Mythos 25 – Versions of the Ramayana

 

The authorship of the Ramayana on the other hand is more difficult to figure out. The modern Hindu language version of the Hindi Ramayana states it was composed by Valmiki, however there are many and divergent versions of the Ramayana, including Buddhist and Jainist versions. Among Indo-Aryan Hindus the Valmiki version is considered the original, and therefore purest version of the story, with all other versions being translations and embellishments of their original. Nevertheless, the other versions should be considered prior to dismissal. The various versions of the epic include:

  • Ramayana: Indo-Aryan version of northern India

  • Ramavataram: Tamil (Dravidian) version of southern India

  • Ranganatha Ramayanam: Telugu (Dravidian) version of southern India

  • Torave Ramayana: Kannada (Dravidian) version of southern India

  • Yama Zatdaw: Burmese version

  • Ramakien: Thai version

  • Phra Lak Phra Lam: Laotian version

  • Reamker: Cambodian version

  • Hikayat Seri Rama: Malaysian version

  • Ramakavaca: Balinese version of Indonesia

  • Maharadia Lawana: Maranao version of the Philippines(1)Mellie Leandicho Lopez (2008) A Handbook of Philippine Folklore

  • Lam-Ang: Ilocano version of the Philippines

Sovann Maccha and Hanumān from the Cambodian Reamker

Sovann Maccha and Hanumān from the Cambodian Reamker

Most versions in southeast Asia are closer to the Buddhist version than the Hindu version, however some versions are remarkably different from Valmiki’s version. In many of the Southeast Asian versions of the story, Rama is not the focus, but rather his brother Laksmana is the hero,(2)Gauri Mahulikar (2001) Effect of Ramayana on various cultures and civilisations as well there are additional characters including Suphanna Matcha (Sovann Maccha).(3)Satyavrat Sastri (2006) Discovery of Sanskrit Treasures: Epics and Puranas, Page 77 In the Cambodian version there is a greater focus on Hanumān and Sovann Maccha’s part of the story than either Rama or his enemy Ravana. As Buddhism and Jainism are arguably as old as Hinduism, it is not fair to claim the story started with any one of the religions. Interestingly Suphanna Matcha (Sovann Maccha), is an amphibious mermaid, like the Abgal of Sumerian mytho-history.

The oldest known Dravidian versions of the story date to only a few centuries ago when their languages: Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu were standardized, however it is clear that the story was known to the Dravidians long before the oldest version in each of the modern Dravidian languages was compiled. Some old-Dravidian elements still remain in the Valmiki version of the Ramayana, including the name of the antagonist Emperor Ravana, which is believed to be Sanskritisation of the Dravidian word Iraivan meaning Lord or King.(4)A.K. Warder (1994) Indian Kāvya Literature, Volume 4, Page 130 Naturally the Southeast Asian versions are seen by the Indians as being copies of their ancient epic, however it is difficult to see how the epic became so wide-spread and deeply entrenched throughout Asia. The major epics and folk literature of Philippines show common themes, plots, climax and ideas expressed in the Ramayana.(5)Maria Halili (2010) Philippine History, 2nd Edition, Pages 46-47 In addition, many verses from the Hud-Hud chants of the Ifugao people of the Philippines are very similar to verses from the Ramayana.(6)E. Arsenio Manuel (1963) “A Survey of Philippine Folk Epics” Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 22, Pages 1-76 Even countries that subsequently became predominantly Islamic kept their versions of the story, sometimes changing the supreme god from Brahma to Allah.(7)Gauri Mahulikar (2001) Effect of Ramayana on various cultures and civilisations If the Ramayana is based an an actual series of events, it would explain why the southeast Asians continue to remember the story, even among very primitive pre-literate tribes.

References   [ + ]

1. Mellie Leandicho Lopez (2008) A Handbook of Philippine Folklore
2. Gauri Mahulikar (2001) Effect of Ramayana on various cultures and civilisations
3. Satyavrat Sastri (2006) Discovery of Sanskrit Treasures: Epics and Puranas, Page 77
4. A.K. Warder (1994) Indian Kāvya Literature, Volume 4, Page 130
5. Maria Halili (2010) Philippine History, 2nd Edition, Pages 46-47
6. E. Arsenio Manuel (1963) “A Survey of Philippine Folk Epics” Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 22, Pages 1-76
7. Gauri Mahulikar (2001) Effect of Ramayana on various cultures and civilisations