veneration and awe with which few poets can inspire him, and will candidly pronounce the bold author to be indeed a genius of a very high order, second only to the highest and greatest that have ever lived, like Vyasa, Valmiki or Kalidasa, Homer, Dante or Shakespear.[27]

As might be expected, however, over the years not everyone has been enamored with Meghanadavadha Kavya . Rabindranath Tagore, born the year it came out, was one of Dutt's harshest critics. Dutt's "epic" was an epic


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(mahakavya ) in name only, he declared. Tagore found nothing elevating or elevated about Dutt's characters or in his depiction of the events. There was no immortality, as he put it, in any of the protagonists, not even in Meghanada himself; none of these characters, he contended, would live with us forever.[28] Tagore published those opinions when he was twenty-one. Later, in his reminiscences, he recanted:

Earlier, with the audacity that accompanies youth, I had penned a scathing critique of Meghanadavadha Kavya . Just as the juice of green mangos is sour—green criticism is acerbic. When other abilities are wanting, the ability to poke and scratch becomes accentuated. I too had scratched at this immortal poem in an effort to find some easy way to achieve my own immortality.[29]

But despite the retraction, Tagore never accepted Dutt fully. Edward Thompson, Tagore's English biographer, quotes Tagore as follows:

"He was nothing of a Bengali scholar," said Rabindranath once, when we were discussing the Meghanadbadh; "he just got a dictionary and looked out all the sounding words. He had great power over words. But his style has not been repeated. It isn't Bengali."[30]

Whether something is or is not the genuine article, whether it is "really Bengali," has been for some time a criterion by which Bengali critics judge the artistic accomplishments of their fellow artists. Pramatha Chaudhuri, colleague of Tagore and editor of one of the most prestigious and avant-garde journals from the early decades of this century, Sabuja Patra (Green leaves), wrote in the initial issue of that magazine:

Since the seeds of thought borne by winds from the Occident cannot take root firmly in our local soil, they either wither away or turn parasitic. It follows, then, that Meghanadavadha Kavya is the bloom of a parasite. And though, like the orchid, its design is exquisite and its hue glorious, it is utterly devoid of any fragrance.[31]

But what Pramatha Chaudhuri looked upon as suspect has since come to be recognized as the normal state of affairs. As our colleague A. K. Ramanujan, a man of many literatures, has commented:

After the nineteenth century, no significant Indian writer lacks any of the three traditions: the regional mother tongue, the pan-Indian (Sanskritic, and in the case of Urdu and Kashmiri, the Perso-Arabic as well), and the Western (mostly English). Poetic, not necessarily scholarly, assimilation of all these three resources in various individual ways seems indispensable.[32]

Perhaps Dutt was just a bit ahead of his time.

Attacked by Tagore and Pramatha Chaudhuri as un-Bengali, Dutt's poem has also been praised for—of all things—being in line with international communism. Since in Meghanadavadha Kavya Rama is more man than in-


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carnation of Visnu, Bengali Marxists lauded Dutt, in their underground publication Marksavadi (The Marxist), for debunking religion and the gods.[33]

Though now, like Milton's Paradise Lost , read more as part of a university curriculum, as the first great modern work of Bengali literature, than as a best-seller, there was a day when Meghanadavadha Kavya qualified as required reading for the educated Bengali-speaking public at large, the sine qua non of the cultured Bengali. Of Dutt's standing in Bengali literature, an assessment by Nirad C. Chaudhuri, though made some four decades ago, still applies today. "In addition to his historical importance," wrote Chaudhuri, "the absolute value of his poetry is also generally undisputed; only his reputation, like that of every great writer, has had its ebbs as well as tides, its ups and downs; and his most modern Bengali critics have tried to be as clever at his expense as the modern detractors of Milton."[34] Also generally undisputed has been the conclusion that Dutt's raksasa raja is decked out in some very regal new clothes. That this conclusion has been so widely accepted proves how deceiving appearances can be, for Ravana, in truth, wears no new attire. Instead, the master poet has slyly—to borrow Chaudhuri's term—woven his central Ramayna episode so as to suggest heroic raiment for Ravana rather than for Rama. Clothed in cunning finery, Meghanadavadha Kavya presents a deceptive exterior. The raja—redressed though he may be—wears no new clothes, even though the reader sees what in fact is not there.

Eight
Creating Conversations: The Rama Story as Puppet Play in Kerala

Stuart H. Blackburn

The Rama story in India is an oral tradition. Although texts do stabilize certain variants, and may engender other variants, the diversity of the tradition—the many Ramayanas —is a function of the many genres, the many languages, and the many occasions on which the Rama story is orally performed. By tale-tellers and epic-singers, temple pundits and schoolteachers, and any number of unknown tellers and tellings, the story is spoken, chanted, sung, mimed, retold, and explained. Several contributions to this volume draw attention to this variety of tellers and tellings, and implicitly to their audiences. Here, too, is diversity. The audience may be the immediate listeners, whose role in performance varies from that of active participant (as respondent to a spoken line) to silent spectator. Some audiences are physically absent, such as patrons, who are meant only to overhear the performance or learn of it later. The audience may also be a god or goddess, as when a text is ritually performed with no human onlookers. And combinations of these audiences often coexist in a single performance event.[1]

Audiences seem especially important in the Rama story tradition. Several major texts, including the Ramcaritmanas and the Adhyatma Ramayana , are cast in dialogue form, Siva narrating the story to Parvati. Even in Valmiki's variant, Narada summarizes the first chapter to the poet. Whether or not this focus on narration offers further evidence for the essentially oral nature of the Ramayana , these texts include another type of audience: an internal audience, created by tellers within their text. This internal audience is what I found in studying performances of the shadow puppet play in Kerala. The puppeteers did not perform for a conventional audience, since few people, often absolutely no one, remained throughout the night to hear their chanting and exegesis of the Rama story; instead, they created conversations among themselves.

The Kerala shadow puppet play itself illustrates the diversity of the


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Ramayana tradition in that it performs a classical Tamil text in a Malayalam folk context.[2] The plays are presented in a long series of overnight performances, often running twenty or more nights, as part of the annual festival in central Kerala to the goddess Bhagavati. Although the puppet stage, called a "drama house," is built outside the temple proper, the performances are explicitly linked to the temple: its lamp is used to light the little lamps inside the drama house that cast the puppet shadows on the screen; the screen is handed to the puppeteers by the temple oracle-priest on the first night of performance; each night the performance is blessed by the oracle-priest; and each night hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individuals make donations to the puppeteers (in advance of the performance), who in return will ask the goddess to bless them, cure their leg sores, return runaway cousins, or restore a brother's lost livestock. From this public perspective, the puppet plays are recitations, an extended verbal ritual (puja ) intended to win benefits for its patrons.

Textually, the puppet plays are based largely on Kampan's epic poem, the Iramavataram , composed in the Chola court during the twelfth century. Of Kampan's more than 12,000 verses, the puppeteers sing between 750 and 1,150, depending on whether the story is begun in the Forest Book or the War Book and on how many nights the puppeteers perform. Approximately one-fifth of the verses, however, are drawn from unidentified sources and introduce episodes and motifs not found in Kampan.[3] All the verses are carefully memorized, syllable by syllable, and recalled in performance by the initial word of the first line. Following each chanted verse, the puppeteers launch into their own commentary, sometimes glossing the verse line by line but more often digressing into mythological stories, grammatical explication, or improvised dialogue between the epic characters. All this is carried out by a small group of three to five men, who sit on wooden benches or woven mats and manipulate the puppets behind a white cloth screen.

Outside there is an open space, where a few people lie asleep on mats, sometimes waking to watch for a moment before dozing off again. Puppeteers speak of a "golden age," before movies, videos, and television, when large crowds watched their performances. This claim is not entirely fabrication. Even today, when the puppet play coincides with a popular entertainment event such as a folk drama or a fair, the open space in front of the drama house is crowded; perhaps a hundred people will watch the puppets for an hour before drifting off. It is also true that at particular sites certain episodes regularly muster crowds of fifty or more, most of whom remain mostly awake for most of the night. However, these are the exceptions: usually the Kerala puppeteers chant their verses and expound their interpretations to no one beyond the cloth screen.

Several aspects of the puppet play work to discourage a conventional audience. The language of the verses is an allusive medieval Tamil, read by


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scholars only with the aid of written commentaries and scarcely understood by the local Malayalam-speakers;[4] nor is the commentary (delivered in a dialect of Tamil heavily influenced by Malayalam, the local language) a conversational idiom. Second, the puppet play is primarily a commentarial rather than narrative tradition: the burden of performance is the convoluted interpretation of the verses, which tire even the epic character forced to listen to them, as we shall learn below. Third, the dominant role of commentary produces performances that are static, more like a frieze than a film. The slow pace of these performances was critically noted in 1935 by the first recorded Western observer of the tradition and again in the late 1940s by a Kerala scholar, who made this recommendation:

If the olapavakuthu [puppet play] is to survive (and it would be a great pity if it did not), it will apparently have to undergo considerable renovation in the reduction of exposition, a change that would have the desirable effect of quickening the movements of the figures on the screen and bringing the kuthu [play] nearer the natural desire of people for rhythmic representation.[5]

That this appraisal fails to appreciate the less obvious dimensions of the puppeteers' art is what I hope to demonstrate in this essay.

Any potential audience is also distanced by the medium of shadow puppetry, which drops a screen between the performers and listeners. This is not true of shadow puppetry in Java and Bali, for example, where the screen is free standing and the performers are open to public view; indeed, patrons and favored members of the community are invited to sit behind the screen to fully appreciate the puppeteers' art.[6] In Kerala, however, the stage is a permanent building and the screen seals the puppeteers within, cut off from the public in a private space of their own.

This divide, I believe, deeply affects the Kerala puppeteers' telling of the Rama story. Specifically, because these puppet plays have virtually no external listeners or viewers (audience in the ordinary sense), they have generated internal audiences. On the outside the performances are a ritual act; but on the inside they are an uninterrupted conversation, both within the text and among the puppeteers themselves. In their telling of the Rama story, talking is no less important than the events of the tale.[7] Even in the eventful War Book, which dominates the puppet play, the martial action is defused through dialogue. Puppets do fight battles, weapons are hurled, even stuck into puppets' chests, but the art of the Kerala puppeteers is the art of conversation.

In adapting a medieval epic poem to shadow puppet play, the Kerala tradition has created several levels of conversation. On the textual level, the leather puppets speak in three separate dialogues: as Brahmins, at the opening of every performance; as epic characters speaking through verse and commentary; and, intermittently, as gods commenting on the epic action.


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The second of these conversations, that between epic characters, is the most important, but all three contribute to the total dialogic effect of the puppet performance.

The very first words of every performance are spoken by two Brahmin puppets who dance around the Ganesa puppet pinned to the center of the screen, a feature not found in Kampan's text. Their presence in Kerala is an instructive innovation because the puppet play might have been framed differently—narrated by the single voice of one of the famous puppeteer-poets saluted in the introductory devotional songs, for instance. Instead the performance is framed by a dialogue between the two Brahmin puppets, named Muttuppattar and Gangaiyati. Once the initial songs to Ganesa and Sarasvati have faded away, Muttuppattar speaks to his companion and welcomes other Brahmins (not represented by puppets):

"Welcome, Gangaiyati, welcome."
"I am here, Muttuppattar."
"Is Kuncappappattar here?"
"I am here also, Muttuppattar."
"Has Comacippattar arrived?"
"I have come, Muttuppattar."
"We have all come chanting the name 'Govinda-Rama,' the most powerful name in the world."
"How is that?"

Muttuppattar's answer to this question leads to a description of Hindu cosmology and local sacred geography, ending with an enumeration of the fruits of devotion. After forty-five minutes of invocations and preliminaries, the Brahmin puppets are removed. Then the first narrative verse—spoken by one epic character to another—is sung and the commentary is added, as part of that dialogue. This is followed by more verses and more commentary, over and over again, until the early morning. In this way the Brahmin puppets set in motion a conversation that continues throughout the telling of the Rama story, ending only when the performance itself comes to a close.

The peculiar nature of that conversation is illustrated by the opening scene of the Kumbhakarna episode, translated below. Kumbhakarna, Ravana's brother, has taken the field after Ravana's humiliating defeat by Rama the previous day. As the demon warrior and his elephant army enter the screen from the left, Rama and his army of monkeys stand on the right. The lead puppeteer introduces the scene, chants a verse from Kampan, in which llama addresses Vibhisana (Ravana's other brother, who defected to Rama's side) and then begins his commentary:

"With thirteen thousand soldiers, Kumbhakarna entered the field, and from a distance Rama saw his figure emerge. He turned to Vibhisana."


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"Who stands there, shoulders so wide
that many days would pass for the eyes
to scan from right to left? Is he
a battle-hungry warrior? Or Mount Meru on legs?"[8]

"Vibhisana, yesterday we defeated Ravana and his two hundred thousand demon soldiers; I felled him, knocking off his crown. Now he knows that he cannot win, and I am wondering, 'Will he release Sita and end this war? Or will he send more demons to be killed?' But look, over there! Some huge warrior has taken the field—god, he is enormous! Even to run your eyes from his right shoulder to his left would take days! He cannot be human-born. Looks more like a mountain risen from the earth, like Mount Meru, flanked by the cosmic elephants, with the nine planets circling his head. Who is this mountain-man?"

"Rama, look closely—what do you see?"

"I don't know. Could it be Ravana in disguise—changing his twenty arms and ten heads for these two arms and single head? Is this his maya frightening us again? Tell me, tell me quickly."

"Listen, noble one (ariya ), he is the younger brother of the raja of
this earth's (ati talam ) beautiful Lanka, and he is my older brother;
Wearing anklets of black death and wielding a cruel trident,
he's called Kumbhakarna, oh, lord of victory."[9]

"Rama, notice that the poet calls you ariya or 'noble one.' We also call you pujyan , which means not only 'worthy' but something else as well. It means 'nothingness,' a cipher. True, we add, say, ten to twenty to find out a total. But more useful is a symbol of nothingness, and everything at the same time That's you, Rama. Nameless, formless, you are the unknowable brahman , the hidden essence. You are svayambhu , self-generating reality.

"Of course, some will ask, 'Why worship this nothingness?' Our answer is that the nothing takes form to protect us. You, too, assume the eight dispositions (guna ): love, compassion, and so on, like the rest of us. So what separates you from us? Well, the Saiva texts describe three layers of body: visible, subtle, and inner. The visible body is that known to the naked eye. Inside is another, the subtle body, which can be known by yoga and meditation; and inside it is a still more subtle body, which is known only by wisdom. Humans and gods alike have these three layers, but there is a difference. All the outer bodies of all the beings in the world equal the outer body of god; all the inner bodies of all the beings form the inner body of god; all the innermost bodies are subsumed in god's innermost body. In short, god's body is this world.


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"People debate the nature of god. Some say he has name and form, some deny it. But, Rama, the simple truth is this: god takes bodily form to protect this world in times of crisis. Because you are an example of that compassion, we call you pujyan ."

"Yes, but who is that giant warrior bearing down on us?"

"Right, now look at the rest of the first line. Ati talam refers to the earth, because one walks on it. This is an example of a 'derived noun.' The other class of nouns is derived from conventional usage. Then each of these two categories can be either 'general name' or 'special name.' Hence, there are four classes of nouns. For instance, we use the word pankam to mean 'mud' (ceru ). Other things that come from mud, like the word pankayam for 'lotus,' are derived nouns—even though many would consider 'lotus' a noun by convention. Still, few people use the word pankayam and use instead centamarai , which is a 'special-derived noun.' Similarly, mukkannan means 'three-eyed' and is a derived noun when we use it to mean 'coconut'; but when we use it to mean Siva, it is a 'special-derived-noun.' This phrase ati talam is also a 'special-derived-noun' because it was coined by a single person but for a special reason. And that person was Vamana, the dwarf-avatar of Visnu."

"Vibhisana, I appreciate your learned explanations, but first tell me, Who is this gigantic warrior almost upon us?"
"That's what I am telling you, Rama, by explaining this phrase ati talam . Long ago a raja and his son Mahabali built the magnificent city of Asurapati, from where the demons ruled the three worlds. Soon the gods and sages petitioned Brahma for relief from the demons' violence; Brahma sent them to Narayana, who assured them that he would end their troubles once and for all.

"'First,' he said, 'we must churn the milk ocean to acquire ambrosia. Bring that huge Mandara mountain, the long snake named Vasuki, the sixteen-phased moon Candra, and that other snake, Karkottan. But for this you gods need the help of the asuras, especially their king, Mahabali.'

"With the demons' help, the gods set up Mount Mandara as the churning stick, using the moon as a latch and a horse as a pin to fasten the stick to the tortoise as the resting place. Vasuki was wrapped around the stick, and, with the gods holding his tail and the demons his head, they began to churn. They churned and churned . . ."

For two hours Vibhisana speaks to Rama, and while he speaks, he raises his right hand two or three times to make a point. No other movement is visible on the screen. In the epic action, however, Kumbhakarna and his huge armies, the earth quaking beneath them, rapidly advance on Rama. Any reader may share Rama's growing anxiety about "that giant warrior bearing down upon us," as Vibhisana expatiates on the epithet "noble one," tells the story of Mahabali, explains the classifications of nouns, all the time


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ignoring Rama's pleas, and finally finishes with a long account of the Markandeya story. By exaggerating and playing on the difference in pace between the rambling commentary and the imminent battle of the text, and not, as one might expect, hiding this discrepancy to maintain the illusion of narrative reality, the puppeteers establish the primacy of speech over action, of their interpretation over Kampan's text. And even their exegesis is cast in dialogue, spoken by one epic character to another.

We might note also that this particular scene has been staged, in a pattern repeated throughout the puppet performance, as a conversation: a warrior appears on the battlefield; Rama (or Laksmana) asks who he is, and Vibhisana then describes his birth, weapons, and boons. Vibhisana speaks similar words in Kampan, but there his words occupy a mere thirteen verses—about 3 percent of the episode—whereas the puppeteers stretch them to cover two hours, or one-third of the night's performance. The folk tradition also entirely omits the string of verses in which Kampan describes Kumbhakarna's appearance, his chariot, his armor, and his armies (or else slips these verses into Vibhisana's speech). The same principle of omitting descriptive verses in favor of conversation has determined the folk tradition's adaptation of every episode from Kampan's text. Nowhere is there description of landscape or person, except as addressed to a listener.

The tropism toward dialogue is clearest in the consistent alteration of reported speech in Kampan to direct speech in performance. This alteration at times requires a new line, or even two, but the most common technique is very simple: the final word of a Kampan verse is changed from "he said" (enrar ) to "I say" (enkiren ) or to an expletive, a vocative, or an imperative. An example of the last case is the famous first verse of the Surpanakha episode, which likens the beauty of the Godavari river to poetry. When the puppeteers chant this verse, they make one minor change: the finite verb "saw" (kantar ) becomes "look, brother" (tampi kanay ), so that the entire verse is addressed by Rama to Laksmana. Thus, instead of "The warriors saw the Godavari," we hear:

Look, Laksmana, here is the Godavari,
lying as a necklace on the world
nourishing the rich soil
rushing over waterfalls
flowing through the five regions
in clear, cool streams
like a good poet's verse.[10]

The shift to dialogue also allows the puppeteers to express emotions that remain mute in Kampan. Voicing hidden or forhidden feelings is a characteristic of folk tradition everywhere, and the Rama literature is no exception—as when Sita draws a picture of Ravana, which then assumes physical


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form beneath her bed; or when, as a ferocious goddess, she kills him; or when Laksmana marries Surpanakha.[11] Perhaps the epic's pretense of virtue prompted the Telugu proverb: "The Ramayana is about illicit sex, the Mahabharata about lies."[12] In the Kerala puppet play, these suspect feelings are often kept private yet given greater immediacy when a character addresses himself, replacing the last phrase of Kampan's verse ("he thought," "she feared") with "O, Heart!" (manace ). Rama or Vibhisana, then, is not simply described as thinking the words to himself; he says them to himself. Inner thoughts, too, have a listener in the puppet play.

Misgivings about war, which are faint, almost whispered, in Kampan, are loudly and continually voiced in the puppet play. This difference may be illustrated by comparing Kampan's treatment with the puppeteers' treatment of the same scene. When Rama sees Laksmana and the monkeys lying dead, felled by Indrajit's snake-weapon (naga-astra ), he falls down in grief over his brother's body, and cries out:

PUPPET PLAY

KAMPAN

"No more war!

Strong-shouldered Rama looked at

and no more fame!

his bow, at the knots of the

No victory bow!

snake-weapon,

no wife! no kingdom!

Looked at the still, dark night,

Even Siva who gave me life,

at the gods in heaven

I renounce them all,

and screamed,

If you, Laksmana,

"I'll rip up this earth!"

do not live."

Then, biting his coral lips, he

 

pondered what wise men said.

"We left our father

He rubbed Laksmana's feet

and mother and we left Ayodhya

with his soft hands;

But like the Vedas,

Opened Laksmana's lotus-

we have never been apart;

eyes and peered inside.

Now you've left me, Laksmana,

His heart beat quickly as

and this earth is not my home;

he looked at the sky and

Let my soul leave me,

lifted him to his chest.

if Yama is ready to take it."

Laying him on the earth,

 

he wondered, "Is that

 

devious Indrajit near?"13

In both versions Rama is bitterly angry at his brother's (apparent) death, but they differ in their expression of that anger. In the first of Kampan's verses, Rama screams in frustration but then recedes into defeated silence; in the first folk verse, by contrast, he explicitly condemns war and its instruments. The power of this folk verse grows with the repetition of the pained cry vente ("No morel"). A repetition (kantar , "he saw") also organizes the Kampan verse: Rama's pain is suggested by his looking, first at his useless


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bow, then at the merciless gods—by what he sees more than what he says. Rama remains similarly mute in the second Kampan verse, his feelings kept within his eyes, heart, and mind. In the second folk verse, however, he again speaks without reserve. Verbal denunciation rings through the folk verses, whereas revenge is visually projected in the Kampan verses.

The puppet play also voices furtive emotions through dialogue between characters. More misgivings about war, and about Rama himself, are expressed by Rama's general, the good Jambuvan. When Ravana sends in his reserve army, Jambuvan flees the field and explains to Angada:

"What can our seventy divisions do against their thousand? We'd only make a meal for them! I'm not ready to die yet."

"Jambuvan, don't say that! Once, at my father's death, you spoke to me with brave words and now you talk of retreat!"

"You're young, Angada, and cannot understand what these demons can do in battle. Ravana has sent them, and this time Rama will not defeat him."

"But, there's Laksmana, and Hanuman . . . surely . . ."

"Don't be naive. Do you think we are anything more than bodyguards to them? Did anyone protect [my son] Vasantan when Kumbhakarna mauled him? And no one will stop the pain when you die, either. Better to escape into the forest, drink pure water, and eat fresh fruits. Let Rama win or lose— what's it to us anyway? Why should we die for them?"[14]

In a later episode, "The Revival of Vasantan" (considered a late interpolation in Karopan), the horror of death again prompts Jambuvan to accuse Rama of disloyalty. After Ravana's death and Vibhisana's coronation as raja of Lanka, Rama, Sita, Laksmana, and the monkeys prepare to return to Ayodhya in Ravana's old chariot. At this happy moment, Jambuvan speaks angrily, refusing to enter the chariot because, he says, "I am old and have seen many amazing events, but never have I seen someone take back so quickly what they have given." His charge, that Rama is reclaiming the chariot that only minutes ago he gave to Vibhisana when crowning him, seems somewhat contrived, but we soon learn its underlying motivation: Jambuvan is angry at Rama for his indifference to Jambuvan's son, Vasantan, killed while fighting for Rama's cause. Rama may well celebrate—his wife and brother are still alive—but what of the thousands of monkeys who died in their defense? Are they to be forgotten in the triumphant return to Ayodhya?

Jambuvan's refusal to ignore the reality of death in the celebration of victory characterizes the emotions given new voice in the puppet play. The folk tradition will not accept platitudes or categories uncritically; in the key Surpanakha and Valin episodes, it shows that the Rama-avatar is flawed and that the claims of the bhakti epic are easily deflated. My favorite example of this check on the epic's excessive posturing is the puppeteers' treatment of


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Hanuman's mission to bring back medicinal herbs needed to revive Laksmana and the monkeys. Jambuvan speaks excitedly:

"Listen, Hanuman, we have only three-quarters of an hour to revive Laksmana and the others. Then the sun rises and Indrajit will behead them all!"

"Yes."

"Before that, you must travel seventy-three thousand yoganas to the Medicine Mountain, find a special healing herb, and return."

"Are you joking?"

"Joking?"

"Seventy-three thousand yoganas in three-quarters of an hour? And return? It's . . . impossible."

"But, Hanuman, if you don't . . ."

"That far, that quickly, to locate a rare herb for an incurable disease? Ridiculous, that's all."

In the puppet play, even Hanuman, the ideal Rama devotee, cannot resist poking fun at epic hyperbole.

The puppet play's countervailing comic voice, however, belongs more often to characters either insignificant or absent in Kampan's text. The most important of these figures arc the Standard Bearer, nowhere found in Kampan but always stationed next to Ravana on the cloth screen, and Ravana's messengers, present but nondescript in Kampan.[15] The Standard Bearer stirs from his silent pose when he and Indrajit, Ravana's son, inspect the bodies of Laksmana and the monkeys felled by Indrajit's snake-weapon. His comic dialogue with the great demon warrior (considered more dangerous than Ravana) serves to undermine Indrajit's pretensions to power. They meet unexpectedly on the battlefield and the Standard Bearer speaks first, parodying the sounds of war:

"Bing-bang, bing-bang! Who are you?"

"Me? I just shot the snake-weapon, the whole point of this night's performance."

"Oh, and you came here in this chariot, I suppose."

"Right. How'd you come?"

"I'm the Standard Bearer; I just grabbed onto the chariot and came along for the ride."

"What do you want?"

"Problem is your snake-weapon did not kill them; it only knocked them out. I'll finish them off by stabbing them with the tip of my staff. Anyway, let's walk along this battlefield and inspect each body. If my staff doesn't finish them off, you can always shoot another snake-weapon."

"All right."

"Who's this, lying here?"


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"It's Nalan, the one who built the causeway to Lanka by carrying all those stones on his head."

"A contractor, huh?"

"Yes. Give the 'boss' a good stab."

"And this one?"

"That's Blue-Man (nilan )."

"Oh, I need some of that."

"Of what?"

"You see, my wife hasn't washed her sari for a week and . . ."

"Not blue-soap (nilam ), stupid! Blue-Man. Besides, do you wash your wife's saris?"

"If you saw them, you'd understand why no one else would touch them. Anyway, who is low enough to be my washerman?"

Apparently a servant's staff is more potent than the epic's most fearsome weapon. The same point is made later when the epic battle grinds to a standstill because the Standard Bearer refuses to hold the standard without receiving his pay. This servant-figure, anonymous but indispensable, appears fully assimilated into the epic when he requests and receives moksa (religious liberation) from Rama. But this supreme act of bhakti is compromised when he flinches in fear of death. As with Jambuvan's anger and grief at the moment of the return to Ayodhya, the puppet play speaks of mortality precisely when the epic wishes to celebrate victory or religious devotion.

At other times, the Standard Bearer and messengers laugh when epic characters mourn. If the Rama story in the puppet play is pervaded by a single emotion, it is grief, especially over loss in death. But the most powerful scenes of grief—-when Rama cries (twice) for his dead brother and allies, and when Ravana cries over his dead son, Indrajit—are hedged around with a comic element supplied by these folk figures. Rama's mourning is immediately preceded by the slapstick, puns, and dirty laundry of the scene translated above in which the Standard Bearer and Indrajit inspect bodies on the field; the same scene is repeated later (before Rama mourns those felled by the Brahma-astra) with the same jokes, to the same effect. An even more obvious undermining of grief occurs just before Ravana learns of Indrajit's death. Returning from the battlefield with this information, the messengers sing a mock dirge to Indrajit. Then, when Ravana asks them for the "news" (of his son), they trifle with him, informing him of the latest gossip in the vegetable market. Finally, anticipating Ravana's tears just before they tell him about Indrajit, the messengers comment sarcastically, "It's monsoon time again!"

This dialogue between epic characters, which we have been listening to in both verse and commentary, comprises most of the long hours of performance. The introductory dialogue between Brahmins is brief by comparison,


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while the third dialogue, that between Indra and the gods, is intermittent. Unlike the epic characters, but like the Brahmin puppets, Indra and the gods do not participate in the epic action; they comment on it as omniscient narrators. Indra and the gods occasionally appear in Kampan's text, too, commenting on and influencing the epic action, especially when Indra sends Rama his chariot and charioteer in the final battle against Ravana. But in the shadow puppet play, Indra appears frequently and always with another puppet, who represents the other gods collectively; and, whereas in Kampan Indra speaks directly to the epic characters, in the puppet play he speaks only to his companion puppet.

A good example of this third-level dialogue occurs when Ravana enters his palace humiliated, having lost the first battle with Rama:

"Tell us, Indra, how did Ravana feel when he entered the palace?"

"He was disgraced. Having lost his chariot, he walked on foot, dragging his long arms along the ground, just as the sun set in the west."

"He entered just as the sun set—is there any special meaning to that?"

"I'll come back to that. First it is important to say that this twenty-armed Ravana was defeated by the two arms of Rama."

"Sri Rama's right and left arms, right?"

[At this point, a man who I had thought was fast asleep in the corner of the drama house jumped up and spoke, displacing one of the puppeteers:]

"What was your question? Something about the setting sun?"

"Nothing really, Indra. Some say that the setting sun symbolized Ravana's life, its decline, I mean."

"No! No! Nothing of the sort. Demons fight at night because you can't defeat them in the darkness. The point of this line is that the first battle took place during the day and thus Rama was able to defeat Ravana. To say that Ravana's entering the palace at sunset symbolizes the end of his life is sheer nonsense! It simply indicates the fact the battle took place in daylight and nothing more. Now if you want to talk about Rama's two hands . . . [that's another story]."

Pinned high on the cloth screen, above the epic characters, Indra and the gods are spectators as well as narrators. From the very first episode in the puppeteers' text, when they petition Visnu to defeat their enemies, the gods have kept a close watch on Rama. Visnu's eagle, Garuda, for instance, spies Rama grieving on the battlefield and flies down from Mount Meru to tear free the knots of the snake-weapon that bind his brother. Rama and Ravana, for their part, are not unaware of their distant audience. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last scene of the great battle: Ravana tells Rama to spare no effort in offering the gods a good spectacle, and, before he kills the demon raja, Rama addresses the gods: "Gods, I, Rama, now kill Ravana."

To summarize the discussion thus far: The puppet play is performed as


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dialogue on three levels, each of which has its listeners, an audience internal to the performance. The interaction among the Kerala puppeteers, however, is more complex than these puppet voices. When the puppets converse as Brahmins at the opening of the performance, or as epic characters in verse or commentary during the narrative, or as gods above the action, only their shadows are projected on the public side of the cloth screen. Inside the drama house, however, another kind of exchange, a private "conversation," is carried on among the puppeteers themselves.

The puppeteers always perform in a pair, a lead man and a respondent, and in shifts: two men will begin and, after a few hours, one or both of the performers will be relieved by others who have been resting. The long hours of narration and interpretation, then, amount to a tête-à-tête between the lead puppeteer and his respondent. At times, when a puppeteer launches into a diatribe on his favorite point of Hindu philosophy, the performance may resemble a monologue. Nonetheless, however far a speech may wander, it eventually reverts to dialogue by concluding with a question to the respondent, or when the respondent himself puts a question to the first puppeteer. The dialogic nature of the commentary is also continuously, if a little monotonously, maintained by the partner, who responds with a drone-sound ("ahhhhh") whenever the lead man pauses for thought or breath. In addition, every speech, again regardless of its length, begins and ends with standardized vocatives. Thus Rama is always addressed as "Rama-god," Laksmana as "Young-god," Vibhisana as "Raja of Lanka," and so on. While these labels are addressed to the epic character, they also function as signposts to a puppeteer lost within a detailed commentary. When one man plunges into the story of the "Churning of the Ocean" and resurfaces to the epic story forty minutes later with the question, "So what do you think?" his partner is likely to have forgotten who is speaking to whom and is rescued only when the man mercifully adds, "Raja of Lanka?"

Dialogue between puppeteers during the commentary is more obvious when, as is usual, they trade speeches of two or three minutes' length. And when they speak in a rapid-fire exchange, improvising freely, anyone sitting behind the cloth screen realizes that the puppets on the screen are less interesting than the puppeteers. On one occasion, during the confrontation between Indrajit and Hanuman on the battlefield ("Hey, runt, where's your weapons? Come and fight like a man!"), the puppeteer speaking for Indrajit challenged his partner, jabbing his finger and shouting at him; the puppeteer playing Hanuman merely raised his eyebrows and responded with cool disdain. In their long and complicated telling of the Rama story, a puppeteer will react to his partner with every kind of emotion—frustration with his wordiness, respect for his wit and knowledge, gentle humor at his sleepiness.

Familiar tactics of talk are employed by puppeteers to control the flow of conversation among themselves. "Let that be," one man interrupts the


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other's account of Ravana's palace, "and explain how you got here, Vibhisana." Certain senior puppeteers are notorious for their long-winded discourses and apparent disregard for time; others in the drama house, fearful that the sun will in fact rise before Hanuman returns with the medicinal herbs, wrestle with them to hasten the pace of the commentary. As the senior puppeteer glides effortlessly through Jambuvan's account of the origin of the worlds, for example, he is cut short: "I see, Jambuvan, so that's how you were born; but what can we do about Laksmana's death?" No one likes to be cut off, and some puppeteers will fight to maintain control of the commentary, raising their voice or speaking faster. The most effective way to silence your opponent and regain control, however, is suddenly to recite a line from the verse you are explaining (which everyone else has in all likelihood forgotten). By an instinct born of long training, your partner will almost certainly drop whatever he was trying to say and chant the rest of the line, leaving you free to continue on.

Inside the drama house, cut off from their conventional audience, the puppeteers perform for themselves. The learned quotations, the rapid replies, the skill at parody, the displays of logic—all are calculated to win respect from the little band of fellow puppeteers and drummers, and the occasional stray connoisseur.[16] Even when only two puppeteers are awake, they take pride in setting right the meaning of the setting sun, explaining how Ravana got his name, or laughing at the foolish messengers. Likewise, there is a measure of shared shame when someone fails, forgets the next verse, or begins with the wrong line. That is why some puppeteers, even those with ten years' experience, take a notebook of verses, and sometimes quotations, into the drama house; one may refer to this book, but not read directly from it. Only once, in three research trips, did I see a puppeteer completely at a loss. The young man suddenly went blank in mid-verse: "I don't know the verses in this part," he murmured to his partner and then hung his head, while the other man glared at him but carried on.

The quality of a performance matters on the other side of the cloth screen, too. If not the reception by the half-awake "audience" on the ground, the opinions of the patrons and temple officials determine which puppeteer group will be hired next year; and the loss of patronage at even one temple delivers a hard financial blow. I have no precise data on how these influential men form judgments about performances, but from my conversations with them it is clear that they hold definite views. Although patrons and officials rarely stay through the night, they do listen to the long introduction by the Brahmin puppets and hear informal reports from many people during the course of the festival. Almost as important to the puppeteers are the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individual patrons who give a single rupee in the hope of securing blessings from Bhagavati. They will not be present in the middle of the night when the puppeteers sing their names to the goddess,


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but the general reputation of the puppeteers will determine how many villagers offer them money.[17]

Another external audience for the puppet play is the goddess Bhagavati, as the origin legend of the tradition explains:

The goddess who guarded the gates to Brahma's treasury grew proud and was cursed to serve as guard to Ravana's treasury in the city of Lanka. For thousands of years she protected Ravana's wealth, until Rama and his monkey armies attacked the city. When Hanuman attempted to enter and she blocked his path, the monkey slapped her with his tail and sent her to Siva's heaven. Once there, she complained: "For years and years I have suffered under Ravana and now, just as he is to be killed by Rama, I am here and cannot see this special event." Siva then gave her a boon: "You shall be born on earth as Bhagavati and I will be born as the poet Kampan. I will write the story of Ravana's death and you may watch it every year in your temple."[18]

In the origin legend, as in the patronage system, Bhagavati is the public audience. The puppeteers play to please her.

However, even Bhagavati hears words and see shadows on one side of the cloth screen only. Neither she nor the patrons nor the sleeping listeners play any role in the performance; they overhear it. Such extreme distance between performers and external audience distinguishes the shadow puppet play from most other kinds of oral folk performance. Tales, proverbs, folk theater and so on are partially, sometimes largely, shaped by audience reaction; this is why donations to performers in most Indian folk traditions are offered during the performance and not beforehand, as in the Kerala puppet play. Although every performance involves a degree of separation between performer and audience, the distance shrinks when a teller draws on the local setting for details of his story. And the gap all but disappears when listeners play a role in the performance, as a spirit-possessed dancer in a ritual or as a respondent in a joke.

Interaction between performers and audience gives a performance vitality and popularity, but communication is difficult through a screen of shadows. In Kerala, the distance inevitable in shadow puppetry is increased, rather than decreased, because the puppeteers are completely enclosed inside a drama house and use a medieval Tamil text, making little concession to spectator taste for music or movement. Observers and scholars, as noted earlier, have faulted the Kerala tradition for its apparent unresponsiveness, which has tended to alienate its audience. But the absent audience may have contributed to the complexity of the puppeteers' art. Converting Kampan's text to dialogue, the puppeteers created internal audiences: every word spoken by a Brahmin, an epic character, or a god is addressed to another puppet; every speaker is paired with a listener with whom he interacts. And the most important audience for the Kerala puppet plays are the puppeteers themselves. In


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commentary, in chanting verses, and in manipulating puppets, these men constantly interact with each other, responding to jokes, jibes, and personalities. This is true of actors on any stage, but the Kerala puppeteers' full performance is visible only to the audience inside the drama house.

PART THREE
TELLINGS AS COMMENTARY AND PROGRAMS FOR ACTION


175

Nine
E. V. Ramasami's Reading of the Ramayana

Paula Richman

On the first day of August in 1956, E. V. Ramasami (henceforth E.V.R.) set out for the Madras marina to lead his followers in burning pictures of Lord Rama, hero of the Ramayana . This symbolic action would represent a reversal of the culmination of North Indian performances of the Ramayana , in which images of the epic's villain, Ravana, are put to the flames as spectators watch in delight.[1] Rejecting Rama as hypocritical and weak, worthy only of scorn, E.V.R. saw Ravana as the true hero of the tale. E.V.R.'s iconoclastic reading comprised more than just another exegesis of a religious text, however. It was the centerpiece of his campaign against brahmanical Hinduism, conducted in the context of his assertion of Dravidian, that is, South Indian, identity.[2]

The day before the proposed burning of Lord Rama's picture, important political leaders implored E.V.R. to cancel the event, so as not to offend orthodox Hindu Tamilians. P. Kakkan, president of the Tamilnadu Congress Committee, argued that the desecration of Rama images would constitute an "anti-social" act that would betray the strong faith in God by which Gandhi won independence for India. E.V.R. remained unmoved by such arguments, noting that "there was bound to be a difference of views regarding any measure aimed at bringing social reform."[3]

On the following day, the Deputy Commissioner of Police promptly arrested E.V.R. when he stepped out of his house to head toward the marina. E.V.R. seemed prepared for this eventuality: in addition to his picture of Rama and his box of matches, he carried a bedroll to spread on the hard prison floor. Soon afterward, his wife went down to the beach to tell the assembled crowd of the arrest. Some of the protestors, who had brought pictures of Rama and little wooden matchboxes, began to burn pictures on their own. As The Hindu reported:


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Then for another half-an-hour, a number of persons . . . played hide and seek on the road and on the sands with the police and from time to time one would come forward and be arrested. One of these managed to slip onto the sands and burn a picture of Sri Rama, but he was arrested.[4]

Police reinforcements arrived at the beach, several people began to throw stones, the police made a few half-hearted charges brandishing their lathis (weighted staffs), and then most people went home. Approximately 890 people were arrested either before or during the event. E.V.R. was released after two and a half hours but declined to continue the protest, saying that the event had more than fulfilled its purpose.[5]

E.V.R.'s Rama-burning campaign was neither an isolated incident nor the stunt of some prankster. From the late 1920s through to the end of his life, he developed a serious and thorough critique of the characters and values of the Ramayana , of which the 1956 agitation was simply one manifestation. E.V.R. reads the Ramayana as a text of political domination: his interpretation of the text is intended to awaken South Indians to their oppression by North Indians and to their true identity as Dravidians. Through his exegesis of the Ramayana , E.V.R. exposes what he sees as the shoddy values of brahminism, reveals what he understands as Rama's greed for power and desire to dominate, and sets out what he takes to be Ravana's true greatness. By the end of his endeavor, conventional readings of the text lie in shreds.

In this article, I focus upon the logic of E.V.R.'s reading of the Ramayana , particularly the manner in which he politicizes the text. First, I provide. a brief biographical and historical overview of his life and milieu, concluding with a discussion of how he used print to disseminate his ideas. Second, I analyze one popular pamphlet which contains a comprehensive formulation of his ideas. Third, I consider some of the precedents for E.V.R.'s reading and then his innovations. The essay concludes with an evaluation of E.V.R.'s exegesis of the Ramayana as a contribution to public discourse in South India. Throughout, my goal is to demonstrate the pivotal role that E.V.R.'s attack on the Ramayana played in fusing religious texts and political issues in Madras during the middle third of this century.

Roots and Methods of E.V.R.’s Attack on the Ramayana

Running through E.V.R.'s life is his growing disillusionment with Hindu-ism, accompanied by an ever-increasing distrust of and activism against brahmanical privilege.[6] Accounts suggest that even as a youth E. V. Rarnasami Naicker (he later dropped the caste name) rebelled against brahmanical prescriptions for proper social behavior. Born in 1879 into a family of Baliga Naidus, a Telugu jati of traders and cultivators, he grew up in Erode, a fairly important mercantile town in the Coimbatore district of Madras.


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Because E.V.R. insisted upon associating with boys of lower castes, his father removed him from school at age ten.[7] His marriage was arranged when he was thirteen, and he entered the family business, becoming prosperous thanks to his shrewd business sense.

At the age of twenty-five, however, E.V.R. grew dissatisfied with mercantile life and became a sadhu (wandering holy man). During his journeys across India, visiting cities such as Banaras and Calcutta, he gained a broader perspective on the nature of his country and its religion. But hand in hand with his widening experience came a disgust with a Hindu priesthood that he saw as exploiting the masses under the guise of "spiritual advancement." After a short time he became disillusioned, returned home, rejoined society, and entered regional politics.[8]

E.V.R.'s early political activities already indicate his concern with the rights of non-Brahmins. In 1920 he joined the Non-cooperation Movement and became active in the Indian National Congress party, following its Gandhian principles devoutly. His most famous exploit was his participation in a satyagraha campaign in Vikom, Kerala, undertaken to give Untouchables access to certain roads hitherto forbidden to them, his deeds earning him the title "Hero of Vikom."[9] All these activities were well within the reform program of Gandhi and the Congress party.

Although the Tamilnadu Congress Committee elected E.V.R. its secretary, his sensitivity to the problems of non-Brahmins (especially Untouchables) began to make him unpopular among the Brahmin elite. He antagonized them further by protesting when a Congress-run school instituted segregated eating facilities for Brahmins and non-Brahmins. Later he demanded that positions on municipal councils be reserved for non-Brahmins. In 1925 he withdrew from the Congress party, henceforth attacking it as a vehicle for Brahmin domination.

Even while still involved with Congress, E.V.R. had increasingly turned his attention to the denunciation of brahmanical Hinduism. In 1922 he advocated the burning of both the Ramayana and The Laws of Manu , a famous dharmasastra text that sets out the proper conduct for different castes and, in so doing, glorifies Brahmins. By 1924: he had founded a publication called Kuti Aracu (People's government) to advocate social reform, aimed at destroying religious privilege and constraint.[10] After abandoning the Congress in 1925, he organized the "Self-Respect Movement" for "Dravidian Uplift."

During this period E.V.R. came to view Hinduism as a web of deceit designed to maintain the supremacy of the Brahmin—whom he linked with North Indian Sanskritic (non-Tamilian) culture—and to oppress non-Brahmins.[11] He therefore set out to reveal the insidious nature of orthodox religion. First in the line of attack were Hindu myths, which he read in a strictly literal fashion, delighting in finding seeming contradictions. Treating the myths as if they were historical accounts, he denounced the actions of the


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gods as obscene, stupid, and immoral, and advocated atheism instead.[12] Next E.V.R. excoriated Hindu rituals—which were, after all, the domain of Brahmin priests. In place of traditional Hindu rituals he substituted community-based "Self-Respect" ceremonies, the most famous of which was the "Self-Respect Marriage," at which Vedic rites were omitted and an elder of the community or one of the leaders of the Self-Respect Movement (rather than a priest) presided.[13] Finally, he ridiculed the entire notion of caste, rejecting social separation and purity/pollution observances as entirely unnecessary. Traditional Hindu concepts of endogamous communities were to be systematically broken down through the encouragement of intercaste marriages, widow remarriage, and other acts designed to undermine the exclusiveness of jati . He also advocated a separatist Dravida Nadu (Dravidian country) in place of a community based on the varnadharma (caste duties) of pan-Indian tradition.[14]

Political activism and opposition to brahmanical Hinduism led E.V.R. to espouse an increasingly separatist direction for Tamils. When in 1937 the Congress ministry proposed introducing Hindi—a language derived from Sanskrit and spoken chiefly in the north—as a compulsory subject in schools, E.V.R. interpreted it as an offensive attempt to impose North Indian culture upon South India. The anti-Hindi protests he organized brought him both notoriety and a jail sentence. Several years later E.V.R. aligned himself with the Justice Party, a group devoted to attacking Brahmin domination and pressuring the British for provincial autonomy. By 1944 he had taken control of the Justice Party, shaping it to his own concerns. He reorganized it and renamed it the Dravida Kazagham (Dravidian Federation), commonly known as the DK. Following Indian independence in 1947 and the ensuing social and political realignments, E.V.R.'s activities not only continued but his anti-Northern and antibrahmanical rhetoric became more strident.

In particular, E.V.R. singled out the Ramayana to censure. For E.V.R., the Ramayana story was a thinly disguised historical account of how North Indians, led by Rama, subjugated South Indians, ruled by Ravana. Although his ideas were comparatively radical—and potentially disorienting—to a population of devout Hindus, many people responded enthusiastically. Why? His "North vs. South" interpretation of the Ramayana was successful with a Tamil audience partly because of the political context in which E.V.R. was operating. To succeed, a leader must have more than personal "charisma"; that leader must articulate and legitimate a message that followers see as addressing their own situation.[15] In order to understand the enthusiastic reception Tamilians gave to E.V.R.'s ideas we must therefore examine certain features of his time and region: the rise and fervor of Dravidian sentiment in South India, the uneasy power relationships that existed between Brahmins and elite non-Brahmins, and the role of print in the intellectual life of Madras.[16] Let us explore each of these in turn.


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E.V.R.'s championing of fervent Dravidian separatism must be understood in its pan-Indian context. During this period various groups—both regional and religious—were choosing to define themselves as separate and demanding some sort of official, usually political, recognition of their uniqueness.[17] E.V.R.'s assertion of Dravidian identity, which postulated a golden age of Dravidian society in the distant past (before the coming of Rama) that could be reestablished if South Indians would only throw off the yoke of North Indian domination, to some extent conformed to this trend. In much the same way that other South Asians sought, for example, the creation of a separate Islamic state (Pakistan), E.V.R. desired a separate Tamil state and identity for South Indians, linking the articulation of that identity with a critique of the Ramayana .

Moving from a pan-Indian to a regional context, one finds that Brahmins—the target of E.V.R.'s most vitriolic criticism—had become exceptionally successful in Madras toward the end of the nineteenth century. Subramaniam argues that Brahmins were in an excellent position to enter the middle class as mediators between the British and those they ruled in Madras, because, owing in part to British respect for high-status groups, they had not fared as badly under British rule as other more dominant land-owning groups ("clean" Sudras, such as Vellalas). In addition, their tradition of learning enabled them to take advantage of educational opportunities and thus to enter the British-run civil service.[18]

In contrast, members of dominant non-Brahmin jatis who moved from their villages to urban areas experienced considerable social disorientation. In pre-British society, many land-holding non-Brahmins enjoyed a relatively high and clearly defined status, articulated in their ritual interaction with those around them in the local community. But as large numbers moved to the comparative anonymity of urban areas, where land-holding dominance was not a decisive factor, they had to negotiate their place in a new urban hierarchy that tended to favor the educated Brahmins.[19] In E.V.R.'s view, these non-Brahmins were the indigenous, authentic Dravidians, now oppressed by the foreign rule of the "Aryan" Brahmins, whose conquest of the South was described mythically—and more important, legitimated—by the Ramayana .

In this situation, non-Brahmins sought not only to secure access to government positions previously dominated by Brahmins but to reform society. As Irschick argues, "Though the Government of Madras instituted quotas in job recruitment, education and other areas for those it considered backward, these quotas could have no real effect unless both egalitarian strands within Indian tradition and Western ideas could be used to claim parity for all groups in society and politics."[20] The rejection of caste hierarchy (as defined by brahmanical Hinduism and epitomized, in E.V.R.'s eyes, by Rama's rule) was one way of claiming such parity. According to E.V.R., South Indian life


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before arrival of the Aryans (his term for North Indians) had been free of such societal divisions, and he demanded a return to such a society.

The fact that E.V.R. could disseminate his demands so widely reflects in part the unprecedented growth and power of print at this time.[21] Although full-length books were too expensive for most people to purchase and too time-consuming for most members of the professional class to read, inexpensive pamphlets reached a wide audience. E.V.R.'s brief articles on topics such as the Ramayana , with their simple prose style and bombastic but witty rhetoric, made his message readily accessible to anyone interested in hearing it.[22] He was in fact a prolific writer of short, aggressive journalistic pieces, designed to arouse popular passions and amplify social, political, and religious grievances. His writings on the Ramayana were just such pieces.

For E.V.R., who possessed a canny ability to make the most of the resources available to him, this mobilization of the power of print was characteristic. He founded a series of journals and fortnightly magazines, established a press in order to issue his many publications, and knew how to attract extensive newspaper coverage for his public campaigns and protests. His 1956 Rama-burning agitation, whose rationale had previously been explained in writings published by his press, brought him front-page headlines.[23]

E.V.R.'s reading of the Ramayana is most fully developed in two works: Iramayanappatirankal (Characters in the Ramayana ) and Iramayanakkurippukal (Points about the Ramayana ).[24] Although the latter is a sophisticated and thorough textual study of the Ramayana , the less scholarly Iramayanappatirankal has done the most to shape E.V.R.'s followers' perceptions of the Ramayana . Since this text is one of his earliest, most comprehensive, most popular, and most frequently reprinted works on the Ramayana , it will be the focus of the discussion below.

The extensive publication and translation history of Characters in the Ramayana indicates both its centrality in E.V.R.'s writings on the Ramayana and the enthusiastic reception it has continued to receive from readers. First published in 1930, the work was in its tenth printing in 1972. The first English translation appeared in 1959, a second edition came out in 1972, and a third in 1980.[25] With the appearance of this translation, as well as a Hindi translation, the text's audience was no longer limited to Tamil readers. While the work's Tamil title suggests that E.V.R. will consider the actions of each character, the English version's title, The Ramayana (A True Reading )—though not an exact translation of the original title—is in some ways more illuminating, for it indicates E.V.R.'s goal of revealing to the reader the "correct" interpretation of the Ramayana .

The format and price of the book ensured its availability to readers. Less a book than a long pamphlet, Characters in the Ramayana measures approximately 8½ by 5½ inches, contains a little under one hundred and twenty pages of


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large type, and—thanks to its flimsy binding—falls apart after a few readings. Fortunately, it also sells for a price that most people can easily afford: the 1972 edition, for example, cost only a single rupee (at that time, about fifteen cents).

An entire business developed out of the publication of such works, a business which gave high priority to polemical texts. Characters in the Ramayana was published by the Periyar Cuyamariyatai Piracara Niruvana Veliyitu or (as it calls itself in its English publications) Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution Publications. This institution, whose headquarters are in Trichy, the city whence issued the 1956 announcement that images of Rama should be burned on the first of August, conceives of its mission in a disarmingly straightforward way: to produce propaganda, namely, material self-consciously designed to change people's opinions. The printers, Tiravitan Accakam (Dravidian Printers), are also committed to the proliferation of works extolling Dravidian culture.

E. V. Ramasami’s Interpretation of the Ramayana

The motivating force behind E.V.R.'s exegesis of the Ramayana remains the desire to see in it a struggle between North and South India. For E.V.R. "northern" means brahmanical, caste-ridden, and Sanskritic, while "southern" means nonbrahmanical, egalitarian, and Tamil—value judgements that are embedded in his interpretation. In Characters in the Ramayana E.V.R. vehemently attacks the respect with which Tamilians have traditionally viewed the Ramayana , arguing that the story is both an account of and a continuing vehicle for northern cultural domination. Reversing the conventional understandings of villain and hero, he also calls upon readers to abandon their "superstitious" beliefs and embrace a desacralized view of the world.

The structure of Characters in the Ramayana is tripartite. E.V.R. begins with a brief rationale for writing the text, pointing to the pamphlet's crucial role in enlightening Tamils about the "real" message of the Ramayana (11-16). The heart of the pamphlet is its long middle section, which enumerates and critically evaluates the deeds performed by most of the major characters in the epic (17-88). The text culminates with a short collection of quotes from arinar , "learned men," whom E.V.R. feels confirm and thus legitimate his understanding of the Ramayana (91-104).

In the opening section, E.V.R. justifies his enterprise, claiming that his study of the Ramayana should reveal to Tamilians that they have been deluded by northern propaganda into believing that Rama was exemplary as well as divine, when in fact, E.V.R. argues, he was neither. First and foremost, then, we see that E.V.R. wants to "demythologize" (my term, not his) Rama for Tamilians. But he wants to go even further, to establish that, in


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addition to being an ordinary mortal, Rama was not a particularly admirable one.

E.V.R. acknowledges that Tamilians will not find it easy to accept this view of Rama, attributing this reluctance to their illiteracy and the power of "superstition" among them. He notes with disappointment how most Tamilians (aside from Muslims and Christians) have long venerated the Ramayana . But for E.V.R., insofar as the commonly held understanding of the Ramayana is essentially North Indian, it is a key part of the ideology which keeps South Indians in an inferior position, and so must be discredited. He thus argues that the Ramayana lures Dravidians into the Aryan net, destroys their self-respect, and stymies their development (11). For E.V.R., this examination of the Ramayana is no mere intellectual exercise; on the contrary, he has taken on the absolutely crucial task of liberating Tamilians from their feelings of cultural and racial inferiority.

E.V.R.'s specific textual analysis follows in the very long middle section of the pamphlet, which might be characterized as an extensive annotated list of charges. Rather than constructing an argument in a discursive manner, he piles example upon example, doubtless intending to overwhelm the reader into accepting his thesis by the sheer number of instances in which the poem's putative heroes commit acts of wrongdoing. He picks his way through the Ramayana , character by character, vilifying those who join forces with Rama and praising those who oppose him. In Table l, I summarize the major charges that E.V.R. levels against thirteen characters, to each of whom he devotes a separate chapter.

E.V.R. uses these charges to accuse those who venerate the Ramayana of ignoring or condoning myriad acts of improper behavior. As the table shows, a number of the epic's characters are censured because they depart from the norms established for marital or kinship relations. Thus E.V.R. condemns Sita for criticizing her husband and Kausalya for not respecting her spouse; he intimates that Sita was unchaste in Ravana's house; Laksmana and Satrughna earn abuse for making unfilial statements about their father and disregarding their father, respectively; Bharata insults both parents, thereby drawing E.V.R.'s scorn; both Sugriva and Vibhisana are reviled for betraying their brother. It is ironic that E.V.R. condemns these characters on the basis of prescriptions for behavior which find elaborate expression in the very dharmasastra text he considers so obnoxious: The Laws of Manu . This text, which E.V.R. deeply hates and elsewhere attacks for its praise of Brahmins, contains passages detailing the proper relationships for husband and wife, father and son, and brothers.[26] These passages have traditionally set the standards for proper Hindu behavior—the same behavior that E.V.R. demands (and finds lacking) in the deeds of Ramayana characters.

E.V.R. also censures a number of characters because they cannot bring their sensual passions and desires under control. He reads the Ramayana as


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TABLE 1. E. V. Ramasami's Charges Against Ramayana Characters

  Character

Role

Charges against the character

Dasaratha

Rama's father, ruler of

Was enslaved by passion; broke promises;

   

Ayodhya

 

acted stupidly

Sita

Wife of Rama

Criticized her husband; felt attraction to

       

Ravana; was unchaste; cared too much

       

for jewelry

Bharata

Dasaratha's second son

Heaped abuse on his mother; insulted his

   

(by Kaikeyi)

 

father; had many wives

Laksmana

Third son of Dasaratha

Was attracted to Sita; tortured (demon)

   

(by Sumitra), loyal

 

females; made unfilial statements about

   

companion to Rama

 

his father; was hot-headed

Satrughna

Fourth son of Dasaratha

Insulted Kaikeyi; abused and disregarded

   

(by Sumitra), com-

 

his father

   

panion to Bharata

   

Kausalya

Senior wife of Dasaratha,

Possessed excessive concern for the success

   

mother of Rama

 

of her son; was jealous of Kaikeyi and

       

hostile to her; did not respect her

Sumitra

Youngest wife of Dasa-

Was eager for Rama to become king; was

   

ratha, mother of Laks-

 

prejudiced against Bharata

   

mana and Satrughna

   

Sumantra

Charioteer and advisor

Counseled the king to do improper deeds;

   

to Dasaratha

 

spoke derisively of Kaikeyi; lied

Vasistha

Dasaratha's family guru

Participated in the plot to crown Rama;

       

hurriedly fixed a day for the coronation

       

so that Bharata would not find out

Hanuman

Rama's monkey com-

Is said to have performed miraculous

   

panion, who set fire to

 

deeds which scientific reason indicates

   

Lanka

 

are impossible; unjustly set fire to Lanka

       

and thus killed many innocent people;

       

used obscene language when conversing

       

with Sita

Sugriva

King of monkeys, ally of

Betrayed his brother; joined Rama only to

   

Rama

 

get rid of his brother

Angada

Son of Valin, general in

Befriended those who killed his father; did

   

Sugriva's army

 

not really love Sugriva

Vibhisana

Brother of Ravana

Betrayed his brother and caused his death

       

in order to gain the kingship of Lanka;

       

did not feel anger when his sister was

       

dishonored by Laksmana


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portraying Dasaratha enslaved by passion, Sita overly fond of jeweled ornaments, Laksmana desirous of Sita, Kausalya as excessively ambitious for the success of her son, and Laksmana too hot-headed to control his flaring temper. Again, E.V.R. condemns these people in a way that echoes a central ideal of brahmanical Hinduism—that one must cultivate detachment toward passions and desires. The virtue of detachment is a constant theme in the Upanisads and in Vedantic works, to say nothing of the Bhagavad Gird and yogic texts; even the dharmasastras uphold the benefits of self-restraint.

Although E.V.R. vigorously criticizes all of the above-mentioned characters, his greatest contempt is directed at Rama himself, whose actions are seen as the epitome of North Indian domination. In accordance with his enumerative style of discourse, E.V.R. cites fifty incidents of seemingly improper behavior on Rama's part. Rather than explain each one, I will summarize his major criticisms and the patterns of reasoning which stand behind these accusations.

One of E.V.R.'s most elaborately mounted attacks concerns Rama's supposed coveting of the throne of Ayodhya, which E.V.R. interprets as a sign of Rama's desire for domination. Ignoring the common understanding—that Rama merely responded to Dasaratha's request that he be crowned and had all the qualities of a responsible king—E.V.R. portrays Rama as scheming to grab the throne. He alleges that Rama craved royal power and acted in a virtuous and affectionate way towards his father, Kaikeyi, and Ayodhya's citizens only to gain such power. Then, says E.V.R., Rama improperly conspired with his father to have himself installed on the throne before his brother Bharata returned from his stay with his uncle (33-35).

Rama's alliance with Sugriva and the ensuing killing of his brother, Valin, come in for special denunciation, as one might expect, because Rama apparently unfairly murders the monarch of a southern kingdom. In focusing upon this always problematic incident, E.V.R. expresses an ambivalence found in many diverse tellings of the Ramayana about whether Rama erred in killing Valin as he did—from the back and without having announced his presence. With equal vehemence, however, E.V.R. emphasizes not only the stealthy killing but the fact that Brahmins praise such a man. That they do so is evidence of their attempt to foist an unheroic Rama upon South India as an exemplar of proper behavior (11-13).

Rama's treatment of his wife, Sita, draws particular criticism from E.V.R. because he takes it as emblematic of Rama's oppression of those less powerful than himself. After her grueling and terrifying captivity in Lanka, Rama subjects Sita to a despicable ordeal and then still refuses to accept her back. As E.V.R. comments, "Even though Valmiki proclaimed the chastity of Sita, Rama did not believe it, so she had to die" (38). For E.V.R., this hostile attitude toward women is part and parcel of the North Indian worldview.


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The manner, glorified in North Indian texts, in which Rama drove his wife to submit to such ordeals helps to keep Indian women in a state of subjugation.

E.V.R. reserves his greatest outrage, however, for Rama's treatment of Sudras, the lowest group in the four-part brahmanical caste ranking and one of the major audiences of his pamphlet. He notes that Rims killed a Sudra named Sambuka because he was performing asceticism, which Vedic tradition prohibits to those not twice-born (that is, Sudras and Untouchables). Rims murdered this Sudra in order to revive a Brahmin boy who had died—that such an untimely death could strike a Brahmin family signaled that somewhere someone (in this case Sambuka) was committing an offense against dharma. After summarizing this incident, E.V.R. extrapolates from it to present-day South India. "If there were kings like Rims now, what would be the fate of those people called Sudras" he asks, implying that Sudras would never be safe from murder if such a king still ruled (41). Since over 60 percent of South Indians are regarded as Sudras, at least by Brahmins, E.V.R. stirs the rage of a good number of his readers by emphasizing this event.

Although E.V.R. surveys many other incidents in the epic, castigating Rama for everything from meat-eating to killing females (39), the trend of his critique is already clear. For E.V.R., Rama personifies "North Indian values" and is accordingly identified with North Indian dominance of lower castes and women. Equally pernicious, according to E.V.R., is the attempt by Brahmins to put forth this vicious and immoral person as virtuous—and even divine.

Just as E.V.R. regards the traditional heroes as villains, he proposes more positive evaluations of characters who have long been condemned, such as Kaikeyi, the mother of Bharata. Those seeking to portray King Dasaratha in a sympathetic light have conventionally held his youngest wife, Kaikeyi, to be the real villain of the epic, holding her responsible for the king's decision to deprive Rama of the throne and exile him. In contrast, E.V.R. points out that Kaikeyi was fully within her rights when she asked the king to fulfill the two boons he had granted her when she once saved his life (61).[27]

In his analysis of the Valin episode, E.V.R. makes another revisionist interpretation, an interpretation all the more significant because of the ambivalence with which tradition has viewed Rama's killing of Valin. The words of the modern writer R. K. Narayan, who has produced his own telling of the Rama story, are instructive here:

Rams was an ideal man, all his faculties in control in any circumstances, one possessed of an unwavering sense of justice and fair play. Yet he once acted, as it seemed, out of partiality, half-knowledge, and haste, and shot and destroyed, from hiding, a creature who had done him no harm, not even seen him. This is one of the most controversial chapters in the Ramayana.[28]


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E.V.R. points out that Valin could not be defeated in an open fight (implying that a desire to win lay behind Rama's devious action) and that he assumed Rama to be an honest and fair person and died as a result—although E.V.R. overstates the matter when he claims that "Valin was blameless in every way" (63).[29]

Valin figures only briefly in the analysis, however. Not surprisingly, Ravana receives more attention because for E.V.R.—who identifies Ravana as a monarch of the ancient Dravidians—he exemplifies the South Indians, whose culture was unfairly suppressed by North Indians. Although E.V.R. neglects to provide specific textual references, he begins his praise of Ravana by listing the virtues that Valmiki attributes to Ravana: Ravana has mastered the Vedas and sastras , he protects his family and kin, he acts courageously, he practices bhakti , he is the beloved son of a god, and he has received several boons (67). One wonders why E.V.R. would consider knowledge of "Aryan" texts like Vedas a recommendation, but what follows is even more revealing. Focusing on the influence of other characters on Ravana's actions, E.V.R. gives us a new construct of Ravana.

Rather than seeing Rama as effectively vanquishing Ravana, E.V.R. interprets Ravana's death as the result of his brother's betrayal. When Vibhisana, Ravana's brother, approaches Rama and asks to join him, E.V.R. harshly condemns his abandonment of his brother, viewing this action as motivated by Vibhisana's desire to possess and rule Lanka (67). The great Ravana was thus undone by his brother's villainy; his death, argues E.V.R., should not be seen as evincing any lack of courage.

Nor should Ravana's abduction of Sita be interpreted as the result of lust, according to E.V.R. He argues that Ravana takes Sita to Lanka as an honorable act of retaliation against Rama's insult and Laksmana's disfigurement of Ravana's sister, Surpanakha. Surpanakha had fallen in love with Rama, openly offering herself to him in marriage; by way of punishment, Laksmana cut off her nose and ears. As a dutiful brother, Ravana had no choice but to avenge his sister's cruel disfigurement—but: as E.V.R. points out, Ravana would never stoop to something as low as mutilating Sita in the same horrible way. In fact, notes E.V.R., Ravana never forced himself upon the captive Sita. In such matters, he practiced proper self-restraint, never touching a woman without her consent (68). At the level of metadiscourse, E.V.R. goes so far as to argue that one must not condemn Ravana for abducting Sita because she was left alone in the forest specifically so she could be abducted (69). In other words, by abducting Sita, Ravana is simply performing an action which be is destined to perform—an interpretation which assumes an inexorability about the events in the Ramayana .

Ravana's sense of propriety also manifests itself in his unwillingness to kill animals, which E.V.R. takes as evidence of his compassionate Dravidian nature. He notes that Ravana hated devas (gods), rsis (sages), and Brahmin


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priests because they performed sacrificial rituals and drank intoxicating liquor (soma ). Ravana refused to participate in such rituals because they involved the torture of poor helpless animals (68). By portraying Ravana as rejecting the killing of animals, E.V.R. plays on the vegetarian inclinations of many of his followers, arousing their sympathy for Ravana.

In a cryptic but intriguing comment near the end of his characterization of Ravana (69), E.V.R. even claims that Ravana was a responsible and responsive political leader, a benign ruler. Because the Ramayana records instances where Ravana consults with his ministers and debates ensue, E.V.R. claims to see traces of an inclusive political process, which belie the conventional brahmanical claims that Ravana was a cruel despot.

Especially given that Ravana represents Dravidians, it is somewhat noteworthy that E.V.R. does not devote much attention to any of the other characters in Ravana's family, even though he dealt at length with Rama's father, mothers, brothers, and wife. Although E.V.R. says that so-called demons like Ravana are in fact admirable Dravidians, Surpanakha's actions—her open expression of sexual desire, for example—are not praised, nor even mentioned, except as they relate to Ravana's duty to revenge her honor. E.V.R. is similarly silent about Mandodari, and about Khara, Marica, Dusana, and other of Ravana's supporters. The fact that E.V.R. spends so much time castigating Rama and his family and so little time praising the actions of Ravana and his family indicates that E.V.R. aroused more ire by lambasting North Indians than by defining and defending precisely what constitutes South Indian culture and identity.

The final brief section of Characters in the Ramayana consists of an appeal to authority. Scholarly discourse in Tamil has traditionally taken note of the opinions of learned men. One main area of analytic discourse consisted of commenting on texts: those trained in grammar construed complex verses, gave parallel passages, and provided exegesis, an enterprise which generally included quotations from scholars of the past.[30] In fact, a good commentary would record what a large number of learned men had said on the subject. E.V.R.'s thirteen-page section entitled "Opinions of Learned Men [arinar ] about the Ramayana" serves the same function.

Rather than citing the opinion of traditional religious and literary scholars, however, E.V.R. quotes distinguished authorities of other types—historians, politicians, other public figures, members of the Indian Civil Service. Also cited in his "Opinions of Learned Men" section are many handbooks or histories of India with titles such as Ancient Indian History and Civilization, Dravidians and Aryans , and Civilization in Ancient India . The historians cited include both North Indians (Muslim and Bengali) and Europeans.[31] E.V.R. also quotes from the works of the North Indian Swami Vivekananda, as he does from the pan-Indian classic The Discovery of India , by the North Indian "Pandit" Jawaharlal Nehru, nationalist leader and prime minister of India


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from 1947 to 1964.[32] When E.V.R. quotes members of the prestigious Indian Civil Service, he includes "I.C.S." after their names in order to indicate their status. Similarly, he includes after the names of historians all their degrees (B.S., M.A., Ph.D., L.L.D.) and precedes their names with "Taktar" (Dr.) whenever possible. Both Henry Johnson's and William Wilson Hunter's names are preceded by "Sir." Clearly, E.V.R. wants to impress upon his readers the illustriousness of those scholars and national figures who appear to confirm his interpretation.

In addition, E.V.R. cites various prominent Tamilian scholars. He quotes J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, an important figure in the Saiva Siddhanta movement and editor of its journal, Deepika , as well as Maraimalai Atigal, an eminent Tamil literary savant whose ideas form the ideological foundation of the Pure Tamil movement.[33] Along with such non-Brahmin literary and religious figures, E.V.R. also quotes respected Brahmin scholars such as S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, a historian of religious and philosophical texts, and K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, a prominent historian of South India. E.V.R. thus willingly cites the opinions of Brahmins, non-Brahmins, and Western "foreigners" to prove his thesis that Brahmins were aliens in South India who oppressed non-Brahmins.

E.V.R.'s citation method also deserves notice. The section of quotes comes at the end of his argument, rather than in the course of it, and thus serves not as documentation but as affirmation. His quotes from Nehru's Discovery of India are representative of his citation style throughout this section of Characters in the Ramayana . He notes several of Nehru's comments about the Ramayana in relation to Aryan expansion in South India and gives a page number for each quote—but he cites no edition, no facts of publication. Like other authors of the popular pamphlet literature of his time, E.V.R. cites not so his reader can go to the original text but simply to take advantage of the cited author's status. Nor does he give any context for the quotes cited: each is simply listed, along with all the others, as validation for his interpretation of the Ramayana . By stringing together forty-seven quotes from historians and politicians about the ancient move of northerners to South India, E.V.R. seeks to demonstrate that learned men support his claims—although those learned men might not agree with the use to which their words have been put.

Precedent and Innovation in E.V.R.’s Interpretation

Little in E.V.R.'s interpretation of the Ramayana is absolutely new. Rather, it is the manner in which E.V.R. assembles, packages, argues, and dramatizes his interpretation that is innovative. A truly modern social critic, he publishes with a careful eye to public reception and dramatizes his interpretations through public performances. Although his forms may be innovative,


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one can find precedents for the various components of his message in many places.

In attacking the hypocrisy of Brahmins, E.V.R. places himself in a long line of Tamil writers who have bitterly criticized brahmanical tradition. Among the many examples that demonstrate E.V.R.'s continuity with this strand of Tamil polemicism, one is particularly ancient and notable. In Cittalai Cattanar's Manimekalai , a Buddhist text that most scholars believe dates from the sixth century A.D. , one finds the story of Aputtiran, a character with an E. V. Ramasami—like view of Hinduism.[34] The illegitimate son of a renowned Varanasi Brahmin's wife, Aputtiran gets into a debate with the leaders of his Brahmin community. Because he has thoroughly studied the Vedas, he is able relentlessly to cite embarrassing facts about the ancient brahmanical sages in order to discredit his opponents' lineages. Like E.V.R., Aputtiran cites all kinds of improprieties about their births: some, for example, were conceived when their fathers ejaculated while watching dancing girls, others are the sons of animals, and so on.[35] Next, Aputtiran confronts Indra, king of the gods, informing the deity that he is indifferent to Indra's heaven because it is full of beings who care only for their own pleasure, rather than for doing good. As we have seen, E.V.R., too, ridicules stories about Brahmins and brahmanical deities, portraying them as self-serving and unworthy of admiration.

Anti-Brahmin sentiment continues to surface periodically in South Indian literature. Surveying anti-Brahmin and egalitarian movements in South India, Irschick reminds us that this strand of rhetoric played an important role in the writings of some of the Siddhars, a group of Tamil ascetics, the majority of whom lived between the fifth and tenth centuries[36] Ramanujan's translations of Virasaiva poems dating from the tenth to twelfth centuries reveal Lingayat contempt for traditional Hindu institutions, including the role of Brahmins.[37] Closer to E.V.R.'s own time are the writings of the religious poet Ramalingaswami (1823-1874), a saint extremely critical of caste distinctions. Irschick points out that in 1929 E.V.R.'s own press published an anthology of Ramalingaswami's songs with an introduction by A. Citamparanar, who also wrote an influential biography of E.V.R.'s early life.[38] E.V.R. considered Ramalingaswami important enough to the Self-Respect Movement to revive his writings and publish them in a form available and understandable to a general audience. Maraimalai Atigal, called by one scholar "the most articulate pioneer" of ideological resistance to Brahmin domination, slightly preceded E.V.R. and shared with him a sharply critical attitude toward Brahmins and brahmanical Hinduism.[39]

If E.V.R.'s antibrahminism connects him to a continuous strand of South Indian culture, his positive assessment of Ravana has precedents in the Ramayana tradition itself. Several Jain writers contest the prevailing characterization of Ravana in their pratipuranas ("counter-puranas "), of which


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Vimalasuri's Paumacariyam (c. 473 A.D. ) is an excellent example. In a notable reversal, this text begins its narrative with all account of Ravana's lineage, rather than that of Rama.[40] Vimalasuri portrays Ravana as noble, admirable, and knowledgeable about religious texts, and as one who has learned a great deal through ascetic practices. As Ramanujan's essay in this volume demonstrates, this pratipurana gives us a totally different perspective on Ravana from that found in most Hindu versions. Dineshchandra Sen calls our attention to another Jain Ramayana , by Hemacandra (1089-1172), in which Ravana again acts in spiritually admirable ways. In one key scene Ravana sits in the forest meditating, remaining serene and single-minded despite all the attempts of yaksas (forest spirits) to distract him from his endeavor by transforming themselves first into seductive damsels and then into terrifying jackals and snakes. Dineshchandra Sen comments that Ravana's acts of meditative discipline "show his high character and a majestic command over passions, worthy of a sage, which unmistakably prove him to be the real hero of the Dravidian legend."[41] In a similar vein, Ravana figures as a sage and a responsible ruler in the Buddhist Lankavatara Sutra , where he invites the Buddha to his kingdom of Lanka and then listens intently to his religious discourse.[42]

As Seely's analysis reveals, the Bengali author Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873) also wrote a "reverse Ramayana, “ which some scholars feel may have been shaped in part by the Jain Ramayana tradition.[43] Of at least equal importance, however, is the role of the colonial context in which Dutt was writing. Nandy sees Dutt's epic as enabling him to accept certain martial values in Indian culture and reject brahmanical ascetic ones.

Madhusudan's criteria for reversing the roles of Rama and Ravana, as expressed in their characters, was a direct response to the colonial situation. He admired Ravana for his masculine vigour, accomplished warriorhood, and his sense of realpolitik and history; he accepted Ravana's "adult" and "normal" commitments to secular, possessive this-worldliness and his consumer's lust for life. On the other hand, he despised "Rama and his rabble"—the expression was his—because they were effeminate, ineffectual pseudo-ascetics, who were austere not by choice but because they were weak.[44]

Both Dutt and E.V.R. wrote in a colonial context. For different reasons, each came to see Ravana as the real hero of the Rama story, a choice that had deep political resonances.

E.V.R.'s attempt to discredit the assumptions of orthodox Hinduism through an exaggeratedly literal reading of its texts is consonant with a form of discourse popular in the second half of the nineteenth century. In religious debates, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians routinely disparaged the religious beliefs of their opponents, as Barbara Metcalf has shown.[45] In so doing, they often relied on a hyperliteral reading of mythic texts. To see just


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how literal such a reading can be, consider this quote from Dayananda Sarasvati, the leader of the Arya Samaj, who responded to the description of a heavenly army of horsemen found in Revelations 9:16 in this way:

Where would so many horses stay in heaven? Where would they graze? Where would they dwell and where would they throw out the dung? How awful would be the bad smell of the dung! We Aryas have washed our hands of such a heaven, such a God and such a religion.

Quoting this passage, Kenneth Jones comments: "Since the goals of these writers were to discredit Christianity and make it difficult for missionaries to defend it in public debates and in print, absolute literalism proved a useful and welcome tool."[46] E.V.R. used the same technique of hyperliteral readings in his attempt to discredit and desacralize the Ramayana .

Even E.V.R.'s view of the Ramayana as an account of Aryan domination of Dravidian culture has roots in earlier discourse. Irschick has carefully traced how the ideas of P. Sundaram Pillai, a Tamil Vellala (1855-1897), began to focus attention on the meaning of the Ramayana in the context of discussions about Dravidian and Aryan culture.[47] Sundaram Pillai published some of his views on the self-sufficiency and grandeur of Dravidian civilization during his lifetime, but his theories about the Ramayana were disseminated after his death by his friends. T. Ponemballem Pillai wrote an article for the Malabar Review in which he summarized Sundaram Pillai's view of the Ramayana as written to "proclaim the prowess of the Aryans and to represent their rivals and enemies the Dravidians, who had attained a high degree of civilization in that period, in the worst possible colour."[48] A somewhat later writer, M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, ended his Ravana the Great: King of Lanka by describing Ravana as "a mighty hero and monarch, a conqueror of worlds, and a fearless resister of the Aryan aggressions in South India."[49] With these writers began a controversy about the political meaning of the Ramayana , to which E.V.R. soon added his own strident reading of the text.

Thus each of the major characteristics of E.V.R.'s interpretation of the Ramayana —his attack on brahmanical tradition, his positive assessment of Ravana, his hyperliteral reading of Hindu texts, and his North/South reading—finds a precedent in some genre of South Asian writing. E.V.R. has synthesized these different themes, transforming the disparate pieces into something new and coherent. The manner in which he brings these elements together is both innovative and powerful: his reading of the Ramayana is hostile and comprehensive, seductive and witty, rhetorically adroit and politically astute.

The single-minded and relentless virulence of E.V.R.'s interpretation is striking. Insofar as he seeks to contest the central values of Valmiki's telling of the story, his overall aim is similar to that of the Jain Ramayanas —but E.V.R. goes beyond mere contesting. In accord with his North/South princi-


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pie of interpretation, he atomizes the text and reassembles its events for his own purpose. He could have presented the story chronologically, interpreting events in the order they occur. Instead, like a lawyer putting together a set of accusations, E.V.R. assembles his case by selecting and forming into a daunting list particular events or bits of dialogue that become the basis of his harsh indictment of most of the Ayodhyan characters. Both the hostility and the comprehensiveness of his attack mark E.V.R.'s interpretation of the Ramayana as singular.

Not only is his analysis thorough but his styles of argumentation are many. Certain strategies of exegesis appear again and again. He anachronizes the text, condemning customs from centuries earlier on the basis of modern norms. He literalizes the text, subjecting mythic material to scientific analysis in order to "prove" that such events could not have occurred. He conflates the dual nature of Rama, ignoring that, according to myth, Rama is both human and divine (he is the god Visnu as well as a human avatar), which allows him to criticize Rama for things he must do as part of his avatar mission while also making fun of him for showing human emotions. E.V.R. even goes so far as to condemn a character on the strength of minor character flaws, ignoring the majority of (positive) actions performed by that character. When necessary he has it both ways, in one context portraying a character as a victim and in another as an oppressor, depending on his polemical needs.

E.V.R.'s use of evidence is typical of the pamphlet style of his time, and, while seductive, the evidence itself is sparsely documented. The reader is told that E.V.R.'s analysis grew out of an exhaustive study of the Valmiki Ramayana and Tamil translations of it done by Brahmins. E.V.R. almost never, however, cites a specific edition of the text or the interpretation of one or another commentator on a particular passage or even specific verse numbers, though he sometimes cites sargas (chapters) in kandas (books). For example, in his eight-point analysis of Ravana, he provides only two citations, neither one referring to specific verses—even though one of the eight points contains a direct quote. Likewise, discussing his fourth point, E.V.R. says "Valmiki himself said" but fails to tell us where Valmiki said so (Characters in the Ramayana , 68). Such a documentation style indicates neither deliberate sloppiness nor a desire to distort evidence. Rather, it is governed by audience: E.V.R. intended his exegesis as a way of expounding Dravidian ideology to the popular reader, not to scholars.

In part, E.V.R.'s style of argumentation derives from oral presentation. His speeches were unforgettable events. Respectable women (who would not think of mingling directly with those they perceived as the "common riffraff" who frequented such events) would crowd onto nearby verandas and listen to his speeches over loudspeakers. Even Brahmins—often the subject of his attack—attended his speeches to hear his cutting yet humorous satire. Those


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who attended his public lectures continue to comment even today on how wickedly funny they found them. Hence it comes as no surprise to find that his writing is also designed both to delight and to stir up his audience. His written language has much of the power of his oral art. His simple sentences, numbered points, and loosely connected structure comprise a kind of "jab rhetoric" with which he can attack the Ramayana . E.V.R. is also deliberately crude or coarse in places, incorporating into his argument innuendoes about Rama's vileness or Sita's lack of faithfulness.[50] As an orator and a writer addressing a mass audience, he uses wit and titillation to play upon the half-guilty pleasure of seeing a familiar object of piety in a totally new, somewhat ridiculous, light.

E.V.R.'s self-presentation also plays a large role in the delivery of his message. His publications characteristically bear his picture: long white beard, glasses, white hair. Inside Characters in the Ramayana , the reader really encounters more of E.V.R. than Rama. The inside back covers of most editions contain, in addition to the titles and prices of his other publications, lists of celebratory accounts of his accomplishments, such as Periyar E. V. Ramasami (A Pen Portrait )—a phenomenon that has persisted beyond his death (in 1973). Consider the following announcement inside the front cover of the 1980 English edition of The Ramayana (A True Reading ):

The importance of this book

The English and Hindi Editions of this book were banned by the Uttar Pradesh Government. The High Court of the U. P. lifted the ban and the U. P. Government appealed to the Supreme Court against the judgment of the High Court. In the Supreme Court, the appeal preferred by the U. P. State was dismissed in 1976 as the Supreme Court did not see any reason to interfere with the judgment of the U. P. High Court.[51]

As this statement indicates, the significance of the work now extends beyond the boundaries of Tamilnadu: through its translation into both English and Hindi, it has attracted attention in North India. The pamphlet was considered so threatening that the government of Uttar Pradesh (where Rama's royal city of Ayodhya is located and where Hindu-Muslim riots continue over a mosque at the alleged site of Rama's birth) felt compelled to ban its publication—although, as the publishers note with satisfaction, the government's attempt to suppress the text has been unsuccessful.[52] The announcement of course gives the reader the impression that the pamphlet contains forbidden, and hence desirable, reading matter, thus adding to E.V.R.'s notoriety.

Not a man to stop at mere words, E.V.R. encouraged the enactment of his interpretation of the Ramayana in dramatic performance as well. The DK drama inspired by E.V.R.'s exegesis and known by the mocking name of


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Keemayana" (keema is a nonsense sound) toured throughout Tamilnadu. The play's portrayal of Rama as a drunkard and Sita as a wanton woman earned it the comment "hoodlums stage filth in Trichy" in one review.[53] The high (or low, depending on the viewer's perspective) point in the performance occurred when participants beat images of Rama with their (polluting) leather sandals. Similarly, E.V.R.'s scheduled burning of images of Rama in 1956 testifies to his desire to dramatize his exegetical attack. By reversing tile North Indian ritual of Ravana-burning, he not only enacts his verbal attack on Rama but reminds Tamilians of the urgent need for them to embrace his political interpretation of the Ramayana .

Conclusions

This account of E. V. Ramasami's interpretation of the Ramayana confirms that even in the modern period the Ramayana continues to be reread in ways that reflect and shape the concerns of both exegete and audience. As we have seen, the skeletal Rama story affords a structure around which poets build new tellings. For E.V.R., the story provides the framework for a deeply political telling. He reinterprets and re-presents the Ramayana , a sacred and traditional text, so as to undermine radically both its sacrality and the traditional understanding of its incidents.

E.V.R.'s telling of the Ramayana is consonant with many of the biographical and political features of his own life. Thus his denial of the epic's sacrality echoes his own youthful disillusionment with Hinduism, while his condemnation of Rama as an agent of North Indian oppression parallels his attack on Brahmins as dominating both the Congress Party and local positions of power. What makes his reading of the text more than an idiosyncratic response to the Ramayana , however, is the extent to which E.V.R. imbued this response with political purpose and self-consciously presented his reading for public consumption. The impressive reprint history of Characters in the Ramayana attests to the success of his interpretation in the realin of public discourse. In vilifying Rama and elevating Ravana, E.V.R. does far more than simply present a new assessment of familiar characters. By demythologizing Rama, he translates what had generally been thought of as sacred mythic truth into the political sphere, using his exegesis of the text to articulate the need to resist what he saw as oppressive North Indian cultural and political domination of South India.

E.V.R.'s exegesis of the Ramayana is accordingly presented so as to have the maximum public impact. It uses dramatic rhetoric, it attacks, it pokes fun, it shocks, and it insists. Although one might be tempted to dismiss E. V. Ramasami as an isolated eccentric, this would be unwise, for his exegesis of the Ramayana was pivotal. As the 1956 Rama-burning agitation indicates, E.V.R. not only sought but gained front page media coverage for his


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opinions. Reassessing the traditional characters and incidents of the epic with polemical flamboyance, he created a rhetoric of political opposition that shaped public discourse for a group much larger than his relatively small band of followers.

Part of E.V.R.'s legacy rests with the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, or Progressive Dravidian Federation), a group composed of some of his most brilliant followers, who split off from the DK to form their own organization. Men such as C. N. Annadurai, Mu. Karunanidhi, and Shivaji Ganesan, who worked in filmmaking as screen writers, producers, and actors, continued E.V.R.'s dramatic style of public rhetoric to decry brahmanical suppression of Dravidian identity. At first a mere splinter group, the DMK eventually came to equal and then vastly surpass the DK in importance. Because a number of prominent DMK members were active in the film industry, moreover, they had access to another powerful medium for publicizing their message to huge numbers of people. By 1967 DMK political power was established, the DMK continuing to dominate the political arena in Tamilnadu until the group splintered.[54] Members of the DMK learned a great deal from E.V.R., particularly in relation to public discourse and political performance. They moved readily and smoothly from the realm of myth (Ravana, Rama) to film, from public agitation to mass meetings, from political criticism to political power.

In fact, one could argue that what the DMK came to offer Tamilians outdistanced E. V. Ramasami. If E.V.R. was the great assembler of rhetoric, of interpretations, and of public performances, DMK filmmakers created even more extravagant celluloid products with clearly identified villains and heroes, moral messages, and colorful drama. If E.V.R. was the great polemicist in the public arena, the DMK went further, transforming grass-roots Dravidian sentiment into institutionalized political power. If E.V.R. was the great self-promoter, the DMK became increasingly sophisticated and daring in its strategies to gain media coverage and a popular following. If E.V.R. was the stage director of histrionic public acts, the DMK film personalities and politicians were his true successors. Far from dying out, his style was incorporated, updated, and intensified. To understand some of the roots of the highly charged conflicts in Tamilnadu public discourse during recent decades, one must take into account a largely ignored phenomenon, E.V.R.'s critique of the Ramayana .

Ten
Ramayana Exegesis in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism

Patricia Y. Mumme

In Indian religious traditions and philosophical schools (darsanas ), the fund of scriptural texts is ever expanding. There is hardly any genre of literature that has not been used as scripture by some group of religious scholars somewhere in India. Folklore, epic, drama, aesthetic theory, treatises on grammar, love poetry—all have joined ranks with the more obviously "sacred" genres of myth, hagiography, and liturgy to become the scripture of religious communities and grist for their theological mills. This phenomenon extends to both classical and popular variations of the Rama story, which continue to be plumbed by widely diverse religious communities in India for messages they can relate to their own systems of meaning, often in very creative ways.

The Srivaisnava tradition in Tamilnadu, especially the Tenkalai subsect, has made ample use of epic and puranic scripture in general, and the Ramayana in particular, in their theological discourse. A brief outline of the developmerit of Srivaisnava theology will show how the authors of the Tenkalai school came to use passages from the Ramayana to explicate some of their distinctive theological claims.

The Srivaisnava Tradition In South India

Yamuna (fl. 11th C.) and Ramanuja (fl. 12th C.), the founders of the Visistadvaita school of Vedantic philosophy and the Srivaisnava religious tradition, make no appeal to the Ramayana in their written works, and little to other epic or puranic literature. But they were faced with the task of trying to legitimate their school's qualified nondualistic interpretation of Hindu scripture for a potentially hostile audience. Thus they not only wrote in Sanskrit but appealed mostly to the more authoritative Upanisads, the BhagavadGita , and the sastras . As the Srivaisnava tradition became more popular over the


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next few generations, however, many of Ramanuja's successors started writing works intended to make Srivaisnava teaching accessible to a wider audience than intellectual philosophers.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries some of Ramanuja's successors—especially those in Kanchipuram—continued the exposition of Visistadvaita Vedanta in Sanskrit. At the same time, others—notably a circle in Srirangam—developed a large body of commentatorial literature in Tamil Manipravala, a form of Sanskritized Tamil understandable to the larger Srivaisnava community, even women and non-Brahmins. In this literature, well-known stories from the epics and puranas , as well as passages from the beloved hymns of the Alvars, are frequently cited to support and illustrate Srivaisnava teaching. By the thirteenth century the different specializations of the Kanchi and Srirangam schools were evident in the kinds of literature they were producing. It is not surprising, given the different audiences and intentions of these two schools, that doctrinal differences between them also began to develop.[1]

The doctrinal rift first surfaced when Vedanta Desika (1269-1370) criticized many of the claims of the Srirangam school. About a century later, Manavalamamuni (d. 1443) reaffirmed the teachings of his Srirangam predecessors, especially Pillai Lokacarya (d. 1310?), by writing commentaries on their most important works. Thus Vedanta Desika and Manavalamamuni came to be revered as the founders and foremost teachers (acaryas ) of the two main Srivaisnava subsects: the Vatakalai (literally "northern school," referring to Kanchi) and the Tenkalai (literally "southern school," referring to Srirangam). The central issue in the Tenkalai-Vatakalai dispute is soteriological, focusing on how best to understand the path of simple surrender to the Lord (prapatti ) and its relation to the path of devotion, or bhaktiyoga , which—as expounded by Yamuna and Ramanuja—must be accompanied by Vedic ritual practice. To understand the thrust of the Tenkalai use of Ramayana incidents, one must first contrast their view of surrender to the Lord with that of their Vatakalai counterparts.

The more conservative Vatakalai school, in its understanding of surrender, is driven by its concern to preserve the validity of bhaktiyoga , Vedic ritual, and the Sanskrit scriptures which teach them. At the same time, they do not want to compromise two important principles of Visistadvaita philosophy: that the Lord is egalitarian as well as merciful, and that the soul—although dependent on the Lord—has the God-given ability to act (jivakartrtva ). Vedanta Desika's writings repeatedly affirm that the paths of surrender and devotion are enjoined in scripture as two equally effective means (upaya ) to moksa (spiritual liberation). However, these alternatives are not a matter of choice, for an individual will be qualified for only one of them. The path of devotion (bhaktiyoga ) is an arduous means to salvation that demands performance of Vedic rituals (karmayoga ) as an ancillary duty; thus it is restricted


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to twice-born males (who alone are qualified to perform Vedic rites) endowed with a good education, patience, and physical stamina. Only those who lack one of the qualifications for the path of devotion are allowed to follow the easier and quicker path of surrender (prapatti ), which does not involve any Vedic rituals. Vedanta Desika emphasizes that the Lord is ever willing to save all souls but, out of respect for the soul's desire, he will not do so until he receives a sign that indicates one's acceptance of the salvation the Lord offers. The adoption of either of these two means constitutes such a sign. But salvation is not something one earns, for neither surrender to the Lord nor devotion would be effective without the Lord's grace. Nonetheless, the Vatakalai see no harm in calling them means (upaya ) to moksa and subsidiary causes of salvation: both surrender and devotion are performed with the soul's God-given ability to act, and one or the other is absolutely necessary before salvation by the Lord's grace can be effected.

The Tenkalai authors have a much more radical understanding of surrender to the Lord. To them, surrender is a passive, loving response to the Lord's active, saving grace. It is merely a mental phenomenon—a particular change of attitude in which one recognizes one's utter dependence on the Lord—rather than an act performed by the individual soul. Though the Tenkalai teachers do not deny that the Lord has given the soul the ability to act, they claim it is contrary to the soul's nature of subservience (sesatva ) to the Lord and dependence (paratantrya ) on him for one to use that ability to try to save oneself. Any active attempt to save oneself by any means (upaya )— including engaging in the devotional or ritual means taught in scripture— will thus violate the soul's inherent dependence on the Lord and obstruct the Lord's saving grace. The Tenkalai go so far as to claim that, despite what the sastras may teach, neither the path of devotion nor the path of surrender are really means to moksa. The only true means, according to the Tenkalai, is the Lord himself—the soul's rightful master and protector. True, surrender normally involves mutual acceptance: the Lord accepts the soul as an object of his grace (paragatasvikara ) and the soul accepts the Lord as savior (svagatasvikara ). However, the Lord's acceptance of the soul is the sole cause of salvation and hence the true means; the individual's acceptance of the Lord is neither sufficient nor necessary for salvation. The Tenkalai school affirms the Lord's sovereign freedom to choose whom he wants to save—or to refuse salvation to someone for no reason. (This the Vatakalai consider an affront to the Lord's egalitarian mercy.) Because of the Lord's autonomous will, the Tenkalai argue, all who seek salvation must approach the Lord through the Goddess Sri, his beloved and merciful consort, who will see to it that the Lord's compassionate desire to save is aroused.

With this overview of the central doctrinal differences between the two schools, we can proceed first to show how the Tenkalai theologians have used incidents from the Ramayana as scriptural support for their distinctive claims


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regarding the nature of surrender to the Lord and then to analyze their method of selecting and interpreting these incidents.

Tenkalai Exegesis of Ramayana Incidents

The Tenkalai teachers, by their own claim, see the Ramayana as a work of utmost authority and doctrinal importance. Pillai Lokacarya begins his major theological treatise, the SrivacanaBhusana , by explaining the relationship between the Veda and the dharmasastras , itihasas , and puranas . Whereas the earlier, ritual portions of the Veda are explained by the dharmasastras , the more important Vedanta or Upanisads, which comprise the latter portion of the Veda, are explicated primarily by the itihasas and secondarily by the puranas , Of the two principal itihasas , the Mahabharata explains the greatness of the Lord Krsna, while "the more excellent itihasa , the Ramayana , proclaims the greatness of the one who was imprisoned [Sita]" (SVB 1-5).[2] Sita, who is the incarnation of the Goddess Sri, has a dual importance for the Tenkalai school. First, as the Lord's beloved wife and the mother of all souls, she is the merciful mediator (purusakara ) between the soul in need of salvation and the omnipotent Lord. As we will see, the Tenkalai theologians interpret numerous Ramayana incidents as revealing the power and salvific importance of her mediation. But according to the Tenkalai school, Sita is also a separate soul (cetana or jiva ) like us, dependent and perfectly submissive to the Lord, who is her master and protector. As such, Sita in the Ramayana exemplifies the ideal relationship between the soul and the Lord, and Rama's rescue of Sita from Lanka can be seen as an allegory for the process of salvation. Just as Rama rescued Sita from Lanka and brought her back to Ayodhya to attend him, the Lord rescues the soul from the throes of samsara and takes it after death to Vaikuntha, Visnu's heavenly abode, where the soul can fully realize its subservient nature by serving the Lord directly.[3]

The Tenkalai authors appeal to several Ramayana passages in which Sita's behavior can be held up as a model for the soul's passive dependence on the Lord for its salvation. "With regard to the upaya " or means of salvation, says Pillai Lokacarya, "one must be like Piratti [Sita]" (SVB 80), meaning that to be saved one must entirely relinquish one's own power and effort (SVB 85). Manavalamamuni explains that Sita "had the power to reduce the host of enemies to ashes and save herself" by the power of her chaste virtue; but she refused to do so, saying, "Since Rama has not so commanded, and because I must guard my ascetic restraint (tapas ), I will not reduce you to ashes by the fiery power of my chastity, O ten-necked one."[4] Rather, she said, "If Rama were to assault Lanka with his arrows, defeat it, and take me away, that would be fitting of him" (Ram . V.39.29). Why, if Sita was fully capable of saving herself at any point during her captivity, did she not do so? "Piratti refused to do anything by her own power, thinking that to save herself by her


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own efforts—rather than letting Rama, her hero, protect her—would destroy her dependence (paratantrya )" (SVB 82). Manavalamamuni explains that, like Sita, we should not try to save ourselves by pursuing some particular means to salvation but should preserve our dependent nature and wait in faith for the Lord to save us.

Pillai Lokacarya and Manavalamamuni also cite other Ramayana incidents, though not involving Sita, to prove that resorting to means other than the Lord himself can actually hinder salvation. Once, in the midst of battle, Ravana was shaken by a thunderous blow from Rama's lance. Despite this, he continued to cling to his bow. But when struck by Rama's arrow, Ravana dropped his bow; only then did Rama allow him to withdraw from the battlefield (Ram . VI.59.135). Manavalamamuni explains how this incident relates to the process of salvation:

Ravana, overwhelmed by Rama's archery, became agitated and tried to escape. But as long as he held the bow, Rama did not allow him to leave. The bow, which he eventually dropped, was not an effective means (sadhana ) for conquering his enemy while he was holding it. Not only that, but the permission Rama later gave him, saying "I will let you go," was not given during the time he was holding the bow. Thus [the bow] can be said to be an impediment that kept him from leaving. In the same way, if there remains even the slightest involvement in these other means, they will not only fail to be effective means (upaya ) to the goal [of salvation], but will actually turn out to be obstructions to the ultimate attainment. (Mumu 203)

Ravana expected the bow to help him have his way with his enemy, but the bow only prevented him from saving himself by escaping. Like Ravana's bow, the apparent means to salvation, including the path of devotion and ritual works, will not help us and must actually be dropped in order for salvation to occur. Pillai Lokacarya underscores this point by citing the example of Dasaratha, Rama's father, who had to banish Rama in order to remain true to a promise he had made to one of his wives (Mumu 204). Manavalamamuni explains:

The great king [Dasaratha] lost the fortune he had—namely, living with Rama, who is said to be the dharma incarnate—by clinging to the dharma of truthfulness, which was merely a semblance [of dharma], thinking that he could not refuse to honor a boon he had previously granted. In the same way, remaining engaged in the other illusory means [such as bhaktiyoga ] will certainly make for loss of the great fortune of living with the divine being himself, [the Lord who is] the eternal dharma. (Mumu 204)

Thus, according to the Tenkalai authors, even the means to salvation enjoined as dharma in authoritative scripture (sastra ) can obstruct salvation if one clings to them rather than to the Lord himself as one's savior.

Both Tenkalai and Vatakalai authors also frequently refer to the Brah-


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mastra incident in the Rama story to illustrate an important point on which both schools agree: surrender to the Lord himself must be carried out in complete faith that he alone will be one's means to salvation. In other words, surrender cannot be combined with any other means for salvation, or it will not be effective. The significance of the Brahmastra incident is fully explained in Arulala Perumal Emperumanar's Jnanasara , an early Tamil text on which Manavalamamuni commented. However, to my knowledge, no such incident appears in Valmiki's Ramayana .[5] The story has it that Ravana's demon army of raksasas used the Brahmastra, a divine weapon which binds its enemies and thus renders them helpless, against the monkey Hanuman, who was acting as Rama's emissary. But the Brahmastra only works if the user has complete faith in it. When the raksasas decided to bring in a jute cord to further secure the bound Hanuman, just to be on the safe side, the Brahmastra slipped off. Manavalamamuni explains: "The Brahmastra that had tied him slipped off by itself at the moment another cord was tied on. In the same way, if one who has resorted to this upaya [the Lord himself] engages in another upaya , [the first] will leave him" (JS 28). For the Tenkalai acaryas , the analogy between the Brahmastra and prapatti (surrender) is instructive: one might think that means such as devotion and ritual action will enhance the efficacy of one's surrender to the Lord, but in fact these will cause one to lose the Lord. The path of surrender demands complete cessation of one's own efforts and faith in the capacity of the Lord alone to bring about salvation.

If the Tenkalai and the Vatakalai concur in their interpretation of the Brahmastra incident, the Tenkalai teachers also use examples from the Ramayana to support one of their more controversial claims: that the Lord can save whomever he chooses, without waiting for that soul to surrender to him and thus request acceptance. Nor is the Lord obligated to save one who surrenders to him, even if such surrender is performed perfectly. The Tenkalai hold that, because of the Lord's unconstrained sovereignty (nirankusasvatantrya ), he need pay attention neither to the individual's desire or lack thereof nor to the soul's merits or sins when deciding whether or not to grant salvation. As Pillai Lokacarya says: "When the soul thinks to obtain the Lord, this surrender is not a means. When the Lord decides to obtain the soul, not even sins can stand in the way. Both are seen in the case of Bharata and Guha" (SVB 142-144). Manavalamamuni begins by explaining how it is the Lord's initiative which has the salvific power, not our surrender to him:

It is the owner who comes and takes possession of his property. In the same way, it is the Lord alone—the soul's master and owner—who approaches, while the dependent soul must wait to be accepted. If one thinks to attain the autonomous (svatantra ) Lord by one's own act of acceptance, this intention will fail. Any surrender so conceived will not be a means to attain the Lord. . . . But when the sovereign Lord and master himself decides by his own will to obtain


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the soul who is his dependent property, even the worst sins will not be obstacles. These [first] two [sentences] show that the acceptance on the part of the soul (svagatasvikara ) is not realy the means (upaya ) for salvation; rather, the acceptance on the part of the Lord (paragatasvikara ) is the means. (SVB142-143 )

Manavalamamuni then explains how the differing fates of Bharata, Rama's devoted brother, and Guha, a lowly hunter who accompanied Rama to the forest, affirm this crucial theological point:

These [truths] are illustrated by [the examples of] Bharata and Guha. Bharata wanted to bring Rama back [to Ayodhya], crown him, and live by serving him, in accord with [Bharata's] true nature [as a soul subservient to the Lord]. With this in mind, Bharata—in the company of his ministers—approached Rama and sought refuge, surrendering at his holy feet. But for Bharata, the good deed of surrender performed in this manner—since it was not what the Lord and savior had in mind—became an evil. But for Guha, Rama himself came forward and accepted him. Indeed, Guha's very faults were accepted as an offering; thus the evilness of his offenses became merits. For isn't the very definition of merit and sin said to be "merit is whatever pleases him; sin is the opposite"? (SVB 145)

The Tenkalai authors further point out that neither Guha nor even Hanuman had any desire to be accepted as Rama's companions. "But even without any desire on their part, acceptance by the Lord (paragatasvikara ) occurred to Hanuman on the banks of the Pamba and to Guha on the banks of the Ganga"; they were accepted when the Lord himself took the initiative and approached them (Manavalamamuni on SVB 150). If surrender, signifying one's acceptance of the Lord, were a prerequisite for that acceptance, then the sincere surrender of the virtuous Bharata would have been effective and his request fulfilled. Conversely, the sinful hunter Guha and the lowly monkey Hanuman—neither of whom expressed a desire for the Lord's acceptance—would not have become Rama's close companions. But such was not the case. These examples, the Tenkalai argue, demonstrate that the soul's surrender to the Lord cannot be considered an effective means to salvation, and that the Lord's freedom to accept whomever he wants is completely unconstrained.

The Tenkalai authors go on to cite two Ramayana incidents featuring Sita as evidence for their radical claim that efforts to accumulate merit or remove sin, aimed at earning the Lord's favor, instead insult the Lord's sovereign power and run contrary to the soul's dependent nature. When Rama and Sita were dwelling in the forest, Rama declared that he would not allow Sita to be adorned with even a necklace during their lovemaking, for fear that it would interfere with their intimate union (SVB 162).[6] Manavalamamuni explains that even though one may expect merits to enhance the Lord's plea-


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sure when he communes with the soul, they end up obstructing his pleasure, just like clothes and jewelry interfere with the intimacy desired by a lover.

In fact, says Pillai Lokacarya, "while ornaments are not desired, dirt is desired" (SVB 165), alluding to an incident after the victory over Lanka. Ravana vanquished, Rama ordered Vibhisana to fetch Sita. "Have Sita, the divine-limbed Vaidehi, brought here before me quickly, adorned with sacred ornaments, her hair washed," he instructed (Ram . VI.117.6-7). When Vibhisana reported this to Sita, she at first protested, claiming that she wanted to see her husband at once, before bathing. By Vibhisana insisted, so she did as she was told. When she appeared before Rama freshly bathed and adorned, however, Rama became angry and greeted her with harsh words: "Like a lamp to one with a diseased eye, you are not a welcome sight for me" (Ram . VI.118.17-18). Why was he angry? Hadn't Sita done as she was told? Manavalamamuni claims that Rama really desired to see her body with all its dirt, "unadorned, like a lotus plant without the lotus" (Ram . V.15.21). He didn't mean what he told Vibhisana, and he expected Sita to know his mind. Manavalamamuni explains that "Vibhisana did not know Rama's true intention but only relayed the words he spoke. But even so, Sita should have refused to bathe and just gone to see him in the state she was in while imprisoned in Ravana's house. But she didn't do this. She quickly bathed and came, which made him angry, for he wanted to see her in her [dirty] state" (SVB 166). The interpretation of this incident hinges on an implied analogy between scriptural commandments and Rama's command to Vibhisana. Even though the sastras declare that the Lord hates sins and even prescribe methods to expiate them, these statements do not reflect the Lord's true intention. He wants to commune with the soul in its sinful state and will be angered if one tries to win his favor by purifying oneself. His desire for the soul cannot be obstructed by sins, but it can be thwarted by attempts to remove them.

However, the Tenkalai authors do not simply leave the individual who desires salvation with no recourse but to wait patiently for the Lord to approach. This is where the Tenkalai doctrine of the necessity of Sri as mediator assumes importance. Sri, the Lord's beloved wife and consort, is ever willing to act as purusakara or mediator, to intercede with the Lord on behalf of the soul who seeks salvation. Thus one should approach her first and request her intercession, rather than risk rejection by going directly to the Lord and requesting salvation. Pillai Lokacarya views the entire Ramayana as testimony to the power and necessity of the mediation of the merciful Goddess, incarnate as Sita (SVB 5-6). He claims the Rama story shows that the Lord never saved or accepted anyone without some form of intercession on the part of Sita. On every such occasion, the Tenkalai authors find some symbolic evidence of the Goddess's mediation. When Rama accepted Hanuman and Sugriva, it was because they carried the jewels Sita


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dropped as she was abducted by Ravana. Vibhisana approached Rama and surrendered to him directly, but this surrender was effective only because he had been instructed by Sita before he left Lanka. When Guha was accepted, Rama made reference to Sita (SVB 151). Thus, Pillai Lokacarya claims, salvation is gained only through the Goddess (Mumu 118-19).

According to the Tenkalai school, the efficacy of the Goddess's mediation is based on her merciful nature and her special relationship with the Lord, both of which are demonstrated in the Ramayana . She is the very embodiment of the Lord's mercy, and yet she is without his sovereign power to punish; therefore she will always be tenderhearted toward sinful souls, whom she sees as her children. Because the Lord loves her dearly and always does what she says, he will never reject one who approaches him with the recommendation of the Goddess. Doesn't the Ramayana show that the Lord always follows his wife's command, even when it brings peril? At Sita's urging, Rama left the hermitage to pursue the magic deer, which brought about Sita's capture. Surely the omniscient Lord knew what would happen, but he went after the deer anyway, out of his love and desire to please her. So, Manavalamamuni asks, is there any doubt that she can make the Lord overlook the soul's faults and accept it when she so requests? (Mumu 129). Pillai Lokacarya says, "Need we point out that the one who made Hanuman forgive can also make the one who follows her words forgive?" (Mumu 129). Manavalamamuni then explains this allusion to an incident that emphasizes the tenderhearted mercy of Sita, who could not be angry even at the demonesses (raksasis ) who had tormented her while she was imprisoned in Lanka:

Hanuman had taken full account of the sins of the raksasis who had threatened and chided Sita for ten months; he was eager to inflict severe punishment. But it was she who made the strong-willed Hanuman relent and forgive them by means of her instruction, saying such things as "Who has committed any sin?" [Ram . VI.116.38] and "No one has done anything wrong at all" [Ram . VI.116.43]. (Mumu 129)

Because Sita was there to plead with Hanuman not to destroy the demonesses, they were spared. Similarly, when the crow Kakasura attacked her breast, Rama was eager to punish it. But when the crow fell at Rama's feet, begging for mercy, Sita was moved, so for her sake Rama spared it (Ram . V.38.34-35). Pillai Lokacarya says, "Because of her presence, the crow was saved. Because of her absence, Ravana was destroyed" (Mumu 135-36). Manavalamamuni clarifies:

It was because of the presence of the lady who subdues the autonomy of the sovereign Lord and arouses his compassion that the crow who had committed a heinous crime was mercifully spared. . . . Ravana was helplessly trapped in a similar way, even though he had not committed the extreme offense of the crow [for he had not physically attacked Sita]. But she was not present, and as a result Ravana perished, the target of Rama's arrows. (Mumu 135-36)


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Thus, according to the Tenkalai acaryas , the Ramayana proves that when one invokes the merciful Goddess as mediator before approaching the Lord for salvation, one need not fear rejection by the Lord on account of his unbridled autonomy or one's own sins.

Ramayana Incidents As Parables

The Tenkalai school's reading of Ramayana incidents is unique, yet their methods of structuring and interpreting these incidents have parallels in other scriptural traditions. What is immediately striking is that the Tenkalai school is not very interested in the main plot, the didactic portions of the epic, or even the literal meaning of statements made by Rama or Sita. Rather, they focus on a few relatively obscure events in the Rama story, which, when interpreted allegorically, lend support to their soteriological doctrines. It is not that the Ramayana as a whole is an allegory to the Tenkalai, at least not in the manner of a work like Pilgrim's Progress . In Bunyan's book each character is univalent, representing a single concept. But in the Tenkalai reading of the Ramayana , different characters symbolize different theological realities at different moments. For example, Sita can represent the soul waiting to be saved or Sri, the mediator. Thus the soul and the goal of salvation can be represented by almost any character and the goal he or she is seeking. Sita seeking to escape from Lanka, the raksasas seeking to bind Hanuman, Ravana seeking to vanquish Rama—all become allegories for the soul seeking salvation. The Tenkalai teachers seem to select these isolated incidents on the basis of a perceived parallel between the relation of the actors in the narrative and the relation of the theological concepts they wish to illustrate.[7] The allegorical identification is sometimes fully spelled out, and sometimes merely hinted at, so that listeners are encouraged to extend the metaphor, to fill in the blanks and draw the theological conclusion themselves.

All this brings the Srivaisnava reading of Ramayana incidents very close to the genre of parable. Parables are also brief narratives or stories that are akin to metaphors and are often interpreted analogically or allegorically. The allegorical meaning of parables, especially those in religious scriptures, is sometimes fully explained, and sometimes only hinted at. However, the relation between parable and allegory is a bone of scholarly contention in the field of religious studies. Traditionally, the parable has been seen as closely akin to metaphor, analogy, example-story, and allegory. In this view, a parable is defined as an extended metaphor built around a narrative structure; though often interpreted analogically, parables are generally too brief and unsystematic to be considered full-fledged allegories. However, some recent scholars, such as John Dominic Crossan, have tended to emphasize the distinction in both form and function between parables and allegories. Crossan and others would argue that parables are not intended to be interpreted allegor-


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ically, even though theologians have often co-opted (and perhaps misused) scriptural parables by reading them allegorically in order to support their own metaphysical or ethical viewpoints. Though we cannot go into the details of this argument here, some ideas gleaned from this scholarly dispute on the structure, interpretation, and theological significance of parables can both illuminate and be illuminated by the Srivaisnava use of Ramayana incidents.

In Crossan's view, a parable is defined by certain structural characteristics:

There is in every parabolic situation a battle of basic structures. There is the structure of expectation on the part of the hearer and there is the structure of expression on the part of the speaker. These structures are in diametrical opposition, and this opposition is the heart of the parabolic event. . . . What actually happens in the parable is the reverse of what the hearer expects.[8]

Crossan uses this structural model to analyze biblical parables in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, he points out that in Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) the hearer expects the priest and Levite to help the victim and the Samaritan to refuse assistance, but the story shows exactly the opposite (107). In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:10-13) one expects God to hear and accept the prayer of the righteous Pharisee and reject the prayer of the sinful publican, but just the opposite happens (102).

This conflict between the reader's expectations and the narrative outcome seems to be the central dynamic of the Tenkalai telling of Ramayana incidents no less than of biblical parables. Indeed, in recounting the Ramayana incidents they select, the Tenkalai acaryas deliberately highlight the paradoxical nature of the outcomes. One would expect Sita, as an incarnation of the Goddess Sri, to use her power to save herself and escape Lanka. Why did she not do so? One would expect Ravana's bow to help him achieve his aim. Why did Rama let him escape only after he dropped it? One would expect the addition of a jute cord to reinforce the efficacy of the Brahmastra. Why did it fail? One would expect the merciful Rama to honor the request of his own virtuous brother, Bharata, who humbly surrendered to him with the request that he return to Ayodhya and allow Bharata to serve him. Why did Rama refuse him and yet actively seek the companionship of the lowly Guha and Hanuman, who had not even expressed a desire for this companionship, much less surrendered to him? One would expect Rama to be pleased when Sita appeared before him bathed and adorned as he had requested. Why did he get angry?

The Tenkalai versions of Ramayana incidents thus seem to have the paradoxical structure of parables. They do not, however, fully confirm Crossan's


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theory about the function and meaning of parables. He claims that the intent of parable, as a genre, is diametrically opposed to that of allegory and example-story. The parable's central paradox is designed to attack the hearer's culturally conditioned standards of expectation, to subvert all theology (or "myth," as he calls it)—meaning all received views of reality and ethical standards. Allegories and example-stories, on the other hand, serve to explain and support a given worldview. He claims that the New Testament redactors turned Jesus' parables—which were genuine parables intended to confront the hearer with an authentic religious experience transcending all conceptualization—into allegories and example-stories that supported the eschatology and moral teachings of the early church. Thus in the context of the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the good Samaritan becomes an example-story teaching love for one's neighbor, while the parable of the Pharisee and publican teaches that the honest humility of a sinner is better in God's eyes than the self-righteousness of the holy. Crossan suggests that the central dynamic of reversed expectations in the parable runs counter to the theological aims of example-stories and allegories; therefore, he claims, Jesus' parables often end up as rather poor examples of the latter (120). Crossan thus questions whether one "could ever succeed in making a smooth change from parable to example and allegory" (123).

Crossan has been criticized for drawing too sharp a distinction between theology ("mythical religion," as he calls it) and the parabolic religion of transcendence, which is anti-theology.[9] Isn't it possible that parables—even with their characteristic paradoxical structure—not only seek to subvert a prevailing worldview but also to establish a new one? Can the paradoxicality at the heart of the parable actually serve the allegorical meaning and theological aims of their interpreters, rather than acting as obstacle to them?

The Tenkalai school's "parabolized" readings of Ramayana incidents suggest that the answer to both questions is yes, and that Crossan's critics are right. The Tenkalai theologians seem to use their interpretations of Ramayana incidents both to criticize the prevailing worldview and to assert their own theological claims. Furthermore, the paradoxical structure of these incidents and their allegorical interpretation do not seem to be at odds (as Crossan's analysis of New Testament parables would suggest); rather, they work together to accomplish both aims. In the Tenkalai acaryas' telling of Ramayana incidents, the paradox at the surface or narrative level of each incident serves as a hook to draw the listener toward the allegorically derived theological level of meaning. So why did Rama get angry at Sita? Why didn't Ravana's bow help him? Why did the Brahmastra slip off'? Why did Rama reject Bharata? The reader or listener, disturbed by the paradox, must "stay tuned" for its resolution. The allegorical interpretation, when disclosed as the hidden meaning of the incident, resolves the surface paradox and thereby affirms the


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particular doctrinal viewpoint the author wishes to promote.[10] But this doctrinal viewpoint nevertheless subverts some of the most cherished assumptions of the Hindu worldview (many of which are staunchly defended by the Vatakalai school): that the Lord hates sins and loves virtue, and that salvation and the favor of the Lord can be achieved by means of devotion and ritual action, as taught in scripture. Against this backdrop of expectation, the Tenkalai reading of these paradoxical Ramayana incidents boldly demonstrates why these incidents do not turn out as expected: the assumptions of the underlying worldview are wrong. The Lord does not hate sin but in fact longs to commune with the soul with all its sin; scripturally enjoined means performed by one's own efforts don't help one achieve salvation but interfere with it; even surrender itself is not a fail-safe means to win the Lord's favor, and he is not bound to honor it.

In one sense, the theological function of the Tenkalai interpretation of Ramayana incidents is not so different from the aim of the New Testament interpretation of Jesus' parables. In the gospels, Jesus' parables are used to ridicule the legalism of the Pharisees and to teach a radical morality of love which cannot be reduced to a structured code of ethical principles that state precisely what God demands of human beings. Similarly, the Srivaisnava Ramayana incidents subvert and ridicule the sastric legalism that the Vatakalai defend and yet simultaneously teach a radical soteriology that cannot be reduced to a scripturally prescribed system of devotional and ritual actions; there is no surefire recipe for salvation.

The effectiveness of metaphor, parable, and allegory in oral and written discourse has been noted at least since the time of Aristotle. Religious teachers in particular have appreciated how powerfully one can bring home a theological point to an audience through the use of these techniques. One wonders whether the average Christian would truly understand (or even remember) Jesus' commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself without the parable of the good Samaritan. Similarly, although Pancaratra texts clearly teach that when one surrenders to God, one must abandon all other upayas , most Srivaisnava devotees understand this principle through the analogy their founding teachers have made with the Brahmastra incident in the Rama story. Even though the Srivaisnava use of Ramayana incidents does not support Crossan's radical distinction between the intentions of parable and theology, the value of his analysis, as I see it, is to suggest that the paradoxes at the heart of parables may be the secret to their theological vigor as well as their rhetorical impact. In Crossan's words, they "shatter the structural security of the hearer's world and render possible the kingdom of God" (123); or, as the Tenkalai theologians might prefer to say it, they shatter the structural security of the sastric worldview and render possible the soul's true subservience to the Lord.


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Abbreviations

JS

Jnanasara of Arulala Perumal Emperumanar with Manavalamamuni's commentary. In Jnanasaram Prameyasaram , ed. Vidvan Venkatacharya and Tiruvenkatacharya. Kanchi: Srivaisnava Mudrapaka Sabha, 1916.

Mumu

Mumuksuppati of Pillai Lokacarya with Manavalamamuni's commentary. Edited and published by S. Krishnaswami Iyengar. Trichy: n.d.

Ram .

SrimadValmikiRamayana , according to the Southern Readings, ed. T. Krishnacharya. 2 vols. Madras: T. K. Venkobacharya, 1930.

SVB

Srivacana Bhusana of Pillai Lokacarya with Manavalamamuni's commentary. Ed. P. Raghava Ramanuja Swami. Madras: R. Rajagopala Naidu, 1936.

Eleven
The Secret Life of Ramcandra of Ayodhya

Philip Lutgendorf

Both teller and hearer should be
treasuries of wisdom,
for Ram's tale is mysterious.[1]
RAMCARITMANAS


The hero of the Ramayana —the Sanskrit epic attributed to the sage Valmiki, but better known to Indians through later vernacular retellings such as the immensely popular Hindi Ramcaritmanas of the sixteenth-century poet Tulsidas—is often regarded as a paragon of the sort of virtues catalogued in a credo I was made to memorize as a boy: "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent"; in short, as the Eagle Scout of Hindu mythology. Such a view was furthered by Victorian scholars of the Hindu tradition, who viewed Ram as the most palatable alternative to that young reprobate, Krsna, and praised the Ramayana for, as F. S. Growse noted approvingly, its "absolute avoidance of the slightest approach to any pruriency of idea"—which was the Victorian way of saying that it didn't contain any sex.[2] The legacy of this mindset is still with us, both in the West and perhaps even more in India, where it has been promoted by English-medium education and the puritanical revision-ism of the "Hindu Renaissance," which largely internalized the colonial critique of the "sensuality" and "effeminacy" of devotional Hinduism. The contrast between Ram as "exemplar of social propriety" (maryadapurusottam ) and Krsna as "exemplar of playfulness" (lilapurusottam ) has long been recognized by Hindus, of course, but the notion of maryada —a term suggesting dignity, restraint, limits—seems in modern times to have taken on a particularly prudish if not reactionary connotation. But if our Victorian forebearers gratefully hailed Ram as the one ray of light in a "degenerate" late-bhakti Hinduism, the wheel of time and fashion has now revolved to the point that some of us may dismiss him, as one of my teachers once did, as a tiresome prig—"so good you can't bear him!" Significantly, a major portion of the research that in recent decades has sought to situate devotional texts within the context of historical and contemporary religious practice has been con-


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cerned with Krsna and his devotees, and there has been a relative neglect— only now beginning to be corrected—of the parallel and no less influential traditions of Ram-bhakti .[3]

The revolving fashions of academic scholarship have little immediate impact, of course, on grass-roots devotees, and in the roughly eight centuries since Ram's cult became visible and prominent in Northern India, its mythology and theology have acquired a breadth and depth that belies any simplistic dichotomy between a Dionysian Krsna and an Apollonian Ram. If we leave the milieu of urban middle-class apologetics and the medium of English—a language in which few Indians give vent to any aspect of their inner lives—we find the boundary between maryada and lila and their respective divine representatives considerably more permeable. Apart from certain sharply drawn sectarian divisions—and to some extent even within them— the choice of Ram or Krsna as personal deity (istadev ) seems to depend as much on such factors as regional identity, family custom, and choice of guru as on a sharp distinction between the personalities of the two heroes. At the folk level, their characters, deeds, and even names bleed into one another. Watching Ram Lila plays and listening to Ramcaritmanas expounders in Uttar Pradesh, I was struck by the earthiness and humor with which Ram, Sita, and their companions—no less than Krsna, Radha, and their circle—were depicted, and also by the importance given the romantic episodes in the story: the beloved "flower garden" scene in Tulsidas's version (phulvari ), in which Ram and Sita meet for the first time, and the tumultuous and extended celebration of the couple's wedding, complete with scurrilous women's folksongs (galiyam ). Ram may be all exemplar of decorum, but he is also a prince and later a king—an enjoyer of the earth's delights. If he is self-controlled and devoted to one wife (ekpatnivrat ), he is certainly not, in the popular view, celibate; he is, for most of his saga, a happily married householder in that stage of life in which one is supposed to savor the joys of kama —the pleasure principle in classical Indian thought.

My purpose in this essay is to briefly introduce the theology and religious practices of a group of devotees who chose to focus on this very aspect of the Ram story, and who, perhaps for this reason, have been almost entirely ignored by scholars of Hindu devotional traditions. Adherents of the "connoisseur tradition" or rasiksampraday viewed Ram not only as the supreme manifestation of divinity but also as the ultimate embodiment of erotic sentiment, and focused on his passionate union with his eternal feminine energy (sakti ) in the form of Sita. Such devotees represented an important current within the Ramaite devotional tradition from at least the latter half of the sixteenth century onward, represented by scores of influential teachers and by a copious literature in the Avadhi dialect of Eastern Hindi; their influence remains significant even today. Thus the majority of important temples in Ayodhya, the pilgrimage city most closely associated with the Ramayana ,


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are controlled by rasik sects, and their iconography and liturgy encodes the esoteric theology developed by sectarian teachers. Similarly, the guided meditations and visualizations favored by the rasiks remain a vital part of the spiritual practice of many contemporary Vaisnava initiates. I will return later to the subject of the origins and history of the movement but will first focus on its metaphysics and praxis as presented in the writings of influential preceptors. A primary source for this description is the signal work in Hindi that traces the development and teachings of the tradition, Bhagavati Prasad Singh's 1957 monograph, Rambhaktimemrasik sampraday (The rasik tradition of Ram bhakti ). This has been supplemented by recent research in Ayodhya by Hans Bakker and Peter van der Veer, and by my own study of Ramcaritmanas performers and devotees.

The Nature of Rasik Sadhana

The term rasik —by which the adherents of this tradition have commonly referred to themselves—means one who savors ras ("juice, essence, aesthetic sentiment") and in mundane contexts can connote a connoisseur of the arts or of any kind of refined pleasure—a bon vivant or even a playboy. Its use among Vaisnava devotees reflects the sixteenth-century Gauriya Vaisnava theologians' reinterpretation of classical Sanskrit aesthetic theory in the service of the ecstatic devotionalism promulgated by Krsna Caitanya, the renowned mystic of Bengal. In the writings of Rupa Gosvami and his successors, the classical notion of the transformation of individualized, transient emotion (bhava ) into universalized aesthetic experience (rasa ) was reformulated to express the devotee's attainment of spiritual bliss through contemplation of the deeds of Krsna. The central importance of drama for the classical aestheticians was not lessened by the new interpretation, for Vaisnavas saw their Lord as the archetypal actor, repeatedly assuming roles in his universal "play" or lila .[4] The writings of the Gosvamis and their successors, such as Rupa's own influential compendium Bhaktirasamrtasindhu (Ocean of nectar of the essence of devotion), explicitly link this theology of play to the daily practice of initiated devotees, both through a liturgical script for use in rituals and through internal role-playing and visualization. The initiated devotee, like the theatrical connoisseur of classical times, aspired to become a cultivated spectator of the cosmic drama—one equipped with the intellectual, emotional, and indeed physical training necessary to inwardly savor its ras , an experience which would culminate not merely in aesthetic rapture but in "bodily liberation" (sadeh mukti ) into the highest state of bliss. But since this drama was considered ultimately to encompass or underlie all phenomenal life, the only way to be its spectator was to become its participant. In the "theater" of the Vaisnava rasiks , to enter the audience necessarily meant to enter the play.


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The play itself was in each case a selectively edited version of a well-known and much longer scenario. Just as rasik devotees of Krsna excerpted, from the god's total legend, a certain phase of his adolescence and attributed to it not only a special charm but the most profound theological significance, so Ram rasiks focused on a single phase of their Lord's story—the idyllic period when the newly married Ram and Sita, having returned from Sita's home city of Mithila, enjoyed each other's company amidst the palatial comforts of Ayodhya. Although this period is generally held to have lasted some dozen years, it receives no elaborate treatment in most of the standard versions of the Ramayana (Tulsidas, for example, discreetly shifts from the couple's joyful return to Ayodhya after the wedding, in 1.361, to the anticipation, only a single stanza later, of Ram's elevation to the status of heir apparent). This neglect did not, however, daunt Ram's rasik devotees, who in their songs and meditations delighted in endlessly elaborating on the pleasures of this idyllic interlude, which precedes the beginning of what is usually regarded as the "real" story of the Ramayana . It would be as pointless for the noninitiate to inquire, in connection with this scenario, where the Ram of that latter story had gone—the long-suffering prince who relinquished his kingdom to preserve his father's honor, lost his wife to a lustful demon king, and led an army of monkeys to eventual victory over his foe—as it would be to ask a Gauriya Vaisnava why the princely Krsna of the Mahabharata does not figure in their enchanted pastoral realm of Golok. Devotees of both sects were of course aware of the wider cycle of their Lord's adventures, and both groups devised similar explanations to account for their exclusive focus on one facet of it. The Lord, they said, has two lilas —one earthly and manifest (laukik,prakata ) and the other transcendent and hidden (alaukik,aprakata ). According to the Ramaite view, in the former the quality of "majesty" (aisvarya ) predominates, and Ram establishes dharma in the world as the maryadapurusottam . This is also termed his "lila to be known or understood" (jneylila ), and it encompasses the conventional events of the Ramayana story. But beyond this, they say, there is a secret lila known only to certain fortunate adepts, in which the quality of erotic attractiveness or madhurya predominates and in which Ram expresses his ultimate reality. This is his "lila to be contemplated" (dhyeylila ), and it is deliberately omitted from most versions of the Ramayana , although it may be glimpsed through those portions of the story dealing with Ram's exploits at the youthful age at which the quality of eroticism is most perfectly manifested.

And just as, in Krsna bhakti , the earthly locale of Vrindavan was transformed into the transcendent sphere of Golok (literally, "the world of cattle") wherein Krsna's romantic lila eternally unfolded, so the mundane city of Ayodhya (which likewise was growing in importance as a pilgrimage center during the formative period of Ram-rasik theology, the late sixteenth to mid seventeenth centuries[5] ) was re-visioned as the eternal realm of Saketlok


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"the world of Saket." There the supreme godhead, known to other traditions as Parabrahma, Isvar, or Sri Krsna, resided eternally in his ultimate form or svarup as sixteen-year-old Ramcandra and his parasakti or feminine energy, Sita. Saket was conceived as a vast and beautiful city, foursquare in plan, surrounded by magnificent pleasure parks to which the divine retinue often repaired for excursions. Every part of the city was filled with pleasure: its streets were flecked with gold dust and its balconies encrusted with luminous gems, perfumed fountains played in its squares, and it was dotted with magnificent gardens in which spring always held sway. But the greatest splendor radiated from the city's center, at which lay the immense House of Gold (Kanak Bhavan)—the palace presented to Sita on her marriage to Ram. Like the city, the palace too was foursquare and many-gated, containing a labyrinth of chambers and passages oriented around a central courtyard which contained the most beautiful of all gardens. At the center of this garden stood a dais in the shape of a thousand-petaled lotus, and at the heart of the lotus a gem-studded throne-couch. Upon this couch was enacted the supreme mystery: the eternal union of the two divine principles in human form, worshiped and served by their intimate attendants who alone could gain entry to this inner sanctum. The tantric influence on this conception is apparent; iconographically it is especially evident in the intricate charts (yantra,mandala ) created as aids in rasik visualization, showing the plan of the House of Gold with its four gates and maze of allegorically labeled chambers.[6]

In calling the divine city of Saket a "visualization" I invoke a term increasingly used by Western psychotherapists and healers to describe imagined settings or scenarios intended to promote mental or physical well-being.[7] Yet in the context of rastk meditation this term may be somewhat misleading, since the process by which Saket is evoked by the devotee (usually termed dhyan —"meditation"—or smaran —"remembrance"[8] ) might better be called a "realization." Fundamental to rasik theology is the belief that the magic city is real —more real, in fact, than our conventional world.[9] And its reality is not simply to be "visualized" with an inner eye but is to be experienced with all the senses—that is, through the medium of a body appropriate to this ultimate world. Since Saket is (in current American real-estate parlance) a "limited-access community," only certain categories of bodies need apply: those which stand in one of four primary relationships—of servant, elder, companion, or lover—to the Lord around whom the life of the magic city revolves. Or to put it another way, the devotee cannot simply write himself into the divine drama; in order to get on this stage, he must fill one of the existing parts, and, as with all acting, this involves long and exacting training.

He must, first of all, be an initiated Vaisnava—either a sadhu or a householder—in one of the rasik branches of the Ramanandi sampraday . The


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preliminary stages of initiation involve the five samskars common to many Vaisnava sects—the bestowal of a mantra or sacred formula, of the sectarian tilak and other bodily marks (mudra ), of a rosary (mala ), and of a new name, usually ending in the suffix -saran —"one who takes refuge,"[10] a feature which distinguishes rasik devotees from other Ramanandis, who generally favor the suffix -das , "slave." Together with these outer signs, which effect the purification of the physical body, there begins a program of inner training designed to familiarize the aspirant with the iconography of the divine city and its inhabitants. This often utilizes manuals prepared by the tradition's preceptors (acarya ), such as the Dhyanmanjari of Agradas, who resided at Galta, near modern-day Jaipur, during the second half of the sixteenth century and who was regarded by later rasiks as the modern founder of their tradition. This "Handmaiden of Meditation" consists of seventy-nine couplets devoted to an evocation of Saket and its inhabitants, culminating in a vision of the luxuriant pleasure park and of the divine dyad (yugalsvarup ) of Ram and Sita enthroned within it.[11] More than half of the text is devoted to detailed verbal portraits of the divine pair, belonging to the type known as nakh-sikh —"from the toenails to the crown of the head"—a descriptive genre so common in Indian poetry that we may risk dismissing it as a mere convention and forget that in serving to create (in Kenneth Bryant's memorable phrase) a "verbal icon" of the most literal sort, it represents, in fact, a recipe for visualization.[12] Later rasik manuals offer similarly detailed instructions for envisioning other key players in the Saket lila , particularly the principal young female companions of Siti (sakhi ) and their respective maidservants (manjari ), as well as the comparable young male companions of Ram (sakha ).

The most important rasik initiation—in theory given only when the guru perceives that the aspirant is inwardly prepared for it through preliminary training and purification—is the "initiation of relationship" (sambandh diksa ), which establishes the vital personal connection to the supreme lila . Its purpose is the fabrication of a new body, termed the body of "consciousness" or "discipline," or the "divine body" (cit deh,sadhanasarir , divya sarir ). This is held to be altogether distinct from the three bodies (gross, subtle, and mental) of Advaita metaphysics and is often said to be one's innate or ultimate form, recognized within one by the spiritual guide. Yet although this new body represents one's true identity, the awareness of it depends on emotional experience or bhav , which in the early stages of spiritual discipline must be carefully cultivated.

The training of the rasik adept involves total identification with his assigned body—a role-playing more intense than even the most dedicated method actor would undertake.[13] To assist in identification with the new body and cultivation of its bhav , the initiate is provided with a wealth of contextual information. There exist, for example, treatises that catalogue the seven kinds of female friends of Sita, ranging in age from less than six to more


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than sixteen years, and provide each with a list of parents, other relatives, and teachers, along with details as to place of birth, favorite activities, and so forth. Similar catalogues exist for the youthful male comrades of Ram.[14] Each initiate is also assigned a special "inner-palace name" (mahalinam ) identifying him as one of those privileged to enter the private apartments of Kanak Bhavan. This name, which for members of the sakhi branch of the tradition usually ends in a feminine suffix such as -ali , -lata , -sakhi , or -kali , is normally kept secret, although it might be known to other adepts. It is also common to use it as a poetic signature (chap or bhanita ), especially at the end of compositions purporting to describe mysteries seen in the course of inner service. Thus there exist numerous emotional and erotic lyrics which bear such signatures as "Agra-ali" and "Yugal-priya" and which are held to be the inspired compositions of the preceptors otherwise known as Agradas and Jivaram.[15] Indeed, the rasiks ' propensity for living two lives simultaneously has sometimes resulted in confusion—as in the instances in which manuscript searchers of the Nagari Pracarini Sabha (a Hindi literary society) failed to recognize an initiatory name, resulting in texts by the same person being wrongly assigned to two different authors.[16]

Once established in the emotional mood of the visualized body, the aspirant is ready to begin the most characteristic aspect of rasik devotional practice or sadhana : the "mental service" (manasipuja ) of Sita-Ram according to the sequence of "eight periods of the day" (astayam )—a cycle mirroring the pattern of daily worship in Vaisnava temples and, ultimately, the protocol of royal courts. Most of the prominent preceptors of the tradition, beginning with Agradas, are held to have composed manuals detailing their own interpretations of the eight periods and of the type of service to be offered during each. Thus, for example, the Astayampuja vidhi (Schedule of the eight periods of worship), a Hindi work by the early nineteenth-century preceptor Ramcarandas, divides the day into five principal segments during which the scene of divine activity shifts among eight "bowers" (kunj ) within Saket. In this scenario, a sakhi's day begins with her own elaborate toilette, followed by the singing of gentle songs to awaken the divine couple, who are imagined to be languorously sleeping in an opulent "rest bower." Once awake, they are seated on low stools and ministered to in various ways: their feet are washed, their teeth cleaned, their ornaments and garlands are changed, and they are worshiped with incense and lights, before being led to the "refreshment bower" for the first of many light snacks that will be served to them during the day. This is followed by a lengthy trip to the "bathing bower" for a dip in the holy Sarayu, and then by the donning of fresh clothes, ornaments, unguents, and makeup in the "adornment bower"—all supervised by the ever-hovering sakhis . Once dressed, the divine pair are offered a proper morning meal in the "breakfast bower," where they are served, serenaded, and fanned by female attendants.


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After breakfast, the couple again proceed to the Sarayu, where Ram joins his sakhas and Sita her sakhis for boating excursions or "water play" (jalkrira ). This mild exertion is followed by a midday meal in the "refreshment bower" and then by a period of rest, during which the most intimate sakhis remain in attendance on the divine couple, pressing their feet, offering betel preparations, or singing songs to enhance their erotic mood. After a brief nap, the pair is again awakened, worshiped, and escorted to the pleasure parks on the banks of the Sarayu where, suitably dressed and adorned and to the accompaniment of the singing and dancing of sakhis , Ram engages in Krsna-style raslila (dancing and lovemaking) and enjoys a late supper with Sita, before finally returning to the "sleeping bower" for the night.[17]

The climax of this meditative foreplay is said to be the experience of tatsukh (literally, "that delight")—a vicarious tasting of the pleasure shared by the divine couple in their union, as witnessed by attendant sakhis and manjaris . This dimension of the sadhana has always been controversial, however— for Ramanandis no less than for Gauriya Vaisnavas—since some adepts of the sakhi tradition have maintained the possibility of svasukh ("one's own delight"), or a personal experience of mystico-erotic union with Ram. In theory, this was viewed as impossible; however, in the internal world of dhyan , some adepts apparently found themselves, like their counterparts in the Christian and Islamic mystical traditions, experiencing things that, according to the book, weren't supposed to happen.[18]

The brief summary of an astayam schedule given above cannot do justice to the painstaking detail in which each period and activity is to be evoked: every article of clothing and jewelry, every morsel of sweetmeats and golden bowl of water, adds iconographic richness and is to be rehearsed over and over again. Moreover, as I have already noted, the adept aims for more than mere visioning: the fragrances of the unguents and incense, the taste of the betel packets (which are daintily pre-chewed for the divine pair by their solicitous attendants), the cool splash of Sarayu water—all are to be imaginatively experienced in the most vivid fashion through the appropriate internal senses.

One may also observe that, in Ramcarandas's scheme, Ram's faithful male comrades don't get to spend very much time with their Lord, who passes his days largely surrounded by females; but of course, in the astayam schedules prepared by preceptors of the sakha branch of the tradition the division of activities between male and female attendants is more equitable, and the timetable includes such wholesome masculine diversions as elephant processions down the gilded avenues of Saket, solemn durbars, and hunting excursions to nearby forests, in the course of which Ram's comrades of various ages can delight in the intimacy of teasing jokes, songs, and general locker-room camaraderie. B. P. Singh's study of a large number of astayam manuals led him to observe, however, that there appeared to be an increas-


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ing emphasis, over the course of time, on erotic sports to the exclusion of all other kingly activities.[19]

To be sure, astaym manuals are poetic compositions—anthologies of verses describing each period of the day, rather like the "twelve months" (barahmas ) texts which reckon the months of the year from the perspective of a lovesick woman awaiting her lover's return—and they often contain ingenious conceits which are thought to evoke the author's meditative experiences. But they are also and primarily textbooks for a concrete mystical practice, and indeed one which involves rigorous discipline. The sadhak or practitioner of this meditation program must rise by 3:00 A.M. , bathe, and purify himself through repetition of the Ram mantra, mentally reassume the sadhana body and persona by systematically reviewing its attributes, and begin offering service to the divine pair when they are awakened at about 4:30—a service which will continue at prescribed intervals throughout the day and night. The aim of this discipline, which may occupy one's whole life, is clearly expressed in the writings of the rasikacaryas : what begins as an "imaginative conception" (bhavna ) ends as a reality so compelling that the conventional world fades into shadowy insignificance. Through long practice in visualization, it is said, the adept begins to catch "glimpses" (jhalak ) of the actual lila ; these gradually intensify and lengthen, until he gains the ability to enter Saket at any moment. He becomes a real and constant participant in this transcendent world, a condition regarded, within this tradition, as "liberation in the body" (sadeh mukti ).[20] Of course, this ultimate state is not attained by all devotees, but it is an ideal to which all may aspire. The intensity with which exemplary initiates have pursued these practices and the extraordinary experiences vouchsafed them are celebrated in sectarian hagiography (some examples of which are given below), while the notion of the heavenly Ayodhya as the soul's ultimate abode is constantly reaffirmed in the Ram devotees' preferred idiom for death: to "set forth for Saket" (Saketprasthan ).

Despite the emphasis, especially in the sakhi branch of the tradition, on erotic themes, the personal meditations of many rasik devotees centered on other personal relationships to Ram. Some chose to visualize the Lord as a young child and to cultivate tender parental emotions toward him (vatsalya bhav ).[21] In this they had as a model the character of the legendary crow Kak Bhusundi in Uttar kand , the seventh book of the Tulsidas epic, who asserted,

My chosen Lord is the child Ram,
who possesses the beauty of a billion Love gods.[22]

Kak Bhusundi was said to return to Ayodhya in every cosmic cycle to re-experience the childhood sports of his Lord, thus paralleling the aspirant's own daily inner journeys to Saket and re-creations of its lila . What was common to all rasik practice was an emphasis on the techniques of role-playing


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and visualization as well as an aesthetic delight in sensorally rich settings, rather than on any specific content.

As in the Krsna tradition, so in the rasik literature of Ram we find warnings against the externalization of the meditative practices, for the content of the visualizations could easily provoke the misunderstanding and scorn of the uninitiated. Yet paradoxically, since an underlying assumption is that the events seen in meditation are real, the most exemplary devotees are often those whose lives reveal a blurring of the boundary that separates this world from Saket and a spilling over of its lila into the mundane sphere. Such legends confirm the power of the technique and suggest that the devotee's "acting" is less a mental exercise than a way of life.

For example, the early saint Surkisor (fl. c. 1600?), who like Agradas came from the Jaipur region, is said to have visualized himself as a brother of King Janak; hence he regarded Sita as his daughter and Ram as his son-in-law. So strictly did he observe traditional rules of kinship that, on pilgrimages to Ayodhya, he refrained from taking food or water within the city limits, since a girl's blood relations should not accept hospitality from her husband's family. He had an image of Sita which he carried with him everywhere and treated exactly as one would a real daughter, even buying toys and sweets for her in the bazaar. It is said that other devotees, shocked by his "disrespectful" attitude toward the Mother of the Universe, stole this image. Heart-broken, he went to Mithila to find his lost daughter, and Sita, pleased by his steadfastness, caused the image to reappear.[23]

In oral Ramayana exposition sessions (Ramayan-katha ), I twice heard the story of the child-saint Prayagdas. Taunted by other children because he had no elder sister to feed him sweets during the festive month of Sravan, he went tearfully to his widowed mother, who appeased him by telling him that he indeed had a sister who had been married before he was born; "Her name is Janaki, and her husband is Ramcandra, a powerful man in Ayodhya. She never comes to visit us." The guileless child, determined to see his sister, set out on foot for Ayodhya and after many trials reached the holy city. His requests to be directed to the residence of "that big man, Ramcandra" met with laughter; everyone assumed the ragged urchin to be insane. Exhausted from his journey, Prayagdas fell asleep under a tree. But in the dead of night, in the inner sanctuary of Kanak Bhavan temple (a modern re-creation of the legendary House of Gold and one of Ayodhya's principal shrines), the images came alive. Ram turned to Sita and said, "Dearest, today the most extraordinary saint has come to town! We must go meet him." The divine entourage proceeded in state to Prayagdas's lonely tree, where the ringing of the great bells around the necks of the elephants awakened the boy. Undaunted by the magnificent vision, he repeated his question to the splendidly dressed man in the howdah and received the reply, "I am Ramcandra, and here beside me is your sister, Janaki." But the boy, unimpressed, told the Lord, "You are sure-


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ly deceiving me, because where I come from we have the custom that when a sister meets her brother again after a long separation, she falls at his feet and washes them with her tears." Devotees delight in describing how the Mother of the Universe, unable to disappoint him, got down from her jeweled palanquin and threw herself in the dust of the road.[24]

The romantic predilections of rasik devotees led many of them to focus on the first book of the Manas , the Balkand , which recounts Ram's youthful adventures culminating in his marriage to Sita. Maharaja Raghuraj Simha of Rewa wrote in his epic Ramsvayamvar that his guru had instructed him to read Balkand exclusively. A great devotee of the Ramnagar Ram Lila, he is said to have attended only the early portions of the cycle each year. The sadhu Rampriya Saran, who regarded himself as Sita's sister, composed a Sitayan in seven books (c. 1703), similarly confining its narrative to Sita's childhood and marriage. A few preceptors even took the extreme position that the distressing events of Ram's exile, the abduction of Sita, the war with Ravan, and so on, were not true lila at all (in which the Lord reveals his ultimate nature), but only divine "drama" (natak ) staged for the benefit of the world.[25] Another story told of Prayagdas has the guileless saint happen on an oral retelling (katha ) of the Ramayana's second book, Ayodhyakand , the events of which are altogether unknown to him. He listens with growing alarm as the expounder tells of the exile of Ram, Sita, and Laksman and their wanderings in the forest, but when he hears that the princes and his "sister" are compelled to go barefoot and to sleep on the ground, he becomes distracted with grief. Rushing to the bazaar, he has a cobbler fashion three pairs of sandals and an artisan make three little rope-beds, and, placing these things on his head, sets out for Chitrakut, enquiring of everyone concerning the wanderers. He eventually makes his way to the forest of Panchvati where, it is said, he is rewarded with a vision of the trio and the opportunity to bestow his gifts.[26]

The influence of the rasik tradition appears to have peaked in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. B. P. Singh's biographical listing of prominent rasik devotees includes many Ramayanis (Ramayana specialists) who were active in the royal court at Banaras, especially under Mahraja Udit Narayan Simha and his son Isvariprasad, both of whom were connoisseurs and munificent patrons of the Ram tradition. Some of these men—such as Ramgulam Dvivedi, Raguraj Simha, Sivlal Pathak, and Kasthajihva Svami—were also involved in the development of the royal Ram Lila pageant, which became an influential model for Ram Lila troupes throughout northern India.[27] These connections serve to remind us that the theology and mystical practice of the rasik preceptors was not without political implications. In a period of economic and social transformation and ebbing princely authority, they offered devotees and patrons an interiorization of the old Vaisnava royal cult, based on a "new kingdom"


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limitless in extent, and millions of times greater in splendor than any earthly kingdom. Its king is so great that the five elements and time itself stand reverently before him . . . while he himself, in the company of countless maidservants and his own beloved, remains in the Golden House immersed in dalliance. . . . This imaginary kingdom of the rasiks is the world of Saket, its sovereign is the divine couple Sri Sita-Ram, and the easy path to reach it is through the technique of visualization.[28]

But just as in the theory of rasik practice, what begins as imagination ends as a reality so concrete that the real world seems in comparison no more than a dream, so in the case of the Ramnagar Ram Lila, what began as a play was transformed, under the guidance of the Banaras rulers and their rasik advisors, into a city and kingdom not only reimagined but physically reconstructed into an enduring ideological statement.

Interpreting The Rasik Tradition

Among the few scholars who have examined Ramaite rasik texts and practices, the most common approach has been to stress the highly derivative nature of the tradition. Thus R. S. McGregor, in a short essay on the Dhyanmanjari , attempts to demonstrate that Agradas composed his text under the influence of a Krsnaite source, the Raspancadhyayi of Nanddas.[29] The Sanskrit BhusundiRamayana , an esoteric rewrite of the Ramayana in the light of rasik practices, has been termed by B. P. Singh "only a transformation of the Bhagavata [purana ] text," while Hans Bakker, in his recent study of Ayodhya, labels this Ramayana's conceptualization of the holy city "no more than a trivial replica of the sacred topography developed for Braj in the Vrajabhaktivilasa of Narayana Bhatta written in A.D. 1552."[30] The writer who has offered the only ethnographic data on Ramanandi rasiks , Dutch anthropologist Peter van der Veer, characterizes their entire tradition as "the 'Krsnaization' of Ram bhakti ."[31] Such evaluations reflect modern scholarship's preference for a historical approach—which seeks to understand religious movements by tracing them back to their presumed origins—and they indeed shed much light on the process of sectarian evolution. Thus it has been shown that from Agradas's time onward Ramanandi centers in Rajasthan were in close contact with developments in the Braj region, and that many rasik adepts received training from Krsnaite preceptors in Vrindavan.[32] An historical perspective can also offer an antidote to sectarian fallacies—such as the Ayodhya rasiks ' claim that their tradition is in fact older than that of Vrindavan, since, as every pious Hindu knows, Ram carried on his erotic pastimes in the Treta Yug, the second of the four cosmic epochs, long before Krsna was even a gleam in his father Vasudev's eye.

The perspective of social history may also shed light on the underlying causes of the rise of the rasik tradition from the sixteenth century onward,


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though here the interpretation of historical data is more problematic. Joseph O'Connell suggests that the theology and mystical practice of the Vrindavan Gosvamis reflected a Hindu retreat from the Muslim-dominated sociopolitical sphere.[33] This view has been echoed by David Haberman, who sees the enchanted and extrasocial realm of Vrindavan as a response to a "serious need for an expression of Hindu dharma that placed the world of significant meaning far beyond that sphere controlled by the Muslims."[34] Similarly, Singh has suggested that the practices of the Ramanandi rasiks represented a response to an age dominated by "foreign" political powers.[35] Such theories cannot be overlooked in any comprehensive study of these traditions in their cultural context, particularly in view of the long-standing cultic emphasis on the king's identification with Visnu. Yet at the same time, scholars must be wary of judgments colored by the hindsight of twentieth-century communalism, and especially by the idealization, so often encountered in the writings of modern Hindu scholars, of an imagined pre-Muslim past—a view which often tends to compromise the complexity of Indian society at the grass-roots level, with its intricate web of interacting forces and interests. In this context, it is worth reminding ourselves that the practice of visualization and of the fabrication of inner bodies has a very old pedigree in the subcontinent, extending back long before the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, and also that the "other worlds" of the rasiks came to prominence precisely during a period of generally amicable relations between Hindus and Muslims—most notably during the age of Akbar and his immediate successors—when Hindu nobles occupied powerful positions in the imperial administration and large temples were again being constructed in North India under princely patronage. Similarly, although the rise of the great rasik establishments in Ayodhya occurred only after the breakup of central Mughal authority, it was fueled by the patronage of the newly enfranchised maharajas of the eastern Ganges Valley—such as the rulers of Banaras, Rewa, Tikamgarh, and Dumrao—as well as, significantly, by that of the heterodox and religiously eclectic Shi'ite Nawabs of Oudh, who had their capital at Ayodhya until 1765.[36]

Returning to the question of the genesis of Ramaite rasik practices, we may also observe that there is a stigma attached to the label "derivative," which reflects our own culture's valuation of certain kinds of novelty and originality—concepts often viewed very differently in India—and which may lead us to a cursory dismissal of what we judge to be "unoriginal" material. Useful as it is, a historical understanding offers only one perspective on the Ram rasik tradition; it tells us nothing of the special attraction of its impressive corpus of literature or of the inventive adaptations that it made within the Ramayana framework. Singh's study of this neglected tradition documents some nine hundred texts: astayam manuals, hagiographies like the Rasikprakasbhaktamal , descriptions of the divine city of Saket, and anthologies of songs stamped with the initiatory names of prominent acaryas , as well as such


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intriguingly titled works as Rampriya Saran's seven-canto epic, Sitayan (c. 1703), and the earlier Ramalingamrta of one Advait of Banaras (1608).[37] If nothing else, the realization that thousands of pious devotees saw nothing wrong in visualizing Ram and Sita's erotic sports should chasten us in our attempts w apply simplistic categories to Vaisnava traditions: the puritanical Ramaites here, the sensual Krsnaites there.

Moreover, the charge of derivativeness can be much more broadly applied, since it is clear that the whole rasik orientation in Vaisnava bhakti was heavily indebted to the Buddhist and Saiva traditions of an earlier period and indeed seems to have represented the culmination of a long historical process of the "tantricization" of Vaisnavism. This process was already reflected in the Pancaratra literature and in the Bhagavata Purana , and a circa twelfth-century Ramsite text, the AgastyaSamhita , includes instructions for an elaborate visualization of Ram and Sita, enthroned on the pericarp of an immense lotus incorporating all the powers of the cosmos.[38] Agradas's floruit is assumed to have been the second half of the sixteenth century, which would make him a contemporary of the later Vrindavan Gosvamis. His rapid adaptation of their teachings bears witness to the fact that rasik practice was, by his day, an idea whose time had come—a pan-Vaisnava phenomenon which cut across sectarian lines.

The influence of the Ram rasik tradition grew steadily during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the movement acquired a more public profile through an influential commentary on the Ramcaritmanas composed by Mahant Ramcarandas of Ayodhya in about 1805, which was said to have openly revealed the secrets of erotic devotionalism (srngaribhakti ) which Tulsidas had deliberately concealed in his Manas Lake.[39] Van der Veer documents the steadily growing power of rasik institutions in Ayodhya from the early eighteenth century onward—in part a reflection of the patronage of wealthy rajas, zamindars, and merchants who were attracted to the movement. Some of these patrons became initiated sadhaks , like Maharaja Raghuraj Simha of Rewa, himself the author of thirty-two works.[40] Like the tantric tradition before it, the rasik movement underwent a popularization, acquiring a vogue among the elite which was reflected in the predominance of rasik themes in the poetry and painting of the period. And despite the attacks of the Victorians and the puritanical apologetics of the "Hindu Renaissance," the rasik point of view remains much in evidence, especially in Ayodhya, where the majority of important temples are controlled by rasik sects and where the most famous shrine—Kanak Bhavan temple—represents a full-scale realization of the mythical House of Gold, complete with Ram and Sita's opulent bedchamber. It is, of course, difficult to say to what extent the full and arduous rasik meditational regimen is currently put into practice.

It may appear to us ironic that celibate Hindu ascetics like Agradas, who typically led lives of great austerity, should have indulged in internal fanta-


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sies in which they roamed jewel-studded pleasure houses and witnessed (or, in some cases, participated in) the untiring loveplay of a divine libertine—doubly ironic in that these scenarios were, as Singh has pointed out, dependent for their tangible details of architecture, dress, and courtly protocol on the recent imperial model of the Mughals.[41] We might recall a parallel in the Western Christian tradition, where the favorite text of the monastics of the Middle Ages was the most erotic book in the Bible, the "Song of Songs."[42] But I would like to end with the suggestion that visualization and projection are not unique to religious practitioners, but are inherent also in what scholars of religion do—the imaginative reconstruction of other people's beliefs and practices. In visualizing another world, it is impossible to avoid seeing through the lens of one's own, and we find this reflected as much in Ram's Mughal-style durbar hall as in our own readings of the rasik tradition—condemned as "licentious," because the Victorian observer is prudish, or written off as "derivative," because the late twentieth-century observer cherishes novelty. Talking about other people's myths is often only a rather arch way of talking about our own, and this being so, we might remind ourselves that the reigning fantasy world of our commercial culture—reconfirmed daily by countless visual cues in television commercials, billboards, and newspaper and magazine advertisements—bears many superficial resemblances to that of the rasiks : a fictive realm in which everyone is young, attractive, and nearly always engaged in erotic play. Yet in two significant respects this untiringly reimaged world of our culture differs strikingly from the realm of Saket: for its characters are not divine (and so not connected to the deeper values supposedly cherished by our society) and its scenarios are not chosen and generated by ourselves, but rather are created for us by the acaryas of a secular and materialist religion, who know wherein the ultimate return lies.

Twelve
Personalizing the Ramayan: Ramnamis and Their Use of the Ramcaritmanas

Ramdas Lamb

In the religious life of the Ramnamis of Chhattisgarh, the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas plays a fundamental role. There has been an ongoing development in the relationship between the sect and the text since the inception of the Ramnami movement in the late nineteenth century. An understanding of the changing role of the Manas[1] in the Ramnami community, however, requires a certain reevaluation of the concept of "scripture" in Hindu tradition and in particular the two traditional categories of Hindu sacred texts: sruti , "that which was heard," and smrti , "that which was remembered."

Sruti generally designates the corpus of Vedic texts—Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanisads—which are said to be eternal reverberations emanating forth from the Transcendent and directly cognized by seers at the beginning of each cycle of creation. Three characteristics are generally held to distinguish this class of texts. (1) Sruti constitutes a circumscribed, bounded category of texts—that is, the Vedic texts.[2] (2) These texts, although transmitted by sages who "saw" and "heard" them, are held to be eternal and uncreated, not composed by any human or divine agent.[3] (3) Given that study of the Vedic Samhitas has focused on meticulous preservation of the purity of the Vedic sounds, or mantras, which are held to be intrinsically powerful and efficacious, precedence has usually been given to memorization and recitation of sruti texts rather than to understanding and interpretation of their meaning.[4]

Smrti texts can be defined in direct opposition to sruti . (1) Smrti is a fluid, dynamic, open-ended category, which includes the dharmasastras , epics, and puranas as well as an array of other texts that different groups at different times have regarded as belonging to the class. (2) In contrast to sruti , these texts are believed to have been composed by personal authors, either human or divine, and hence are "that which was remembered" rather than "that


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which was heard." (3) Study of smrti texts involves not only rote recitation of verses but also an understanding and interpretation of their content.

Indologists have traditionally concentrated on brahmanical Sanskritic texts when considering the concept of scripture in India. Perhaps as a result, the orthodox view of sruti and smrti , as defined by the above characteristics, has tended to neglect the modifications of these categories that have taken place over the last thousand years. Devotional movements have been largely responsible for the increasing permeability and reinterpretation of these categories. They have precipitated the greatest number of additions to the class of smrti and at the same time have inspired the elevation of multiple sectarian works to the status of sruti . Recognizing this, in recent years several scholars have suggested the need for an expanded understanding of sruti and smrti that would encompass more fully the dynamic role the sacred word has played in Hindu tradition, particularly in post-Vedic times. For example, Thomas Coburn has suggested that instead of constituting fixed categories of texts, sruti and smrti may refer rather to "two different kinds of relationship that can be had with verbal material in the Hindu tradition."[5]

As Coburn's observation implies, despite the apparently secure status of the Vedas themselves as sruti , the distinctions between the categories of sruti and smrti , as delineated above, do not represent an absolute classification of particular texts. Rather, they form part of a theoretical framework by means of which a variety of texts may be classified according to their status and function within a particular community. A text ultimately attains its sacred status as scripture—and more specifically as sruti or smrti —only in relationship to a particular religious community, for it is the community that determines whether a text is "sacred or holy, powerful or portentous, possessed of an exalted authority, and in some fashion transcendent of, and hence distinct from, all other speech and writing."[6]

Historically, several strategies have been adopted to effect a change in the position of sectarian texts with respect to the categories of sruti and smrti . Those processes which have played an important role in the evolution of the Ram story in India, from earliest times to the present, will be discussed below.

The Manas as Sruti and Smrti

Over the past four hundred years no Hindu text has generated as large and as active a following as Tulsidas's Manas . Even as a non-Sanskritic text, it has been elevated to the status of sruti in the eyes of the populace of North India. More than any other text it has been reinterpreted, recreated, and imitated in a large variety of literary, ritual, and performative genres such as commentaries, oral recitations (kathas ), dramas (lilas ), and devotional chant-


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ing (bhajans ). As such the Manas is an especially suitable vehicle for examining the permeability and relativity of the categories of sruti and smrti .

It is impossible to say with certainty how early the Ram story achieved scriptural status in India. J. L. Brockington maintains that at least five stages are perceptible in the development of Valmiki's Ramayana from its original to its final form. Each stage incorporated additional brahmanical elements into the text, which served to make the story more consistent with orthodox beliefs and practices, with developing brahmanical doctrines, and with the establishment of the Brahmin priest as the mediator of devotion to Ram. Brockington refers to this process of altering the text in the direction of brahmanical values as brahmanization .[7]

By the time the Ramcaritmanas was written the Ram story had been sufficiently appropriated and given status by the brahmanical orthodoxy in North India that a large section of the priestly community of Banaras, where the Manas was completed, became outraged by Tulsidas's rendition of the story in Hindi, rather than in the orthodox Sanskrit. According to popular tradition, this situation led to an event—said to have occurred just after the completion of the Manas and originally recorded by Benimadhavdas, a disciple of Tulsidas, in his Mul Gosain Caritrathat was extremely significant both for Tulsidas and for his poem.

According to the legend the Brahmin priests of Banaras were furious that the story of Ram had been written in a vernacular language instead of in Sanskrit, and they denounced the Manas as a debasement of the holy scriptures. Subsequently, Tulsidas took his work to the main Siva temple in the city where a test of its validity was devised by a respected Sanskrit scholar. That night the book was placed before the main image in the temple, and on top of it were placed the sastras , the eighteen puranas , the Upanisads, and, finally, the four Vedic Samhitas. The temple was then locked for the night. When it was reopened in the morning the Manas was found on top of the pile. Immediately the text and its author were hailed by all present.

This story is often heard in North India when the position of the Manas in relation to the Sanskrit scriptures is discussed. A common interpretation is that the Manas was divinely recognized as equal to the Vedas in sanctity. Many Ram bhaktas (devotees), however, say the story shows that the Manas actually supersedes the Vedas in both sanctity and authority. For them, the Manas is not equal to sruti : it is itself sruti . It is the preeminent text of the present age, the new standard by which to define sruti .[8]

The process through which a text is elevated to the status of sruti has been termed vedacization .[9] Unlike brahmanization this process does not involve a modification of textual content but rather of attributed status. The dual process of brahmanization and vedacization of a number of sectarian works has complicated the traditional division between sruti and smrti . Most such works


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enter the scriptural hierarchy at the level of smrti , as the preferred text of a particular sect. As a given text gains adherents and ritual status, additional sanctity is ascribed to it. Eventually, the text bridges the gap between sruti and smrti attribution, taking on dimensions of both. Philip Lutgendorf refers to a text that goes through this process as an "upwardly-mobile scripture."[10]

The Manas in North India provides an excellent example of a sacred text that has assumed characteristics of both sruti and smrti . On the one hand, the Manas has the attributes of a smrti text: it was composed by a human author, Tulsidas, and is written in Avadhi, a regional dialect related to modern Hindi, rather than in Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas. Moreover, as the source of the Ram story, the content of the text is considered as important as its sound value. In the context of the Manas as sruti , modification of the text, in its written form as well as in oral presentation, forms a part of the process of continual reinterpretation and recreation of the story.[11] At the same time the Manas clearly has attained quasi-sruti status. Its verses are viewed by its adherents as efficacious mantras, the chanting of which can bring about blessings, cure illness, remove obstacles, and even grant power. Like the Vedas the Manas has generated a sizable body of literature that imitates, interprets, and expands on the text. In addition, many Brahmin priests today, albeit some begrudgingly, grant a sruti -like position to the Manas and use it ritually as such. Lutgendorf has described the process of vedacization in Banaras and other urban centers of North India through which the Manas has come to be regarded as the "Hindi Veda" and Manas recitation rituals have been transformed into Vedic yagyas ("sacrifices") performed by Brahmin priests.[12]

Ramnamis and the Manas

The Ramnami Samaj is a sect of harijan (Untouchable) Ram bhaktas from the Chhattisgarh region of Madhya Pradesh. Formed in the 1890s, the sect has become a dominant force in the religious life of the harijans of the area. While the "official" text of the sect is Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , an examination of the movement's history and practices reveals the presence and growing importance of oral variants of the Manas , based on Tulsidas's telling of the Ram story yet distinct from it. In actuality it is these oral variants that circumscribe the Ram story for the Ramnamis.

The founder of the Ramnami sect was an illiterate Chhattisgarhi Camar (member of an Untouchable leather-worker caste) named Parasuram. His father, like many North Indian Ram devotees, had been an avid Manas devotee who would listen to recitations of the text whenever possible and commit verses to memory. Parasuram followed his father's example and from early childhood began memorizing verses from the text. According to the sect's oral hagiography, when Parasuram was in his mid twenties he contracted leprosy but was miraculously cured by a Ramanandi ascetic.[13] The


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ascetic then exhorted Parasuram, m to devote himself entirely to the Manas , viewing the text as his chosen deity, and to ceaselessly practice ramnam , repetition of the name of Ram. As word of the miracle spread, countless villagers came to see Parasuram, who would tell them of the ascetic's teachings, recite stories from the Manas , and speak of the greatness of ramnam . Parasuram's popularity grew, and in less than a year the Ramnami Samaj was born. Those most attracted to Parasuram and his teachings were illiterate harijan villagers like himself.

The Manas became the central symbol of the sect on three different levels. On the material level, the physical text was revered as the sect's chosen deity, as is evident in the Ramnami practice of positioning a copy of the text in the center of the group during bhajan , treating it as an image of a deity to which they are offering hymns. On the level of sound, the Manas was celebrated as a repository of ramnam , and its verses viewed as mantras possessing transformative power. On the level of meaning, the Manas was cherished by the Ramnamis as their primary source of the Ram story—though actual recitation of the narrative has never been stressed—and a repository of great spiritual wisdom.

In the early years of the movement the Ramnamis focused primarily on the first two levels, paying relatively less attention to the text's meaning, possibly because nearly all of the members of the sect were illiterate.[14] Parasuram could not actually read the Manas well but had memorized large portions of the text, which he would recite in the presence of the other sect members. At this stage in the sect's development the Manas enjoyed a quasi-sruti status in that it was revered primarily as a recited text containing potent mantras that did not need to be understood in order to be spiritually efficacious. The text had already attained this status among many North Indian Ram devotees, so the Ramnamis were not assigning a new distinction to it. They merely adopted a prevalent sentiment.

Since most of the group could neither recite from memory nor understand the text of the Manas , group bhajans originally centered almost exclusively on the chanting of ramnam rather than on recitation of the Manas itself.[15] As a result, the Name gradually came to supersede the Manas as the central symbol of the sect. Not only did ramnam become the quintessential mantra on which Ramnami devotional chanting focused but its written form was used as a ritual diagram, or yantra , and inscribed on their homes, their clothing, and their bodies.[16]

In time, however, members of the sect other than Parasuram began to memorize verses from the Manas and integrate them into their ramnam chanting. Group members would occasionally learn the meaning of the verses they had memorized, although in the early days of the sect the verses were still viewed above all as mantras, the power of which was automatically activated through recitation.


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The desire to memorize verses nonetheless led eventually to an increase both in literacy and in understanding of the chanted portions of the text. Because the Ramnamis initially were unfamiliar with the full contents of the Manas , they believed that its teachings were based solely on gyan ("religious knowledge"), bhakti ("devotion"), and ramnam . However, as understanding of the memorized verses increased, sect members began to realize that the text also contained many verses that support orthodox Hindu beliefs regarding Brahmin social and religious superiority and the inferior status of low castes and women. The Ramnamis were thus confronted with a difficult situation. The text they had been taught to revere as scripture turned out to contain certain teachings that were diametrically opposed to their own beliefs and apparently supportive of the existing social and religious hierarchy that had placed them at its bottom, declaring them unworthy to possess a developed religious life.

This situation inspired a move by many of the younger Ramnamis to learn to read so that they could understand the meaning of the growing number of verses that had been integrated into group bhajans . The purpose of this effort was twofold. First, it would allow them to sift through the existing collection of verses and eliminate those that were contrary to the sect's developing belief system. Second, it would aid in the establishment of selection criteria to be employed in the building of a corpus of verses to be chanted, which would in turn help give definition to the sect's philosophy and values. In tiffs way the corpus of memorized verses and the sect's beliefs came to exist in a dynamic interchange, each affecting the development of the other.

As the focus shifted from rote recitation of Manas verses to an understanding of the recited text, from an emphasis on sound to an emphasis on meaning, the status of the Manas began to shift from sruti to smrti . No longer viewed as a bounded, inviolable scripture, the text came to be seen as open-ended, capable of being interpreted, elaborated, and when necessary modified. The Ramnamis began both to reinterpret and to expand on the text, emphasizing verses that were in accordance with their values while ignoring others that violated their belief system. The Manas thus became the basis for the sect's own tellings of the Ramayan , which draw not only on the Manas but on a variety of additional texts.

Beyond the Manas: Retelling the Ram Story

In the early days of the Ramnami movement, the Manas clearly enjoyed a sacrosanct and authoritative status in the sect's devotional practices, and until the 1920s the Tulsi Ramayan was the only text from which verses were extracted for use in Ramnami bhajans . With the realization that the Manas also contained teachings antithetical to their philosophy, however, the Ramnamis were forced to reevaluate the role of the text in their religious life.


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Their increased awareness of the contents of the Manas subsequently opened the door for the inclusion in their chanting sessions of verses from other texts and alternate tellings of the Ram story.

Another pivotal factor influencing the inclusion of supplemental textual material seems to have been the presence in Chhattisgarh of Kabirpanthis, followers of Kabir. The sect had been in the area for over two hundred years, spreading Kabir's teachings. Praise of ramnam is a recurring theme in much of Kabir's poetry, and so the Ramnamis, as devotees of the Name, eventually incorporated several of Kabir's couplets into their bhajans . Once verses from Kabir became a part of the sect's chanting, it was not long before the Ramnamis began to incorporate verses from a variety of other texts as well.

Thus the Manas gradually lost its position as the sole repository of verses used in bhajan , although it is still the major source for most Ramnamis. A corpus of approximately five to six hundred Manas verses makes up the bulk of the sect's chanted Ramayan , to which more than one hundred verses from other texts have been added, becoming an integral part of the group bhajan .[17] Author and antiquity play little if any role in the selection of alternative texts or verses, and many of the Ramnamis are entirely unaware of the origin of numerous verses they commonly use in chanting.[18]

There are, however, two major criteria for determining whether a verse may be included in a Ramnami bhajan . Its metrical form must be either doha or caupai , the meters in which the majority of the Manas is written,[19] and its content must pertain to Ram, wisdom, devotion, or ramnam , although in certain situations this rule can be dispensed with. (See the section below on takkar .) Among the secondary texts that meet these criteria and are consequently drawn on for use in chanting are well-known writings like Tulsidas's Dohavali and Kabir's Bijak , as well as lesser-known texts like the Visram Sagar , Sukh Sagar , Vraj Vilas , Brahmanand Bhakta , and Sabal Singh Chauhan's Hindi version of the Mahabharata .[20] The most popular of these auxiliary texts is the Visram Sagar , written in the nineteenth century by Raghunathdas, a member of the Ramsnehi sect found primarily in Madhya Pradesh and in some areas of Uttar Pradesh. Ramsnehis adhere to a nirgun ("formless") Ram bhakti philosophy similar to that of Kabir.[21] Over the years the Visram Sagar has earned such a position of respect among Ramnamis that it is second only to the Manas in terms of the number of its verses that are included in Ramnami bhajan .

The Ramnamis' compilation of dohas and caupais from the Manas and other texts represents the sect's own, ever evolving and maturing telling of the Ram story, one which emphasizes those aspects of the story that harmonize with their beliefs and values while ignoring aspects that run counter to them. Those sections of the Manas most consonant with the Ramnamis' philosophy accordingly receive the greatest attention. Conspicuous by their almost complete absence are verses containing references to Brahmins, adherence to


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caste distinctions, ritual observances, image worship, and devotion to deities other than Ram, as well as those that criticize low castes and women. Most sect members simply ignore such verses, although some have gone to the point of actually deleting offensive couplets from their personal copies of the text. The Ramnamis' telling of the Ram story is instead crafted around teachings concerning gyan , various dimensions of bhakti , and ramnam . Not very surprisingly, then, the only narrative material from the life of Ram that figures in the sect's chanting centers on events that emphasize his impartial love, compassion, and forgiveness.

Other than Ram the characters that appear most frequently in the Ramnamis' Ramayan are Sita (Ram's wife), Bharat and Laksman (his brothers), Hanuman (the monkey god), Nisadraj (a chieftain of the Untouchable boatman caste), and Vibhisan (a demon devotee of Ram). All of these characters have close devotional relationships with Ram and thus assume important roles in the sect's rendering of the Ram story. Many of the verses used in bhajan consist either of words spoken by these characters or words addressed by Ram to one of them. The Ramnamis view the ways in which these figures relate to Ram as ideal manifestations of devotion to him. The last three, Hanuman, Nisadraj, and Vibhisan, are of special significance to the sect because in their respective roles as monkey, harijan , and demon they testify to the fact that any being can take refuge in, have an intimate relationship with, and ultimately attain union with Ram.[22]

In summary, among the early Ramnamis the Manas enjoyed a status approaching that of sruti , but as its meaning gradually came to be understood the status of the text itself began to shift. Although the sect still tends to assign the Manas scriptural status, make it the centerpiece of their group bhajans , and use its verses as mantras, at the same time they add to and subtract from it as they please, praising some sections while denouncing others. The implications of this change in attitude toward the text will be explored more fully below.

Ramnam Bhajan

Members of the Ramnami Samaj are spread throughout the eastern districts of Chhattisgarh. This is one of the least developed areas of the North Indian plains: poverty is the norm and travel is arduous. Because group bhajans afford the only opportunities many of the sect's members have to get together, such bhajans have become the most important unifying activity for the Ramnamis. The style of group bhajan has gone through a variety of modifications, however, since the formation of the group nearly one hundred years ago.

The introduction of random verses into their chanting of ramnam has resulted in the sect's unique style of bhajan : a chorus of ramnam interspersed


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with verses in the doha and caupai meters taken primarily from the Manas . Although this is the dominant form of bhajan , several variant styles have also evolved that have inspired the development of individualized Ramayans and reveal the direction in which the sect and its philosophy have matured. These will be discussed below.

The Ramnamis' ritual dress for bhajan includes a cotton shawl covered with "Ram" written in devanagari script, a peacock-feather hat worn primarily by male members of the sect, and a set of bells worn on the ankles by sect members who dance and tapped on the ground by seated bhajan participants. The Ramnamis' attire not only identifies them as members of a sect but also serves to attract spectators. This is important to the Ramnamis because they believe that anyone who participates in or even hears ramnam benefits by it. Thus, the larger the crowd that is lured, the greater the advantage of the bhajan .

Whenever they sit to chant, the Ramnamis place a copy of the Manas before them, usually elevated on a small wooden bookstand. If no bookstand is available, the text will be placed instead on a piece of cloth or, in some cases, directly on the ground in front of the area where the Ramnamis have gathered. As long as the chanting continues the text will remain open in its place, although it may never be actually read from or even looked at. Rather, the physical text exists in their midst as a symbol, venerated as the source of ramnam and as a repository of teachings concerning gyan , bhakti , and the glories of the Name. Once the chanting ends, however, so does any reverence shown the physical text. The book is then handled and stored by the Ramnamis as any other book would be.

The refrain of ramnam is approximately forty-eight beats in length and contains twenty-eight repetitions of the name of Ram. A chanter wishing to contribute a doha or caupai from the Manas or another text will notify the other chanters of his intention by vocalizing an extra "RamRam" more loudly at a fixed point in the latter part of the refrain. The person introducing the couplet recites all but the last line solo, at which time all those familiar with the verse join in its conclusion. The inserted couplet is then followed by the ramnam refrain. During the last few decades the number of inserted verses has increased to the point that nearly every refrain is followed by one. Moreover, the Ramnami repertoire of verses has grown so large that during any particular bhajan sitting—unless it is an all-night event—very few are ever chanted twice.

In addition to selecting only verses they deem ideologically and metrically appropriate for their chanting, Ramnamis further individualize their oral Ramayan by modifying Manas verses themselves. The most common form of modification is the insertion of "RamRam" or "Ramnam" into verses, either on their own or as substitutes for alternate names of Ram. Thus "Ramcandra" becomes "RamRam" or "RamRamnam," "Raghuvir" becomes "Ram-


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Ramvir," "Ramu" and "Ramahi" become "RamRam" or "Ramnam," and so on. "Sita Ram" is often replaced with "RamRamnam," and, where the meter allows, even "Ram" may be replaced by "RamRam." Such substitutions are the Ramnamis' way of demonstrating where their devotion actually lies: not with the person of Ram, a human incarnation of the divine, but with ramnam , their link to the formless Ram, the Absolute.

Another form of verse modification of Manas couplets involves replacing the words "brahman " or "vipra " with "ramnam " in verses that originally contained praise of Brahmins, redirecting that praise to the practice instead. Consider the following verse from the Manas , commonly recited by North Indian Ram devotees:

The Lord took human form to help Brahmins, cows, gods, and holy men.

A small change by the Ramnamis gives the verse a meaning much more consistent with their particular beliefs.

The Lord took human form to help gods and holy men by giving them [the practice of] ramnam .[23]

Variants, Vidvans, and Individual Versions

Within the framework of group bhajan , several variant formats have evolved that have added new dimensions to the sect's oral performance of the Ram story. Of these, two have been especially influential in increasing both the Ramnamis' understanding of and their repertoire of verses from the Manas and other texts. The first of these involves the insertion of a conversation in verse form into the bhajan itself. This is a common practice among members of the sect. The second format is a special type of philosophical dialogue or interchange, engaged in by a small but growing number of Ramnamis. This stylized interchange is called takkar (literally, "collision" or "quarrel").

Conversation

To the Ramnamis ramnam bhajan is both a religious practice and a form of entertainment. Insofar as it is the focus of their individual spiritual lives as well as of their shared life of devotion as a community, it is a religious practice to be taken quite seriously. At the same time, however, ramnam bhajan gatherings, especially the periodic large ones, are the only opportunity many Ramnamis have to see each other and to escape temporarily from the troubles and concerns of daily life. Thus group chanting sessions are also a time of joy and celebration. In this context bhajan is viewed as a source of entertainment, involving at times lighthearted conversation, jesting, and joking.

Besides the corpus of verses from the Manas and other texts that have been incorporated in ramnam bhajan , there is a vast array of other Manas verses


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covering a broad range of subjects. Although these verses do not directly apply to bhajan topics, they are often quite useful for the purpose of conversation. Sect members will occasionally interject such verses into the chanting as a means of greeting one another, joking, complaining about the difficulties of family life, speaking irreverently about priests, politicians, or wealthy landowners, and so on.

For example, seeing a friend after a long time apart, a Ramnami may nod an acknowledgment of the other's presence while reciting the following Manas verse. The words are those of a sage greeting Ram upon his arrival at the former's hermitage.

I have watched the road day and night with deep concentration. Upon seeing [you] my Lord, my heart has been soothed.[24]

A fitting reply to this welcoming couplet might be:

Now I have faith, O Hanuman, in the Lord's blessings upon me, for without it the company of saints cannot be gained.[25]

If an unknown member of the sect arrives to take part in a bhajan gathering, a Ramnami may want to show hospitality and inquire about the stranger's identity. At the same time he may want to ascertain whether the stranger is aware of the conversation format and gauge his cleverness.

Are you one of the Lord's servants? My heart is filled with feelings of love.
Or maybe you are Ram, friend of the poor, who has come to grant me blessings.[26]

With the following brief reply the newcomer could show his humility, his awareness of the conversation, and his knowledge of how to respond:

Lord, I am [Vibhisan] the brother of the ten-headed Ravan. O Protector of the gods, I was born in the family of demons.[27]

This in turn might prompt the reply:

Vibhisan, you are triply blessed. You have become the jewel of the demon family.[28]

In this manner the Ramnamis combine bhajan and conversation, although the process often seems more like a competition to see who can be cleverer in finding verses that apply to a variety of situations. When a verse used in conversation is replied to, a dialogue may begin, which may lead into another stylistic variant of bhajan called takkar .

Takkar

Nearly all of the Ramnamis know something about the use of Manas verses in conversation, and many of them practice it. Barely half, on the other hand,


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are even aware of the process of takkar , and not more than a tenth actually take an active part in it. Nevertheless, takkar and its practitioners, known in the sect as vidvans ("exponents of knowledge"), have provided perhaps the greatest formative influence in contemporary times on the beliefs and practices of the Ramnami Samaj.

As we have seen, the Ramnamis' gradual growth in literacy and ability to understand Manas verses made them aware of the need to sift through and evaluate the text, in order to avoid verses and sections that were discordant with their own beliefs. The designation vidvan , traditionally used to refer to a Sanskrit scholar, was given to those Ramnamis who dedicated themselves to deepening their comprehension of the Manas and to gaining the knowledge required to judge which verses from the Manas (and other texts) accorded with the Ramnamis' philosophy and thus might fruitfully be incorporated into the bhajans .[29] Although the vidvans constitute only about 10 percent of the sect, they have had tremendous influence as the architects of the sect's philosophy, giving shape and direction to the Ramnamis' beliefs and practices. The vehicle the vidvans employ for the expression and dissemination of their particular philosophical perspectives is takkar .

As understood by the Ramnamis, takkar is a form of dialogue or interchange between vidvans that takes place during chanting, the language of these interchanges consisting entirely of verses from the corpus of texts collected by the vidvans . The takkar process evolved as a direct result of both the conversation style of bhajan and the freedom allowed each individual Ramnami in the selection of verses to be memorized for use in bhajan . The more literate sect members tended to seek out primarily those verses consistent with their personal philosophical viewpoint.[30] In time, differences as well as similarities in the perspectives of the various sect members became apparent on the basis of the verses favored by each member in the bhajan sessions. For example, a Ramnami, finding himself in particular agreement with a verse chanted by another sect member, might choose to display his consensus by offering a verse consonant with the previous one in spirit. Conversely, a sect member could counter an objectionable verse by reciting an opposing couplet. This back-and-forth process of responding to recited verses gradually became formalized in takkar .

The term takkar literally means "quarrel" or "collision," and the process indeed resembles a school debate or competition more than a discussion of fundamental philosophical differences. As one vidvan put it, vidvans use takkars for the purpose of plumbing "the depths of each other's knowledge and devotion." In a gaming spirit, Ramnami vidvans like to set parameters or rules for each takkar . For example, restrictions may be placed on the subject matter of the takkar , the preferred topics being gyan , bhakti , and ramnam . Alternatively, the verses used in takkar may be limited to those drawn from a particular chapter of the Manas or to those taken from texts other than the Manas .[31]


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Takkars can take place at any time during ramnam bhajan and may last from several minutes to several hours. When a group chant involves mostly non-vidvans , which is quite common, then short takkars , generally lasting only a few minutes, will occasionally take place between the vidvans present, such dialogues often passing almost unnoticed by the rest of the group. When, on the other hand, a large number of vidvans gather together, a much greater percentage of the bhajan will take the form of takkar of one type or another. An amazingly high percentage of Ramnamis—perhaps as many as 40 percent—are oblivious to the existence of the takkar process itself, and an even greater number are generally unaware when such interchanges are actually taking place during the bhajan . Those Ramnamis who are least aware of the takkar process tend to be the women and older men, the two groups in which illiteracy is the highest. The primary reason for this is that many of the illiterate Ramnamis have simply memorized the verses they chant through listening to their frequent repetition during bhajans , without any real attempt to understand what is being chanted. Consequently, their actual comprehension of most verses is minimal and is generally limited to the more commonly repeated ones from the Manas . As was the case in the early days of the movement, such sect members simply have faith that the verses they are listening to or repeating are about gyan , bhakti , or ramnam , and that is sufficient for them.

On the other hand, many of the younger males have had at least a few years of schooling and have attained a certain degree of literacy. They tend to have a greater curiosity with respect to what is being repeated and thus have a greater capability and likelihood of gaining an understanding of recited verses. In addition, they also have a greater ability to read the Manas and other texts to search out new bhajan verses on their own. It is therefore this group of Ramnamis that yields the greatest number of vidvans .

The takkars have stimulated the vidvans to undertake an in-depth study not only of the Manas but of various other texts—including Hindi translations of some Sanskrit scriptures—in order to improve their understanding of classical and contemporary Hindu thought as well as to find verses with which to fuel and energize their debates. This study is not necessarily confined to those texts used in bhajan , but can extend to Hindi translations of such works as the Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita , puranas , various stotras , and even portions of the Vedic Samhitas. If a text is found that is in doha or caupai meter, then it will be culled for verses applicable to takkar . More often than not, however, Hindi translations of classical texts are in prose rather than verse form and so cannot be used in chanting. Thus, although the initial impetus for such research might have been a desire to increase the repertoire of verses available for takkars , the purpose of study for many vidvans extends beyond collecting verses for bhajans . In the eyes of the vidvans , textual study serves to deepen their own understanding of gyan, bhakti , and ramnam , as well as


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providing a storehouse of knowledge on which they can draw to continually enrich, renew, and reinvigorate the sect's oral recitations of the Ramayan .

During the early 1970s three vidvans gathered together verses from a wide variety of texts for use in bhajans as well as non-bhajan discussions and debates. The compilers also added several couplets of their own creation, publishing the collection under the title Ram Rasik Gita .[32] They had two thousand copies printed and distributed to members of the sect. The fact that the first five pages of this fifty-two page booklet are entirely in Sanskrit, coupled with the inclusion of the compilers' own verses, raised the ire of many sect members, who viewed the booklet as a form of self-aggrandizement, and many vidvans refuse to refer to it at all. Nevertheless, the Ram Rasik Gita has become a useful source of verses for Ramnamis who cannot afford to buy books or who are unable to obtain copies of the original texts from which the booklet's contents are drawn.

The particular form a takkar takes depends to a large extent on the subject matter and the vidvans present. Vidvans who know a large repertoire of verses and possess a deep understanding of their subject matter can generate lively interchanges. In gyan takkars , vidvans may deliberately take opposing stands on various philosophical issues, such as the impersonal vs. personal understanding of God, the dualism/monism debate, and the disagreement concerning the relationship between God and maya . On the topics of bhakti and nam , however, a relative consensus exists among vidvans , and the range of viewpoints is accordingly less diversified. The object of such takkars seems to consist more in pitting one's talent and the size of one's repertoire of verses against that of the other vidvans than in serious attempts to refute another's point of view.

The following is a portion of a gyan takkar that took place during the annual Ramnami festival in 1989.[33] Several thousand Ramnamis had gathered for the three-day festival, in which bhajan continues from sunset to sunrise. One evening a young vidvan recited the following verse, obviously directed at another vidvan seated nearby.

According to the Vedas, itihasas , and puranas , God's creation is filled with both good and evil.[34]

Accepting the challenge, the second vidvan replied:

God created all existence as a mixture of good and evil. Swanlike saints drink the nectar of goodness, leaving behind the waters of imperfection.[35]

Stimulated by this response, the first vidvan offered two verses consecutively, the second intended to bolster the view presented in the first.

Planets, medicinal plants, water, wind, and clothing become useful or harmful in accordance with their good or bad associations. Only a clever and thoughtful person can know the difference.


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Only when the Creator gives one discriminative wisdom does the mind turn from sin to goodness.[36]

The second vidvan's rejoinder was a verse commonly heard in chanting.

Knowing the world to be permeated by Ram's Name, I bow with joined hands.[37]

In the above interchange the challenging Ramnami puts forth the view that the world is dualistic, containing both good and evil. As he goes on to point out, wisdom and discrimination are necessary in order for one to be able to reject the world's dark side. In his initial reply the respondent seems to accept this view, further suggesting that a holy person absorbs the good and is not bothered by the bad. Ultimately, however, he implies that in reality there is no evil, for the world is permeated by none other than Ram's Name. Such a reply is called samarthak ("conclusive") since in the eyes of the Ramnamis there can be no rebuttal, only agreement. While the last verse is one commonly repeated in bhajans , in the context of this particular takkar it was seen as a valid rejoinder and not just an uninspired retreat into platitudes, as it might have been viewed in some other takkar .

An intriguing feature of this particular interchange is that the verses are all taken from within the same three pages of the Manas . The ability to conduct a takkar with verses drawn entirely, or even predominantly, from one episode in the text is considered by the vidvans to be a sign of both intelligence and cleverness. It suggests that the participants in the takkar are sufficiently knowledgeable about the particular event and the various concepts implicit in it to be able to glean verses from a common narrative to support opposing viewpoints.

What I term lila takkars (takkars in the form of a lila —"play" or "drama") are a relatively recent variant of the takkar form and add a new dimension to the bhajan process. During chanting a vidvan may adopt the role of one of the major figures in Tulsidas's Ram story, from Ram himself to Ravan, the ten-headed demon king who is Ram's staunchest adversary. To indicate his choice, the vidvan recites several verses spoken by that character in the Manas while casting challenging glances at one or more of the other vidvans , one of whom is then expected to take on the role of an opposing character.

A takkar that took place during the 1989 Ramnami mela serves as a good illustration of the dynamic interchange between opposing characters that distinguishes this form of takkar . On the second evening of the festival, nearly seventy-five Ramnamis were assembled under one of the many open-sided tents set up for the gathering. As the chanting proceeded one vidvan recited several Manas verses attributed to Ravan, the demon king of Lanka, all the while looking quite intently at a vidvan seated nearby. The latter soon acknowledged the challenge and replied with two verses spoken by Angad, a


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monkey member of Ram's army who engaged in a philosophical argument with Ravan immediately prior to the war in Lanka. Their roles firmly established, the participants in the lila takkar were now free to recite any verses they chose in order to help further their respective positions in the debate. Among the verses recited by "Ravan," himself a demon but also a Brahmin, were several spoken by Ram extolling the greatness of Brahmins. (Here the recitation of verses extolling Brahmins was in order because the speaker was playing the role of a demon.) "Angad," on the other hand, quoted from Marich, a demon friend of Ravan, celebrating Ram's power. Soon the discussion left the Manas entirely and concentrated on verses from another text. Ultimately it returned to the Manas , and "Angad" won the debate—an inevitable outcome. Figures such as Ravan, Bali, and others whose roles in Tulsidas's telling are generally negative never win such debates, but then winning is not always the purpose of the lila . It is a sport, a game, in which the vidvans display their mastery of relevant verses and their understanding of various texts and their teachings.

The number of Ramnamis has been declining rapidly during the last decade, essentially because the number of deaths of elder sect members far exceeds the number of new initiates. At the same time, however, the percentage of vidvans is increasing because many of the new, younger members are relatively more literate and are thus encouraged by the older vidvans to study various texts and take part in the takkars . As their number increases, many vidvans are gravitating toward smaller bhajan gatherings at which they make up the majority of participants—so that their takkars are not "interrupted" by the interjection of random verses from sect members unaware of the interchange taking place.

The increase in the number of vidvans and their practice of takkar has led to the creation of two levels of oral Ramayan within the sect: the Ramayan of the general membership and the individual Ramayans of the various vidvans . In some ways this is dividing the sect, yet at the same time each level performs an important function. Through group performance, the shared Ramayan of the sect unifies it and defines its beliefs. It provides the sect with an oral scripture, whose parameters and philosophy are constructed around the beliefs of the sect.

Setting the stage for future development of the shared Ramayan are the personalized versions of the vidvans . In doing individual study of various texts, both to search for new takkar material as well as to expand their own private understanding of gyan and bhakti , each vidvan creates a personalized repertoire of verses that alters his own telling and makes it a unique creation. This process inspires a great deal of experimentation and growth for many of the vidvans . It also provides a diversity of directions and an ever-changing treasury of new verse material for the future growth of the shared Ramayan of the sect. It assures the continual fluid nature of the Ramnamis' telling of the Ram story.


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Conclusion

The concepts of sruti and smrti have long been used to classify the multiple forms that sacred word has assumed in India. As we have seen, the boundaries of these categories have grown more permeable over the centuries, particularly with the rise of devotional movements and their sectarian texts. Originally used in reference to specific works, both sruti and smrti have gradually evolved into more fluid, relational categories capable of subsuming a variety of texts, depending on the status attributed to each text within a particular community. As a result, both categories have become open-ended. While the status of sruti was once reserved exclusively for Vedic texts, the category has expanded to include sectarian works that have been vedacized by devotional movements seeking to equate their own scriptures with the Veda.

In the Manas we have an example of a sectarian text that is not only considered equal to the Vedas but has actually challenged their position, superseding them in the eyes of its adherents. The Ramnamis have in turn evolved their own distinctive conception of the Manas and its status in relation to the traditional classifications of sacred word. They celebrate the text as sruti insofar as, for the most part, its verses are held to be potent mantras, the meaning of which need not be understood. Just as Om is considered the consummate mantra, representing the essence of the Vedas, so ramnam is viewed by the Ramnamis as the consummate mantra of the Manas . It is uncreated, eternal, and intrinsically powerful, and it is the quintessential expression of sruti for the present age. Ultimately, it is ramnam that infuses the Manas verses with mantric power and thus gives the Manas its sacred status as sruti in the Ramnami community. Ramnam is, moreover, the only irreducible, unalterable element in the Manas . The narrative content of the text is significant in that it conveys the Ram story, but on the level of narrative the text is smrti , not sruti . Therefore it can be selectively cited, reinterpreted, elaborated, and even at times altered. The Ramnamis find no contradiction in this dual perspective on the Manas as, on the one hand, sacred and inviolable and, on the other, open to interpretation, criticism, and modification. Defending the community's relationship with the text, an elder Ramnami exclaimed, "The Ramayan is so great we cannot possibly damage it; we can only make it better!" In the process of recreating the Ram story the Ramnamis have indeed enhanced the vitality of the Manas , broadening the ways in which it is used, and have added but one more dimension to the ever-expanding literary genre that is the Ramayan .

Notes

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

7. Ibid.

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

7. Ibid.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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).

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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).

19. Desai, Hinduism in Thai Life , 85.

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

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

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.

23. Dineshchandra Sen, Bengali Ramayanas .

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

25. Personal communication from V. Narayana Rao.

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.

Three Ramayana, Rama Jataka, and Ramakien: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Buddhist Traditions

I would like to thank Mani Reynolds for her assistance in locating and interpreting Thai texts and materials. Charles Hallisey has, as always, proved a superb critic, offering numerous corrections and suggestions. All have been appreciated, and most have been incorporated into the text.

1. In this connection, I might note that this paper was originally written as the

inaugural lecture for a three-day Brown Symposium held at Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas) in October 1988. The symposium was devoted to the Thai version of the Rama story and was supplemented by the performance of major segments of the story by a dance troupe from Thailand.

2. For a description of these kae bon ("releasing from the promise") rituals, see Chantat Tongchuay, Ramakien kap Wanakam Thongton Pak Tai (research paper no. 8, Institute for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge, Sinakharintharavirot University, Songkhla, Thailand, 1979; in Thai), 27-31.

3. The tendency unduly to privilege Hindu versions in general, and certain Hindu versions in particular, is evidenced by the common practice of referring to the various tellings of the Rama story by the essentially Hindu term Ramayana . The practical advantages of following this convention are obvious, but the fact that it implicitly privileges some versions over others should not be ignored.

4. I do not wish to imply here any radical dichotomy between classical and popular traditions. I use the term classical simply to signal the fact that the tellings of the Rama story that I will consider in this paper are fully developed Rama traditions that have been continuously transmitted over the course of many generations. Although these traditions are associated with particular literary texts, they have also been expressed in a variety of other media including, especially, dance and iconography.

5. A great amount of work has been done comparing various versions of the Rama story. Generally, however, the emphasis has been on literary elements of style and narrative detail rather than on differences in religious structure. So far as I am aware, the only wide-ranging attempt to compare Hindu and Buddhist versions that shows any significant concern for their religious structure is Harry Buck's now seriously dated essay, "The Figure of Rama in Asian Cultures," Asian Profile 1, no. 1 (August 1973): 133-58.

6. In dance performances and iconographic representations that lack introductory narratives to set the scene, the sense that the story is occurring in a primordial time is often evoked through the use or representation of masks charged with sacral significance.

7. In the remainder of this article, unless otherwise specified "Buddhism" refers to the Theravada tradition. The Rama story has, of course, had significant crystallizations in other Buddhist environments, and the Buddhist structure delineated below is to a considerable extent discernible in many of those other contexts as well. However, I have chosen to focus the discussion on Theravada materials. So far as I am aware, the full range of classical crystallizations of the Rama story within the Theravada tradition has never been seriously treated by a Theravada scholar. In part, this serious lacuna in Theravada scholarship can be traced to some very influential Buddhologists, who have concluded from the seeming paucity of classical Rama traditions in Sri Lanka that these traditions do not play a significant role in Theravada culture as a whole. For an example of this kind of over-generalization from the Sinhalese situation, see Richard Gombrich, "The Vessantara Jataka, the Ramayana and the Dasaratha Jataka" in Journal of the American Oriental Society 105, no. 3 (July-September 1985), 497-37. For a very brief but much more accurate assessment of the presence and role of the Rama story, both in Sri Lanka and in the Theravada countries of Southeast Asia, see Heinz Bechert, ''On the Popular Religion of the Sinhalese" in Buddhism in C e ylon and Studies on Religious Syncretism in Buddhist Countries , ed. Heinz Bechert (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978), 230-31.

8. In the article cited in note 7, Richard Gombrich argues that the Dasaratha Jataka is a self-conscious "parody" of the Hindu Ramayana . In my judgment his argument, which seriously underplays some of the most distinctive characteristics of the Dasaratha Jataka that I will discuss, is not convincing.

9. The Phra Lak Phra Lam or the Phra Lam Sadok, 2 vols. (New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations, 1973). For a discussion of this text, which was found in the Laotian capital of Vientienne, see Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam: Version Lao du Ramayana indien et les fresques murales du Vat Wat Oup Moung, Vientienne, vol. 1 of Littérature Lao (Vientienne: Vithanga, 1972).

10. Among the "sister texts" that have thus far been identified, there is a north Laotian version known as the P'ommachak (see the reference in Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam ) and a fascinating variant called Gvay Dvorahbi (see Sachchidanand Sahai, The Ramayana in Laos: A Study in the Gvay Dvorahbi [Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1976]). This latter text, based on the Dundubhi episode in the Rama story, involves the killing of a buffalo, which suggests that this telling of the tale may have served as a correlate or substitute for the buffalo sacrifices that have, in the past, been ubiquitous in Laos. At this point, however, this remains a topic for further research.

11. For a Southeast Asian rendition of Theravada cosmology and correlated cosmogony based directly on the Pali Tipitaka (Skt. Tripitaka) and early Pall commentaries, see chapter 10 of Frank E. Reynolds and Mani B. Reynolds, Three Worlds According to King Ruang, University of California Buddhist Research Series no. 4 (Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1982).

12. When details vary from text to text, I follow the Vientienne version.

13. Given that Siva is the preeminent god in the literary Ramakien tradition that was associated with the kings of Thailand in the Bangkok period, and probably in the earlier Ayudhya period as well, it is interesting to note the way he is portrayed in the Laotian tellings of the story. In the Vientienne text, Siva (Lao: Aysouane) is a second name that Indra gives to a Buddhist-type brahma deity, the only son of the original pair of brahms deities who came down to earth and established the city of Inthapatha. In the P'ommachak account from northern Laos, Siva is presented as a relatively minor deity who once became inebriated and as a result fell from heaven to earth. The fallen Siva becomes an ally of Ravana's father and an enemy of Indra and Dasaratha, the father of Rama. According to the story, a battle is fought and Siva and Ravana are defeated. (The P'ommachak version is summarized in Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 87.) Though corroborating evidence is not available, it is very tempting to see in these accounts a political polemic in which the Thai monarchs are being "situated" within the Laotian world.

14. The one exception to this that I know of is the Laotian Gvay Dvorahbi text mentioned in note 10. In this text the story is presented as a sermon of the Buddha, but it does not (at least explicitly) take the form of a jataka story.

15. Within the broader Buddhist context an interesting variant was discovered by H. W. Bailey, which he discussed in his "The Rama Story in Khotanese," Journal of the American Oriental Society 59 (1939): 460-68. In this Khotanese version, Laksmana rather than Rama plays the leading role: the Gotama Buddha who tells the story identifies Laksmana as himself in a previous life, while Rama is identified as one who will be reborn as Metteya (Skt. Maitreya), the Buddha of the future who will appear at the end of the present age. Given the importance of non-Theravada, Sanskrit traditions in the history of the greater Laos area, it is perhaps interesting to note the

primacy seemingly given to Laksmana in the naming (though not in the content) of the Phra Lak/Phra Lain tradition.

16. The Phra Lak/Phra Lain narratives exhibit the general Buddhist tendency not to radicalize the distinction between good and evil. As in some (though by no means all) of the Hindu versions, Ravana is presented as a figure who evokes a considerable amount of admiration and sympathy.

17. Given that the Vientienne version of the Phra Lak/Phra Lain account identifies Rama and Ravana as the rebirth precursors of the Buddha and Devadatta, it is not surprising that Rama and Ravana are (like the Buddha and Devadatta) depicted as cousins. In this same text the deformed child who was the rebirth precursor of Ravana demonstrates unmatched religious erudition by solving a set of riddles presented to him by Indra. Could it be that the text intends to highlight, in the figure of Ravana, the insufficiency of such religious erudition in the absence of proper attitudes and behavior? Certainly this combination of religious virtuosity with improper attitudes and behavior would make the parallel between Ravana and Devadatta very close indeed: according to the Buddhist tradition, Devadatta was an extremely erudite religious virtuoso who nonetheless harbored a degree of jealousy and anger that caused him to seek the Buddha's death.

18. Up to this point the most detailed research has focused on the literary and episodic connections between the modern Ramakien (which presumably preserves the characteristics of earlier Thai versions) and Tamil traditions. See, for example, S. Singaravelu, "A Comparative Study of the Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai and Malay Versions of the Story of Rama ," Journal of the Siam Society 56, pt. 2 (July 1968): 137-85; "The Rama Story in the Thai Cultural Tradition," Journal of the Siam Society 70, pts. 1 and 2 (July 1982): 215-25 (repr. in Asian Folklore Studies 44, no. 2 [1985]: 269-79); and "The Episode of Maiyarab in the Thai Ramakien and Its Possible Relation to Tamil Folklore," Indologica Taurinensia 13 (1985-86): 297-312.

19. For a discussion of the available evidence, see P. Schweisguth, Etude sur la littérature siamois (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1951).

20. Although the founder and early kings of the Chakri dynasty that founded the present Bangkok kingdom associated themselves closely with the figure of Rama, the now extremely common practice of designating them and their successors as Rama I, Rama II, and so on was not established until the time of Rama VI.

21. See, for example, Traiphum lok winitchai, chamlong chak chabap luang (Bangkok, 1913), which describes the Buddhist cosmos, including the various heavenly realms and their occupants.

22. The distinctively Buddhist elements are highlighted by Srisurang Poolthupya and Sumalaya Bangloy in Phrutikam Kong Tua Nai Rueng Ramakien Thai Prieb Tieb Kab Tua Lakhon Nai Mahakap Ramayana " (Research Document no. 12, Institute for Thai Studies, Thammasat University, Bangkok, 1981); and by Sathian Koset [Phaya Anuman Rajadhon], Uppakon Ramakien (Bangkok: Bannakan Press, 1972).

23. King Rama I, Ramakien , 2 vols. (Bangkok: Sinlapa Bannakhan, 1967), 1068. The rationalistic, skeptical attitude expressed toward Hindu mythology in this passage provides important confirmation of David Wyatt's thesis that the modernist orientation evident in the Buddhist reform movement led by Rama IV in the middle decades of the nineteenth century was prefigured in the workings and actions of Rama I. See Wyatt, "The 'Subtle Revolution' of King Rama I of Siam," in Moral Order and

the Question of Change: Essays on Southeast Asian Thought , ed. David Wyatt and Alexander Woodside (Monograph series no. 24, Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, New Haven, 1982), 9-52.

24. Whether or not Rama I was aware of earlier Buddhist tellings of the Rama story, he was in fact following a Buddhist tradition in using an epilogue to indicate the significance of the story he had told. In the Dasaratha Jataka and the Phra Lak/Phra Lam tellings of the tale, the crucial point that most explicitly reveals the Buddhist significance of the story (namely Rama's identity as a rebirth precursor of the Buddha and the identities of the other characters as rebirth precursors of the Buddha's "supporting cast") is always revealed in an epilogue.

25. See Mattani Rutnin, "The Modernization of Thai Dance-Drama, with Special Reference to the Reign of King Chulalongkorn" (Doctoral diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1978), 1:14-15.

26. This point was strongly confirmed by the Ramakien musicians and dancers who performed at the Brown Symposium at which the original version of this paper was presented.

27. Another important iconic telling of the Ramakien story is the set of sculptures now located in Wat Jetupom in Bangkok. Although this set of sculptures is of great artistic interest, it has not—in recent years at least—had a significant cultic function.

28. For an extended account of this process, see my essay "The Holy Emerald Jewel" in Religion and the Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos and Burma , ed. Bardwell Smith (Chambersburg, Penn.: Anima Books, 1978), 175-93.

29. Northern Thai texts contain accounts of processions of the Emerald Buddha image in which unspecified jatakas were chanted, a practice that clearly highlights the association of the image with bodhisatta -hood and Buddhahood. It is theoretically possible that a Rama Jataka was among those jatakas , but I am not aware of any evidence to support this conjecture.

30. Unlike his two predecessors and most of his successors, Rama III followed a school of opinion that considered literary and performance renditions of the Rama story too frivolous to deserve the attention of a serious Buddhist. However, his convictions did not inhibit his interest in refurbishing the iconic presentation of the story that was an integral component of the cult supporting the legitimacy of his dynasty.

31. The setting of the Ramakien murals on the walls of the galleries around the central altar on which the Emerald Buddha is installed, especially when taken in conjunction with the fact that the chanting of jatakas is a common practice in the cult, is clearly intended to hint that Rama might be a rebirth precursor of the Buddha. There is, however, no evidence that this intimation has ever been explicitly formulated.

Four The Mutilation of Surpanakha

I wish to thank V. Narayana Rao for introducing me to the richness of the Ramayana tradition, and Paula Richman for her generous attention and helpful comments on several drafts of this essay.

For the sake of consistency and readability I have, unless otherwise indicated, used the standard Sanskrit forms and transliteration system for all names, terms, and places in the Ramayana .

1. As Wendy O'Flaherty has pointed out, a myth can be interpreted on several levels: the narrative, the divine, the cosmic, and the human—the last concerned with problems of human society and with the search for meaning in human life. See her Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973), 2. See also O'Flaherty, "Inside and Outside the Mouth of God" ( Daedalus 109, no. 2 [Spring 1980]: 103) for a discussion of myths as "social charters." In classifying the Rama story as a myth, I am defining a myth as a sacred story about supernatural beings and events that holds great significance for the members of a culture.

2. J. Moussaieff Masson, "Fratricide among the Monkeys: Psychoanalytic Observations on an Episode in the Valmikiramayanam," Journal oft he American Oriental Society 95, no. 4 (October-December 1975), 672.

3. David Shulman has discussed both these episodes from Kampan's Ramayana , the first in "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama," Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (August 1979), 651-69; the second in his article for this volume.

4. The name Surpanakha means literally "one who has nails ( nakha ) like a winnowing basket ( surpa )." In modern Indian languages such as Hindi, it is sometimes used as an epithet to describe an ugly, pug-nosed woman.

5. In fact, the specter of Surpanakha so haunted my imagination that, as a respite from studying for doctoral prelims, I wrote my own version of the episode (now happily consigned to oblivion) in which Sita, recognizing her "submerged self" in Surpanakha, leaves Rama and flees with her to the Himalayas to join Kali, the Great Goddess. Such is the power of the Rama story, that it is able to transcend cultures and emerge in countless transformations.

6. Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).

7. I am following the Critical Edition of the Ramayana , ed. by G. H. Bhatt and U. P. Shah, vol. 3: Aranyakanda , ed. by P. C. Dinanji (Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1963), sargas 16-17. I have also consulted two other Sanskrit editions: Srimadvalmikiramayana , with Amrtakataka of Madhavayogi, ed. by N. S. Venkatanathacarya (Mysore: University of Mysore, 1965) and Srimadvalmikiya Ramayana , with Hindi translation (Gorakhpur: Gita Press, [1960]). In these two, the episode occupies sargas 17-18. In English translation, I have consulted volume 2 of Hari Prasad Shastri, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , 3 vols. (London: Shanti Sadan, 1957); and Sheldon I. Pollock, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 3: Aranyakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991). Translations are my own unless otherwise noted.

8. Sheldon Pollock quotes the Southern recension as adding a line, which the Critical Edition omits: "For with your charming body you do not look like a raksasa woman to me." As he points out, the commentators find this remark difficult to explain, although it may be correct to view it as sarcastic (note on 16.16).

9. In the Southern recension, upon which the Critical Edition relies heavily, the beauty of Rama and the ugliness of Surpanakha are given special emphasis, while t he Bengali recension (23.18-25) clearly states that Surpanakha takes on a beautiful form. The following versions specifically mention Surpanakha's ugliness: Bhagavata Purana (9.10.9); Garuda Purana (143); Padma Purana ( Patala Khanda 36 and Uttara Khanda 269), Devi Bhdgavata Purana (3.28). See also Camille Bulcke, Ramkatha: Utpatti aur Vikas (Prayag: Hindi Parisad Prakasan, 1950; in Hindi), 414.

10. Pollock translates tan aham samatikranta as "But I am prepared to defy them" (note to 16.21). Surpanakha seems here to be boasting about her own power. In the Gita Press edition the following line reads aham prabhavasampanna svacchandabalagamini , "I am powerful and able to go where I please."

11. See the note to 17.1 in Pollock.

12. See, for example, Bulcke, Ramkatha , 14, and "The Ramayana: Its History and Character," Poona Orientalist 25, nos. 1-4 (January/October 1960), 41.

13. P.S. Subramanya Sastri, A Critical Study of Valmiki Ramayana (Thiruvaiyaru: [P.S. Krishnan], 1968), 26-28. The verse in question (17.4) reads:

apurvi bharyay carthi tarunah priyadarsanah |

anurupas ca te bharta rupasyasya bhavis yati ||

Pollock translates this as: "He has never had a woman before and is in need of a wife. He is young and handsome and will make a good husband, one suited to such beauty as yours."

14. Gita Press edition, 538; my translation from the Hindi. The verse in question is 17.11 in the Critical Edition:

etam virupam asatim karalam nirnatodarim |

bharyam vrddham parityajya tvam evaisa bhajisyati ||

15. K. Ramaswami Sastri, Studies in Ramayana (Baroda: State Department of Education, 1941), 100.

16. Bulcke, "The Ramayana," 58; Swami Siddhanathananda, "Sri Rama— Dharma Personified," Prabuddha Bharata 77, no. 8 (September 1972), 395.

17. C. Rajagopalachari, Ramayana (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1958), 133. In the epilogue, however, he seems to change his mind and decry the banishment of Sita, saying that Rama, unlike Krsna, was unaware of his incarnation and that his divinity must have ended when he returned to Ayodhya. He also suggests that the banishment scene may be the result of a corruption in the text and his "heart rebels against it" (295-96).

18. Kampan is traditionally dated to the ninth century, although most scholars consider the twelfth century more probable. I have relied on the English translation of George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), patalam 5, from which all quotations are taken. I have also consulted "Kamban's Soorpanakha" from C. Rajagopalachari's retelling, 134-36, and S. Shankar Raju Naidu, A Comparative Study of Kamban Ramayanam and Tulasi Ramayan (Madras: University of Madras, 1971), 186-89 and 507-8.

19. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan 89.

20. For a discussion of traditional notions of karpu , see George L. Hart, The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), 96-98. For discussions of contemporary contexts, see Susan S. Wadley, ed., The Powers of Tamil Women , Foreign and Comparative Studies, South Asia series no. 6 (Syracuse: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1980).

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

25. Voluntary sacrifice of a breast can also have powerful effects. In the Tamil classic Cilappatikaram , the main character, Kannaki, tears off her own breast and throws it into the city of Madurai, bringing about the city's destruction. In another tale from Madurai, Minaksi, the patron goddess of the city, loses her third breast when she first sets eyes on her future husband, Siva. See the various articles in Wadley, ed., Powers of Tamil Women , for further discussion of the significance of breasts in Tamil culture.

26. See Frank Whaling, The Rise of the Religious Significance of Rama (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980), 105; Rai Bahadur Lala Baij Nath, trans., The Adhyatma Ramayana (Allahabad: The Panini Office, 1913; reprinted as extra volume I in the Sacred Books of the Hindus , New York: AMS Press, 1974).

27. I have used the Gita Press edition, Sri Ramcaritmanas , which contains the Hindi text and an English translation (Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1968). The Surpanakha episode is on pp. 535-38.

28. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

29. A discussion of Tulsidas's treatment of women is given by Geeta Patel, "Women, Untouchables, and Other Beasts in Tulsi Das' Ramayana " (paper presented at the 17th annual conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, November 1988).

30. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

31. Ibid., 536.

32. Ibid.

30. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

31. Ibid., 536.

32. Ibid.

30. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

31. Ibid., 536.

32. Ibid.

33. Quoted in Arvind Kumar, A Study in the Ethics of the Banishment of Sita (New Delhi: Sarita Magazine, n.d. [1975?]), 28.

34. Pandit Radhesyam Kathavacak, Sriram-katha ( Radhesyam Ramayan ) (Bareli: Sri Radhesyam Pustakalay, 1960), 18-24: Aranyakanda , sankhya 10 ( Pancavati ). The book has been reprinted many times, often in pirated editions, but was probably written shortly before or after Indian independence in 1947.

35. Madan Mohanlal Sarma, Uttar Ramcarit , ed. by Pandit Radhesyam Kathavacak (Bareli: Sri Radhesyam Pustakalay, 1960), 25-26.

36. See note 33.

37. Kumar, A Study in the Ethics of the Banishment of Sita , 59.

38. Ibid., 61.

37. Kumar, A Study in the Ethics of the Banishment of Sita , 59.

38. Ibid., 61.

39. Bulcke, Ramkatha , 415, gives an extensive list of which body parts are cut off in which versions.

40. Sasanka Sekher Parui, "Punishment of Women in Ancient India," Journal of the Oriental Institute of Baroda 26, no. 4 (June 1977), 362-68.

41. Parui ("Punishment of Women," 366-67) gives examples from various texts,

especially the Kathasaritsgara . For other sources of the "cut-off nose" motif, see Stith Thompson and Jonas Balys, The Oral Tales of India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958), 327, 386, and 401.

42. For example, a Bhutanese dance troupe which recently toured the United States performed a comic interlude in which husbands cut off their wives' noses at; a punishment for infidelity.

43. In the Rim Lila of Banaras, this episode, called the Nakkatayya, is one of the most elaborate, lasting all night and featuring a procession headed by a hijra (hermaphrodite) playing the role of Surpanakha. See Nits Kumar, "Popular Culture in Urban India: The Artisans of Banaras, c. 1884-1984" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1984), 261-94.

44. The phrase is Wendy O'Flaherty's, in Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva .

45. Abhinavagupta, Dhvanyaloka, karika 5. The story itself is found in Valmiki Ramayana , 1.2.8-18. See J. Masson, "Who Killed Cock Kraunca Abhinavagupta's Reflections on the Origin of Aesthetic Experience," Journal of the Oriental Institute of Baroda 18, no. 3 (March 1969): 207-24.

46. O'Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism , 302-10.

47. Two of Dasaratha's wives, Kausalya and Kaikeyi, are similarly dichotomized: Kausalya is virtuous, whereas Kaikeyi is sexually attractive. See Robert P. Goldman, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 54.

48. An exception is the unique account of Surpanakha in the Brahmavaivarta Purana (Krsnajanmakhanda 62), in which after her disfigurement she goes to the sacred lake Puskara to perform austerities: see Bulcke, Ramkatha , 417. Receiving a boon from Brahma to get Rama as her husband in her next life, she is reborn as Kubja, the hunchbacked woman who becomes one of the wives of Krsna, as whom Rama is reborn.

49. For an excellent discussion in this vein, see Cornelia Dimmitt, "Sita: Fertility Goddess and Sakti ," in The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India , ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff (Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series, 1982), 210-23.

50. Even female ascetics are suspect, as are unmarried women generally, since they are not under the control of a husband.

51. David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), 34.

Five Fire and Flood: The Testing of Sita in Kampan's Iramavataram

1. Iramavataram 11.1.83. I cite the edition with commentary by Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar, Kamparamayanam (Madras: Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar Kampeni, 1971).

2. See David Shulman, "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama, " Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (August 1979): 651-69.

3. See, for example, Bhavabhuti, Uttararamacarita , Act I, where Rama calls himself a "monster" and an Untouchable because of what he must do to Sita—in order to preserve the good name of his family and his kingship; moreover, "the world itself is upside down" and "Rama was given life only in order to know pain" (v. 47). In Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa , 14.31-68, Rama says he simply cannot bear the libel spreading among his subjects, "like a drop of oil in water,'' and the poet adds that those who are rich in fame ( yasas ) value it more than their own bodies, and a fortiori more than any object of sense perception (35). Although this reduces Sita's status considerably, Rama is said to be truly torn as to the proper course; and the poet allows Sita to express (to Laksmana) something of the horror and protest that his decision entails.

4. The argument is developed in part in David Shulman, "Toward a Historical Poetics of the Sanskrit Epic," forthcoming in the International Folklore Review .

5. A Tamil Uttarakanda , attributed to Ottakkuttar, Kampan's legendary rival, does exist; the tradition (which is quite prepared to credit Kampan with various inferior works such as Erelupatu ) insists that this does not belong to Kampan's oeuvre.

6. I cite Srimad Valmikiramayana , ed. by K. Chinnaswami Sastrigal and V. H. Su-brahmanya Sastri (Madras: N. Ramaratnam, 1958), which generally follows the Southern recension.

7. Note following VI. 118.1 la: Srimad Valmikiramayana , ed. Chinnaswami Sastrigal and Subrahmanya Sastri, 901.

8. See the discussion of this incident in Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Hindu Myths (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975), 198.

9. See discussion in my paper, "The Yaksa's Questions," in a forthcoming volume on enigmatic modes edited by Galit Hasan-Rokem and David Shulman. This verse is omitted by the Critical Edition (it appears as 3247 * in the notes).

10. I cannot agree with Robert Goldman, who explains the wide attestation of this section in the manuscript tradition and its consequent incorporation into the Critical Edition as the result of its being a "late and sectarian passage accepted with little change by all scribes": Robert P. Goldman, The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 44-45, n. 85.

11. This point will be taken up in greater detail in the forthcoming paper cited in note 4.

12. The corresponding (and contrasting) passage in the Mahabharata is the final chapter of the Svargarohanaparvan (XVIII.5), in which each of the heroes regains his divine self—but only after an apocalyptic war and the violent deaths of most of the dramatis personae. There it is death in battle that closes the cycle and allows a kind of negative reintegration, albeit not in this world but in the divine sphere.

13. Pittar, petaiyar , pattar ( = bhaktas ) : tarcirappuppayiram , 8.

14. Some scholars read this image in reverse: see the note by Kopalakirusnamacariyar on this verse ( Kamparamayanam , 666).

15. Translated by A. K. Ramanujan, p. 42 of this volume.

16. otiyav utampu torum uyir ena: translated by A. K. Ramanujan, p. 43 of this volume.

17. I cannot explore here the relation between the notion of fluid uyir filling endless bodies and the Tamil ideal of "liquefaction," of melting and mingling in love; but see the fine discussion by Margaret Trawick Egnor, The Sacred Spell and Other Conceptions of Lije in Tamil Culture (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1978), 13, 20-21, 50, 104-6.

18. See VI.119.15 in the Sanskrit text: "I received my name but not my birth from Janaka; I came from the earth. You devalue my conduct, you who are a judge of good conduct."

19. On palai , see George L. Hart, The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), 221-29; Paula Richman, Women, Branch Stories, and Religious Rhetoric in a Tamil Buddhist Text , Foreign and Comparative Studies, South Asia series no. 12 (Syracuse: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1988), 62-68. Cf. David Shulman, "The Crossing of the Wilderness: Landscape and Myth in the Tamil Story of Rama," Acta Orientalia 42 (1981), 21-54.

20. In this respect, it bears a surprising resemblance to another Tamil genre, the kovai , a collection of love verses somewhat artificially arranged in preordained narrative sequence, from the lovers' first sight of one another until their final union. See Norman Cutler, Songs of Experience: The Poetics of Tamil Devotion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 82-91. In Kampan, of course, this orderly sequence is ruled out.

21. Tolkappiyam , porulatikaram I.11; cf. Rm. Periyakaruppan, Tradition and Talent in Cankam Poetry (Madurai: Madurai Publishing House, 1976), 168-73.

22. There are other points in the Iramavataram where Sita complains, ironically, about Rama. For example, at V.5.7, Sita cries out from her captivity: "You told me to stay home in the great city, not to come to the forest; you said you would return in a

few days. Where is that vaunted compassion ( arul ) of yours now? I am all alone, and you are consuming my lonely life!" But verses such as these, reminiscent of the laments at unbearable separation in Nammalvar (e.g., Tiruvaymoli 5.4), are not meant to be taken at face value; they are a way of giving voice to the heroine's impatience and despair.

23. For a detailed discussion of this episode, see my "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama."

24. The insistence on autonomy in the form of service or devotion, and in a context of rejection, is a topos known also from Nammalvar. Thus Tiruvaymoli 1.7.8: "Though he looses his hold on me, not even he can make my good heart let go of him."

25. The myrobalan in the hand is a proverbial image signifying intimate close-HESS.

26. Kopalakirusnamacariyar on ver' evam enr' oru porul (VI.37.94; Kamparamayanam , 780).

27. See Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha-bhakti: The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), 526-47; David Shulman, "Remaking a Purana: Visnu's Rescue of Gajendra in Potana's Telugu Mahabhagavatamu ," forthcoming in a volume of purana studies edited by Wendy Doniger (O'Flaherty).

28. Dasaratha speaks to this effect in Va1miki, too, but only after Rama himself has announced that the trial was only intended to convince the world.

29. Large parts of the Iramavataram read like dramatic dialogues that seem to assume a context of performance; the art of the dialogue in Kampan deserves a separate study. All major events spark extended comments from nearly every potential speaker. In this regard, see the insightful remarks by Stuart Blackburn in this volume.

30. A good example is the demon Viradha's stotra to Rama, who has just dispatched him, at III. 1.47-60. Similar passages accompany the deaths of Kabandha, Valin, and other of the avatar's victims; they occur as well, in shorter forms, when various sages encounter Rama. We should also recall that the poet consistently keeps Rama's true identity before our eyes by using divine-mythic epithets for him and his entourage.

31. Cf. the similar conclusion by George Hart and Hank Heifetz in their introduction to The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 6: "Again and again, he [Rama] is recognized as an incarnation of Visnu by those who meet or confront him, but Rama rarely shows a direct awareness of himself as the supreme god."

32. Thus (at V.5.6, for example) Sita may even address Rama, in absentia, as "Narayana."

Six A Ramayana of Their Own: Women's Oral Tradition in Telugu

Sanskrit loan words in Telugu shorten the long vowel at the end of feminine nouns: Sita, Urmila. In the passages quoted from the songs these names appear without the final long vowel and with Telugu diacritics.

I am grateful to Kolavennu Malayavasini for collecting these Ramayana songs for me. Her cultural insights and her knowledge of the Ramayana song tradition have been very useful to me. Thanks are also due to Jaya Prabha, who collected several songs from her mother. Peter Claus and Robert Goldman read and commented on an earlier version of this paper when it was presented at the 40th annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in San Francisco, March 1988. Joyce Flueckiger, A. K. Ramanujan, Joe Elder, Kirin Narayan, and Paula Richman read a later draft and made a number of suggestions for improvement. I am grateful to all of them. Responsibility for the interpretation (and misinterpretation) is entirely mine.

1. The songs women sing on the Ramayana theme have received extensive attention from Telugu scholars for some time. The earliest collections of these songs were made by Nandiraju Chelapati Rao, Strila Patalu (Eluru: Manjuvani Press, 1899), and Mangu Ranganatha Rao, Nuru Hindu Strila Patalu (c. 1905). The existence of these early collections is reported in Sripada Gopalakrishnamurti's introduction to another collection, Strila Ramayanapu Patalu , ed. "Krishnasri" (Hyderabad: Andhrasarasvataparishattu, 1955), but they were unavailable to me. A more recent collection of folk-songs, which includes several shorter women's Ramayana songs, is that of Nedunuri Gangadharam, Minneru (Rajahmundry: Sarasvathi Power Press, 1968). A small but extremely interesting collection, which includes Ramayana songs collected from low-caste women, is found in Sriramappagari Gangappa, ed., Janapadageyaramayanamu (Gunturu: By the author, 1983). Another collection, also by Gangappa, is Janapadageyalu (Vijayawada: Jayanti Publications, 1985), which includes a number of the Ramayana songs already published in his 1983 collection.

Earlier studies of these songs include: Hari Adiseshuvu, Janapadageyavanmayaparicayamu (Gunturu: Navyavijnanpracuranalu, 1954; repr. 1967), 245-50; Birudaraju Ramaraju, Telugujanapadageyasahityamu (Hyderabad: Janapadavijnanapracuranalu, 1958; 2d ed. 1978), 78-126; Tumati Donappa, Janapadakalasampada (Hyderabad: Abhinandanasamiti, Acarya Tumati Donappa Mudu Arvaila Pandaga, 1972; repr. 1987); Panda Samantakamani, Telugusahityamulo Ramakatha (Hyderabad: Andhrasa-

rasvataparishattu, 1972), 248-69; T. Gopalakrishna Rao, Folk Ramayanas in Telugu and Kannada (Nellore: Saroja Publications, 1984); and Kolavennu Malayavasini, Andhra Janapada Sahityamu: Ramayanamu (Visakhapatnam: By the author, 1986). Donappa includes several Ramayana songs from the Rayalasima region of Andhra Pradesh, unavailable in any other published collections. In addition, Gopalakrishna Rao mentions K. Srilakshmi's "Female Characters in Folk Songs Based on Ramayana" (M. Phil. thesis, Osmania University, Hyderabad, 1980), but unfortunately I was not able to consult it.

2. To continue the language metaphor, it may be said that there are Ramayanas whose grammar is less conventional, such as the DK (Dravida Khazagam) version popular in Tamilnadu: see Richman's essay in this volume. There are also several such Ramayanas in Telugu, most notably a recent feminist, Marxist version by Ranganayakamma entitled Ramayana Visavrksam (The Ramayana: A poison tree), 3 vols. (Hyderabad: Sweet Home Publications, 1974-76).

3. It should be noted that the popularity of these songs is waning: most young Brahmin women who attend college or university no longer sing these songs.

4. In 1955 Andhrasarasvataparishattu, a literary service organization in Hyderabad, assembled forty-two of these songs in one volume entitled Strila Ramayanapu Patalu , with a critical introduction by Sripada Gopalakrishnamurti, but no information is given about the methods of collection, the singers, or the context of singing. Absent also is information regarding the tunes to which these songs were sung. It is possible that the book drew chiefly or entirely on earlier printed sources. Gopalakrishnamurti's otherwise valuable introduction is silent about these matters. Even though the title page of the book says that it is edited by "Krishnasri"—presumably a pseudonym—the introduction indicates that Gopalakrishnamurti was not directly involved in the collection of these songs.

5. For example, Vaidikis, Niyogis, Golkondavyaparis, Madhvas Dravidas, etc., each group boasting numerous subdivisions.

6. In a work song, the lead singer sings the main text, while the refrain is repeated by the group of women working along with her. On my tape, however, one singer sings both the text and the refrain.

7. I was not able to acquire sung versions of several of the long songs, but they are available in print.

8. The author of "Kusalavula Yuddhamu" says that the song was composed "on behalf of" ( tarapuna ) the Ramayana of Valmiki, referring to himself/herself in the third person but without giving a name: varusaga idi valmiki ramayanamu tarapuna vrasenu i kavitanu . Because of the use of the masculine kavi , ''poet," in this line, scholars have concluded that the author is a man. It is not improbable that kavi would be used to indicate a woman poet: the feminine term kavayitri is more pedantic. In another song, "Kusalavakuccalakatha," the author refers to herself as sati , "auspicious woman," again without mentioning her name. Quite possibly women poets preferred not to give their names because to do so would be immodest. Only one song, " Sita Melukolupu ," mentions its author's name: Kurumaddali Venkatadasu, a man. Gopalakrishnamurti thinks that two other songs, "Lankayagamu" and "Lankasarathi," were also composed by men, because men as well as women sing them.

9. See Gopalakrishnamurti's introduction to Strila Ramayanapu Patalu , ix-x.

10. Apparently this was the practice in premodern Andhra; it is attested in carv-

ings on temple carts and kalamkari cloth paintings.

11. In another song, also with a "locked out" theme, it is Rama's turn to be locked out and Sita refuses to open the door for him. See M. N. Srinivas, "Some Telugu Folk Songs," Journal oft he University of Bombay 13, no. 1 (July 1944): 65-86, and no. 4 (January 1945): 15-29. See David Shulman, "Battle as Metaphor in Tamil Folk and Classical Traditions," 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), 105-30, for a study of this song in a different perspective.

12. In reality, the mother-in-law is often a hindrance to the union of wife and husband. Women's folksongs make many references to quarrels between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

13. Again, this motif is not unknown in literary. Ramayanas : for example, the Bengali Ramayana of Krttivasa tells a similar story. Interestingly, many of the themes in the women's Ramayanas are similar to ones found in Jain versions. It is possible that the Jain versions were popular with Telugu Brahmin women, or, alternatively, that the Jain Ramayana authors borrowed from the women's versions—or both. At this stage of our research, it is difficult to tell for sure.

14. In another version, Rama suggests that he will serve Laksmana in another birth; for now, it would be improper for an older brother to serve a younger one. Thus, in the next avatar, Rama (i.e., Visnu) is born as Krsna and Laksmana as Balarama, Krsna's older brother—so Laksmana now receives Rama's services. (I am grateful to Jays Prabha for this information.)

15. For information on castes among whom widow remarriage is permitted, see V. Narayana Rao, "Epics and Ideologies: Six Telugu Folk Epics," in Another Harmony , ed. Blackburn and Ramanujan, 131-64.

16. The reason why Srirama here stands for Sita is unknown to me.

17. In Sanskrit the name is Raghava; Bharta and Satrika are Bharata and Satrughna; Kaika is Kaikeyi; and Saumitri is Sumitra. (Such adaptations of Sanskrit names are common in the dialects of the castes described here.) Maridi is a Telugu kinship term for a husband's younger brother.

18. Edwin Ardener, "Belief and the Problem of Women" and "The Problem Revisited," both in Perceiving Women , ed. Shirley Ardener (London: Dent, 1975), 1-17 and 19-27, respectively.

19. Ramaraju, however, comments that the events in the later part of the song "Kusalvula Yuddhamu" are "blemished by impropriety" ( anaucitidosadusitamulu ), apparently referring to the harsh words Lava and Kusa speak against their father, Rama: Telugujanapadageyasahityamu , 117.

Seven The Raja's New Clothes: Redressing Ravana in Meghanadavadha Kavya

1. Yogindranath Bose, Maikela Madhusudana Dattera jivana-carita (The life of Michael Madhusudan Dutt) (5th ed.; Calcutta: Chakravarti, Chatterjee, & Co., 1925), 489. We are most fortunate to have a sizable collection of Dutt's letters preserved for us by his friends and published in the above biography and, in expanded form, in Ksetra Gupta, ed., Kavi Madhusudana o tamra patravali (Poet Madhusudan and his letters) (Calcutta: Grantha Nilaya, 1963). Nearly all of these were written in English, as is the case with the one cited here; a rare few are in Bengali. We also know he wrote in Italian, to Satyendranath Tagore, because Dutt himself tells us so, and in French, while he lived at Versailles—one of these letters being to the king of Italy, on the occasion of Dante's sixth birth centenary.

2. Nirad C. Chaudhuri, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 188.

3. See, for instance, Mohitlal Majumdar, Kavi Srimadhusudana (Poet Madhusudan) (3d ed.; Calcutta: Vidyodaya Library, 1975), 44-45; Nilima Ibrahim, Bamlara kavi Madhusudana (Bengal's poet Madhusudan) (3d ed.; Dhaka: Nawroz Kitabistana, 1978), 56; Suresh Candra Maitra, Maikela Madhusudana Datta: jivana o sahitya (Michael Madhusudan Dutt: His life and literature) (Calcutta: Puthipatra, 1975), 192; and Mobasher Ali, Madhusudana o navajagrti (Madhusudan and the Renaissance) (3d ed.; Dhaka: Muktadhara, 1981), 91.

4. Those interested in subversive similes and how Dutt used them might like to

read my "Homeric Similes, Occidental and Oriental: Tasso, Milton, and Bengal's Michael Madhusudan Dutt," Comparative Literature Studies 25, no. 1 (March 1988): 35-56.

5. Sushil Kumar De, Bengali Literature in the Nineteenth Century, 1757-1857 (2d ed.; Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1962), 480.

6. The earliest biography of Dutt gives his age as "about thirteen" at the time he entered Hindoo College—in 1837, according to that source: Bose, Jivana-carita , 25 and 48. An editor of Dutt's collected works cites a subsequent scholar's opinion—that the year was in fact 1833—and then notes that the college magazine dated 7 March 1834 mentions Dutt reading aloud at the college's awards ceremony: Ksetra Gupta, ed., Madhusudana racanavali (The collected works of Madhusudan) (Calcutta: Sahitya Samsad, 1965), xi. Hindoo College was at that time divided into a junior and a senior school, the former admitting boys between the ages of eight and twelve. See Asiatic Journal (September-December 1832), 114-15; cited in Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay, ed., Samvadapatre sekalera katha (From the periodicals of bygone days) (Calcutta: Bangiya-Sahitya-Parisad-Mandir, 1923), 2:15.

7. Goutam Chattopadhyay, ed., Awakening in Bengal in Early Nineteenth Century (Selected Documents ) (Calcutta: Progressive Publishers, 1965), 1:1xi-1xvii.

8. Bose, Jivana-carita , 114; letter dated October 1842.

9. Bose, Jivana-carita , 60; letter to Gour Dass Bysack dated 25 November 1842.

10. Gupta, Madhusudana racanavali , xiv.

11. Bose, Jivana-carita , 159-60; letter of J. E. D. Bethune to Gour Dass Bysack dated 20 July 1849.

12. According to Bethune:

If you do your duty, the English language will become to Bengal what, long ago, Greek and Latin were to England; and the ideas which you gain through English learning will, by your help, gradually be diffused by a vernacular literature through the masses of your countrymen. . . . [I have told] those young men in Calcutta, who have brought for my opinion, with intelligible pride, their English compositions in prose and verse. . . . [that they] would attain a more lasting reputation, either by original compositions in their own language, or by transfusing into it the master-pieces of English literature.

Quoted in Bose, Jivana-carita , 160-61.

13. Nilmani Mukherjee, A Bengali Zamindar: Jaykrishna Mukherjee of Uttarpara and His Times, 1808-1888 (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1975), 169-70. The founders met in 1850; the Society came into being in 1851.

14. Bose, Jivana-carita , 161-62; letter of Bysack to Dutt, undated.

15. Bose, Jivana-carita , 182; letter to Bysack dated 18 August 1849.

16. Bose, Jivana-carita , 322; letter to Raj Narain Bose dated 1 July 1860.

17. Quoted in Homi Bhabha, "Indo-Anglian Attitudes," Times Literary Supplement , 3 February 1978, 136.

18. A. Berriedale Keith, A History of Sanskrit Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1920), 137-39.

19. Canto 1, lines 55-58; subsequent citations appear in the text. All translations of Meghanadavadha Kavya are mine.

20. Although the length of the entire Ram Lila performance varies in different

towns and villages, the crucial event, the slaying of Ravana, happens on the same (lay everywhere. See Norvin Hein, The Miracle Plays of Mathura (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972), 76-77 and appendix.

21. Bose, Jivana-carita , 480; letter to Raj Narain Bose, undated [1861].

22. Bandyopadhyay, ed., Samvadapatre sekalera katha , 2:16.

23. Bose, Jivana-carita , 480-81; letter to Raj Narain Bose, undated [1861].

24. Bose, Jivana-carita , 487; letter undated [1861]. Dutt's metre in Meghanadavadha Kavya and in his earlier, shorter work (which he referred to as an "epicling"), Tilottama sambhava (The birth of Tilottama), is a blend of Milton and medieval Bengali's most common narrative verse structure, called payara , a rhymed couplet of fourteen-foot lines, with partial caesura after the eighth foot in each line. In Dutt's supple hands, Milton's iambic pentameter gives way to payara's fourteen syllables, while payara's rhyming and eight-six scansion are sacrificed to the demands of Miltonic blank verse, replete with enjambment. To a friend, he wrote: "You want me to explain my system of versification for the conversion of your skeptical friend. I am sure there is very little in the system to explain; our language, as regards the doctrine of accent and quantity, is an 'apostate', that is to say, it cares as much for them as I do for the blessing of our Family-Priest! If your friends know English let them read the Paradise-Lost, and they will find how the verse, in which the Bengali poetaster writes, is constructed." Bose, Jivana-carita , 320-21; letter to Raj Narain Bose dated 1 July 1860.

25. Bose, Jivana-carita , 494; letter dated 29 August 1861. Jotindra Mohan Tagore may have been the first to take exception to the way Dutt has Laksmana slay Meghanada. Rather than engaging his adversary in open combat, Laksmana enters by stealth the raksasa's place of worship and fells an unarmed Meghanada, who is doing puja to Agni at the time and would have become invincible had he been allowed to complete the ritual. Many critics have subsequently concurred with Jotindra Mohan Tagore that Dutt might have gone a bit too far by casting Laksmana in this rather cowardly role. Dutt was, however, drawing on an aspect of the Ramayana tradition here. Although Laksmana does not slay Meghanada by stealth in the Ramayana , in Krttivasa's telling of the tale, Hanuman travels to the netherworld and there is instructed by Maya how, by stealth, to slay Mahiravana. Dutt has Maya (also referred to as Mahamaya) instruct Laksmana precisely how to vanquish his formidable opponent. Dutt thus borrowed a stratagem from Krttivasa but had a different character (albeit still on Rama's side) make use of it.

26. Pramathanath Bisi, Bamla sahityera naranari (Men and women in Bengali literature) (Calcutta: Maitri, 1953; repr. 1966), 25.

27. AR CY DAE (Romesh Chunder Dutt), The Literature of Bengal; Being an Attempt to Trace the Progress of the National Mind in Its Various Aspects, as Reflected in the Nation's Literature; from the Earliest Times to the Present Day; with Copious Extracts from the Best Writers (Calcutta: I. C. Bose & Co, 1877), 176.

28. Rabindranath Tagore, " Meghanadavadha kavya ," in Ravindra-racanavali (The collected works of Rabindranath Tagore) (Calcutta: Visvabharati, 1962), Addends 2:78-79.

29. Tagore, Jivanasmrti (Reminiscences), in Ravindra-racanvali (Calcutta: Visvabharati, 1944), 17:354.

30. Quoted in Buddhadeva Bose, '' Maikela " (Michael), in his Sahityacarca (Literary studies) (Calcutta: Signet Press, 1954), 35.

31. Pramatha Chaudhuri, " Sabuja patrera mukhapatra " (Sabuj Patra's manifesto), in Nana-katha (Miscellany) (Calcutta: By the author, 3 Hastings Street, [1919]), 109-10.

32. A. K. Ramanujan, "On Bharati and His Prose Poems" (paper presented at the 16th annual conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, November 1987), 3.

33. Marksavadi no. 5 (September[?] 1949): 132.

34. Chaudhuri, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian , 183.

Eight Creating Conversations: The Rama Story as Puppet Play in Kerala

This essay is based on fieldwork carried out in Kerala in 1984, 1985, and 1989 with support from the Fulbright Program (CIES), and on research supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

1. The pioneering study of audiences in folk performances is Roger Abrahams, "The Complex Relations of Simple Forms," in Folklore Genres , ed. Dan Ben-Amos (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), 193-214. On audiences in puppet performances, see Frank Proschan, "Cocreation of the Comic in Puppetry," in Humor and Comedy in Puppetry: A Celebration of Popular Culture , ed. Dina Sherzer and Joel Sherzer (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1987), 30-46.

2. For a more complete description of the Kerala shadow puppet tradition, see Friedrich Seltmann, Schattenspiel in Kerala (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1986); and Stuart H. Blackburn, "Hanging in the Balance: Rama in the Shadow Puppet Theater of Kerala," in Gender, Genre, and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions , ed. Arjun Appadurai et al. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).

3. These episodes and motifs—for example, the killing of Sambukumaran, the son of Surpanakha, or Rama's admission of guilt in the Valin episode—are, however, known in the wider Ramayana literature.

4. On Kampan's language, see George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 7-19.

5. Stan Harding, "Ramayana Shadow-Play in India," Asia (April 1935): 234. J. H. Cousins, "Dance-Drama and the Shadow Play," in The Arts and Crafts of Kerala , ed. Stella Kramrisch, J. H. Cousins, and R. Vasudevan Poduval (1948; repr., Cochin: Paico Publishing House, 1970), 212.

6. For a discussion of the interaction between puppeteers and their patrons and audiences in Java, see Ward Keeler, Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). Shadow puppet performances in India (except Kerala) use a temporary enclosed stage.

7. Philip Lutgendorf makes a similar point concerning interpretation of Tulsidas's Rama story: "The View from the Ghats: Traditional Exegesis of a Hindu Epic," Journal of Asian Studies 48, no. 2 (May 1989): 272-88.

8. The Kampan verse is VI. 15.111 ( tolotu tol ) in the death of Kumbhakarna episode (Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar edition, Madras, 1976); all further reference to Kampan verses are to this edition. One Kampan verse recited during this excerpt has been eliminated from the translation because the commentary simply restates it.

9. VI.15.114 ( ariyan aniya ). The folk alteration of this Kampan verse exemplifies the general principle of converting indirect to direct speech: its first line revised, the entire verse is now spoken by Vibhisana.

10. III.5.1 ( puviyinukku ) in the Surpanakha episode of the Forest Book.

11. See the essays by Ramanujan and Narayana Rao in this volume. For Surpanakha's marriage to Laksmana, see Komal Kothari. "Performers, Gods, and Heroes in the Oral Epics of Rajasthan," in Oral Epics in India , ed. Stuart H. Blackburn et al. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), 116.

12. " Ramayanam ranku, Bharatam bonku "; collected from Sampath Kumar, Hyderabad, July 1988.

14. A Kampan verse, VI.30.43 ( anuman , of the Mulapala Vatai episode in the War Book), not sung by the puppeteers in this scene, contains a proverb found in some form in all South Indian languages: "If Rama rules or Ravana rules, what's the difference?"

15. The other major figure given a voice in the puppet plays is the oracle-priest of Bhagavati temples.

16. These learned quotations ( piramanam ) in Tamil, and occasionally in Sanskrit, are aphorisms cited by the puppeteers to illustrate a point.

17. The singing of these blessings is called a natakam (here, "dance"). Ravana summons celestial dancing women, and the puppets representing these dancers are placed on the screen while the puppeteers (as singers in Ravana's court) sing devotional songs.

18. The legend is not known to all puppeteers, nor does it appear to have a textual source, although it is invariably mentioned in articles on the Kerala tradition. I collected this version from a puppeteer in a village near Palghat in 1985.

Nine E. V. Ramasami's Reading of the Ramayana

I am grateful to Marguerite Barnett, Sara Dickey, Michael Fisher, Sandria Freitag, Charles Hallisey, Eugene Irschick, Pat Mathews, Susan Munkres, Sumathi Ramaswamy, James Ryan, Sandra Zagarell, Eleanor Zelliot, Abbie Ziffren, and the members of the faculty seminar on religious innovation at the University of Washington, as well as students in my 1989 and 1990 seminars, for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. I also appreciate the financial support of Oberlin College, from whom I received a faculty research grant for this project.

For convenience's sake I have referred to E. V. Ramasami [Naicker] throughout the article as E.V.R. The common Tamil abbreviation is I. Ve. Ra., but that becomes a bit cumbersome in English prose, and most English writers refer to him as E.V.R. When writing his name out in full, I have omitted diacritics because "E. V. Ramasami" was the standard English form of his name in his publications. The same is true for other important Tamil figures of his period who used English spellings of their names.

1. E.V.R. decided to burn images of Rama in order to protest the fact that All-India Radio had refused to transmit a speech he made on the occasion of celebrating the birthday of the Buddha. See the front page of the Indian Express , 2 August 1956. For a description of the burning of Ravana in the Ramlila, see Linda Hess and Richard Schechner, "The Ramlila of Ramnagar," The Drama Review 21, no. 3 (September 1977), 63.

2. Technically, the term Dravidian refers to the family of languages spoken throughout South India. But the leaders of the Tamil separatist movement have expanded the term to encompass everything that they identify as South Indian culture.

3. The Hindu , I August 1956; Indian Express , I August 1956; Tinamani , I August 1956. The Tamilnadu Congress was dominated by Brahmins, so Kakkan's appeal did not have much effect on E.V.R.

4. The Hindu , I August 1956.

5. Tinamani , 2 August 1956, provides a breakdown of the number of people arrested throughout Tamilnadn. In Madras more than 90 people were arrested, while 120 were jailed in Tiruchirappalli (Trichy). For E.V.R.'s comment after his release, see the Indian Express , 2 August 1956.

6. In this very brief overview of E.V.R.'s life, I highlight only the events relevant to the development of his interpretation of the Ramayana . For the details of his life, see the widely consulted biography of his early years by A. Citamparanar, Tamilar Talaivar (Erode: Kuti Aracu Press, 1960; repr. Trichy: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1979); also, E. Es. Venu, Periyar Oru Carittiram (Madras: Pumpukar Piracuram, 1980). In addition, a number of other works give some biographical information: K. M. Balasubramaniam, Periyar E. K Ramasami (Trichy: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1973); D.G S., Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy: A Proper Perspective (Madras: Vairam Pathippagam, 1975); Ki. Viramani, Periyar Kalanciyam (Madras: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1977); Anita Diehi, E. V. Ramaswami Naicker-Periyar: A Study of the Influence of a Personality in Contemporary South India (Lund: Scandinavian University Books, 1977).

7. For an analysis of the significance of E.V.R.'s youthful rebellions against caste, see Marguerite Ross Barnett, The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 34-36.

8. Citamparanar, Tamilar Talaivar , 41-51. For a discussion of E.V.R.'s involvement in regional politics, see Christopher J. Baker and David A. Washbrook, South India: Political Institutions and Political Change, 1880-1940 (Delhi: Macmillan, 1975), 27; Christopher Baker, "Leading up to Periyar: The Early Career of E. V. Ramaswarni Naicker," in Leadership in South Asia , ed. B. Pandey (Bombay: Vikas, 1978), 503-34;

and Christopher Baker, The Politics of South India, 1920-1937 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 192-94.

9. This place is also spelled Vaikom, and Vaikkom in English. For a discussion of this event, see E. Sa. Visswanathan, The Political Career of E. V. Ramasami Naicker (Madras: Ravi and Vasanth Publishers, 1983), 42-46.

10. Over the years E.V.R. launched a number of serials including Puratci (Revolt), Pakuttarivu (Discernment), and Vitutalai (Liberty).

11. Although E.V.R. is famous for the statement, "If you see a Brahmin and a snake on the road, kill the Brahmin first," he seems to have said such things largely to shock. In several places, he claimed he hated not individual Brahmins but brahminism as an institution. In a somewhat similar spirit, in an article for The Hindu , while maintaining that "Aryan" and "Dravidian" are two distinct groups, he commented: "My desire is not to perpetuate this difference but to unify the two opposing elements in society.'' See Barnett's analysis of his statement in Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India , 71.

12. Much of E. V. Ramasami's exegesis of myths was intended for shock value and involved a deliberate overly literal reading of texts. For other texts which use the same kind of rhetoric, see Visittira Tevarkal Korttu (Wonderful court of deities) (Madras: Artisan and Co., 1929), in which various Hindu gods are tried in court for their improper deeds. (I am indebted to Eugene Irschick for this reference.) The puranas also came in for criticism. The procession which culminated E.V.R.'s 1971 Superstition Eradication Conference contained painted tableaux of many scenes from the puranas in which gods are engaged in what E.V.R. perceived to be obscene behavior. I discuss this and similar events in "Smashing, Burning, and Parading: E. V. Ramasami's Anti-Religion Agitations, 1953-1971" (paper presented at the Conference on Religion in South India, Brunswick, Maine, June 1989). For an analysis of E.V.R.'s contribution to atheism, see V. Anaimuthu, Contribution of Periyar E.V.R. to the Progress of Atheism (Tiruchirappalli: Periyar Nul Veliyittakam, 1980).

13. See Periyar E. V. Ramasami, Self-Respect Marriages (Madras: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1983), which, according to the preface of this edition, is a translation of his Valkkai Tunai Nalam , first published in 1958. For more information about the self-respect marriage, see Nambi Arooran, Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism (Madurai: Koodal, 1980), pp. 162-63; Lloyd Rudolph, "Urban Life and Populist Radicalism: Dravidian Politics in Madras," Journal of Asian Studies 20, no. 3 (May 1961), 289.

14. See Eugene F. Irschick, Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916-1929 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), 34. In 1939 E.V.R. organized a conference during which he called for a separate and independent Dravida Nadu, a concept that paralleled the idea of Pakistan, at that time gaining support among the Muslim community. Robert L. Hardgrave, The Dravidian Movement (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1956), comments: "Naicker gave full support to the scheme for Pakistan and tried to enlist League support for the creation of Dravidasthan.... At the time of partition, Naicker tried to secure the help of Jinnah, so that Dravidasthan might be formed simultaneously with Pakistan. Jinnah refused assistance, and the British ignored the Dravidian agitations" (27, 32).

15. See Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia , 3d ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), ix-xxi.

16. This brief overview of E. V. Ramasami's milieu cannot possibly do justice to the complexity of the changes occurring in South India at the time. The reader interested in discussions of other historical and political factors during this period should consult the studies of Barnett, Irschick, Visswanathan, Hardgrave, Arooran, Diehl, and Baker cited above, as well as Robert L. Hardgrave, "The Justice Party and the Tamil Renaissance." in The Justice Party Golden Jubilee Souvenir (Madras: Shanmugam Press, 1968), 73-75; P. D. Devanandan, The Dravida Kazhagam (Bangalore: Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, 1960); Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam, Tamilsprache als Politisches Symbol: Politische Literatur in der Tamilsprache in den Jahren 1945 bis 1967 , Beiträge zur Südasienforschung Südasien-Institut Universität Heidelberg, vol. 74 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1984).

17. Scholars have paid a great deal of attention to this process of asserting some kind of nonnational identity, variously labeling it primordialism, nativism , or revivalism . See Hardgrave, Political Sociology , 6, for a discussion of primordialism in relation to the assertion of Dravidian identity. For a discussion of the concept of primordialism as an analytic category in anthropology, see Clifford Geertz, "The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States" in Old Societies and New States , ed. Clifford Geertz (New York: Free Press, 1963); Charles F. Keyes, "Towards a New Formulation of the Concept of Ethnic Group," Ethnicity 3, no. 3 (September 1976), 202-13. For an analysis of the Dravidian material in relation to the concept of revivalism, see Eugene F. Irschick, Tamil Revivalism m the 1930s (Madras: Cre-A, 1986), 3-37.

18. V. Subramaniam, "Emergence and Eclipse of Tamil Brahmins," Economic and Political Weekly , Special Number (July 1969), 1133-34. Irschick provides statistical evidence of "the consistently strong domination of the Brahmans in many upper levels of government service." See his Politics and Social Conflict in South India , 13, as well as Hardgrave's discussion of Brahmin/non-Brahmin relationships ( Essays in the Political Sociology of South India , 11 ).

19. Barnett, Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India , 25.

20. Irschick, Tamil Revivalism , 31.

21. Srinivasan's study of the development of periodicals in Madras shows the effectiveness of journals, pamphlets, and newssheets in shaping public opinion and bringing grievances to the attention of the government. See R. Srinivasan, "Madras Periodicals and Modernization of Values," Journal of the University of Bombay 40, no. 76 (Arts Number, October 1971), 150.

22. In addition to pamphlets. E.V.R. used another popular medium, theater, as well (see pages 193-94). The DK sponsored performances of the Ramayana based on E.V.R.'s interpretation of the text. Baskaran has shown the tremendous political power of theatrical performances m South India for the nationalist movement, a power that E.V.R. appropriated. See Theodore Baskaran, The Message Bearers: Nationalist Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India, 1880-1945 (Madras: Cre-A, 1981), 21-42.

23. For the rationale behind actions such as the Rama burning, see, for example, articles in Kuti Aracu on 3 March 1929, 18 December 1943, 8 January and 15 January 1944, 12 February 1944, 20 September 1947, and 13 January 1951. See also Vitutalai

on 5 November 1948, 27 May 1956, 29 July 1956, 9 August, 15 August, and 17 August 1956, and 13 September 1956. These articles have been reprinted in a collection of E.V.R.'s writings titled Periyar I Ve. Ra. Cintanaikal , ed. Ve. Anaimuttu, 3 vols. (Tiruchirappalli: Thinkers' Forum, 1974), 3:1430-64.

24. Periyar I. Ve. Ramacami, Iramayanappattirankal (1930; repr. Tirucci: Periyar Cuyamariyatai Piracara Niruvana Veliyitu, 1972); Iramayanakkurippukal (1964; repr. Tirucci: Periyar Cuyamariyatai Piracara Niruvana Veliyitu, 1972). Whenever I refer to the former text, I will do so by the title Characters in the Ramayana rather than by the Tamil title. Characters in the Ramayana thus refers to the original Tamil text with which I am working, as opposed to the later English translation entitled The Ramayana (A True Reading ). From now on, page numbers from the Tamil text will be cited in the body of this paper. I have limited my analysis to pp. 1-104: E.V.R.'s discussion of the relationship between the Ramayana and the Skanda Purana (pp. 105-16) lies beyond the scope of my inquiry here.

25. The pamphlet's publication history has been pieced together from the fragmentary information given in the front of various editions and from the bibliography of E. V. Ramasami's writings provided in Cintanaikal , l:xcv-xcvi.

26. See Georg Bühler, trans., The Laws of Manu (1886; repr. New York: Dover Publications, 1969), 195-96 (V. 147-158), 85 (III.55-59), 71-72 (II.225-237). For E.V.R.'s critique of The Laws of Manu , see his Manu: Code of Injustice to Non-Brahmins (1961; repr. Madras: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1981).

27. Some of E.V.R.'s conclusions about Kaikeyi are consonant with those presented by Sanskritist Sally Sutherland in her paper titled "Seduction, Counter-Seduction, and Sexual Role Models: Bedroom Politics in Indian Epics" (forthcoming in the Journal of Indian Philosophy ).

28. R. K. Narayan, The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), 97.

29. For an analysis of the ambivalent presentation of this episode in the twelfth-century rendition of the Ramayana by Kampan, see David Shulman, "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama," Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (August 1979), 651-69.

30. Kamil Zvelebil, The Smile of Murugan: On Tamil Literature of South India (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1973), 247-60.

31. Notable among the authors cited are R. C. Dutt, R. Mukherjee, S. C. Dass, Nagendra Ghosh, Feroz Khan, James Murray, H. G. Wells, Vincent Smith, Sir William Wilson Hunter, and Sir Henry Johnson.

32. Swami Vivekananda, Speeches and Writings of Swami Vivekananda (Madras: G. A. Natesan, 1922). The passage that E.V.R. quotes is located on p. 530, but since E.V.R. himself gives no page reference or bibliographical information, I cannot tell whether he consulted this edition. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovey of India (New York: J. Day, 1946). This is the first edition; again E.V.R. gives no indication which edition he used.

33. Maraimalaiyatikal, Arivuraikkottu (1921; repr. Madras: Pari Nilayam, 1967). The passage E.V.R. quotes is located on pp. 150-51 in this edition.

34. For a translation and analysis of the story of Aputtiran, see Paula Richman, Women, Branch Stories, and Religious Rhetoric in a Tamil Buddhist Text , Foreign and Comparative Studies, South Asia series no. 12 (Syracuse: Maxwell School of Citizenship

and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1988), 123-42. Although there is no solid evidence that E.V.R. drew on the Manimekalai —which is the only extant Tamil Buddhist text—he greatly admired Buddhists, considering them his intellectual precursors.

35. Compare E.V.R.'s chapter entitled "The Hoax about Gods" in Periyarana, ed . and trans. M. Dharmalingam (Trichy: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1975), 81-109.

36. Irschick, Tamil Revivalism , 83. On the Siddhars, see also Kamil Zvelebil, The Poets of the Powers (London: Rider and Co., 1973).

37. A. K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Siva (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973).

38 Irschick, Tamil Revivalism , 85-89; see note 6. above, for the biography.

39. G. Devika, "The Emergence of Cultural Consciousness in Tamilnadu between 1890 and 1915: A Study of the Ideas of Maraimalai Atikal" (Master of Philosophy thesis, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 1986), 1.

40. K. R. Chandra, A Critical Study of Paumacariyam (Muzaffarpur: Research Institute of Prakrit, Jainology and Ahimsa, 1970), 120-38.

41. Dineshchandra Sen, The Bengali Ramayanas (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1920), 28.

42. D. T. Suzuki, trans., The Lankavatara Sutra (Boulder, Colo.: Prajna Press, 1978), 4-6.

43. See Clinton Seely, "The Raja's New Clothes," in this volume. Irschick notes that Madhusudan Dutt wrote his work after he returned from a trip to Madras ( Politics and Social Conflict in South India , 284, n. 23). Nandy mentions that Asit Bando-padhyay, a Bengali literary critic, traced Dutt's interpretation of the Ramayana to a Jain Ramayana : Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), 19, n. 29.

44. Nandy, The Intimate Enemy , 20.

45. See Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), for an analysis of this form of debate.

46. Kenneth Jones, "Hindu-Christian Polemics in Nineteenth-Century Punjab" (paper presented for the panel "Vernacular Religious Polemics and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century India," 37th annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Philadelphia, 1985), ms. p. 16; Dayananda Sarasvati is quoted on ms. p. 12. The passage from Revelations reads, in the King James version: "And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand; and I heard the number of them."

47. Irschick, Politics and Social Conflict in South India , 283-84.

48. T. Ponemballem Pillai, "The Morality of the Ramayana," Malabar Quarterly Review 8, no. 2 (June 1909), 83. V. P. Subramania Mudaliar also summarizes Sundaram Pillai's ideas concerning the Ramayana and caste: see "A Critical Review of the Story of Ramayana and An Account of South Indian Castes Based on the Views of the Late Prof. P. Sundaram Pillai, M.A.," Tamil Antiquary 1, no. 2 (1908): 1-48.

49. M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, Ravana the Great: King of Lanka (Munnirpallam: The Bibliotheca, 1928), 78. Such works were only the beginning of a set of explorations into the Ramayana from a Dravidian perspective. See, for example, Cantiracekara Palavar, Iramayana, Araycci , 5 vols. (Madras: Kuti Aracu Patippakam, 1929-49); Arinar Anna, Kamparacam (Madras: Bharati Patippakam, 1986).

50. At times E.V.R. criticizes Rama for being cruel to Sita after she returns from Lanka, but in other places he implies that she was a wanton woman who became pregnant by Ravana ( Characters in the Ramayana , 27 and 48-49). Cf. Rudolph, who describes the way "Dravidian" interpretations of the Ramayana have focused on Sita, in this way: "Sita is no longer the devoted Hindu wife, the model for Brahmanical culture; rather she is Ravana's paramour who did not resist but 'clung like a vine' when she was abducted. Whether Sita struggled or clung has become, like many other points in this epic, a matter for bitter, even violent dispute" ("Urban Life and Populist Radicalism," 288).

51. Periyar E. V. Ramasami, The Ramayana (A True Reading ), 3d ed. (Madras: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1980). E. V. Ramasami (A Pen Portrait ) was written in 1962 by "an admirer" (repr. Madras: Dravidian Kazhagam, 1984).

52. For an account of these riots, see Michael H. Fisher, A Clash of Cultures: Awadh, the British, and the Mughals (Riverdale: Riverdale Company, 1987), 227-34.

53. Organiser , 1 May 1971. For a discussion of the origin of the drama, see Venu, Periyar Oru Carittiram , 19-20.

54. For the DMK's use of film, see Robert Hardgrave, "When Stars Displace the Gods: The Folk Culture of Cinema in Tamil Nadu," in his Essays in the Political Sociology of South India , 92-100. For accounts of the relationship between the DK and the DMK, see ibid., 39-80; Barnett, Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India , 69-158; P. Spratt, D.M.K. in Power (Bombay: Nachiketa Publications, 1970), chap. 2.

Ten Ramayana Exegesis in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism

1. For more information on the divergence between the schools, see my Srivaisnava Theological Dispute: Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika (Madras: New Era Publications, 1988).

2. See the list of abbreviations, above.

3. Another doctrinal difference between the two schools hinges on the issue of whether Sri is a jiva or individual soul (the Tenkalai view), or an aspect of the Lord himself (the Vatakalai view). Although this issue might seem unrelated to the basic soteriological dispute, I submit that the Tenkalai insist on Sri's status as jiva in part so that they may continue to use the example of Sita in the Ramayana to support their soteriological doctrines. If Sita were not a dependent soul like us, then her attitude and behavior in the context of her rescue by Rama would not be a model for salvation that we could emulate.

4. Ram . V.22.20, quoted by Manavalamamuni in SVB 82.

5. Manavalamamuni's commentary on JS 28 quotes a Sanskrit passage he attributes to the Sanatkumara Samhita in which the analogy between prapatti and the Brahmastra is made, but I have not been able to locate this passage in available editions.

6.

haro'pi narpitah kanthe sparsasamrodhabhiruna |
avayor antare jatah parvatas santo drumah ||

This sloka, quoted in full by Manavalamamuni in SVB 162, is not found in current editions of Valmiki's Ramayana .

7. It is important to note that although the Tenkalai acaryas prefer to cite the Valmiki Ramayana when possible, they are not limited to its version of events in applying their allegorical method. References to incidents from the Rama story contained in the hymns of the Alvars and Pancaratra texts, for example, are also cited. It is the Rama legend as a whole that has scriptural authority, not just Valmiki's version.

8. John Dominic Crossan, The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story (Niles, 111.: Argus Communications, 1975), 66. Subsequent references to this work are given in the text.

9. Frank Burch Brown and Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, "Parabling as a Via Negativa : A Critical Review of the Work of John Dominic Crossan," Journal of Religion 64, no. 4 (October 1984), 537.

10. I am indebted for this idea to Gunther Cologne, "The Parable as a Literary Genre" (M. A. thesis, Arizona State University, 1984). Cologne points out that "it is exactly the paradox of the parable, the unquieting and disturbing effect created through the reversal of the hearer's expectations, that causes him or her to search for an explanation" (22). Cologne's insight, based on his analysis of literary parables and Rabbinic mashals , certainly seems to apply to the Srivaisnava telling of Ramayana incidents. Furthermore, it can help reinstate the structural and functional connection between parable and allegory which Crossan et al. have artificially severed.

Eleven The Secret Life of Ramcandra of Ayodhya

Research for this paper was carried out in India between 1982 and 1987, initially under a Fulbright-Hays fellowship and later under a faculty development grant from the University of Iowa. The author wishes to acknowledge the kind assistance of Dr. Bhagavati Prasad Singh of Gorakhpur, and of Pandit Ramkumar Das of Mani Par-vat, Ayodhya, and the helpful suggestions of Paul Greenough, Sheldon Pollock, and Paula Richman.

1. 1.30b. Hanuman Prasad Poddar, ed., Ramcaritmanas (Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1938; reprinted in numerous editions). Numbers refer to book or kand , stanza (a series of verses ending in a doha or couplet; when more than one couplet completes a stanza, a roman letter is added to the couplet number), and individual line within a stanza.

2. Frederick Salmon Growse, trans., The Ramayana of Tulasi Dasa (Cawnpore: E. Samuel, 1891; repr. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978), lv.

3. Examples of significant work on contemporary expressions of Krsna devotionalism include Milton Singer, ed., Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes (Honolulu:

East-West Center Press, 1966); Norvin Hein, The Miracle Plays of Mathura (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972); and John Stratton Hawley, At Play With Krishna (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981). The emerging literature on Ram includes Frank Whaling, The Rise of the Religious Significance of Rama (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980); Hans, Ayodbya (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1986); and Peter van der Veer, Gods on Earth (London: Athlone Press, 1988). On Ramcaritmanas performance, see Philip Lutgendorf, The Life of a Text: Performing the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991).

4. On the theology and dramatic theory of the Gosvamis and its influence on sectarian practice, see David, Acting as a Way of Salvation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); and Donna M. Wulff, Drama as a Mode of Religions Realization (Chico, Calif.: Scholar's Press, 1984), especially pp. 7-44.

5. On the historical developments which permitted the "reclamation" of Ayodhya by Vaisnavas, see Bakker, Ayodhya , 135-53, and van der Veer, Gods on Earth , 38-40.

6. An example appears in Bhagavati Prasad Singh. Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday (Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh: Avadh Sahitya Mandir, 1957), facing p. 274.

7. There is a growing literature on the therapeutic use of visualization techniques; for an extensive discussion and bibliography, see Jeanne Achterberg, Imagery in Healing (Boston: New Science Library, 1985). (I am grateful to Susan Lutgendorf for this reference.)

8. On the meanings of smaran , see Haberman, Acting as a Way of Salvation , 63-64, 124-26.

9. The ontological status of places and things seen in visualization has begun to concern Western health researchers as well. Therapist Gerald Epstein, for example, has suggested that since visualizations can produce tangible effects on the physical body, they must be regarded as possessing some kind of reality; see "The Image in Medicine: Notes of a Clinician," in Advances 3, no. 1 (Winter 1986): 22-31; especially p. 23.

10. Thus the name Rampriya Saran means "one who takes refuge in Ram's beloved"—i.e., in Sita.

11. Ronald Stuart McGregor, "The Dhyan manjari of Agradas ," in Bhakti in Current Research: 1979-1982 , ed. Monika Thiel-Horstmann (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1983), 237-44.

12. Kenneth Bryant, Poems to the Child-God (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 72-75. Bryant borrows the phrase "verbal icon" from the title of a book by literary critics W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley, but significantly reinterprets it for the Indian context.

13. Cf. Haberman's interesting comparison of Vaisnava role-playing with the acting method developed by Constantin Stanislavski: Acting as a Way of Salvation , 67-70.

14. See Singh, Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , for examples of the catalogues developed for sakhis (pp. 238-40) and for sakhas (pp. 245-47).

15. Some non- rasiks dispute the attribution of some of the "Agra-ali" songs to Agradas, claiming that they arc forgeries perpetrated by latter-day sectarians with a view to proving the antiquity of their tradition (Pandit Ramkumar Das; private conversation, July 1987). Such "forgeries" may, however, equally well reflect the widespread practice of assuming the voice and persona of a revered poet-saint in order to

express conventional sentiments associated with his teachings; see John Stratton Hawley, "Author and Authority in the Bhakti Poetry of North India," Journal of Asian Studies 47, no. 2 (May 1988): 269-90.

16. Singh, Rambhakti mem sampraday , 9-10.

17. Ibid., 241-42.

18. Ibid., 307-9. On the Krsnaite side of the debate, see Haberman, Acting as a Way of Salvation , 94-114.

16. Singh, Rambhakti mem sampraday , 9-10.

17. Ibid., 241-42.

18. Ibid., 307-9. On the Krsnaite side of the debate, see Haberman, Acting as a Way of Salvation , 94-114.

16. Singh, Rambhakti mem sampraday , 9-10.

17. Ibid., 241-42.

18. Ibid., 307-9. On the Krsnaite side of the debate, see Haberman, Acting as a Way of Salvation , 94-114.

19. Singh, Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , 240-41.

20. Ibid., 253.

19. Singh, Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , 240-41.

20. Ibid., 253.

21. See, for example, the three-volume Manas commentary entitled Bal vinodini (For the amusement of children) by Mahant Gangadas of Ayodhya (Ayodhya: Maniramdas ki Chavni, 1969), in which the author regards himself and fellow devotees as child-playmates of Ram. Note also the spiritual practice of the famous nineteenth-century scholar Umapati Tripathi of Ayodhya, who scandalized his contemporaries by visualizing himself as the teacher of the youthful Ram; van der Veer, Gods on Earth , 13-14.

22. Poddar, ed., Ramcaritmanas , 7.75.5.

23. Singh, Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , 399.

24. Based on oral versions by Srinath Misra (13 February 1983) and Ramnarayan Sukla (3 August 1983). Singh gives a different version, in which Prayagdas is sent to Ayodhya by his guru: Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , 402.

25. Singh, Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , 281; concerning the Sitayan , see p. 394.

26. Ibid., 403.

25. Singh, Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , 281; concerning the Sitayan , see p. 394.

26. Ibid., 403.

27. On the history of the Banaras Ram Lila, see Lutgendorf, The Life of a Text , chapter 5.

28. Singh, Rambhakti mem rasik sampraday , 365. While Singh implies that this invisible kingdom was meant to serve as an alternative to the cultural model presented by the Mughals, he points to the ironic fact that the physical details in which it was imagined were inevitably based on the most recent model of imperial grandeur—the Mughals themselves.

29. McGregor, "The Dhyan manjari of Agradas," 241-43.

30. Bhagavati Prasad Singh, " Bhusundi Ramayana and Its Influence on the Medieval Ramayana Literature," in The Ramayana Tradition in Asia , ed. V. Raghavan (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1980), 475-504, at p. 479; Bakker, Ayodhya , 142.

31. van der Veer, Gods on Earth , 165-72.

32. Singh, Ram bhakti mem rasik sampraday , 171.

33. Joseph T. O'Connell, "Social Implications of the Gaudiya Vaisnava Movement" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1970), 171-206; cited in Haberman, Acting as a Way of Salvation , 43-44.

34. Haberman, Acting as a Way of Salvation , 43.

35. Singh, Ram bhakti mem rasik sampraday , 365-66.

36. van der Veer, Gods on Earth , 37-40.

37. The title of the latter work poses difficulties for the translator, who may shy away from the (literal but perhaps misleading) "Nectar of the Phallus of Ram." According to B. P. Singh, a major portion of this text is indeed devoted to descriptions of Ram and Sita's dalliance, but bearing in mind the wider range of meanings of linga in Indian culture (as "symbol," "signifier," or "emblem of power'') one might do

better to render it "Nectar of the Essence of Ram"—it being understood that, for the rasik tradition, erotic energy is one of the Lord's essential attributes.

38. Bakker, Ayodhya , 110-17.

39. Singh, Ram bhakti mem rasik sampraday , 159; Lutgendorf, The Life of a Text , chapter 3.

40. Singh, Ram bhakti mem rasik sampraday , 472.

41. Ibid., 365-66.

40. Singh, Ram bhakti mem rasik sampraday , 472.

41. Ibid., 365-66.

42. Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (New York: Fordham University Press, 1961), 84-86.

Twelve Personalizing the Ramayan: Ramnamis and Their Use of the Ramcaritmanas

I would like to thank the entire Ramnami Samaj for sharing their beliefs, their practices, and their lives with me. Without such openness, this research would have never been possible. I would also like to thank Professor Barbara Holdrege (University of California, Santa Barbara) for her invaluable advice and editorial assistance in the preparation of this material.

In Hindi, as in many of the regional languages of North India, the final a of a word, unless preceded by a double consonant, is dropped. Since this essay deals with the Hindi-speaking Ramnami Samaj, I will generally follow the standard Hindi transliteration of terms, with two exceptions:

(1) The names of Sanskrit texts are given m Sanskrit transliteration.
(2) In transliterating verses I have chosen to retain the final a of Hindi words that is dropped in ordinary speech, since it is pronounced in the chanting and in the recitation of verses.

I have chosen to transliterate the Hindi anusvar as n

1. North Indians refer to Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas in a variety of ways, including "Tulsi Ramayan," " Manas ," or simply " Ramayan ." Of these designations '' Manas " is by far the most common and will he used throughout the present essay. North Indians generally refer to Valmiki's Sanskrit Ramayana as either "Valmiki Ramayan " or "Sanskrt Ramayan. "

2. Since there are no universally accepted demarcations of the categories sruti and smrti , I have chosen to begin with the prevailing Western academic definitions, which largely reflect contemporary orthodox Hindu beliefs. Supplementary views expressed by recent Indological scholars will be mentioned in the notes. Brian K. Smith points out that throughout the history of Hinduism, new texts have been composed and given the name "Upanisad," thus bringing them into the corpus of sruti —a process which clearly contradicts the supposedly bounded nature of the category: Reflections on Resemblance, Ritual, and Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 21.

3. Both Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty ( Other People's Myths [New York: Macmillan, 1988], 58) and Sheldon Pollock ("The 'Revelation' of 'Tradition': Sruti , Smrti , and the Sanskrit Discourse of Power" in Lex et Litterae [Festschrift Oscar Botto ], forthcoming) mention the fact that the chanted Veda was heard by the worshipers as a part of the explanation for the term sruti .

4. The innate power of mantras is activated through their recitation by srotriyas ("masters of sruti "). This belief in the inherent power of sounds underlies both the later concept of bija ("seed") mantras in the Tantric schools and the devotional sects' belief in the power of the Name of God. O'Flaherty ( Other People's Myths , 61), Brian K. Smith, and others point out that an understanding of the Vedas was considered by some to be of great importance. However, this was not crucial for the ritual use of the text, which was its primary raison d'être. Barbara A. Holdrege offers an extensive discussion of various conceptions of the Veda and their influence on the modes of preservation and memorization of the Samhitas in "Veda and Torah: Ontological Conceptions of Scripture in the Brahmanical and Judaic Traditions" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1987).

5. Thomas B. Coburn, "'Scripture' in India: Towards a Typology of the Word in Hindu Life," Journal of the American Academy oar Religion 52, no. 3 (September 1984): 448. Coburn presents an illuminating discussion of various approaches to the understanding of sruti and smrti and encourages a rethinking of traditional categorizations. The theoretical approach adopted in this section was to some extent inspired by his article.

6. William Graham, Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 5.

7. J. L. Brockington, Righteous Rama: The Evolution of an Epic (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984), 206-13, 307-27.

8. In contemporary times, the Manas has occasionally been referred to as the "Fifth Veda" or the "Hindi Veda." According to Hindu cosmology, the world is now passing through the Kali Yug, the age of darkness, in which bhakti is the highest form of religious practice. Many devotional groups thus maintain that texts such as the Manas that extol bhakti have replaced the Vedas in delineating sruti for this age.

9. The process of vedacization is discussed in Sheldon Pollock, "From Discourse of Ritual to Discourse of Power in Sanskrit Culture"; and in Philip Lutgendorf, "The Power of Sacred Story: Ramayana Recitation in Contemporary North India," in Ritual and Power , special issue of the Journal of Ritual Studies (4, no. 1 [Summer 1990]), ed. Barbara A. Holdrege.

10. Philip Lutgendorf, "The Power of Sacred Story," p. 138.

11. As previously mentioned, texts of the smrti category are open-ended, i.e., subject to additions, interpolations, etc. As early as the nineteenth century, distinctly marked additions were made to the written text of Tulsidas's Manas by various publishers. These addenda, usually consisting of commentaries on events in the narrative or supplementary episodes in the life of Ram, most likely had their inception in the repertoires of the kathavacaks (storytellers) and Ramanandi ascetics who carried the Ram story from village to village. Owing in all probability to their popularity, certain of these additions eventually came to be included in some printed editions as part of the text. Although they are labeled ksepak ("addition, interpolation"), many readers have come to believe them to have been written by Tulsidas himself.

12. Lutgendorf, "The Power of Sacred Story," pp. 124-26.

13. The account presented here of Parasuram's life and of the formation of the Ramnami sect is based on his oral hagiography, recounted to me by several elder members of the sect.

14. The level of literacy in Madhya Pradesh is one of the lowest in India. At the turn of the century it was less than 10 percent, those classified as literate living primarily in the urban areas. Illiteracy among village harijans most likely exceeded 95 percent during this period. Even for those who are literate, understanding the Manas is extremely difficult, for it is written in a medieval dialect of Avadhi, while the Ramnamis speak a contemporary Chhattisgarhi dialect. Although in present times both are considered dialects of Hindi, medieval Avadhi is sufficiently different from modern Hindi dialects to discourage most speakers from gaining more than a cursory understanding of the Manas in its original language. When reading for understanding, rather than for ritual purposes, North Indians often use a text that provides a modem Hindi translation of each verse.

15. It should be noted that individual chanting of ramnam has never been a fundamental part of Ramnami practice. The sect maintains that if one is going to chant ramnam , one should do so in the company of others so that all can partake of its benefits.

16. For a more extensive discussion of the Ramnami Samaj and their various uses of the Name, see Ramdas Lamb, "Ramnamis, Ramnam , and the Role of the Low Caste in the Ram Bhakti Tradition" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, [1991]).

17. These numbers are approximations based on hundreds of hours spent sitting and listening to Ramnami bhajan .

18. In the Ramnamis' view the authoritativeness of a verse or text is determined not by its author but by its content. Sect members cite the example of Ravan, the demon king of Lanka, who on occasion in the Manas speaks words of great wisdom, thus illustrating that even demons can speak truth. The Ramnamis say that ultimately it is truth they seek, irrespective of its source.

19. Owing to the predominance of the doha (2 lines, 24 beats) and the caupai (4 lines of 4 parts, 64 beats) in the Manas , these two verse forms have set the metrical parameters of the Ramnamis' chanting style and thus have also determined which verses can be incorporated into bhajans . For a detailed explanation of the structure of Manas verses, see Philip Lutgendorf, The Life of a Text: Performing the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991).

20. Most of the supplemental writings used by the Ramnamis are in fact obscure texts with regional popularity at best, discovered by vidvans . Various verses from them have become popular with sect members because their contents and meter happen to make them suitable for chanting.

21. Nirgun bhakti is the practice of devotion to God, conceived of as not limited by, and therefore transcending, all forms. Most schools of Hindu devotionalism see the divine as sagun , perceptible to humans through one or several particular forms. Kabir's bhakti is exclusively nirgun and that of Raghunathdas primarily nirgun . For both, the name "Ram" is a primary focus of much devotion.

22. For Hindus Hanuman is obviously more than just a monkey. He is said to be the eleventh incarnation of Siva and the epitome of devotion. For the Ramnamis, however, the status of any being, human or divine, lies in his or her relationship of subservience to nirgun Ram.

23. In its original form the verse reads: Vipra dhenu sura santa hita linha manuja avatara | ( Ramcaritmanas 1.192). This is revised by the Ramnamis to: Ramnam dena sura santa . . . |

24. Citavata pantha raheun dins rati | Aba prabhu dekhi jurdani chati ||
Natha sakala sadhana main hina | Kinhi krpa jani jana dina || (3.6.2)

25. Aba mohi bha barosa Hanumanta |
Binu Hari krpa milahi nahiñ santa || (5.7.2)

26. Ki tumha Hari dasanha mahañ koi | Moreñ hradya priti ati hoi ||
Ki tumha Ramu dina anuragi | Ayahu mohi karana bardmagi || (5.6.4)

27. Natha Dasanana kara maiñ brata | Nisicara bans janama surtrata || (5.45.4)

28. Dhanya dhanya tain dhanya Bibhisana |
Bhayahu tata nisicara kula bhusana || (6.64.4)

29. It should be noted that vidvan is not an official designation. Any sect member who studies the Manas and/or other texts and actively takes part in philosophical dialogues may be called a vidvan . Although the term has been in use for over four decades, in recent years many Ramnamis have chosen to refer to active takkar participants as gyanis rather than vidvans . This is to emphasize that their primary focus is wisdom, as opposed to intellectual knowledge.

30. Not all verses are selected strictly on the basis of philosophical viewpoint. Many verses are learned simply as a matter of course, as a result of participation in the chanting, and thus are not necessarily in complete harmony with a Ramnami's

own philosophy. A sect member may also memorize certain commonly repeated verses without understanding them, solely out of a desire to join in whenever they are recited.

31. I sat in on one late night takkar that involved verses drawn solely from the Visram Sagar ; it lasted for nearly five hours. The participants were seven erudite vidvans , who continued until after I fell asleep.

32. Sivanandan Ram, Sur Sadhu Bharadvaj, and Sriram Lahare, Ram Rasik Gita (Raipur: Sriram Lahare, 1979).

33. The Ramnami Samaj holds a mela , or festival, every year in a different village in Chhattisgarh. The 1989 mela was the eightieth annual gathering.

34. Kahahiñ beda itihasa purana | Vidhi prapancu guna avaguna sana || (1.6.2)

35. Jarda cetana juna dosamaya bisva kinha kartara |
Santa hansa guna gahahin paya parihari bari bikara || (1.6 )
In India, enlightened saints, with their ability to distinguish the self from the nonself and good from evil, are often compared to swans ( hamsas ), who when given a mixture of milk and water are said to have the ability to separate out the milk, leaving behind the water.

36. Graha bhosaja jala pavana pata pai kujoga sujoga |
Hohin kubastu jubastu jaga lakhahiñ sulacchana loga || (1.7A)
Asa bibeka jaba dei Vidhata | Taba taji dosa gunahiñ manu rata ||
Kala subhau karama bariai | Bhaleu prakrti basa cukai bhalai || (1 .7.1)

37. The verse as it was chanted was a modification of a Manas caupai :
Siyaramamaya saba jaga jani | Karauñ pranama jori juga pani || (1.8.1)
The responding Ramnami replaced " Siyaramamaya " ("filled with Sita and Ram") with " Ramram namamaya '' ("filled with ramnam ").

CONTRIBUTORS

Stuart H. Blackburn , the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant and a Fulbright fellowship, has done extensive fieldwork on the performance traditions of South India. His book Singing of Birth and Death: Texts in Performance (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989) analyzed a ritual song tradition in southern Tamilnadu. He recently edited Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India , with A. K. Ramanujan (University of California Press, 1986), and Oral Epics of India , with Peter Claus, Joyce Flueckiger, and Susan S. Wadley (University of California Press, 1989). Blackburn is currently completing a book on the Kerala shadow puppet performance of the Ramayana .

Kathleen M. Erndl , Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College, has done research on goddess traditions of Northwest India. Recent publications include "Rapist or Bodyguard, Demon or Devotee? Images of Bhairo in the Mythology and Cult of Vaisno Devi" in Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees , edited by Alf Hiltebeitel (SUNY Press, 1989), "Fire and Wakefulness: The Devi Jagrata in Contemporary Panjabi Hinduism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion (1991), and Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Her current research focuses on the religious life of Hindu women in Kangra, India.

Ramdas Lamb , Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Hawaii, has studied contemporary Hindu devotionalism and religious practice for the past twenty years, having spent nearly half this period doing fieldwork in North and Central India. At present he is preparing his dissertation, "Ramnamis, Ramnam , and the Role of the Low Caste in the Ram Bhakti Tradition"


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(University of California, Santa Barbara), for publication. It looks at the history of Ram bhakti and focuses on the Ramnami Samaj in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Philip Lutgendorf , Associate Professor of Hindi and Modern Indian Studies at the University of Iowa, has researched North Indian oral performance traditions that utilize the Hindi Ramayana . His publications on the subject include "The View from the Ghats: Traditional Exegesis of a Hindu Epic" in the Journal of Asian Studies (1989), "Ram's Story in Shiva's City: Public Arenas and Private Patronage" in Culture and Power in Banaras: Community, Performance, and Environment, 1800-1980 (University of California Press, 1989), edited by Sandria Freitag, "Ramayan: The Video" in The Drama Review (Summer 1990), and The Life of a Text: Performing the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas (University of California Press, 1991). He is currently working on a study of the cult of Hanuman.

Patricia Y. Mumme , Assistant Professor of Religion at Denison University, has focused on the Srivaisnava theological tradition of medieval Tamilnadu. Her publications include The Mumuksuppati of Pillai Lokacarya with Manavalamamuni's Commentary (Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, 1987), "Grace and Karma in Nammalvar's Salvation," in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (1987), and The Srivaisnava Theological Dispute: Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika (New Era Publications, 1988). At present she is completing a translation of the Parantarahasya of Periyavaccan Pillai.

Velcheru Narayana Rao , an expert in the area of Telugu literature, is Professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His scholarly interests in Telugu texts and folklore have led to numerous publications in fields as diverse as medieval devotional Saivite poetry, modern novels and poetry, folk epics, proverbs and riddles, and classical grammar. His many translations from Telugu to English include, most recently, For the Lord of the Animals , with Hank Heifetz (University of California Press, 1987), and Siva's Warriors: The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha , with Gene Roghair (Princeton University Press, 1990). His latest book, with David Shulman and San-jay Subrahmanyam, is Symbols of Substance: Court and State in Nayaka-Period South India (Oxford University Press, 1991).

A. K. Ramanujan , scholar and poet as well as recent recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, is William E. Colvin Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought, and the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago. In addition to a large number of articles in the fields of South Asian linguistics, Tamil anti Kannada literature, and folklore, Ramanujan has published prizewinning


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volumes of his own poetry. He is also widely known for a series of translations, most recently Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Visnu by Nammalvar (Princeton University Press, 1981) and Poems of Love and War from the Eight Anthologies and the Ten Songs of Classical Tamil (Columbia University Press, 1985). He and Vinay Dharwadkher have just finished editing An Anthology of Modem Indian Poetry (Oxford University Press-Madras, forthcoming). Among Ramanujan's many current projects is a translation of women's oral tales from Kannada.

Frank E. Reynolds , Professor of History of Religions and Buddhist Studies in the Divinity School and the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, is a specialist in Thai Buddhism within the context of Theravada Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia. He has published widely in the fields of Buddhism, South and Southeast Asian studies, and methodology and comparison in the history of religions. Some of his most influential recent books are his monograph Three Worlds According to King Ruang: A That Cosmology , translated with Mani Reynolds (Asian Humanities Press, 1982), Cosmogony and the Ethical Order: New Studies in Comparative Ethics , edited with Robin Lovin (University of Chicago Press, 1985), and Myth and Philosophy , edited with David Tracy (SUNY Press, 1990).

Paula Richman , Associate Professor of South Asian Religions at Oberlin College, has focused on rhetorical strategies in Tamil religious texts. Among her publications are Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols , coedited with Caroline Bynum and Stevan Harrell (Beacon Press, 1986), Women, Branch Stories, and Religious Rhetoric in a Tamil Buddhist Text (Maxwell School, Syracuse University, 1988), and "Gender and Persuasion: Beauty, Anguish, and Nurturance in the Account of a Tamil Nun," in Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender , edited by Jose Cabezon (SUNY Press, 1991). Her current projects include a study of Tamil devotional poems called pillaittamil and a monograph on the political uses of the Ramayana in Madras from 1878 to 1973.

Clinton Seely , Associate Professor of Bengali at the University of Chicago, has written several articles on Michael Madhusudan Dutt, as well as pieces on Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore. Recent books include, in addition to two Bengali language textbooks, Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess , translated with Leonard Nathan (Great Eastern Book Co., 1982), A Poet Apart: A Literary Biography of the Bengali Poet Jibanananda Das (1899-1954 ) (University of Delaware Press, 1990), and an edited volume titled Women, Politics, and Literature in Bengal (Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University, 1981). At present Seely is working on a translation of Meghanadavadha Kavya .


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David Shulman , MacArthur Fellow and Professor in the Department of Indian, Iranian, and Armenian Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is well known for his writings in the fields of Tamil, Sanskrit, and Telugu literature, religion, and folklore. In addition to numerous articles in these fields, Shulman has published The King and the Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry (Princeton University Press, 1985), Songs of the Harsh Devotee: The Tevaram of Cuntaramurttinayanar (South Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1990), and Symbols of Substance: Court and State in Nayaka-Period South India , with V. Narayana Rao and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (Oxford University Press, 1991). Among many other projects, Shulman is currently working on a literary and cultural-historical study of the fifteenth-century Telugu poet Srinatha and a monograph on medieval Tamil poetic theory.


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INDEX

A

Abhinavagupta, 82

Achilles, 138

Adbhuta Ramayana , 43

AdhyatmaRamayana , 33 , 68 , 75 -76

Adultery, 72 , 79 , 82

Advait of Banaras, 230

Agastya Samhita , 230

Agganna Sutta, 53

Agni: in Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 148 , 154 n25;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 104 -6, 110 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 93 , 108

Agradas, 222 , 223 , 226 , 228 , 230 , 232 n15

Agricultural labor, 130 -31

Ahalya in Kampan's Iramavataram , 25 , 28 -33;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 25 -28, 31 -33, 83

Alaksmi, 84

Allegory, interpretation of, 211 -14

Anamnesis, 93 , 108

Andhra Pradesh, 114 -16, 119

Angada, 125 , 164 , 183 , 249 -50

Animal sacrifice, 50 , 186 -87

Annadurai, C. N., 195

Appadurai, Arjun, 20 n26

Aputtiran, 189

Aranyakanda , 67 , 69 , 72

Aranyakas, 235

Architecture: domestic, 128 ;

Mughal, 231

Ardener, Edwin, 133

Aristotle, 44 , 214

Art, in Thai culture, 37 , 57 -59, 63 n27

Asceticism, 12 , 48 n5, 82 -83, 88 n50, 143 , 185 , 189 , 238 -39

Asvatthaman, 145 -46

Atheism, 178 , 197 n12

Atigal, Maraimalai, 188 , 189

Audience: internal, 12 , 156 , 158 , 170 ;

of Kerala shadow puppet play, 12 , 156 , 158 , 169 -70;

and multiplicity of Ramayanas , 156 ;

of oral tradition, 156 , 170 ;

participation of, 156 , 170 , 219 , 221

Avadhi dialect, 68 , 76 , 218 , 238 , 253 n14

Ayodhya, 6 , 51 , 184 ;

and rasik tradition, 218 -19, 220 , 225 , 226 , 228 , 229 , 230

Ayodhyakanda , 19 n20

B

Bailey, H W, 61 n15

Bakker, Hans, 219 , 228

Balakanda , 8 , 72 , 82

Balarama, 136 n14

Bali, 24 , 158

Balvinodini233 n21

Bas-reliefs, 24 , 37

Bengal, 33 , 139 ;

Durga Puja festival in, 143 , 147 -48;

Laksmi festival in, 84 ;

Marxism in, 152 ;

poetry in, 140 -42, 150 -51, 154 n24.

Vaisnava movement in, 144 , 219

Bengali language, 24 , 136 n13, 137

Benimadhavdas, 237

Bentley's Miscellany (periodical), 139

Bethune, J E D, 140 -41,153 n12

Bhagavad Gita , 184 , 202

BhagavataPurana , 107 , 143 , 230

Bhagavati, 170


262

Bhajans (devotional songs), 237 , 239 ;

conversational, 244 -45;

competitive (takkar ), 244 , 245 -50, 254 n29;

modification of, 240 -42

Bhakti : in Adhyatma Ramayana , 76 ;

and integration of body and uyir (life-force), 97 -98;

and Kali Yug, 253 n8;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 9 , 14 , 31 -32, 72 , 90 , 97 -98, 102 , 107 , 110 ;

and Krsna, 220 , 228 ;

and love poetry, 102 ;

nirgun , 241 , 254 nn21-22;

and Ramnami sect, 240 , 241 , 242 , 243 , 250 ;

in Srivaisnavism, 203 ;

subverted in folk tradition, 164 , 166 ;

and tale of Surpanakha's mutilation, 68 , 83 ;

in Tamil culture, 32 , 43 , 90 , 97 -98, 102 ;

and tantrism, 230 ;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 76 , 230 , 240 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 72 , 186 ;

and Victorian commentators, 217

Bharata: in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 182 , 183 , 184 ;

and Ramnami sect, 242 ;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 207 -8, 212 , 213 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 6 , 122 ;

in women's songs, 125 , 132

Bhatta, Narayana, 228

Bhavabhuti, 111 n3

BhusundiRamayana , 228

Bijak , 241

Bisi, Pramathanath, 150

Blackburn, Stuart, 12 , 14

Body: integrated with uyir (life-force), 97 -99;

in rasik tradition, 221 , 222 -23

Bose, Raj Narain, 137 , 149

Brahma: in Kampan's Iramavataram , 104 , 106 -8, 110 ;

in Kerala tradition, 170 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 93 -94;

in women's songs, 123 , 126

BrahmanandBhakta , 241

Brahmanas, 235

Brahmavaivarta Purana , 88 n48

Brahmins, 33 , 74 ;

and brahmanization of texts, 237 ;

and British colonialism, 179 ,

Buddhist critique of, 189 ;

domestic sphere of, 128 ;

E. V. Ramasami's critique of, 12 , 175 , 177 -78, 179 , 181 -85 passim, 188 , 189 -91;

and family relations, 121 , 122 ;

and Kerala shadow puppet play, 158 -59, 166 -67, 170 ;

and marriage, 116 , 120 , 121 ;

Ramnami critique of, 16 , 240 , 241 -42, 244 ;

in Tamil culture, 175 , 177 , 179 , 189 ;

and vegetarianism, 115 ;

and women, 14 , 15 , 114 -17, 119 -20, 122 , 128 , 133

Braj, 228

Brockington, J. L., 237

Bryant, Kenneth, 222

Buddha. See Gotama (the Buddha)

Buddhism. classical tradition in, 51 , 52 , 55 ,

cosmogony of, 53 -54, 56 ;

critique of Hinduism in, 9 , 189 ;

and cultic practice, 57 -59, 63 n31;

Dasaratha Jataka in, 17 n11, 52 -53, 54 -55, 59 , 63 n24;

iconic representation in, 57 -59;

Indra in, 54 , 56 , 58 , 62 n17,

Laksmana in, 61 n15;

LankavataraSutra in, 190 ;

in Laos, 53 -54, 58 , 61 n13;

Manimekalai in, 189 ;

Phra Lak/Phra Lam in, 53 -55, 59 , 62 nn15-17, 63 n24;

Rama in, 54 -55, 59 , 61 n15, 62 n17, 63 n24;

Ramakien in, 10 , 51 , 55 -59;

Ravana in, 54 , 62 nn16-17, 190 ;

ritual in, 58 -59;

Siva in, 56 , 61 n13;

in Tamil culture, 200 n34;

in Thai culture, 37 , 51 , 55 -59;

Theravada tradition in, 51 , 52 , 53 -54, 58 , 60 n7;

Visnu in, 56

Bulcke, Camille, 24

Bunyan, John, 211

Burma, 33 , 37

Byron, George Gordon, 139 , 141

Bysack, Gour Dass, 139 , 140 -41

C

Caitanya, Krsna, 219

Cambodia, 24 , 33 , 37 , 55

Caste: and agricultural labor, 130 -32;

and Brahmin women, 114 -17, 119 -20, 122 , 128 , 133 ;

and British colonialism, 179 ;

critique of, 15 , 16 , 176 -78, 179 -80, 189 , 240 , 241 -42, 244 ;

and domestic sphere, 128 ;

and lower-caste women, 114 , 130 -34;

popularity of Ramayana dependent on, 130 ;

and urbanization, 179 .

See also Brahmins, Sudras; Untouchables

Cattanar, Cittalai, 189

Censorship, 81 , 193

Chants, devotional, 236 -37

Chapman, George, 44

Chaudhuri, Nirad C., 137 -38, 143 , 151 , 152

Chauhan, Sabal Singh, 241

Childbirth, 7 , 119 -20, 122

China, 24 , 33 , 50

Christianity, 11 , 139 , 182 , 190 -91, 224 , 231 ;

allegorical vs. parabolic exegesis in, 211 -14

Cilappatikaram , 87 n25, 102

Citamparanar, A., 189 , 196 n6


263

Coburn, Thomas, 236 , 252 n5

Cologne, Gunther, 216 n10

Colonialism, British, 11 -12, 139 , 141 , 178 , 179 , 190

Comedy, 165 -66

Cosmogony, Buddhist, 53 -54, 56

Cowley, Abraham, 139

Crossan, John Dominic, 211 -14, 216 n10

D

Dance, 24 , 50 , 88 n42, 130 ;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 172 n17;

in Thai culture, 37 , 57

Dante, 141 , 150 , 152 n1

Dasaratha, 88 n47;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 99 , 107 , 110 ;

in E V Ramasami's exegesis, 183 , 184 , 185 ;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 206 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 6 , 40 , 94 -95, 113 n28, 122 ;

in women's songs, 122 , 132

Dasaratha Jataka , 17 n11, 52 -53, 54 -55, 59 , 61 n8, 63 n24

Dass, S. C., 199 n31

Demons (raksasas ) Ayomukhi as, 72 ;

and Durga Puja festival, 148 ;

heroized in Dutt's MeghanadavadhaKavya , 11 -12, 15 , 138 , 154 n25;

Surpanakha as, 6 , 10 , 69 , 71 , 74 -77;

Tataka as, 72 , 82 ;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 207 , 210 ;

Viradha as, 113 n30. See also Meghanada; Ravana; Vibhisana

Desacralization, 181 , 190 -91, 192 , 194 , 196 n12

Desai, Santosh, 33 , 37 , 38

Desika, Vedanta. 203 , 204

Devadatta, 54 , 62 n 17

Dharma, 92 -93, 104 , 105 , 106 , 185 , 206 , 220 , 229

Dharmasastras , 177 , 182 , 184 , 205 , 235

Dhyanmanjari222 , 228

Dialogue: in Adhyatma Ramayana , 156 , in Kampan's Iramavataram , 113 n29, 156 ;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 156 , 158 -59, 162 , 164 , 166 -68;

in Ramnami chants (bhajans ), 244 -50

Discovery of India (Nehru), 187 , 188

DK (Dravida Kazagham), 178 , 195

DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazagham), 195

Dohavali, 241

Domestic sphere, 127 -28

Drama. See Performance; Plays

Dravidian movement: antibrahmanical activism in. 175 , 177 -78, 179 ;

anti-Northern doctrine in, 176 , 177 , 178 , 181 , 194 ;

and Buddhism, 189 , 190 ;

and burning of Rama's image, 175 -76, 180 , 194 ;

and censorship, 193 ;

and colonialism, 190 ;

critique of caste in, 176 -78, 179 -80, 189 ;

and education, 178 ;

and film, 195 ;

and Jainism, 189 -90;

and marriage, 178 ;

and primordialism, 198 n16;

and print, 176 , 180 ;

E V Ramasami as leader of, 175 -80, 194 -95;

and revivalism, 198 n16;

rhetoric of, 195 ;

and satirical performance, 193 -94, 198 n22;

in Tamil culture, 175 , 177 -79, 181 , 189 , 194 , 195 ,

and term Dravidian , 196 n2

See also Ramasami, E V, exegesis of Ramayana by

Durga, 67 , 143 , 146 -48

Durga Puja, 143 , 146 -48

Duryodhana, 145 -46

Dusana, 70 , 71 , 72 , 75 , 76 , 77 , 187

Dutt, Michael Madhusudan: Bengali writings of, 140 -42, 152 n1;

and conversion to Christianity, 11 , 139 ;

correspondence of, 137 , 139 , 141 , 149 -50, 152 n1;

education of, 139 -41, 143 n6,

English writings of, 139 -42, 152 n1,

Tilottamasambhava by, 154 n24.

See also Meghanadavadha Kavya

Dutt, Romesh Chunder, 150 , 199 n31

E

Education, 117 , 139 , 153 n6, 178 , 217

Egalitarlanism, 16 , 179 , 181 , 189 , 203 , 204

Emerald Buddha, 57 -59, 63 nn29, 31

Emperumanar, Arulala Perumal, 207

Endogamy, 115 , 178

English language, 139 -42, 153 n12, 180 , 218

Epic genre, 24 , 68 , 92 , 102 , 138 ;

folk adaptation of, 158 , 164 -66, 171 n9

Erelupatu , 111 n5

Erndl, Kathleen, 10 -11

Eroticism, 82 -83, 143 , 217 -18;

and rasik tradition, 218 , 220 , 223 , 224 , 225 , 230 , 231 ;

and tantrism, 221

Etymology, folk, 36

F

Family relations: among Brahmins, 121 , 122 ;

and childbirth, 122 ;

and Hinduism, 182 ;

in women's songs, 129 , 132 , 136 n12

Feminism, 133 , 135 n2

Festivals Durga Puja, 143 , 148 -48;

Laksmi, 84 ;

Nakkatayya. 19 n19

Film, 157 , 195


264

Folklore: etymology in, 36 ;

incest in, 37 ;

in Kannada, 35 -37;

and Kerala shadow puppet play, 157 , 162 -63;

and multiplicity of Ramayanas , 24 ;

oral tradition in, 35 -37;

in Sanskrit, 31 ;

and subversion of classical Ramayana , 162 -66;

in Tamil culture, 31 ;

in Telugu culture, 37 ;

and women, 83

Food, 20 n26, 100 , 115 , 141 , 185 , 187

Funerals, 148

G

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand, 175 , 177

Ganesa, 159

Ganesan, Shivaji, 195

Gangadas, Mahant, 233 n21

Gangappa, Sriramappagari, 130

Garuda, 77 , 167

Gauriya Vaisnava, 219 , 220 , 224

Gautama (sage) in Jain tradition, 34 ,

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 29 -31;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 25 -28, 31 , 83

Ghosh, Nagendra, 199 n31

Goldman, Robert P, 17 n10, 45 , 112 n10

Golok, 220

Gombrich, Richard, 61 n8

Gopalakrishnamurti, S., 118 , 135 nn4,8

Gopis , 144

Gosvami, Rupa, 219

Gotama (the Buddha), 54 , 61 n15

Greek language, 140 , 141 , 153 n12

Growse, F. S., 217

Guha, 207 -8, 212

Gujarat, 24

Gupta, Mataprasad, 77

GvayDvorahbi61 nn10, 14

Gyan , 240 , 242 , 246 , 247 , 24 -8, 250 , 254 n29

H

Haberman, David, 229

Hanuman: in Dutt's MeghanadavadhaKavya , 137 -38, 154 n25;

in Hindi folklore, 22 -24;

as incarnation of Siva, 254 n22;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 95 , 103 .

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 164 -65, 168 , 169 , 170 ;

in Krttivasa's Ramayana , 137 ;

as original author of Ramayana , 46 ;

in E V. Ramasami's exegesis, 183 ;

and Ramnami sect, 242 ;

in Telugu culture, 47 ;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 207 , 208 , 209 , 210 , 211 , 212 ;

in Thai Ramakien , 37 -39;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 242 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 6 -7, 90 -92;

in women's songs, 118 , 123 , 125 , 129

Hardgrave, Robert L., 197 n 14

Hart, George, 73 , 113 n31

Hebrew language, 140 , 141

Hector, 138

Heifetz, Hank, 73 , 113 n31

Hemacandra, 190

Hikayat Seri Ram , 33

Himalaya, 147

Hindi language, 178 , 180 , 237 , 238 , 247 , 252 , 253 n14

Hindoo College, 139 , 153 n6

Hinduism: animal sacrifice in, 186 -87;

Buddhist critique of, 9 , 189 ;

and censorship, 81 ;

classical tradition in, 51 -52, 55 ;

desacralization of, 181 , 190 -91, 192 , 194 , 196 n12;

and Durga Puja festival, 143 , 147 -48;

and eroticism, 217 ;

and family relations, 182 ;

Indra in, 189 ;

Jain critique of, 9 , 33 -35;

Krsna in, 67 ;

and Laksmi festival, 84 ;

and Tilt Laws of Manu , 177 , 182 ;

and modernization, 139 , 141 ;

and political relations with Muslims, 229 ;

Puranas in, 75 ;

Rama in, 51 -52, 56 , 67 ;

Ramakien in, 51 , 55 -57;

E V. Ramasami's critique of, 12 , 175 -78, 179 , 189 ;

Ravana in, 52 ;

rituals in, 178 ;

Sita in, 52 ;

Siva in, 56 , 67 ,

in Tamil culture, 175 ;

tantrism in, 75 , 221 , 230 , 252 n4;

in Thai culture, 37 , 51 , 55 ;

Vedantic elements in, 75 , 107 , 184 , 202 -3, 205 ;

Visnu in, 56 ;

women subjugated by. 184-85.

See also Rasik tradition; Srivaisnavism; Vaisnava tradition

Holdrege, Barbara A, 252 n4

Homer, 44 , 138 , 141 , 150

Hunter, William Wilson, 188 , 199 n31

I

Iconic representations: in Buddhism, 57 -59;

in Durga, Puja, 148 ;

in rasik tradition, 219 , 221 , 222

Iconic translation, 44 -45

Iliad , 138

Illiteracy, 239 , 253 n14

Incest motif, in folklore, 37

Indexical translation, 45

Indra: in Buddhism, 54 , 56 , 58 , 62 n17, 189 ;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 29 -31;

in Kathasaritsagara , 31 ;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 167 ;

in Laotian culture, 61 n13;

in Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 54 ;

in Ramakien , 56 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 26 -28, 31 , 83 , 94 ;

in women's songs, 123

Indrajit, 163 , 165 -66, 168

Iramavataram . See Kampan


265

Irschick, Eugene F., 179 , 189 , 191 , 198 n18, 200 n43

Islam, 179 , 182 , 190 , 193 , 224 , 229

Itihasas , 205

J

Jacobi, Hermann, 90

Jainism: critique of Hinduism in, 9 , 33 -35;

and Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 190 , 200 n43,

Hemacandra's Ramayana in, 190 ;

Laksmana in, 34 -35;

and pilgrimage, 35 ;

Rama in, 35 , 44 ,

and rationalism, 35 ,

Ravana in, 15 , 33 -35, 43 , 44 , 189 -90;

and Telugu women's songs, 136 n 13;

and Vimalasuri's Paumacariya , 34 -35, 43 , 189 -90

Jambuvan, 164 -65, 166 , 169

Janaka, 120 , 132

Jatis , 14 , 15 , 17 n2, 176 , 178 , 179

Java, 24 , 33 , 37 , 55 , 158 , 171 n6

Java Prabha, Anipindi, 115

Jivaram, 223

Jnanasara , 207

Johnson, Henry, 188 , 199 n31

Jones, Kenneth, 191

K

Kabandha, 113 n30

Kabir, 241

Kaikeyi, 88 n47, 99 , 123 , 132 , 136 n17;

plots against Rama, 6 , 94 , 122 , 125 ;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 183 , 184 , 185 , 199 n27

Kakasura, 210

Kak Bhusundi, 77 , 225

Kalidasa, 111 n3, 141 , 149 , 150

Kali Yug, 253 n8

Kampan, Iramavataram of, 7 , 18 n12, 39 -45;

Ahalya episode in, 25 , 28 -33,

bhakti in, 9 , 14 , 31 -32, 72 , 90 , 97 -98, 102 , 107 , 110 ;

classical tradition in, 102 ,

compared to Valmiki's Ramayana , 31 -32, 40 , 43 -44, 75 , 100 , 108 , 110 -11;

integration of body and uyir (life-force) as metaphor in, 96 -99;

introductory canto of, 41 -43, 97 -98;

Kerala shadow puppet play adapted from, 12 , 157 , 162 -64, 171 n9;

love poetry in, 101 -2, 109 -10,

madness as theme in, 95 -96, 103 ;

and performance, 113 n29;

prosody of, 73 , 107 ;

Rama's divine identity revealed in, 106 -10, 113 n31,

Rama's repudiation of Sita in, 10 -11, 14 , 89 -90, 95 -111,

silence as theme in, 95 , 107 -9;

Surpanakha's mutilation in, 68 , 72 -75,

translation of, 73 , 86 n18

Kamsa, 144 , 145

Kannada, 24 , 35 -37, 48 n3

Kannaki, 102

Karunanidhi. Mu, 195

Kashmir, 24 , 33

Kausalya, 6 , 11 , 88 n47, 125 , 128 , 132 ;

and adoption of Santa, 122 ;

and birth of Rama, 118 -20,

in E V. Ramasami's exegesis, 182 , 183 , 184 ;

Sita defended by, 121 , 127 , 129

Kavyas , 24 , 90 , 102 , 143

Keith, A. B, 142

Kerala shadow puppet play: adapted from Kampan's Iramavataram , 12 , 157 , 162 -64, 167 , 171 n9;

audience distanced from, 157 -58, 170 ,

classical Ramayana subverted in, 14 , 15 , 162 -66;

comedy in, 165 -66;

dialogue in, 156 , 158 -59, 162 , 164 , 166 -68,

exegesis in, 158 -59, 162 ;

internal audience of, 12 , 156 , 158 , 170 ;

Malayalam language in, 157 , 158 ;

patrons of, 157 , 169 -70,

puppeteers' performance in, 168 -69, 170 -71;

Sanskrit in, 172 n16;

songs in, 159 , 172 n17;

Tamil language in, 157 , 158 , 170 , 172 n16;

as temple ritual, 157

Khan, Feroz, 199 n31

Khara, 69 , 71 , 72 , 75 , 76 , 77 , 187

Khotan, 24 , 61 n15

Kiskindhakanda , 67

Kolatam play, 130 , 132

Krsna: in Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 142 , 143 -45, 147 ;

in the Mahabharata , 205 , 220 ;

moral virtue of, 67 , 217 ;

in rasik tradition, 219 , 220 , 221 , 224 , 226 , 228 , 230 ;

in realm of Golok, 220 ;

and sexuality, 82 , 217 -18;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 218 ;

in women's songs, 136 n14

Krttivasa, 11 , 45 , 136 n13, 137 , 154 n25

Kumar, Arvind, 81

Kumaravyasa, 24

Kumbhakarna, 69 , 159 -63, 164

Kural , 43

Kusa: in RadhesyamRamayan , 80 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 7 , 94 ;

in women's songs, 118 , 123 , 129 , 130 , 131 , 136 n19

L

Laksmana. in Adhyatma Ramayana , 75 -76;

in Buddhism, 61 n15;

in Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 137 -38, 142 , 145 , 146 , 154 n25;

in Hindi folktale, 22 -23;

as incarnation of Sesa, 75 ;

in Jainism, 34 -35, in Kampan's Iramavataram , 73 -75, 89 , 163 ;


266

Laksmana (continued )

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 163 -64, 168 ;

in Krttivasa's Ramayana , 137 , 154 n25;

Meghanada slain by, 137 , 142 , 146 , 154 n25;

in modern poetry, 81 ;

in Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 62 n15;

in RadhesyamRamayan , 78 -81;

in Ramakien , 38 ;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 182 , 183 , 184 , 186 ;

and Ramnami sect, 242 ;

in Santali tradition, 44 ;

Surpanakha mutilated by, 6 , 10 , 12 , 67 -84 passim, 186 ;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 77 , 242 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 6 , 70 -71, 82 , 91 -92, 94 ;

in women's songs, 118 , 120 , 123 , 124 --27, 130 , 131 , 132 , 136 n14

Laksmi, 120 , 122 , 147 ;

festival of, 84 ;

Sita as incarnation of, 75 , 84 , 93 , 94 , 99 , 104 , 121

Lamb, Ramdas, 13

LankavataraSutra , 190

Laos, 24 , 33 , 37 ;

Buddhism in, 53 -54, 58 , 61 n13;

Phra Lak/Phra Lam in, 53 -54, 62 nn15-17, 63 n24;

Sanskrit in, 61 n15

Latin, 140 , 141 , 153 n12

Lava: in RadhesyamRamayan , 80 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 7 , 94 ;

in women's songs, 118 , 123 , 129 , 130 , 131 , 136 n19

The Laws of Manu , 177 , 182

Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 68

Lila , 76 , 78 , 88 n43, 148 , 153 n20, 218 , 236 ;

in Ramnami sect, 249 -50;

in rasik tradition, 219 , 220 , 222 , 224 -27

Literacy, 16 , 116 , 240 , 246 -47, 250 , 253 n14

Lokacarya, Pillai, 203 , 205 , 206 , 207 , 209 , 210

Love poetry, 101 -2, 109 -10, 112 n20

Lutgendorf, Philip, 3 -4, 13 , 14 , 16 , 17 n8, 238

M

McGregor, R. S., 228

Madhya Pradesh, 13 , 238 , 241 , 253 n14

Mahabali, 161

Mahabharata , 24 , 94 , 112 n12, 143 , 144 , 163 , 205 , 220 , 241

Mahisasura, 147

Mahodara, 15

Malayalam language, 33 , 157 , 158

Malayavasini, Kolavennu, 115

Malaysia, 24 , 33 , 37

Male dominance, 9 , 11 , 15 , 79 , 128 -29

Manavalamamuni, 203 , 206 , 207 -8, 209 , 210 , 215 n5

Mandara (mountain), 161

Mandavi, 127

Mandodari, 35 -36, 84 , 121 , 187

Manimekalai , 189 , 200 n34

Mantras, 238 , 239 , 251 , 252 n4

Mara, 54

Marica, 187

Markandeya, 162

Marksavadi (periodical), 152

Marriage: among Brahmins, 116 , 120 , 121 ;

endogamous, 115 , 178 ;

and gandharva rite, 74 , 78 , 79 ;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 74 ;

and modernization, 79 ;

and morality, 79 , 84 ,

and mothers-in-law, 121 ;

in RadhesyamRamayan , 79 ;

of Rama and Sita, 13 , 119 -21, 218 , 220 , 227 ;

in Self-Respect Movement, 178 , 197 n 13;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 120 , 218

Marxism, 135 n2, 151 -52

Maryada , 217 -18, 220

Masks, 24 , 60 n6

Masson, Jeffrey, 67 , 68

Meghanada, 137 , 142 -48 passim, 151 , 154 n25

MeghanadavadhaKavya (Dutt). and colonialism, 11 -12, 14 , 190 ;

compared to Homer's Iliad , 138 ;

Durga Puja story in, 146 -48;

and Jainism, 190 , 200 n43;

Krsna story in, 142 , 143 , 144 -45;

Laksmana's slaying of Meghanada in, 137 , 142 , 146 , 154 n25,

Mahabharata story in, 143 , 145 -46;

multi-semic narrative in, 11 , 138 , 142 -43;

pro sody of, 154 n24,

reception of, 11 , 137 -38, 149 -52;

sources of, 141 ;

traditional Ramayana subverted in, 137 -38, 142 , 150 , 152 , 154 n25

Men: as agricultural laborers, 130 -31;

in domestic sphere, 127 -28;

and patriarchy, 83 , 116 , 133 ;

and rituals, 116 , 119 ;

and segregation from women, 116 , 117 .

See also Male dominance

Menaka, 147

Metcalf, Barbara, 190

Metonymy, 15 -16

Milton, John, 11 , 141 , 149 , 154 n24

Modernization, 79 , 141

Morality. in antibrahmanical exegesis of Ramayana , 182 , 184 ;

and Laksmana's mutilation of Surpanakha, 10 , 12 , 67 -68, 72 , 77 -78, 186 ;

and male dominance, 79 ;

and marriage, 79 , 84 ;

of modern poetry, 81 ;

Rama as paradigm of, 19 n20, 67 , 72 , 77 -78, 81 , 89 , 217 ;

and Rama's repudiation of Sita, 10 -11, 12 , 67 , 72 , 86 n17, 89 , 184 ;

and Rama's slaying of Tataka, 72 ;


267

and Rama's slaying of Valin, 7 , 12 , 20 n20, 67 , 72 , 89 , 171 n3, 184 , 185 -86;

and Victorian commentators on Ramayana , 217 ;

and women, 83 -84

Mothers-in-law, 121 , 136 n12

Mukherjee, R. 199 n31

Mul GosainCaritra , 237

Mumme, Patricia, 13

Murray, James, 199 n31

Muslims. See Islam

Mythology, 24 , 67 , 83 , 85 n1

N

Nala, 143

Nallaswami Pillai, J. M., 188

Nammalvar, 32 , 102 , 110 , 113 nn22, 24

Nanddas, 228

Nandy, Ashis, 190 , 200 n43

Narada, 156

Narayan, R. K., 185

Narayana, 93 , 113 n32

Narayana Rao, Velcheru, 11 , 21 n29

Nationalism, 79 , 187

Nehru, Jawaharlal, 187 -88

Nirgunbhakti , 241 , 254 nn21-22

Nisadraj, 242

O

O'Connell, Joseph, 229

Oedipus complex, 34 , 37

O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, 85 n1, 252 nn3,4

Oppositinnal Ramayanas , 10 -12;

Buddhist, 51 ;

Dutt's MeghanadavadhaKavya as, 137 -38, 142 -49;

Jain, 33 -35;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 164 -66;

in E. V Ramasami's exegesis, 175 -95;

women's songs as, 114 -36

Oral tradition: audience of, 156 , 170 ;

and Brahmin women's songs, 114 -30, 133 -34;

in Kannada folklore, 35 -37;

and lower-caste women's songs, 114 , 130 -33;

and multiplicity of Ramayanas , 156 ;

in Santali, 44 ;

and tale of Surpanakha's mutilation, 68 ;

and Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 236 , 238 . See also Bhajans ; Songs

Ottakkuttar, 111 n5

P

Padma, 104

Pakistan, 179 , 197 n14

Parables, interpretation of, 211 -14, 216 n10

Paradise Lost (Milton), 152 , 154 n24

Parasuram, 238 -39, 253 n13

Parthasarathy, R., 142

Parvati, 123 , 126 , 156

Patel, Geeta, 87 n29

Patriarchy See Male dominance

Paumacariya , 34 -35, 43 , 190

Payara poetry, 154 n24

Performance: and antibrahmanical satire, 193 -94, 198 n22;

and audience participation, 156 , 170 , 219 , 221 ;

and Kampan's Iramavataram , 113 n29;

of Ramakien , 57 , 59 ;

of Ram Lila, 19 n19, 153 n20;

in rasik tradition, 219 , 221 , 222 ;

in Thai culture, 57 , 59 ;

and Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 218 , 219 , 236 -37.

See also Dance; Festivals; Plays; Rituals

Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 53 -55, 59 , 62 nn15-17, 63 n24

Pilgrimage, 35 , 218 , 220 , 226

Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan), 211

Plays: and antibrahmanical satire, 193 -94, 198 n22;

Bengali, 141 , kolatam , 130 , 132 ;

and multiplicity of Ramayanas , 24 ;

puppet, 24 , 158 ;

shadow, 24 , 158 , 171 n6;

in Thai culture, 37

See also Dialogue; Kerala shadow puppet play

Poetry: Bengali, 140 -42, 150 -51,154 n24;

English, 139 -42, and iconography, 222 ;

love, 101 -2, 109 -10, 112 n20;

modern, 81 , 139 -41;

in rasik tradition, 222 -23, 225 ;

Tamil, 8 , 18 n15, 43 , 90 , 101 -2, 110 , 112 n20;

Virasaiva, 189 . See also Prosody

Politics. antibrahmanical, 175 , 177 -78, 179 , 188 , 189 -91, 197 n11;

and critique of caste, 176 -78, 179 -80, 189 ;

and egalitarianism, 179 , 181 , 189 ;

and Hindu-Muslim relations, 229 ;

E. V. Ramasami and, 175 -81,188 -89, 191 -95, 196 n2, 197 n14;

and rasik tradition, 227 -28, 229 ;

and social reform, 175 , 177 , 179 ;

of televised Ramayana , 4

See also Ramasami, E. V., exegesis of Ramayana by

Pollock, Sheldon, 19 n20, 85 n8, 86 nn10, 13

P'ommachak , 61 nn10, 13

Ponemballem Pillai, T., 191

Pramila, 144 -45, 147 , 148

Prapatti , 203 , 207 , 215 n5

Prasad Sen, Ram, 147

Prayagdas, 226 -27

Priam, 138

Primordialism, 198 n16

Print, 176 , 180 -81

Prosody of Dutt's MeghanadavadhaKavya , 154 n24;

of Kampan's Iramavataram , 73 , 107 ;

of payara verse, 154 n24;

of Ramnami scriptures, 241 , 254 n19;

of Valmiki's Ramayana , 40


268

Psychoanalysis, 18 n14

Pujas , 36 , 143 , 146 -48, 157

Puppet plays, 9 , 24 , 158 .

See also Kerala shadow puppet play

Puranas , 24 , 75 , 189 , 197 n12, 202 -3, 205 , 230 , 235 , 237 , 247

Purnalingam Pillai, M. S., 191

Purusa, 93 , 107

Purusottama, 93

R

Radha, 144 , 218

RadhesyamRamayan , 68 , 78 -82, 87 n34

Raghava, 136 n17

Raghavan, V., 18 n16, 20 n20

Raghavapandaviya , 143

Raghunithdas, 241

Raghuvamsa , 111 n3

Raheja, Gloria, 11

Rajagopalachari, C., 20 n26, 72 , 73 , 86 n 17

Raksasas . See Demons

Rama, 51 -52, 56 , 67 ;

in AdhyatmaRamayana , 75 -76;

in Buddhism, 54 -55, 59 , 61 n15, 62 n17, 63 n24;

in Dasaratha Jataka , 54 -55;

desecrated images of, 175 -76, 180 , 194 ;

in Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 15 , 137 -38, 142 , 143 , 144 , 145 , 148 -49, 152 , 190 ;

in Hindi folklore, 22 -24;

as incarnation of Visnu, 38 , 51 , 56 , 72 , 75 , 93 -94, 99 , 107 , 113 n31, 121 , 126 , 138 , 192 ;

in Jainism, 35 , 44 ;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 32 , 73 -75, 89 -90, 95 -111, 163 -64;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 159 -68, 170 ;

in Krttivasa's Ramayana , 137 ;

marriage of, 13 , 119 -21, 218 , 220 , 221 , 227 ;

in modern poetry, 81 ;

moral virtue of, 19 n20, 67 , 72 , 77 -78, 81 , 89 , 217 ;

in Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 54 -55, 62 nn16-17;

in RadhesyamRamayan , 78 -81;

in Raghuvamsa , 111 n3,

in Ramakien , 38 -39, 59 ;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 175 , 176 , 181 -82, 184 -86, 192 , 194 , 201 n50;

and Ram Lila, 78 , 88 n43, 148 , 153 n20, 218 , 227 -28;

and Ramnami sect, 242 ;

in rasik tradition, 13 , 218 , 220 -26, 230 ;

and revelation of divine identity, 92 -94, 106 -10;

Sita repudiated by, 7 , 10 , 12 , 14 , 67 , 72 , 86 n17, 89 -111, 124 , 184 ;

in Tamil culture, 32 , 175 , 178 -79;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 205 -14;

in Thai culture, 38 -39;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 77 , 218 , 225 , 242 ;

in Uttararamacarita , 111 n3,

Valin killed by, 7 , 12 , 20 n20, 67 , 72 , 89 , 102 ,109, 113 n30, 171 n3, 184 , 185 -86;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 6 -7, 32 , 69 -72, 82 , 90 -95, 108 , 110 ;

in women's songs, 11 , 15 , 118 -34, 136 n14

Rama I (king of Thailand), 37 , 55 -59, 62 n23, 63 n24

Rama II (king of Thailand), 37 , 56

Rama III (king of Thailand), 59 , 63 n30

Rama V (king of Thailand), 59 , 62 n23

Rama VI (king of Thailand), 37 , 56 , 62 n20

Rama VII (king of Thailand), 59

Rama IX (king of Thailand), 59

Ramakien , 7 , 10 , 25 ;

Buddhist aspects of, 10 , 14 , 51 , 55 -59;

cross-cultural transmission of, 33 ;

and cultic practice, 57 -59;

Hindu aspects of, 10 , 14 , 51 , 55 -57;

performance of, 57 , 59 ;

in Thai culture, 37 -39, 51 , 55 -59,

in visual art, 57 -59, 63 nn27, 31

Ramalingamrta , 230

Ramalingaswami, 189

Ramanandi sect, 75

Ramanuja, 202 -3

Ramanujan, A. K., 7 -8, 14 , 15 , 69 , 151 , 189

Ramaraju. B., 136 n19

Ramasami, E. V.: arrest of, 175 -76, 178 , 196 n5;

and burning of Rama's image, 175 -76, 180 , 194 , 196 n1;

Citamparanar"s biography of, 189 , 196 n6;

Gandhian principles espoused by, 177 ;

political activism of, 175 -80, 194 -95;

print medium utilized by, 176 , 180 , 193 ,

as public speaker, 192 -93;

as a sadhu (holy man), 177 ;

writing style of, 180 , 191 -93;

as a youth, 176 -77, 194 , 196 n7

Ramasami, E. V., exegesis of Ramayana by: antibrahmanical doctrine in, 12 , 181 , 182 , 183 , 184 , 185 , 186 -87, 188 , 189 -91;

anti-Northern doctrine in, 12 , 176 , 178 , 181 , 184 , 185 , 186 , 191 , 194 ;

censorship of, 193 , desacralization in, 181 , 190 -91, 192 , 194 , 197 n12;

Dravidian culture promoted in, 12 , 181 , 182 , 186 , 187 , 191 , 192 ;

Hindu morality of, 182 , 184 ;

methodology of, 182 , 188 , 192 ;

performance of, 193 -94, 198 n22;

quotations from learned men in, 181 , 187 -88;

rhetoric of, 191 -93, 194 ;

sources of, 188 -91

Ramaswami Sastri, K., 71

Ramcarandas, Mahant, 223 , 230

Ramcaritmanas See Tulsidas


269

Ram Lila, 12 , 19 n19, 78 , 88 n43, 148 , 153 n20, 218 , 227 -28

Ramnami sect: and bhakti , 240 , 241 , 242 , 243 , 250 ;

chants (bhajans ) modified by, 240 -42;

competitive chants (takkar ) of, 244 , 245 -50, 254 n29;

conversational chants of, 244 -45;

critique of caste in, 16 , 240 , 241 -42, 244 ;

and gvan , 240 , 242 , 246 , 247 , 248 , 250 , 254 n29;

illiteracy in, 239 ;

lila in, 249 -50;

literacy in, 16 , 248 , 246 -47, 250 ;

mantras in, 239 , 243 -44, 251 ;

Parasuram as founder of, 238 -39, 253 n13;

Ramcaritmanas modified by, 13 -14, 16 , 238 , 240 , 241 -42, 244 , 251 ;

Ramcaritmanas worshiped by, 13 , 235 , 238 -39, 240 , 242 , 243 , 251 ;

scriptures selected by, 240 -41, 243 , 254 n18;

vidvans (scholars) in, 246 -50, 254 n29

RamRasik Gita , 248

Ramsvayamvar , 227

Rasik tradition: allegedly derivative character of, 228 -30, 231 ;

astayam schedule in, 223 -25;

and Ayodhya, 218 -19, 220 , 225 , 226 , 228 , 229 , 230 ;

and divine city of Saket, 220 -21, 223 , 225 , 226 , 228 , 229 , 231 ;

eroticism in, 218 , 220 , 223 , 224 , 225 , 230 ;

iconography of, 219 , 221 , 222 ,

initiation in, 221 -23;

lila in, 219 , 220 , 222 , 224 -28;

marriage of Rama and Sita in, 13 , 220 , 221 , 227 ;

poetry in, 222 -23, 225 ;

politics of, 227 -28, 229 ;

role-playing in, 219 , 221 , 222 ;

social history of, 228 -29;

and tantrism, 221 , 230 ;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 13 , 218 , 230 ;

visualization in, 219 , 221 , 222 , 224 -26, 228 , 229 , 231

Raspancadhyayi,228

Rationalism: and Buddhism, 62 n23;

and Jainism, 35

Ratnakara, 142

Ravana: in AdhyatmaRamayana , 76 ;

in Buddhism, 54 , 62 nn16-17, 190 ;

in Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 11 , 137 -38, 142 , 144 , 148 , 147 , 148 -49, 150 , 152 , 190 ;

in Jainism, 15 , 33 -35, 43 , 44 , 189 -90;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 75 ;

in Kannada folklore, 35 -37;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 159 -60, 162 , 164 , 166 -67, 169 -70;

in Krttivasa's Ramayana , 137 ;

in Paumacariya , 34 -35;

in Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 54 , 62 nn16-17;

pregnancy of, 36 -37;

in RadhesyamRamayan , 80 , 82 ;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 15 , 175 , 176 , 182 , 186 -87, 189 -90, 191 , 194 ;

and Ram Lila, 148 , 154 n20;

and Ramnami sect, 249 -50;

ritual burning of, 175 , 194 ;

in Santali tradition, 44 ;

Sita as daughter of, 34 , 36 -37;

in Tamil culture, 175 , 178 ;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 206 , 209 , 210 , 211 , 212 , 213 ;

in Thai culture, 39 , 43 ;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 77 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 5 -7, 71 , 72 , 186 ;

in women's songs, 121 -22, 126 -27, 129 , 131 -32

Reynolds, Frank E., 9 -10, 14 , 17 n11

Richman, Paula, 12

Rituals: antibrahmanical critique of, 178 , 242 ;

in Buddhism, 58 -59;

and Kerala shadow puppet play, 157 ;

Laksmi festival as, 84 ;

and men, 116 , 119 ;

and pujas , 36 , 143 , 146 -48, 157 ;

Ravana's image burned in, 175 , 194 ;

sacrificial, 50 , 186 -87, 238 ;

in Telugu culture, 33 ;

in Thai culture, 58 -59;

Vedic, 74 , 119 , 178 ;

and women, 116 , 119 -20.

See also Bhajans

Rsyasrnga, 40 , 121 , 122 , 123

Rudolph, Lloyd, 201 n50

Rushdie, Salman, 81

S

Sabuja Patra (periodical), 151

Sacrificial rituals, 50 , 186 -87, 238

Saket, divine city of, 220 -21, 223 , 225 , 226 , 228 , 229 , 231

Sambuka, 185

Sambukumaran, 171 n3

Samhitas, 235 , 237 , 247 , 252 n4

SanatkumaraSamhita , 215 n5

Sanskrit, 24 , 68 , 116 , 141 ;

AdhyatmaRamayana in, 68 , 75 ;

and cross-cultural transmission, 33 ;

etymology of names in, 36 ;

folklore in, 31 ;

Hindi language derived from, 178 ;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 172 n16;

in Laotian culture, 61 n15,

multisemic narrative in, 142 -43;

in rasik tradition, 219 ;

scriptural texts in, 236 -38, 247 ;

in Srivaisnavism, 202 -3;

translation of, 45 , 247 ;

transliteration of, 252 ;

Valmiki's Ramayana in, 25 , 45 , 68 ;

in women's songs, 129 ;

wordplays in, 70 , 71

Santa: birth of, 122 ;

as central character in women's songs, 118 , 121 ;

marriage of, 121 , 122 ;

Sita defended by, 123 , 124 , 126 -27, 129 , 130

Santali, 24 , 44

Saran, Rampriya, 227 , 230


270

Sarasvati, Dayananda, 191

Sarasvati (wife of Brahma), 123

Sarita (periodical), 81

Sastras , 177 , 182 , 184 , 186 , 235 , 237 ;

in Srivaisnavism, 202 , 204 , 205 , 206 , 209 , 214

Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta, 188

Satakantharavana , 43

Satrughna, 6 , 125 , 132 , 136 n17, 182 , 183

Scott, Walter, 141

Sculpture, 24 , 50 , 63 n27

Seely, Clinton, 11 , 15

Self-Respect Movement, 177 -78, 189 , 197 n 13

Sen, Dineshchandra, 190

Sesa, 75 , 125

Sexuality: and asceticism, 82 -83;

in songs, 129 ;

of Surpanakha, 67 -68, 187 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 82 -83;

and women, 67 -68, 79 , 84 , 116

See also Eroticism

Shadow plays, 24 , 158 , 171 n6.

See also Kerala shadow puppet play

Shulman, David, 10 -11, 14 , 18 n12

Siddhanta Deepika (periodical), 188

Siddhars, 189

Sikhs, 190

Simha, Raghuraj, 227 , 230

Simha, Udit Narayan, 227

Singh, Bhagavati Prasad, 219 , 224 , 227 , 228 , 229 , 231 , 233 nn28, 37

Singh, Kali Prosanna, 149

Sita: in Adbhuta Ramayana , 43 ;

in AdhyatmaRamayana , 33 , 75 -76;

in Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 142 ;

as incarnation of Laksmi, 75 , 84 , 93 , 94 , 99 , 104 , 121 ;

as incarnation of Sri, 205 , 209 , 212 ;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 73 -75, 89 -90, 95 -111, 112 n22;

in Kannada folklore, 35 -37, 43 ;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 162 , 164 ;

marriage of, 13 , 119 -21, 218 , 220 , 221 , 227 ;

in modern poetry, 81 ;

morality of, 83 -84;

in Paumacariya , 34 ;

in RadhesyamRamayan , 78 -81;

in Raghuvamsa , 111 n3;

in Ramakien , 38 -39;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 182 , 183 , 184 , 186 , 201 n50;

Rama's repudiation of, 7 , 10 , 12 , 14 , 67 , 72 , 86 n17, 89 -111, 124 , 184 ;

and Ramnami sect, 242 ;

in rasik tradition, 13 , 218 , 221 -24, 226 , 227 , 230 ,

as Ravana's daughter, 34 , 36 -37;

in San-tali tradition, 44 ;

in Satakantharavana , 43 ;

in Tamil culture, 43 -44;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 205 -6, 208 -11, 212 , 213 , 215 n3;

in Thai culture, 37 -39;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 77 , 120 , 218 , 242 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 6 -7, 69 -71, 90 -95, 108 , 110 ,

and variant endings of Ramayana , 39 -40,

in women's songs, 15 , 118 -27, 129 -32, 134

Siva, 56 , 67 , 148 ;

in AdhyatmaRamayana , 156 ;

in Buddhism, 56 , 61 n13, 147 ;

in Dutt's Meghanadavadha Kavya , 145 -46, 148 ;

Hanuman as incarnation of, 254 n22;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 104 , 107 -8;

in Kannada folklore, 35 -36;

in Kerala tradition, 170 ;

in Laotian culture, 61 n13;

as narrator of Ramayana , 156 ;

Rama as incarnation of, 107 ;

in Ramakien , 38 , 56 , 61 n13;

and sexuality, 82 -83;

in Thai culture, 38 , 56 ;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 156 ;

in women's songs, 123 , 125 , 126

Smith, Brian K., 252 nn2,4

Smith, Vincent, 199 n31

Smrti texts, 235 -38, 240 , 251 , 252 nn2, 5 , 253 n11

Social reform, 175 , 177 , 179

Songs: agricultural context of, 130 -32;

of Brahmin women, 14 , 114 -30, 133 -34;

composed by women, 118 , 135 n8;

critique of male dominance in, 9 , 11 , 15 , 129 -30, 133 ;

critique of social hierarchy in, 131 -32, 134 ,

domestic context of, 127 -28;

family relations in, 129 , 132 , 136 n12;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 159 , 172 n17;

of lower-caste women, 114 , 130 -33, 134 ;

printed versions of, 115 , 130 , 135 n4;

sexuality in, 129 , 218 ;

vijaya , 147 ;

working, 117 , 130 -31, 135 n6.

See also Bhajans

Sri, 204 , 205 , 209 -11, 212 , 215 n3

Sri Lanka, 50 , 60 n7

SrivacanaBhusana , 205

Srivaisnavism: bhaktiyoga in , 203 ;

and Christian exegesis, 211 -14;

founding of, 202 ;

popularization of, 203 ;

and prapatti (surrender), 203 , 207 ;

Sanskrit in, 202 -3;

Sri as mediator in, 204 , 205 , 209 -11;

in Tamil culture, 202 -3;

Tenkalai doctrine of salvation in, 203 , 204 , 205 -7, 211 , 214 ;

Tenkalai exegesis of Ramayana in, 13 , 204 -14, 215 n3;

Vatakalai doctrine of salvation in, 203 -4, 214 ;

Vatakalai exegesis of Ramayana in, 13 , 207 ;

Vedic rituals in, 203 -4;

Visistadvaita philosophy in, 202 -3

Srutakirti , 127

Sruti texts, 235 -38, 239 , 240 , 242 , 251 , 252 nn2, 3 , 5 , 253 n8


271

Structuralism, 10 , 68

Subramaniam, V. 179

Subramanya Sastri, P. S., 70 , 71

Sudras, 179 , 185

Sugriva, 6 -7, 91 , 125 , 182 , 183 , 184 , 209

Sukh Sagar , 241

Sumantra, 183

Sumitra, 6 , 122 , 127 , 132 , 136 n17, 183

Sundaram Pillai, P., 191

Surkisor, 226

Surpanakha: in Adhyatma Ramayana , 68 , 75 -76;

in Brahmavawarta Purana , 88 n48;

as demoness (raksasi ), 6 , 10 , 69 , 71 , 74 -77;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 68 , 72 -75;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 162 , 163 , 164 ;

in modern poetry, 81 ;

morality of, 83 -84;

mutilation of, 6 , 10 , 12 , 19 n19, 67 -84 passim, 186 ;

in RadhesyamRamayan , 68 , 78 -82;

in Ramakien , 38 ;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 186 , 187 ;

sexuality of, 67 -68, 187 ;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 68 , 77 -78;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 6 , 68 -73;

in women's songs, 15 , 118 , 126 , 130

Svargarchanaparvan , 112 n12

Symbolic translation, 45

T

Tagore, Babu Dehendra Nath, 149

Tagore, Jotindra Mohan, 150 , 154 n25

Tagore, Rabindranath, 149 , 150 -51

Tagore, Satyendranath, 152 n1

Takkar , 244 , 245 -50, 254 n29

Tamil culture, 24 ;

asceticism in, 189 ;

bhakti in, 32 , 43 , 90 , 97 -98, 102 , 110 ;

Brahmins in, 175 , 177 , 179 , 189 ;

Buddhism in, 200 n34;

classical tradition in, 18 n15, 43 ,

and cross-cultural transmission of Ramayana , 33 ;

Dravidian movement in, 175 , 177 -79, 181 , 189 , 194 , 195 , 196 n2;

folklore in, 31 ;

Hinduism in, 175 ;

Kampan's Iramavataram in, 7 , 18 n12, 25 , 31 -33, 43 , 68 , 72 , 98 ;

Kural in, 43 ;

North Indian domination of, 176 , 177 , 178 -79, 181 , 182 ;

poetry in, 8 , 18 n15, 43 , 90 , 101 -2, 110 , 112 n20;

Rama in, 32 , 175 , 178 -79;

Ravana in, 175 , 178 ;

Satakantharavana in, 43 ;

Self-Respect Movement in, 177 -78, 189 ;

Sita in, 43 -44;

Srivaisnavism in, 202 -3;

Vaisnavism in, 72 , 102 ;

water symbolism in, 43 ;

women in, 73 , 75 , 81 , 87 n25

Tantrism, 75 , 221 , 230 , 252 n4

Tapas , 34 , 48 n5

Tasso, Torquato, 141 , 149

Tataka, 72 , 82

Televised Ramayana , 3 -4, 17 nn3,8

Telugu culture: Brahmin women's songs in, 14 , 114 -30, 133 -34;

and cross-cultural transmission of Ramayana , 33 ;

folklore of, 37 ;

Hanuman in, 47 ;

lower-caste women's songs in, 114 , 130 -33;

multiplicity of Ramayanas in, 24 , 48 n3;

temple ritual in, 33

Tenkalai school. See Srivaisnavism

Thai culture: art in, 37 , 57 -59, 63 n27;

Buddhism in, 37 , 51 , 55 -59;

classical tradition in, 51 ;

and cross-cultural transmission of Ramayana , 33 ;

cultic practice in, 57 -59, 63 n31;

dance in, 37 , 57 ;

Hanuman in, 37 -39;

Hinduism in, 37 , 51 , 55 ;

Laksmana in, 38 ;

and multiplicity of Ramayanas , 24 ;

performance in, 57 , 59 , plays in, 37 ;

Rama in, 37 -39;

Ramakien in, 7 , 10 , 37 -39, 51 , 55 -59;

Ravana in, 39 , 43 ;

ritual in, 58 -59;

significance of war in, 38 ;

Sita in, 37 -39;

Siva in, 38 , 56 ;

Visnu in, 38

Thapar, Romila, 4 , 8

Theater. See Performance;

Plays

Theravada Buddhism, 51 , 52 , 53 -54, 58 , 60 n7

Thompson, Edward, 151

Tibet, 24 , 33 , 37

Tilottamasambhava (Dutt), 154 n24

Tiruvaymoli , 113 nn22,24

Translation. of Bengali, 141 ;

of Kampan's Iramavataram , 73 , 86 n18;

of E. V. Ramasami's Characters in the Ramayana , 180 ;

of Sanskrit, 141 , 247 ;

types of, 44 -45, of Valmiki's Ramayana , 17 n10, 44 -45, 192 ;

of Virasaiva poetry, 189

Tripathi, Umapati, 233 n21

Trisiras, 71

Tuisidas, Ramcaritmanas of, 44 , 51 ;

bhakti in, 76 , 230 , 240 ;

Brahmins favored in, 237 , 240 ;

cross-cultural transmission of, 33 ;

interpolated texts in, 253 n11;

lila in, 218 , 225 , 236 ;

mantric use of, 238 , 239 , 251 ;

marriage of Rama and Sita in, 120 , 218 , 220 ;

and oral tradition, 236 , 238 ;

performance of, 218 , 219 , 236 -37;

rasik exegesis of, 13 , 218 , 230 ;

as scriptural text, 13 , 235 -40, 242 , 251 ;

Surpanakha's mutilation in, 68 , 76 -78;

tested in Siva's temple, 237 , vedacization of, 237 -38, 253 n8;

as vernacular text, 237 , 238 ;

women in, 87 n29, 240 , 242 . See also Ramnami sect


272

U

Untouchables, 13 , 35 , 111 n3, 130 , 177 , 185 .

See also Ramnami sect

Upanisads, 107 , 184 , 202 , 205 , 235 , 237 , 247 , 252 n2

Urbanization, 117 , 179

Urmila, 118 , 124 -25, 126 -27, 130 , 131

Uttarakanda , 8 , 67 , 72 , 89 , 90 , 93 , 94 , 111 n5, 119 , 225

Uttararamacarita , 111 n3

Uttar kand . See Uttarakanda

Uttar Pradesh, 193 , 218 , 241

Uyir , 97 -99

V

Vaisnava tradition, 72 , 102 , 144 , 219 , 221 -22, 227 , 230 .

See also Rasik tradition

Valéry, Paul, 46

Valin, 7 , 12 , 20 n20, 67 , 72 , 89 , 171 n3;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 102 , 109 , 113 n30;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 164 ;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 184 , 185 -86

Valmiki, 7 , 17 n2, 123 , 142

Valmiki, Ramayana of: Ahalya episode in, 25 -28, 83 ;

bhakti in, 72 ;

brahmanization of, 237 ;

cited in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 215 n7;

compared to Adhyatma Ramayana , 76 ;

compared to Brahmin women's songs, 115 , 124 ;

compared to Kampan's Iramavataram , 31 -32, 40 , 43 -44, 75 , 100 , 108 , 110 -11;

compared to Thai Ramakien , 38 -39;

influence of, 5 , 17 n10;

interpolated materials in, 8 , 90 ;

prosody of, 40 ;

Rama's divinity revealed in, 92 -94, 106 , 108 , 110 ;

Rama's repudiation of Sita in, 7 , 10 -11, 90 -95, 110 -11, 124 ;

sexuality in, 82 -83;

as standard version, 5 , 9 ;

Surpanakha's mutilation in, 6 , 68 -73;

translations of, 17 n10, 44 -45, 192 ;

and variant beginnings, 40 ;

and variant endings, 39 -49;

women in, 122

Van der Veer, Peter, 219 , 228 , 230

Vasantan, 164

Vasistha, 126 , 183

Vatakalai school.

See Srivaisnavism

Vedanta, 75 , 107 , 184 , 202 -3, 205

Vedas, 104 , 185 , 186 , 189 , 205 , 247 , 248 , 252 n4;

as sruti texts, 235 , 236 , 237 , 238 , 251 , 252 n3, 253 n8;

and vedacization of texts, 237 -38

Vedic rituals, 74 , 119 , 178 , 203 -4, 205

Vegetarianism, 100 , 115 , 185 , 187

Vibhisana, 7 , 90 -91, 125 , 131 , 145 , 242 ;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 159 -63 passim, 168 , 169 ;

in E. V. Ramasami's exegesis, 182 , 183 , 186 ;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 209 , 210

Victorian commentators, 217 , 230 , 231

Vidvans , 246 -50, 254 n29

Vidyujjihva, 72

Vijaya songs, 147

Vimalasuri, 34 -35, 43 -45, 189 -90

Virabahu, 137

Viradha, 113 n30

Virasaiva poetry, 189

Virgil, 141 , 149

Visistadvaita Vedanta, 202 -3

Visnu: in Buddhism, 56 ;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 104 ;

in Kerala shadow puppet play, 167 ;

Rama as incarnation of, 38 , 51 , 56 , 72 , 75 , 93 -94, 99 , 107 , 113 n31, 121 , 126 , 138 , 192 ;

in Ramakien , 38 , 56 ;

royal power identified with, 229 ;

in Tenkalai Srivaisnavism, 205 ;

in Thai culture, 38 , 56 ;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 77 ;

in women's songs, 121 , 123 , 125 , 126 , 136 n14

Visravas, 72

VisramSagar , 241

Visualization, in rasik tradition, 219 , 221 , 222 , 224 -26, 228 , 229 , 231

Visvamitra. in Hindi folktale, 23 ;

in Kampan's Iramavataram , 29 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 25 , 28 , 72 , 82

Vrajabhaktivilasa , 228

Vraj Vilas , 241

W

Wells, H. G., 199 n31

Widows, 72 , 79 , 84 , 116 , 131 , 178

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 44

Women: as agricultural laborers, 130 -31;

and asceticism, 88 n50;

Brahmin, 14 , 15 , 114 -17, 119 -20, 122 , 128 , 133 ;

and childbirth, 119 -20;

in domestic sphere, 127 -28;

lower-caste, 114 , 130 -34,

and male dominance, 9 , 11 , 15 , 79 , 83 , 116 , 128 -29, 133 ;

and modernization, 79 ;

and morality, 83 -84;

public appearance of, 91 , 116 ;

punishment of, 81 -82;

and Ramnami critique of social hierarchy, 240 , 242 ;

and rituals, 116 , 119 -20;

and segregation from men, 116 , 117 ;

sexuality of, 67 -68, 79 , 84 , 116 ;

as song composers, 118 , 135 n8;

subjugated by Hinduism, 184 -85;

in Tamil culture, 73 , 75 , 81 , 87 n25;

Telugu songs of, 11 , 14 ,


273

15 , 114 -36;

in Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas , 87 n27, 240 , 242 ;

in Valmiki's Ramayana , 122

Work songs, 117 , 130 -31, 135 n6

Wyatt, David, 62 n23

Y

Yamuna, 202

Yantras, 239

Young Bengal, 139 , 141

Yuddhakanda , 67

Yudhisthira, 92


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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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

7. Ibid.

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

7. Ibid.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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).

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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).

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

6. SrimadValmikiramayana , 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.

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 IyarriyaIramayanam (Annamalai: Annamalai Palkalaikkalakam, 1957), vol. 1.

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.

9. See, for example, the discussion of such views as summarized in Robert P. Goldman, trans., The Ramayanaof 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.

10. A. K. Ramanujan, trans., Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Visnuby Nammalvar (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 47.

11. AdhyatmaRamayana , 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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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).

19. Desai, Hinduism in Thai Life , 85.

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

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

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.

23. Dineshchandra Sen, Bengali Ramayanas .

24. Robert P. Goldman, ed., The Ramayanaof Valmiki , 7 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984-).

25. Personal communication from V. Narayana Rao.

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.

1. In this connection, I might note that this paper was originally written as the

inaugural lecture for a three-day Brown Symposium held at Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas) in October 1988. The symposium was devoted to the Thai version of the Rama story and was supplemented by the performance of major segments of the story by a dance troupe from Thailand.

2. For a description of these kae bon ("releasing from the promise") rituals, see Chantat Tongchuay, Ramakien kap Wanakam Thongton Pak Tai (research paper no. 8, Institute for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge, Sinakharintharavirot University, Songkhla, Thailand, 1979; in Thai), 27-31.

3. The tendency unduly to privilege Hindu versions in general, and certain Hindu versions in particular, is evidenced by the common practice of referring to the various tellings of the Rama story by the essentially Hindu term Ramayana . The practical advantages of following this convention are obvious, but the fact that it implicitly privileges some versions over others should not be ignored.

4. I do not wish to imply here any radical dichotomy between classical and popular traditions. I use the term classical simply to signal the fact that the tellings of the Rama story that I will consider in this paper are fully developed Rama traditions that have been continuously transmitted over the course of many generations. Although these traditions are associated with particular literary texts, they have also been expressed in a variety of other media including, especially, dance and iconography.

5. A great amount of work has been done comparing various versions of the Rama story. Generally, however, the emphasis has been on literary elements of style and narrative detail rather than on differences in religious structure. So far as I am aware, the only wide-ranging attempt to compare Hindu and Buddhist versions that shows any significant concern for their religious structure is Harry Buck's now seriously dated essay, "The Figure of Rama in Asian Cultures," Asian Profile 1, no. 1 (August 1973): 133-58.

6. In dance performances and iconographic representations that lack introductory narratives to set the scene, the sense that the story is occurring in a primordial time is often evoked through the use or representation of masks charged with sacral significance.

7. In the remainder of this article, unless otherwise specified "Buddhism" refers to the Theravada tradition. The Rama story has, of course, had significant crystallizations in other Buddhist environments, and the Buddhist structure delineated below is to a considerable extent discernible in many of those other contexts as well. However, I have chosen to focus the discussion on Theravada materials. So far as I am aware, the full range of classical crystallizations of the Rama story within the Theravada tradition has never been seriously treated by a Theravada scholar. In part, this serious lacuna in Theravada scholarship can be traced to some very influential Buddhologists, who have concluded from the seeming paucity of classical Rama traditions in Sri Lanka that these traditions do not play a significant role in Theravada culture as a whole. For an example of this kind of over-generalization from the Sinhalese situation, see Richard Gombrich, "The Vessantara Jataka, the Ramayana and the Dasaratha Jataka" in Journal of the American Oriental Society 105, no. 3 (July-September 1985), 497-37. For a very brief but much more accurate assessment of the presence and role of the Rama story, both in Sri Lanka and in the Theravada countries of Southeast Asia, see Heinz Bechert, "On the Popular Religion of the Sinhalese" in Buddhism in C eylon and Studies on Religious Syncretism in Buddhist Countries , ed. Heinz Bechert (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978), 230-31.

8. In the article cited in note 7, Richard Gombrich argues that the Dasaratha Jataka is a self-conscious "parody" of the Hindu Ramayana . In my judgment his argument, which seriously underplays some of the most distinctive characteristics of the Dasaratha Jataka that I will discuss, is not convincing.

9. The Phra Lak Phra Lam or the Phra Lam Sadok, 2 vols. (New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations, 1973). For a discussion of this text, which was found in the Laotian capital of Vientienne, see Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam: Version Lao du Ramayana indien et les fresques murales du Vat Wat Oup Moung, Vientienne, vol. 1 of Littérature Lao (Vientienne: Vithanga, 1972).

10. Among the "sister texts" that have thus far been identified, there is a north Laotian version known as the P'ommachak (see the reference in Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam ) and a fascinating variant called Gvay Dvorahbi (see Sachchidanand Sahai, The Ramayana in Laos: A Study in the GvayDvorahbi [Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1976]). This latter text, based on the Dundubhi episode in the Rama story, involves the killing of a buffalo, which suggests that this telling of the tale may have served as a correlate or substitute for the buffalo sacrifices that have, in the past, been ubiquitous in Laos. At this point, however, this remains a topic for further research.

11. For a Southeast Asian rendition of Theravada cosmology and correlated cosmogony based directly on the Pali Tipitaka (Skt. Tripitaka) and early Pall commentaries, see chapter 10 of Frank E. Reynolds and Mani B. Reynolds, Three Worlds According to King Ruang, University of California Buddhist Research Series no. 4 (Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1982).

12. When details vary from text to text, I follow the Vientienne version.

13. Given that Siva is the preeminent god in the literary Ramakien tradition that was associated with the kings of Thailand in the Bangkok period, and probably in the earlier Ayudhya period as well, it is interesting to note the way he is portrayed in the Laotian tellings of the story. In the Vientienne text, Siva (Lao: Aysouane) is a second name that Indra gives to a Buddhist-type brahma deity, the only son of the original pair of brahms deities who came down to earth and established the city of Inthapatha. In the P'ommachak account from northern Laos, Siva is presented as a relatively minor deity who once became inebriated and as a result fell from heaven to earth. The fallen Siva becomes an ally of Ravana's father and an enemy of Indra and Dasaratha, the father of Rama. According to the story, a battle is fought and Siva and Ravana are defeated. (The P'ommachak version is summarized in Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 87.) Though corroborating evidence is not available, it is very tempting to see in these accounts a political polemic in which the Thai monarchs are being "situated" within the Laotian world.

14. The one exception to this that I know of is the Laotian GvayDvorahbi text mentioned in note 10. In this text the story is presented as a sermon of the Buddha, but it does not (at least explicitly) take the form of a jataka story.

15. Within the broader Buddhist context an interesting variant was discovered by H. W. Bailey, which he discussed in his "The Rama Story in Khotanese," Journal of the American Oriental Society 59 (1939): 460-68. In this Khotanese version, Laksmana rather than Rama plays the leading role: the Gotama Buddha who tells the story identifies Laksmana as himself in a previous life, while Rama is identified as one who will be reborn as Metteya (Skt. Maitreya), the Buddha of the future who will appear at the end of the present age. Given the importance of non-Theravada, Sanskrit traditions in the history of the greater Laos area, it is perhaps interesting to note the

primacy seemingly given to Laksmana in the naming (though not in the content) of the Phra Lak/Phra Lain tradition.

16. The Phra Lak/Phra Lain narratives exhibit the general Buddhist tendency not to radicalize the distinction between good and evil. As in some (though by no means all) of the Hindu versions, Ravana is presented as a figure who evokes a considerable amount of admiration and sympathy.

17. Given that the Vientienne version of the Phra Lak/Phra Lain account identifies Rama and Ravana as the rebirth precursors of the Buddha and Devadatta, it is not surprising that Rama and Ravana are (like the Buddha and Devadatta) depicted as cousins. In this same text the deformed child who was the rebirth precursor of Ravana demonstrates unmatched religious erudition by solving a set of riddles presented to him by Indra. Could it be that the text intends to highlight, in the figure of Ravana, the insufficiency of such religious erudition in the absence of proper attitudes and behavior? Certainly this combination of religious virtuosity with improper attitudes and behavior would make the parallel between Ravana and Devadatta very close indeed: according to the Buddhist tradition, Devadatta was an extremely erudite religious virtuoso who nonetheless harbored a degree of jealousy and anger that caused him to seek the Buddha's death.

18. Up to this point the most detailed research has focused on the literary and episodic connections between the modern Ramakien (which presumably preserves the characteristics of earlier Thai versions) and Tamil traditions. See, for example, S. Singaravelu, "A Comparative Study of the Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai and Malay Versions of the Story of Rama ,"Journal of the Siam Society 56, pt. 2 (July 1968): 137-85; "The Rama Story in the Thai Cultural Tradition," Journal of the Siam Society 70, pts. 1 and 2 (July 1982): 215-25 (repr. in Asian Folklore Studies 44, no. 2 [1985]: 269-79); and "The Episode of Maiyarab in the Thai Ramakien and Its Possible Relation to Tamil Folklore," Indologica Taurinensia 13 (1985-86): 297-312.

19. For a discussion of the available evidence, see P. Schweisguth, Etude sur la littérature siamois (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1951).

20. Although the founder and early kings of the Chakri dynasty that founded the present Bangkok kingdom associated themselves closely with the figure of Rama, the now extremely common practice of designating them and their successors as Rama I, Rama II, and so on was not established until the time of Rama VI.

21. See, for example, Traiphum lok winitchai, chamlong chak chabap luang (Bangkok, 1913), which describes the Buddhist cosmos, including the various heavenly realms and their occupants.

22. The distinctively Buddhist elements are highlighted by Srisurang Poolthupya and Sumalaya Bangloy in Phrutikam Kong Tua Nai Rueng Ramakien Thai Prieb Tieb Kab Tua Lakhon Nai Mahakap Ramayana " (Research Document no. 12, Institute for Thai Studies, Thammasat University, Bangkok, 1981); and by Sathian Koset [Phaya Anuman Rajadhon], Uppakon Ramakien (Bangkok: Bannakan Press, 1972).

23. King Rama I, Ramakien , 2 vols. (Bangkok: Sinlapa Bannakhan, 1967), 1068. The rationalistic, skeptical attitude expressed toward Hindu mythology in this passage provides important confirmation of David Wyatt's thesis that the modernist orientation evident in the Buddhist reform movement led by Rama IV in the middle decades of the nineteenth century was prefigured in the workings and actions of Rama I. See Wyatt, "The 'Subtle Revolution' of King Rama I of Siam," in Moral Order and

the Question of Change: Essays on Southeast Asian Thought , ed. David Wyatt and Alexander Woodside (Monograph series no. 24, Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, New Haven, 1982), 9-52.

24. Whether or not Rama I was aware of earlier Buddhist tellings of the Rama story, he was in fact following a Buddhist tradition in using an epilogue to indicate the significance of the story he had told. In the Dasaratha Jataka and the Phra Lak/Phra Lam tellings of the tale, the crucial point that most explicitly reveals the Buddhist significance of the story (namely Rama's identity as a rebirth precursor of the Buddha and the identities of the other characters as rebirth precursors of the Buddha's "supporting cast") is always revealed in an epilogue.

25. See Mattani Rutnin, "The Modernization of Thai Dance-Drama, with Special Reference to the Reign of King Chulalongkorn" (Doctoral diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1978), 1:14-15.

26. This point was strongly confirmed by the Ramakien musicians and dancers who performed at the Brown Symposium at which the original version of this paper was presented.

27. Another important iconic telling of the Ramakien story is the set of sculptures now located in Wat Jetupom in Bangkok. Although this set of sculptures is of great artistic interest, it has not—in recent years at least—had a significant cultic function.

28. For an extended account of this process, see my essay "The Holy Emerald Jewel" in Religion and the Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos and Burma , ed. Bardwell Smith (Chambersburg, Penn.: Anima Books, 1978), 175-93.

29. Northern Thai texts contain accounts of processions of the Emerald Buddha image in which unspecified jatakas were chanted, a practice that clearly highlights the association of the image with bodhisatta -hood and Buddhahood. It is theoretically possible that a Rama Jataka was among those jatakas , but I am not aware of any evidence to support this conjecture.

30. Unlike his two predecessors and most of his successors, Rama III followed a school of opinion that considered literary and performance renditions of the Rama story too frivolous to deserve the attention of a serious Buddhist. However, his convictions did not inhibit his interest in refurbishing the iconic presentation of the story that was an integral component of the cult supporting the legitimacy of his dynasty.

31. The setting of the Ramakien murals on the walls of the galleries around the central altar on which the Emerald Buddha is installed, especially when taken in conjunction with the fact that the chanting of jatakas is a common practice in the cult, is clearly intended to hint that Rama might be a rebirth precursor of the Buddha. There is, however, no evidence that this intimation has ever been explicitly formulated.

1. As Wendy O'Flaherty has pointed out, a myth can be interpreted on several levels: the narrative, the divine, the cosmic, and the human—the last concerned with problems of human society and with the search for meaning in human life. See her Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973), 2. See also O'Flaherty, "Inside and Outside the Mouth of God" (Daedalus 109, no. 2 [Spring 1980]: 103) for a discussion of myths as "social charters." In classifying the Rama story as a myth, I am defining a myth as a sacred story about supernatural beings and events that holds great significance for the members of a culture.

2. J. Moussaieff Masson, "Fratricide among the Monkeys: Psychoanalytic Observations on an Episode in the Valmikiramayanam," Journal oft he American Oriental Society 95, no. 4 (October-December 1975), 672.

3. David Shulman has discussed both these episodes from Kampan's Ramayana , the first in "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama," Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (August 1979), 651-69; the second in his article for this volume.

4. The name Surpanakha means literally "one who has nails (nakha ) like a winnowing basket (surpa )." In modern Indian languages such as Hindi, it is sometimes used as an epithet to describe an ugly, pug-nosed woman.

5. In fact, the specter of Surpanakha so haunted my imagination that, as a respite from studying for doctoral prelims, I wrote my own version of the episode (now happily consigned to oblivion) in which Sita, recognizing her "submerged self" in Surpanakha, leaves Rama and flees with her to the Himalayas to join Kali, the Great Goddess. Such is the power of the Rama story, that it is able to transcend cultures and emerge in countless transformations.

6. Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).

7. I am following the Critical Edition of the Ramayana , ed. by G. H. Bhatt and U. P. Shah, vol. 3: Aranyakanda , ed. by P. C. Dinanji (Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1963), sargas 16-17. I have also consulted two other Sanskrit editions: Srimadvalmikiramayana , with Amrtakataka of Madhavayogi, ed. by N. S. Venkatanathacarya (Mysore: University of Mysore, 1965) and Srimadvalmikiya Ramayana , with Hindi translation (Gorakhpur: Gita Press, [1960]). In these two, the episode occupies sargas 17-18. In English translation, I have consulted volume 2 of Hari Prasad Shastri, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , 3 vols. (London: Shanti Sadan, 1957); and Sheldon I. Pollock, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 3: Aranyakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991). Translations are my own unless otherwise noted.

8. Sheldon Pollock quotes the Southern recension as adding a line, which the Critical Edition omits: "For with your charming body you do not look like a raksasa woman to me." As he points out, the commentators find this remark difficult to explain, although it may be correct to view it as sarcastic (note on 16.16).

9. In the Southern recension, upon which the Critical Edition relies heavily, the beauty of Rama and the ugliness of Surpanakha are given special emphasis, while t he Bengali recension (23.18-25) clearly states that Surpanakha takes on a beautiful form. The following versions specifically mention Surpanakha's ugliness: Bhagavata Purana (9.10.9); Garuda Purana (143); Padma Purana (Patala Khanda 36 and Uttara Khanda 269), Devi Bhdgavata Purana (3.28). See also Camille Bulcke, Ramkatha: Utpatti aur Vikas (Prayag: Hindi Parisad Prakasan, 1950; in Hindi), 414.

10. Pollock translates tan aham samatikranta as "But I am prepared to defy them" (note to 16.21). Surpanakha seems here to be boasting about her own power. In the Gita Press edition the following line reads aham prabhavasampanna svacchandabalagamini , "I am powerful and able to go where I please."

11. See the note to 17.1 in Pollock.

12. See, for example, Bulcke, Ramkatha , 14, and "The Ramayana: Its History and Character," Poona Orientalist 25, nos. 1-4 (January/October 1960), 41.

13. P.S. Subramanya Sastri, A Critical Study of Valmiki Ramayana (Thiruvaiyaru: [P.S. Krishnan], 1968), 26-28. The verse in question (17.4) reads:

apurvi bharyay carthi tarunah priyadarsanah |

anurupas ca te bharta rupasyasya bhavis yati ||

Pollock translates this as: "He has never had a woman before and is in need of a wife. He is young and handsome and will make a good husband, one suited to such beauty as yours."

14. Gita Press edition, 538; my translation from the Hindi. The verse in question is 17.11 in the Critical Edition:

etam virupam asatim karalam nirnatodarim |

bharyam vrddham parityajya tvam evaisa bhajisyati ||

15. K. Ramaswami Sastri, Studies in Ramayana (Baroda: State Department of Education, 1941), 100.

16. Bulcke, "The Ramayana," 58; Swami Siddhanathananda, "Sri Rama— Dharma Personified," Prabuddha Bharata 77, no. 8 (September 1972), 395.

17. C. Rajagopalachari, Ramayana (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1958), 133. In the epilogue, however, he seems to change his mind and decry the banishment of Sita, saying that Rama, unlike Krsna, was unaware of his incarnation and that his divinity must have ended when he returned to Ayodhya. He also suggests that the banishment scene may be the result of a corruption in the text and his "heart rebels against it" (295-96).

18. Kampan is traditionally dated to the ninth century, although most scholars consider the twelfth century more probable. I have relied on the English translation of George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), patalam 5, from which all quotations are taken. I have also consulted "Kamban's Soorpanakha" from C. Rajagopalachari's retelling, 134-36, and S. Shankar Raju Naidu, A Comparative Study of Kamban Ramayanam and Tulasi Ramayan (Madras: University of Madras, 1971), 186-89 and 507-8.

19. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan 89.

20. For a discussion of traditional notions of karpu , see George L. Hart, The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), 96-98. For discussions of contemporary contexts, see Susan S. Wadley, ed., The Powers of Tamil Women , Foreign and Comparative Studies, South Asia series no. 6 (Syracuse: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1980).

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

21. Hart and Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan , 90.

22. Ibid., 101.

23. Ibid., 102.

24. Ibid., 109.

25. Voluntary sacrifice of a breast can also have powerful effects. In the Tamil classic Cilappatikaram , the main character, Kannaki, tears off her own breast and throws it into the city of Madurai, bringing about the city's destruction. In another tale from Madurai, Minaksi, the patron goddess of the city, loses her third breast when she first sets eyes on her future husband, Siva. See the various articles in Wadley, ed., Powers of Tamil Women , for further discussion of the significance of breasts in Tamil culture.

26. See Frank Whaling, The Rise of the Religious Significance of Rama (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980), 105; Rai Bahadur Lala Baij Nath, trans., The Adhyatma Ramayana (Allahabad: The Panini Office, 1913; reprinted as extra volume I in the Sacred Books of the Hindus , New York: AMS Press, 1974).

27. I have used the Gita Press edition, Sri Ramcaritmanas , which contains the Hindi text and an English translation (Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1968). The Surpanakha episode is on pp. 535-38.

28. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

29. A discussion of Tulsidas's treatment of women is given by Geeta Patel, "Women, Untouchables, and Other Beasts in Tulsi Das' Ramayana " (paper presented at the 17th annual conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, November 1988).

30. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

31. Ibid., 536.

32. Ibid.

30. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

31. Ibid., 536.

32. Ibid.

30. Sri Ramcaritmanas , 535.

31. Ibid., 536.

32. Ibid.

33. Quoted in Arvind Kumar, A Study in the Ethics of the Banishment of Sita (New Delhi: Sarita Magazine, n.d. [1975?]), 28.

34. Pandit Radhesyam Kathavacak, Sriram-katha (Radhesyam Ramayan ) (Bareli: Sri Radhesyam Pustakalay, 1960), 18-24: Aranyakanda , sankhya 10 (Pancavati ). The book has been reprinted many times, often in pirated editions, but was probably written shortly before or after Indian independence in 1947.

35. Madan Mohanlal Sarma, Uttar Ramcarit , ed. by Pandit Radhesyam Kathavacak (Bareli: Sri Radhesyam Pustakalay, 1960), 25-26.

36. See note 33.

37. Kumar, A Study in the Ethics of the Banishment of Sita , 59.

38. Ibid., 61.

37. Kumar, A Study in the Ethics of the Banishment of Sita , 59.

38. Ibid., 61.

39. Bulcke, Ramkatha , 415, gives an extensive list of which body parts are cut off in which versions.

40. Sasanka Sekher Parui, "Punishment of Women in Ancient India," Journal of the Oriental Institute of Baroda 26, no. 4 (June 1977), 362-68.

41. Parui ("Punishment of Women," 366-67) gives examples from various texts,

especially the Kathasaritsgara . For other sources of the "cut-off nose" motif, see Stith Thompson and Jonas Balys, The Oral Tales of India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958), 327, 386, and 401.

42. For example, a Bhutanese dance troupe which recently toured the United States performed a comic interlude in which husbands cut off their wives' noses at; a punishment for infidelity.

43. In the Rim Lila of Banaras, this episode, called the Nakkatayya, is one of the most elaborate, lasting all night and featuring a procession headed by a hijra (hermaphrodite) playing the role of Surpanakha. See Nits Kumar, "Popular Culture in Urban India: The Artisans of Banaras, c. 1884-1984" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1984), 261-94.

44. The phrase is Wendy O'Flaherty's, in Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva .

45. Abhinavagupta, Dhvanyaloka, karika 5. The story itself is found in Valmiki Ramayana , 1.2.8-18. See J. Masson, "Who Killed Cock Kraunca Abhinavagupta's Reflections on the Origin of Aesthetic Experience," Journal of the Oriental Institute of Baroda 18, no. 3 (March 1969): 207-24.

46. O'Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism , 302-10.

47. Two of Dasaratha's wives, Kausalya and Kaikeyi, are similarly dichotomized: Kausalya is virtuous, whereas Kaikeyi is sexually attractive. See Robert P. Goldman, trans., The Ramayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 54.

48. An exception is the unique account of Surpanakha in the Brahmavaivarta Purana (Krsnajanmakhanda 62), in which after her disfigurement she goes to the sacred lake Puskara to perform austerities: see Bulcke, Ramkatha , 417. Receiving a boon from Brahma to get Rama as her husband in her next life, she is reborn as Kubja, the hunchbacked woman who becomes one of the wives of Krsna, as whom Rama is reborn.

49. For an excellent discussion in this vein, see Cornelia Dimmitt, "Sita: Fertility Goddess and Sakti ," in The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India , ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff (Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series, 1982), 210-23.

50. Even female ascetics are suspect, as are unmarried women generally, since they are not under the control of a husband.

51. David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), 34.

1. Iramavataram 11.1.83. I cite the edition with commentary by Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar, Kamparamayanam (Madras: Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar Kampeni, 1971).

2. See David Shulman, "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama, "Journal of Asian Studies 38, no. 4 (August 1979): 651-69.

3. See, for example, Bhavabhuti, Uttararamacarita , Act I, where Rama calls himself a "monster" and an Untouchable because of what he must do to Sita—in order to preserve the good name of his family and his kingship; moreover, "the world itself is upside down" and "Rama was given life only in order to know pain" (v. 47). In Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa , 14.31-68, Rama says he simply cannot bear the libel spreading among his subjects, "like a drop of oil in water," and the poet adds that those who are rich in fame (yasas ) value it more than their own bodies, and a fortiori more than any object of sense perception (35). Although this reduces Sita's status considerably, Rama is said to be truly torn as to the proper course; and the poet allows Sita to express (to Laksmana) something of the horror and protest that his decision entails.

4. The argument is developed in part in David Shulman, "Toward a Historical Poetics of the Sanskrit Epic," forthcoming in the International Folklore Review .

5. A Tamil Uttarakanda , attributed to Ottakkuttar, Kampan's legendary rival, does exist; the tradition (which is quite prepared to credit Kampan with various inferior works such as Erelupatu ) insists that this does not belong to Kampan's oeuvre.

6. I cite Srimad Valmikiramayana , ed. by K. Chinnaswami Sastrigal and V. H. Su-brahmanya Sastri (Madras: N. Ramaratnam, 1958), which generally follows the Southern recension.

7. Note following VI. 118.1 la: SrimadValmikiramayana , ed. Chinnaswami Sastrigal and Subrahmanya Sastri, 901.

8. See the discussion of this incident in Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Hindu Myths (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975), 198.

9. See discussion in my paper, "The Yaksa's Questions," in a forthcoming volume on enigmatic modes edited by Galit Hasan-Rokem and David Shulman. This verse is omitted by the Critical Edition (it appears as 3247* in the notes).

10. I cannot agree with Robert Goldman, who explains the wide attestation of this section in the manuscript tradition and its consequent incorporation into the Critical Edition as the result of its being a "late and sectarian passage accepted with little change by all scribes": Robert P. Goldman, TheRamayana of Valmiki , vol. 1: Balakanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 44-45, n. 85.

11. This point will be taken up in greater detail in the forthcoming paper cited in note 4.

12. The corresponding (and contrasting) passage in the Mahabharata is the final chapter of the Svargarohanaparvan (XVIII.5), in which each of the heroes regains his divine self—but only after an apocalyptic war and the violent deaths of most of the dramatis personae. There it is death in battle that closes the cycle and allows a kind of negative reintegration, albeit not in this world but in the divine sphere.

13. Pittar,petaiyar , pattar ( = bhaktas ) : tarcirappuppayiram , 8.

14. Some scholars read this image in reverse: see the note by Kopalakirusnamacariyar on this verse (Kamparamayanam , 666).

15. Translated by A. K. Ramanujan, p. 42 of this volume.

16. otiyavutampu torumuyir ena: translated by A. K. Ramanujan, p. 43 of this volume.

17. I cannot explore here the relation between the notion of fluid uyir filling endless bodies and the Tamil ideal of "liquefaction," of melting and mingling in love; but see the fine discussion by Margaret Trawick Egnor, The Sacred Spell and Other Conceptions of Lije in Tamil Culture (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1978), 13, 20-21, 50, 104-6.

18. See VI.119.15 in the Sanskrit text: "I received my name but not my birth from Janaka; I came from the earth. You devalue my conduct, you who are a judge of good conduct."

19. On palai , see George L. Hart, The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and Their Sanskrit Counterparts (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), 221-29; Paula Richman, Women, Branch Stories, and Religious Rhetoric in a Tamil Buddhist Text , Foreign and Comparative Studies, South Asia series no. 12 (Syracuse: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1988), 62-68. Cf. David Shulman, "The Crossing of the Wilderness: Landscape and Myth in the Tamil Story of Rama," Acta Orientalia 42 (1981), 21-54.

20. In this respect, it bears a surprising resemblance to another Tamil genre, the kovai , a collection of love verses somewhat artificially arranged in preordained narrative sequence, from the lovers' first sight of one another until their final union. See Norman Cutler, Songs of Experience: The Poetics of Tamil Devotion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 82-91. In Kampan, of course, this orderly sequence is ruled out.

21. Tolkappiyam , porulatikaram I.11; cf. Rm. Periyakaruppan, Tradition and Talent in Cankam Poetry (Madurai: Madurai Publishing House, 1976), 168-73.

22. There are other points in the Iramavataram where Sita complains, ironically, about Rama. For example, at V.5.7, Sita cries out from her captivity: "You told me to stay home in the great city, not to come to the forest; you said you would return in a

few days. Where is that vaunted compassion (arul ) of yours now? I am all alone, and you are consuming my lonely life!" But verses such as these, reminiscent of the laments at unbearable separation in Nammalvar (e.g., Tiruvaymoli 5.4), are not meant to be taken at face value; they are a way of giving voice to the heroine's impatience and despair.

23. For a detailed discussion of this episode, see my "Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rama."

24. The insistence on autonomy in the form of service or devotion, and in a context of rejection, is a topos known also from Nammalvar. Thus Tiruvaymoli 1.7.8: "Though he looses his hold on me, not even he can make my good heart let go of him."

25. The myrobalan in the hand is a proverbial image signifying intimate close-HESS.

26. Kopalakirusnamacariyar on ver' evamenr' oru porul (VI.37.94; Kamparamayanam , 780).

27. See Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha-bhakti: The Early History ofKrsnaDevotion in South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983), 526-47; David Shulman, "Remaking a Purana: Visnu's Rescue of Gajendra in Potana's Telugu Mahabhagavatamu ," forthcoming in a volume of purana studies edited by Wendy Doniger (O'Flaherty).

28. Dasaratha speaks to this effect in Va1miki, too, but only after Rama himself has announced that the trial was only intended to convince the world.

29. Large parts of the Iramavataram read like dramatic dialogues that seem to assume a context of performance; the art of the dialogue in Kampan deserves a separate study. All major events spark extended comments from nearly every potential speaker. In this regard, see the insightful remarks by Stuart Blackburn in this volume.

30. A good example is the demon Viradha's stotra to Rama, who has just dispatched him, at III. 1.47-60. Similar passages accompany the deaths of Kabandha, Valin, and other of the avatar's victims; they occur as well, in shorter forms, when various sages encounter Rama. We should also recall that the poet consistently keeps Rama's true identity before our eyes by using divine-mythic epithets for him and his entourage.

31. Cf. the similar conclusion by George Hart and Hank Heifetz in their introduction to The Forest Book of theRamayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 6: "Again and again, he [Rama] is recognized as an incarnation of Visnu by those who meet or confront him, but Rama rarely shows a direct awareness of himself as the supreme god."

32. Thus (at V.5.6, for example) Sita may even address Rama, in absentia, as "Narayana."

1. The songs women sing on the Ramayana theme have received extensive attention from Telugu scholars for some time. The earliest collections of these songs were made by Nandiraju Chelapati Rao, StrilaPatalu (Eluru: Manjuvani Press, 1899), and Mangu Ranganatha Rao, NuruHinduStrilaPatalu (c. 1905). The existence of these early collections is reported in Sripada Gopalakrishnamurti's introduction to another collection, StrilaRamayanapuPatalu , ed. "Krishnasri" (Hyderabad: Andhrasarasvataparishattu, 1955), but they were unavailable to me. A more recent collection of folk-songs, which includes several shorter women's Ramayana songs, is that of Nedunuri Gangadharam, Minneru (Rajahmundry: Sarasvathi Power Press, 1968). A small but extremely interesting collection, which includes Ramayana songs collected from low-caste women, is found in Sriramappagari Gangappa, ed., Janapadageyaramayanamu (Gunturu: By the author, 1983). Another collection, also by Gangappa, is Janapadageyalu (Vijayawada: Jayanti Publications, 1985), which includes a number of the Ramayana songs already published in his 1983 collection.

Earlier studies of these songs include: Hari Adiseshuvu, Janapadageyavanmayaparicayamu (Gunturu: Navyavijnanpracuranalu, 1954; repr. 1967), 245-50; Birudaraju Ramaraju, Telugujanapadageyasahityamu (Hyderabad: Janapadavijnanapracuranalu, 1958; 2d ed. 1978), 78-126; Tumati Donappa, Janapadakalasampada (Hyderabad: Abhinandanasamiti, Acarya Tumati Donappa Mudu Arvaila Pandaga, 1972; repr. 1987); Panda Samantakamani, TelugusahityamuloRamakatha (Hyderabad: Andhrasa-

rasvataparishattu, 1972), 248-69; T. Gopalakrishna Rao, Folk Ramayanas in Telugu and Kannada (Nellore: Saroja Publications, 1984); and Kolavennu Malayavasini, Andhra Janapada Sahityamu: Ramayanamu (Visakhapatnam: By the author, 1986). Donappa includes several Ramayana songs from the Rayalasima region of Andhra Pradesh, unavailable in any other published collections. In addition, Gopalakrishna Rao mentions K. Srilakshmi's "Female Characters in Folk Songs Based on Ramayana" (M. Phil. thesis, Osmania University, Hyderabad, 1980), but unfortunately I was not able to consult it.

2. To continue the language metaphor, it may be said that there are Ramayanas whose grammar is less conventional, such as the DK (Dravida Khazagam) version popular in Tamilnadu: see Richman's essay in this volume. There are also several such Ramayanas in Telugu, most notably a recent feminist, Marxist version by Ranganayakamma entitled RamayanaVisavrksam (The Ramayana: A poison tree), 3 vols. (Hyderabad: Sweet Home Publications, 1974-76).

3. It should be noted that the popularity of these songs is waning: most young Brahmin women who attend college or university no longer sing these songs.

4. In 1955 Andhrasarasvataparishattu, a literary service organization in Hyderabad, assembled forty-two of these songs in one volume entitled StrilaRamayanapuPatalu , with a critical introduction by Sripada Gopalakrishnamurti, but no information is given about the methods of collection, the singers, or the context of singing. Absent also is information regarding the tunes to which these songs were sung. It is possible that the book drew chiefly or entirely on earlier printed sources. Gopalakrishnamurti's otherwise valuable introduction is silent about these matters. Even though the title page of the book says that it is edited by "Krishnasri"—presumably a pseudonym—the introduction indicates that Gopalakrishnamurti was not directly involved in the collection of these songs.

5. For example, Vaidikis, Niyogis, Golkondavyaparis, Madhvas Dravidas, etc., each group boasting numerous subdivisions.

6. In a work song, the lead singer sings the main text, while the refrain is repeated by the group of women working along with her. On my tape, however, one singer sings both the text and the refrain.

7. I was not able to acquire sung versions of several of the long songs, but they are available in print.

8. The author of "Kusalavula Yuddhamu" says that the song was composed "on behalf of" (tarapuna ) the Ramayana of Valmiki, referring to himself/herself in the third person but without giving a name: varusaga idi valmikiramayanamutarapuna vrasenuikavitanu . Because of the use of the masculine kavi , "poet," in this line, scholars have concluded that the author is a man. It is not improbable that kavi would be used to indicate a woman poet: the feminine term kavayitri is more pedantic. In another song, "Kusalavakuccalakatha," the author refers to herself as sati , "auspicious woman," again without mentioning her name. Quite possibly women poets preferred not to give their names because to do so would be immodest. Only one song, "Sita Melukolupu ," mentions its author's name: Kurumaddali Venkatadasu, a man. Gopalakrishnamurti thinks that two other songs, "Lankayagamu" and "Lankasarathi," were also composed by men, because men as well as women sing them.

9. See Gopalakrishnamurti's introduction to StrilaRamayanapuPatalu , ix-x.

10. Apparently this was the practice in premodern Andhra; it is attested in carv-

ings on temple carts and kalamkari cloth paintings.

11. In another song, also with a "locked out" theme, it is Rama's turn to be locked out and Sita refuses to open the door for him. See M. N. Srinivas, "Some Telugu Folk Songs," Journal oft he University of Bombay 13, no. 1 (July 1944): 65-86, and no. 4 (January 1945): 15-29. See David Shulman, "Battle as Metaphor in Tamil Folk and Classical Traditions," 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), 105-30, for a study of this song in a different perspective.

12. In reality, the mother-in-law is often a hindrance to the union of wife and husband. Women's folksongs make many references to quarrels between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

13. Again, this motif is not unknown in literary. Ramayanas : for example, the Bengali Ramayana of Krttivasa tells a similar story. Interestingly, many of the themes in the women's Ramayanas are similar to ones found in Jain versions. It is possible that the Jain versions were popular with Telugu Brahmin women, or, alternatively, that the Jain Ramayana authors borrowed from the women's versions—or both. At this stage of our research, it is difficult to tell for sure.

14. In another version, Rama suggests that he will serve Laksmana in another birth; for now, it would be improper for an older brother to serve a younger one. Thus, in the next avatar, Rama (i.e., Visnu) is born as Krsna and Laksmana as Balarama, Krsna's older brother—so Laksmana now receives Rama's services. (I am grateful to Jays Prabha for this information.)

15. For information on castes among whom widow remarriage is permitted, see V. Narayana Rao, "Epics and Ideologies: Six Telugu Folk Epics," in Another Harmony , ed. Blackburn and Ramanujan, 131-64.

16. The reason why Srirama here stands for Sita is unknown to me.

17. In Sanskrit the name is Raghava; Bharta and Satrika are Bharata and Satrughna; Kaika is Kaikeyi; and Saumitri is Sumitra. (Such adaptations of Sanskrit names are common in the dialects of the castes described here.) Maridi is a Telugu kinship term for a husband's younger brother.

18. Edwin Ardener, "Belief and the Problem of Women" and "The Problem Revisited," both in Perceiving Women , ed. Shirley Ardener (London: Dent, 1975), 1-17 and 19-27, respectively.

19. Ramaraju, however, comments that the events in the later part of the song "Kusalvula Yuddhamu" are "blemished by impropriety" (anaucitidosadusitamulu ), apparently referring to the harsh words Lava and Kusa speak against their father, Rama: Telugujanapadageyasahityamu , 117.

1. Yogindranath Bose, Maikela Madhusudana Dattera jivana-carita (The life of Michael Madhusudan Dutt) (5th ed.; Calcutta: Chakravarti, Chatterjee, & Co., 1925), 489. We are most fortunate to have a sizable collection of Dutt's letters preserved for us by his friends and published in the above biography and, in expanded form, in Ksetra Gupta, ed., Kavi Madhusudana o tamra patravali (Poet Madhusudan and his letters) (Calcutta: Grantha Nilaya, 1963). Nearly all of these were written in English, as is the case with the one cited here; a rare few are in Bengali. We also know he wrote in Italian, to Satyendranath Tagore, because Dutt himself tells us so, and in French, while he lived at Versailles—one of these letters being to the king of Italy, on the occasion of Dante's sixth birth centenary.

2. Nirad C. Chaudhuri, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 188.

3. See, for instance, Mohitlal Majumdar, Kavi Srimadhusudana (Poet Madhusudan) (3d ed.; Calcutta: Vidyodaya Library, 1975), 44-45; Nilima Ibrahim, Bamlara kavi Madhusudana (Bengal's poet Madhusudan) (3d ed.; Dhaka: Nawroz Kitabistana, 1978), 56; Suresh Candra Maitra, Maikela Madhusudana Datta: jivana o sahitya (Michael Madhusudan Dutt: His life and literature) (Calcutta: Puthipatra, 1975), 192; and Mobasher Ali, Madhusudana o navajagrti (Madhusudan and the Renaissance) (3d ed.; Dhaka: Muktadhara, 1981), 91.

4. Those interested in subversive similes and how Dutt used them might like to

read my "Homeric Similes, Occidental and Oriental: Tasso, Milton, and Bengal's Michael Madhusudan Dutt," Comparative Literature Studies 25, no. 1 (March 1988): 35-56.

5. Sushil Kumar De, Bengali Literature in the Nineteenth Century, 1757-1857 (2d ed.; Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1962), 480.

6. The earliest biography of Dutt gives his age as "about thirteen" at the time he entered Hindoo College—in 1837, according to that source: Bose, Jivana-carita , 25 and 48. An editor of Dutt's collected works cites a subsequent scholar's opinion—that the year was in fact 1833—and then notes that the college magazine dated 7 March 1834 mentions Dutt reading aloud at the college's awards ceremony: Ksetra Gupta, ed., Madhusudana racanavali (The collected works of Madhusudan) (Calcutta: Sahitya Samsad, 1965), xi. Hindoo College was at that time divided into a junior and a senior school, the former admitting boys between the ages of eight and twelve. See Asiatic Journal (September-December 1832), 114-15; cited in Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay, ed., Samvadapatre sekalera katha (From the periodicals of bygone days) (Calcutta: Bangiya-Sahitya-Parisad-Mandir, 1923), 2:15.

7. Goutam Chattopadhyay, ed., Awakening in Bengal in Early Nineteenth Century (Selected Documents ) (Calcutta: Progressive Publishers, 1965), 1:1xi-1xvii.

8. Bose, Jivana-carita , 114; letter dated October 1842.

9. Bose, Jivana-carita , 60; letter to Gour Dass Bysack dated 25 November 1842.

10. Gupta, Madhusudana racanavali , xiv.

11. Bose, Jivana-carita , 159-60; letter of J. E. D. Bethune to Gour Dass Bysack dated 20 July 1849.

12. According to Bethune:

If you do your duty, the English language will become to Bengal what, long ago, Greek and Latin were to England; and the ideas which you gain through English learning will, by your help, gradually be diffused by a vernacular literature through the masses of your countrymen. . . . [I have told] those young men in Calcutta, who have brought for my opinion, with intelligible pride, their English compositions in prose and verse. . . . [that they] would attain a more lasting reputation, either by original compositions in their own language, or by transfusing into it the master-pieces of English literature.

Quoted in Bose, Jivana-carita , 160-61.

13. Nilmani Mukherjee, A Bengali Zamindar: Jaykrishna Mukherjee of Uttarpara and His Times, 1808-1888 (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1975), 169-70. The founders met in 1850; the Society came into being in 1851.

14. Bose, Jivana-carita , 161-62; letter of Bysack to Dutt, undated.

15. Bose, Jivana-carita , 182; letter to Bysack dated 18 August 1849.

16. Bose, Jivana-carita , 322; letter to Raj Narain Bose dated 1 July 1860.

17. Quoted in Homi Bhabha, "Indo-Anglian Attitudes," Times Literary Supplement , 3 February 1978, 136.

18. A. Berriedale Keith, A History of Sanskrit Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1920), 137-39.

19. Canto 1, lines 55-58; subsequent citations appear in the text. All translations of Meghanadavadha Kavya are mine.

20. Although the length of the entire Ram Lila performance varies in different

towns and villages, the crucial event, the slaying of Ravana, happens on the same (lay everywhere. See Norvin Hein, The Miracle Plays of Mathura (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972), 76-77 and appendix.

21. Bose, Jivana-carita , 480; letter to Raj Narain Bose, undated [1861].

22. Bandyopadhyay, ed., Samvadapatre sekalera katha , 2:16.

23. Bose, Jivana-carita , 480-81; letter to Raj Narain Bose, undated [1861].

24. Bose, Jivana-carita , 487; letter undated [1861]. Dutt's metre in Meghanadavadha Kavya and in his earlier, shorter work (which he referred to as an "epicling"), Tilottama sambhava (The birth of Tilottama), is a blend of Milton and medieval Bengali's most common narrative verse structure, called payara , a rhymed couplet of fourteen-foot lines, with partial caesura after the eighth foot in each line. In Dutt's supple hands, Milton's iambic pentameter gives way to payara's fourteen syllables, while payara's rhyming and eight-six scansion are sacrificed to the demands of Miltonic blank verse, replete with enjambment. To a friend, he wrote: "You want me to explain my system of versification for the conversion of your skeptical friend. I am sure there is very little in the system to explain; our language, as regards the doctrine of accent and quantity, is an 'apostate', that is to say, it cares as much for them as I do for the blessing of our Family-Priest! If your friends know English let them read the Paradise-Lost, and they will find how the verse, in which the Bengali poetaster writes, is constructed." Bose, Jivana-carita , 320-21; letter to Raj Narain Bose dated 1 July 1860.

25. Bose, Jivana-carita , 494; letter dated 29 August 1861. Jotindra Mohan Tagore may have been the first to take exception to the way Dutt has Laksmana slay Meghanada. Rather than engaging his adversary in open combat, Laksmana enters by stealth the raksasa's place of worship and fells an unarmed Meghanada, who is doing puja to Agni at the time and would have become invincible had he been allowed to complete the ritual. Many critics have subsequently concurred with Jotindra Mohan Tagore that Dutt might have gone a bit too far by casting Laksmana in this rather cowardly role. Dutt was, however, drawing on an aspect of the Ramayana tradition here. Although Laksmana does not slay Meghanada by stealth in the Ramayana , in Krttivasa's telling of the tale, Hanuman travels to the netherworld and there is instructed by Maya how, by stealth, to slay Mahiravana. Dutt has Maya (also referred to as Mahamaya) instruct Laksmana precisely how to vanquish his formidable opponent. Dutt thus borrowed a stratagem from Krttivasa but had a different character (albeit still on Rama's side) make use of it.

26. Pramathanath Bisi, Bamla sahityera naranari (Men and women in Bengali literature) (Calcutta: Maitri, 1953; repr. 1966), 25.

27. AR CY DAE (Romesh Chunder Dutt), The Literature of Bengal; Being an Attempt to Trace the Progress of the National Mind in Its Various Aspects, as Reflected in the Nation's Literature; from the Earliest Times to the Present Day; with Copious Extracts from the Best Writers (Calcutta: I. C. Bose & Co, 1877), 176.

28. Rabindranath Tagore, "Meghanadavadha kavya ," in Ravindra-racanavali (The collected works of Rabindranath Tagore) (Calcutta: Visvabharati, 1962), Addends 2:78-79.

29. Tagore, Jivanasmrti (Reminiscences), in Ravindra-racanvali (Calcutta: Visvabharati, 1944), 17:354.

30. Quoted in Buddhadeva Bose, "Maikela " (Michael), in his Sahityacarca (Literary studies) (Calcutta: Signet Press, 1954), 35.

31. Pramatha Chaudhuri, "Sabuja patrera mukhapatra " (Sabuj Patra's manifesto), in Nana-katha (Miscellany) (Calcutta: By the author, 3 Hastings Street, [1919]), 109-10.

32. A. K. Ramanujan, "On Bharati and His Prose Poems" (paper presented at the 16th annual conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, November 1987), 3.

33. Marksavadi no. 5 (September[?] 1949): 132.

34. Chaudhuri, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian , 183.

1. The pioneering study of audiences in folk performances is Roger Abrahams, "The Complex Relations of Simple Forms," in Folklore Genres , ed. Dan Ben-Amos (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), 193-214. On audiences in puppet performances, see Frank Proschan, "Cocreation of the Comic in Puppetry," in Humor and Comedy in Puppetry: A Celebration of Popular Culture , ed. Dina Sherzer and Joel Sherzer (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1987), 30-46.

2. For a more complete description of the Kerala shadow puppet tradition, see Friedrich Seltmann, Schattenspiel in Kerala (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1986); and Stuart H. Blackburn, "Hanging in the Balance: Rama in the Shadow Puppet Theater of Kerala," in Gender, Genre, and Power in South Asian Expressive Traditions , ed. Arjun Appadurai et al. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).

3. These episodes and motifs—for example, the killing of Sambukumaran, the son of Surpanakha, or Rama's admission of guilt in the Valin episode—are, however, known in the wider Ramayana literature.

4. On Kampan's language, see George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz, The Forest Book of the Ramayana of Kampan (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 7-19.

5. Stan Harding, "Ramayana Shadow-Play in India," Asia (April 1935): 234. J. H. Cousins, "Dance-Drama and the Shadow Play," in The Arts and Crafts of Kerala , ed. Stella Kramrisch, J. H. Cousins, and R. Vasudevan Poduval (1948; repr., Cochin: Paico Publishing House, 1970), 212.

6. For a discussion of the interaction between puppeteers and their patrons and audiences in Java, see Ward Keeler, Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). Shadow puppet performances in India (except Kerala) use a temporary enclosed stage.

7. Philip Lutgendorf makes a similar point concerning interpretation of Tulsidas's Rama story: "The View from the Ghats: Traditional Exegesis of a Hindu Epic," Journal of Asian Studies 48, no. 2 (May 1989): 272-88.

8. The Kampan verse is VI. 15.111 (tolotu tol ) in the death of Kumbhakarna episode (Vai. Mu. Kopalakirusnamacariyar edition, Madras, 1976); all further reference to Kampan verses are to this edition. One Kampan verse recited during this excerpt has been eliminated from the translation because the commentary simply restates it.

9. VI.15.114 (ariyan aniya ). The folk alteration of this Kampan verse exemplifies the general principle of converting indirect to direct speech: its first line revised, the entire verse is now spoken by Vibhisana.

10. III.5.1 (puviyinukku ) in the Surpanakha episode of the Forest Book.

11. See the essays by Ramanujan and Narayana Rao in this volume. For Surpanakha's marriage to Laksmana, see Komal Kothari. "Performers, Gods, and Heroes in the Oral Epics of Rajasthan," in Oral Epics in India , ed. Stuart H. Blackburn et al. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), 116.

12. “Ramayanam ranku, Bharatam bonku “; collected from Sampath Kumar, Hyderabad, July 1988.

14. A Kampan verse, VI.30.43 (anuman , of the Mulapala Vatai episode in the War Book), not sung by the puppeteers in this scene, contains a proverb found in some form in all South Indian languages: "If Rama rules or Ravana rules, what's the difference?"

15. The other major figure given a voice in the puppet plays is the oracle-priest of Bhagavati temples.

16. These learned quotations (piramanam ) in Tamil, and occasionally in Sanskrit, are aphorisms cited by the puppeteers to illustrate a point.

17. The singing of these blessings is called a natakam (here, "dance"). Ravana summons celestial dancing women, and the puppets representing these dancers are placed on the screen while the puppeteers (as singers in Ravana's court) sing devotional songs.

18. The legend is not known to all puppeteers, nor does it appear to have a textual source, although it is invariably mentioned in articles on the Kerala tradition. I collected this version from a puppeteer in a village near Palghat in 1985.

1. E.V.R. decided to burn images of Rama in order to protest the fact that All-India Radio had refused to transmit a speech he made on the occasion of celebrating the birthday of the Buddha. See the front page of the Indian Express , 2 August 1956. For a description of the burning of Ravana in the Ramlila, see Linda Hess and Richard Schechner, "The Ramlila of Ramnagar," The Drama Review 21, no. 3 (September 1977), 63.

2. Technically, the term Dravidian refers to the family of languages spoken throughout South India. But the leaders of the Tamil separatist movement have expanded the term to encompass everything that they identify as South Indian culture.

3. The Hindu , I August 1956; Indian Express , I August 1956; Tinamani , I August 1956. The Tamilnadu Congress was dominated by Brahmins, so Kakkan's appeal did not have much effect on E.V.R.

4. The Hindu , I August 1956.

5. Tinamani , 2 August 1956, provides a breakdown of the number of people arrested throughout Tamilnadn. In Madras more than 90 people were arrested, while 120 were jailed in Tiruchirappalli (Trichy). For E.V.R.'s comment after his release, see the Indian Express , 2 August 1956.

6. In this very brief overview of E.V.R.'s life, I highlight only the events relevant to the development of his interpretation of the Ramayana . For the details of his life, see the widely consulted biography of his early years by A. Citamparanar, Tamilar Talaivar (Erode: Kuti Aracu Press, 1960; repr. Trichy: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1979); also, E. Es. Venu, Periyar Oru Carittiram (Madras: Pumpukar Piracuram, 1980). In addition, a number of other works give some biographical information: K. M. Balasubramaniam, Periyar E. K Ramasami (Trichy: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1973); D.G S., Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy: A Proper Perspective (Madras: Vairam Pathippagam, 1975); Ki. Viramani, Periyar Kalanciyam (Madras: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1977); Anita Diehi, E. V. Ramaswami Naicker-Periyar: A Study of the Influence of a Personality in Contemporary South India (Lund: Scandinavian University Books, 1977).

7. For an analysis of the significance of E.V.R.'s youthful rebellions against caste, see Marguerite Ross Barnett, The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 34-36.

8. Citamparanar, Tamilar Talaivar , 41-51. For a discussion of E.V.R.'s involvement in regional politics, see Christopher J. Baker and David A. Washbrook, South India: Political Institutions and Political Change, 1880-1940 (Delhi: Macmillan, 1975), 27; Christopher Baker, "Leading up to Periyar: The Early Career of E. V. Ramaswarni Naicker," in Leadership in South Asia , ed. B. Pandey (Bombay: Vikas, 1978), 503-34;

and Christopher Baker, The Politics of South India, 1920-1937 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 192-94.

9. This place is also spelled Vaikom, and Vaikkom in English. For a discussion of this event, see E. Sa. Visswanathan, The Political Career of E. V. Ramasami Naicker (Madras: Ravi and Vasanth Publishers, 1983), 42-46.

10. Over the years E.V.R. launched a number of serials including Puratci (Revolt), Pakuttarivu (Discernment), and Vitutalai (Liberty).

11. Although E.V.R. is famous for the statement, "If you see a Brahmin and a snake on the road, kill the Brahmin first," he seems to have said such things largely to shock. In several places, he claimed he hated not individual Brahmins but brahminism as an institution. In a somewhat similar spirit, in an article for The Hindu , while maintaining that "Aryan" and "Dravidian" are two distinct groups, he commented: "My desire is not to perpetuate this difference but to unify the two opposing elements in society." See Barnett's analysis of his statement in Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India , 71.

12. Much of E. V. Ramasami's exegesis of myths was intended for shock value and involved a deliberate overly literal reading of texts. For other texts which use the same kind of rhetoric, see Visittira Tevarkal Korttu (Wonderful court of deities) (Madras: Artisan and Co., 1929), in which various Hindu gods are tried in court for their improper deeds. (I am indebted to Eugene Irschick for this reference.) The puranas also came in for criticism. The procession which culminated E.V.R.'s 1971 Superstition Eradication Conference contained painted tableaux of many scenes from the puranas in which gods are engaged in what E.V.R. perceived to be obscene behavior. I discuss this and similar events in "Smashing, Burning, and Parading: E. V. Ramasami's Anti-Religion Agitations, 1953-1971" (paper presented at the Conference on Religion in South India, Brunswick, Maine, June 1989). For an analysis of E.V.R.'s contribution to atheism, see V. Anaimuthu, Contribution of Periyar E.V.R. to the Progress of Atheism (Tiruchirappalli: Periyar Nul Veliyittakam, 1980).

13. See Periyar E. V. Ramasami, Self-Respect Marriages (Madras: Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, 1983), which, according to the preface of this edition, is a translation of his Valkkai Tunai Nalam , first published in 1958. For more information about the self-respect marriage, see Nambi Arooran, Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism (Madurai: Koodal, 1980), pp. 162-63; Lloyd Rudolph, "Urban Life and Populist Radicalism: Dravidian Politics in Madras," Journal of Asian Studies 20, no. 3 (May 1961), 289.

14. See Eugene F. Irschick, Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916-1929 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), 34. In 1939 E.V.R. organized a conference during which he called for a separate and independent Dravida Nadu, a concept that paralleled the idea of Pakistan, at that time gaining support among the Muslim community. Robert L. Hardgrave, The Dravidian Movement (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1956), comments: "Naicker gave full support to the scheme for Pakistan and tried to enlist League support for the creation of Dravidasthan.... At the time of partition, Naicker tried to secure the help of Jinnah, so that Dravidasthan might be formed simultaneously with Pakistan. Jinnah refused assistance, and the British ignored the Dravidian agitations" (27, 32).

15. See Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia , 3d ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), ix-xxi.

16. This brief overview of E. V. Ramasami's milieu cannot possibly do justice to the complexity of the changes occurring in South India at the time. The reader interested in discussions of other historical and political factors during this period should consult the studies of Barnett, Irschick, Visswanathan, Hardgrave, Arooran, Diehl, and Baker cited above, as well as Robert L. Hardgrave, "The Justice Party and the Tamil Renaissance." in The Justice Party Golden Jubilee Souvenir (Madras: Shanmugam Press, 1968), 73-75; P. D. Devanandan, The Dravida Kazhagam (Bangalore: Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, 1960); Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam, Tamilsprache als Politisches Symbol: Politische Literatur in der Tamilsprache in den Jahren 1945 bis 1967 , Beiträge zur Südasienforschung Südasien-Institut Universität Heidelberg, vol. 74 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1984).

17. Scholars have paid a great deal of attention to this process of asserting some kind of nonnational identity, variously labeling it primordialism, nativism , or revivalism . See Hardgrave, Political Sociology , 6, for a discussion of primordialism in relation to the assertion of Dravidian identity. For a discussion of the concept of primordialism as an analytic category in anthropology, see Clifford Geertz, "The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States" in Old Societies and New States , ed. Clifford Geertz (New York: Free Press, 1963); Charles F. Keyes, "Towards a New Formulation of the Concept of Ethnic Group," Ethnicity 3, no. 3 (September 1976), 202-13. For an analysis of the Dravidian material in relation to the concept of revivalism, see Eugene F. Irschick, Tamil Revivalism m the 1930s (Madras: Cre-A, 1986), 3-37.

18. V. Subramaniam, "Emergence and Eclipse of Tamil Brahmins," Economic and Political Weekly , Special Number (July 1969), 1133-34. Irschick provides statistical evidence of "the consistently strong domination of the Brahmans in many upper levels of government service." See his Politics and Social Conflict in South India , 13, as well as Hardgrave's discussion of Brahmin/non-Brahmin relationships (Essays in the Political Sociology of South India , 11 ).

19. Barnett, Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India , 25.

20. Irschick, Tamil Revivalism , 31.

21. Srinivasan's study of the development of periodicals in Madras shows the effectiveness of journals, pamphlets, and newssheets in shaping public opinion and bringing grievances to the attention of the government. See R. Srinivasan, "Madras Periodicals and Modernization of Values," Journal of the University of Bombay 40, no. 76 (Arts Number, October 1971), 150.

22. In addition to pamphlets. E.V.R. used another popular medium, theater, as well (see pages 193-94). The DK sponsored performances of the Ramayana based on E.V.R.'s interpretation of the text. Baskaran has shown the tremendous political power of theatrical performances m South India for the nationalist movement, a power that E.V.R. appropriated. See Theodore Baskaran, The Message Bearers: Nationalist Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India, 1880-1945 (Madras: Cre-A, 1981), 21-42.

23. For the rationale behind actions such as the Rama burning, see, for example, articles in Kuti Aracu on 3 March 1929, 18 December 1943, 8 January and 15 January 1944, 12 February 1944, 20 September 1947, and 13 January 1951. See also Vitutalai

on 5 November 1948, 27 May 1956, 29 July 1956, 9 August, 15 August, and 17 August 1956, and 13 September 1956. These articles have been reprinted in a collection of E.V.R.'s writings titled Periyar I Ve. Ra. Cintanaikal , ed. Ve. Anaimuttu, 3 vols. (Tiruchirappalli: Thinkers' Forum, 1974), 3:1430-64.

24. Periyar I. Ve. Ramacami, Iramayanappattirankal (1930; repr. Tirucci: Periyar Cuyama