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  • Conference on the depth and breadth of Ramayana

    With every Yakshagana performance, multiple versions of Ramayana are created on the stage. | Photo Credit: File Photo.

    With every Yakshagana performance, multiple versions of Ramayana are created on the stage. | Photo Credit: File Photo.

    Scholars discuss versions of the epic and their influence on India and Southeast Asian countries

    In a Kathakali performance staged in 1780 by Kallaikulangara Raghava Pisharoty, Ravana from the epic Ramayana takes centre stage. Set 10,000 years before Rama’s birth, the dance-drama depicts the story of Ravana’s ancestors, the downfall of the kingdom of the rakshasas, the birth of Ravana, his love for his mother and his great tapasya (austerity) to regain the lost glory of his clan.

    The performance portrays Ravana, the villain of Valmiki’s Ramayana, in the most sympathetic light, bringing out the qualities of courage, resolution and strength of character. Rama is nowhere in the picture.

    The Malaysian shadow play Wayang Kulit Kelantan draws influence from the oral folk versions of the Ramayana, which travelled beyond the shores of India. The role of Gods and saints is reduced drastically. Wayang Kulit portrays different versions of Ravana’s origin, including the one in which he is born in the heavens and banished to Earth. There he meets Adam and they divide the world among themselves.

    These and many other versions of Ramayana and their influence on art, culture and social landscape of India and Southeast Asian countries were revisited by scholars at the two-day international conference on Connecting Cultures: Ramayana Retelling in South India and South East Asia, which was held at REVA University on September 14-15.

    Stating that the manifestations of core themes of the Ramayana are complex and in need of detailed research, Dr. Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, said, “A lot of Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian versions of the Ramayana can be traced back to Krittivasi Ramayan, composed in 15th century Bengal.”

    Malini Saran, independent scholar, presented a paper about the discourse on governance and ethics initiated in the first known Ramayana in Java called the Old Javanese Ramayana. “An emphasis on the spiritual and ethical rather than devotional values of Rama’s story in this version allowed imaginative interpretations, with its content and characters used as an allegory for contemporary situations.”

    Cheryl Thiruchelvam, a PhD scholar from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia, spoke about the emerging art forms, artistic practices, architecture in Malaysia that have origins from versions of the Ramayana. Citing examples of painters Nik Zainal Abidin, Syed Thajudeen and Loo Foh Sang, she discussed how they drew inspiration from Wayang Kulit (traditional puppet-shadow play in Indonesian culture) for their paintings.

    Sessions were also held on retelling of Ramayana within the canon of Kannada literature and its multiple interpretations in the Yakshagana of coastal Karnataka.

    Dr. Purushottama Bilimale spoke about the 60 episodes of Ramayana created by around 40 authors for Yakshagana performances. “All of these episodes are flexible depending on the time of performance, community and the artistes’ talent. Also versions differ in terms of music, poems and dance. With every Yakshagana performance, multiple versions of Ramayana are created on the stage,” he said.

    The conference also deliberated on Ramayana narratives from the Hoysala to Vijayanagar empires, the influence of the epic on sculpture in medieval India such as Pallava and Pandya archaeology and artistic representations throughout India and Southeast Asia.

    Before the conference began, participants observed silence for one minute in memory of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh.

    source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Bengaluru / by Staff Reporter Bengaluru / September 17th, 2017

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