Ramayana: There exist around 300 versions of it in different parts of India and other Asian countries.
By Reya Mehrotra
The story of Lord Rama is not exclusive to Valmiki’s Ramayana. There exist around 300 versions of it in different parts of India and other Asian countries. The oldest version, however, remains Valmiki’s, which was written in 5th century BC. Here we present some of the most popular versions of the epic.
Phra Lak Phra Ram
Phra Lak Phra Ram is the national epic of Laos. By the time the Ramayana reached Laos, it was adapted locally and is considered a Jataka story. It is the story of two brothers—Phra Lak and Phra Ram—who follow dharma and are epitomes of leadership, selflessness and values. In this version, the role of Raphanasuan or Ravana is more dominating than that of the heroes and Ravana is Ram’s cousin. Ram is also associated with the previous life of Siddhartha Gautam. Sita is called Nang Sida in the version.
The Cambodian epic poem Reamker is based on the Ramayana and translates into ‘Glory of Rama’. Its surviving text dates back to the 16th century and its earliest mention dates back to the 7th century. The epic is themed on emotions and issues like loyalty, love, trust and revenge. Scenes from the epic are found painted on the walls of the Royal Palace, Angkor Wat and Banteay Srei. Preah Ream (Ram), Neang Seda (Sita) and Preah Leak (Lakshman) are the central characters, while Krong Reap is the antagonist. One finds an amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism in the story, which is a battle between good and evil.
Thailand’s national epic Ramakien, which also literally translates to ‘Glory of Rama’, owes its roots to Valmiki’s Ramayana. It was written in the 18th century. Ramakien has the same morals as the Ramayana—good triumphs over evil. In the story, a battle is fought between King Rama and Tosakanth, the demon king, who falls in love with Rama’s wife Sida and kidnaps and takes her to his palace in Krung Longka. The god-king of the apes, Hanuman, helps Rama in the battle with his army.
Also called Ramavataram, the Tamil version of the epic was written by Tamil poet Kambar in the 12th century. The storyline and spiritual concepts differ from Valmiki’s Ramayana, but the work is regarded as one of the greatest literary works of Tamil literature. In Kambar’s version, Rama has been deified as an incarnation of Vishnu. Other variations include Ravana lifting Sita along with the piece of land she is standing upon without touching her. Sita is shown being dragged by Ravana by her hair in Valmiki’s Ramayana.
The Indonesian version of Ramayana was written in old Javanese in approximately 870 AD during the Mataram kingdom in central Java. Written in a long narrative poem form, it is modelled on traditional Sanskrit meters. While the first part of the story remains the same as Valmiki’s Ramayana, the second part differs. It talks about the local hero God Semar and his sons. It is said that Ramayana brought about a resurgence of Hinduism in parts of Asia like Sumatra, west and central Java where Buddhism was dominant.
Sri Ranganatha Ramayanamu
The Telugu adaptation of Valmiki’s Ramayana is believed to be written between 1300 and 1310 AD by poet Ranganatha who made several variations in the course of the events. For instance, the three lines on the squirrel’s back were portrayed as Rama’s blessing, as the squirrel clears the sand from the rock bridge made by Hanuman and his army for Rama. Among the more than 40 adaptations of Ramayana, this one remains one of the most complete and famous ones.
The Assamese version of the Ramayana is believed to be written in the 14-15th century by Madhava Kandali. The explicit portrayal of Rama, Sita and other characters as ‘not heroic’ by the author rendered the text unfit for religious purposes. He humanised Rama and Sita’s characters to suit the taste of common folk. The work is also significant, as it is considered the earliest written example of Assamese language.
Considered the first Nepali epic, this version was published in 1887. It was written by Bhanubhakta Acharya in Nepali language and is significant because it democratised Hinduism in Nepal, thus, ending the dominance of Brahmanic priests in interpreting sacred texts. It is said that the Darjeeling literary community recognised the text even before the Nepalis did. The version was translated from Valmiki’s one with slight variations and no changes in the story. The first English translation of Bhanubhakta Ramayana, done by writer Gokul Sinha, was released in 2016.