Tulsidas once said, “Ram incarnates in many ways/and there are tens of millions of Ramayans”. In keeping with these “tens of millions” of renditions, Kiski Kahani celebrates the diversity of the Ramayana tradition and explores their vicissitudes.
The story of Rama has been passed down for thousands of years, yet it still captures our imagination. It is said that no one ever hears the Ramayana for the first time: we begin our enquiry by asking what allows this ancient but continually regenerated tale to cross the borders of both our imagination and time, morphing and changing as it passes through villages and cities, over mountains and rivers, between trees and deserts.
In addition to providing a forum for dialogue and debate, our impetus for this project is to investigate the vast array of Ramayana traditions and present a repository of Ramayana stories, critical and performative interpretations and visual representations.
Consistent with the overall mission of Open Space & CCDS, our aim at the broadest level is to encourage curiosity and intellectual engagement, to foster critical enquiry, and to support the questioning of dogmatic and apparently monolithic narratives. At a more specific level, we strive to document and archive lesser-known, regional and folk narrative traditions.
Kiski Kahani supports Open Space’s larger goals of fostering social change and development. Through this project, we will nurture young people’s engagement with these issues, enabling them to become agents of that social change and development.
Kiski Kahani is supported by HIVOS
The Ramayana was composed in Sanskrit some time between 200 BCE and 200 CE and is attributed to the sage Valmiki. Over the centuries, as the story has been re-told in almost all Indian languages. The Ramayana and all its versions and retellings have been at the heart of Hindu culture for more than two thousand years – in literature, performance, painting and sculpture. In fact, the Ramayana provides the metaphors through which Indians understand themselves, an alternative language which explores how we choose to live in the world.
The story of the Ramayana, is a story of the subtlety of right and wrong, of good over evil but above all it is a story of love. Rama is the beloved son of a wise king, the heir apparent. As Rama is to be crowned as the king of Ayodhya his step mother, Kaikeyi, intervenes to make her own son king and has Rama exiled into the forest for fourteen years. Rama chooses to obey his step mother’s wishes and retreats into the forest with his devoted younger brother Lakshmana and his wife Sita. As they travel deeper and deeper into the forest Rama visits the settlements of many sages and their companions, protecting them from the terrifying demons. Ravana the mightiest demon of them all, abducts Sita, leaving Rama bereft and grieving but determined to recover his wife. Rama sets up an alliance with a monkey king who commands thousands and thousands of gigantic monkey warriors. After crossing the mighty ocean Rama and his army defeat Ravana and Sita is restored. Rama asks his wife to undergo a public trial by fire to prove her chastity since she has been kept by another man for such a long time. Sita is vindicated and Rama and she return triumphantly to the kingdom which Rama’s noble brother had kept in custody for him.
However, Rama’s inner demons continue to haunt him. The schism between his private and public self, between the loving husband and the king who must be above reproach is painfully pried open again when Rama is confronted with the citizens’ gossip about his wife’s time in captivity – had she remained chaste in her time away from her husband? Rama chooses to be the public man, the righteous king, and banishes his pregnant wife for the queen cannot be under suspicion.