Posted: 10 December 2006 at 8:53am
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The epic story of Ramayana was adopted by several cultures across Asia. As in many oral epics, multiple versions of the Ramayana survive. In particular, the Ramayana related in north India differs in important respects from that preserved in South India and the rest of South-East Asia. There is an extensive tradition of oral storytelling based on the Ramayana in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
In many Malay versions, Lakshmana is given greater importance than Rama, whose character is considered somewhat weak.
There are diverse regional versions of the Ramayana written by various authors in India. Some of them differ significantly from each other. During the twelfth century AD, Kamban wrote Ramavatharam, known popularly as Kambaramayanam in Tamil. Although based on Valmiki Ramayana , Kambaramayanam is a true classic and unique in that Kamban has modified and reinterpreted many anecdotes in Valmiki Ramayana to suit the Tamil culture and his own ideas. Valmiki's Ramayana inspired the Sri Ramacharit Manas by Tulasidas in 1576 , an epic Awadhi (a dialect of Hindi) version with a slant more grounded in a different realm of Hindu literature, that of bhakti. It is an acknowledged masterpiece of India. It is popularly known as Tulsi-krita Ramayana. Gujarati poet Premanand wrote a version of Ramayana in the 17th century. Other versions include, a Bengali version by Krittivas in the 14th century, in Oriya by Balarama Das in the 16th century, in Marathi by Sridhara in the 18th century, a Telugu version by Ranganatha in the 15th century, a Kannada Ramayana by the 16th century poet Narahari, Kotha Ramayana in Assamese by the 14th century poet Madhava Kandali and Adhyathma Ramayanam Kilippattu, a Malayalam version by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan in the 16th century.
There is a sub-plot to Ramayana, prevalent in some parts of India relates to the adventures of Ahi Ravana and Mahi Ravana, the evil brother of Ravana, which enhances the role of Hanuman in the story. Hanuman rescues Rama and Lakshmana after they are kidnapped by the Ahi-mahi Ravana at the behest of Ravana and held prisoner in a subterranean cave, ready to be sacrificed to the goddess Kali.
There have been reports of a version of the Ramayana story prevalent amongst the Mappilas of Kerala. This version, known as Mappila Ramayana, forms a part of the Mappillapattu. Mappillapattu is a genre of folk singing popular amonst the musims of Kerala and Lakshadweep. Being of Muslim origin, the hero of this story is a sultan. There are no major changes in the names of characters except for that of Rama's which is changed to 'Laman'. The language and the imagery projected in the Mappilapattu are in accordance with the social fabric of the earlier Muslim community.
Southeast Asian versions
Many other Asian cultures have adapted the Ramayana, resulting in other national epics. Aspects of the Chinese epic Journey to the West were inspired by the Ramayana, particularly the character Sun Wukong, who is believed to have been based on Hanuman. Kakawin Ramya?a is an old Javanese rendering of the Sanskrit Ramayana from the ninth century Indonesia. It is a faithful rendering of the Hindu epic with very little variation. Phra Lak Phra Lam is a Lao language version, whose title comes from Lakshmana and Rama. The story of Lakshmana and Rama is told as the previous life of the Buddha. In Hikayat Seri Rama of Malaysia, Dasharatha is the great-grandson of the Prophet Adam. Ravana receives boons from Allah instead of Brahma.
Thailand's popular national epic Ramakien is derived from the Hindu epic. In Ramakien, Sita is the daughter of Ravana and Mandodari (T'os'akanth (=Dasakand) and Mont'o). Vibhisana (P'ip'ek), the astrologer brother of Ravana, predicts calamity from the horoscope of Sita. So Ravana has her thrown into the waters, who, later, is picked by Janaka (Janok). While the main story is identical to that of the Ramayana, many other aspects were transposed into a Thai context, such as the clothes, weapons, topography, and elements of nature, which are described as being Thai in style. It has an expanded role for Hanuman and he is portrayed as a lascivious character. Ramakien can be seen in an elaborate illustration at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok.
Other Southeast Asian adaptations include Ramakavaca of Bali, Maradia Lawana of the Philippines, the Reamker of Cambodia and the Yama Zatdaw of Myanmar.