Ramayan – its cultural footprint around the globe

Ramayan is one of the world’s great epics containing some 24,000 verses. The Valmiki Ramayan was supposed to have been composed in 5th century BCE as per modern historians. But probably it began in India some 7000 years ago or earlier, relating to the story of Ram, a Hindu incarnation of God, who was born in Treta Yug (1.29 million years ago as per Hindu belief). The Hindu epic of Ramayan has not only guided the philosophical, spiritual and cultural aspects for Indians for many thousands of years, it has had a great influence on a number of neighbouring Southeast Asian countries and many other countries around the world.
Hinduism came to Southeast Asia in the 4th century BCE through Indian traders and scholars who traded with the Khmer Kingdoms, such as Funan and Angkor and Srivijaya, with whom the Indians shared close economic and cultural ties.

Thailand – The Ramakien “Glory of Rama” is a Thai Epic based on Hindu Ramayan. It was first written in the 18th century, during the Ayutthaya kingdom. The version recognized today was compiled in the Kingdom of Siam (previous name of Thailand), under the supervision of King Rama 1 (1726-1809), the founder of the Chakri Dynasty, which still maintains the throne of Thailand. The present King is called Rama 10. The Thai king is considered as the incarnation of God and is still held in that respect. Since its introduction to the Thai people, the Ramakien has become a firm component of the culture and is considered as one of the masterpieces of Thai literature. It is still read, and is taught in the country’s schools.

Indonesia – although it is the largest Muslim country, Ramayan has played a great part in its culture, music and art. In Java, the Ramayan is usually performed through wayang kulit, the puppet show that can last multiple nights. Bali, a majority Hindu Island state in Indonesia has many Hindu temples and Ramlila, based on Ramayan is played every day at the Uluwatu temple through “Kecak dance” depicting Sita’s abduction, Hanuman’s arrival at Ashok Vatika, presenting Shri Ram’s ring and burning the Lanka.

Laos – the story of Phra Ram is their national epic. It is now a Buddhist country. Phra Ram is considered a previous incarnation of Buddha, and is regarded as the epitome of moral leadership and a true follower of dharma.
Cambodia – the Khmer adoption of Ramayan is called Reamker. It dates back to 16th century. The story centers on Ram (Preah Ream, in Khmer), abduction of his wife Sita (Neang Seda) by evil Ravan (Reap), and her eventual rescue with the help of Hanuman. The key divergence to the original Hindu text is that after Neang Seda’s trial by fire, in which she passes the test, she becomes deeply offended by her husband’s lack of trust. Instead of reuniting with him she decides to leave him and finds refuge with Rishi Valmiki. Reamker has inspired performance of classical dance-drama, and shadow puppet plays.
Myanmar (Burma) – In Burma, the Yama Zatdaw, related to Ramayan is considered a Jataka story of Theravada Buddhism, where Ram is known as Yama and Sita as Thida. It was supposed to have been introduced in the 11th century during King Anawratha’s reign. The use of exuberant, acrobatic, and highly stylized form of traditional Burmese dance and ornate costumes make it a unique version of Ramayan.
Nepal – Bhanubhakta Ramayan is the Nepali translation of Valmiki Ramayan. It was published in 1887.
Malaysia – the Malay version is called Hikayat Seri Rama. It most likely arrived through Tamil traders. Even after Islam was introduced to the region, the epic’s ideals of righteousness, loyalty and selfless devotion insured its popularity. Between the 13th and 17th centuries, the epic was written as Hikayat, an Arabic word meaning “stories” and is regarded as Malay literature. It gives Lakshman a larger role, glorifying his courage and even increases his importance as compared to that of Ram.
Japan – there are two version of Ramayan in Japan. One is called “Hobutsushu” and the other “Sambo-Ekotoba”.
China – various Jataka stories related to Ramayan are found in the Buddhist text, Liudu Ji Jing. There is a popular folklore of Sun Wukong, a monkey king similar to Hanuman.
Russia and Mangolia – legends of Ramayan are popular among the Kalmyk people of Russia. They trace their roots to Mangolia, which has an epic based on Ramayan.
Europe – in archeological excavations in Italy, various paintings in the ancient houses around 7 BCE were discovered which were based on scenes from Ramayan.
Fiji – the British took roughly 60,500 Indian indentured labourers to Fiji, starting in 1875 to work on sugar plantation. Majority of them from the north of India’s “Bhojpuri belt”. They survived with their strong belief in their faith. Ramayan played a very important role in building their strong character and personalities. There are around 2000 Ramayan Mandalis operating in Fiji.
Mauritius – is renowned as the land of Ramayan. When the girmitias arrived there in 1834, they brought with them Ramcharit Manas and Hanuman Chalisa in both written and oral form.
British also took indentured labourers to the Caribbean countries of British Guiana, Trinadad, Surinam, and South Africa. It was to Ramcharit Manas the labourers turned to in the moment of hardship, humiliation, oppression and suppression by the ruling class. It is worth noting that the Caribbean Hindus greet each other by saying “Sita Ram” instead of “Namaste”. Wherever the Indian diaspora lives, we will find Ramayan has been providing them great solace and mental peace.
It was a historic groundbreaking ceremony that was performed on 5th August, 2020 by the Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to reestablish the original Ram Temple at his birth place in Ayodhya after 500 years of its destruction. It will recreate a place of pilgrimage for people of Indian heritage around the world.
Vijai Singhal

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