Friday, November 02, 2007


date Nov 2, 2007 1:02 PM
subject [prohindu] Ramayana: from one of my friends
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We are at the tail end of a fascinating journey through history, in a time
machine that took us back 2500 years, and often brought us back and forth
to the 21st Century.
We made several trips — A time machine first, It deals with the impact
of ancient Indian culture on Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and
This "episode" is devoted to Rama as perceived in SEA ('South East Asia',
not the Sea at Palk Straight, which is making waves).

Before launching our journey to South East Asia in the footprints of Rama,
we must mention that Valmiki, according to historians lived anywhere
between 800 BC and 400 BC,
composed Ramayana based on the oral traditions that were a thousand years
older. In India, apart from at least four more Ramayanas in Sanskrit,
there are the Jain Paumachariyam in Prakrit, Ramcharit Manas by Tulsi Das
in Hindi, Sundarananda Ramayana and Adarsha Raghava in Nepali, Katha
Ramayana in Assamese, Krittivas Ramayan in Bengali, Jagamohan Ramayana in
Oriya, Rama Balalika in Gujarati, Ramavatar in Punjabi, Ramavatara Charita
in Kashmiri, besides the well known Kamba Ramayanam in Tamil,
Ramacharitam in Malayalam, Ranganatha Ramayanam in Telugu and Torave
Ramayana in Kannada.

We travelled across South East Asia with time machine conceptualizing that
into a format was a major challenge, the nitty-gritty of organization
crisscrossing over a hundred locations in five countries was no less
difficult. During our subsequent visits in time machine, we had distinct,
but equally heavy responsibilities to perform — Mohana as the producer
taking on the burden of dealing with two monarchies (Thailand and
Cambodia), two Communist countries (Vietnam and Laos) and one democracy
while I began to write and direct the serial. In all these time machine
travels, the name "Rama" kept emerging everywhere.

In Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic nation, we discovered that
Ramayana and Mahabharata are compulsory subjects in most of the
universities. The Indonesian version of Ramayana is called Kakawin Ramayana
in the old Javanese (Kawi) language. In the Indonesian version of
Mahabharata, Draupathi has only one husband. At the famous 10th Century
Prambanan temple in central Java, dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva,
the Ramayana is depicted in bas-relief in several parts. The sultan of
Jogjakarta supports the daily performance of a leather puppet show of
either Ramayana or Mahabharata in his Palace annexure. He also subsidizes
the world's only daily performance of a dance ballet based on Ramayana,
performed with the Prambanan towers as its backdrop. The highlight of the
extraordinary show is that all the two hundred artistes are Muslims.
We ask the leading actors how they perform Ramayana with such ardent
involvement. The spontaneous reply is:
"Islam is our religion. Ramayana is our culture."

One of the most important landmarks of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, is
a gigantic modern sculpture, an extraordinary work of art of Krishna and
Arjuna in the chariot with their horses almost flying. Garuda is the
national insignia of Indonesia. If you move on to the predominantly Hindu
territory of Bali in Indonesia, which has a few thousand Hindu temples,
you see the strong influence of Ramayana in the sculptures and performing
arts there. We see two group dance performances of the Ramayana
— one on a modern stage, and the other in a spiritually devout atmosphere
of a temple, where some dancers are in a trance. Rama lives in their midst
with no questions being asked.

Leaving the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, we travel to mainland South East
Asia in time machine. The Laotian version of Ramayana, called "Palak
Palang," is the most favorite theme of the dancers of Laos. The National
School for Music and Dance, in this communist country, teaches the
Ramayana ballet in the Laotian style. Several Buddhist monasteries and
stupas of Laos have sculptures depicting Ramayana in stone as well as in
wood panels.

There is a perceptible Hindu-Buddhist syncretism in that entire region.
There are sculptures of Rama and Krishna and other avatars (incarnations)
of Vishnu in the Shiva temple
at Wat Phu Champasak in southern Laos, which has been declared a World
Heritage Centre by UNESCO.

Ramayana is immensely popular in Thailand. Huge statues of Sugriva and
other characters from Ramayana decorate the courtyard of the Royal palace,
surrounded by huge corridors depicting the whole story of Ramayana in large
paintings from floor to ceiling. Ramayana sculptures adorn the walls and
balustrades of several other Buddhist temples in Thailand. In the Thai
version of Ramayana called Ramakian, rediscovered and re-composed by the
Thai King, Rama I in the 18th Century, Hanuman is a powerful figure. We
also visited several areas where Hanuman is worshipped. There is a huge
statue of Hanuman on a hillock facing a major Buddhist monastery.

Several kings of the royal family of Thailand (including the present king)
adopted the name 'Rama', over the last three centuries. Before the
capital was shifted to Bangkok,
the capital of Thailand (then Siam) was called Ayuthya (Ayodhya) as a mark
of respect to Rama.

In Vietnam, a nation predominantly under the ancient Chinese influence, we
see Rama and Krishna, although there is no local version of the Ramayana.
In central Vietnam,
which was known as the Hindu kingdom of Champa for over 1500 years, there
are a large number of Hindu temples, some of them have an unbroken
tradition of worship,
dating back to a thousand years. You find Rama as an incidental presence
in the temples that are predominantly dedicated to Shiva or Uma Maheswari.
There is a lot of Krishna in Champa.

If any country in historic times had matched India in its faith in
Hinduism, it was perhaps Cambodia. In this war torn Buddhist monarchy,
which has met many tragedies in recent times, you find that coronation is
complete only with the handing over of ancient gold idols of Shiva and
Vishnu by the rajaguru to the king. More than a hundred temples,
mostly in a state of ruin, tell the story of the great empire of the
Khmers, who worshipped Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and the Buddha. It is here in
Cambodia that Suryavarman built
his truly colossal temple dedicated to Vishnu — Angkor Wat, believed by
million of visitors, to be most worthy of being included in the Seven
Wonders of the world.
Angkor Wat, the largest stone temple for any deity in the world, has a
nearly 2.7 km circumambulatory passage with gigantic carvings devoted to
the epic stories
of the churning of the ocean, Ramayana, Mahabharata and so on.


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