The conference on the Ramayana captured its multifarious aspects and enduring impact.

The Ramayana is a many splendored epic. Its influence stretches across centuries, countries and cultures. Valmiki’s tour de force has illuminated the lives of millions imparting lessons in various spheres - statecraft, conduct, family and societal values. It has set rules for war and peace, for daily life and during times of crisis propagating the importance of justice, virtue, love and sacrifice and indicting greed, lust, the evils of power and covetousness. It is a “forever” epic said speakers participating in the conference, ‘The Ramayana in literature, society and the arts,’ a two-day event organised by the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation at its premises recently.

The conference, part of the Ramayana festival, captured the multifarious aspects of the epic and its impact. A host of academics, archaeologists, indologists and scholars threw light on various aspects of the work. Nanditha Krishna, Hon. Director of the Foundation, while summing up the conference pointed out that the characters in the Ramayana carried out their Dharma and that is why the epic has lasted for millennia.

Archaeologist A.K. Sharma spoke of the Sri Ram temple at Ayodhya with visuals to back up the archaeological discoveries, while scientist historian Michel Danino (and his wife Nicole Elfi) listed the various periods and dynasties associated with the ancient city. Indology enthusiasts, D.K Hari and Hema Hari’s, talk dealt with archaeo-astronomy’s help in assigning the date of the Ramayana, while N.C.K. Kiriella, Chairman, Sri Lanka Heritages Foundation, dwelt on the lost city of Atlantis and its “connection” with Sri Lanka.

In literature, Kalidasa was greatly influenced by the Valmiki Ramayana stated S. Annapurna. The influence is very much pronounced in his masterpieces, ‘Raghuvamsa’ whose title owes to the epic, ‘Meghdoot,’ ‘Abhignana Sakuntala’ and ‘Vikramorvasiya.’ She pointed out the similarities between ‘Kumarasambhava’ and the Ramayana.

The didactic representation of the characters of the Ramayana in Sanskrit literary tradition was brought out by P.P. Sundaram. Uma Maheswari examined the manner in which the Ramayana, which has inspired poets through the ages, led to Lakshmana Suri (1859- 1919) writing many works such as the ‘Prapanna Vibishanam,’ ‘Paulastya Vadham,’ ‘Gayatri Ramayanam’ and the ‘Ramayana Sangraha.’

300 creative works

‘Valmiki and many Ramayanas’ by Tilak Shankar, described the manner in which the epic has led to the writing of numerous Ramayanas - 300 creative works in various regions, languages and countries adapted to local conditions, which often contain features such as ‘maya sita’ not seen in the original. They express the philosophy and imagination of the author or dramatist. Non-Hindu Ramayanas such as the Jain and Buddhist were also touched upon.

The graphic novels of the present day, based on the Ramayana, came under scrutiny of Lopamudra Maitra and Aarttee Kaul Dhar. The former traced their history, beginning from the early Amar Chitra Katha to the present day. The simplicity in sentence construction and the drawings with their clear, uncomplicated lines communicate the story and message clearly to the young and help educate them on the epics.

Sita Sundar Ram dealt with the manner in which the Ramayana influenced the Bhattikavya of Sanskrit poet Bhatti, circa 7th century A.D., while the hymns of the Saiva saints were taken up by Bala Sivakadadcham, retired senior lecturer, University of Jaffna. He spoke of how saints such as Thirugnanasambandar and Thirunavakkarasar focussed on Ravana as a Siva bhakta and dwelt on his devotion to propagate the message of Saivism. He pointed out how Rama is mentioned just once in the hymns of Appar, while Ravana is constantly evoked.

The proverbs that owe to the Ramayana have become part of daily usage. The Ramayana’s influence on society was dealt with by K. Vidyuta of the KSR Institute. She listed phrases and proverbs such as “Bhagiratha prayatna” (herculean efforts that result in achieving the goal), “Vallavanukku pullum ayudham” (solving problems with available resources) and “Agni pariksha” (ordeal by fire) to make her point.

The concept of brotherly love as exemplified in the epic was taken up by Sanskrit teacher V. Mohan, in his paper, ‘Bhratru Bhava in the Ramayana,’ where he looked at the unique bonding between Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatruguna and compared and contrasted it with Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana as well as Vali and Sugriva.

Haripriya Rangarajan threw light on the character of Kaikeyi as depicted in Tulsidas’ ‘Ramacharitramanasa.’

The portrayal of various women in the Ramayana was the subject of Prema Kasturi’s paper. She discussed the strengths and virtues of Sita, Ahalya, Mandodari, Tara and others. She also elaborated on feminist interpretations and modern perspectives.

The dream motif in the Ramayana was dealt with by Ramadevi Sekhar, while R. Muthulakshmi went on to examine the Ramayana as a source of yogic concepts. Soumya Manjunath Chavan took up the symbolism of Choodamani, the crest jewel of Sita for analysis. The tenets of administration as can be gathered through Dasaratha’s advice to Rama, Rama’s to Bharata and when Surpanaka spoke to Ravana were detailed by R. Subasri, while V. Balambal pointed out the ethical values of the Ramayana. Valmiki’s amazing knowledge of botany was detailed by M. Amirthalingam with a list of the various plants mentioned in the epic.

Places of worship

Ashvini Agarwal traced the antiquity of the Ramayana through the prism of the Gupta age- its literature, inscriptions and art. Chitra Madhavan described some of the temples in South India associated with Rama including the Seetha Ramachandraswami temple in Bhadrachalam, Andhra Pradesh, the Hazar Rama temple in Hampi, Karnataka, and the Rama temples in Maduranthakam and Ponpadirkudam near Chinglepet, Tamil Nadu.

S. Gayathri highlighted some of the temples in and around Thanjavur connected with the epic. In her paper on the ‘Textual and contextual dynamism in the Ramayana sculptures’, Choodamani Nandagopal pointed out how the early series of Ramayana narratives came to the Virupaksha temple in Pattadakal and how the Ramayana theme became more and more popular with temple sculptors. Usha R. Vijailakshmi from Mumbai focussed on the temple to Sitamma in Avani village in Karnataka and how various rulers appropriated people’s memory for political reasons.

Iconographic trends in Rama worship with reference to bronzes, Ramayana musical compositions and Pahari Ramayana paintings in the Seth Kasturbhai Lalbhai collection were dealt with by Sharada Srinivasan, Yamuna Devi and Indubala Nahakpam respectively. A paper on Hanuman was conspicuous by its absence.

The conference was very well organised and comprehensive. Except for glitches in the sound system that seem to afflict almost every event in the city, it was very well put together with numerous events to round off the festival. But the plenty proved a problem at the conference. Parallel sessions were held and the enthusiast had a hard time deciding which session to attend. Ten more minutes for each speaker might have helped prevent the whirlwind feel for both the speaker and listener. But overall for the lover of history, culture, art, literature and mythology, the seminar was an intellectual and cultural banquet, a felt tribute to Valmiki and his enduring work.

(The papers are being brought out in the form of a book and will be available by end March at the C.P. Art Centre,1, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, Chennai. Phone:044 24341778:email: cprafoundation@gmail.com).

Innovative board games

Interesting board games based on the Ramayana available at the CP Art Centre’s craft shop were a value addition to the conference. These games are an ingenious way to educate the young on the epic. The board game (Rs.150), produced by the centre dates back to 1978 and was conceived by Nanditha Krishna for her young son. The play of dice takes us through the story culminating in the Pattabhishekam. The art work is by Venkatesh. A colouring book goes along with the game.

The other two games are the brainchild of Lalita Ramakrishna, Director of Research at Tattvaloka. One is a game of cards (Rs.100) while the other is a board game (Rs. 200). Both have superb illustrations by the late S. Rajam. “I started off by creating games for my grandchildren who live in the U.S. and are fond of Indian stories,” says Lalita. “Through these games, I try to bring the relevance of our mythology to the younger generation – the ecology and human relations.” The book that goes with the card game (Rs.60) contains puzzles and short stories related to the epic.

The Lankan link

The various sites in Sri Lanka associated with Ravana were listed by Devmni Jayasinghe, Director/Executive Secretary of Sri Lankan Heritage Foundation in her paper ‘Ramayana Trails in Sri Lanka.’ The talk was accompanied by visuals of inscriptions found in the caves of Vessagiriya- Anuradhapura, which were later donated to the Buddhist Dharma. The inscriptions, she said, mentioned that the caves belonged to Tissa, wife of the father of Sona, the commander of Rawana’s cavalry and to Parumaka Visava, Rawana’s father.

She also showed visuals of the caves, which are said to have belonged to Rawana’s daughter Shohili and to Chief Naguli (Seetha was called Naguli as she was born of the ploughshare). Devmni spoke of the Rawana cave in Ella where Seetha was thought to have been kept imprisoned by Rawana for some time. And of the Rawana Falls on the Ella Kithalella Road. Behind it are caves where Rawana is said to have kept Seetha hidden. She also spoke of the statue of Rishi Pulasthi, the grandfather of Rawana, and the discovery of the huge Siva lingam before which Rawana is believed to have meditated.