Ramayana around the world

By: Surinder Jain.

If you live in India, you can’t escape but know about Deepavali festival and about Ram Leela (Drama of Ramayan) performed in parks and street corners all over India. This article surveys how the legend of Rama and Ramayana have existed in the folklore of many other nations since times immemorial. 

Depending on the methods of counting, as many as three hundred[1][2] versions of the Indian epic poem, the Ramayana, are known to exist. The oldest version is generally recognized to be the Sanskrit version attributed to the sage Narada, the Mula Ramayana.[3] Narada passed on the knowledge to Valmiki, who authored Valmiki Ramayana, the present oldest available version of Ramayana.

The Ramayana has spread to many countries outside of India.

Ramayana in Nepal

Besides being the site of discovery of the oldest surviving manuscript of the Ramayana, Nepal gave rise to two regional variants in mid 19th – early 20th century.

Ramayana written by Bhanubhakta Acharya is one of the most popular verses in Nepal. The popularization of the Ramayana and its tale, originally written in Sanskrit Language was greatly enhanced by the work of Bhanubhakta. Mainly because of his writing of Nepali Ramayana, Bhanubhakta is also called Aadi Kavi or The Pioneering Poet.

Ramayana in Tibet and Xinjiang

A manuscript of Tibet Ramayana is found in several manuscripts from Dunhuang[23] This version of Ramayana was popular in Tibet and Xinjiang between 4th to 11th century AD.

In twentieth century, various manuscripts were discovered in Mogao caves of Dunhuang (Xinjiang province China). Dunhuang is located on the eastern end of the silk road. Six incomplete manuscripts were found and from the parts, Ramayana was discovered. Four of these manuscripts can be found at India Office Records at the British Library in London and other two are at National Library of France at London. All of the manuscript collections are being digitized by the International Dunhuang Project, and can also be freely accessed online.

The caves carved out by the monks, originally used for meditation, developed into a place of worship and pilgrimage called the Mogao Caves or “Caves of a Thousand Buddhas.[9] A number of Christian, Jewish, and Manichaean artifacts have also been found in the caves (see for example Jingjiao Documents)

Read more at …  https://www.livehistoryindia.com/snapshort-histories/2019/01/18/the-ramayana-a-tibetan-retelling and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunhuang_manuscripts

Ramayana in Yunnan, China

In the Yunnan province of China, Ramayana is called Langka Sip Hor (written in Tai Lü language). This language is spoken by about 700,000 people in Southeast Asia. This includes 280,000 people in China (Yunnan), 200,000 in Burma, 134,000 in Laos, 83,000 in Thailand, and 4,960 in Vietnam.[3] The language is similar to other Tai languages and is closely related to Kham Mueang or Tai Yuan, which is also known as Northern Thai language. In Yunnan, it is spoken in all of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, as well as Jiangcheng Hani and Yi Autonomous County in Pu’er City. It has borrowed many Sanskrit and Pali words and affixes.

Ramayana in Myanmar

Yama Zatdaw, unofficially Myanmar’s national epic, is the Burmese version of the Ramayana. There are nine known pieces of the Yama Zatdaw in Myanmar. The Burmese name for the story itself is Yamayana, while zatdaw refers to the acted play or being part of jataka tales.

Ramakien (Thai version of Ramayana) into the epic. Rama sā-khyan, one of the well known literature in Burma, is believed to be composed in 1775 by U Aung Phyo which begins with Bala kanda and ends at Yudha kanda as in Valmiki‘s Ramayana.

There are also important Burmese literature and classical music related to the Ramayana which were developed in that era such as U Toe‘s Yama yakan (Rama’s song) and Thida yakan (Sita’s song), both written in 1784; Yama pyazat (Ramayana ballet, in 1789; and Kalay Yama wuthtu (Young Rama’s life) in 1800.[1]

The ethnic Mon adaptation of Ramayana is known as “Loik Samoing Ram” which was written in 1834 AD by a Buddhist monk named Uttama. It is evident that “Loik Samoing Ram” is mainly derived from Burmese version as the author of the Mon version stated in his preface that due to the popularity of Burmese version in the capital. [2]

The characters of Yama Zatdaw share the same features and characteristics as those in the original story. However, in acting, the costumes are a mixture of Bamar and Thai elements. The names of the characters, in general, are Burmese transliterations of the Sanskrit names.

  • Rama is known as Yama (ရာမ).
  • Sita is known as Thida (မယ်သီတာ).
  • Lakshmana is known as Lakhana (လက္ခဏ).
  • Hanuman is known as Hanuman (ဟနူမာန်).
  • Parashurama is known as Pashuyama (ပသျှူးရာမ).
  • Ravana is known as Yawana (ရာဝဏ) or Datha-giri (ဒဿဂီရိ).
  • Vali is known as Bali (ဘာလိ).
  • Maricha is known as Marizza(မာရဇ).
  • Vibhishana is known as Bibi-thana (ဘိဘိသန).

Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yama_Zatdaw

Ramayana in Japan

The spread of Buddhism brought Ramayana to Japan where it came to be known as Ramaenna or Ramaensho.

Japanese Ramayana were written during the 10th century as Sambo Ekotoba and 12th century as Hobutsushu (Jewel Collection).
Bugaku and Gagaku dance styles of 8 to 12 century based on Indian classical dances are popular for depicting Japanese Ramayan.

Japanese producer and director Yugo Sako read Valmiki’s Ramayana in Japanese and went on to study ten different versions and made the most popular award winning animated cartoon on Ramayan. (Ref: Japanese Ramayana)

Ramayana in Cambodia

The earliest evidence regarding the presence of Ramayana text in Cambodia can be found in a 7th century inscription of Veal Kantel (K.359), where it mentioned the offering of Mahabhrata and Ramayana manuscripts to the temple as well as the daily recitation of the texts.[2] Plenty of art works and inscriptions mentioning the epic were made throughout ancient Cambodia (FunanChenla, and Angkor). 

The Khmer version of Ramayana bears the name Reamker (Ramakerti)-literally means “The Glory of Rama“. Indeed, the story of Rama is present in both art and literature throughout the history of Cambodia.

Reamker is also mentioned in another literature called L’berk Angkor Wat (“The Story of Angkor Wat”) written in 1620 by Khmer author-Pang Tat (or Nak Pang), celebrating the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat and describing the bas-reliefs in the temple galleries that portray the Rama story.[7]

In 1900s, Ta Krud and Ta Chak were the two old men famous for their remarkable memory and ability to narrate the whole Reamker story orally and beautifully with gesture. In 1920, Ta Chak found voluminous manuscripts of Reamker story on latanier leaves in a pagoda south of Angkor Wat temple during his monk-hood and he learnt to remember the script by heart. In 1969, Ta Chak’s oral narration were recorded and his narration lasted 10 days at the rate of five hours per day. However, he died earlier before he could manage to narrate the remaining episodes.[2]

Many versions of Reamker are available in Cambodia. Nowadays, Reamker is considered as Cambodian national epic which plays significant role in Cambodian literature[8] and extends to all Cambodian art forms, from sculpture to dance drama, painting and art.

Ramayana in Indonesia

In Indonesia, the Ramayana is a deeply ingrained aspect of the culture, especially among JavaneseBalinese and Sundanese people, and has become the source of moral and spiritual guidance as well as aesthetic expression and entertainment, for example in wayang and traditional dances.[40]

There are several Indonesian adaptations of Ramayana, including the Javanese Kakawin Ramayana[33][34] and Balinese Ramakavaca.[35]

Kakawin Ramayana is believed to have been written in Central Java circa 870 AD during the reign of Mpu Sindok in the Medang Kingdom.[36] The Javanese Kakawin Ramayana is based on Ravanavadha or the “Ravana massacre”, which is the sixth or seventh century poem by Indian poet Bhattikavya.[37]

Kakawin Ramayana was further developed on the neighboring island of Bali becoming the Balinese Ramakavaca. The bas-reliefs of Ramayana and Krishnayana scenes are carved on balustrades of the 9th century Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta,[38] as well as in the 14th century Penataran temple in East Java.[39] 

Ramayana in Laos

In Laos, among Lao people, Ramayana is known as Phra Lak Phra Ram. Phra Lak Phra Ram is named after two principal characters, the brothers Phra Lak, or Lakshaman, and Phra Ram, or Rama. Since Phra Ram is considered the hero, it is believed the altered name was chosen for euphony. 

Lao legends attribute to the introduction of the Phra Ram Xadôk via the first king of Lane Xang, Chao Fa Ngoum, who arrived with his soldiers, artists, dancers, concubines, poets from musicians from Angkor who would have been familiar with the Reamker. Yet Indic civilizations knew of what is now Yunnan in China, as “Gandhara” no later than the second century B.C.[3] 

Lao people venerate Hindu temples, often decorated in Ramayana and the Mahabharata motifs, such as at Vat Phou in Champassak.

Ramayana in Malaysia

Hikayat Seri Rama is the Malay literary adaptation of the Hindu Ramayana epic in the form of a hikayat.[1][2] 

Folk versions of the Ramayana were told through dance dramas and by penglipurlara (professional storytellers). The wayang kulit (shadow theatre) adaptation, called Hikayat Maharaja Wana, was one of the most important shadow-plays. Puppeteers would pick the most exciting episodes for their shows, particularly the scenes relating to the marriage of Seri Rama, the abduction of Siti Dewi (Sita), the final battles in Langkapuri (Lanka), and the heroine’s rescue by her husband.

Some of the characters are named as :

Ramayana in Philippines

According to Francisco, an indologist from the University of the Philippines Manila, the Ramayana arrived in the Philippines some time between the 17th to 19th centuries, via interactions with Javanese and Malaysian cultures which traded extensively with India.[48](p101) 

Francisco first heard the poem being sung by Maranao bards around Lake Lanao in 1968. He then sought the help of Maranao scholar Nagasura Madale, resulting in a rhyming English translation of the epic.[2]

Ramayana in Thailand

In Thailand, Ramayana is told as a popular national epic Ramakien‘ Ramakien can be seen in an elaborate illustration at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.

The gallery or Phra Rabiang is a covered corridor, walled on one side, that surrounds the Wat Phra Kaew temple like a cloister. Murals on the gallery walls depict the entire arc of the Ramakien epic, which is based on the Indian Ramayana. This version was translated and recomposed in Thai poetic form under the supervision of Rama I himself around 1797. The story is divided into five long episodes. The murals were commissioned by Rama I to tell his version of the epic. In fact, the main decorative theme throughout the temple is the Ramakien story. The concept of righteous kingship within the epic has long been recognised within Southeast Asia and has been appropriated by many kings to equate their countries with the legendary city of Ayodhya and the titular hero Rama. The murals were erased and completely repainted by the orders of Rama III. Ever since then they have been frequently restored. The murals along the walls are divided into 178 scenes with abbreviated synopses of the scenes below. The first scene depicted is to the right of Gate No. 7, the Wihan Yot Gate.[61][62]

Ramayana in Iraq

During archaeological excavations in Iraq, 6000-year old carvings of apes and men have been found in a cave chapel built in Silemania, Iraq. The carvings resemble Warad Sin and Ram Sin of Larsa who ruled Mesopotamia for 60 years. The Jataka tales also confirm that Lord Rama ruled his kingdom for 60 years. (Ref Click here)

Ramayana in Russia

The Kalmyks of Russia trace roots from Mongolia. In Mongolia, a commentary by Dmar-ston Chos-rgyal of Dbus commentates about the Ramayana in Subhasitaratnanidhi. Russian researchers claim that Kaikeyi (Queen of Ayodhya) was from Russia and also that the Vedas were written in Arctic Russia. (Ref Click here)

Ramayana in Italy

In some archaeological excavations, wall paintings in Italian houses from 7 BC depict scenes from the Ramayana such as many persons with tails and two men accompanied by a lady, and the men have bows and arrows on their shoulders. (Ref Click here)

Ramayana in South America

Ramayana teachings in South America tell the story of Hanuman traveling to Patala Loka (South America) through a tunnel in Madhya Pradesh while trying to rescue Rama and Lakshman who were kidnapped by Mahiravana, the step-brother of Ravana. (Ref Click here)

Ramayana in Buddhism

In Buddhism, Ramayana is known as “Dasarata Jataka” meaning Tale of Dasarata (King Dashrath, father of Rama). It is claimed that Buddha came from the Ikshvaku clan (of Rama). (ref Fang, Liaw Yock (2013). A History of Classical Malay Literature. Jakarta: Yayasan Pustaka Obor and ISEAS. ISBN 978-979-461-810-3.)

The Dasharatha Jataka is one of the stories of the past lives of Buddha as a Bodhisattva. Here he explains to a householder why he must overcome the grief of the demise of this father. Dasaratha, Rama, Lakkhana (Laxmana), Sita & Bharat, all appear in this story. (Ref/Download https://www.scribd.com/document/281051975/The-Dasaratha-Jataka)

Rama (called Rāmapaṇḍita in this version) was the son of Kaushalya, first wife of Dasharatha. Lakṣmaṇa (Lakkhaṇa) was a sibling of Rama and son of Sumitra, the second wife of Dasharatha. Sita was the wife of Rama. To protect his children from his wife Kaikeyi, who wished to promote her son Bharata, Dasharatha sent the three to a hermitage in the Himalayas for a twelve-year exile. After nine years, Dasharatha died and Lakkhaṇa and Sita returned; Rāmapaṇḍita, in deference to his father’s wishes, remained in exile for a further two years. 

Rāmapaṇḍita is said to have been a previous incarnation of the Buddha, and Sita an incarnation of Yasodharā. Ravana appears in other Buddhist literature, the Lankavatara Sutra.

Jain Ramayana

Jains have two main versions of Ramayana. A Swetambara version and a Digambar version. The Swetambara version begins with Vimala Suri’s work Pauma Chariya written in Prakrit language in 1st century AD. It has 118 cantos in Arya meter. The Digambar version begins with Gunabhadra’s Uttarapurna. In all there are 15 books written and preserved by Jains relating to Ramayana. These books are written in three different languages, PrakritApbhransha and Sanskrit.

Jain versions of the Ramayana can also be found in the various Jain agamas like Ravisena’s Padmapurana (story of Padmaja and Rama, Padmaja being the name of Sita), Hemacandra‘s Trisastisalakapurusa charitra (hagiography of 63 illustrious persons), Sanghadasa’s Vasudevahindi and Uttarapurana by Gunabhadara.

In Jain Ramayana, Rama, who led an upright life,  renounces his kingdom after lakshman’s death, becomes a Sanyasi and attains Kevala Jnana omniscience and finally liberation moksha.

In addition to these, Ramayana characters have been referred directly and indirectly in several scriptures and stories. For example, the story of Sati Anjana Bala (Hanuman’s mother) describes the birth and strength of Hanuman as an infant child. It describes how Hanuman fell from the Pushpak Vimaan and landed on a rock, for Hanuman is alive and playing on a rock crushed by his fall.

Ramayana in Ancient Tamil literature

Even before Kambar wrote the Ramavataram in Tamil in the 12th century AD, there are many ancient references to the story of Ramayana, implying that the story was familiar in the Tamil lands even before the Common Era. References to the story can be found in the 

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