Nuanced retellings

Published - March 17, 2023 04:18 am IST

For centuries, the Ramayana has remained a popular epic across all of Southeast Asia and South Asia because it lends itself to nuanced retelling of a simple story in a manner that touches the sensibilities and kindles the devotion of people across diverse cultures. Connected to the beliefs of the people, the epic frequently undergoes regional and temporal modifications, but stays tethered to people’s belief and faith. The Lakhman Rekha episode, for example, has percolated to common parlance, but it’s not found in Valmiki Ramayana or in Tulsidas’ rendering or Kamban’s version, Dr. Sudha Sesshayyan said in a discourse. Some scholars have found early references in folk literature, where a wife fights with her husband and the man admonishes her saying, ”Do you think I am Lord Rama? If you cross my line, I will not tolerate it!”

All the epic writers are karya kartas, who have found some reason to pick up nuances from the epic in order to highlight the bigger truths of life and instruct people on how to lead a life and dovetail stories to reflect the values of life. In Valmiki’s epic, when Ravana approaches Sita in the guise of a sadhu, she asks him, ‘Who are you?” In a fit of anger he reveals his full form and she steps back. He grabs her by her hair, lifts her up and flies away with her. Kamban, however, makes a temporal modification. He shows Ravana appearing as a mendicant and when Sita says, “Had you come when my husband was here…” an angry Ravana retorts, “That man?” Sita says your words do not match your guise of an aditi, and she steps back. He bends down and lifts the hut, with sod and soil and carries her away. Tulsidas’ version says that when Lakshmana left Sita, he asked Agni to watch over her. When Ravana arrives, Agni, realising his intention, quickly transports Sita to her kingdom, substituting a ‘Maya Sita’ in her place. These narrative variations, which have evolved over time, do not in any way affect the central values of the great epic where the Lord fights evil on Earth to establish the rule of Dharma.

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