kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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Stories from the hills II: SITA AND SHABRI STAND UP FOR AHILYA

Posted on by Imran

Continuing our series on Stories from the hills…   When women unite, even the gods the ultimate and the all powerful bow to their will. Thankfully, women don’t do so very often. Before the narration of any of the stories, a short poem is sung. These few lines are said to carry the gist of the story to come. As Ram, Sita and Laxman travel through the forest, they reach Shabri’s hut. Shabri, in this version, Shabri is not an Untouchable. (This might be because tribes don’t practice untouchability, or because Buddhism does not accept this kind of discrimination.) She is an old woman, always at loggerheads with her own community but always friendly to travelers. Perhaps this is why she stays outside the village. Traditional Bon beliefs harbour an inherent fear of outsiders and usually, travelers are not allowed to stay the night, except in the Bodh Viharas. Shabri, old and alone, lives in a dirty, tumbledown shack. This is the reason that she is an outcaste, says the narrator. (Kinnauri women take pride in their neat, tidy, spotless mud houses). This untidy, careless old hag, knowing that Ram is on his way and must pass her hut, gathers ‘kulre’, a local berry, to present to him. ‘Kulre’ grows on the sun-baked, steep rocks, where only the sure-footed mountain goats or nimble young girls dare to tread. Ram knows this and in appreciation for the risk that Shabri has … Continue reading

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Stories from the hills I: SITA’S ABDUCTION BY RAVANA

Posted on by Imran

This is the primary self-search for an identity and self. What exactly do I believe in? What is, or can be, my faith? Who is denying me the right to paint, colour, act and sing? And in the process, is my right to paint, colour, act and sing that god, the one I am told I must believe in, being taken away? As a result of all these queries, not copying, not running behind or following, and certainly, not reaffirming and agreeing are the only options left for me. Because creativity is always the voice of dissent. However, voicing this dissent is not new. I will elaborate with an example from my latest book ‘The Dancing Lama’. which explores the folklore of the Western Himalayas from the female point of view. As I look for myself in the creations of the past, I discover that in folklore, women assertively define their difference. The examples I am about to narrate here are from the story of Ram and Sita. In my travels through the North-western Himalayas — Spiti and Kinnaur to be precise — I found several versions of the popular tale. I also realised that women have been trying to give their own interpretation and form to these well-known tales, adding the local milieu in which they exist and the culture that they subsist on to the more familiar narrative. Going through these stories and their interpretations, it is difficult … Continue reading

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Stories from the hills IV: HOW RAM REACHED KULLU

Posted on by Imran

Continuing our series on Stories from the hills…  How Ram reached Kullu and became the prime deity Kullu Valley, the most fertile region of Himachal Pradesh, watered by the rivers Beas, Parvati and Sarvari, was ruled by small Ranas, each owning just a handful of villages, with their own palaces and forts built on the secure, highest peaks. They lived lavishly and petty quarrels and skirmishes amongst were common. When Manipal, said to be a defeated and destitute prince from across the Ganga, probably from Bengal, reached Kullu, he sensed that this was a kingdom that might be conquered because of such infighting. However, the Ranas, when faced with an exterior foe, decided to forget their personal enmity and united to give Manipal a sound defeat. On the run, Manipal took refuge in a thick forest. Hungry, tired and frustrated, he saw an old woman squatting under a tree. As he watched her, he saw that she was trying to stand up with the support of the tree. Forgetting his own exhaustion, Manipal walked up to her and helped her to her feet. The old woman then said in a quavering voice: “I have nothing to give you to show my gratitude, but if you get up on my back, a great reward shall be yours.” Manipal laughed out loud at this suggestion, for he was a big hefty man and the woman could hardly carry her own weight. But … Continue reading

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Stories from the hills III: SHUPNAKHA THE CHEATED

Posted on by Imran

Continuing our series on Stories from the hills… Shupnakha is in love with Banasur, a powerful demon king of Kinnaur. He is most powerful in the region because he is the sole owner of the only water mill in the area. He is also a great warrior with an passionate dislike for Ravana who, Banasur thinks, is corrupt and split-tongued, like a snake. (Going back on your word is a severe crime in this region even today.) Ravana, on the other hand, yearns to possess Banasur’s land and more importantly, his water mill. He pays Banasur a visit and persuades the reluctant Banasur to marry Shupnakha. On the night of the wedding, just as Banasur is entering the bridal chamber, the massive flower decoration on the doorway falls on him. While he is trying to free himself from the tangled garlands of flowers, Ravana attacks and kills him — all this as Shupnakha watches helplessly. Ravana then falls at his sister’s feet, begs her forgiveness and vows to always look after her and protect her honour. (Even today, the nuptial chamber doorway is decorated with flowers, usually wild roses and rhododendron and the bridegroom tears them down with his sword before entering.) Banasur’s tribe does not believe that Shupnakha was innocent of the murder. They think that the conspiracy was hatched by both brother and sister and refuse to give her the place of honour that is her right as … Continue reading

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