kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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Essays+Articles

Ramayana: The old new canvas

From In Search of Sita to Sita Sings the Blues, the Ramayana has been retold, reinterpreted and resurrected several times over. Indeed, it has caught our imagination like few other stories have, writes Pervin Saket Continue reading

An Interview with Romila Thapar

‘Will they bash up universities in Jakarta and other places for teaching different versions of the Ramayana?’ – An interview with noted historian Romila Thapar. The controversial decision earlier this month by the Academic Council of Delhi University to drop A.K. Ramanujan’s celebrated essay on the Ramayana, Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations from the B.A. History (Honours) course has evoked sharp protests from several historians [...]

Rama Redux

The story of Rama cannot be ignored, not because of its hero’s implied perfection, but precisely because of its opposite, his inexplicable and apparently remorseless transgressions from the code that he was born to uphold. Arshia Sattar explains Continue reading

The Many True Kandas

The Ramayana is a continuing, many-sided conversation between cultures and religions. By scrapping AK Ramanujan’s essay from its syllabus, can Delhi University ignore that exchange? Samita Arni tells us how. Last fortnight, Delhi University decided to remove AK Ramanujan’s essay Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation from its history syllabus, perhaps in response to earlier protests in 2008 over the inclusion of this essay. The decision scares me [...]

Ten years later

Arshia Sattar talks about her relationship with the Ramayana, her translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana in 1996 and the flowering of “three hundred Ramayanas”: My abridged translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana was published at the very end of 1996. When I got the first copies, I was awed by the gravitas the work had acquired by being transformed into a heavy, black-jacketed hardback book. I put it away in my bookshelf and never really opened it until seven years later, in 2003, when I had [...]

Three hundred Ramayanas

The essay by renowned scholar and poet A K Ramanujan,“Three hundred Ramayanas: Five examples and three thoughts on translations”, has been removed from a Delhi University textbook by the Academic Council, in spite of the fact that three out of four experts on the expert committee convened, and the University’s history department, opposed the move, sparking protests and debate on campuses across the country and in cyberspace. We reproduce the essay here, with permission. How [...]

The Griffith Ramayana

Anil Menon discusses the late 19th century translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana by Ralph T H Griffith. Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith was born on May 25, 1826, in Corsley, Wiltshire, to Reverend Robert C. Griffith and Mary E. Adderley. It was a remarkable age. Only three days earlier, the HMS Beagle had set sail from Plymouth on its first voyage. Waterloo was already a decade old memory. Queen Victoria was 7 years old. Charles Dickens was 14. Lord Byron was dead, Charles Babbage was [...]

Dharmic dilemmas in the Ramayana

John Stavrellis talks about the idea of dharma in the Ramayana. The ideal figures of Rama and Sita are focal points of dharma in the storyline of the Ramayana.  In the actions they take, as well as in their interactions with others throughout the epic, a surprisingly forthright, warts-and-all representation of dharma emerges, as characters agonize over it, struggle to uphold it, call it into doubt, use it to bargain, or make a farce of it.  One of the qualities which shows Rama and Sita [...]

Geography of the Ramayana

Can we map the Ramayana? Srinath Perur asks. How would the earliest author of the Ramayana, Valmiki, have fared on a geography test? There’s no telling for sure after all these years, but we might try and deduce the answer from a fascinating section of his Ramayana where the monkey king Sugriva, directs search parties to set out in all four directions from Kishkindha to look for the abducted Sita. The monkeys going east are to look around the rivers Bhagirathi, Sarayu, Yamuna, [...]

Reprinted Devotion

In the mid-19th century, India was looking for its own unique identity as one nation. Meanwhile, its popular culture was changing under the influence of the West and the western-educated. During this time, Raja Ravi Varma was pioneering Western realism coupled with oil painting themes and techniques in Indian art — the first to deviate so sharply from the prevalent and popular Mysore-Tanjore school of art. Ravi Varma was wooing an audience that was increasingly expecting Westernised [...]

The Chiranjeevis of the Ramayana: Where are they now?

Folklore tells us of seven chiranjeevis or immortals, who play an important role in the Indian epics. These are persons who have been granted the boon of everlasting life. In the Ramayana, we come across four such characters. Even more interestingly, three of these characters appear in the Mahabharata as well, reinforcing the immortality myth. Jambavan or Jambavanta, said to be a venerable old vanara in the Ramayana, appears at two points in the epic. An advisor to the exiled monkey king [...]

Ahalya: Theme and variations

Lakshmi Holmström talks about the different Ahalya stories in Kamban, Mudaliar and Pudumaippittan Why do some stories beckon writers through the ages, calling for retellings and re-interpretations? In this essay, I begin with the Ahalya story as Kamban presents it in the Balakandam of his retelling, in order to tease out some of the ambiguities which he builds into it. I then examine some modern Tamil versions where the story is taken up and re-worked in a variety of ways. In Kamban’s [...]

SITA AND LUCIFER

In Sanskrit there is a verb, aranyarodhan, which means “weeping in the wilderness”. I discovered the word two and a half years into working with the archetypes of Sita and Lucifer, admired its succinct eloquence, the affirmation that there is a long and even poetic tradition of this act. I had been weeping in the wilderness when they – one lionized, one maligned – began to appear in my poems, echoing what they have done for all eternity. Wilderness. All that is feral, subterranean, [...]

The forgotten heroine

Was Urmila the real ideal wife? Shweta Ganesh Kumar on the heroine who slept through 14 years of the epic.. The first time I read about Urmila was in a Malayalam novel of the same title. And even then it was not like the book was my first choice. It was a compulsory textbook for ninth standard students that told a familiar story through an unfamiliar perspective. Though I started to read it under compulsion, soon enough I was drawn to the character the story revolved around. The voice was [...]

Kahani

Rāma, sick with love for his lost Sītā, is anxiously awaiting the return of the search parties Sugrīva – roused from his post-victory revels – has dispatched to the four corners of the earth.  Those from the North, East and West come back empty handed and with nothing to report.  All now rests with the expedition to the South led by Hanumān. When he and his high-spirited troop finally arrive, Hanumān presents Rāma with a message from the imprisoned Sītā: “Come as fast as [...]

SAVARI RAMLILA IN OLD DELHI

It was during the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s rule that the Savari Ramlila emerged as an important tradition in Old Delhi. When representatives from the Hindu community expressed their desire to celebrate Ramlila, the emperor not only agreed, but also funded the Ramlila extravagance which was accompanied by a joyous 10-day procession called the Savari. The celebration brought the neighbouring Hindu communities together and became one of the most important cultural events of [...]

Protecting Plurality

Ram Puniyani reviews Teen Sau Ramayan (Hindi) by A.K.Ramanujan: Translation by Dhaval Jaiswal, Vani Prakahan. How does one react to the omission of a learned essay from the curriculum and its publication by the publisher feeling intimidated by the protests of intolerant-fundamentalist elements? Here is one small answer. Put it on the web site, translate it in to other languages and quench the curiosity of concerned readers. In case of celebrated essay Three Hundred Ramayans, this is [...]

In the name of Ram

Jyoti Punwani revisits the dark times during which the Hindu right-wing transformed Ram from the Ideal Man into Ram the Aggressor. `Allah o Akbar’ or ‘God is Great’, is the phrase we hear over the azaan everyday, sometimes sung incredibly melodiously, at other times out of tune and jarring. It is also a traditional war cry of Muslims. `Jai Siya (Sita) Ram’ is a phrase used as a greeting in some parts of India; it is mostly used as a devotional chant, and forms part of many hymns. [...]

Ramnamis: Individualizing the Ram Story

The Ramnami Samaj is a religious movement founded by Scheduled Caste Ram devotees (bhaktas) in the late nineteenth century in what is now central and northern Chhattisgarh.[1]  The samaj has the twin goals of social upliftment for members of their caste community and the spread of the chanting of Ram.  To accomplish the latter, Ramnamis focus both on the chanting of the Name and also on recitation of verses from its “official” scripture, Tulsidas’s Ramcaritmanas.  The [...]

Gandhi’s Ram-Rajya

Ram, Allah and God were convertible terms to Mahatma Gandhi, and his concept of Ram-Rajya represented not Hindu rule but principled rule, writes Rajni Bakshi. Some of the ideas and values that were most precious to Mahatma Gandhi had a way of getting him into trouble. Historians and sociologists are still debating whether Gandhi did more harm than good by invoking the image of Ram-Rajya. Many dalits resent Gandhi’s coining of the term ‘Harijan’ to refer to the oppressed castes. It is [...]

Singing Pictures

Down the ages, the Ramayana has retained its distinct ethnic flavour in the rural backyards of West Bengal. One of the oldest forms of the ancient epic is traditional scroll art. This oral tradition of folk art rendered by a community of itinerant painters, or chitrakars, is a complete performance in itself. The episodes, steeped in colour, drama and earthy fervour are recounted through rolled out paintings in long scrolls called pata chitra, in tandem with the corresponding pata gaan or [...]

The Foundling Princess of Mithila: KR Srinivasa Iyengar’s Sitayana

Ahana Lakshmi talks about her grandfather, K R Srinivasa Iyengar’s wonderful book Sitayana… Sitayah Charitham Mahat. The Glorious Tale of Sita. The story of Sita and Rama has been told and retold many times by many people in many forms since it was created. Over the centuries, creative writers have struggled to project Sita in all her purity and nobility and maternal love. The more they write, the more there is to be said. She is one of us, contemporaneous because her story is [...]